The Gospel reading before us today represents the fifth of 13 appearances Jesus makes after the resurrection. There were two others before this appearance.
The first appearance was at the empty tomb outside Jerusalem early Sunday morning as recorded in each of the gospels.
The second was to Mary Magdalene and the other women at the tomb early Sunday morning. When she went to grab him to hug him, he said, "Do not hold onto me," according to John's Gospel. This is unusual for Jesus. Matthew says, "The women fell at his feet and worshipped him."
The third appearance was to the two travelers on the road to Emmaus when he told them everything concerning himself beginning with Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms. But they didn't know it was the risen Christ until he broke bread with them.
This is reported by Luke, who also has knowledge that Jesus appeared to Peter during the day on Sunday, and that would be the fourth appearance.
But he had not yet appeared to them.
Walk with me again if you would to that resurrection day--no, to the experience of that day--no, of that week--from the triumphant entry into Jerusalem and the proclamation of hosanna on to the scenes in the upper room, where he washes the disciples' feet, shares the Seder meal with them, and spoke words of comfort into their hearts. Words like:
"Do not let your heart be troubled. Believe God, believe also in me."
"I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me."
Jesus, in his pain, his agony of what was yet to come, responds to Philip's desire to be shown the Father, says, "Don't you know me yet? You have seen me; you have seen the Father."
"I will send the Counselor and he will guide you in truth,"
"I will not leave you as orphans."
He shielded them by saying, "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you."
These words and many others Jesus shared in a tender time with people he truly loved and trusted.
We go to the Garden of Gethsemane, where we pray and witness the arrest of Jesus. We observe the trials of Jesus as he goes before the great Sanhedrin Council and the governor Pontius Pilate.
Let us stop and take note of the things that have happened here. In all of these times, Jesus has been with and before each of these entities listed above. He has appeared before them but not to them.
He spent three hard and fast years with the disciples, and they thought they knew he was the Christ, even though they believed he was the Christ, and even when Jesus finally declared to them he was the Christ,
He had not yet appeared to them.
He appeared before the Sanhedrin Council, and they knew him as the Christ. They knew that Jesus was as powerful as any prophet that had appeared in Judah or Israel. They knew he fulfilled everything that had been spoken regarding the Messiah by Moses, the prophets, and the Psalms, but he had not yet appeared to them to be the Christ. So they mocked him, they spat on him, they beat him.
Isaiah said, "He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquity. The chastisement of our peace was upon him and by his stripes we are healed."
He appeared before Pontius Pilate in the flesh and to his wife in a dream, and even though Pilate declared, "I find no fault in him,"
Jesus did not appear to him yet.
We turn to the scenes of the crucifixion. Can't you hear the agony as they nail his hands and then his feet to that cross? But wait! Wait, what are they doing? They are lifting Jesus up on the cross. Do you remember him saying, "...and I, if I be lifted up from the earth, I'll draw all humanity unto me"?
Jesus appeared to the thief on the cross to be the Christ, the Messiah, God's anointed. The thief is speaking, "Lord, when you get into your kingdom, remember me."
Jesus replies, "This day you will be with me in paradise."
Again to his mother and disciple, "Mother, behold thy son. Son, behold thy mother."
He's crying out to God, "Eli, Eli, my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
The soldiers pierce the side of this picture of innocence. Water and blood come gushing forth.
"I thirst," the Fountain of Life declares.
Then, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit."
And, finally, "It is finished!"
Joseph, a member of the Sanhedrin Council, asks for his body and buried Jesus in a tomb that had never been used, a burial place he had purchased for himself.
You have just witnessed the execution of Jesus of Nazareth, not another Jesus, for there were many Jesuses at that time. No, not one of those Jesuses but Mary's baby Jesus. Not Jesus Barabbus, though he was popular. Even though he denied knowing him, he's still Peter's Jesus. Peter proclaimed, "You are the Christ, the Messiah, God's anointed." Yes, you have just observed the death of that Jesus.
But he had not yet appeared to them.
We continue our passage with this news of a resurrected Jesus, and we return to the scenes in the upper room where the disciples are reflecting upon what had just happened.
It kind of reminds me of a beverage commercial where two friends are tussling over a can of this soft drink. Now the father of one of the boys comes out and breaks them up and asks, "What's going on?" They explain why they were tussling and acknowledge they were wrong. The father asks for the can of soda, drinks it, and says, "Now let that be a lesson to you." One of the boys asked the other boy, "What just happened here, Tommy?"
In this room behind closed and locked doors, the disciples are trying to sort out the events of this past week and even the past three years in light of what they thought, believed, hoped, and expected.
He had not yet appeared to them.
Luke 24:36 reports, "While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you."
They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. They were startled and frightened. How should have this been written--"We were just talking about you, Lord"? This is still Sunday. No, they were startled and frightened.
He said to them, "Why are you troubled and why do doubts rise in your minds? Why is it you can't believe what you see? I told you everything that was going to happen. Look at my hands and my feet. It is I, myself. Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see I have." When he said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.
Verse 41 says, "And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, 'Do you have anything here to eat?'" They still did not believe--not because they were startled and frightened, but now because of joy and amazement. What would it take for you to believe?
Verse 42-44 says that they gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence. He said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you; everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and Psalms."
Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.
Sometimes we don't see what is clear before us because our minds are closed to the possibility. When it comes to the power and ability of God, what will it take for you to believe?
The biggest problem God has with God's people Israel and today is our inability to believe that God is able to perform everything God has promised. But I'm here alive to tell you that God is a faithful God and is able to perform the impossible in your life. In fact, God specializes in the impossible. Do I have a witness today?
Verses 46-48 says that he told them, his disciples, "This is what is written, 'The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations beginning at Jerusalem.'"
You are witnesses of these things. He had now appeared to them.
My father was a pastor. But even though my father pastored, I strayed away from God. I wonder if I have a witness out there anywhere. I began looking for what we called in the 70s the "meaning of life." I questioned much of what I had been taught. But all of these times, Jesus was trying to reveal himself to me.
My father died and at his bedside, I prayed a prayer, "Lord, let me be half the man my father was." And in my father's dying, I saw faith as I had never seen faith before. I remembered the prayers my father would pray, how tears would well up in his eyes, and he would always conclude his prayer, "...and when I come to my dying hour, my dying hour, my dying hour, receive me peaceably into your kingdom where I can praise your name forever. Amen."
I saw in his death the presence of a faithful, promise-keeping God. He, my father, had died the type of death he had prayed for. At his funeral, we did a call to discipleship, and the people dedicating themselves to Christ was phenomenal. Pure bedlam broke out in that place as we rejoiced in the Lord.
I, too, returned to the church and within two years, I was acknowledging my calling into the ministry. It took my father's death for me to believe.
I told you in the beginning that there were 13 resurrection appearances. Scripture records 12, including:
* At the empty tomb
* To Mary Magdalene
* The two traveling on the Emmaus Road
* To Peter in Jerusalem
* To the ten in the Upper Room
* To the eleven in the Upper Room
* To seven disciples fishing on the Sea of Galilee
* To more than 500
* To James
* At the ascension at Mt. of Olives
* And Saul of Tarsus says Jesus appeared to him. He was changed and became the Apostle Paul.
I believe he appeared to Saul because one day he appeared to me, and now my life is changed forever. I, too, am a witness of the salvation that comes with believing, hoping, and trusting in the faithful promises of God.
The question today is, "What will it take for you to believe?" Has he appeared to you? Seek the Lord while he shall be found and call on him while he is near. Amen.