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Faithlife

Easter notes

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And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is† also vain. 15 Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. 16 For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: 17 And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. 18 Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. 19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.

20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. 21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.[1]

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

Opening Prayer

Discussion Starter

Each spring, we celebrate Easter as a reminder of the resurrection of Jesus Christ three days after His death.

     How do we know that Jesus actually did rise from the dead?

     How many items of evidence can you think of?

Lesson Development

(Ask one of the group members to summarize the paragraphs appearing at the opening of this lesson in the student’s book.)

(Read aloud the account of the resurrection found in Mark 16:1–8. Emphasize verse 6. Ask:)

     What difference does it make whether or not Christ truly rose from the dead?

     What does His resurrection prove?

(After discussing each proof that Jesus rose from the dead, ask:)

     If someone you know were to question the authenticity of Christ’s resurrection, how could you answer him?

(Guide students in formulating short, insightful responses to each proof.)

Philip Schaff, one of the leading church historians, recorded in his book History of Christianity:

The Christian church rests on the resurrection of its Founder. Without this fact the church could never have been born, or if born, it would soon have died a natural death. The miracle of the resurrection and the existence of Christianity are so closely connected that they must stand or fall together.

The disciples had seen Jesus do many miracles, including raising people from the dead. Many times Jesus explained to His disciples of His coming death and resurrection.

     Why do you think they were so surprised when it all happened?

     What physical things were done to prevent Jesus’ resurrection?

     Why do you think God allowed these to be put into place?

Jesus’ claim to raise from the dead in three days was so well-known that His enemies were well aware of it. What do you think motivated the chief priests and Pharisees to go to Pilate?

Each of the gospel writers—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—describe Jesus’ friends’ initial reactions when they learned of the resurrection.

(Look up several of these accounts and discuss how authentic the reactions were:)

     Matthew 27:16, 17

     Mark 16:9–11, 13, 14

     Luke 24:9–11, 36, 37

     John 20:1, 2, 24, 25

     From the accounts of Jesus’ appearance to His friends, how did He treat them?

     How does this prove that He was the same person who was crucified?

     What changes have you seen in your life or in the lives of others that proves Jesus is alive?

     If you were to point to one thing in your church that proves Jesus is alive, what would it be?

Why?

Christ’s resurrection shows:

     That Jesus is God (Romans 1:4)

     That Jesus’ death was accepted by God the Father as payment for our sin (Romans 4:25)

     That Christ is our High Priest and intercedes for us (1 Timothy 2:5, 6; Romans 8:34)

     That we receive many blessings because of His resurrection (Peter 1:3–5)

The ascension of Christ means that He went back to heaven in His resurrection body.

The exaltation of Christ means that God the Father gave Jesus the position of honor and power at the Father’s right hand.

The second coming of Christ is mentioned more than three hundred times in the New Testament. Whole chapters are devoted to the subject (Matthew 24, 25; Mark 13; Luke 21; Corinthians 15) and some books (Thessalonians; 2 Thessalonians; Revelation) have Christ’s return as their main subject.

     How does an understanding of Christ as Prophet, Priest, and King hinge on His return to earth?

As Prophet, Jesus predicted His return to earth. As Priest, Jesus conquered sin and death, which allows Him to be the Messiah. As Messiah, He is the promised King who will rule when He returns to earth.

     How does the church’s observance of the Lord’s Supper refer to Jesus’ return?

In Mark 14:25, Jesus says, “I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God.” The Kingdom of God refers to the kingdom that Christ will set up when He returns to earth. (See Revelation 20:4–6.) Whenever we observe the Lord’s Supper, we can also remember that Jesus will return to reign as King of kings. Then He will drink with us.

Conclusion and Application

(Have students give brief statements about what the resurrection means to them. Then read this quote:)

The Encyclopaedia Britannica records:

We have evidence that a very few weeks after the event, Jesus Christ’s followers, who had scattered in dismay, were reunited at Jerusalem … bound together in a religious society through a common conviction … They were fully persuaded that He was alive, and that he had been seen by individuals and by groups of his followers. They were eagerly expecting that He would quite shortly return as the Messiah of their race. The strength and the sincerity of their conviction were tested by persecution and proved by their steadfastness. The religious quality of their attitude to Jesus was evidenced by devotion, self-sacrifice and a sense of obligation to Him and they had a message concerning this same Jesus which they proceeded to proclaim with enthusiasm and amazing success (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1956, p.15).

The reaction of Christ’s followers after the resurrection is powerful proof that Jesus did, in fact, raise from the dead.

Closing Prayer

(Give opportunity for those present to pray silently, asking Christ to become their personal Savior. Encourage those who already know Him as Savior to give Him preeminence in their lives, asking Him—in silent prayer—to take control. Close with an audible prayer of thanksgiving for the resurrection of Jesus.)

LESSON 4

Bible Study

Five Proofs That Jesus Actually Rose From the Dead

1.     The resurrection was foretold by Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

What did Jesus tell His disciples in Luke 18:31–33? (He would be killed and rise again the third day.)

If Jesus had clearly predicted that He would rise from the dead, then failed to do so, what would this say about Him?(He was a liar and not God.)

2.     The resurrection of Christ is the only reasonable explanation for the empty tomb.

What did Jesus’ friends do to make certain His body would not be taken from the tomb (Mark 15:46)?(A stone was rolled against the entrance to the tomb.)

What did Jesus’ enemies do to make sure His body would not be taken (Matthew 27:62–66)? (They assigned guards to make the grave secure, and they set an official seal on the stone.)

But on Sunday morning the tomb was empty!

Note: If Jesus had not been killed, but only weakened and wounded by the crucifixion, the stone and the soldiers would have prevented His escape from the tomb. If Jesus’ friends had tried to steal His body, the stone and the soldiers would likewise have prevented them. Jesus’ enemies would never have taken the body since its absence from the tomb would only serve to encourage belief in His resurrection. Only His resurrection can account for the empty tomb!

3.     The resurrection is the only reasonable explanation for the appearance of Jesus Christ to His disciples.

List all the individuals or groups who actually saw the risen Christ, according to 1 Corinthians 15:4–8. (Peter, the twelve, 500 followers of Jesus, James, all the apostles, Paul.)

If Christ had not risen from the dead, what could we then conclude about all these witnesses (1 Corinthians 15:15)?(They would all have been false witnesses.)

What else would be true if Christ had not risen from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:17)? (Your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.)

When Christ appeared to His followers, what things did He do to prove He was not a hallucination (Luke 24:36–43)? (He asked them to touch Him and see that He had flesh and bones, and He ate a piece of broiled fish.)

4.     The dramatic change in the lives of His followers.

Look up these verses and describe the differences in these people:

Peter (Luke 22:54–62; Acts 4:1–22) (From a coward and a liar to a bold witness for Christ.)

Thomas (John 20:24–28; Acts 1:12–14) (From a disbeliever to a believing pray-er.)

Paul (Acts 7:54–8:3; Acts 16:16–40) (From a persecutor of Christ’s followers to a missionary for the gospel.)

5.     The resurrection is the only reasonable explanation for the beginning of the Christian church.

Within a few weeks after Jesus’ resurrection, Peter preached at Pentecost, and the Christian church began. What was the subject of his sermon (Acts 2:14–36)? (The resurrection of Christ.)

If Jesus’ body were still in the tomb, how do you think Peter’s audience would have responded to this sermon? (They would have turned away and even mocked it.)

But how did they respond (Acts 2:37, 38, 41, 42)? (They repented, were baptized, added to the church, and continued in their Christian lives.)

The Results of the Resurrection

1.     What does the resurrection tell us about the following:

Jesus Christ (Romans 1:4)?(He “was declared with power to be the Son of God.”)

The power God can now exercise in our lives (Ephesians 1:19, 20)? (God gives us the same incomparable power He used to raise Jesus.)

What will eventually happen to our bodies (Philippians 3:21)? (They will be transformed so that they will be like Jesus’ glorious body.)

2.     How would your life be affected if Christ had not risen from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:12–26)?(My faith would be useless; my sins would not be forgiven; I would have no hope; I could not look forward to Christ’s return.)

3.     If we can believe the resurrection, why is it then logical to believe all the miracles that Jesus performed? (The resurrection of His own body is a greater miracle than all the others.)

The Visible Return of Christ

1.     Describe the way in which Christ will return to earth (Matthew 24:30; Acts 1:11). (Visibly in the sky, the same way He ascended to heaven.)

2.     How does this compare to the first time Christ came to earth? (The first time He came as a lowly baby with no glory or power; when He returns, He will have all glory and power.)

3.     What will happen to the Christian when Christ comes for him (1 Corinthians 15:51, 52; Philippians 3:20, 21)? (We will receive imperishable bodies like Christ’s.)

