Looking around today it’s easy to assume that people responded quickly to the idea that Jesus was crucified, buried, and then resurrected on the third day, all for the sake of redeeming humanity. After all, there are Jesus followers all over the world! There’s no way this could still be the case a few thousand years later if no one believed in the beginning.
That’s all true, but maybe not quite as instantaneous as it feels.
Take a few minutes and read John 20 – 21:14.
Who was the first to arrive at the tomb? What did she do when she saw the stone was rolled away?
Who came next? (Sidenote – verse 4 always makes me wonder how competitive the disciples were. Surely twelve men who were together constantly for a few years made a contest out of everything. I love that John makes sure all of posterity knows who won that footrace!)
Verses 8-10 are intriguing. Simon Peter and John (who refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”) go into the empty tomb. They see the grave clothes just as they were left and believed, but yet they didn’t understand. After they’ve seen this incredible sight, what do they do? (hint – verse 10)
Let’s take a moment a play a little game.
Answer these questions…
What is your favorite movie?
What about your favorite outfit?
What is the situation you’re most afraid of?
What animal are you afraid of most? What’s second?
If I were a betting woman, I’d put money on the fact that the fears flew off our tongues faster than the favorites. It’s like the fears occupy a space in our brains that is easier to access than the things we enjoy. Fear does some incredible things in people doesn’t it? I woke up this morning in full-on terror from a nightmare about one of my biggest fears. It’s still nagging me more than 5 hours later, even though I know it’s not happening.
It was true for the disciples too. Take a look at John 20:19. It was still Resurrection Day! That morning John and Simon Peter had stood in the empty tomb. Mary Magdalene has seen Jesus face to face and told the disciples about it. But after all that, where did they end up? Why?
It’s important to note that the disciples had legitimate reason to be afraid. Rome had zero tolerance for anything that even hinted at insubordination. Those who disturbed the pax romana – the peace of Rome – were not only killed, but brutally and publicly executed as an example to everyone around them. The meaning was clear: don’t do what this person did…or you’ll get what they got. The Jewish religious leaders had already turned Jesus over to be crucified. There was little reason to believe his followers wouldn’t be next.
In the book A Short Life of Christ, Everett Harrison writes,
“However important the empty tomb may be as evidence for the resurrection, the fact remains that it was not convincing to the original followers of Jesus. Clearly they were not expecting the Master to rise from the dead.”
It took Jesus stepping into the middle of their fear for the empty tomb to make sense!
Read 20:19-20 again. Can you imagine the relief they felt in that moment? Look up the word for “glad” or “overjoyed” in your concordance. (Hint: it’s Strong’s number 5463.)
I’ll be honest, I was excited to do this little word study. I was ready to be introduced to a sense of joy and relief that was found in few other places. Were you as surprised by the results as I was?
This word is very simple. It means to rejoice and be glad. Most surprising to me is that it’s used as a greeting throughout the New Testament. The disciples didn’t experience an overwhelming awe and reverence – they greeted their old friend and were so happy to see Him! And Jesus leaves them with incredible words: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (John 20: 22) With direction like that it certainly seems like Jesus had plans for them.
There is so much information in these few chapters you may want to spend more time really pondering them. But before we wrap up today, I want you to realize how many times Jesus comes to them.
In John 20:24-29 we see that Jesus appears again to the disciples, and this time Thomas was there too. Eight days later. How long those eight days must have seemed! And when Jesus comes to them, what were they still doing, more than a week after they saw Him the first time?
Yep. Still locked in a room.
Skip down to chapter 21. Finally! The disciples got a bit of fresh air but they still weren’t changing the world. What were they doing instead?
You read it right. After all they had seen and heard, the disciples went back to fishing. The very thing Jesus had invited them to leave behind. Take a peek at Matthew 4:19. What did Jesus say to the very first disciples, Simon Peter and Andrew?
I know we’re not to a full application of all this yet, but I just can’t help but find comfort in the fact that Jesus kept showing up! He didn’t berate them for deserting Him in his last moments. He didn’t shame them for their fear. He didn’t scold them for not rushing out to tell the world about how He literally defeated death in order to save humanity.
He showed up.
He met them exactly where they were.
He was helpful. (21:6)
He served them. (21:9-14)
He was tender in His dealings with Simon Peter. (21:15-18)
He extended the invitation again: “Follow me.” (21:19)
The character of God and His Son Jesus never change. We can trust that the gentle guidance that was given to the disciples will be extended to us. Is there anything more comforting than that?
Even when we fail. Even when we’re afraid. Even when we have no idea what to do next.
He’s going to show up. And we still have an opportunity to follow Him.