Christ has just risen. Whom do you expect him to see? How about showing up at the Sanhedrin? Or to Pilate? That isn’t the way Jesus operates. We learn about Jesus by seeing the people he meets up with.
Christ had cast seven demons out of Mary. Her devotion went beyond helping him in life–she and other women wanted to help him in death. Peter and John saw the empty tomb, and left in a hurry to report. Mary lingered. Jesus comes to her in her sorrow. Disillusioned, she does not even look up when asked why she is weeping. When the stranger calls her name, she knows. She is honored for her devotion by being the first to see the risen Christ. In her grief she is still giving to her Lord. In your sorrow, minister to your Lord even then. He will not disappoint you.
THE OTHER WOMEN
The first two groups to see Jesus are women, the less important of their day. The disciples showed how much they respected them, refusing to believe. They had come to pay homage to the dead–and they ended up worshiping the living Lord. Jesus had much more regard for them than the disciples. It is never in vain to silently serve our Lord.
Satan had sifted him and he was devastated. High hopes turned to failure. Now the words stung, “You will deny me three times.” And his own words, “I never knew the man.” No chance of recovery; his Lord was dead. He raced to the tomb when the women spoke of meeting angels in hope against hope. Perhaps on his way home the risen Christ appears. Jesus is caring for one of his soldiers, wounded in battle. There is a place for failures in God’s program. Jesus comes not to rebuke but to reinstate. Christ gives hope to this sifting sand–and he becomes a rock. Weeks later Peter boldly proclaims the resurrection against the threat of persecution. Have you failed the Lord? Believe that he comes to you. Angels told the women, “Go tell his disciples and Peter.” He has you on his mind.
For two men, the seven-mile trek from Jerusalem to Emmaus was the longest it had ever been. They told the stranger, “We had hoped…” Death buried their longings. Scripture had clearly pointed out the suffering and the glory, but they were conditioned only for the glory road. Guess who’s coming for dinner. They invite the well-informed visitor. At table he blesses the bread, their hearts begin to burn–and he’s gone. He comes–through Word, through sacrament–to chase away gloom and reveal his glory. Believe him in the mystery of his presence–and watch him lift your hopes.
THE DISCIPLES MINUS THOMAS
Evening of the first new day. Christ appeared to Mary, the other women, Peter, and the Emmaus disciples. Ten disciples are still cowering in darkness behind locked doors. They had probably heard that Jesus might be alive, but they did not believe. They were not expecting him, and they sure hoped no one else would show up. Guess who does, right through the locked door. What do you expect from the Lord who had been denied by his own, betrayed, forsaken? Instead of rejection they receive a blessing and a fresh commission: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you. Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:21,22). How gracious of Jesus to call scared disciples who had lost their “sent.” No superstars on the Jesus team, only people like us, needy, fearful, doubtful–but now equipped to serve as powerful witnesses.
THE DISCIPLES INCLUDING THOMAS
One week later–same time, same house, same shut door. The still not too confident band gets another appearance from the Lord. This time he heads straight for Thomas. At the last meeting two were missing–one doubting, one dead. Thomas was a slow starter but loyal. Jesus did not commend his unbelief, but he converted it to faith, and Thomas declares powerfully, “My Lord and my God.” How kind of Jesus to pursue us in our darkness when clouds make it difficult to see. Thomas died as did all the disciples except John a martyr’s death.
SEVEN AT THE SEA
Guess who’s coming for breakfast, the third encounter with a group of disciples. They have had a miserable night of fishing. It’s morning. I would not recommend asking dismal fishermen, “Have you caught anything?” Jesus does. Instructions from shore bring a huge catch–153. John recognizes Jesus and Peter swims to shore, where a three-fold question erases the agony of denial. Jesus didn’t need to hear it–Peter did, and Jesus converted his loss to a gain–at the last breakfast!
Paul, reviewing the encounters to establish the fact of the risen Christ, says that “he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are alive, though some have fallen asleep” (I Cor.15:5). Marching orders. He will conduct a world-wide campaign from heaven. Either Jesus is dreaming, or this group is going to disciple the nations!
Paul alone tells of an encounter between Jesus and the one he grew up with. They had lived under the same roof, “but his own received him not” (John 7:5). It took a personal appearance from Jesus, now a conqueror of death, to bring James to accepting the authority of the One he knew well. This pillar died a martyr’s death proclaiming his brother as his Lord!
THE APOSTLES AT ASCENSION DAY
In the final commissioning, Jesus reminds the apostles of the scope of the mission (the work), the nature of the call (be witnesses), and the promise of equipment (the Holy Spirit). Then he left. Read the book of Acts. They proclaimed the resurrection with authority. It worked. He was not a dead memory but a living, exalted Lord. His address changed from Nazareth to the Right Hand!
After rehearsing Christ’s encounters as proof that he rose, Paul concluded, “Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am” (I Corinthians 15:8-10). Do you know any people for whom you pray but find it difficult to see them in the kingdom? God’s power is greater than our doubt. He can take the hardest pagan and make him or her the softest sheep on his flock.
But I say, “Last of all, he appeared to me.” Without his grace, I would not be experiencing his love today. He has convinced me that he is alive and Lord over all. I live daily in the joy of his presence. I say with Job, “I know that my Redeemer lives.”