4.     What will be the condition of the earth when Christ returns (Matthew 24:6–8)? (There will be wars, famines, and earthquakes.)

5.     What will happen to those who are not Christians when He returns (2 Thessalonians 1:7–9)? (They will be eternally punished.)

6.     What is our present hope (1 John 2:2, 3)? (Jesus has atoned [paid for] our sins.)

LIFE APPLICATION

Hebrews 13:8 says Jesus is the same today, and He can transform your life.

1.     How would your life be different from what it is if Jesus had not risen from the dead?

2.     How do you think His “resurrection life” can be seen in you on a daily basis?

3.     How can your life be different if you allow Jesus to transform it?

[2]

THE KING’S VICTORY

Matthew 28

If anything proves the kingship of Jesus Christ, it is His resurrection from the dead. The final chapter in Matthew’s Gospel is a record of victory. It is a thrilling fact that believers today share in that victory.

Notice the various stages in the experience of the believers with reference to His resurrection.

They Thought He Was Dead (Matt. 28:1)

The women who had lingered at the cross came early to the tomb, bringing spices that they might anoint His body. They thought He was dead. In fact, they wondered how they would move the huge stone that blocked the entrance to the tomb (Mark 16:3). It is remarkable that they did not believe in His resurrection when He had taught this truth repeatedly (Matt. 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; 26:32).

We must never underestimate the importance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The world believes that Jesus died, but the world does not believe that He arose from the dead. Peter’s message at Pentecost emphasized the Resurrection. In fact, it is emphasized throughout the Book of Acts. What is the significance of the Resurrection?

It proves that Jesus is God’s Son. Jesus stated that He had authority to lay down His life and to take it up again (John 10:17–18).

It verifies the truth of Scripture. Both in the Old Testament and in the teaching of Jesus, His resurrection is clearly taught (see Pss. 16:10; 110:1; 116). If Jesus had not come out of the tomb, then these Scriptures would not be true.

It assures our own future resurrection. Because Jesus died and rose again, we shall one day be raised to be like Him (1 Thes. 4:13–18 [emphasize V 14]). In fact, the entire structure of the Christian faith rests on the foundation of the Resurrection. If we do away with His resurrection, we have no hope.  (1Cor 15:14-22)

It is the proof of a future judgment. (Acts 17:31) says, “Because He hath appointed a day, in the which He will judge the world in righteousness by that man who He hath ordained; whereof He hath given assurance unto all men, in that He hath raised Him from the dead.”

It is the basis for Christ’s heavenly priesthood. (Heb. 7:23–28) it tells us, “Because He lives by the power of an endless life, He is able to save us “to the uttermost”. He lives to intercede for us.”

It gives power for Christian living. We cannot live for God by our own strength. It is only as His resurrection power works in and through us that we can do His will and glorify His name (see Rom. 6:4).

It assures our future inheritance. Because we have a living hope, we can experience hopeful living. A dead hope grows weaker and weaker before it eventually dies. But because Jesus Christ is alive, we have a glorious future (see 1 Peter 1:3–5).

Whenever God’s people gather on the Lord’s Day they bear witness that Jesus is alive and that the church has received spiritual blessings. When the followers of the Lord gathered that first Lord’s Day, they were discourged and defeated.

They Heard He Was Alive (Matt. 28:2–8)

“And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred” (Matt. 28:2, nasb). Two angels had appeared (Luke 24:4) and one of them had rolled the stone away from the door. Of course, the soldiers on duty were greatly frightened by this sudden demonstration of supernatural power. The stone was not rolled away to permit Jesus to come out, for He had already left the tomb. It was rolled back so that the people could see for themselves that the tomb was empty.

One of the angels spoke to the women and calmed their fears. “He is not here! Come, and see!” Keep in mind that these women, as well as the disciples, did not expect Jesus to be alive.

What did they see in the tomb? The graveclothes lying on the stone shelf, still wrapped in the shape of the body (John 20:5–7). Jesus had passed through the graveclothes and left them behind as evidence that He was alive. They lay there like an empty cocoon. There was no sign of struggle, the graveclothes were not in disarray. Even the napkin (which had been wrapped around His face) was folded carefully in a place by itself.

We cannot examine this evidence in the same way the believers did that first Easter Sunday. But we do have the evidence of the Word of God. Jesus was not held by the bonds of death (Acts 2:24). He had promised to arise from the dead, and His Word was never broken.

The remarkable change in the early believers is another proof of His resurrection. One day they were discouraged and hiding in defeat. The next day they were declaring His resurrection and walking in joyful victory. In fact, they were willing to die for the truth of the Resurrection. If all of this were a manufactured tale, it could never have changed their lives or enabled them to lay down their lives as martyrs.

There were over 500 witnesses who saw Jesus alive at one time (1 Cor. 15:3–8). These appearances of the risen Christ were of such a nature that they could not be explained as hallucinations or self-deception. The people who saw Him were surprised. It would have been impossible for over 500 people to suffer hallucinations at the same time. Even the Apostle Paul, who was an enemy of the church, saw the risen Christ; that experience transformed his life (Acts 9).

The existence of the church, the New Testament, and the Lord’s Day add further proof that Jesus is alive. For centuries, the Jews had been God’s people, and they had honored the seventh day, the Sabbath. Then a change took place: Jews and Gentiles united in the church and became God’s people; they met on the first day of the week, the Lord’s Day. The New Testament is a lie if Jesus is dead, for every part of it points to a risen Christ.

Of course, Christians have experienced His resurrection power in their own lives. While the inward, subjective experience alone would not prove our Lord’s historic resurrection, when combined with the other evidences, it adds great weight to the case. Still it is possible for people to be self-deluded. “Believers” in all kinds of cults will claim their way is true because of what they have experienced. But Christians have the weight of church history, Scripture, and dependable witnesses to back up their own personal experiences of faith.

“Come and see!” was followed by “Go and tell!” We must not keep the Resurrection news to ourselves. The angel sent the women to tell (of all people) Christ’s own disciples. They should have been expecting the news, but instead, they questioned it even when they heard it.

They Met the Living Christ Personally (Matt. 28:9–15)

It is when we are obeying God’s Word that He comes to us. Jesus had already appeared to Mary Magdalene in the garden (John 20:11–18; Mark 16:9). Notice that our Lord’s first two Resurrection appearances were to believing women. These faithful women were not only the last to leave Calvary, but they were also the first to come to the tomb. Their devotion to Jesus was rewarded.

“All hail!” can be translated, Grace. What a marvelous greeting for the Resurrection Day! The women fell at His feet, took hold of Him, and worshiped Him. There must have been some fear in their hearts, for He immediately assured them with His typical, “Be not afraid!”

Not only had the angel commissioned them, but the Lord also commissioned them. The phrase “My brethren” revealed the intimate relationship between Christ and His followers. Jesus had spoken similar words to Mary Magdalene earlier that morning (John 20:17). Jesus reinforced the instructions of the angel that the disciples meet Him in Galilee (see Matt. 28:7). In the Garden, Jesus had told His disciples that He would rise from the dead and meet them in Galilee; but they had forgotten (Matt. 26:31–32).

While the believers were worshiping the living Christ, the unbelievers were plotting to destroy the witness of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. By now, some of the soldiers had realized that they were in a desperate plight. The Roman seal had been broken, the stone had been rolled away, and the body was not in the tomb. For a Roman soldier to fail in his duty was an offense punishable by death (Acts 12:19; 16:27–28). But the soldiers were shrewd: They did not report to Pilate or to their superior officers; they reported to the Jewish chief priests. They knew that these men were as anxious to cover up the miracle as were the soldiers themselves! Between the chief priests, the elders, and the soldiers, they put together a story that would explain the empty tomb: The body was stolen.

By examining this story, we see that it actually proves the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If Jesus’ body was stolen, then it was taken either by His friends or His enemies. His friends could not have done it since they had left the scene and were convinced that Jesus was dead. His enemies would not steal His body because belief in His resurrection was what they were trying to prevent. They would have defeated their own purposes if they had removed His body. And, if they had taken it, why did they not produce it and silence the witness of the early church?

Anyone who stole the body would have taken the body in the graveclothes. Yet the empty graveclothes were left in the tomb in an orderly manner. This was hardly the scene of a grave robbery.

The religious leaders had given money to Judas to betray Jesus. They also gave money to the soldiers to say that the body had been stolen. These Romans would have demanded a large price, for their lives were at stake. If their superiors heard that these soldiers had failed, they could have been executed. Even if the story got to Pilate, he was not likely to do much about it. He was sure that Jesus was dead (Mark 15:43–45), and that was all that mattered to him. The disappearance of Jesus’ body created no problems for Pilate.

