Sunday, 16 October 2016
Mark, in chapter 16 of his Gospel, tells us that an angel at the empty tomb told the women to go and tell his disciples, including Peter, that Jesus had risen from the dead. It looks as if the women had to split up to perform this request, which suggests that the disciples were not all in the same place in Jerusalem. This would not be surprising, given the situation they feared from the authorities. Yet they obviously knew where the disciples were and Mary Magdalene went to tell Peter and John. She may not have had far to travel.
It is safe to say that the angel did not decide by himself to add the reference to Peter. The angel mentioned it because he would have been instructed by Jesus to do so. When this instruction was given, Jesus knew that he would see Peter later that day. He did not see Peter first, but he did ensure that Peter received the message about the resurrection. It is also intriguing that he sent exalted messengers (the angels) to inform the women, but he used the women to inform the disciples. Maybe this was one way by which the faithfulness of the women at the time of his death was rewarded.
The Gospel writers record that the response of the disciples to the message of the women was one of unbelief. One reason for this is seen in John’s comment that the disciples did not understand from the Bible that Jesus would rise from the dead. The implication is that they should have done. Of course, the Bible that they used was the Old Testament and this failure of the disciples leads us to ask where in the Old Testament is it predicted that Jesus would rise from the dead. Here are some suggestions.
In Psalm 2, David describes how the Son of God would reach the throne of God. The psalmist makes it clear that the path to the throne included going through the darkness of death. Yet the Son is full of confidence regarding what will happen to him at that time. He will not be left in the place of death, but will reach the destination marked out by the path of life.
Another reference to the resurrection of Jesus is found in the incredible description of the humiliation and the exaltation of the Messiah in Isaiah 53. There, it was predicted that the Messiah would die and be buried in a rich man’s tomb. Nevertheless, he would yet have universal dominion, which indicates very clearly that the Messiah would have to rise from the dead. After all, he could not be described as having universal dominion if he remained under the power of death.
Those two references indicate that it should have been possible for the disciples, including Peter, to know from the Old Testament that the Saviour would rise from the dead. Imagine what those days between the death and resurrection of Jesus would have been like for the disciples, including Peter, if they had thought about what the Bible says about it. Yet we cannot throw stones at them because we too often do not notice what the Bible says.
The state of Peter’s mind
We are not told anything about what Peter felt or thought about during the hours between his denial of Jesus and the time when Mary Magdalene came to see him and John. Since he was with John, it would mean that he was also with Mary, the mother of Jesus, because John tells us that he took Mary to his home at the request of Jesus. So we can see that Peter would have spent the hours with two choice saints, yet because they did not yet understand the reality of the resurrection they would not have been able to help him in his distress. We need the truth about Jesus as well as the company of devout believers.
We can safely assume that Peter would have been very ashamed of the way that he had denied Jesus. He may also have recalled the various wrong words that he had spoken and actions he had done. His mind might have recalled his proud boasts of remaining true to Jesus and also the pointless ambitions about him having a prominent place in the kingdom he had imagined Jesus would set up. No doubt, Peter would have wished he could speak to Jesus about those things and say that he was sorry for them. But what would be the point if Jesus was not risen from the dead? The fact is, we need to know the truth before we can repent adequately and intelligently.
It is striking that John seemed to grasp from what he saw in the empty tomb that Jesus must be alive. If someone had stolen the body, everything would not be so orderly in the tomb. The arrangement of the face cloth indicates that Jesus had taken care to fold it before leaving the tomb. Luke 24:12 says that Peter observed the neat arrangement and it made him wonder about it. But he did not have the same realisation that John did. It is the case that sometimes one believer can be helped more in a situation than another believer who is with him. Peter needed something else and he received it.
Peter meets with Jesus
At some stage later that day, Jesus appeared to Simon Peter when he was alone. We are not told anything about the meeting, which is a reminder that there may be meetings with Jesus the details of which we can keep to ourselves while saying that the meeting happened. Of course, we can try and imagine what took place. Peter would have worshipped Jesus and confessed his sins to him; Jesus would have comforted Peter by reminding him that he was forgiven and that he would be of use in serving in the future. If Jesus had withheld that comfort it is hard to imagine that Peter would want to be in the upper room later that evening.
