An empty tomb proves nothing… At first sight this comment, may spark the ire of most Christians, but the apostles were not persuaded by an empty tomb. The tomb of Jesus being empty could have meant many things, maybe the Romans moved him, perhaps a grave robber stole the body, or maybe just maybe he was alive. An empty tomb wasn’t proof of anything other than a displaced dead man. No the empty tomb proved nothing, and if an empty tomb on that Easter morning had been all we had to base our faith on, we wouldn’t have much.
But an empty tomb wasn’t the sum of the evidence for a risen savior. Luke tells us that Peter himself, when receiving the word from the ladies who first found the empty tomb, at first believed it to be “idle talk.” After running to the tomb to see for himself, the gospel writer records that Peter, “wondered within himself at that which was come to pass.” But this was not to remain a mystery. The same Jesus that had walked with his disciples for the past 3 years would meet the first of his two disciples to see their risen savior on their way to Emmaus he would walk and talk with them once more. Surely this was not what they expected. At first, their recognition was hindered as he brought them to remembrance of what the prophets had said must happen regarding the messiah. As one author wrote concerning this scripture, “Jesus opened their minds to the scripture, the scriptures to their minds, and the result of the two was burning hearts.” Hearts set ablaze with a passion for the message of a risen messiah. So much so that they immediately left behind their business in Emmaus whatever it might have been and proceeded immediately back to Jerusalem to share the news. This was not some delusional vision of a “ghostly” apparition, This was a risen savior, fully alive, fully physically present, even breaking bread with the two at the end of their journey.
Now to the skeptic, it is not difficult for two men to scramble together such a conspiracy, but the Christ did not cease his risen revelation with two. Later that day the risen Jesus would visit with the assembly of the disciples who had locked themselves away in building in Jerusalem for fear that they might suffer the same fate at the hands of the Jewish leaders. Imagine the shock when they recognized Jesus standing among them. At least 10 of the remaining eleven of those that would become apostles were assembled in that place. We are given further evidence of his physical presence in that he not only displayed his wounds and scars, but again ate with his disciples. Eight days later, he would visit again with the whole of the group assembled. Thomas the remaining disciple absent at the initial visit would be with them at this one. Thomas was the skeptic in the group. So much so that his name became synonymous with a lack of faith. Who has not heard of or perhaps at some point been called a doubting Thomas? Thomas needed empirical evidence of this Lord’s triumph over the grave. The gospel of John chapter 20 records:
24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.
25 The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.
But on that day doubting Thomas got more than he bargained for. His skeptical nature was met with the undeniable flesh and blood presence of his risen Lord instantaneously replacing his reservations with a resolute confession:
26 And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.
27 Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.
28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.
The gospel of John records one more specific instance when Jesus assembled himself with the disciples. Several of the disciples were fishing on the Sea of Tiberias (a term used for the Sea of Galilee in John’s gospel) when the master called to them from the sea shore. Having fished the night and caught nothing, Jesus instructed them to cast their nets on the right side of the ship. Having obeyed his instructions they filled their nets to the point of breaking. John having recognized Jesus reveals this to Peter who immediately throws himself into the water and begins swimming for shore. The rest of the disciples sail to the lake shore with their catch. Upon their arrival they find Jesus with a kindled fire, fish already cooking, and bread waiting for them. After a meal the conversation turns to Peter who three times denied Christ on the night of his arrest. Jesus asks him three times if he loves him and three times Peter affirms. Jesus three times denied offers Peter a second chance and a mission, “Feed my Sheep.”
Although only a few specific instances are cited in the scriptures, Luke records in Acts 1:3 that Jesus visited with the disciples for 40 days after his resurrection and gave proof of his identity that the Apostles considered infallible. Perhaps the greatest evidence for the risen savior is not his visitations with the disciples after his victory over death, but the effect these visits had on them. These men who found themselves cowering behind locked doors on Saturday night into Sunday, would later charge boldly not only into the unwelcoming Jewish world, but throughout the whole of the Roman Empire. Something motivated them. Something convinced them. Something convicted them. It would have been vastly easier, and more politically expedient to renounce their teacher and return to their lives. Each of these men would face insurmountable challenges, most of them would die horrendous deaths, none of them would renounce their faith. In the end the greatest proof is not in the physical appearances recorded in the pages of the gospels, but in the relentless faith of those that would carry the message of this gospel to the world.