Mark Twain once wrote that a lie can go around the world while truth is still lacing up her boots. There is something in human nature that makes it easy for people to believe lies. It was not until the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, and the powerful witness of the Apostles, that the Jews in Jerusalem discovered the truth: Jesus Christ is alive! Any sincere person who studies this evidence with an open heart will conclude that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a historic fact that cannot be refuted.

Our Lord also appeared to the two Emmaus disciples that day (Luke 24:13–32), and also to the ten disciples in the Upper Room in Jerusalem (John 20:19–25). A week later, He appeared to the eleven disciples and dealt with Thomas’ unbelief (John 20:19–25). On that first Easter Sunday, Jesus also made a special appearance to Peter (Luke 24:33–35; 1 Cor. 15:5).

That day began with the disciples and the women thinking Jesus was dead. Then they were told that He was alive. Following that announcement, they met Him personally. There was one more stage in their experience.

They Shared the Good News with Others (Matt. 28:16–20)

Some Bible scholars equate this “mountain meeting” in Galilee with the appearance of the Lord to “more than 500 brethren at one time” (1 Cor. 15:6). The fact that some of the people present doubted His resurrection would suggest that more than the eleven Apostles were present, for these men were now confirmed believers. Our Lord’s ascension did not take place at this time, but later, after He had ministered to His disciples in Jerusalem (Luke 24:44–53).

Matthew 28:18–20 is usually called “the Great Commission,” though this statement is no greater than that in any of the other Gospels, nor is it the last statement Jesus made before He returned to heaven. However, this declaration does apply to us as believers, so we should understand the factors that are involved.

An authority (v. 18). In this verse, the word power means “authority,” the right to use power. The entire Gospel of Matthew stresses the authority of Jesus Christ. There was authority to His teaching (Matt. 7:29). He exercised authority in healing (Matt. 8:1–13), and even in forgiving sins (Matt. 9:6). He had authority over Satan, and He delegated that authority to His Apostles (Matt. 10:1). At the close of his Gospel, Matthew made it clear that Jesus has ALL authority.

Since Jesus Christ today has all authority, we may obey Him without fear. No matter where He leads us, no matter what circumstances we face, He is in control. By His death and resurrection, Jesus defeated all enemies and won for Himself all authority.

Christianity is a missionary faith. The very nature of God demands this, for God is love and God is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9). Our Lord’s death on the cross was for the whole world. If we are the children of God and share His nature, then we will want to tell the good news to the lost world.

When we read the Book of Acts, we see that the early church operated on the basis of the Lord’s sovereign authority. They ministered in His name. They depended on His power and guidance. They did not face a lost world on the basis of their own authority, but on the authority of Jesus Christ.

An activity (vv. 19–20a). The Greek verb translated go is actually not a command but a present participle (going). The only command in the entire Great Commission is “make disciples” (“teach all nations”). Jesus said, “While you are going, make disciples of all the nations.” No matter where we are, we should be witnesses for Jesus Christ and seek to win others to Him (Acts 11:19–21).

The term “disciples” was the most popular name for the early believers. Being a disciple meant more than being a convert or a church member. Apprentice might be an equivalent term. A disciple attached himself to a teacher, identified with him, learned from him, and lived with him. He learned, not simply by listening, but also by doing. Our Lord called twelve disciples and taught them so that they might be able to teach others (Mark 3:13ff).

A disciple, then, is one who has believed on Jesus Christ and expressed this faith by being baptized. He remains in the fellowship of the believers that he might be taught the truths of the faith (Acts 2:41–47). He is then able to go out and win others and teach them. This was the pattern of the New Testament church (2 Tim. 2:1–2).

In many respects, we have departed from this pattern. In most churches, the congregation pays the pastor to preach, win the lost, and build up the saved—while the church members function as cheerleaders (if they are enthusiastic) or spectators. The “converts” are won, baptized, and given the right hand of fellowship, then they join the other spectators. How much faster our churches would grow, and how much stronger and happier our church members would be, if each one were discipling another believer. The only way a local church can “be fruitful and multiply” (instead of growing by “additions”) is with a systematic discipleship program. This is the responsibility of every believer, and not just a small group who have been “called to go.”

Jesus had opened the minds of His disciples to understand the Scriptures (Luke 24:44–45). They knew what He wanted them to teach to their own converts. It is not enough to win people to the Saviour; we must also teach them the Word of God. This is also a part of the Great Commission.

An ability (v. 20b). Jesus is not only “in the midst” when His people gather together (Matt. 18:20), but He is also present with them as they scatter into the world to witness. Had He remained on earth, Jesus could not have fulfilled this promise. It was when the Spirit came that Jesus could be with His people no matter where they were.

Dr. G. Campbell Morgan told about an experience in his life that involved this statement. Early in his Christian life, Morgan used to visit several ladies once a week to read the Bible to them. When he came to the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Morgan read, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of this age.” He added, “Isn’t that a wonderful promise?” One of the ladies quickly replied, “Young man, that is not a promise—it is a fact!”

There are no conditions for us to meet, or even to believe; for Jesus Christ is with us. Paul discovered this to be true when he was seeking to establish a church in the difficult city of Corinth. Obeying this commission, Paul came to the city (Acts 18:1), won people to Christ and baptized them (Acts 18:8) and taught them the word (Acts 18:11). When the going was tough, Paul had a special visit from the Lord: “Be not afraid... for I am with thee” (Acts 18:9–10).

The phrase “the end of the age” indicates that our Lord has a plan; He is the Lord of history. As the churches follow His leading and obey His Word, they fulfill His purposes in the world. It will all come to a climax one day; meanwhile, we must all be faithful. [3]

THE POWER OF HIS RESURRECTION

John 20:19–31

The news that Jesus was alive began to spread among His followers, at first with hesitation, but then with enthusiasm. Even His disciples did not believe the first reports, and Thomas demanded proof. But wherever people were confronted with the reality of His resurrection, their lives were transformed. In fact, that same transforming experience can be yours today. As you see in John 20:19–31 the changes that took place in the lives of people, ask yourself, “Have I personally met the risen Christ? Has He changed my life?”

From Fear to Courage (John 20:19–25)

Our Lord rested in the tomb on the Sabbath and arose from the dead on the first day of the week. Many people sincerely call Sunday “the Christian Sabbath,” but Sunday is not the Sabbath Day. The seventh day of the week, the Sabbath, commemorates God’s finished work of Creation (Gen. 2:1–3). The Lord’s Day commemorates Christ’s finished work of redemption, the “new creation.” God the Father worked for six days and then rested. God the Son suffered on the cross for six hours and then rested.

God gave the Sabbath to Israel as a special “sign” that they belonged to Him (Ex. 20:8–11; 31:13–17; Neh. 9:14). The nation was to use that day for physical rest and refreshment both for man and beast; but for Israel, it was not commanded as a special day of assembly and worship. Unfortunately, the scribes and Pharisees added all kinds of restrictions to the Sabbath observance until it became a day of bondage instead of a day of blessing. Jesus deliberately violated the Sabbath traditions, though He honored the Sabbath Day.

There were at least five Resurrection appearances of our Lord on that first day of the week: to Mary Magdalene (John 20:11–18), the other women (Matt. 28:9–10), Peter (1 Cor. 15:5 and Luke 24:34), the two Emmaus disciples (Luke 24:13–32), and the disciples minus Thomas (John 20:19–25). The next Sunday, the disciples met again and Thomas was with them (John 20:26–31). It would appear that the believers from the very first met together on Sunday evening, which came to be called “the Lord’s Day” (Rev. 1:10). It appears that the early church met on the first day of the week to worship the Lord and commemorate His death and resurrection (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:1–2).

The Sabbath was over when Jesus arose from the dead (Mark 16:1). He arose on the first day of the week (Matt. 28:1; Luke 24:1; John 20:1). The change from the seventh day to the first day was not effected by some church decree; it was brought about from the beginning by the faith and witness of the first believers. For centuries, the Jewish Sabbath had been associated with Law: six days of work, and then you rest. But the Lord’s Day, the first day of the week, is associated with grace: first there is faith in the living Christ, then there will be works.

There is no evidence in Scripture that God ever gave the original Sabbath command to the Gentiles, or that it was repeated for the church to obey. Nine of the Ten Commandments are repeated in the church epistles, but the Sabbath commandment is not repeated. However, Paul makes it clear that believers must not make “special days” a test of fellowship or spirituality (Rom. 14:5ff; Col. 2:16–23).

How did our Lord transform His disciples’ fear into courage? For one thing, He came to them. We do not know where these ten frightened men met behind locked doors, but Jesus came to them and reassured them. In His resurrection body, He was able to enter the room without opening the doors! It was a solid body, for He asked them to touch Him—and He even ate some fish (Luke 24:41–43). But it was a different kind of body, one that was not limited by what we call “the laws of nature.”

