As Jesus ate his last meal in mortality, his disciples were enjoying their Passover meal, no doubt with the festivity of the occasion. After the meal was over, Jesus told them that he was going to leave them, and they wondered where he was going but, even so, they surely must have thought he would come back to them.
By this time in their life, they had come to know that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God, who would rule over Israel forever, and they were his closest friends. More than that, he was teaching them all he knew. Surely, when he came into power, they were going to share in it with him.
After listening to him say things about fearing not, and having his peace that the world could not give, they no doubt felt he was merely teaching them more of his wisdom. However, at that point in time, they didn’t grasp the full import of his message. Then they followed him out of the city to a garden called Gethsemane where he had them wait while he went to pray. There was nothing unusual about this because Jesus prayed alone quite often.
Three hours later, as Jesus came to them, suddenly there was a large group of soldiers who came looking for Jesus. I’m sure that the disciples were somewhat alarmed, but they were in no trouble because Jesus was with them. Surely, he’d promptly take care of the matter and then they’d go on their way to continue celebrating the Passover.
We can only imagine their disbelief when Jesus allowed the soldiers to bind him and take him prisoner. We know that Peter followed to see what was going to happen to his Master, and perhaps John and maybe some others also followed. I’m sure they expected Jesus to talk his way out of this outrageous arrest, like he had done before, but to their astonishment, Jesus said very little. He certainly didn’t defend himself, but why? None of this made any sense to his disciples.
Some of the disciples must have been in the crowd when Pilate asked, “Then what shall I do with this man called Jesus?” They must have been horrified when the crowd yell, “Crucify him!” No! This couldn’t be happening. This must be a bad dream.
As they stood on Golgotha’s hill and stared at their Master – the Messiah – hanging from nails on a Roman cross – they must have been in a state of total shock and disbelief. All they had believed in and about him no longer seemed to make any sense. He was supposed to rule over Israel forever. He was only thirty-three years old! He wasn’t supposed to die!
When his lifeless body was eventually lowered to the ground and was taken away to be placed in a tomb, the reality of what had just happened finally sunk in. Knowing that there wasn’t going to be some last minute miracle that allowed Jesus to live, fear, bordering on panic, seized Christ’s disciples, and they fled back to the upper room they had rented and bolted the door shut from inside. If the temple priests could kill Jesus, they would certainly come for them as well. And so, they felt their life was in mortal danger.
They must have breathed a sigh of relief that by the time Jesus was buried the Sabbath had started, which meant that the temple priests would not come for them that day. I can only imagine how miserable that Sabbath day was for them as they worried about what would happen when the sun went down Saturday, thereby signaling the end of the Sabbath. Would soldiers come breaking into their hiding place in the middle of the night and take them to prison, like they did with Jesus? They must have talked among themselves about what they needed to do in order to save themselves.
As the sun rose on Sunday, they must have been startled when they heard loud banging on their door, and they must have frozen in fear, until they heard a woman’s voice on the other side of the door. When they cautiously opened it, there stood Mary, out of breath, saying that Jesus was gone! At first, they thought she was delirious with grief, but when she persisted in her story, Peter and John raced to the tomb to verify what she had said.
When they saw the empty tomb, they were puzzled. Nothing that had happened over the past forty-eight hours since Jesus was arrested was making any sense to them. But this wasn’t the end of their astonishment because later that night, as the disciples (along with some female believers in Jesus) were eating behind a locked door, Jesus suddenly – out of nowhere – appeared to them.
We’re told that at first, they thought they were seeing a ghost, but Jesus had them come and touch his hands and feet, and then he ate with them. Now they were beyond being bewildered. Now they were in total shock!
Nothing made any sense to them.
But soon they learned that Jesus HAD to die. It was all part of God’s plan. If he hadn’t been arrested, scourged, and crucified, he would never have become the Savior of the world nor take his rightful place as the eternal King of the earth.
Today we believe that we’re living in the last days, and the scriptures tell us that in the last days the world will be in commotion, that there will be wars, that the love of many will wax cold, that people will become lovers of themselves, people’s hearts will fail them, fear will increase, and that the saints will be persecuted.
Intellectually, we know that, but, like the disciples of old, when we see these things actually happen – not to someone else, but to us – we think, “Jesus will protect us. Surely, he won’t let any harm come to us. At the last moment, he’s going to save us from all of these woes.” As we look at our once Christian nation becoming more and more like that of Sodom and Gomorrah, and we see wicked people in high places growing stronger in power, we think to ourselves, “Any moment now, God is going to step in and save our country.”
Perhaps, like Peter, we think we can save ourselves by drawing our sword and depending on our own strength. And when nothing we do works, and when thing don’t go the way we expect them to, we become bewildered, confused, and perhaps a little frightened because, according to our thinking, nothing makes any sense.
But, like the disciples of old, we don’t understand what God is doing. All of these things HAVE to happen because if they don’t Christ cannot return and reign as the king of the earth. But in our ignorance, we can’t see how any of these things are necessary, therefore, we tend to lock ourselves behind emotional doors and plot how we’re going to save ourselves.
Just before he left the upper room to go to Gethsemane, Jesus told his disciples, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 16:33,34).
When Jesus said that to his disciples, they didn’t fully understand what he was trying to tell them because they had no idea what was about to happen in just a few short hours. And today, we too read those same words and perhaps don’t fully understand them either. Jesus didn’t say we might, could be, possibly have some tribulation. He said we SHALL – guaranteed – have tribulations.
When those times come, it’s only natural for us to worry and fret about how we’re going to survive them, but during such times, our peace and our safety doesn’t come from anything we can do. It can only come from Christ.
Once the resurrected Savior appeared to his disciples in that locked room, all fear and doubt disappeared because they then knew that Jesus was not only still alive but that he was still with them and that everything was going to be all right. It was this knowledge that sustained them as they went forth preaching the gospel, and neither prison, whippings, stoning, or cruel death could cause them to fear.
When we come to have our own personal encounter with Jesus, we too will no longer need to worry or fear when tribulation comes upon us, because we will also know that no matter what happens, everything will be all right all because Jesus is with us.
This is the message of hope and peace that Easter brings.