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The shepherd had gone missing for three days. The sheep responded as sheep do when they realize that they're on their own with no one to lead them, no one to protect them, no one to provide for them. They froze in fear and had a nervous breakdown.
But the shepherd is not gone forever. Only three days. Now, Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed). And He comes to His sheep to calm their fears. "Peace to you!" He simply wants them to know that He has returned and everything's going to okay because He is present with them and no harm will come to them.
It's taken me some time to realize this and apply it to my own life and to yours when we talk together about the things that worry us and scare us and we have our little nervous breakdowns over. There is great comfort simply in knowing that the resurrected Christ is present with us. The world doesn't have to change, our situation doesn't have to change, the danger may still be just as present as it was, but it's okay and we can get on with our life and actually live, if we believe that the risen Christ is present with us. For us, for now, that's enough.
The world doesn't get this. For them, the only relief from worry and fear is for the problem to be fixed. Unless the crisis or the catastrophe or the injustice is solved and fixed for good, the world says, 'what good is Jesus Christ?' Jesus is the divine "fix it man." 'He's suppose to fix what's broken and if He doesn't fix it, who needs Him?
But for us, it's enough to know that the risen Christ is present with us. In our prayers for ourselves and for others, we tell Jesus what we would like Him to do for us, but in the end we say, "Thy will be done. Just be with us." As long as we know He is with us, we know that "all things will work for good to those who love Him." And we can know His peace even in the midst of the storm.
So, all that Jesus is out to do on that first Easter day is assure His frightened little flock that He is really returned and present with them.
The problem is, they don't believe it. He comes right into the room where they're huddled together in fear and stands there. 'Peace to you.'
And what was their reaction? 'They were startled and thought they saw a spirit." You would have thought that He stood among them and said, 'BOO!" instead of "Peace to you."
And He said to them, 'Why are you troubled and why do doubts arise in your hearts?' I think that we have heard the Easter story so many times that we loose sight of just how mind-blowing the whole thing really was for the disciples. The more I think about this, the more I think that the skeptic, who hears this and says, "You expect me to believe this?" is probably listening a whole lot closer than we think he is, and maybe more carefully than we are.
So, Jesus finds Himself in a room full of skeptics. His own disciples, but skeptics nonetheless. And look how patient with them He is. I hope we have as much patience with skeptical, doubting disciples of Jesus as Jesus has with these men.
Jesus gives His disciples five proofs for His resurrection from the dead and His real presence with them, for their sake, not for His, so they may have the peace which He gives simply by being present with us. We look briefly at each one.
I. See Me
First of all, He gives them visual proof of His resurrected presence. "See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself." Okay, you say, "seeing is believing. Alright," Jesus says, "see for yourself. See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself." Of course, his hands and feet are significant because they bear the marks of the nails from His crucifixion. His hands and feet identify Him as the crucified One. No, Simon of Cyrene didn't pull a quick switch with Jesus at the last minute so Jesus would be spared the shame of the cross. "See MY hands and MY feet, that it is I MYSELF.'
He will eventually expect them to be "eyewitnesses." And so He gives them an eyeful. For now, it's so that they'll believe. But for later, to convince you and me of Christ's presence with us, they'll need to be able to say, "that which we have seen with our eyes." (1Jn.1:1)
II. Touch Me.
Second, He gives them tangible proof of His resurrected presence. They think that this must be a spirit. So He counters their doubt saying, "touch me and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have."
For now, He wants them to touch so that they would believe He is really present with them. But for later, to convince you and me of Christ's presence with us, they'll need to be able to say, "that which we touched with our hands." (1John1:1)
And how do they respond to this evidence? They can't believe it. It's all too good to be true. Luke says, "they disbelieved for joy." I counted 34 times in the Bible where people either SING for joy or SHOUT for joy. This is the only time when anyone 'disbelieved for joy.' You get the feeling that Jesus can't win for trying. Unbelievers DISBELIEVE because He lets bad things happen to good people. Believers DISBELIEVE because He does incredibly good things for bad people.