It is remarkable that these men were actually afraid. The women had reported to them that Jesus was alive, and the two Emmaus disciples had added their personal witness (Luke 24:33–35). It is likely that Jesus had appeared personally to Peter sometime that afternoon (Mark 16:7; Luke 24:34; 1 Cor. 15:5), though Peter’s public restoration would not take place until later (John 21). No wonder Jesus reproached them at that time “with their unbelief and hardness of heart” (Mark 16:14).

But His first word to them was the traditional greeting, “Shalom—peace!” He could have rebuked them for their unfaithfulness and cowardice the previous weekend, but He did not. “He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities” (Ps. 103:10). The work of the cross is peace (Rom. 5:1; Eph. 2:14–17), and the message they would carry would be the Gospel of peace (Rom. 10:15). Man had declared war on God (Ps. 2; Acts 4:23–30), but God would declare “Peace!” to those who would believe.

Not only did Jesus come to them, but He reassured them. He showed them His wounded hands and side and gave them opportunity to discover that it was indeed their Master, and that He was not a phantom. (The Gospels do not record wounds in His feet, but Psalm 22:16 indicates that His feet were also nailed to the cross.)

But the wounds meant more than identification; they also were evidence that the price for salvation had been paid and man indeed could have “peace with God.” The basis for all our peace is found in the person and work of Jesus Christ. He died for us, He arose from the dead in victory, and now He lives for us. In our fears, we cannot lock Him out! He comes to us in grace and reassures us through His Word. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Prov. 27:6).

When Jesus saw that the disciples’ fear had now turned to joy, He commissioned them: “As My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you” (John 20:21). Keep in mind that the original disciples were not the only ones present; others, including the Emmaus disciples, were also in the room. This commission was not the “formal ordination” of a church order; rather, it was the dedication of His followers to the task of world evangelism. We are to take His place in this world (John 17:18). What a tremendous privilege and what a great responsibility! It is humbling to realize that Jesus loves us as the Father loves Him (John 15:9; 17:26), and that we are in the Father just as He is (John 17:21–22). It is equally as humbling to realize that He has sent us into the world just as the Father sent Him. As He was about to ascend to heaven, He again reminded them of their commission to take the message to the whole world (Matt. 28:18–20).

It must have given the men great joy to realize that, in spite of their many failures, their Lord was entrusting them with His Word and His work. They had forsaken Him and fled, but now He was sending them out to represent Him. Peter had denied Him three times; and yet in a few days, Peter would preach the Word (and accuse the Jews of denying Him—Acts 3:13–14!) and thousands would be saved.

Jesus came to them and reassured them; but He also enabled them through the Holy Spirit. John 20:22 reminds us of Genesis 2:7 when God breathed life into the first man. In both Hebrew and Greek, the word for “breath” also means “spirit.” The breath of God in the first creation meant physical life, and the breath of Jesus Christ in the new creation meant spiritual life. The believers would receive the baptism of the Spirit at Pentecost and be empowered for ministry (Acts 1:4–5; 2:1–4). Apart from the filling of the Spirit, they could not go forth to witness effectively. The Spirit had dwelt with them in the person of Christ, but now the Spirit would be in them (John 14:17).

John 20:23 must not be interpreted to mean that Jesus gave to a select body of people the right to forgive sins and let people into heaven. Jesus had spoken similar words before (Matt. 16:19), but He was not setting aside the disciples (and their successors) as a “spiritual elite” to deal with the sins of the world. Remember, there were others in the room besides the disciples, and Thomas was missing!

A correct understanding of the Greek text helps us here. Some years ago, I corresponded with the eminent Greek scholar Dr. Julius R. Mantey (now deceased) about this verse, and he assured me that the correct translation both here and in Matthew 16:19 should be: “Whosoever sins you remit [forgive] shall have already been forgiven them, and whosoever sins you retain [do not forgive] shall have already not been forgiven them.” In other words, the disciples did not provide forgiveness; they proclaimed forgiveness on the basis of the message of the Gospel. Another Greek scholar, Dr. Kenneth Wuest, translates it “they have been previously forgiven them.”

As the early believers went forth into the world, they announced the good news of salvation. If sinners would repent and believe on Jesus Christ, their sins would be forgiven them! “Who can forgive sins but God only?” (Mark 2:7) All that the Christian can do is announce the message of forgiveness; God performs the miracle of forgiveness. If sinners will believe on Jesus Christ, we can authoritatively declare to them that their sins have been forgiven; but we are not the ones who provide the forgiveness.

By now, their fears had vanished. They were sure that the Lord was alive and that He was caring for them. They had both “peace with God” and the “peace of God” (Phil. 4:6–7). They had a high and holy commission and the power provided to accomplish it. And they had been given the great privilege of bearing the good news of forgiveness to the whole world. All they now had to do was tarry in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit would be given.

From Unbelief to Confidence (John 20:26–28)

Why was Thomas not with the other disciples when they met on the evening of Resurrection Day? Was he so disappointed that he did not want to be with his friends? But when we are discouraged and defeated, we need our friends all the more! Solitude only feeds discouragement and helps it grow into self-pity, which is even worse.

Perhaps Thomas was afraid. But John 11:16 seems to indicate that he was basically a courageous man, willing to go to Judea and die with the Lord! John 14:5 reveals that Thomas was a spiritually minded man who wanted to know the truth and was not ashamed to ask questions. There seems to have been a “pessimistic” outlook in Thomas. We call him “Doubting Thomas,” but Jesus did not rebuke him for his doubts. He rebuked him for unbelief: “Be not faithless, but believing.” Doubt is often an intellectual problem: we want to believe, but the faith is overwhelmed by problems and questions. Unbelief is a moral problem; we simply will not believe.

What was it that Thomas would not believe? The reports of the other Christians that Jesus Christ was alive. The verb said in John 20:25 means that the disciples “kept saying to him” that they had seen the Lord Jesus Christ alive. No doubt the women and the Emmaus pilgrims also added their witness to this testimony. On the one hand, we admire Thomas for wanting personal experience; but on the other hand, we must fault him for laying down conditions for the Lord to meet.

Like most people in that day, he had two names: “Thomas” is Aramaic, “Didymus” is Greek, and they both mean “twin.” Who was Thomas’ twin? We do not know—but sometimes you and I feel as if we might be his twins! How often we have refused to believe and have insisted that God prove Himself to us!

Thomas is a good warning to all of us not to miss meeting with God’s people on the Lord’s Day (Heb. 10:22–25). Because Thomas was not there, he missed seeing Jesus Christ, hearing His words of peace, and receiving His commission and gift of spiritual life. He had to endure a week of fear and unbelief when he could have been experiencing joy and peace! Remember Thomas when you are tempted to stay home from church. You never know what special blessing you might miss!

But let’s give him credit for showing up the next week. The other ten men had told Thomas that they had seen the Lord’s hands and side (John 20:20), so Thomas made that the test. Thomas had been there when Jesus raised Lazarus, so why should he question our Lord’s own resurrection? But, he still wanted proof; “seeing is believing.”

Thomas’ words help us to understand the difference between doubt and unbelief. Doubt says, “I cannot believe! There are too many problems!” Unbelief says, “I will not believe unless you give me the evidence I ask for!” In fact, in the Greek text, there is a double negative: “I positively will not believe!”

Jesus had heard Thomas’ words; nobody had to report them to Him. So, the next Lord’s Day, the Lord appeared in the room (again, the doors were locked) and dealt personally with Thomas and his unbelief. He still greeted them with “Shalom—peace!” Even Thomas’ unbelief could not rob the other disciples of their peace and joy in the Lord.

How gracious our Lord is to stoop to our level of experience in order to lift us where we ought to be. The Lord granted Gideon the “tests of faith” that he requested (Jud. 6:36–40), and He granted Thomas his request as well. There is no record that Thomas ever accepted the Lord’s invitation. When the time came to prove his faith, Thomas needed no more proof!

Our Lord’s words translate literally, “Stop becoming faithless but become a believer.” Jesus saw a dangerous process at work in Thomas’ heart, and He wanted to put a stop to it. The best commentary on this is Hebrews 3, where God warns against “an evil heart of unbelief” (Heb. 3:12).

It is not easy to understand the psychology of doubt and unbelief. Perhaps it is linked to personality traits; some people are more trustful than others. Perhaps Thomas was so depressed that he was ready to quit, so he “threw out a challenge” and never really expected Jesus to accept it. At any rate, Thomas was faced with his own words, and he had to make a decision.

