Last week, on Easter Sunday, we began a month-long collection of sermons that detail the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus recorded in Scripture. We are calling this study “Proof Positive”, because these messages present overwhelming eyewitness evidence that Jesus literally rose from the grave. The resurrection is a settled fact of history. Those who deny it are as naive as those who deny the holocaust or say that the earth is flat.
Before we delve into today’s sermon, let’s quickly review the first three post-resurrection appearances of Christ:
- Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene in the early morning somewhere near to the empty tomb. She initially mistook Him for the gardener before recognizing His true identity.
- Soon thereafter, Jesus appeared to the other women as they walked back from the tomb. These included Mary the mother of James, Salome, Joanna, and perhaps several others.
- Sometime later, perhaps in the afternoon hours, Jesus appeared to the apostle Peter. The exact setting and details of this occurrence are unknown.
These three appearances were the first of several. We will continue our discussion this morning by examining the fourth and fifth post-resurrection appearances of Jesus Christ. Let’s begin...
I. THE FOURTH APPEARANCE - CLEOPAS AND ANOTHER DISCIPLE (Mark 16:12-13; Luke 24:13-35)
Cleopas has traditionally been identified as Clopas, the husband of “the other Mary” who was one of the women that had already seen the risen Jesus earlier that morning. He is considered to be the same person as Alphaeus, the father of James the Less. If this is correct, then Cleopas and Mary were a married couple who were the parents of one the apostles. Furthermore, if this “other Mary” was the sister of Jesus’ mother Mary, then Cleopas would be her brother-in-law and the Lord’s uncle. Other historians have proposed that Cleopas was the brother of Jesus’ earthly father Joseph. In this scenario, he would still be Jesus’ uncle. Though his exact identity is uncertain, Cleopas was likely a close relative of Jesus.
It is reasonable to believe that Cleopas, his wife Mary, and perhaps some other companions had come from the nearby town of Emmaus to participate in the Jewish Passover celebration at Jerusalem. Over the course of their stay they may have seen Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, trial, crucifixion, and burial. On Sunday morning, Cleopas’ wife Mary went with the other women to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body while he remained at the house with the other disciples. Sometime later, the women returned reporting that the grave was empty, and that they seen and spoken to the risen Jesus. But the apostles and other disciples - including Cleopas - did not believe them. And so, perhaps around midday, he departed to go back home.
The Bible indicates that Cleopas was travelling with another disciple, but it does not give their name. Some have suggested that it was his wife Mary. Others believe it was someone else - perhaps a friend or another family member. Mary may have stayed behind in Jerusalem, perhaps to care for and comfort her grieving sister, while Cleopas went home without her. Regardless of who was with Cleopas, the two of them were talking about all that had taken place. As they walked, a stranger headed in the same direction down the road approached them and joined their conversation. Cleopas shared what had happened to Jesus that weekend, and about the incredible reports from the women that He’d risen from the dead. Apparently, they had left Jerusalem prior to the Lord’s appearance to Peter. After Cleopas spoke, the stranger began expounding on the Scriptures, explaining how all of these events were a fulfillment of prophecy.
When they arrived at Emmaus (likely in the mid-afternoon), Cleopas and his companion urged this stranger to stay with them for the night. He agreed, and they all went in together and sat down at the table to eat. The stranger took some bread, blessed it, broke it, and began to distribute it. As he did so, their eyes were opened and they recognized that He was the risen Jesus. In an instant, He vanished from their presence. The pair immediately got up and hurried back to Jerusalem to tell the apostles and others that they’d seen the resurrected Christ. It was only 7 miles from Emmaus to Jerusalem, which would take approximately 2 hours to walk - even less if someone was running. Thus, they arrived in Jerusalem later that same evening.
The fourth appearance of Jesus following His resurrection was to Cleopas and another disciple on the road to Emmaus. He walked with them, spoke with them, and even sat down to eat with them. What a marvelous occurrence!
II. THE FIFTH APPEARANCE - THE DISCIPLES WITHOUT THOMAS (Luke 24:36-49; John 20:19-25)
It was now Sunday evening and the disciples had all gathered together. The were hiding for fear of the Jews. This group included not only the apostles, but presumably many of the other disciples and women who followed Jesus. For some unknown reason Thomas was absent that night. Nevertheless, the rest spoke about the empty tomb and the wonderful events of the day. Mary Magdalene, the other women, Peter, and now these two who had just returned from Emmaus had all reportedly seen the risen Jesus. Could their testimonies be true?
As they talked, Jesus suddenly appeared to them in the room though the doors were securely shut. They were startled at first and believed that they were seeing a spirit. Jesus showed them the wounds and His hands and feet and invited them to touch His “flesh and bones”. Then, to further prove that He had physically risen from the dead, Jesus asked them for something to eat. As they watched, the Lord ate a piece of broiled fish. Without a doubt, He was not a ghost or a spirit but rather a materially resurrected person.
Jesus then taught them that His death and resurrection were the fulfillment of Scripture. He told them that they were all witnesses of this amazing truth - that He was indeed the long awaited Messiah through whom God’s salvation had finally come. Jesus then breathed on them, symbolically demonstrating that they would soon receive the Holy Spirit. He told them to wait until then before proclaiming this good news to others.
Jesus’ appearance to the disciples, without Thomas, was the fifth such event that day. At least 10 apostles and likely several other disciples were present in that room to witness the risen Lord. It was a large gathering. According to the Biblical record, this was the final appearance of Jesus on the day of His resurrection.
During the afternoon and evening of that first Easter Sunday, Jesus appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus and later to the apostles/disciples/women hiding in Jerusalem. Thomas was not among them at the time. For some, such as Peter and perhaps even Mary Magdalene, His evening appearance was actually the second time they’d seen Him that day. And if you believe that “the other Mary” was the unnamed disciple on the road to Emmaus, she might well have seen the resurrected Jesus on three separate occasions that day. We simply don’t know for certain. Irregardless, it is apparent that many people saw the risen Christ.
Lest we forget, the Bible also mentions that many other Old Testament saints rose from the dead after Christ’s resurrection. These risen saints were seen in Jerusalem by many witnesses that day as well. Can you imagine the fear and anxiety that must have gripped the chief priests and elders as reports of these miraculous resurrections began surfacing? Resurrection had come to town! Jesus was alive and they’d been woefully unable to stop it.
God is able to take that which is dead and make it alive again. Jesus is the supreme example, but so too are all who accept Him as their Lord and Savior. Christians have been resurrected spiritually and will someday be resurrected physically. The resurrection of Jesus Christ was the first of many to come...