The Message of the Resurrection of Jesus to Those Who Have Forsaken Him
Sunday, April 20, 2014 - 10:00 a.m. Sermon #: 1725
Pastor Don Horban
There is something easily forgotten in the stunning light of the glory of Christ’s resurrection from the grave. In the darkness preceding, not one of the professing followers of Jesus does very well. Here’s a summary:
Mark 14:44-50 - “Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man. Seize him and lead him away under guard.”  And when he came, he went up to him at once and said, “Rabbi!” And he kissed him.  And they laid hands on him and seized him.  But one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear.  And Jesus said to them, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me?  Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the Scriptures be fulfilled.”  And they all left him and fled.”
“They all left him and fled.” That’s the summary. And we’re meant to sense the intentional nature of their desertion. It was something they chose to do. They bolted. And the timing couldn’t have been worse. It was when Jesus needed them most. It was in the garden - right at the moment of His betrayal. It was the one time, in the weakness of Jesus’ incarnate flesh, that Jesus wanted their support the most. That was when they decided to desert Him.
I say this because we all know what it is like to fail our Lord. We know what it’s like to give in to temptation of various sorts. We planned to do better. We committed the matter to prayer. And praying about it makes our failure feel even more painful because the failure makes our prayer feel hypocritical and shallow. We must have just been playing games with our Lord.
How shall we deal with those nagging shadows of guilt? We should have done better. We could have done better. Jesus knows we could have done better. And that’s right where many of us sit this lovely, spring-filled Easter Sunday morning. We are a church filled with people who know the sting of failing Jesus when we didn’t have to.
Here’s how all of this relates to Easter. There was never one single event in our Lord’s earthly life that so brought out failure in His professed followers as did His execution. They all thought, and some even said they would never abandon Jesus. They promised faithfulness. They said they would do so much better than they did. Judas betrayed Jesus. Peter cursed and denied even knowing Jesus. Our opening text is a model of brevity - “They all left him and fled”(Mark 14:50). Not a single one of them stuck with Jesus. Zero.
On Easter morning Jesus rose from the dead. And He went back to those who bolted. Is this reunion going to be good news or bad? How would Jesus react to these deserters? What would He say when He saw them? We don’t have to guess. We have three clear examples from the Gospel of John:
1) JESUS’ VERY FIRST WORDS TO MARY AT THE TOMB
John 20:11-17 - “But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb.  And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet.  They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”  Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”  Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).  Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
This is the only place in the gospels where Jesus calls His disciples his “brothers.” Earlier this weekend He had surprised them with His announcement that He was calling them His “friends” - John 15:13-15 - “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command you.  No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”
There is something deep and easily missed in these words. Jesus links His coming death with calling His disciples friends - “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends”(13). But He links His resurrection with calling His disciples “brothers.” And He makes a point of ensuring Mary tells the disciples - these same disciples who so failed and denied Jesus - Jesus insists Mary tell these disciples they are “brothers.”
I often wonder if the reason Jesus stressed this brotherhood with His disciples isn’t that you can lose even close friendships (who hasn’t experienced the pain of this?). But your brother will always be your brother.
And for all who carry the dark weight of remorse for all you should have been for Jesus and weren’t - for all who feel the threat and even accusation of hypocrisy because you’ve lost the same battle so many times you no longer feel you count when you repent - I want you to take this truth home this Easter Sunday morning. The mighty resurrection of Jesus triumphs over every failure and defeat. As surely as it triumphs over death and the grave it triumphs over every sin and defeat for those who look in trust - and continue looking - to the risen Christ.
You’re looking at something very beautiful in this text. What I’m promising you right now has nothing whatsoever to do with sentiment. This is not Easter bunny fluff. It’s here in this wonderful sacred text. Jesus - holy and pure Jesus - can’t wait for the news to reach His deserting disciples. “Mary, stop hugging me! Run to my guilt ridden disciples and tell them they’re my brothers”
2) JESUS’ FIRST APPEARANCE TO THE APOSTLES
John 20:19-21 - “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”  When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.  Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”
Immediately following these verses John records Jesus showing them the wounds of His crucifixion. And we should think about that for a minute. Jesus shows them these wounds to prove His actual identity as a risen body - the same body they had seen hanging on the cross. Jesus wasn’t a ghost or angelic being.
But what would they be thinking as they saw these rather painful reminders of what happened to Jesus after they forsook Him. Did these wounds remind them Jesus had to face all of this without their loyalty or support?
I don’t think this is wild speculation. The fact that Jesus senses He needs to repeat His encouragement of peace at least strongly hints He saw this as the deep need of the moment. The opposite of peace is fear and guilt. And Jesus sees these demons torturing His disciples - so much so that one reminder of peace didn’t cut it.
Forever rejoice in the vast difference between “Shame on you,” and “Peace to you.” The risen Christ doesn’t carry a single syllable of condemnation into that guilt-filled room. Not one.
3) THE RISEN CHRIST AND HIS WORDS TO PETER
John 21:15-17 - “When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’  He said to him a second time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’  He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ and he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.’”
John 21 is a very important chapter. Herman Ridderbos, in his great commentary on John, says without it “especially Peter would have been left in a questionable light” throughout the rest of church history. But Jesus didn’t leave Peter wallowing in his last act of denial.
Have you noticed how Jesus’ question to Peter morphs a bit in the asking? The first question doesn’t just ask if Peter loves Jesus. It’s a question of comparison - “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”(15). Taken on its own it seems a ridiculous question. How can anyone know if one loves a person more than others do? How could Peter possibly tell?
But I think there’s a deeper reason for the nature of this question. Jesus knows Peter very well. Peter would actually claim a superior love to Jesus over the other disciples. He was quite certain and indeed proud of it - Matthew 26:31-34 - “Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’  But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.”  Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.”  Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.”
Peter is emphatic. The others may well crack under the pressure (did Peter point to the other disciples when he said this?), but he was made of better stuff.
And Jesus knows such self-confidence is a dangerous thing in a disciple. So now He comes to Peter with the question we might find strange, but Peter would see the intent in - “Peter, are you still so sure of yourself? Do you really love me more than anyone else?”
And, softened by brokenness and this fresh grace from his risen Lord, Peter’s answer has more wisdom and humility packed in it - “Yes Lord, you know that I love you”(21:15). No more brash comparisons.
Three fresh commissions for each of Peter’s three denials. Fresh grace. No condemnation. And a fresh start. And the reason we need to study this - the reason John records this - is if there was ever anyone who seemed to disqualify himself for usefulness and joyful fruitfulness for His Lord, it was Peter. Yet it is precisely the one who denied Jesus most who is most specifically reaffirmed by the Lord.
That is on purpose. Your walk with Jesus can only go forward when it is unburdened from destructive memories and haunting guilt. Divine forgiveness must be given its full weight. Grace is as powerful as the resurrection itself. Jesus can be trusted with your forgiveness.
4) WHAT THESE THREE ENCOUNTERS TEACH
First, Jesus was anxious to repair the hearts that had failed Him. This was Jesus’ repeated pattern. If you have failed the Lord you need to repent, it’s true. But you must take heart after you repent. He is no less eager to restore and bless you.
Second, Jesus gave ministry to all who had failed Him. Mary is sent to the disciples with a message. The disciples are sent out in mission just as the Father sent the Son. Peter is commanded to feed Christ’s sheep. The details vary but the heart of Jesus is the same. Those who deserted Jesus aren’t put on the bench like a wild pitcher in a ball game. They are all commissioned.
Don’t put your life on the shelf. The risen Christ brings fresh grace and a fresh start with Him out of the grave. Happy Easter!