John 20:29 indicates that Thomas’ testimony did not come from his touching Jesus, but from his seeing Jesus. “My Lord and my God!” is the last of the testimonies that John records to the deity of Jesus Christ. The others are: John the Baptist (John 1:34); Nathanael (John 1:49); Jesus Himself (John 5:25; 10:36); Peter (John 6:69); the healed blind man (John 9:35); Martha (John 11:27); and, of course, John himself (John 20:30–31).

It is an encouragement to us to know that the Lord had a personal interest in and concern for “Doubting Thomas.” He wanted to strengthen his faith and include him in the blessings that lay in store for His followers. Thomas reminds us that unbelief robs us of blessings and opportunities. It may sound sophisticated and intellectual to question what Jesus did, but such questions are usually evidence of hard hearts, not of searching minds. Thomas represents the “scientific approach” to life—and it did not work! After all, when a skeptic says, “I will not believe unless—” he is already admitting that he does believe! He believes in the validity of the test or experiment that he has devised! If he can have faith in his own “scientific approach,” why can he not have faith in what God has revealed?

We need to remind ourselves that everybody lives by faith. The difference is in the object of that faith. Christians put their faith in God and His Word, while unsaved people put their faith in themselves.

From Death to Life (John 20:29–31)

John could not end his book without bringing the Resurrection miracle to his own readers. We must not look at Thomas and the other disciples and envy them, as though the power of Christ’s resurrection could never be experienced in our lives today. That was why John wrote this Gospel—so that people in every age could know that Jesus is God and that faith in Him brings everlasting life.

It is not necessary to “see” Jesus Christ in order to believe. Yes, it was a blessing for the early Christians to see their Lord and know that He was alive; but that is not what saved them. They were saved, not by seeing, but by believing. The emphasis throughout the Gospel of John is on believing. There are nearly 100 references in this Gospel to believing on Jesus Christ.

You and I today cannot see Christ, nor can we see Him perform the miracles (signs) that John wrote about in this book. But the record is there, and that is all that we need. “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17; and note 1 John 5:9–13). As you read John’s record, you come face to face with Jesus Christ, how He lived, what He said, and what He did. All of the evidence points to the conclusion that He is indeed God come in the flesh, the Saviour of the world.

The signs that John selected and described in this book are proof of the deity of Christ. They are important. But sinners are not saved by believing in miracles; they are saved by believing on Jesus Christ. Many of the Jews in Jerusalem believed on Jesus because of His miracles, but He did not believe in them! (John 2:23–25) Great crowds followed Him because of His miracles (John 6:2); but in the end, most of them left Him for good (John 6:66). Even the religious leaders who plotted His death believed that He did miracles, but this “faith” did not save them (John 11:47ff).

Faith in His miracles should lead to faith in His Word, and to personal faith in Jesus as Saviour and Lord. Jesus Himself pointed out that faith in His works (miracles) was but the first step toward faith in the Word of God (John 5:36–40). The sinner must “hear” the Word if he is to be saved (John 5:24).

There was no need for John to decribe every miracle that our Lord performed; in fact, he supposed that a complete record could never be written (John 21:25). The life and ministry of Jesus Christ were simply too rich and full for any writer, even an inspired one, to give a complete record. But a complete record is not necessary. All of the basic facts are here for us to read and consider. There is sufficient truth for any sinner to believe and be saved!

The subject of John’s Gospel is “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” He presented a threefold proof of this thesis: our Lord’s works, our Lord’s walk, and our Lord’s words. In this Gospel, you see Jesus performing miracles; you watch Him living a perfect life in the midst of His enemies; and you hear Him speaking words that nobody else could speak.

Either Jesus was a madman, or He was deluded, or He was all that He claimed to be. While some of His enemies did call Him deranged and deluded, the majority of people who watched Him and listened to Him concluded that He was unique, unlike anyone else they had ever known. How could a madman or a deluded man accomplish what Jesus accomplished? When people trusted Him, their lives were transformed! That does not happen when you trust a madman or a deceiver.

He claimed to be God come in the flesh, the Son of God, the Saviour of the world. That is what He is!

John was not content simply to explain a subject. He was an evangelist who wanted to achieve an object. He wanted his readers to believe in Jesus Christ and be saved! He was not writing a biography to entertain or a history to enlighten. He was writing an evangel to change men’s lives.

“Life” is one of John’s key words; he uses it at least thirty-six times. Jesus offers sinners abundant life and eternal life; and the only way they can get it is through personal faith in Him.

If sinners need life, then the implication is that they are dead. “And you hath He quickened [made alive, resurrected] who were dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). Salvation is not resuscitation; it is resurrection (John 5:24). The lost sinner is not sick or weak; he is dead.

This life comes “through His name.” What is His name? In John’s Gospel, the emphasis is on His name “I AM.” Jesus makes seven great “I AM” statements in this Gospel, offering the lost sinner all that he needs.

Eternal life is not “endless time,” for even lost people are going to live forever in hell. “Eternal life” means the very life of God experienced today. It is a quality of life, not a quantity of time. It is the spiritual experience of “heaven on earth” today. The Christian does not have to die to have this eternal life; he possesses it in Christ today.

The ten disciples were changed from fear to courage, and Thomas was changed from unbelief to confidence. Now, John invites you to trust Jesus Christ and be changed from death to eternal life.

If you have already made this life-changing decision, give thanks to God for the precious gift of eternal life.

If you have never made this decision, do so right now.

“He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36).

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

TRANSFORMED TO SERVE

John 21

The average reader would conclude that John completed his book with the dramatic testimony of Thomas (John 20:28–31), and the reader would wonder why John added another chapter. The main reason is the Apostle Peter, John’s close associate in ministry (Acts 3:1). John did not want to end his Gospel without telling his readers that Peter was restored to his apostleship. Apart from the information in this chapter, we would wonder why Peter was so prominent in the first twelve chapters of the Book of Acts.

John had another purpose in mind: he wanted to refute the foolish rumor that had spread among the believers that John would live until the return of the Lord (John 21:23). John made it clear that our Lord’s words had been greatly misunderstood.

I think John may have had another purpose in mind: he wanted to teach us how to relate to the risen Christ. During the forty days between His resurrection and ascension, our Lord appeared and disappeared at will, visiting with the disciples and preparing them for the coming of the Spirit and their future ministries (Acts 1:1–9). They never knew when He would appear, so they had to stay alert! (The fact that He may return for His people today ought to keep us on our toes!) It was an important time for the disciples because they were about to take His place in the world and begin to carry the message to others.

I see in this chapter three pictures of the believer and a responsibility attached to each picture.

We Are Fishers of Men—Obey Him (John 21:1–8)

The Lord had instructed His disciples to meet Him in Galilee, which helps to explain why they were at the Sea of Galilee, or Sea of Tiberias (Matt. 26:32; 28:7–10; Mark 16:7). But John did not explain why Peter decided to go fishing, and Bible students are not in agreement in their suggestions. Some claim that he was perfectly within his rights, that he needed to pay his bills and the best way to get money was to go fishing. Why sit around idle? Get busy!

Others believe that Peter had been called from that kind of life (Luke 5:1–11) and that it was wrong for him to return. Furthermore, when he went fishing, Peter took six other men with him! If he was wrong, they were wrong too; and it is a sad thing when a believer leads others astray.

By the way, it is interesting that at least seven of the twelve disciples were probably fishermen. Why did Jesus call so many fishermen to follow Him? For one thing, fishermen are courageous, and Jesus needs brave people to follow Him. They are also dedicated to one thing and cannot easily be distracted. Fishermen do not quit! (We are thinking, of course, of professional fishermen, not idle people on vacation!) They know how to take orders, and they know how to work together.

Whether Peter and his friends were right or wrong we cannot prove—though I personally think that they were wrong—but we do know this: their efforts were in vain. Had they forgotten the Lord’s words, “For without Me, ye can do nothing”? (John 15:5) They toiled all night and caught nothing. Certainly, Peter must have remembered what happened two years before, when Jesus called him into full-time discipleship (Luke 5:1–11). On that occasion, Peter had fished all night and caught nothing, but Jesus had turned his failure into success.

Perhaps Peter’s impulsiveness and self-confidence were revealing themselves again. He was sincere, and he worked hard, but there were no results. How like some believers in the service of the Lord! They sincerely believe that they are doing God’s will, but their labors are in vain. They are serving without direction from the Lord, so they cannot expect blessing from the Lord.

After His resurrection, our Lord was sometimes not recognized (Luke 24:16; John 20:14); so it was that His disciples did not recognize Him when, at dawning, He appeared on the shore. His question expected a negative reply: “You have not caught anything to eat, have you?” Their reply was brief and perhaps a bit embarrassed: “No.”

It was time for Jesus to take over the situation, just as He did when He called Peter into discipleship. He told them where to cast the net; they obeyed, and they caught 153 fish! The difference between success and failure was the width of the ship! We are never far from success when we permit Jesus to give the orders, and we are usually closer to success than we realize.