III. He eats.
Third, He proves that He is really present with them in the flesh by eating with them. "He said to them, 'Have you anything to here to eat?' They gave him a piece of broiled fish and he took it and ate before them." Even after His death and resurrection, He's still fully human with all the bodily functions of real humans. This is no spiritual eating of spiritual food. They didn't watch the fish go down His spiritual throat and drop into His spiritual belly like a living x-ray. He ate, and I wouldn't be surprised if after He ate He wiped His mouth and maybe even burped and said, 'that was good. Just the way I like it.'
The shepherd stands before His sheep and gives them visual, tangible and AUDIBLE proof of His presence with them. Unless their ears are playing tricks on them too, they heard Him speak to them. He appeals to their senses. All so that they may stop disbelieving and believe, stop being afraid and relax, and stop worrying and start living. He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.
IV. It Happened As He Told Them It Would
Then, in case the visual, tangible, audible evidence were not enough, He appeals to their minds and gives them rational, reasonable reasons to believe that He is really risen and really present with them. "Then He said to them, 'These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you.'" In other words, 'remember what I had said to you all along. Well, its happened just as I said it would.'
The principle here is that if someone's prediction comes true, our confidence in his word increases. And the more specific the details of the prediction and the more unlikely or impossible the prediction is, the more our confidence and trust in his word increases if it actually happens.
If I were to tell you that you should invest every last nickel you've got in Chrysler and General Motors stock because on May 20th, its going to go through the roof, you would look at me and just shake your head or say I ought to stick to fly-fishing, and rightly so. But then, if on May 21st , when you checked the newspaper only to see that those stocks went up 250 points, you might be more inclined to stop doubting and start believing what I say.
The gospel-writers document three specific occasions when Jesus told His disciples what would was going to happen to Him ahead of time. First time was when they were walking towards Caesarea-Philippi. A second time as they were passing through Galilee, He told them the same thing again. Then, a third time as they were on the road going up to Jerusalem, He told them again saying, "See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise." (Mark 10:33-34).
Why does He do this? Jesus says, "And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe." (John 14:29) What Jesus is giving them is the New Testament proof of His resurrected presence with them.
V. The Whole Old Testament.
Next, He gives them the Old Testament proof of His resurrected presence with them. Then He "opened their minds to understand the scriptures." "Everything written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." These all said the same thing, "that the Christ would suffer and rise again on the 3rd day."
We could take some educated guesses as to which passages in the Old Testament Jesus might have pointed them to. Maybe the safest place in the Old Testament to consider would be the place where Jesus Himself directs the scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees to when they demanded some proof that He is who He says He is. Jesus pointed them to the prophet Jonah. Just as Jonah spent three days in the belly of a whale and was then vomited out onto the shore, and just as Jonah then went and preached to the unbelieving nation of Nineveh, so Jesus would spend three days in the tomb and be spit out again, to go and preach the gospel of repentance for the forgiveness of sins to all nations, beginning right there in Jerusalem with His unbelieving disciples.
Suffice it to say that the whole Old Testament points to the Christ, that He will suffer and die for the sins of the world and be raised up again to rule over His new creation. And it all happened just as the whole Old Testament said it would.
So, what does all of this mean for us? It means exactly the same for us as it meant for those in that room on the first Easter. Jesus Christ, crucified as full atonement for all of your sins and for the sins of the whole world has risen from the dead and is present among us and with you. "Lo, I am with you always."
Into this assembly of His sheep, He comes, and gives us the same proofs of His presence as He gave to His disciples. We have the audible evidence of His presence as we hear Him speak to us through His Word. We have the tangible evidence of His presence as He puts His body into our hands and His blood onto our lips. We have the evidence of the Scriptures, the Old Testament and New.
The one proof of Christ's resurrected presence that we do not have that they had is the visual. We are not able to see Him with our eyes like they saw Jesus with theirs. So, for now, we must believe without seeing. Which is just how the bible defines faith? "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." (Hebrews 11:1). It doesn't say "not touched, not heard, not rationally worked out for us."
So, maybe that's also why John, who was in that room with the others on the first Easter night, wants to tell us that even this proof will not be withheld from us forever. "Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like Him, because WE SHALL SEE HIM AS HE IS." (1John 3:2).
In the meantime, we live by faith, trusting the word of those who were eyewitnesses and by their testimony, we live our life with the confident assurance and peace that the resurrected Christ is present with us and therefore everything's going to be okay.