On Good Friday, Jesus was tortured almost to death. Jesus was flogged with a lead-tipped whip. It is not hard to kill someone this way. The Romans carefully whipped Jesus just enough times to cause great pain and injury without killing him. We don’t know how many times he was flogged. The Jews would stop at 39, but not the Romans. Then he was forced to carry his own execution device to the place of execution. He was so badly injured that he was unable to complete this task. Jesus was almost dead already, and then he was crucified. Then to make doubly sure, he was speared. It’s a horrible story.
And we remind ourselves of this so that we remember how much he loves us. All through this undeserved pain and suffering, horrible pain and suffering that we should experience but not him, he kept on loving us and forgiving us.
So Jesus ended up in our place, separated from God in death. Our future lies in eternal death separated from God because of our sin. But Jesus took our place, and made available to us his place with God. He took death and gave us eternal life with God.
The grave could not hold Jesus. Hell could not keep him. Satan had no claim on Jesus. So on Easter morning he rose again and walked among us. This is the season of faith we are in at the moment. We are in the period of 40 days that Jesus walked on the earth after he had been killed. It’s 14 days since Jesus left the tomb, and he will spend another 26 days on earth before leaving this world.
His disciples have scattered. Some of them have gone fishing. They have gone back to their old lives. In the previous chapter of John, chapter 20, Jesus had appeared to all eleven of the original disciples. Despite this appearance, the next chapter reports that they have gone home and gone back to work.
Jesus has just been killed in the most awful way. His closest disciples have betrayed him. He has been executed because of them. When you or I have been through a terrible experience that we didn’t deserve, how do we react? When I am driving and another driver pulls in front of me or cuts me off, I don’t normally feel much love towards them. When someone pushes in front of me in a line, I feel an urge to say something harsh. I feel that I’m innocent and they are guilty, and I’m suffering because of them. It’s hard to accept insults without responding.
I can only imagine how I would feel if some rude and brutish man had attacked me, beaten me, insulted me, stripped me naked, and made me perform humiliating deeds. But I think I would feel he deserved to experience even worse things.
Jesus is so different. He has been treated far worse and he comes back to console and encourage.
Jesus comes back to say to us all, ‘What you did was unforgivable. I forgive you anyway.’
That’s the first thing I notice about these 40 days. Jesus is abounding in grace and mercy for his followers. He hasn’t come back to get revenge. He doesn’t appear to any of his persecutors. Jesus is seen especially by his followers. His much later appearance to Saul on the road to Damascus is an exception. There is also the time mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:7 when he met with his brother James, who seems to have been a doubter until this time. After this encounter, James was a faithful disciple.
Jesus cooks breakfast for his disciples. He walks and talks with them. He consoles and encourages them. There are no accusations. Jesus only shows grace and mercy and encouragement. He loves and he teaches. He steers them onto the path of life.
There is an interesting comment in verse 12.
‘None of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?”’
It seems that resurrected Jesus doesn’t look like Jesus in his birth body.
When Mary Magdalene saw Jesus beside the tomb, she didn’t recognise him. Mary was one of Jesus’ closest disciples and knew him well. She travelled with Jesus, and yet she thought that he was the gardener. (John 20:15)
Two of Jesus’ followers were walking to the village of Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem. As they talked and discussed these things, Jesus himself suddenly came and began walking with them. But God kept them from recognizing him. (Luke 24:13-16)
It is during this period that Jesus delivers some extremely important instructions.
This is when he instructs Peter to feed his lambs and take care of his sheep. Then Jesus told him, “Follow me.”
This is the time when Jesus gave all of his disciples the great commission. (Matthew 28:16–20)
Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshipped him—but some of them doubted!
Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Jesus spends his 40 days doing many things, but only a few of them are recorded. John says, (John 21:25) “Jesus also did many other things. If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written.”
That’s the things Jesus did during his 40 days after the crucifixion, not things before he died.
We can see from the little that is recorded that Jesus has a focused ministry.
Jesus visits everyone who is discouraged. Jesus repeatedly visits those who have doubts. He isn’t put off by the suffering they brought him. This same Jesus will come to you.
He will come to you when you are fishing. He will come to you when you have lost hope and are going about the daily tasks of life in this world. He will come to you while you are travelling away from him, or while you are seeking him in the wrong places.
Jesus won’t come because you are doing good. He won’t come because you are righteous. He won’t come to you because you deserve it.
If you don’t want to know Jesus, maybe he won’t come to you. If he does come, maybe you won’t recognise him. The ones who recognise Jesus when he comes are the ones who know him. However poorly they have followed him, they are willing to try.
He comes and shows us by his presence that he is alive, he has risen from the dead. And he tells us what is most important in life.
Jesus is alive, and the most important thing we can do is feed his sheep. The most important thing we can do is “go and make disciples” of all people. The most important thing is our relationship of love with Jesus. The love of Jesus is the most important thing in life.
Jesus spent 40 days showing us that nothing we do can stop him from loving us. He passed through walls and vanished at will. He was like a shadow seeking out those who would listen.
He is closer than a shadow, no matter what you think, or what you might prefer to believe. You might have experienced, say, the nightmare of something like the death of a family member; remember that Jesus offers peace that passes understanding. You might have health scares, be insecure about your very life and what your place on earth is; remember that Jesus walks the dark hills to guide you and me. You might have had problems with nowhere to turn; remember that Jesus offers you refuge. You might feel alone at home or at work; remember that the feeling around your shoulders is Jesus hugging you tightly. You might have prayed, believing, and never got an answer; remember that, through it all, trust is more important than understanding.
Nothing can keep Jesus from loving you. His love is the most important thing in life.