It was John who first realized that the stranger on the shore was their own Lord and Master. It was John who leaned on the Lord’s breast at the table (John 13:23) and who stood by the cross when his Lord suffered and died (John 19:26). It is love that recognizes the Lord and shares that good news with others: “It is the Lord!”

With characteristic impulsiveness, Peter quickly put on his outer garment (“naked” simply means “stripped for work”) and dove into the water! He wanted to get to Jesus! This is in contrast to Luke 5:8 where Peter told the Lord to depart from him. The other six men followed in the boat, bringing the net full of fish. In the experience recorded in Luke 5, the nets began to break; but in this experience, the net held fast.

Perhaps we can see in these two “fishing miracles” an illustration of how the Lord helps His people fish for lost souls. All of our efforts are useless apart from His direction and blessing. During this present age, we do not know how many fish we have caught, and it often appears that the nets are breaking! But at the end of the age, when we see the Lord, not one fish will be lost and we will discover how many there are.

Jesus called the disciples and us to be “fishers of men.” This phrase was not invented by Jesus; it had been used for years by Greek and Roman teachers. To be a “fisher of men” in that day meant to seek to persuade men and “catch” them with the truth. A fisherman catches living fish, but when he gets them, they die. A Christian witness seeks to catch “dead fish” (dead in their sins), and when he or she “catches” them, they are made alive in Christ!

Now we can understand why Jesus had so many fishermen in the disciple band. Fishermen know how to work. They have courage and faith to go out “into the deep.” They have much patience and persistence, and they will not quit. They know how to cooperate with one another, and they are skilled in using the equipment and the boat. What examples for us to follow as we seek to “catch fish” for Jesus Christ!

We are indeed “fishers of men,” and there are “fish” all around us. If we obey His directions, we will catch the fish.

We Are Shepherds—Love Him (John 21:9–18)

Jesus met His disciples on the beach where He had already prepared breakfast for them. This entire scene must have stirred Peter’s memory and touched his conscience. Surely he was recalling that first catch of fish (Luke 5:1–11) and perhaps even the feeding of the 5,000 with bread and fish (John 6). It was at the close of the latter event that Peter had given his clear-cut witness of faith in Jesus Christ (John 6:66–71). The “fire of coals” would certainly remind him of the fire at which he denied the Lord (John 18:18). It is good for us to remember the past; we may have something to confess.

Three “invitations” stand out in John’s Gospel: “Come and see” (John 1:39); “Come and drink” (John 7:37); and “Come and dine” (John 21:12). How loving of Jesus to feed Peter before He dealt with his spiritual needs. He gave Peter opportunity to dry off, get warm, satisfy his hunger, and enjoy personal fellowship. This is a good example for us to follow as we care for God’s people. Certainly the spiritual is more important than the physical, but caring for the physical can prepare the way for spiritual ministry. Our Lord does not so emphasize “the soul” that He neglects the body.

Peter and his Lord had already met privately and no doubt taken care of Peter’s sins (Luke 24:34; 1 Cor. 15:5), but since Peter had denied the Lord publicly, it was important that there be a public restoration. Sin should be dealt with only to the extent that it is known. Private sins should be confessed in private, public sins in public. Since Peter had denied his Lord three times, Jesus asked him three personal questions. He also encouraged him by giving a threefold commission that restored Peter to his ministry.

The key issue is Peter’s love for the Lord Jesus, and that should be a key matter with us today. But what did the Lord mean by “more than these”? Was He asking, “Do you love Me more than you love these other men?” Not likely, because this had never been a problem among the disciples. They all loved the Lord Jesus supremely, even though they did not always obey Him completely. Perhaps Jesus meant, “Do you love Me more than you love these boats and nets and fish?” Again, this is not likely, for there is no evidence that Peter ever desired to go back permanently into the fishing business. Fishing did not seem to compete with the Saviour’s love.

The question probably meant, “Do you love Me—as you claimed—more than these other disciples love Me?” Peter had boasted of his love for Christ and had even contrasted it with that of the other men. “I will lay down my life for Thy sake!” (John 13:37) “Though all men shall be offended because of Thee, yet will I never be offended!” (Matt. 26:33) There is more than a hint in these boastful statements that Peter believed that he loved the Lord more than did the other disciples.

Many commentaries point out that, in this conversation, two different words are used for “love.” In His questions in John 21:15–16, our Lord used agape, which is the Greek word for the highest kind of love, sacrificing love, divine love. Peter always used phileo, which is the love of friend for friend, fondness for another. In John 21:17, Jesus and Peter both used phileo.

However, it is doubtful that we should make too much of an issue over this, because the two words are often used interchangeably in the Gospel of John. In John 3:16, God’s love for man is agape love; but in John 16:27, it is phileo love. The Father’s love for His Son is agape love in John 3:35 but phileo love in John 5:20. Christians are supposed to love one another. In John 13:34, this love is agape love; but in John 15:19, it is phileo love. It would appear that John used these two words as synonyms, whatever fine distinctions there might have been between them.

Before we judge Peter too severely, two other matters should be considered. When answering the first two questions, Peter did affirm his agape love when he said, “Yes, Lord!” The fact that Peter himself used phileo did not negate his wholehearted assent to the Lord’s use of agape. Second, Peter and Jesus undoubtedly spoke in Aramaic, even though the Holy Spirit recorded the conversation in common Greek. It might be unwise for us to press the Greek too far in this case.

In spite of his faults and failures, Peter did indeed love the Lord, and he was not ashamed to admit it. The other men were certainly listening “over Peter’s shoulder” and benefiting from the conversation, for they too had failed the Lord after boasting of their devotion. Peter had already confessed his sin and been forgiven. Now he was being restored to apostleship and leadership.

The image, however, changes from that of the fisherman to that of the shepherd. Peter was to minister both as an evangelist (catching the fish) and a pastor (shepherding the flock). It is unfortunate when we divorce these two because they should go together. Pastors ought to evangelize (2 Tim. 4:5) and then shepherd the people they have won so that they mature in the Lord.

Jesus gave three admonitions to Peter: “Feed My lambs,” “Shepherd My sheep,” and “Feed My sheep.” Both the lambs and the more mature sheep need feeding and leading, and that is the task of the spiritual shepherd. It is an awesome responsibility to be a shepherd of God’s flock! (1 Peter 5:2) There are enemies that want to destroy the flock, and the shepherd must be alert and courageous (Acts 20:28–35). By nature, sheep are ignorant and defenseless, and they need the protection and guidance of the shepherd.

While it is true that the Holy Spirit equips people to serve as shepherds, and gives these people to churches (Eph. 4:11ff), it is also true that each individual Christian must help to care for the flock. Each of us has a gift or gifts from the Lord, and we should use what He has given us to help protect and perfect the flock. Sheep are prone to wander, and we must look after each other and encourage each other.

Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd (John 10:11), the Great Shepherd (Heb. 13:20–21), and the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4). Pastors are “under-shepherds” who must obey Him as they minister to the flock. The most important thing the pastor can do is to love Jesus Christ. If he truly loves Jesus Christ, the pastor will also love His sheep and tenderly care for them. The Greek word for “sheep” at the end of John 21:17 means “dear sheep.” Our Lord’s sheep are dear to Him and He wants His ministers to love them and care for them personally and lovingly. (See Ezek. 34 for God’s indictment of unfaithful shepherds, the leaders of Judah.) A pastor who loves the flock will serve it faithfully, no matter what the cost.

We Are Disciples—Follow Him (John 21:19–25)

Jesus had just spoken about Peter’s life and ministry, and now He talks about Peter’s death. This must have been a shock to Peter, to have the Lord discuss his death in such an open manner. No doubt Peter was rejoicing that he had been restored to fellowship and apostleship. Why bring up martyrdom?

The first time Jesus spoke about His own death, Peter had opposed it (Matt. 16:21ff). Peter had even used his sword in the Garden in a futile attempt to protect his Lord. Yet Peter had boasted he would die for the Lord Jesus! But when the pressure was on, Peter failed miserably. (You and I probably would have done worse!) Anyone who yields himself to serve the Lord must honestly confront this matter of death.

When a person has settled the matter of death, then he is ready to live and to serve! Our Lord’s own death is a repeated theme in John’s Gospel: He knew that His “hour” would come, and He was prepared to obey the Father’s will. We as His followers must yield ourselves—just as He yielded Himself for us—and be “living sacrifices” (Rom. 12:1–2) who are “ready to be offered” (2 Tim. 4:6–8) if it is the will of God.

Earlier that morning, Peter had “girded himself” and hurried to shore to meet Jesus (John 21:7). The day would come when another would take charge of Peter—and kill him (see 2 Peter 1:13–14). Tradition tells us that Peter was indeed crucified, but that he asked to be crucified upside down, because he was not worthy to die exactly as his Master had died.