It is important to note that Jesus had given Peter much encouragement already on this day. He had informed the women to take special notice of Peter when they passed on the news about the resurrection. This tells us that Jesus had his eye on Peter even although Peter did not know about that. The Saviour had also given to Peter the privilege of seeing the empty tomb, a privilege which does not seem to have been utilised by the other disciples apart from John. Although Peter does not seem to have benefitted from those encouragements as he should have done, his failure did not prevent Jesus from meeting with him. We should not let our failures prevent us from seeing the desire of Jesus to meet with us in special ways.
Peter with the disciples
Later that evening, the disciples, apart from Thomas, met together in the upper room. It is obvious that when Peter informed them that he had met with the Lord they were convinced that he was risen from the dead. We can see their certainty about this when they speak to the two disciples who had come from Emmaus to share the same news as Peter. The disciples already there stated with confidence, ‘The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon’ (Luke 24:34). We can learn from this situation the importance of sharing appropriate details with other believers.
It is striking that the disciple who was selected to encourage the other disciples was the one who had failed the most. There is no record that Jesus appeared to John in this way, even although John had remained with Jesus at the cross and taken his mother away when requested. Instead, it was to Peter that Jesus gave such a privilege. We should value the restoring grace that Jesus gives to erring brothers.
As far as we know, Jesus only gave this privilege of one to one to three people – Mary Magdalene, Peter and James, the brother of Jesus. He did appear to the women as a group, and to the couple from Emmaus, as well as to the disciples as a group. The variety of numbers to whom he appeared tells us that Jesus can get close to his people whatever their situation.
There was one individual that Jesus did not meet on the resurrection day and that was Thomas. Why did Jesus omit seeing him? Suggestions include that Thomas’ heart was hard and that Thomas did not want to meet with the other disciples. We can deduce from this that while Peter had sinned more than Thomas he did not retain his failure as long as Thomas did. Therefore, we should not assume that because a person’s sinful response is not as great it means that he will repent sooner because that did not happen with Thomas when he was not present to hear what Peter had to say about meeting the risen Jesus.
Jesus appears to them
Despite Peter’s report, the other disciples were still afraid as they gathered together behind locked doors. They needed to experience something that would remove their fear. And they would receive that blessing when Jesus suddenly appeared in the room in a miraculous way while they were speaking about how he had appeared to others. Of course, the fact that he appeared may not have in itself made them feel comfortable. After all, he could have come to rebuke them. How wonderful it was for them to hear from his lips the beautiful word, ‘Peace.’
His use of the word told the disciples that there was no bitterness in his heart towards them despite their disloyalty to him. We also see that Jesus wanted them to grasp that even although he had come into their presence in a remarkable way he was in some ways still the same. His use of the simple daily greeting that was common among the people reveals that he did not wish them to be confused. Of course, they may not have realised it at that time, yet he knew that his atoning death had ensured that peace with God would be a wonderful reality for them.
Peter watched what Jesus did as well as listen to what Jesus said. He saw and heard three things about Jesus: he saw the wounds of Jesus, he saw Jesus eating some food, and he heard Jesus give them instructions about how they would serve him in the future. I would suggest that Jesus did each of them on purpose.
Having given the promise of peace, the Saviour shows them the evidence that peace had been made. He revealed to them his wounds and this dealt with their fears. While we do not know what went through the minds of the disciples, we can make two applications to ourselves about his wounds.
First, thinking of his wounds reminds us of the commencement and the close of his sufferings. His wounds in his hands and feet occurred when he was nailed to the cross and the wound in his side was caused after he had died. So the wounds tell us to focus on what happened to Jesus on the cross.
Second, since Jesus had the wounds after his resurrection, it is reasonable to conclude that they are permanent. When his ascension is described in Revelation 5, he is depicted as having wounds as he makes his way to the throne of God. And we should remind ourselves that these wounds speak loudly in heaven as his intercession. Peter would remember this reality throughout the rest of his days on earth.
