Have you ever wondered what Jesus was doing between the first Easter Sunday and his ascension six weeks later?  The New Testament records ten appearances, half of them occurring on the same day, and all together occupying only a few hours of his time.  What else was taking place?  Free of his former body’s constraints, was Jesus paying unrecorded visits to other cultures on earth, or zipping in and out of time warps and wormholes to check on other universes?

We rightly celebrate Easter as the day that changed history, the essential foundation of faith for two billion Christians.  In the apostle Paul’s words, “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”  As I read through the accounts this year, however, I was struck by their understated nature, so different from the birth stories of a bright star, angelic choruses, and foreign dignitaries bearing gifts.  The resurrected Jesus showed up in the most ordinary circumstances: a private dinner, two men walking along a road, a woman weeping in a garden, some fishermen working a lake.

A Superhero would have dazzled the crowds with a showy miracle, or swaggered onto Pilate’s porch on Monday morning to announce, “I’m back!”  Jesus’ appearances show a different pattern: he mostly visited small clusters of people in a remote area or closed room.  Although these rendezvous bolstered the faith of those who already followed him, there are no reports of Jesus appearing to unbelievers.

The appearances have a whimsical, even playful quality.  Jesus seems to enjoy going incognito, and passing through locked doors as a surprise guest.  He toys with the downcast Emmaus disciples, first feigning ignorance about the events in Jerusalem and then enlightening them.  He changes plans in order to spend the night, although as soon as they recognize him, he vanishes.  Now you see Jesus, now you don’t.

The last chapter of John’s Gospel records the most detailed account of a resurrection appearance.  The eleven remaining disciples have already encountered Jesus, already absorbed the inconceivable fact that he has returned from the grave.  Even so, seven of them have left Jerusalem and made the seventy-five mile journey to Galilee, apparently to resume their careers as fishermen.  At first they fail to recognize the stranger on the shore calling out to them.  Who does he think he is, giving fishing advice to the pros?  They follow the prompting anyway, and Jesus performs his only post-resurrection miracle.

For fishermen, a net bulging with fish likely impresses them more than a paralytic standing up or a demoniac shaping up.  Impetuous Peter jumps into the water to get a head start on the overloaded boat headed to shore.  When the rest arrive, the seven haul in their catch and gather around Jesus.  He has cooked breakfast, and they sit around the glowing coals like a family, as they did in the good days before Jesus’ death.

There follows one of the most poignant conversations in the Gospels, as Jesus exposes and reinstates Peter, his most loyal, blustery—and, in the end, traitorous—disciple.  “Do you love me?” he asks three times, one for each occasion that Peter denied him.  The repeated question stings Peter, embarrassed before his friends.  Once the boil is lanced, Jesus turns to the redemptive future.  “Take care of my sheep,” he says.  And, “Follow me”—a command that could only be fulfilled in Jesus’ absence, for Peter will only see him once or twice more.

The very ordinariness of the resurrection appearances makes them all the more believable.  In one sense Easter changed everything; in another sense life went on as before, even for the first witnesses.  In Jesus’ resurrection they had a glimpse of the new reality, an advance clue to God’s restoration plans for a broken world.  In the meantime they felt abandoned and confused, their leader more absent than present.

I like these scenes because they reflect not only the disciples’ reality in the first century but also ours in the twenty-first.  John Goldingay at Fuller Seminary puts it this way: “Things stay the same, then Jesus appears and intervenes and things change, then things go back to being the same, then Jesus intervenes again.…  Life involves an unremitting sequence of sadnesses and losses, but they are interwoven with appearances of Jesus, who shows up to make a difference.”

Yes, Easter changed history, though not in the way we might long for.  This morning’s news is reporting yet another terrorist attack.  Yesterday I learned that a friend died of a tumor that had grown inside his skull for twenty years.  I prayed through a list of three other friends who have brain tumors, and a long list of those battling cancer; today I will pray for friends whose marriages hang by a thread, and tomorrow for parents who feel helpless as they watch their kids self-destruct.

Much as the disciples experienced with Jesus, sometimes we sense God’s close presence, and sometimes not.  Occasionally we, too, feel like giving up and resuming our old, familiar lives.  Perhaps Jesus rationed out his appearances to help prepare his followers for what awaits them.  As the disciples sit bewildered around the breakfast fire, Jesus reminds them that the kingdom he has set in motion cannot be stopped—neither by his death nor by their own.  The gates of hell will not prevail against the church he is leaving behind.