But Peter’s death would not be a tragedy; it would glorify God! The death of Lazarus glorified God (John 11:4, 40) and so did the death of Jesus (John 12:23ff). Paul’s great concern was that he glorify God, whether by life or by death (Phil. 1:20–21). This should be our desire as well.

Our Lord’s words, “Follow Me!” must have brought new joy and love to Peter’s heart. Literally, Jesus said, “Keep on following Me.” Immediately, Peter began to follow Jesus, just as he had done before his great denial. However, for a moment Peter took his eyes off the Lord Jesus, a mistake he had made at least two other times. After that first great catch of fish, Peter took his eyes off his Lord and looked at himself. “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” (Luke 5:8) When he was walking on the stormy sea with Jesus, Peter looked away from the Lord and began to look at the wind and waves; and immediately he began to sink (Matt. 14:30). It is dangerous to look at the circumstances instead of looking to the Lord.

Why did Peter look away from his Lord and start to look back? He heard somebody walking behind him. It was the Apostle John who was also following Jesus Christ. Peter did a foolish thing and asked Jesus, “What shall this man do?” In other words, “Lord, you just told me what will happen to me; now, what will happen to John?”

The Lord rebuked Peter and reminded him that his job was to follow, not to meddle into the lives of other believers. Beware when you get your eyes off the Lord and start to look at other Christians! “Looking unto Jesus” should be the aim and practice of every believer (Heb. 12:1–2). To be distracted by ourselves, our circumstances, or by other Christians, is to disobey the Lord and possibly get detoured out of the will of God. Keep your eyes of faith on Him and on Him alone.

This does not mean that we ignore others, because we do have the responsibility of caring for one another (Phil. 2:1–4). Rather, it means that we must not permit our curiosity about others to distract us from following the Lord. God has His plan for us; He also has plans for our Christian friends and associates. How He works in their lives is His business. Our business is to follow Him as He leads us (see Rom. 14:1–13).

I recall a critical time in my own ministry when I was disturbed because other ministers were apparently getting God’s “blessing” in abundance while I seemed to be reaping a meager harvest. I must confess that I envied them and wished that God had given their gifts to me. But the Lord tenderly rebuked me with, “What is that to thee? Follow thou Me.” It was just the message I needed, and I have tried to heed it ever since.

Jesus did not say that John would live until His return, but that is the way some of the misguided believers understood it. More problems are caused by confused saints than by lost sinners! Misinterpreting the Word of God only creates misunderstanding about God’s people and God’s plans for His people.

However, there is a somewhat enigmatic quality to what the Lord said about John. Jesus did not say that John would live until He returned, nor did He say that John would die before He returned. As it was, John lived the longest of all the disciples and did witness the Lord’s return when he saw the visions that he recorded in the Book of Revelation.

As John came to the close of his book, he affirmed again the credibility of his witness. (Remember, witness is a key theme in the Gospel of John. The word is used forty-seven times.) John witnessed these events himself and wrote them for us as he was led by the Holy Spirit. He could have included so much more, but he wrote only what the Spirit told him to write.

The book ends with Peter and John together following Jesus, and He led them right into the Book of Acts! What an exciting thing it was to receive the power of the Spirit and to bear witness of Jesus Christ! Had they not trusted Him, been transformed by Him, and followed Him, they would have remained successful fishermen on the Sea of Galilee; and the world would never have heard of them.

Jesus Christ is transforming lives today. Wherever He finds a believer who is willing to yield to His will, listen to His Word, and follow His way, He begins to transform that believer and accomplish remarkable things in that life. He also begins to do wonderful things through that life.

Peter and John have been off the scene (except for their books) for centuries, but you and I are still here. We are taking His place and taking their place. What a responsibility! What a privilege!

We can succeed only as we permit Him to transform us. [4]

Perplexed Hearts: He Opens the Tomb (Luke 24:1–12)

We do not know at what time Jesus arose from the dead on the first day of the week, but it must have been very early. The earthquake and the angel (Matt. 28:2–4) opened the tomb, not to let Jesus out but to let the witnesses in. “Come and see, go and tell!” is the Easter mandate for the church.

Mary Magdalene had been especially helped by Jesus and was devoted to Him (Luke 8:2). She had lingered at the cross (Mark 15:47), and then she was first at the tomb. With her were Mary the mother of James; Joanna; and other devout women (Luke 24:10), hoping to finish preparing their Lord’s body for burial. It was a sad labor of love that was transformed into gladness when they discovered that Jesus was alive.

“Who will roll the stone away?” was their main concern. The Roman soldiers would not break the Roman seal, especially for a group of mourning Jewish women. But God had solved the problem for them; the tomb was open and there was no body to prepare!

At this point two angels appeared on the scene. Matthew 28:2 and Mark 16:5 mention only one of the two, the one who gave the message to the women. There was a kind rebuke in his message as he reminded them of their bad memories! More than once, Jesus had told His followers that He would suffer and die and be raised from the dead (Matt. 16:21; 17:22–23; 20:17–19; Luke 9:22, 44; 18:31–34). How sad it is when God’s people forget His Word and live defeated lives. Today, the Spirit of God assists us to remember His Word (John 14:26).

Obedient to their commission, the women ran to tell the disciples the good news, but the men did not believe them! (According to Mark 16:14, Jesus later rebuked them for their unbelief.) Mary Magdalene asked Peter and John to come to examine the tomb (John 20:1–10), and they too saw the proof that Jesus was not there. However, all that the evidence said was that the body was gone and that apparently there had been no violence.

As Mary lingered by the tomb weeping, Jesus Himself appeared to her (John 20:11–18). It is one thing to see the empty tomb and the empty graveclothes, but quite something else to meet the risen Christ. We today cannot see the evidence in the tomb, but we do have the testimony of the witnesses found in the inspired Word of God. And we can live out our faith in Jesus Christ and know personally that He is alive in us (Gal. 2:20).

Keep in mind that these women did not expect to see Jesus alive. They had forgotten His resurrection promises and went to the tomb only to finish anointing His body. To say that they had hallucinations and only thought they saw Jesus is to fly in the face of the evidence. And would this many people hallucinate about the same thing at the same time? Not likely. They became excited witnesses, even to their leaders, that Jesus Christ is alive!

Discouraged Hearts: He Opens Their Eyes (Luke 24:13–35)

Emmaus was a small village eight miles northwest of Jerusalem. The two men walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus were discouraged disciples who had no reason to be discouraged. They had heard the reports of the women that the tomb was empty and that Jesus was alive, but they did not believe them. They had hoped that Jesus would redeem Israel (Luke 24:21), but their hopes had been shattered. We get the impression that these men were discouraged and disappointed because God did not do what they wanted Him to do. They saw the glory of the kingdom, but they failed to understand the suffering.

Jesus graciously walked with them and listened to their “animated heated conversation” (Luke 24:17, wuest). No doubt they were quoting various Old Testament prophecies and trying to remember what Jesus had taught, but they were unable to put it all together and come up with an explanation that made sense. Was He a failure or a success? Why did He have to die? Was there a future for the nation?

There is a touch of humor in Luke 24:19 when Jesus asked, “What things?” He had been at the heart of all that had happened in Jerusalem, and now He was asking them to tell Him what occurred! How patient our Lord is with us as He listens to us tell Him what He already knows (Rom. 8:34). But we may come “boldly” (“with freedom of speech”) to His throne and pour out our hearts to Him, and He will help us (Ps. 62:8; Heb. 4:16).

The longer Cleopas talked, the more he indicted himself and his friend for their unbelief. What more evidence could they want? Witnesses (including Apostles) had seen the tomb empty. Angels had announced that Jesus was alive. Witnesses had seen Him alive and heard Him speak. The proof was there!

“Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17, nkjv). This explains why Jesus opened the Word to these two men as the three of them walked to Emmaus. Their real problem was not in their heads but in their hearts (see Luke 24:25 and 32, and note v. 38). They could have discussed the subject for days and never arrived at a satisfactory answer. What they needed was a fresh understanding of the Word of God, and Jesus gave that understanding to them. He opened the Scriptures and then opened their eyes, and they realized that Jesus was not only alive but right there with them!

What was their basic problem? They did not believe all that the prophets had written about the Messiah. That was the problem with most of the Jews in that day: they saw Messiah as a conquering Redeemer, but they did not see Him as a Suffering Servant. As they read the Old Testament, they saw the glory but not the suffering, the crown but not the cross.

That was some Bible conference, and I wish I could have been there! Imagine the greatest Teacher explaining the greatest themes from the greatest Book and bringing the greatest blessings to men’s lives: eyes open to see Him, hearts open to receive the Word, and lips open to tell others what Jesus said to them!