As we noticed, Jesus also ate some food that had been prepared (Luke 24:41-43). Whatever else this action revealed, it showed that he was still a real man, that somehow he was not less a human than before. There is no doubt that his human nature could do things that he had not done previously, such as appear in a room without opening the locked doors. His sudden appearance had frightened them and caused them to imagine that he was without his body. His eating the food would say to them that he was still the man, Christ Jesus.
Peter, with the disciples, also received another commission from Jesus when he said that he was sending them in his name to declare the gospel throughout the world with the empowering ministry of the Holy Spirit to enable them. A great deal is included in what Jesus promised them, but we can see how glad Peter would have been.
So that day, Peter had received much comfort from Jesus. It certainly was a blessed first day of the week for the disciple who had failed but had now been restored. He had experienced a remarkable spiritual recovery both within his heart and in his future service. And he speaks to and says that we can know the same grace from the risen Master.
We can often decide to go somewhere for a reason and find ourselves diverted from our intention because of events beyond our control. No doubt, Simon felt something like that when he was compelled by the soldiers to help Jesus carry the cross to Calvary.
Simon was not from Jerusalem. Instead he was from Cyrene in North Africa. In all probability, the reason he was in Jerusalem was to attend the Passover and maybe he was making his way to the temple to participate in the worship connected to the death of the Passover lamb. If that was the case, he would have prayed often for the Messiah to come. Whether he was going to the temple or not, he found himself involved in helping the real Passover Lamb, Jesus Christ.
The weakness of Jesus
The apostle Paul reminds us that Jesus was crucified in weakness. Here we have a reminder of the reality of his humanity. He has had no sleep during the night and he has been beaten several times and badly treated in other ways. It would have been obvious to the soldiers in charge of Jesus that he was unable to carry the cross by himself. So they did what often occurred on such occasions, which was to force someone to help with carrying the cross.
The working of providence
Simon had his reasons for coming into the city at the time that Jesus was being led out of it, because Calvary was outside the city. Yet behind the scenes and in all the workings of each scene the Lord was in control. If Simon had come in five minutes earlier or five minutes later he would not have been there to carry the cross. We will think in a moment of why there is evidence that Simon became a believer. In the meantime, we can think, if we are Christians, of the different events that led us becoming followers of Jesus.
The providences can cover our lives in an obvious way if we were brought up in a Christian home. Yet even then we need to ask ourselves why we were present at a certain service when the gospel came with power or why we read a particular book that helped us to understand what the gospel was all about. And those of us who were not brought up in a Christian home can ask why we happened to be in the location where we met a believer who told us about Jesus. Or why we happened to come across something that made us what to investigate the gospel.
The point I am making is that God works secretly in providence. Simon may have been in Jerusalem because he wanted to obey the revealed will of God about going to Jerusalem to keep the Passover. He may have done this annually, since that is what God required. But he had no idea about the contents of God’s secret providence. No-one does, yet we are all part of it.
It is also important to remind ourselves that God also works strategically in providence. Simon, if he was a devout Jew, would have acknowledged that God acts in providence continually. If the Lord did otherwise, he would not be governing all things. So if we could have asked him why he, out of the crowd that would have been there, was compelled to carry the cross, he would have agreed that God would have arranged it. And if we had asked him if he thought God had a plan of which this activity was a part he would have said yes. But he had to wait and see what place in God’s plan this role had. We will soon see what some of the other details were. And we will see something of the divine strategy for Simon. Thinking of ourselves, the reasons why we are here today may be many, but it may be the day when Jesus has arranged to meet with you personally, perhaps for the first time, or maybe to give you guidance about the next stage in your life.
The wonder of grace
It is obvious that Mark expected his original readers to know who the sons of Simon were because he names them as Alexander and Rufus. Church history tells us that the first recipients of Mark’s Gospel was the church in Rome. If we were to turn to Romans 16, we will see that Paul in verse 13 refers to a Rufus who lived there, but whose mother was well known to Paul even although he had not yet been to Rome: ‘Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well.’ So it is generally assumed that Rufus is the son of the man who carried the cross. And since Mark knew what Simon’s name was, it very strongly suggests that he became a believer in Jesus as an outcome of carrying the cross.
