Jesus had been crucified. His body had been interred in a tomb close to the place called Calvary (also known as Golgotha). It had been been a grief filled Passover in Jerusalem for the disciples and family that had gathered in Jerusalem. Just days before Jesus had been greeted with “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9 ). But a different crowd had shouted down the efforts of a politically weak governor Pilate’s efforts to release innocent Jesus. The sudden reversal of their situation had left those who loved Jesus in stunned and shocked mourning. But equally oppressive was the spiritual confusion—“But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, it is the third day since these things happened.” (Luke 24:21). And then there was the guilt that some of his closes disciples carried for having abandoned Him and denying Him.
Three days had now passed, and bringing into this mixture of grief, spiritual confusion, and guilt was strange news. Some of the women in their group had gone at dawn to the tomb to finish the hasty embalming efforts made on the day of Jesus’ death. They had returned from the tomb reporting that His tomb was empty and that they had seen an angel that said that Jesus had risen. Peter and John had literally run to the tomb themselves to investigate and came back scratching their heads about the mystery of the empty tomb. One woman, Mary Magdalene, later reported that she had seen the Lord. Most of Jesus closest disciples gathered that evening in an upper room in Jerusalem behind a locked door to try to make sense of what had been reported. His tomb was verifiably empty; there had been no mistake. Had the body been moved? And if so, by who? The Romans would have no interest in it, and the Jewish officials wouldn’t have risked breaching the Roman seal on the tomb (punishable by death). And by the way, where were the guards? Yes, they knew that Jesus had spoken of rising from the dead, but weren’t we all going to be raised at the judgment? And what of Mary Magdalene’s claim that she saw the Lord? It was probably just a grief-generated case of mistaken identity made possible by teary eyes. There was probably a lot of discussion, maybe some of it heated, none of it enlightened. And then to top it all off, there was a knock at the locked door. Were the religious officials here to snuff out the last of Jesus’ inner circle? But it was Cleopas and his friend; let them in but lock the door behind them. And they came with more puzzling news: they had seen and talked with Jesus over an extended period of time. But skepticism and confusion was thick enough to cut with a knife in that upper room; one of the more vocal “realists” in the room probably argued, “C’mon, people don’t just spontaneously rise from the dead.”
And then—surprise. Jesus appears before them—in a locked room. Not like a ghost without any physical substance; but a flesh and blood Jesus you could touch, see, and hear. Oddly enough, the last person in the world that this skeptical room full of men expected to see (and touch) was Jesus.
It was an amazing journey for these men over the next 40 days. They’d previously given lip service to believing in the resurrection, but there was still a piece of them that hadn’t yet believed enough in it to effect their thinking and living. So, they feared for their physical lives, abandoned the Lord, denied Jesus, hid in the shadows, and locked doors of the upper room. Then the resurrected Jesus appeared to them, the missing part of the equation; and they became committed, courageous, uncompromisable, convicted, vocal, and active disciples that turned the world upside down. The resurrection was the missing piece—the key truth they had “possessed” but never used—to make sense of everything and turn mice into men.
And it still happens. Yes, we know that this world and this life is not all there is; but consider how we often prioritize this physical life, things and experiences above spiritual realities. Consider how we sometimes lack the courage of our professed convictions in the face of worldly opposition. Consider how we so easily jettison church attendance for something fun or something “special” (are we saying that church isn’t special?). Consider how we resist physical risks (aka “stepping out on faith”) that we could or should be taking for the sake of the Kingdom. Somehow, the “realist” in us is still saying, “C’mon, people don’t just spontaneously rise from the dead.”