In the world of physics there is an extremely useful method
which goes by the general name of the "boundary layer." It simply
means that much can be learned by studying the point at which a transition is
made. On Easter Sunday Peter went through a boundary layer. Before Easter he is
a despairing man bearing a great deal of shame. After the scene at the Sea of
Galilee he is a redeemed man. But hidden in plain sight is the boundary layer:
Easter Sunday. Usually, little thought is given to Peter's actions or words on
this day. Indeed, the Gospels record rather little about his actions. But what
little there is can be seen to be the seed of the man who was to become Peter.
Run to the Tomb
John 20:1-8 NASB
Now on the first day of the week Mary
Magdalene *came early to the tomb, while it *was still dark, and *saw the stone
already taken away from the tomb. (2) So she *ran and *came to Simon Peter and to the
other disciple whom Jesus loved, and *said to them, "They have taken away
the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him." (3) So Peter and the other disciple went forth, and
they were going to the tomb. (4) The two were
running together; and the other disciple ran ahead faster than Peter and came
to the tomb first; (5) and stooping and
looking in, he *saw the linen wrappings lying there;
but he did not go in. (6) And so Simon Peter
also *came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he *saw the linen
wrappings lying there, (7) and the face-cloth which had been on His head,
not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. (8) So the other disciple who had first come to the
tomb then also entered, and he saw and believed.
Status of Women
It is difficult for the modern Christian to understand the
change in the status of women from the time of the Scriptures until today.
Until the Industrial Revolution most women would clearly have understood the
difficulty the women at the tomb had. We may examine some of the changes, which
might explain why the apostles had such great difficulty in thinking the women
were anything but babbling, emotional idiots.
Women were much more sheltered in this time. Something of this
can be seen in fundamentalist Islam today; the idea that a woman should not go
out without a male escort, that she should be decently covered and (by our
standards) overly modest. In a mixed group, men did all the talking. We cannot
imagine this today.
Women were under authority. It was understood by both men and
women that the only woman who could possibly be on her own authority was a
widow. Divorce was disgraceful; women were to be under the authority of their
father (or other, older male relative) until they became submissive to the
authority of their husband. If you wanted to know put a woman thought, you
asked her husband.
Because they were presumed to be flighty and unreliable, they
were considered poor witnesses. Indeed, one of the arguments for the truth of
the gospel is the fact that women were the first at the tomb. If you were
constructing a fraud, you would've sent men to be the first at the tomb.
So you can see why the apostles were reluctant to take the
women's word for it. Yet — they were ready to call them liars either. The
situation was sufficiently extraordinary that John and Peter run to the tomb.
The Curious Incident of the Grave Clothes
To understand what Peter and John saw, we must understand
something of the funeral customs of the time. A body was laid in a tomb for a
period of about a year. Before being put their, the body would be them Paul was
spices and then wrapped in what amounted to an oversized Ace bandage. The head
was then covered with a cloth and the body laid in the tomb. In about a year,
the closest female relative would be given the rather gruesome chore scraping
the remaining flesh off the bones and placing the bones in an ossuary. A body
which been the tomb three days would, one supposes, have seen some decay
(retarded by the embalming spices). But it would still be recognizable as a
body — and as such be capable of being stolen.
It is likely enough that John and Peter would think that
someone had stolen the body of Jesus from the tomb. The motive for such a theft
on the part of anyone but the disciples is hard to understand — but the entire
situation made no sense in the first place; that's why they went to
investigate. Perhaps they thought that some member of the Pharisees decided to
commit the ultimate sacrilege and denying Jesus a decent burial. One thing is
certain: the tomb is empty.
We thus come to the curious incident of the grave clothes.
Let's suppose you wanted to steal this body. Does the remaining evidence fit
with this theory? Well, you would take the head cloth off in order to verify
that you had the right body. You might even be a tidy little sort who would
roll up the head cloth. (Some translations have the word "folded"; it
actually means rolled.) So, if you are that neat, why do you unwrap the body?
After all, it's a rather bloody mess. Wouldn't it make more sense to carry it wrapped?
This is particularly true in Jewish society, where touching the body would make
It is not unlikely that Peter and John saw the results and
wondered precisely about these things. One thing is sure: the question of the
resurrection was not settled for Peter by the evidence inside the tomb. John —
who is clearly the better thinker of the two — probably reasoned it out this
There is a curious contrast between the two Greek words used
to describe how John and Peter looked into the tomb. In John's case, the word
means to take a glancing look. In this case a different word is used; it means
to look steadily something, and then discover what it is — and be satisfied
with the result. John saw the obvious; Peter did not. But let's give Peter his
credit; he took a long hard look at things. He went away puzzled and deeply
It's a curious contradiction. The apostle who was capable of
much more complex thought quickly comes to the right, simple answer. The man
who likes his answers in black and white suddenly sees an entirely gray world.
It's the beginning of his transition; he has hit the boundary layer.