What was it that brought Simon to faith? He heard what Jesus said to the women about the coming of severe judgement, and about his instruction to them to weep for their children, and perhaps he realised he would need to weep over his own sons. Maybe he stayed around and heard Jesus forgive the soldiers who crucified him. Or perhaps his curiosity was aroused later when he heard that the body of Jesus had disappeared, and the subsequent claims that he had risen from the dead. He may not have been converted until the Day of Pentecost because people from Cyrene were present when Peter preached.
It is interesting to consider which men are named in connection with the cross of Jesus. We are not told the names of the soldiers who crucified him, the name of the criminal who believed in him, or the name of the centurion who confessed that he was the Son of God. But we are told the names of the individuals who did something for Jesus at the cross: Simon who helped him to carry it and Nicodemus and Joseph who took his body down from the cross. Is God telling us here that he loves the names of those who did something in helping his Son?
Yet as we look at Jesus and Simon carrying the cross, we must note that one of them deserved to be punished for his sins as far as God’s judgement was concerned. That man was Simon. In contrast, Jesus did not deserve to die. So here we have two men carrying the cross, but as they carry it the roles, we might say, are reversed. The one who deserved to die (Simon) under God’s judgment would not, whereas the one who did not deserve to die (Jesus) was punished instead. Simon went to the place of judgement and was not judged, and in his experience we can see what Calvary should mean to believers. We can go there and experience forgiveness because Jesus died in our place.
The way of discipleship
The role given to Simon here of carrying is a wonderful illustration of discipleship. It was Jesus who likened discipleship to the carrying of a cross and here is Simon doing so. What lessons can we take from this situation.
First, Simon’s change of direction illustrates repentance. We can see from the account that Simon initially was walking in the opposite direction to Jesus. But after being selected to carry the cross, he found himself turned around. That is what repentance is. It means going in the opposite direction to the life of sin. Prior to meeting Jesus, we are walking away from him. Repentance is walking with him as our Master.
Second, Simon had to put his feet into the footsteps of Jesus. He discovered that being identified with Jesus by the cross meant he had to go wherever Jesus went. Literally, Jesus was in front of him directing where the cross would go. Simon was forced to go wherever Jesus wanted to take him. What was true literally of Simon should be true spiritually of believers. The cross of Jesus guides us where we should go. There are some places that would not be suitable for the cross to be seen.
Third, Simon discovered that the cross gave a new set of values. When he took hold of the cross, the instrument of death, Simon knew that he was not allowed to take part in the Passover because he had become ceremoniously unclean. This meant that he could not make his way to the temple once he had reached the place where Jesus was crucified. Maybe this caused him to remain at Calvary. Whether Simon realised the impotency of Judaism at that moment cannot be known. But at some stage he would have discovered the liberating power of the cross and how its blessings are far better than even the best of other religions.
Fourth, Simon became the means of the message of salvation coming to his family. We have already referred to how his wife and sons were so useful in the church. It may be that he was married before he carried the cross, or it is possible that he married later on. Yet we can imagine him relating to his wife and children what took place on the day when he carried the cross of Jesus. They would know the big difference the cross had made in his life, and they were glad to follow him.
The first detail that stands out is that the providence for Simon came very unexpectedly. Simon might have been praying as he entered the city as a devout Jew, but he would not have been praying about this meeting with Jesus. It is possible that some of us did not expect to meet with the crucified Christ today, but you have been given the opportunity.
The second detail is that the unwilling became the willing. When the soldiers seized Simon, he would have resented what they asked him to do because it would have prevented him attending the Passover. Yet at some stage Simon became a willing follower. How does one become a willing follower of Jesus? The answer is straightforward. We do so by watching Jesus carrying his cross to Calvary.
Third, the best way to have lasting significance is to do something for Jesus. Lots of important people were in Jerusalem that day, but they have been forgotten. Yet Simon’s name is remembered, and it will be so on the Day of Judgement. And in the world to come, Simon will always be known as the man who helped Jesus to carry the cross to Calvary.
Preached on Sunday 16th October