Luke 24:13-36, I Corinthians 15:1-8, Psalm 116
For some time I have been intrigued by one part of the story of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. After Jesus arose from the dead the New Testament tells us that Jesus appeared several times to various people. But those people were very few. Until the day he ascended probably no more than 20 different people saw Jesus. On the day of his ascension above 500 followers were there. But until that day only a handful were there to witness the presence of the Risen Christ.
And the question arises. Why so few, and why these people?
Why did Jesus not show himself to the thousands in Jerusalem. Why did he not show himself to the crowds that were there to celebrate the Passover and had seen his death?
In fact why did not Jesus show himself to the Roman Soldiers, Pilate, Herod, Annas & Caiphas. These people thought they had silenced him for good. What better way to show them that the best laid plans of mice and men go oft astray. Why not appear to the political & religious leaders of the day and show them that evil does not triumph over good.
Why not? Perhaps we can surmise why not.
I. His appearance to his enemies.
Let us look at the men that were the most responsible for the trial and death of Christ.
A. The High Priests, Annas & Caiphas.
When Jesus had stood before Annas & Caiphas the two high priests Jesus had said “You shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven.” Hearing those words they had struck him in the mouth and charged him with blasphemy. What a turning of the tables it would have been for Jesus to appear before them.
Question: would they have accepted him if he had? They would have been wonder struck! They would have been stunned. But would they have accepted him as their Lord? Never! They were not concerned with truth. It was these two men that had bribed the soldiers to tell a false tale. If they had been honest men they would not have sought to suppress truth by bribes. But they were not concerned with what was true.
They were concerned with keeping power in their own hands. They had too much at stake to accept the Christ. And if he had appeared to them they would have tried again to dispose of him.
These men remind me of the parable that Jesus tells of the rich man in hell. In agony he lifts up his eyes and says, “Send Lazarus to warn my brothers that they come not to this place” and Jesus answers “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead.”
Annas & Caiphas had long since ceased to listen to what God had been saying through the Law and the prophets. They would not have listened now. These same men had an opportunity of showing their true colours some days earlier when Lazarus had been raised from the dead.
Let me read from John 12:9-10 the amazing response of the religious leaders, “When the great crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was at Bethany, they came, not only on account of Jesus, but also to see Lazarus whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death again, because on account of him many of the Jews were believing in Jesus.” Wow!
When Jesus had been healing they had accused him of being in league with the devil. They would do the same now! I believe that if it would have accomplished any good, Jesus may well have appeared to the two men who were the spiritual leaders of Israel. But it would have done no good.
B. King Herod
But there is King Herod. Perhaps Jesus should have appeared to him?
Jesus had appeared before Herod during his trial. Perhaps Herod would have a change of mind if he saw Jesus now, risen from the dead. Herod had had some admiration for Jesus up until that week. Perhaps the resurrection would make a convert out of a king?
But I doubt it. When Jesus stood before Herod, that foolish king had known about his miracles.
He had heard of his teaching. But when he has Jesus before him, all he is concerned about is that Jesus put on a carnival for him. Listen to the words in Luke, “When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some miracle.”
He wanted Jesus to say some clever things for him, not life changing words. He wanted Jesus to do some bizarre trick to cater to his gargantuan appetite for pleasure. His only desire in life was to find a better court jester.
Had Jesus appeared to him what good would it have done? He would just have applauded it as a clever trick. He was not ready to acknowledge that there was a King greater than he. It would have been a mere tedious waste to have appeared before this so-called-King.
C. The Governor. Pontius Pilate
But there is Pilate. He is different than Annas and Caiphas. Different than Herod. Pilate was not a man given to clowning. He doesn’t appear to be the crafty schemer that typified the high priests.
He was a man that had been caught in that struggle between right and wrong. He had lost that struggle. But so had Peter. So had other disciples. We hold out a hope for Pilate.
But look at that scene in Pilate’s Hall. If Pilate had to make that same decision with the Risen Christ would it have come out any different?
Before he had sent Jesus to the cross He had declared over and over that He was innocent. He had even then suspected that Jesus was the Son of God. His wife had pressured him to release Jesus. It appeared that the evidence was overwhelming for his innocence.
But Pilate was a man unwilling to pay the price of doing justice. When it came to keeping his position as Governor or doing the truth, his mind was made up.
And if Jesus were to appear to Pilate, and Pilate had to side with that early church and face the ridicule of people in power, do you think for a moment he would have? To this very day Pilate would still be washing his hands trying to put off making any decision. He would still be asking the question, “What is truth” even when it was staring him in the face.
D. Jesus Christ the Same Yesterday and Today
But now, as then, there are many that have not met Him. There are those to whom Christ has not revealed himself.
There are some like those two priests, who are not concerned about truth but about expediency. They don’t want their lives disturbed. They like to sing the song,
“I am the captain of my fate. I am the master of my soul.”
And Jesus is the great disrupter. He comes to recreate, not give a mere stamp of approval. And to the arrogant and the proud, to the self sufficient and self-righteous Jesus does not come.
Nor does he come to those painted with Herod’s brush. The twentieth century has created a world of pleasure seekers. We have developed voracious appetites for amusement. And we readily accept the gospel as long as it is fun. And too often the church has been enveloped in the amusement and entertainment business trying to keep the Herods happy. But the risen Christ comes with the Gospel that says “If any will come after me, let them deny themselves, and take up their cross, and follow me.”
And then there are those like Pilate. The price is always too high. The decision is always pending. Life is spent tossed to and fro between great choices. We want Christ…but… We will follow Christ…but… And our wishy-washiness draws us into a life of consuming guilt and empty joys. We go through, what T.S. Elliot says of J. Alfred Prufrock: he makes “Decisions and revisions that a minute will reverse”
There are some to whom it is seems impossible for Christ to reveal himself.
II. Those to Whom He Does Appear
But I would not leave us on a negative note. Let me remind us of those to whom He did appear. They were not perfect people either. They too were sinful men and women, but with a difference.
There was a Mary Magdalene who came to the tomb with a broken heart. She had earlier found forgiveness at His feet. And now with aching emotions she comes to the tomb. Jesus had said earlier in his ministry. “He has sent me to heal the broken hearted” and Mary is met by the Risen Christ. Jesus had said it much earlier in his ministry: “Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted.” Jesus still comes to those that need him and want him.
There is Peter. Riddled with guilt. Scarred from that three fold denial and burnt by his own scalding tears. But watch Jesus as they walk by the sea shore. With healing words He restores that man made of weak shifting sand to become solid rock once more. And to those who come like Peter sorry over their sinning, the risen Christ still appears.
There are the two travellers on the Emmaus Road. A couple of no-bodies. Never heard of them before. Their heads are down. Their hopes are crushed. They had hoped that Jesus was the Messiah. But they are convinced that he was dead. Then a stranger draws near. It is the resurrected Jesus Himself who comes close to them on that road, and shares with them insight and fellowship. And hope is restored.
He comes to Thomas, that perennial doubter and provides assurance to that man. Thomas wanted to believe. And Jesus goes that second mile to give that man the needed assurance.
He appears to those 11 disciples who are hiding behind closed doors out of fear, and puts their bewilderment to rest.
He even appears to his brother James who had chosen not to follow him, and draws him into the fellowship of his church.
It is interesting to me that Jesus appears only to those who sin, or are confused, or are grieving or struggling with doubt and fear. He appears to the obscure people who hold no places of importance in their communities. And I suspect that to all who are humbled by life, that Jesus Christ by His Holy Spirit is more than ready to reveal to them his love, his wisdom & himself.