Much has not changed on that first Easter: Rome still occupies Palestine, religious authorities still have a bounty on the disciples’ heads, death and evil still reign outside.  Gradually, however, the shock of recognition gives way to a long slow undertow of hope.  The disciples’ transformation occurs at Pentecost, a few weeks later.  At that event the “Spirit of Christ” descends on them and a new awareness dawns.  Jesus has not left them after all.  He’s loose, he’s out there, he lives on in them and in all who comprise “the Body of Christ.”  Including you and me.

Easter puts Jesus’ life in a whole new light.  Apart from Easter I would think it a tragedy that Jesus died young after a few brief years of ministry.  What a waste for him to leave so soon, having affected so few in such a small corner of the world!  Yet, viewing that same life through the lens of Easter, I see that was Jesus’ plan all along.  He stayed just long enough to gather around him followers who could carry the message to others.  Killing Jesus, says Walter Wink, was like trying to destroy a dandelion seed-head by blowing on it.

Jesus left few traces of himself on Earth.  He did not marry, settle down, and begin a dynasty.  He wrote no books or even pamphlets, left no home or possessions to enshrine in a museum.  We would, in fact, know nothing about him except for the traces he left in human beings.  That was his design. 

The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins got it right:

Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

Like the disciples, I never know where Jesus might turn up, how he might speak to me, what he might ask of me.  Easter set Jesus loose—in us.

 

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36 responses to “Now You See Him…”

  1. Deb says:

    I like your thoughts about Jesus playfully showing Himself.

    I do believe that God has a sense of humor and He clearly has a sense of mystery.

    It has made me think of one of my favorite root word combinations in the Bible, which I will give to you to make you smile.

    Look up the root words to the sticks in Jacob. Start with stick one, then go to stick three, then look up stick two and put all of the sticks in context to the story, plus look at the multilevel meaning God is using. Not far from there, God is going to have Jacob do a mini-crossing over at the Jabbock, which Chuck Missler called a pun saying, “Get over yourself” and I think my pun is the same pun designed to hit two men’s egos with three sticks.

    Also, I told you that I don’t believe Moses is a type of Jesus, but what I didn’t say is that God took me through that section of the Bible and pointed out Moses and Joshua coming down off the mountain and either Joshua was dimwitted or he was representing a different covenant….. and Moses…. pointed to that guy over there and did a prophetic name changing act and called someone “The Good Shepherd” to represent a different law…. one, which brings your name to mind.

    I get to the hard sayings and found myself hearing, “God was angry with that generation….. except for Joshua and Caleb……” and suddenly the hard sayings became the Gospel.

    I have never heard even one Bible Study teacher teach it this way, but it made me smile.

    I symbolically put Yeshua in ever Joshua verse and suddenly the valley of Achor represented a different Kingdom – a Door Way to Hope.

    I am not a Bible Study teacher or a scholar. I was mentally so broken when I started seeing it and I tried to bring it to a precious Bible Study teacher, but I was too broken and didn’t get the message to him properly.

    • Philip Yancey says:

      There are many “foretellings” like this in the Old Testament. Just now I’m reading Hosea, which almost presents God as longing for a future time of grace and mercy. That doesn’t fit most theology, I know, but it’s how it comes across. I think you are a Bible teacher. –Philip

  2. Nice thoughts, Phil.
    A couple of small corrections/qualifications:

    Jesus’ brother James seems to have been an unbeliever until Jesus appeared to him after his resurrection (Jn 7:5; 1 Cor 15:7). Admittedly, we cannot be one hundred percent certain.

    Also, although Jesus appeared to eleven of the original apostles, Matthias, the replacement for Judas Iscariot, must have been among the others who were present during Jesus’ resurrection appearances (Luke 24:33; cf. Acts 1:22). Therefore, Paul could speak of Jesus appearing “to the twelve” not just to the eleven (1 Cor 15:5).

  3. Aster Dibaba says:

    Hello Philip:

    Thank you for a lively report on the Resurrection. You make my Lord so up and close. I have enjoyed your books. Thank you for being used by the Lord. Way down here in East Africa I enjoy your fresh presentation. If you come to Africa please stop in Ethiopia. Please give Janet my warmest greetings. Behind every great man there is a great woman. God Bless her too!

    Thank you again.

