In the 50 or so days between Easter Sunday and the Ascension, we know that Jesus made numerous appearances to his disciples. Paul notes in 1 Cor. 15 that there were at least 5 appearances of the risen Jesus, and at one time Jesus appeared to more than 500 people at the same time (1 Cor 15:6). Why was Jesus doing this? Why spend that remaining time on earth showing up for his friends?
It seems pretty clear that Jesus did this because he wanted to encourage his friends in their doubts, struggles, and confusion. Even after Mary and the other women reported that Jesus was alive, few people believed it was true. So Jesus showed up again and again, proving to his friends that he was truly risen from the dead, restoring them after their experiences of doubt and denial, and giving them a renewed hope. And ultimately, he takes this bedraggled group of people and sends them as his witnesses out into the world.
Those of us who follow Jesus have seasons of clear and certain faith, but we also have seasons of struggle and doubt, in which we wonder if all this is really true. This wonderful story is about how Jesus handles people just like us- people who are stumbling along trying to maintain our faith sometimes in the face of very discouraging circumstances. We see how he gently and patiently encourages and restores his people, giving us faith and hope when we need it most.
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Luke 24:36–53 (ESV)
36 As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” 37 But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. 38 And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate before them.
44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
50 And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51 While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy,53 and were continually in the temple blessing God.