During the night well after midnight, Roman guards were watching the tomb of Jesus. It must have been very boring for them and I'm sure they were debating the events of their time in an effort to keep each other awake. Falling asleep on the job was not an option for a Roman soldier since such a dereliction of duty would be met with harsh punishment. Suddenly a bright light appeared in the sky and gradually drew closer and grew brighter. As the light drew nearer they realized that in the center of the bright light was a man. They were probably quite frightened but soon realized that the man wasn't coming toward them but rather to the tomb. As the man approached the tomb there was another earth quake and the guards were thrown to the ground unconscious. As they returned to consciousness they saw that the stone covering the tomb had been rolled away and checking inside their worst fears were realized. The body of Jesus Christ was gone.
The guards were now faced with a very difficult decision. If they told the true story of what they saw to their superiors there was a good chance that they would end up on the same cross upon which Jesus had died. If they tell their superiors that they fell asleep and someone stole the body the punishment would be a very severe scourging. Finally they decided to go to the Sanhedrin and see if they had any suggestions. The leaders of the grand council must have been horrified to hear the story from the guards. Could it be true what the guards were saying? Of course at this point the deed was done so they had to go on the assumption that the body had been stolen. In the end they chose to pay the guards money to tell everyone that they had fallen asleep with the promise that they would use their influence with Pilate to keep them from a beating.
Meanwhile Mary Magdalene couldn't sleep. She'd been up all night long as had everyone else in the house. She decided to head out to the tomb well sunrise and before anyone else. She arrived at the tomb just as the sun was coming up. Her heart must have froze when she saw the stone had been rolled back. As she stepped into the tomb and saw the burial clothes laid out on the bench and the napkin that covered the face neatly folded she burst into tears. She quickly ran back to the house where everyone was staying. Meanwhile another group of women who included Jesus' mother had set out for the tomb not long after Mary had left. They must have taken a different path than Mary had because as she ran back to the house she missed the group of women. When Mary reached the house she first saw Peter and John. She told them how she'd found the stone rolled back and except for the burial clothes the tomb was empty.
Peter and John both ran for the tomb as fast as they could but John being the faster runner left Peter far behind. Mary followed after them. John arrived at the tomb before the other woman did and he immediately saw the stone rolled back and the tomb open. For some reason, possibly out of respect for Peters status as the head apostle, he didn't enter the tomb but waited for Peter to arrive. Peter led the way and they both entered the tomb and saw the linen laying on the bench. When John saw the empty tomb he knew that Jesus had not been taken away but that he had risen. They both headed back to the house understandably exited about sharing the story of the risen Lord.
Peter and John were gone by the time the group of women found their way to the tomb. Perhaps they had been delayed by making a wrong turn but as they arrived they were wondering how they were going to roll back the stone. They too noticed right away how the stone had been rolled away and upon entering the tomb they saw the linens and the neatly folded cloth that had covered the face of Jesus. As they left the tomb however they saw another sight that they would remember as long as they lived. Two men were standing there and the light shining from them was brighter that the noon day sun. As the women tried to compose themselves one of the men spoke saying, "Why seek ye the living among the dead?"
Some of the women were understandably frightened and upon seeing this, the angel again spoke, "Fear ye not! Be not amazed. I know that you have come seeking Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. Why seek ye the living among dead? Jesus is not here. He is risen. Behold the place where they laid him. Remember, remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee? Did he not say to you that the Son of man must be delivered up into the hands of sinful men and be crucified? Go, go quickly and tell Peter and the disciples. Tell them this, 'Jesus is risen from the dead.' Lo, I have told you so."
The group of women did as they were directed and went back to find Peter and the other apostles. Mary on the other hand was still headed back to the tomb. She must have met up with Peter and John but chose to continue on to the tomb anyway. Still very distraught she decided to enter into the tomb probably just to be near where her Lord had last lain. As she stepped inside the tomb however she was startled to see that two men sat there, one on each end of the bench where Jesus had been laid. The two men were dressed in white and the tomb appeared to be bathed in sunlight. One of the men spoke to her asking, "Woman, why weapest thou?"
Mary responded, "Because they have taken my Lord away, and I know not where they have laid him." Suddenly Mary caught sight of movement outside of the tomb and noticed a man standing there. "Woman", he said, "why weepest thou?" It was the exact same question asked by the two men within the tomb. He then asked, "Whom seekest thou?"
Suddenly Mary had a glimmer of hope. This must be the gardener. Perhaps he knew where Jesus had been taken. Perhaps he himself took the body. Meekly she asked him, "Sir? If you have borne him somewhere, tell me where he is, and I will take him away."
Jesus then spoke her name. A name that he had lovingly spoken to her hundreds of times and when he spoke it this time she instantly knew who he was. Jesus said, "Mary."
When he spoke her name she cried, "Rabboni? Master?" It was him, She had watched him suffer and die on the cross but here he was. Joy filled her heart and she ran to him with her arms outstretched. To her surprise Jesus stepped back and held up his hand to stop her.
"Mary," he said ever so gently, "touch me not, for I have not yet ascended to my Father." He smiled at her and she wept but this time they were tears of joy.
