This is the next in a series of April blogs on the post-resurrection appearances that occurred in an ancient spring some 21 centuries ago, according to the Gospel of Luke.
The second time Jesus comes to view after the resurrection isn’t narrated like the other two–meeting the Emmaus followers, and greeting disciples in the upper room–since it is mentioned in only a single verse, Luke 24:34.
They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!
The disciples are sharing this startling yet inspired news with the two returnees from Emmaus who have their own story to share. And while they’re relaying this fulfillment of prophesy
…Jesus himself stood among them…(Luke 24:36).
Two post-resurrection appearances to groups (one small, one larger) prompted the question: why a post-resurrection appearance to Peter exclusively? One answer comes from what might seem a surprising source: the apostle Paul. His letter to the Corinthians is the only other mention of this appearing:
…and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas then to the twelve (I Cor. 15:5).
We know Paul and Peter had a deep friendship in their mutual missions to spread the Good News to respective audiences of Gentiles and Jews. But the seeds of that friendship began in a quiet two-week visit to Jerusalem shortly after Paul’s conversion. Returning from the desert near Damascus, Paul must have longed to understand more about Jesus and his mission, so he journeyed to those who knew him best: James, the brother of Jesus who would have grown up with the Master; and Peter, the disciple so close to Jesus during his three year ministry on whom Jesus said he would build his church.
Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days; 19 but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother (Gal. 1:18).
Wouldn’t that have been a conversation to witness! One can only imagine the new convert sharing his own Damascus road post-resurrection experience with Peter who would have understood like few others.
Why is all this relevant? Because both post-resurrection appearances of Peter and Paul reveal that Christ comes to us individually to correct and heal whatever is not serving God’s purpose. In both cases, each man had serious issues to work through. Peter denied Jesus and Paul, as a Pharisee, would have been all too glad to see the Romans crucify him—evidenced by Saul’s earlier persecution of Jesus’ followers.
The dark side of human nature had been evidenced in both men, but their commitment was needed for enormous missions going forward. In a short three day span, Peter had fallen asleep at the needed moment of standing guard in Gethsemane, had angrily taken up a sword to strike the high priest’s soldier, and finally shown a tragic lack of boldness that produced history’s most famous betrayal. Was this really the man capable enough to build Christ’s church?
Whatever the risen Christ said to Peter in that individual appearance, will remain one of the unknowns of history. But we can see the profound affect it had on Peter to go forward as the Master originally declared he would, building a church that stands today. That ought to give the rest of us courage to get on with our own apostolic work as well.