Perhaps Jesus started at Genesis 3:15, the first promise of the Redeemer, and traced that promise through the Scriptures. He may have lingered at Genesis 22, which tells of Abraham placing his only beloved son on the altar. Surely He touched on Passover, the levitical sacrifices, the tabernacle ceremonies, the Day of Atonement, the serpent in the wilderness, the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53, and the prophetic messages of Psalms 22 and 69. The key to understanding the Bible is to see Jesus Christ on every page. He did not teach them only doctrine or prophecy; He taught “the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27).

These men had talked to Jesus and listened to Jesus, and when He made as though He would go on alone, they asked Jesus to come home with them. They had been won by the Word of God, and they did not even know who the Stranger was. All they knew was that their hearts were “burning” within them, and they wanted the blessing to last.

The more we receive the Word of God, the more we will want to fellowship with the God of the Word. The hymn writer expressed it perfectly: “Beyond the sacred page/I seek Thee, Lord.” Understanding Bible knowledge can lead to a “big head” (1 Cor. 8:1), but receiving Bible truth and walking with the Saviour will lead to a burning heart.

Jesus opened the Scriptures to them, and then He opened their eyes so that they recognized Him. Now they knew for themselves that Jesus was alive. They had the evidence of the open tomb, the angels, the witnesses, the Scriptures and now their own personal experience with the Lord. The fact that Jesus vanished did not mean that He abandoned them, for He was with them even though they could not see Him; and they would see Him again.

The best evidence that we have understood the Bible and met the living Christ is that we have something exciting to share with others. The two men immediately left Emmaus and returned to Jerusalem to tell the believers that they had met Jesus. But when they arrived, the apostles and the others told them that Jesus was alive and had appeared to Peter! What a difference it would make in our church services if everybody who gathered came to tell about meeting the living Christ! If our services are “dead” it is probably because we are not really walking with and listening to the living Saviour.

The “breaking of bread” (Luke 24:30, 35) refers to a meal and not to the Lord’s Supper. As far as we know, the Apostles were the only ones Jesus had instructed about the Lord’s Supper; and it was not likely that our Lord would celebrate it at this time. Jesus revealed Himself to them during a common meal, and that is often how He works. We must learn to see Him in the everyday things of life. However, as we do celebrate the Lord’s Supper from time to time, we want Jesus to reveal Himself to us in a new way, and we must not be satisfied with anything less.

Troubled Hearts: He Opens Their Minds (Luke 24:36–46)

So many exciting things had happened that day and so much was unexplained that ten of the Apostles, plus other believers, met together that evening and shared their witness with one another. While Cleopas and his friend were telling their story, Jesus Himself appeared in the room!And the doors were shut! (John 20:19)

You would have expected the believers to heave a great sigh of relief and sing a hymn of praise, but instead they became terrified, frightened, and troubled (Luke 24:37–38). They thought a ghost had appeared! It all happened so suddenly that they were totally unprepared, even though several of them had already seen the risen Christ. Mark 16:14 suggests that the condition of their hearts had something to do with the expression of their fears.

Jesus sought to calm them. The first thing He did was to give them His blessing: “Peace be unto you!” He even repeated the blessing (John 20:19–21). “The God of peace” had raised Jesus from the dead, and there was nothing for them to fear (Heb. 13:20–21). Because of His sacrifice on the cross, men and women could now have peace with God (Rom. 5:1) and enjoy the peace of God (Phil. 4:6–7).

The next thing He did to calm them was to show them His wounded hands and feet (Ps. 22:16) and assure them that He was not a ghost. Songwriters sometimes mention His “scars,” but the record says nothing about “scars.” The “prints” of Calvary were on His glorified body (John 20:24–29), and they are still there (Rev. 5:6, 9, 12). It has well been said that the only work of man now in heaven is the marks of Calvary on the body of the exalted Saviour.

Jesus even ate some honey and fish to prove to His doubting followers that He was indeed alive and real, and He even invited them to feel His body (Luke 24:39; 1 John 1:1). With our limited knowledge, we cannot explain how a human body can be solid flesh and bones and still pass through closed doors and appear and disappear, or how it can be glorified and still carry the marks of the cross. We do know that we shall one day be like Him and share His glory (1 John 3:1–2).

Luke 24:41 describes a perplexing emotion: “they believed not for joy.” It was just too good to be true! Jacob had this same feeling when he got the news that Joseph was alive (Gen. 45:26–28), and the nation of Israel experienced it when God gave them a great deliverance (Ps. 126:1–3). Jesus had told His disciples that they would rejoice when they saw Him again, and the promise was fulfilled (John 16:22).

The final source of peace and assurance is the Word of God, so our Lord “opened their understanding” of the Old Testament Scriptures, just as He had done with the Emmaus disciples. After all, the believers were not being sent into the world to share their own personal experiences but to share the truths of the Word of God. We today cannot touch and feel the Lord Jesus, nor is it necessary that we do so; but we can rest our faith on the Word of God (1 John 1:1–5).

Jesus not only enabled them to understand the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms, but He also reminded them of what He had taught them, and He explained how it all fit together. Now they began to understand the necessity for His suffering and death and how the Cross related to the promise of the kingdom (see 1 Peter 1:10–12). What a privilege it was for them to listen to Jesus expound the Word!

Joyful Hearts: He Opens Their Lips (Luke 24:47–53)

But privilege always brings responsibility; they were to be witnesses of all that He had said and done (Acts 1:8). A witness is somebody who sincerely tells what he has seen and heard (Acts 4:20), and the word witness is used in one way or another twenty-nine times in the Book of Acts. As Christians, we are not judges or prosecuting attorneys sent to condemn the world. We are witnesses who point to Jesus Christ and tell lost sinners how to be saved.

How could a group of common people ever hope to fulfill that kind of a commission? God promised to provide the power (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8), and He did. On the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon the church and empowered them to preach the Word (Acts 2). After Pentecost, the Spirit continued to fill them with great power (see Acts 4:33).

Witnessing is not something that we do for the Lord; it is something that He does through us, if we are filled with the Holy Spirit. There is a great difference between a “sales talk” and a Spirit-empowered witness. “People do not come to Christ at the end of an argument,” said Vance Havner. “Simon Peter came to Jesus because Andrew went after him with a testimony.” We go forth in the authority of His name, in the power of His spirit, heralding His Gospel of His grace.

Luke 24:50–52 should be compared with Mark 16:19–20 and Acts 1:9–12. For some reason, our Lord’s ascension is not given the prominence in the church that it deserves. Think of what it meant to Him to return to heaven and sit on the throne of glory! (John 17:5, 11) His ascension is proof that He has conquered every enemy and that He reigns supremely “far above all” (Eph. 1:18–23).

In heaven today, our Lord ministers as our High Priest (Heb. 7:25) and our Advocate (1 John 2:1). As High Priest, He gives us the grace we need to face testing and temptation (Heb. 4:14–16); and if we fail, as Advocate He forgives and restores us when we confess our sins (1 John 1:6–10). As the glorified Head of the church, Jesus Christ is equipping His people to live for Him and serve Him in this present world (Eph. 4:7–16; Heb. 13:20–21). Through the Word of God and prayer, He is ministering to us by His Spirit and making us more like Himself.

Of course, He is also preparing in heaven a home for His people (John 14:1–6), and one day He will return and take us to be with Him forever.

The last thing our Lord did was to bless His people, and the first thing they did was to worship Him! The two always go together, for as we truly worship Him, He will share His blessings. He not only opened their lips to witness, but He also opened their lips to worship and praise Him!

Dr. Luke opened his Gospel with a scene in the temple (Luke 1:8ff), and he closed his Gospel the same way (Luke 24:53). But what a contrast between the unbelieving, silent priest and the trusting, joyful saints! Luke has explained how Jesus went to Jerusalem and accomplished the work of redemption. His book begins and ends in Jerusalem. But his next book, The Acts of the Apostles, would explain how that Gospel traveled from Jerusalem to Rome!

Is the Gospel going out to the ends of the earth from your Jerusalem? [5]

           


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† A Greek word occurs that is not directly translated in the King James Version.
Greek Strongs: 1161

[1]The Holy Bible : King James Version. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1995. 1 Co 15:14-22.

[2]Bright, B. 10 Basic Steps Toward Christian Maturity , Leader's Guide. Orlando, FL: NewLife Publications, 1994. Page 48.

[3]Wiersbe, W. W. The Bible Exposition Commentary. Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1996, c1989. Mt 28:1.

[4]Wiersbe, W. W. The Bible Exposition Commentary. Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1996, c1989. Jn 20:19.

[5]Wiersbe, W. W. The Bible Exposition Commentary. Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1996, c1989. Lk 24:1.

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