  4. Sandy says:

    hmmm, this year I wondered about what Jesus’ followers were going thru–Thursday night Passover supper, we call it the Last Supper, but we now know that. What was it like for them, not knowing what was coming? Arrested, tried, sentenced, crucified, dead, buried. What horror! There is only one mention of Saturday in the four gospels, that the Pharisees came to Pilate to have a guard put on His grave. What were His men feeling and thinking that day? I can’t imagine! They certainly weren’t expecting Him to leave the grave. And then I wondered about those 40 days when Jesus came back. Oh how I wish what He said and did then was recorded for us! Did He teach completely new things? Did He continue to go around doing good? healing, feeding, walking on water…tho I would have loved to live then and be a close follower of Jesus, I am so grateful I have His Holy Spirit all the time, and that I have indoor plumbing and coffee! I am just starting your book on Prayer and I am liking it. I have read so many, it’s hard to find anything unique or challenging. God gave me the gift of prayer as a young girl and I am always working on being an effective, fervent, righteous prayer who availeth much. blessings to you Pilip.

  5. Christine says:

    Hello Philip,
    I happy that I’ve found your website, I read all your books and now all your blog!
    Your books made me rethink my entire christian journey and “save me” from my religiously and hypocrite life. Thank youvery much.
    I’m wondering with you have plan to came to England this year or so? Even if you go to any other European Country near United Kingdom, I would love to go and listening to you.
    May God continuing to bless you and your family,
    Christine

    • Philip Yancey says:

      We were in England in January, speaking at a conference and at Holy Trinity Brompton, and visiting my publisher. No current plans, but you can always keep informed about my travel on my Facebook site. Thanks for the warm words!

  6. Dane Egli says:

    Thanks Philip
    Love that Jesus fixed breakfast on the Galilea shoreline as pretext for restoring Peter in person. This weekend I gave my pastor (Lake George, CO) a copy of “The Jesus I Never Knew” and told him it was like reading my faith experience… so many moving joyful grace moments reading it!
    Gratefully, Dane

  7. Udhaya Banu says:

    I thank dear Jesus for giving you these wonderful insights …. you sure are a close friend of Him…may be someone different as John…that His spirit reveals things to you in a special soothing very personal way…Thanks a lot…sorry if I sound immature. ..just thought of letting you know

    • Alexandria Miracola says:

      Udhaya, I don’t believe you sound immature at all; just like Philip has been givent the gift for sharing God’s truth through writing, God has clearly given you a wonderful gift of encouraging others and reminding them of their God-given talents! Praise God! We need more encouragers like you! Praying this Scripture over you: “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7 and “Do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.” Mark 13:11 I am praying that you are enabled to walk in confidence and boldness as God makes His gifts and will for you apparent! But no matter what, remember He is leading you and He is with you. There is no need to worry or fear. “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you!” Mark 10:49

  8. Warenne Stewart says:

    When you sit in your solitary room Philip, please remember that the faithful, loving words you labour over so earnestly are having an often explosive impact on a great many readers. What a great help you have been over the years. I gave our 90 year old friend a chapter to read in one of your books…and he proceeded to read the whole book. He then said “thank you for the reassurance”. Up until that moment, I didn’t know he was saved and needed the encouragement that your words brought him. Thank you very much. And thank you for these words too which, once again, draw me closer to Jesus. Thank you and God bless you.

    Warenne

  9. Thanks, Philip! Always enjoy your thoughts!

    The statement, “… What Things …” on the Emmaus Road would be just like Jesus! Just can’t wait to meet Him in person! Your books do make HIM real!

    Blessings on You and Margaret!

    Ted

  10. Dede Fischer says:

    Through your words, the Holy Spirit gave me knew eyes to see more visually the days between the resurrection and His glorious ascension. Love that! Thank you for using your gift for the glory of God.

  11. Pete Wehner says:

    This is a lovely and insightful meditation. Among the greatest gifts a writer can give his readers is to help them seen old stories in new ways; to make old truths come alive again; to help them see things that should have been obvious but were obscured. And to encourage them, to give them hope. These are some of the many gifts Philip Yancey has, and I’m very grateful for them, and for the blessings that flow from them.

  12. Tim says:

    You mention “wormholes” as Jesus pops in and out. I’ve often thought of when I was a boy and would tie an object to the end of a string and twirl it around faster and faster. The object would nearly disappear (like an airplane propeller will). I wonder if the spiritual world can actually move faster than the speed of light to vanish and also slow down to appear to man such as the men who appeared to Abraham. Just a thought.

  13. pat says:

    Thanks for an inspiring evening in Orlando recently. I have read your books for many years and it was very satisfying and inspirational to hear you in person.
    Thank you for your life and service for the Lord, and the encouragement you have been through your writing.

  14. Donna Meredith Dixon says:

    Excellent… as I would hope… expect… when reading your words.

  15. Jeff Zhorne says:

    My two young children were killed in a horrible car crash 25 years ago. I lost my faith. Thanks to Philip’s Disappointment With God, I found my way back and here remain. Thank you, Lord.

