Bold, brash, belligerent, impetuous, Simon Peter was the perfect leader in that he was always out in front — sometimes too far, but in front. He beat everybody to the tomb after the women reported seeing Jesus alive. He was the one who drew his sword and cut off the guard’s ear when Jesus was being arrested. He got tired of waiting for the Holy Spirit as Jesus had told them to do and went back to fishing, and when he found out Jesus was on the shore, he immediately dove into the water and beat the boat back. He saw Jesus walking on the water once and said, “Hey, can I join you out there?”
These characteristics could either work for him or against him. In almost the same breath, Jesus commended Peter for knowing He was the Messiah and then told him “Get behind me, Satan,” when he tried to rebuke the Lord for predicting how He was going to die. The title of Malcolm Boyd’s best-seller from the ‘60s, Are You Running with Me, Jesus? pretty much captures Peter, especially early on, when the answer to the question would have been a resounding, “No, I’m not, Peter. You’re not running with me.”
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete. 1 John 1:1-4
After having spent a week immersing ourselves in the stories of those who actually saw, touched and heard the risen Christ, these opening verses of the first letter of John take on deeper significance. It somehow brings it all home, and the coolest part is that it ties us into the experiences of the early disciples.
“He presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3)
From this account in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, it’s pretty clear that the accounts recorded in the four gospels where Jesus appeared to his disciples after His resurrection are not at all complete. They were the stories each of the four narrators chose to include, but there must have been many others over the course of 40 days, and most likely to different groups and gatherings of the disciples. These appearances clearly had two main purposes: first, to prove to them that He was alive, and second, to give them instruction as to what they should do.
The most famous of these appearances will be our last in the series and is commonly called the Great Commission and is found in the last few verses of Matthew’s gospel.
There is one more appearance of the resurrected Christ recorded in detail in the last chapter of John’s gospel because John was present along with Peter, Thomas, Nathanial, James and two other disciples he doesn’t name.
It starts off with Peter announcing he’s going fishing. There’s certain to be more here than just, “I’ve got nothing else to do for a while; let’s do a little fishing.” On more than one occasion, Jesus has told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they were empowered by the Holy Spirit, because they were going to have a job to do. We know now that job would include preaching the gospel and starting churches, but they wouldn’t have known anything about that at the time, and Peter being the impatient type, was most likely still smarting from his three denials of Christ. You can almost detect in his voice an attitude of, “I’m done with this discipleship business, besides, I’m not worthy to do anything for Jesus after what I’ve done. I’m going back to what I know best — what I was doing before all this started — I don’t know about you guys, but I’m going fishing!” and a bunch of them said “Hey, wait a minute, we’ll go too.” That’s pretty much the mood when this story begins.
Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” John 20:24-25
Thomas has gotten a pretty bad rap down through history for his unbelief. However, I prefer to think of him more as the Prover rather than the Doubter. He has come to be known as Doubting Thomas. It’s part of his name now, though never mentioned in scripture as such. It’s his new first name as if “Thomas” were his last. “Oh here comes Doubting. How are you doing, Doubting?” If he had been a real doubter, he would have continued to doubt even upon seeing Jesus. He just put his belief on a real, palpable level. I need to see it to believe it. I can’t take your word for it. I get it that you guys believe it was really Jesus risen from the dead, but I wasn’t there — I didn’t get to see what you saw — and until I do, I’m going to suspend my belief until I get the same chance you had, to see Him with my own eyes.
It’s been quite a day. Jesus, whom they took down from the cross, dead, and laid in a borrowed grave on Friday night was now, on the following Sunday, walking around making appearances to people. Appearing and disappearing; showing up over here, now there, now somewhere else. What do you make of this? And how many times does this need to happen before you begin to trust your senses and believe it? It’s going to take a while. One time and it would be pretty easy to explain away as your imagination run wild. But multiple times, to multiple people, in multiple places and you have something harder to deny.
“Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
“What things?” (Luke 24:18-19)
Thus began one of the strangest recorded encounters following Christ’s resurrection. This was just a little later on the same day, and the person asking the first question was Cleopas, one of the followers of Christ who was close enough to the inner circle to have been present at the crucifixion and was already aware of the stories going around that Jesus was no longer in the tomb and some of the women had seen visions of angels and were claiming that He was alive. The person asking the second question was Jesus playing dumb, making the biggest understatement in the history of the world, “What things?”