Eyes Wide Open

Luke 24, John 20 and 21

     For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been intrigued by the encounters of people with the risen Jesus in the Bible. Honestly, I don’t think there is anything more important than knowing the person that he is especially in the context of the resurrection. In Luke chapter 24, Jesus make his first appearance to the male disciples and does so in a form that kept them from recognizing him. The two who encounter him on the road are sorting out all that has happened and what it all means when Jesus pretends to be a stranger and starts asking questions. I can’t help but think Jesus is partly having fun messing with them, but he is also giving them an opportunity to reveal their hearts and make a confession of faith. Sadly, it’s the worst testimony ever. They might as well have said “We really hoped Jesus was the Messiah, but he was just a great prophet and now he’s dead. A few people say he’s alive again, but they’re all insane.” Jesus rebukes them for their unbelief and re-educates them on scripture and where he fits in. They are fascinated by all this “stranger” tells them, but none of this jogs their memory until he breaks bread with them. When they partake of the meal with him, only then are their “eyes opened.” This verse recalls to memory Genesis 3:7 when the eyes of Adam and Eve are opened after eating the forbidden fruit. The contrast here is amazing. The first  two humans come to know death (separation from God) when their eyes are opened to their sin. They become focused on their own failure and are afraid of Gods rejection after their disobedience. The two disciples partake of the bread and come to know life through the resurrected Jesus who still loves them enough to fellowship and break bread with him even after they have abandoned him and forgotten everything he taught.

In John 20, Mary Magdalene is the first to actually see the risen Jesus. Almost humorously, he and the angels both ask her why she is crying.  Her sorrow seems understandable considering that not only has she lost Jesus, but now she can’t even grieve in the way that she wants because his remains are now longer their for her to anoint and perfume. The fact is that there are many times that we are so consumed by the grief over our circumstances that we don’t see Jesus even when he is standing right next to us. It is only when he calls her by name that he has her full attention allowing her to see her Lord. The most exciting part of this to me is that he states that his followers and he himself mutually belong to their God and Father. Here, Jesus is telling them that the work of their coming to Father through him has been accomplished!

A handful of hours later, Jesus appears to them in person since they won’t believe the news from the women. The moment they see him, he says “peace be with you.” He gives them a minute to be terrified and then reiterates “peace be with you” to show that he is not there to destroy them. Just like before when he was walking on the sea, they think they are seeing a ghost because after all, how could the physical Jesus they know possibly be alive again? He rebukes them for their unbelief and finishes by telling them the kind of authority that is given to them for forgiving sins on earth. No doubt, they are aware of the kind of mercy God is continuing to show them. Thomas is elsewhere when this happens and of course refuses to believe any of it until he has proof. Jesus later pops up in front of him and tells him to touch his wounds so that he may believe. It is astounding to think that Jesus wants him to believe so badly that he still stoops to showing himself rather than leaving Thomas to wander in doubt. Not to say that he never failed again, but I bet Thomas walked in amazing faith after this. In the next chapter, it seems that Jesus has vanished again and the apostles are up to their old fishing habits. Jesus brings them back full circle by guiding them to catch too many fish to handle and sharing a meal of bread and fish with them. Jesus is so cool that he makes everyone breakfast! This time, the disciples don’t question who he is now that he has reenacted familiar scenes to cement his identity and has made sense of everything since they first met him. He is showing them that they now have everything they need to live life in his presence and to bring outsiders into it as well. Jesus proceeds to ask Peter three times if he loves him. Peter seems quick to forget that just a few days ago, he denied knowing Jesus three times. His instructions are to demonstrate his love for Jesus by loving and taking care of God’s people. This is a concept our culture often ignores. Too many in our generation walk away from churches and communities of Christ because of how painful it can be, but scripture tells us to do the opposite. It was probably tempting for the disciples to isolate themselves from others and wait for the sweet release of death to reunite them with their Lord. Yet, they are all called to go out walking on stormy seas to catch more fish.

Acts chapter 9 gives us another great encounter with the resurrected Christ. The church is now hiding in fear from Saul, the bulldog of the Sanhedrin. His passion for finding and arresting Christians is so renowned that he is quickly becoming the terror of the early church. Of all the people for God to choose to spread the Gospel across the earth, he is hilariously unlikely. If I were any of the disciples, I would be angry with the Lord and asking who invited this guy to the party. Why a murderer of Christians and not someone who had been following Jesus for the last three years? On his way to Damascus, the Lord literally knocks Saul off his horse and makes him physically blind to match his spiritual blindness. Ironically, Samson and Zedekiah were also blinded after repeated sins and ignorance towards God. Sometimes, removing our sight is the only way for him to show us in our lost wandering how much we need him. 

Try to imagine the shock that Saul goes into after Jesus reveals himself. Saul’s views of God, himself, and life in general are all turned completely upside down so much that he can’t eat or drink has to be lead around by hand. In what is perhaps the weirdest meeting of their lives, Saul and Ananias are brought together by the Lord to find a greater extent of grace. Ananias addresses his former worst nightmare as “brother Saul” and lays hands on him to heal his eyes. In this moment, Saul comes to know Jesus as the risen Son of God who loves and forgives him as demonstrated by one of his followers. Why Saul? For the same reason that Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene first. They were both the biggest sinners. Mary Magdalene was delivered from seven demons and was most likely an adulterous prostitute. When she witnessed the ministry of Jesus, she was the first to see him for what he was really worth. She poured out a fortune-priced jar of perfume on him because she was in love with the messiah who loved her in spite of her filthiness. Saul was a self-righteous murderer of God’s children. It’s in fact possible that Saul may have witnessed Jesus teaching and sat judging him in Jerusalem. Inexcusable! Of all people, he was a pharisee who should have known the scriptures well enough to recognize Jesus as the messiah. God chose to honor the two great sinners because they would have the greater comprehension of his greatest mercy. When we encounter the risen Jesus, we come to know our father who loves us, forgives us, and thus provides us with everything we need to introduce others to him. Look for the risen Jesus every day!

Scott HowardComment