Easter Sunday – April 4, 2021


“… and Peter […and Paul]” – Mark 16:7


1. The Christian Message – pure and simple

In the past, I have mentioned that the essential Christian message from the Bible is pretty simple, and brief. In 1 Corinthians 15, we heard it in five words, and then seven words.

Five words: “Christ died for our sins.”

Seven words: “He was raised on the third day.”

That’s it – pure and simple, and that’s what we are celebrating on this Easter Day, especially the seven words: “He was raised on the third day.” But sometimes, when we have those first verses of 1 Corinthians 15 as our Epistle reading, we might kind of stop there, and leave the last 6 or 7 verses to go in one ear and out the other.


2. Paul’s list of risen Jesus witnesses

I want you to notice that – in verses 5-8 – Paul catalogs a list of people who saw the risen Saviour. He names Cephas – that was the Hebrew name for the disciple we know better as Peter. Then Jesus appeared to the Twelve – which referred to the original group of disciples, even though Judas was no longer numbered among them. Then more than 500 people saw Jesus at the same time, and Paul says that a lot of them are still living, and could be counted among living eyewitnesses of the risen Jesus. Next, Jesus appeared to James, and this would not be James the apostle, but rather James, the half-brother of Jesus, who would later become prominent in the Jerusalem church. Jesus again appeared to all the apostles, and last of all, Paul says, Jesus appeared to… ME! That would be a reference to Paul’s own vision of the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus. Paul considered himself an apostle, because he was sent to be a missionary to the Gentiles. But his credentials for being an apostle were the same as the others – He had seen the risen Saviour!

Now, to be sure, Paul does not list EVERYONE who had seen the risen Jesus, or all of the APPEARANCES of the risen Jesus. For instance, he didn’t include Cleopas and his companion on the way to Emmaus on Easter afternoon. But Paul is saying that there is ample eyewitness testimony to be very confident that Jesus did indeed rise bodily from the dead.


3. Risen Jesus witnesses in the Gospels

So, that begs the question… Have you ever noticed, have you ever paid attention to who was named in the Easter accounts in the 4 Gospels? Paul had his list, but he couldn’t yet read the Gospel accounts because they weren’t written until after he had written his letter to the Christians in Corinth. Let’s briefly explore the witnesses of the risen Jesus named in the Gospels.

Matthew’s Gospel says that Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” went to the tomb at dawn on the first day of the week. That’s all. There is no mention of any specific disciples.

Mark – I’m going to save that one for last because it is the Gospel I’m working from today.

In Luke, women are named again: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and other unnamed women. Peter is the disciple who, when he heard the Easter morning report of the women, ran to the tomb and looked in, and then returned marvelling. The next story names Cleopas and an unnamed companion (his wife?) who talked with Jesus (but didn’t know it was Him) on their way back home to Emmaus. When they finally recognized Him, they hustled back to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples, but they were informed that the Lord also appeared to Simon (Peter). So, we’ve got the women, and Cleopas and Simon (Peter) named in Luke.

In John’s account, Mary Magdalene again was the named woman who went to the tomb. She went back to headquarters and told Simon Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved (presumably John) that the tomb was empty. The two men raced to the tomb, with John arriving first, and reverently looking into the tomb. When Peter arrived – passionate and spontaneous Peter – he just barged right into the tomb – forget about solemn Jewish customs about being in the place of the dead – to see the empty linen burial cloths just lying there, folded neatly. That same Mary Magdalene stays around the empty tomb long enough to see two angels, and then to have a brief encounter with Jesus, Himself. Thomas is also named in John’s Gospel a week after the Easter Sunday night appearance. Then there is a later appearance of Jesus to seven disciples at the Sea of Galilee. Three of those disciples are named – Peter, Thomas and Nathanael – while the other four are left unnamed. Peter is the one who suggests they go fishing, at night. The next morning Jesus is there on the shore. When Jesus tells them to cast the net on the other side of the boat, and when they catch 153 fish, it’s Peter that recognizes that it is Jesus on shore, and he jumps into the water and makes his way to shore. And it’s there, after breakfast, that Jesus asked Peter three times “Do you love me?” So, in John’s account, it’s Mary and Peter that are named and featured significantly, with Thomas playing a secondary role, and Nathanael just mentioned by name.

