Jesus Sightings

Post-Resurrection Appearances of our Lord


Please read: John 20:1-10

The Lord is Risen – risen indeed !!! - and Easter is all about running feet, as disciples rush to tell each other and then to tell their world: ‘He’s alive!’ Can you imagine the bewilderment – and then the hope as they initially heard the news that maybe, just maybe, somehow, miraculously, Jesus had been raised from the dead? The text gives an account of three of them: Mary Magdalene, Peter and the disciple Jesus loved (we think he was John), racing from the tomb – to tell and to the tomb – to see.

But not to dwell upon sandals or racing sneakers on this glorious day of running, this day of beginning, as there began to be individual and then, soon, numerous sightings of the Risen Lord. I’m thinking here of their SEEING the Risen Lord, for we too want to see – to have spiritual perspective, eyesight and insight, from Easter Morning on. Seeing – and believing, and trusting our lives to the risen Lord is what gives passion to every Jesus-disciple’s life and mission, to our lives of service. It’s what gives us Hope not only for this life but also for the Life to come.  If Jesus has not been raised from the dead, writes St. Paul, elsewhere, then you are believing in vain.

So, I want to think with you here about Jesus sightings - about the fact that on that day, and in the days that followed, individuals and then groups of disciples (and once over 500 at one time) had clear evidence, their own eyes beholding, that Jesus was alive.

I’m involved in a kind of study with my optometrist. We’re researching together the impact and effects of diet and of the natural drug Lutein (made from marigolds) on my eye-sight, trying to stop some minute dots in my eye that signals a beginnings of macular degeneration. The optometrist has all kinds of machines and gadgets to measure our ability to see (or not) and to give her insight into our eye-sight needs, so she can give the right prescription for our glasses. That’s, of course, something beyond and more important than whether or not our glasses look good on us.

This passage gives a kind of eyesight adjustment to these disciples of Jesus, a kind of a fine tuning, similar to others who saw Jesus on Resurrection Morning and in the days following. The original Greek verbs (like the optometrist’s strange, to us, instruments, help to do that. I confess that I’ve forgotten most of the Greek I learned in College and Seminary (the Greek in which the New Testament was written - common, everyday market-place Greek) - so I can’t show off any language prowess in that regard. But I do remember that in this text there are several different verbs that give various differences and depths of meaning to the verbs in English that we mostly just translate - ‘to see.’  So let’s see, here in this text. (I’ll paraphrase.)

Christus Victor

Peter and John ran to the tomb, but John outran Peter and got there first. John bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there, but did not go in. The verb used here for ‘looked in’ implies the mere seeing of material objects – the basic facts. John observed the linen grave-wrappings of Jesus’s body, still lying there in the tomb. He saw the facts, the data but as yet he had formed no conclusion of what it meant. And he didn’t go in, as yet.

Then Peter arrived. Not one to mess around, he went straight into the tomb and he too saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, but separate from the linen. I think It may have looked as though the coverings of the body had been a butterfly chrysalis, now empty, but holding still the same basic shape as its content. The clothes were not in a heap as they would have been if the body had been unwrapped. The verb used here for Peter’s ‘seeing’ is the word from which we get the English verb ‘theorizing.’ It’s that he sees the same data as John and more now that he’s right in the sepulchre – sees the separation of the linen. And He’s puzzling, trying to work out what it means, trying to make sense of it. Not yet understanding, he’s looking at the facts of the case - the case for the resurrection in itself. He’s musing: ‘What’s happened here?’

Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)  The verb here for ‘John 'saw' implies not only seeing but also perceiving – seeing that leads to some measure of comprehension, enough to lead him ‘to believe.’  Like Peter, John saw the grave clothes and head cloth, lying as though they were still wrapped around the body, perhaps a bit sunk in on themselves, but maybe not much if the weighed wrappings and spices of Jewish burial were there, still intact.

And maybe the key is the ‘separation’ of the linen from the body, from the head – ‘apart.’ There was a gap between the one and the other. John saw and then realized that Jesus' body had vanished through the wrappings, leaving them quite undisturbed. The Shroud of Turin may or may not be authentic as the initial linen cloth wrapped around Jesus’ body, before even the other wrappings of linen. But it helps us understand perhaps just a little more what may have happened, the results of what occurred when Jesus was raised from the dead

Now, neither John nor Peter had yet seen Jesus, but John knows there’s been some kind of wonder, something unusual, marvelous - something miraculous. John believed the miracle had happened before he met the risen Jesus. It was not full resurrection faith but it was its dawning, its own resurrection. New faith was born, stirred towards believing that Jesus had risen, solely because his eyes were beholding an empty tomb and the grave-clothes.  

Not yet full understanding, comprehension and faith, Creature, New Creation, Easter-people, faith - a Reality that they would die believing, as have millions after them, some dying awful deaths for such belief, or dying in beds of old age, still believing in the blessed Hope: ‘Because He lives – we shall live also!’

