Personal Encounters

Scripture: Isaiah 55:12-013; Psalm 18:1-3; John 20:19-31

HOPE is the title of a painting by G.F. Watts in which a woman is portrayed sitting with a covering over her eyes, sitting bowed in what looks like an empty universe, trying to make music on one string of a broken lyre.

Hope is a common thread that has been woven into all of humanity throughout the ages. We talk about having hope when we are walking through the most difficult of times. Sometimes we talk of “losing hope.” In every generation our level of hope has been tested.

Was there ever a time in the lives of the disciples when hope was more needed than was the time after the crucifixion of Jesus? Try to imagine, if you can, the terror that the disciples had experienced. The term “post-traumatic stress syndrome” has entered into common use in our modern vocabulary. The disciples most certainly were experiencing post-traumatic stress syndrome. The disciples had seen Jesus arrested. They knew what had been his fate. They were terrified that the Roman soldiers would come after them simply because of their association with Jesus. They had sealed themselves away behind locked doors until they hoped the danger would pass. The disciples were still in Jerusalem where they had gone with Jesus to celebrate the Passover. “Celebrate” now seemed like such an ironic word.

The disciples had feared for the danger facing Jesus when He had insisted on going to Jerusalem. Despite their urgings not to make the journey, Jesus had insisted on going up to Jerusalem, even though He had told them what would happen when they got to the city.

Jesus was right. It happened just as He had said, but it was so much more awful than the disciples could have imagined. While they were with Jesus in the garden after the Passover meal, the Roman soldiers had come to arrest Him. One of the disciples, who had more bravery than common sense, had grabbed his sword and cut off the ear of one of the men. Better aim would have eliminated him. It was not to be. The soldiers took Jesus away. Jesus went willingly to fulfill all that had been foretold by the prophets about what must happen to the promised Messiah.

Now it was the first day of the week, and early in the morning the disciples were surprised by some women who had returned from the tomb. The women were overjoyed with excitement and told the disciples that they had seen Jesus alive and walking around in the garden outside of the tomb. What were they to do? Who could believe such nonsense? Probably someone had stolen the body, although who would have done such a thing? Underneath their logical thinking, there was that little “cricket” in the back of their mind reminding them that Jesus had often told them something about a resurrection.

This will be an evening that will change forever their lives and the lives of all generations that come after them. While the disciples are eating dinner, Cleopus and Simon arrive, and begin telling them of their experience with Jesus on the road to Emmaus. Jesus suddenly appears in the room with them. The locked door hasn’t opened; He is just there. Are they seeing a spirit in their room?

No! It’s true! He’s alive!

Jesus says to them, “Why are you frightened? Why are you doubting that this is the same Jesus who stands before you? Come and look at the scars in my hands and my feet. A spirit does not have flesh and bone like I do.” No other living person has the scars of the crucifixion. They continue to think, “This is too good to be true,” so Jesus asks for some of the food from their meal and eats it in their presence.

Finally convinced, they now are ready to listen once more to what Jesus has to say to them, and He begins to teach them the same scriptures that He had taught to Cleopus and Simon as they walked together. Jesus must have spent much of the night with them, painstakingly teaching them, now that they can have an understanding of the reality of the prophets’ words. It must have been the most exciting event of their lives.

We do not know why Thomas was absent that evening. Jesus is concerned enough about him that he later makes another such visit with the disciples so that He can personally assure Thomas of the resurrection. Jesus will not lose another disciple. It was to Thomas that Jesus said, “Because you have seen Me you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen me and have believed.” (John 20:29)

That’s us. “Blessed are those who have not seen Me and yet believe.”

We have only to live one day in this world to know that not everything has been set in order, any more than it was for the disciples. But, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the world of each individual can be set in order, even when we feel as though we live in the midst of chaos.

When any king of this world made a covenant, it was sealed with the king’s seal to signify that it was authentic. By the death and resurrection of Jesus God placed God’s seal on the New Covenant with humankind. Jesus final declaration on the cross was “It is finished.” The covenant is complete; a covenant into which all humankind is invited to enter.

Imagine now that you have a blank canvas on an easel in front of you. You are about to paint your picture of HOPE. What, or who, would you include in the painting? Somehow, I believe that it would no longer have someone sitting in an empty universe with their eyes covered and trying to make music on a broken instrument.

When one has entered into the New Covenant of relationship with the risen Christ,

  • they find themselves in a universe filled with possibilities,
  • with eyes wide open, looking upon the face of the Lord,
  • singing the praises of God with the saints on earth and in heaven, and
  • telling everyone that Jesus is alive, just as He said.

We will find ourselves able to sing with gusto that great old hymn,

“My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus and his righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
His oath, his covenant, his blood, support me in the whelming flood
When all around my soul gives way, He then is all my hope and stay.
On Christ, the solid rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.
All other ground is sinking sand.
When He shall come with trumpet sound, O may I then in Him be found;
Dressed in his righteousness alone; faultless to stand before his throne.
On Christ the solid rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.”

Each of us will paint our own picture of HOPE.

Before your begin, look into your heart; look into the face of Jesus. Then, get out your paints and brushes and start painting.