On Resurrection Sunday, one of my favorite things to do is to read all four gospel accounts of the story of Jesus’ resurrection. Each writer had a slightly different perspective and emphasized slightly different aspects of what took place. All of them, however, make one major point – Jesus rose again and was no longer in the tomb where he was buried. This must have been particularly troubling for Jesus followers who were already dealing with the trauma of his horrific death on the cross and their own betrayal, denials and cowardliness in the face of his arrest and crucifixion. The gospel of John makes clear that they did not yet understand from scripture that he had to rise from the dead. Even at this pivotal moment, his disciples were still trying to figure out who Jesus was and what he came to do. Mary Madelene, consumed with sorrow, actually meets Him outside the tomb and does not recognize him. It is at this juncture in the story that Jesus asks a question that resonates throughout all of human history – Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?
For some of Jesus’ followers, this whole series of events from the entrance into Jerusalem through the arrest and crucifixion to his burial must have been a bitter disappointment. They had come into the city with the idea that they were now going to see the earthly coronation of Jesus as their true King or at least the beginning of the revolution that they were waiting for and here He is missing from the tomb that he was buried in. In many ways it must have felt like a crushing defeat for those had not understood Jesus’ real reason for coming to earth in the first place. What is so interesting to me is that even those closest to Him did not fully understand his purposes and his plan until the plan had been completed. Jesus had told them what was going to take place and yet it did not all make sense until Resurrection morning when they found the empty tomb. Even then, Jesus had to come back and visit his disciples and explain once again what the plan was and what He had come to do.
What a compassionate savior we serve. He took our place, bore the wrath that we deserved, obeyed His father despite the agony He would face and still came back to explain what it all meant to the very people that had abandoned Him in his hour of greatest need. All along the way, He was very careful to be sure that His obedience was in line with the plan that He had come to complete and that was prophesied about for hundreds of years. Even as he was betrayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, he made it clear to his disciples, that while he could have resisted and called on legions of angels to defend Him, that was not the plan.
One of my favorite stories in all of the scriptures takes place on the road to Emmaus after the resurrection when Jesus meets two of his followers and they do not recognize him either. I have often wondered if this is because Jesus’s resurrection body was somehow different or if he intentionally kept them from recognizing Him at first. In the end, I think it may have really been more about the Jesus that they had been looking for and this person somehow did not match the description. Not only is Jesus not offended that they did not recognize Him, but he takes time to explain what all of the events of their traumatic past week meant and how the prophecies of the scriptures had been fulfilled. It is only after this explanation that they finally recognized who he was.
If I had been one of Jesus’ disciples in the New Testament, I am not sure who I would have been more like – the impetuous Peter who denied Jesus three times in public or the doubting Thomas who did not believe that Jesus had come back to life until he saw the nail prints in His hands. More likely than not, I would have been part of that larger crowd of people who was so bitterly disappointed that He had not come to overthrow the Roman oppressors and to restore the Kingdom of God in the here and now as they understood it.
I am so glad that Jesus did not conform to any of the expectations that had been set for Him by the crowd that followed Him while he was here on earth. Ultimately, He came to establish a Kingdom far greater than the Jews of His day could have comprehended. He came not only to heal the sick, help the blind to see and the lame to walk, but to provide the complete solution for our deepest illness – the sin that consumes us everyday.
Every time that I am tempted to create a Jesus to fit my own expectations, I am reminded that His compassion extends to me in my ignorance and that He wants to walk alongside me on my road to Emmaus. Through the words of the scriptures and power of the Holy Spirit, He once again explains who He is and why He came. What joy to know that He will keep doing so until the day that I finally understand the full scope of His purpose and plan and see Him face to face.