The Emmaus Meal (public domain)


I think that there are different ways of seeing Jesus - at least 6 ways, following. Our world can have eyesight and insight about our Risen Lord. There were – and can still be Jesus sightings – revelations of the Living Lord.

1.  We have the actual and initial eye-witness accounts in what I believe to be reliable texts, of those who knew Jesus and who, after His Resurrection, saw Him alive . . .walking with then; talking to them; responding as he calls them by name, eating fish and honeycomb together, waiting to have a barbeque-breakfast with them again, back fishing in Galilee.

Mary Magdalene saw the risen Lord . . . As she stood weeping outside of Jesus’ tomb weeping, she stooped down and looked in - and saw {theory verb} two angels in white, sitting one at the head and the other at the feet, where Jesus’ body had lain. Again we have a disciple who is seeing but puzzled. Bewildered, she’s wondering what’s happening. And then she turned and saw Jesus ''standing'' there.  She saw Him but did not recognize Him – thought He was the Gardener (which in a sense He is – of the New Creation, the Final Adam). She saw - but did not 'see.’  Perhaps her tears or the sun blurred and blinded her physical vision. Maybe the Lord temporarily withheld her understanding. Perhaps it was because she certainly did not expect Him to rise from the dead. And then Jesus called her name – and she saw – she knew that it was Jesus! When
Mary rushed to tell the disciples  “I have seen the Lord!”  the ‘to see’ verb is the one we associate with Eureka! She had made the wondrous discovery and discerned that this was indeed the risen Jesus.

And disciple, Thomas . . . We have the same play on the eye-sight and insight verbs in the Thomas’ story. He was not with the other disciples when Jesus first met them, in the Upper Room the first Sunday evening of the day of resurrection. The other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’  (the eureka version) But he said, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side -- I will not believe. The word see here is often translated 'behold'.  Thomas wanted to physically and mentally examine the evidence. We can behold all the evidence and still not get it – still not believe; still not cry out in wonder and joy – “Eureka! Ah, now I know, now I see; now I believe.” - never say (as did Thomas, finally) – ‘My Lord and my God!’ But then, of course, Biblically speaking, unless the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of the spiritually blind, none of us can or would ever see. Jesus said to Thomas – Because you have beheld me, you believe - but how much more blessed are they who have (and will have) not seen, and yet have (and will have believed).

There’s the Emmaus couple, returning home. Their eyes were ‘holden’ (says the KJV). They did not recognize Jesus. One Gospel writer says that he appeared to some ‘in another form.’ Maybe it was to
them. They saw him alongside of them as they walked the dusty road home. And they saw Him across from them as they sat down to eat and drink. They were looking at him as He broke bread, in the old familiar way. And their eyes were immediately ‘opened’ to Who it was sitting down at Table with them. He immediately disappeared from sight. And as he did so, removed from physical sight, their insight and with it faith came more firmly. In their amazement and joy, their running feet took them back along the road they’d just traveled, now not forlorn but full of faith – back to Jerusalem to tell the others what – and Who they’d seen.

2.  Another way of having a Jesus sighting has been reported in Scripture and more recently. I’m thinking of visions or dream-encounters like St. Paul had on the Damascus Road) – and many Muslims today.  Paul,
with his own eye-witness vision encounter with Jesus, later writes that ‘from now on we do not see Jesus according to the flesh.’ So our sightings must be different.  How so? Today, many Muslims testify to a similar encounter with Jesus. It’s become an almost common occurrence for Muslims in the Middle East to come to faith in Jesus after dreaming of - or having a waking vision, Jesus. It happens particularly in places of war, turmoil and unrest – in savage places where missionaries cannot go, where the Church has been decimated and Christians have fled elsewhere. Nobody remains to witness to the truth of the Living Christ - except Jesus Himself, as He appears to them, saying: ‘Follow me.’

Karel Sanders, a missionary in South Africa, reports that among African Muslims, "Forty-two percent of the new believers come to Christ through visions, dreams, angelic appearances -- and hearing God's voice."  We recall that just over a year ago that 20 Coptic Christians were beheaded by ISIL in Libya. Recently, new Christians, former Muslims, were baptized on that same sandy beach. The man, baptizing (named Shahid) came to faith because of a vision of Jesus. Now he’s started a significant church-planting network across North Africa and Europe.

Another Story. After finishing his education in Saudi Arabia, a young man returned to become an imam in his village. He led the construction of 16 mosques in his area and declared that nobody could preach Christianity in his town. One night he had a dream in which (he says) “I saw Jesus very clearly telling me to follow Him.”  Startled, He awoke in the night, scaring his wife. He told her of his dream and said: ‘We are going to be infidels; we need to pray.’ When he returned to sleep, he immediately had another vision of Jesus. “Jesus appeared, saying: ‘It’s Me, follow Me.  When you follow Me you will pay a price; there will be persecution. But in the end, you will be victorious. I am with you.’

