Rev. VanOverloop is pastor of Byron Center Protestant Reformed Church in Byron Center, Michigan.
“The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon.”
This exclamation of joy was made by Jesus’ disciples sometime in the evening of Resurrection Sunday. The simple and powerful way in which these words are presented indicates that Jesus’ followers were rising out of the grief they had experienced the previous two days.
The occasion for this statement is the arrival of Cleopas and a companion at the place where the eleven had gathered. These two had left Jerusalem earlier in the day to go to the nearby town of Emmaus. As they walked the approximate seven miles to Emmaus, a “stranger” joined them. They talked together extensively. It seems that the “stranger” did most of the talking. “Beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning” the Messiah. “As he sat at meat with them, …their eyes were opened, and they knew him.” And then “he vanished out of their sight.” They immediately returned to Jerusalem in order to tell their friends that Jesus had appeared to them. But no sooner did they enter the room where the eleven were gathered together than someone, with unrestrained joy, blurted out the words of our text.
It is necessary to believe the fact of the resurrection before one can understand the significance of the resurrection. The disciples of Jesus did not yet understand what it meant that their Lord was risen. But at this time on Resurrection Sunday, the disciples of Jesus were coming to the conviction that Jesus was indeed risen from the dead.
Their belief in the fact of Jesus’ resurrection was based on the many things that had happened that day, culminating in Jesus’ appearance to Simon Peter. It began early in the morning with the alarming words of Mary Magdalene, who saw that the stone had been rolled away from the tomb and assumed that Jesus’ body had been taken away (John 20:2). Mary Magalene’s words sent John and Peter immediately running to the tomb. They returned with the information that the body could not have been stolen, for the grave clothes were still there (John 20:3-10). Shortly after, a group of women who had gone to the tomb to care for Jesus’ body came back to Jerusalem with some exciting news: the stone was rolled away and Jesus’ body was not there. They also relayed the words of the angels that, “He is … risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee” (Luke 24:1-9). And the women wanted especially to inform their fellow-believers that Jesus Himself appeared to them as they were coming back to Jerusalem (Matt. 28:9, 10). And then Mary Magdalene arrived, telling them that “she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her” (John 20:18).
It was around this time that Cleopas and his companion had to take their leave of their friends in Jerusalem and go to Emmaus. After they left, the eleven and their friends spent the rest of that day talking together, trying to make sense of what had happened. Later in the afternoon Simon Peter rejoined the others, telling them that the risen Lord had appeared to him too.
What they heard and saw of Jesus’ resurrection was unique, which made it difficult for them to understand it. The disciples of Jesus had witnessed Jesus raising a few people from the dead. Those persons whom Jesus raised stood before them as proof that they had been raised. But Jesus’ resurrection was not witnessed. Also, something was different about Jesus’ resurrection—He was not the same. Mary was told not to touch Him. The reports of all the witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection testified of two things: the reality of the bodily resurrection, and the wholly otherness of His resurrection.
For us, the bodily resurrection of our Lord is a well-established fact. In addition to the witnesses on that resurrection Sunday, there were many others to whom Jesus appeared later. Also, the fact of His resurrection was evidenced in the things Jesus left behind: the grave empty of His body, and the position of the grave clothes that had been wrapped around His body. We also accept the testimony of the angels as fact. We know that Jesus lives because His resurrection from the dead was established objectively by the gospel preached by the apostles and recorded in Scripture.
It is important that our Lord’s resurrection be a well-established fact, because it is the heart of the gospel. Without the resurrection of Jesus, our faith would be vain. Without His resurrection, the cross would be without value, and there would be no salvation and no hope. So with the disciples we say, assuredly and joyfully, “The Lord is risen indeed!”
The significance of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead rests on the foundation of the reality of the resurrection.
God’s power is displayed in His ability to create all things out of nothing. There is an even greater power of God at work in making the dead to live. Jesus was raised by the exceeding great power of God (Eph. 1:19, 20).
Additional significance is grasped when we remember what death is. Death is not an accident, nor merely a “natural” event that ends all earthly life. Rather, death is the revelation of God’s wrath against sin. The judgment of death was what God promised to Adam if he disobeyed (Gen. 2:17). Death is the punishment for sin. If death is the just wages earned from God by every sin (Rom. 6:23), then the resurrection from death is the declaration that He who brings to death is also able to raise from the dead. And then, second, the resurrection reveals that the punishment has been completely borne and that God’s wrath is fully satisfied.
This significance is immediately applied to a very specific case. In our text the disciples excitedly tell the two travelers to Emmaus, “The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon.” Jesus’ resurrected appearance to Simon Peter evidences that God has justified His chosen sinners, having fully paid the penalty their sins deserve and declaring them to be perfectly righteous. “Simon” is Peter’s natural name. It was used deliberately. When Simon denied that he knew Jesus on Thursday night, he forfeited his right to the name “Peter.” But that morning, when the angels told the women at the grave to tell Jesus’ disciples that He was risen, they singled out Peter (Mark 16:7). And now Jesus had appeared to Simon. There need be no doubt that the purpose of Jesus’ appearance to Simon was to inform him that he was forgiven his shameful denial. That Jesus had forgiven Simon was a cause of great joy to Peter, but also to the other disciples. If Simon was forgiven so shameful a deed, then they could be assured that all their sins were also forgiven. The excitement in the news that the Lord is risen was also in the news that He had appeared to Simon.
The Lord’s resurrection indeed is also to us the good news of salvation. The faith that accepts the facts of the Lord’s resurrection for truth is the faith that also trusts that His resurrection means our justification. He who was delivered to death on account of our sins was raised from the dead on account of our justification (Rom. 4:25). When God raised Jesus from the dead, then He set His seal of approval on Jesus’ word, “It is finished.” The punishment earned by our sins has been fully paid, and our eternal righteousness has been completely merited.
Christ arose by going through death to glory. He did not come back to the earthly. Until Jesus arose from the dead, the only way out of the grave was to go deeper—to hell. But Jesus made a passage out of the grave, which the natural, physical eye cannot see. This passage out of the grave is to a glory that is seen only with the eye of faith.
The faith that sees our Lord’s resurrection takes hold also of the hope of our bodily resurrection to eternal life. The gospel of our Lord’s resurrection is one of great joy because it gives the hope of the resurrection of our bodies unto eternal life.
The Lord is risen indeed! Can you hear the excitement in that statement? They who had known deep sorrow, now have reason to rejoice. This joy in His resurrection is made even greater when we know that He appeared to a forgiven sinner. The Lord is risen indeed!