This Sunday we celebrate the day that Jesus arose from the grave. It was a very busy day for Jesus – He covered a lot of ground that day. It was an emotional day for all of His followers – they experienced the full range of emotions. But it was also a very personal day for at least one of His followers.
Mark and Luke tell us that early in the morning Mary Magdalene, Mary (the wife of Clopas), Salome (the wife of Zebedee), Joanna (the wife of Chuza) and at least one other woman arrived at the tomb with their ointments and spices planning to complete the burial preparations of the body of Jesus. They were the first to discover the empty tomb. Without even stepping into the tomb, Mary Magdalene immediately set off to find Peter and John to tell them that Jesus’ body had been taken. She left before the two angels announced to the other women that Jesus had risen from the dead.
Having found Peter and John, Mary Magdalene returned with them to the tomb. John and Peter ran ahead to see for themselves. Neither Peter nor John appeared to be running toward the tomb expecting that Jesus had risen. Rather, they were questioning the accuracy of Mary Magdalene’s report and wanted to confirm whether or not His body was still in the tomb. Upon their arrival, they too confirmed that His body was gone. John tells us in His Gospel that it was then that he believed that Jesus had in fact risen from the dead. The Gospels do not tell us that Peter had that same conviction. As a matter of fact, whether it was because he was still devastated over his denial of Jesus or he was still so overcome by sorrow, he appears to have left the tomb with his heart being even heavier now that Jesus’ body had apparently been taken.
Right after John and Peter left the tomb, Mary Magdalene arrived. She was the first to see her Risen Lord, as Jesus opened her eyes by calling her by name – “Mary!” (John 20:16 NLT). Jesus then appeared before the other women who were making their way to tell the other disciples what they had heard at the tomb. But Jesus’ first words to them – “Don’t be afraid!” (Matthew 28:10 NLT) – tells us a lot about their state of mind as He appeared before them.
Luke records the experience as Jesus joined Clopas and his traveling companion on the road to Emmaus. Jesus apparently traveled with them for quite a while before their eyes were eventually opened to Him when He broke bread and blessed it.
Later that night Jesus appeared to all of His disciples (except Thomas, who was inexplicably missing) who were gathered in a locked room hearing the reports of the other eye witnesses, but still fearful and questioning what had really occurred. Knowing that their hearts were troubled, Jesus’ first words to them were “Peace be with you!” (John 20:19 NLT)
Notice that in every instance Jesus said to them just what they needed to hear. He appeared to them in a way in which they would best receive Him. The Gospel writers go into great detail to explain each of these encounters. But there is one encounter that we know very little about – except the fact that it occurred.
Jesus appeared to Peter. It occurred sometime after Peter and John had visited the empty tomb. And it occurred when Peter and John were apart from one another. Luke and Paul bear witness to the fact that this face-to-face meeting between Jesus and Peter took place (Luke 24:34 and 1 Corinthians 15:5), but the content of their encounter was kept private. There was something that needed to be reconciled between the two of them. The content of the actual conversation truly is none of our business. But the fact that the encounter took place is very much our business, because it shows us the compassion of our Savior. If our hearts are prepared to turn toward Him, He will not leave us wallowing in our sin. Peter – “the rock” – had denied his Lord three times. Jesus was prepared to extend to Peter His grace, His mercy, His love and His forgiveness. The reconciliation would need to occur as a two-part conversation. (John shares the second part of the conversation – a public word of correction – in John 21:15-17. That second part needed to take place publicly in front of the rest of the disciples – with content that we all need to hear.) But the first part of that conversation was a deeply personal and private transaction of healing that needed to take place just between Peter and His Lord. Jesus knew that before correction could take place, healing needed to occur. And that healing needed to occur before Jesus and Peter were together with the other disciples later that evening. In my mind, i picture Peter resting his head on the shoulder of His Savior weeping uncontrollably as his Lord healed his broken heart and extended His unmerited forgiveness.
He knows what we have need of as well. He knows when He needs to rebuke us. He knows when He needs to correct us. And He also knows when He needs to heal us. He knows the “what”, the “how” and the “when”. And He will take the same care with us that He took with Peter. It’s called grace. It’s called mercy. It’s called love. This Sunday let’s celebrate the fact that Jesus’ body is no longer in the grave. He is risen! His victory is complete. He has a message of salvation for the entire world. But don’t miss the very personal word He has for you.