Remember that Saul who imprisoned and killed members of the early church became the Apostle Paul who led it.   It can happen again!

3.  Another Way of our having a ‘Jesus sighting’ is not that we go to sleep and hope we have a dream, but to take initiative and go to those people and those places where we are likely to find Him. We will find and see Jesus still, among the marginalized and broken of the world, some living very near to us. Where would we find Him? Well we might try searching, even hanging out and looking around In the same places where the Gospels reveal He was and is, still likely to be found, identifying with and ministering to the marginalized of life – the poor, the stigmatized, the ostracized, the naked, the imprisoned, the hungry and the thirsty; with those who are sick, and know it  -- and who are desperate in their need. It’s where we hear silent cries for help and see the obvious need. As you minister to such people, Jesus said, you minister to me. We think of
Mother Theresa’s work with the sick and the dying in Calcutta. We saw the risen Jesus in the person and work of this tiny, saintly woman. She would say, “When I minister to them, I am ministering to Jesus.”

I have a friend who has served in mission in Turkey who recently wrote that thousands of Muslims have come to faith in Jesus because of the kindness shown to them, in their displacement from their homes in the Middle East. That kind of Jesus sighting is true of the church I serve in our people’s involvement in rEcess and Stonegate ministries, and in our own welcome and support of displaced Syrian families and refugees from other lands.

Daffodil hope in Yorkshire Cemetery

4. Then too, there are the many examples of ‘resurrection’ In Creation itself, for the Book of Nature frames and augments our understanding of the Book of Scripture. All around us creation mirrors and depicts the wonder of new life coming from death. It’s not quite the same as a personal sighting of the risen Jesus. But I think it reminds us and points to His resurrection. Nature’s cycles are of course repeated but Jesus has died once for all and been raised once for all. This example is more simile, metaphor or analogy of how resurrection is, but there are aspects of the Glory of the Gospel portrayed in creation, too.

St. Paul tells us, in I Corinthians 15 - So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, but it will be raised imperishable. Sown in dishonor, it will be raised in glory; sown in weakness, it will be raised in power; sown a natural body, it will be raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body and there is also a spiritual body. “The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man (i.e. Adam) was of the dust of the earth; the second man (i.e. Jesus) is of heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly Man.

There are many examples in nature of death and resurrection as Winter, cold and darkness gives way to Spring’s warmth and brightness.

In the bulb there is a flower, in the seed, an apple tree,
in cocoons, a hidden promise -- butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter there's a spring that waits to be,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

-- Until, of course – it all bursts forth!

5. This Jesus Sighting prompt is the Christian Church, or it should be, a place and a people where we may see the Living Christ as His life and ministry is experienced, reflected, and made known, through what St. Paul called ‘His Body’ the Church. I’m not got to expand on this because that is what the shared life and ministry of any local church ought to be about, what it exists to do. And that ought to be an never-ending story.

6. Lastly, there is the sighting of Jesus that others may have as they observe your life and mine, if you are a disciple of Jesus. Others are to see the living Christ in our own life and service of the Master. Can they? Will they? Do they see Jesus in our communities of love and worship, in our lives and ministries of compassion, without? Do they know - that we serve a Risen Saviour – who’s in the world today; know that He is with us, no matter what they say? Do they see (through us) His Hand of mercy and hear His voice of cheer? And that just the time we need Him, He’s always near. (And for them too.) How our world needs to see Jesus – alive, in us and through us.

In short, God can still do miracles; there will be divine encounters, still - and wonders, miracles - dreams and visions, prophecies and fulfillment. But mostly it comes down to the fact that Jesus has called forth a People to be His Church, and sent us into the world to show and tell the Story, to share the Good News, to baptize and to teach. Eyesight adjustment leads to new and deeper Insight, to the fuller understanding of things not understood before, and then to commitment and belief - and attending action.

So again - Jesus Sightings . . .

1. There’s the witness of the first disciples to the Resurrection as we examine the truth enshrined in Scripture and as we have our eyes, minds and hearts opened to us by God’s Spirit.

2. There are and will be visions of Jesus, still happening today.

3. We can find Jesus as we attend to those places and people where He’s so often found, as we see Him in those who serve
in His Name, and in those who receive their love and care.

4. There is the continuing, seasonal witness and example of Creation, teaching us about Resurrection, reminding us of Jesus’ in each nature’s Spring.

5. The revelation of Jesus will be shown to our world as the Church continues to be, as the Living Body of Christ.

6. And, pray God, there will always be the profound witness of you and me to His Life within and His ministry without.

May God remind and encourage us by these many spectacles of faith, may we be renewed in the commission and challenge to see and then to say, by word and by
deed, that ‘the Lord is risen! – He is risen indeed!’ And - seeing, believing that to be so, we might want to run and tell somebody!

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