I called my 80-year-old aunt this week to see how she was doing. While she’s ok, she mentioned, “I’ve never seen anything like this.” I don’t think she’s the only one to say such a thing. Unless you lived through the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, none of us have seen anything like this, which is why maybe the way that people are dealing with COVID is all over the board. People don’t know how to deal with things they haven’t seen.
We put a lot of stock in seeing things with our own eyes. Last week, when Connor and I delivered some of the Easter bags on people’s doorsteps, people purposely came out of their house (at a safe distance) because they just wanted to see a familiar face. Or think of a trial. What often sways a jury – it’s the testimony of an eyewitness. We put a lot of stock in seeing things with our own eyes.
God knows that. Even though he said, “Blessed are those who believe without seeing,” and, “Faith is being certain of what we do not see,” he knows we put a lot of stock in seeing things with our own eyes. Or at least, we put a lot of stock in what other people see with their own eyes. You think about that in relationship to Easter. Did Jesus have to show himself after he rose from the dead? The empty tomb would have been evidence that he was victorious over the grave. Furthermore, we don’t need anything more than his Word. His Word is always good and he told his disciples and enemies that he was going to rise on the third day. But out of love for his followers, he allowed himself to be seen for forty days. In the excitement and significance of the Easter message, we maybe miss some of the details of that glorious day. Do you remember what the angel said to the women who arrived at the tomb? “Do not be afraid… He is not here… he is risen…” Those are the common answers that make their way into choir anthems and Easter cards. But I’d like to hone in on this little detail: the angel said, “Go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.”
There you will see him. Jesus did appear to his disciples in Galilee, the region 75 miles to the north. It was in Galilee that Jesus had that comforting, reinstating conversation with Peter on the shoreline. “Peter, do you love me? Feed my sheep… Peter, do you love me? Feed my lambs. Peter do you love me? Feed my sheep.” But I almost wonder if Jesus got impatient. Maybe the original plan was to see the disciples in Galilee. But I wonder if Jesus just couldn’t wait. I think of someone who’s got really good news – they just got engaged, they just got a job offer -- they just want to tell people. Jesus couldn’t wait to see his disciples so he pops in on them right away on Sunday night and they were “overjoyed when they saw the Lord” (John 20:20). And one of those people who saw the Lord was Peter. Peter was there on Easter. Peter was there a week after Easter. Peter was there on the shoreline. Peter saw Jesus numerous times in those forty days. And what a difference it meant for Peter to see Jesus.
The last time we saw Peter in Lent, Peter didn’t want to be associated with Jesus, much less be seen with him. He was scared for his life. But once he saw a risen Jesus, Peter was never the same. Later on, he stands in front of the High Priest and Sanhedrin that convicted Jesus, and says, “I’m going to preach no matter the cost. Obey God rather than men… Or if God wants me to speak to people that aren’t like me, I’ll do it.” That’s where we find Peter in Acts 10. He has an audience of foreigners as he is in the home of an Italian named Cornelius. What a difference it meant for Peter to see Jesus.
But instead of just considering what it meant for Peter to see Jesus, let us consider what a difference it means for us that Peter saw a risen Jesus. Eavesdrop with me on the conversation Peter had in that Italian home, “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen – by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Do you see a
theme? We are witnesses… God
caused him to be seen. He was
seen by witnesses… He commanded us to testify…. All the prophets testify.
In other words, the resurrection isn’t
something that Peter dreamt up. It
wasn’t fake news. Peter is saying that
what he and others saw was so real, their testimony is so rock solid, that it
could stand up to scrutiny in a court of law.
Think about what that does for our confidence in the resurrection. In week one of Starting Point – our
introduction to the Bible course -- I
show a video of Lee Strobel. Lee was a
self-proclaimed atheist. As a news
reporter, he set out to claim that the resurrection was fake. As any good reporter, he tried to gather up
the evidence to support his theory. But
just the opposite happened. The more he
dug in, the more real the resurrection becomes.
By God’s grace he ends up being a believer. And one of his main points for the reality of
the resurrection is exactly what Peter says here – the number of
And we say, “That’s great.” But I’m not Lee Strobel. I don’t need to know that Jesus showed himself to 500 witnesses at one time and that his resurrection is recorded in at least nine sources in and out of the New Testament. I’m not that skeptical. By God’s grace, maybe you’re not. But what about the people you talk to? Isn’t it comforting to know that the message we proclaim, the victory we proclaim, is not just an unsubstantiated leap of faith? God provided witnesses to support your personal witness.
But before we head down that road of being a witness for Jesus, let me back up just a bit. I put words in your mouth a second ago. “I’m not Lee Strobel… I’m not that skeptical.” Why aren’t you? Because the Holy Spirit. Yes. But what did the Holy Spirit use? He used the witness of people like Peter to convince your heart that Easter is real. Same thing happened in Cornelius’ home that day. The Bible says, “The Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.” Your faith has been established by the witnesses of the risen Lord.
Now my only encouragement is, live like the resurrection is real. On Easter Sunday, I listened to three sermons (the blessing of at-home worship). One preacher said, “We often live on the wrong side of Easter.” His point was that although we know Jesus rose from the dead, we don’t always act like it. At times, our sorrow over the loss of a loved one trumps the joy of a promised reunion. Our fear of dying supersedes the anticipation of living in heaven. Our frustration of the things of this world eclipses our contentedness of being children of the resurrection. Our guilt weighs heavier than the freedom we find in forgiveness. And it’s especially this last point that Peter makes in our lesson. Listen again to the last verse that I read earlier, the last recorded words of Peter’s at-home sermon to Cornelius’ family, “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Everyone. Peter had just gotten done saying that not everyone was a witness of the resurrection, only those that God had already chosen. But just because you and I weren’t there, doesn’t mean the reality of Easter is any less significant for us than it was for Peter. God provided witnesses like Peter to assure us that we are forgiven. God provided witnesses who ate and drank with a living, bodily Savior to assure us that when we eat and drink that Savior’s body and blood in the sacrament, we are forgiven. God provided witnesses to testify that Jesus is the God-appointed judge of the living and the dead. And it is then, when Jesus comes back as that judge, that we will be witnesses of his glory. We will be witnesses of his victory. Until then, proclaim his victory because there were witnesses. Amen.