Jesus continued, "Go to your brethren and say unto them that I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God."
Mary dropped to her knees, was barely able to stop herself from leaping into his arms but through her tears she answered, "Yes, Master." Looking up he was gone but now the empty tomb beside her held a whole new significance. Rather that a symbol of pain and sadness it was a symbol of hope.
The group of women were on their way back to the house certainly going over and over among themselves the words that the angels had spoken. "He is not here. He is risen." As they walked they saw a man standing on the road ahead of them. As they approached the man they recognized him as Jesus. Jesus raised his hand in greeting and called, "All hail."
Back at the home where they were all gathered, the apostles and other friends of Jesus were having a hard time accepting Johns conviction that Jesus was resurrected. When Mary and the other women returned it became still harder to reject the idea that Jesus was resurrected. The woman were either liars or deluded and they were reluctant to accept either of those options but these women claimed to have seen Jesus on the road and they told how they had touched him and they witnessed the wounds in his feet and in his side. The glow from these woman must have convinced most that Jesus was risen but still some of them doubted. And then when Mary added her testimony to those of the others they must have been very convincing but think about what they were claiming. Jesus had risen from the dead.
I imagine it must have been hard on the Lords apostles to know that after all of their devotion to him, Christ would appear first to the women but personally I find it touching. While I don't know why he did this it isn't hard for me to believe that he appeared first to those who needed the comfort of seeing him the most. What love he must have had for these women.
Some time during the day the Lord also appeared to Peter and then still later in the day a man named Cleopas and another man who was probably Luke were walking to a nearby city named Emmaus. As they were walking they were talking about all of the wonderful things that had happened that day. Along the way they came across another man who asked them what they were talking about. They walked together for a couple of hours until they arrived at their destination at which point they invited the stranger to stay with them. At this point the veil that had been drawn across their eyes was lifted and they recognized their companion as the Saviour. They witnessed the wounds in his hands.
In the evening the Lords disciples gathered again to make plans. The Sanhedrin were furious that Christs body was gone and they were doing everything in their power to quell any rumors that he may have been resurrected. For this reason the disciples were once again afraid for their safety. They were anxious to be headed back to Galilee but at the same time they weren't about to leave until they knew exactly what was going on. So far the only witnesses they had of the risen Lord was a bunch of women and many were still quite skeptical. Many of the disciples gathered for a meeting that night. When everyone was in the room they barred the door and windows out of concern for their safety. They had food prepared and as they were enjoying the food and sharing stories and opinions on the events of the day the Lord suddenly appeared among them. What a wonderful experience this must of been for all of those present but especially for those who had not yet seen the Lord. Jesus invited every single one of them to touch the wounds in his feet and in his hands. There were no skeptics left at this point. The knowledge of the resurrection was now made sure for everyone present. This was especially significant at this time because even though many prophets from the old testament spoke of a resurrection of the body many at the time of Christ believed this only meant a resurrection of the spirit and not a restoration of the flesh and bones. Now here was their Lord in flesh and bones. What a comfort this must have been to them. After Jesus had personally addressed everyone in the room he spoke a few words to them all. He asked them why they doubted? Didn't he tell them that he would rise on the third day? Didn't the women tell them that they had seen him? Finally he addressed his apostles but the words he spoke were clearly meant for all of those in the room.
Remember the words which I spake unto you while I was yet with you, how that all things must be fulfilled which was written in the Law of Moses and the prophets and the Psalms concerning me. Thus it is written that the Messiah should suffer, and rise again from the dead the third day. It is also written that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in the name of Christ to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. Behold, I send forth the promise of my Father upon you; but tarry in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high. Go ye therefore into all the world, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the father and the son and the Holy Ghost. teach them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be damned. And lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world."
And then with everyone in the room looking on he was gone.
"So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven,
and sat on the right hand of God.
And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them,
and confirming the work with signs following.
Mark 16: 19-20
This message means a lot to me especially with Alex serving a mission at this very moment. He is fulfilling this commandment of the Lord in a very real way. My joy is compounded knowing that my other two sons and my two son-in-laws have also chosen to follow this commandment from the Lord. If you don't already see the blessings you receive from having served in this way I know that you will.
Jesus continued to visit his disciples for forty days teaching them and helping them to prepare for the difficult ministry that was before them. The scriptures record at least eleven appearances made by the Saviour and the first five of them were on the day of his resurrection. These are:
1) Mary Magdalene at the tomb (John 20:11-18)
2) Other women (Matthew 28:9-10)
3) Peter (Luke 24:34)
4) Cleopas and an unnamed disciple (Luke 24:13-32)
5) a group of disciples on the Sunday evening (Luke 24:36-43; John 20:19-25)
6) a group of disciples on the following Sunday evening with Thomas present (John, 20:26-31)
7) seven apostles and others not named on the shores of Galilee (John 21:1-25)
8) eleven apostles on a mountain in Galilee (Matthew 28:16-20)
9) 500 brethren at once (1 Corinthians 15:7)
10) James (1 Corinthians 15:7)
11) His ascension from the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:3-12)