Now I’d like to briefly go over the 5 main post-resurrection appearances where there is record of Jesus having said something.
The four that I mentioned earlier — Mary Magdelene, Cleopas and the other disciple on their way to Emmaus, Thomas and Peter — and a fifth appearance to the Eleven disciples that we’ll exclude froom today’s study.
Now that we have a framework for these post-resurrection appearances and to whom Jesus spoke and what he said in each encounter, I’d like to do a broad stroke over these 4 individuals who encountered the risen Christ.
Mainly, I want to observe what each character was doing prior to their encounter with the resurrected Christ and how this might give us a clue into their frame of mind.
I just want to underscore a rather obvious point. Despite walking with Jesus for 3 years, none of them expected Christ to rise from the grave. That was inconceivable. The man they had placed their hope was no longer with them. Game over. Put a fork in it. It’s done. Pack your bags. Time to go home. That’s why they all scattered in bewilderment, disappointment and confusion on what to do next.
Confused. Scared. Disappointed. Defeated. Disillusioned. This is the starting point for each of these individuals and we see the actions each person performed in their attempt to deal with the loss of their beloved Rabbi.
Let’s start with Mary.
What was Mary doing prior to encountering the resurrected Christ? She was moving toward the tomb. And when she got there, the body was missing so she broke down in tears.
What clues do these actions reveal about Mary? She was going to pay her respects at the burial site of her beloved Rabbi. She cried when she saw that the body was missing. So bottom line, she loved Jesus enough to go to the tomb and she was distraught and overcome with emotion because the body was missing. That’s Mary.
What was Cleopas and his buddy doing? They were moving away from the tomb toward Emmaus. They were moving away, but they were still sorting out the events leadig up to the crucifixion of their teacher. They weren’t totally abandoning what they had learned from Jesus. In fact, they were deep in discussion over their disappointments because Jesus was not the kind of Messiah they had expected who they had hoped would redeem Israel. That’s Cleopas.
Mary moving toward the tomb, Cleopas and his friend moving away from the tomb. Doubting Thomas is staying put. He ain’t moving. He’s not going anywhere. Thomas was not there when Jesus had appeared to the other disciples. To Thomas, it seemed pointless to gather all the time like they did before so he’s kind of in and out of the group. If Jesus is alive, then he knows where I live and Jesus needs to come where I am and prove that he is risen. That’s Thomas.
Peter’s encounter with the resurrected Christ is unique because he had already witnessed the resurrected Christ prior to this encounter in John 21. There was the earlier account of Peter running to the tomb after Mary Magdalene had reported it being empty. He didn’t meet the resurrected Christ then. But when the resurrected Christ appeared to the Eleven disciples and taught them about the Great Commission, Peter was there.
Then, why is he going back to fishing? If I died last night and the following morning, I showed up at your door, I think you’d be pretty freaked out. But Peter doesn’t seem fazed. He was a man raised from the grave, yet Peter is not freaking out. He is not moving toward the tomb. He is not like Thomas who is neutral, Jesus, you need to come to me. Peter is not just moving away like Cleopas and his friend, disappointed and deep in discussion.
Peter is just plain giving up. He has seen the risen Christ, but that wasn’t enough. Because not even the resurrected Christ could help Peter to overcome his deep sense of personal failure. I blew it. I denied Jesus. I am all talk and no walk. And Peter is going back to what he is comfortable with – his fishing.
What do these 4 accounts tell us? Jesus pursued each and every one of them.
Jesus went to Mary at the tomb.
Jesus went to Cleopas and his friend as they were moving away on the road to Emmaus.
Jesus went to Thomas who refused to take a step toward him.
Jesus went to Peter, not just once but a second time as he was sailing away and ready to give up.
I think we can all look back to times in our lives when we know beyond a reasonable doubt that Jesus was in fact pursuing us.
Times like Mary when we were in tears and Jesus came to us and provided much needed comfort. Tears over our sins. Tears over broken relationships. Tears over circumstances beyond our control. Tears shed out of our concern for others. And Jesus appeared to wipe away our tears.
Or times like Cleopas and his friend and we had our list of questions and then Christ appeared and he explained the Scriptures and our hearts were burning. Burning with excitement and vision for the future and dreaming of how God would use us. Jesus appeared in the midst of our questions and this was a catalyst for all our future hopes and dreams.
Or times like Thomas when we had our doubts and Jesus came to reassure us. Times of stubborness — I ain’t moving. Jesus, if you are there, you need to come to me. You need to prove yourself in a miraculous way. And you know what? Jesus did appear miraculously in many of our lives through the years. He provided for us. He healed us. He performed the miracle of changing stony hearts to hearts of flesh. We witnessed many salvations. And he demonstrated his love for us over and over and showed us his nail scarred hands.
Or times like Peter when we were ready to throw in the towel. Times of defeat. Times when we were overwhelmed with our sins. Times when we had denied our Lord. Times when the path to our old lives seemed very inviting. And Jesus came to us and he reinstated us and he sent a fellow brother or sister in Christ to stand beside us. And he gave us a chance to reaffirm our love for Jesus.
I think at various points, we can identify with each of these characters.
Testimony – this study has been such an encouragement to me. I can really identify with Cleopas many times. I have a lot of expectations of Jesus and when those expectations are not met, I am left with many unanswered questions. I thought Jesus was supposed to guide my life step by step. I thought Jesus would use me a certain way. Lord, why can’t you give me a 5 year or a 10 year plan and I’ll follow. Why are you silent? Why did this happen? What lesson are you trying to teach me these days? I thought I would be much more mature, that I would be further along in my walk with Christ after all these years. Jesus, why aren’t you answering my prayer about this or that? And the list of unanswered question goes on and on.
And I have all these questions and I think I am moving toward Jesus, but I don’t really know what direction I am going. Many times, I ask questions but I stopped expecting an answer. I think that my questions show that I am moving toward Jesus, but perhaps I am moving away from him. Regardless of whether I am moving toward Jesus or away from him, I feel disappointed in Jesus and in myself.
And interestingly, for 2 of the accounts — Mary at the tomb and Cleopas and his friend on their way to Emmaus — even when Jesus was literally right in front of them, in their midst, they could not perceive him.
What an encouragement for me! To think, he might be right here in my midst, listening to all of my questions, seeing my tears, observing my moments of doubt, and he is right beside me, telling me – Ray, I have risen, hang in there, don’t give up.
And I have to just kneel in reverenace and say, thank you, Jesus, for coming to this sinner and encouraging me to keep pressing on.
Could it be that Jesus is pursuing each of us today and because of our tears or our questions or our doubts, or our sense of defeat, we can’t perceive him?
The fact that you are here in a worship service is a sign that Jesus is pursuing you. There is no such thing as a coincidence when it comes to Jesus.
Jesus is no longer hanging on a cross or buried in a tomb. He is alive. He is risen. And the Holy Spirit has been promised to us.
I pray that God would give us the eyes to see and the ears to hear the voice of Jesus, as he pursues us, as he woos us, as he says he loves us.