Summary: Why did Jesus appear to his disciples after his resurrection? It was so much more than just to prove he was alive. It was to prepare his disciples for the time when they would need to let him go. Are you ready to let go?
It’s the first day of school. You watch as children are being dropped off by their parents. You look over at the kindergarten classroom and find parents with children clutched to their legs. More than a few tears are being shed by both children and parents. You hear a parent saying to their child, “It’s alright. Go on in. I’ll be back in just a few hours to pick you up and take you home.” While the child knows the parent is right, the child still has a hard time letting go, of not being able to see the parent for all that time. But if the child doesn’t let go, what will they miss out on? Learning, playing, friends, so many good things.
While I don’t think that you necessarily would have found Jesus’ disciples clinging to Jesus’ leg after his resurrection, you do find them having a difficult time letting him go. Actually, there was one follower of Jesus who had been physically holding onto Jesus after his resurrection. You might remember how Mary Magdalene on Easter morning, overcome with emotion at seeing Jesus alive, grabbed ahold of Jesus and did not want to let him go. Jesus reminded her, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (John 20:17). She just didn’t want to let him go! But she wasn’t the only one.
Throughout the forty days following Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus had repeatedly made appearances to his disciples and followers. We’ve looked at some of those appearances over the last couple of weeks: the two disciples travelling on Easter afternoon to the town of Emmaus, the disciples on Easter evening, one week later again to all of his disciples including Thomas, and later on at the Sea of Galilee where Jesus ate breakfast with seven of his disciples and had that Good Shepherd conversation with Peter. But those were not the only appearances that Jesus made. The Apostle Paul tells us, “After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:6). Yes, as you heard in the opening chapter of the book of Acts, “After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive” (Acts 1:3). Jesus made it clear at multiple times, to multiple audiences, and in multiple places that he was in fact alive. But his appearances were not only to assure and re-assure and re-re-assure his disciples that he was alive, it was also to prepare them for what was going to happen next. He was preparing them for what we are going to be celebrating next weekend – Jesus’ ascension into heaven – the time when Jesus would permanently remove his visible presence from this world and from those disciples.
The disciples were having a hard time with that thought. They wanted to hold onto Jesus. They wanted to keep him here, to see him and to have him do what they wanted him to do. You see that in the question that they asked Jesus just before his ascension into heaven. The disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom of Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Why did Jesus have to leave? He could stay and set up his kingdom and they could rule the world together, make people’s lives peaceful and perfect. It would be so good if Jesus just stayed! It was troubling to think of Jesus not being there, not doing what they were convinced Jesus should be doing.
That’s one of the reasons why Jesus made those multiple appearances to them. He was preparing them for that time when they would need to let him go. And how was Jesus preparing them for that? He prepared them by reminding them of not only why he had come INTO the world, but also why he was LEAVING this world. He reminded them that he did not come to stay here or bring heaven to earth. He came to return to heaven and then bring people from earth to join him in heaven. Jesus was repeatedly reminding them of the promise he made to them and to every Christians on the night before his death, “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back to take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2,3). Yes, Jesus needed to leave them. They needed to let Jesus go, but letting go was hard. Letting go is still hard.