"After his suffering, he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during 40 days and speaking about the Kingdom of God." (Acts 1:3 NRSV)
By BISHOP ROBERT HAYES JR.
There is a book I’ve carried with me since my seminary days that still fascinates me just as it did the day I bought it. You really don’t sit down and read it like you would a novel, because it’s simply the "Book of Bible Lists."
Within its pages are more than 6,000 intriguing items.
Anything you might want to know about the Bible is explained in ways that give meaning and significance to prophecies, miracles, dates, judgments from God — you name a topic, it’s there.
One section explains the importance of numbers used throughout the Bible.
• For example, three (3) is the number of unity and accomplishment, as in The Trinity, and also the number of days Christ spent in the tomb.
• Seven (7) represents God or divine perfection. God rested on the seventh day, Jesus spoke seven words from the cross, and he taught Peter to forgive 70 times seven.
• And then there is the number forty (40), which is referred to many times. Scriptures tell us that it rained 40 days during the great flood. Moses spent 40 years in the desert and 40 days on Mount Sinai. Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness before being tempted.
That number — 40 — has captured my attention recently because it has so much to do with the events that took place right after the resurrection of our Lord.
My "Book of Bible Lists" tells me that 40 is the number of testing and trial and, in the first chapter of Acts, that’s how many days Jesus appeared to his disciples and others after his resurrection and before his ascension.
But why 40? Why not seven, or 12, or 30? Was there some unfinished work or incomplete training that required 40 days for Jesus to accomplish before he went to heaven?
There are captivating reasons for that length of time that I want to know about in these weeks right after Easter.
I think Jesus lingered with his disciples so there could be no doubt about his resurrection!
If Jesus had appeared to them for only a day or two, some would have quickly doubted and rejected God’s triumph over death. They easily could have claimed, "We were stressed and not in our right senses" or "it was a figment of our imagination."
But Jesus lingered, proving beyond doubt that indeed he was alive! He was seen by Mary, Peter, James, two disciples headed to Emmaus, 10 disciples together, and 11 disciples at another time.
On one occasion 500 people were gathered, and they all saw him, that same Jesus they had seen die on a cross.
It couldn’t be — but yet it was!
Another reason Jesus lingered was to encourage the disciples as they learned to think and act for themselves in light of that life-transforming event.
During those 40 days they saw Jesus from a very different perspective, as wonder and awe replaced fear. Their minds were being prepared to receive the new Holy Spirit power soon to come to them. Jesus knew they must have the ability to embrace it.
In most of his post-resurrection encounters with his disciples, Jesus was pushing them to remember, understand, and apply all he had taught them while with them in the flesh.
In those 40 days, he tested their faith by commissioning them to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). He quizzed Peter, who was to become the Rock of the church, with his threefold question "Do you love me?"(John 21:15).
40 crucial days
Those disciples probably grew more in confidence and independence in those 40 days than the entire three years they had traveled with Jesus.
Ultimately Jesus lingered so he could teach his followers that they could change the world without him being present, that God’s love would flourish through their fellowship free of his physical manifestation.
This is a lesson the world needs today. Jesus’ resurrection still seems to some "an idle tale," and some demand physical proof that he is alive.
British Protestant preacher John H. Jowett (1863-1923) spoke about a friend who was asked to sit at the head of a table and preside over a meeting. His friend begged the group to leave the chair apparently empty.
"I want the Lord to preside over us," he said. "I will sit at his side and say such things as need saying, but let him take the chair."
Rev. Jowett wrote, "The effect of the moment was almost overwhelming, and if, at the meeting, any person were tempted to say a word that was unworthy or out of order, the sight of the empty chair froze the word upon his lips, so that it could not be said."
A special time for you
Let these 40 days on the Church’s calendar — between official observances of the resurrection and then the ascension of Jesus — be a time when you linger with Jesus, accepting beyond any doubt that Easter isn’t the one-day event that society makes it out to be.
Let these days test you.
Go out and witness for him.
Understand that, although not physically present, Jesus is with you each and every day.
For me, the thought of encounters with him makes each day exciting.
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