  16. Rita Dingemans says:

    Thank you for your insight as well as the one from Th.Hieber. So right, we need to stop worrying about the numbers and start thinking about “who our neighbours” are to share God’s Kingdom here on earth. We too had to downsize but your books have remained with us. Got to read them again and again. Thank you.

  17. Priscilla Kew says:

    He even was reduced to eating leftovers, given his friends thought he was a ghost. Lk 24:41-43 I love that detail!

    I’m preaching on the Emmaus passage in a couple weeks, so your comments are helpful as I prepare.

    Please spare a smile that I, who went to the same Bible college you did (a few years later), am part of the preaching team at my local Parish church in England. As a lay person and a woman, I have been given a voice, God is so gracious!

  18. Lavinia R Hopfe says:

    Love this picture of Jesus the Christ. You have such a way with words that convey a message that the whole world needs to hear. I believe that Jesus appeared to the Jewish flock here in the Americas too. I’ve puzzled over the years about the Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom of God and after really studying my “Schofield Reference Edition” now believe that the KOH is already here on earth existing in the church that Jesus instituted for us, and that this path will lead me to the Kingdom where God dwells. Would love to hear your thoughts. LRH

    • Philip Yancey says:

      Jesus came announcing the Kingdom, and I agree with you that it’s being lived out on earth. You might check books by N. T. Wright, who explains this very well. –Philip

    • Deeae says:

      Kingdom of Heaven here? Where, pray tell?

      • Philip Yancey says:

        John the Baptist announced it was near, and Jesus proclaimed it boldly, including in the Lord’s Prayer. His phrase, that God’s will “be done on earth as it is in heaven” is the best summary I know. Of course, that kingdom is not fully realized, but we are to pray and work for exactly that: “thy Kingdom come, thy will be done,” as a preview of a future time of full restoration.

  19. Jill Pike says:

    Your insights never cease to amaze me. You articulate thoughts that I have thought, but could not express. Thank you for your faithfulness and your sharing.

  20. Dan Story says:

    Very nice, thanks!

  21. Mike says:

    I am praying the slow undercurrent of hope becomes a riptide of glory very soon! Thanks for the word to remind us of Jesus’ presence for all of his children.

  22. Bob and Barbara Hawk says:

    Dear, Dear Philip,
    You continue to give us new eyes with which to see our Lord.
    He is so “everyday” and tenderly present.
    Thank you for being His!
    We miss seeing you,
    Bob and Barbara

  23. Charles E Davis, Jr says:

    It is so good to hear something special from you. Keep up the good work. Please give your wife (my cousin ) my love.
    God Bless!
    Chuck Davis

  24. Julia Williams says:

    I am so happy to see this. At 81 we recently moved to a small retirement home. All of our books had to go, there just wasn’t room, except we kept your’s. I first read you in the two books about Dr. Brand. We must have bought 25 copies of What’s So Amazing About Grace, giving them to everyone we cared about. I have an extra copy now, waiting for the person who needs it. Thank you for your faithfulness. Julia Williams

  25. Tom King says:

    Any story that closes with a powerful, poetic quote from Gerard Manly Hopkins is one for my reading.

    Toss in some epithets from T. S. Eliot now and then, and you have stoked it perfectly.

    Thanks!

  26. Roland Rouse says:

    HAPPY EASTER….HE IS RISEN!

  27. Johnny Gates says:

    Good stuff Phillip

  28. Thomas Hieber says:

    Thanks Philip for sharing your thoughts in what Jesus did after Easter.

    I have come to understand, that he did something else during that time. He instructed his disiples again on a very important subject – the Kingdom of God!
    Acts 1: 3 says: “After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.”
    in the same chapter v. 6 they ask him:Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

    It seems that they had not understood Jesus’ main theme of teaching while he was with them-The Kingdom of God. I wonder sometimes while we read so much about the church and church growth and so little about the main teaching theme of Jesus. The synoptic gospels record more than 140 times ‘Kingdom of God /or heavens) and only twice ‘church’ !

    Maybe we too are are too concerned about the state of the church that we forget the main taks that Jesus has given us – Seek first the Kingdom of God.
    The disciples did not understand it during his pre- Easter time with them so he needed the time AFTER to restate it again because of it’s importance. We too need to understand what the Kingdom of God means for us – his followers and for our times.

    I hope and wish that we as his followers would mediate and seek His Kingdom in our familes, neighborhoods, cites, countries and the world.

    blessings
    Thomas Hieber

  29. George Fanning says:

    Thank you for the refreshing insight into Easter that is so easily lost in the chocolate sea of adverts that irritate and offer no meaning other then a good reason to diet, Thanks Philip

    George

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