Tell the Disciples and Peter
Mark 16:5-7 NASB
Entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white
robe; and they were amazed. (6) And he *said
to them, "Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who
has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him. (7) "But go, tell His disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you to
Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He told you.'"
Much has been written of the fact that Christ's first
appearance after the resurrection was to Mary Magdalene. It's not just that
she's a woman; it's that historically she has been considered what used to be
delicately called a "fallen woman." Many writers have seen in this
action an instance of Christ caring for his primary mission: to seek and save
the lost. It is as if he is saying that his care is for the meek and lowly —
and that's where he'll start. It is a fascinating fact: the church starts with
the common folk, the prostitutes, the poor and those of no influence whatsoever.
Taken as a whole today, the church appears to the world as a place of pomp and
Peter, to put it simply, is ashamed of himself. He has
betrayed his Lord. Just when he thought that Jesus death put an end to the
matter, he gets this report from the women at the tomb. A shame descends into
dejection — and at the same time he is very puzzled as to what is going on.
Compassion for Peter
It is against that backdrop that we must pay attention to
those two little words I have highlighted in the passage above. Some writers
have interpreted this to mean that, at the time, Christ did not consider Peter
to be his disciple. In my opinion, this is a misinterpretation. What Jesus has
done is a fine bit of compassion. He has taken the one disciple who has
betrayed him, who is feeling the worst of all his followers, and inserted into
his message of personal note just for him. Peter's need is the greatest amongst
all the disciples; Christ therefore takes the time to insert a small but
important message to Peter.
Compassion is sometimes shown best in the details. Our
particular church congregation considers compassion something which is done by
a large group of people for a large group people. Christ here does the
opposite; it just to words he reaches out in compassion to the man needs him
A Meeting Undescribed
You probably have not heard of this meeting; let me present
the scriptural evidence.
Luke 24:32-35 NASB
They said to one another, "Were not our hearts burning within us while He
was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to
us?" (33) And they got up that very hour
and returned to Jerusalem, and found gathered together the eleven and those who
were with them, (34) saying, "The Lord
has really risen and has appeared to Simon."
(35) They began
to relate their experiences on the road and how He was recognized by them in
the breaking of the bread.
1 Corinthians 15:3-5 NASB
(3) For I delivered to you as of first
importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the
Scriptures, (4) and that He was buried, and
that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, (5) and that He
appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
These are the only two passages in the Bible that document
the personal meeting Peter had with Jesus on Easter Sunday. We know that it
must of been on Easter Sunday, because Paul tells us that he appeared to Peter
(Cephas) and then to the twelve disciples as a whole. We know that it was
Easter Sunday because of what the two disciples on the road had to say (that's
the tail end of their story in the passage from Luke.) It might seem like a
minor thing — and this writer was personally unaware of it until preparing this
study — but I suspect it was very important to Peter. These two passages
represent everything we know about that meeting. In other words, all we really
know is that it happened. We don't know the content – even though much of
Peter's thought appears in the Gospel of Mark.
Why a Separate Meeting?
We may make some reasonable speculation about this meeting.
We know that it was not concerning Peter's restoration to full fellowship with
Christ as head of the disciples; that takes place later. So if this meeting
concerned that, we would not have the scene described later. Some suggestions
have been made, largely based on the character of Christ himself.
It may simply be just a case of special love and favor. Peter is
a likable fellow; more than that, he is a natural leader of the disciples.
Perhaps Christ wanted to affirm that both to Peter and the rest of the
The most common speculation is that he wanted to comfort him in
his time of distress. That is a very encouraging thought. How often the
Christian assumed that because he has sinned he is cut off from the comfort of
Christ. Not true! Here is the man who betrayed Christ; and yet Christ comes to
him. Should not the sinner always apply to Christ for comfort?
Perhaps it's just a case of timing. It may be that Christ wanted
to really Peter's distress as soon as possible, and the best way to do this was
in private. Managers quickly learn the rule, "praise in public, correct in
private." Maybe that's just what Jesus was doing.
It's also possible, as one writer put it, that what Christ had to
say was "too sacred to record." Paul, in one instance, tells us of a
revelation which he is not permitted to repeat. Perhaps Peter got the same
May we close this little lesson with some thoughts about
Let's state the obvious: Christ cares about each and every one of
us. It is his holy desire that not one should be lost. In dealing with Peter we
may have an example of leaving the 99 to search for the one.
Christ is quick to show compassion and give comfort. We often
imagine. As being like ourselves. It's hard it's us to be passionate, and we
like to take our time about it. If this applies to our compassion, think how
long delayed our comfort is! It is not so with our Lord Jesus Christ. With that
example it should not be so with us.
We know that Christ came to seek and save the lost. We sometimes
forget that even the experienced Christian can be counted on "the
lost." We often tell the person who is not a Christian that it is
impossible to be too great a sinner for Christ. Sometimes we need to tell
ourselves the same thing.