Now let’s come back to Mark’s account of Jesus’ resurrection. Some women are named: Mary Magdalene again, Mary the mother of James, and Salome. No disciples are present at all in Mark’s account, but there is a little, itty-bitty, “blink and you’ll miss it” mention of one disciple. The resurrection tomb angel told the women “Go, tell His disciples and Peter.” THERE IT IS!! “Go, tell His disciples… AND PETER!!” And our question for today is… why did the angel say “AND PETER” and what does that have to do with us on this Easter Sunday morning?


4. Peter in the Gospel of Mark

    a. The “early adopter” and spokesman

To answer this question, I’d like to take you through some of the times that Peter shows up in Mark’s Gospel – Mark’s Gospel, because Matthew, Luke and John don’t have that “AND PETER” phrase on the lips of the resurrection tomb angel. So, why does Mark include it? Oh, and as we’re looking, we want to find references to either his given name, Simon, or the name – Peter – that Jesus gave him.

We actually meet Simon in the 16th verse of the 1st chapter of Mark, where Jesus calls Simon to discipleship. Simon is an “early adopter” of Jesus as his rabbi / teacher, and Simon’s home may have even become Jesus’ headquarters in Capernaum, for we find Jesus there before the end of that 1st chapter – healing townspeople, including Simon’s own mother-in-law. It’s in chapter 3 that Jesus appoints Simon as one of the twelve disciples. In fact, his name is mentioned first in the list, and this is also where we are introduced to Peter – the name Jesus gave him.

In chapter 5, Peter seems to have become one of the inner circle of three disciples, along with James and John. Only those three are invited into a house where Jesus raises a 12-year old girl who had just died. Only those three are taken up a mountain where Jesus’ appearance was changed to reflect His heavenly glory. Only those three are taken farther into the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus wanted to pray on the night He was arrested. So, Peter seems to have had privileged status among the twelve disciples. That privileged status may have put him in the position of a spokesman for the disciples, for when Jesus was questioning them about who people thought He was, and even who the disciples thought He was, Peter was the one who spoke up and confessed, “You are the Christ.”

    b. Peter’s “black marks”

But Mark’s Gospel records some “black marks” against Peter, too. Right after that bold confession, Peter scolded Jesus for saying and even thinking that a torturous death at the hands of the Jewish religious leaders was in His future. Jesus calls that opinion of Peter’s human-oriented, even Satan-inspired.

When they were on the mountain where Jesus’ appearance changed, Peter wanted to stay in that glorious moment, rather than return to the people-ministry in the valleys below. In that account, Mark tells us that Peter was frightened and didn’t know what to say.

After the institution of the Lord’s Supper, and just before they went to the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus informed His disciples that they would all fall away. It’s only Peter that says that he WON’T fall away. When Jesus tells Peter that it was worse than that, that Peter would disown Jesus three times, Peter boasts that he would die with Jesus.

When they were praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter fell asleep. Jesus specifically asked Peter, “Could you not keep watch for one hour?” And not long after that, Jesus was arrested. During the arrest, one of the disciples drew a sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Mark keeps the identity of that sword-wielding disciple secret, but we know from John’s Gospel that it was… you guessed it… Peter!! Jesus was taken to the courtyard of the high priest, and Peter followed, and it was there that Peter did indeed deny knowing Jesus, three times, before the rooster crowed twice.

    c. Peter needed to know!

So, for all that, Peter, yes Peter, perhaps more than any other disciple, needed to know that Jesus’ grace and forgiveness were for him personally! So, tell the disciples… AND PETER!! Because Peter needed to know – REALLY KNOW – that Jesus’ resurrection had happened just as Jesus had predicted, and that His resurrection erased the guilt of Peter’s denial, and his ear-whacking, and his sleeping, and his boasting, and his misguided opinion of how Jesus would accomplish His mission of saving the world. Tell the disciples… AND PETER that Jesus is alive, that life conquered death, that love conquered hate, that truth conquered lies, that forgiveness conquered sins, that God conquered Satan. So, yes, the angel told the women at the empty tomb… make sure Peter knows, because he, more than any other disciple, needs to know.


5. Paul needed to know, too

Now, my sermon title includes, in square brackets “and Paul.” This was really an afterthought on my part, based on what we read from 1 Corinthians 15. You see, although Paul was quite likely an adult by the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection, He certainly wasn’t a follower of Jesus, and definitely not one of the Twelve disciples. He may have still been studying the Jewish religious laws right about then, for we know that he became a Pharisee. Maybe he was even in Jerusalem at that time of the Passover Festival, and participated in the crowd that called for Jesus’ crucifixion. We don’t know that, but we do know that within a couple of years, he approved of the stoning of Stephen, the first man who died for the sake of Jesus Christ. We do know that shortly after that, Paul was uttering threats against followers of Jesus, and tracking them down to throw them into prison. He was definitely solidly against this new religious group that had somehow emerged from Judaism.

So, when Paul wrote himself into his catalog list of those who had seen the risen Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15, he did it like this: “Last of all, He appeared also to me.” He adds the qualifier “as to one untimely (or abnormally) born.” That is actually a medical term for birth complications – including a premature birth or a miscarriage. Paul understood that he was not part of the original group of apostles. He knew he had not lived with and followed Christ as the others had for an apprenticeship period of three years. His entrance into apostleship was anything but normal. He was snatched from his former way of life – persecuting those who followed Jesus – made to do a complete 180 degree turn, and to proclaim Jesus as Lord and Christ. Because of that former life of persecuting Christians, he goes on to call himself the least of the apostles, the least worthy of having received the grace and forgiveness of God in Christ. A few years on, his name needed to be added to that angelic declaration: “Go, tell His disciples… and Paul.” Like Peter, Paul needed to know, very personally and directly, that Jesus had risen from the dead and had forgiven all of Paul’s sins and his past life. Paul needed to stand firm on God’s grace in Jesus Christ, and he did. He wrote, “By the grace of God I am what I am.” Now, he counted his very identity as all wrapped up in the life and ministry, the death and resurrection of Jesus.


6. …and YOU!! (You need to know!)

Let’s make this personal. What about you? What has your life been like? Have you made boasts about your commitment to Jesus, about your service to the Lord? Maybe they haven’t even been verbal boasts… just boasts in your mind. Have you denied knowing Jesus? It’s easier than you think. Perhaps no one has asked you point-blank, “Do you know Jesus? Do you follow Jesus?” But if Jesus has come up in a group conversation, and you have remained silent, even that silence could be considered a denial. I think we’ve all done it. If you have trash-talked some of the teachings of Jesus, if you have spoken disrespectfully of God’s name or character, if you have ignored God’s Word and neglected times of prayer… in their own ways, those are all denials of knowing Jesus, of following Jesus. I believe that every one of us could say that our middle name is Peter, or maybe Paul (if we’ve been someone who has ridiculed Christians, or if we are late to the following Jesus party).

And do you know what that all means? It means that the sermon title isn’t complete with the “and Peter, and Paul.” It means that the words of the empty-tomb angel are for you on this Easter Sunday morning: “Go, tell the disciples… and Peter… and Paul… and Laverne… and Donna… and Terry… and Candice… and Dwayne… and Debra… and…” Well, you get it – fill your own name in there. You all need to know that your “black marks” are forgiven today, you all need to know that Jesus is alive, you all need to hear that life conquered death, that love conquered hate, that truth conquered lies, that forgiveness conquered sins, that God conquered Satan. Jesus’ resurrection is all about – LIFE, LOVE, GRACE!! Those blessings are all… FOR YOU!! Now, the ball is in your court… you go tell… Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.

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