The disciples were quite anxious during those days following Jesus’ death and his resurrection. Although Jesus had very clearly told them he must suffer and die on the cross and then be raised on the third day, they still had trouble believing it. It wasn’t until about 50 days after Easter that they could say, “Lord, I believe. Help thou mine unbelief.”
The idea of rising from the dead seemed so bizarre, dead people just did not rise. And though they had seen that Jesus rose from the dead, they still questioned it. However, our Lord Jesus Christ believed that the Holy Spirit could make them great apostles, able to carry the Gospel into the world, that his Church would grow and believers in Christ Jesus would multiply.
It is exciting to see how patiently and how long Jesus worked with them. Being Jesus’ successor was an important job. People could wonder if Jesus knew what he was doing, thinking perhaps the disciples didn’t have the ability, personality, or whatever else was necessary to make that job a success. However, Jesus knew the disciples well enough that he realized that, with the Spirit’s help, they would become great children of God.
Today’s scripture text gives us a picture of the patience God has with us. I wonder sometimes if we really understand it. We act hastily and do not put up with others’ doubts, so why would God? Sometimes we might even feel that he’s unfair with us. Our scripture lesson will tell us that is never the case.
As Jesus stood there with the disciples, he asked, “Why are you troubled? (Don’t you understand?) Look at my hands. Look at my feet. A ghost does not have hands or feet or a body.” And while the disciples wanted to believe, they could not. So Jesus asked for something to eat, and they gave him some broiled fish. As they watched him eat, they were filled with amazement. Then Jesus opened their minds and they listened.
Just after the resurrection on Easter Sunday, Jesus was near the tomb when Mary, his dear friend, saw him. He said to her, “Why are you so sad?” She replied, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Then Jesus said to her, “Mary.” Mary’s eyes were suddenly opened and she turned and said, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). As she went to embrace him, Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (John 20:10-18).
Later Jesus appeared to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias. A group of the disciples had been fishing all night but caught nothing. Early the next morning they saw a man standing on the shore. He called out for them to throw their net on the right side of the boat and they would find some fish. They did so and caught so many fish they were unable to haul in the net. Then John said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” and jumped into the water. The others followed in the boat, and when they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals with fish on it, and some bread. Then Jesus told them to bring some of the fish they just caught and have breakfast. Simon Peter dragged the net ashore, filled with 153 large fish, but the net didn’t tear.
After they had eaten, Jesus said to Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” Peter replied, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” And Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” And then he turned to him again and he said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” Peter answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Then Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
And then a third time Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” And he said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” The Bible tells us that Peter was very hurt because Jesus asked him the question a third time. Jesus had patience with Peter because He knew that on Pentecost Sunday, Peter’s mind would be open and his heart would receive the Holy Spirit. (Taken from John 21:1-17.)
Jesus also showed his patience to Thomas, who was not with the other disciples when Jesus first appeared to them. When Thomas came back into their presence, the disciples told him about Jesus’ visit. Thomas responded, “Unless I can put my finger into that nail-pierced hand, I will not believe.” Thomas had lived with Jesus for three years and had heard his message many times, yet he could not believe it. Yet, when Jesus appeared to him and he put his finger into Jesus’ hands and side, Thomas said, “My Lord and my God.” (Taken from John 20:24-28.)
Jesus was very patient with the disciples. They were growing inch by inch and would become great men of God in the days to come.
The accounts of Jesus’ patience with his disciples have been written for us to see what the disciples went through as they came to realize that God’s Word was true, even though their minds could not understand it. We see evidence of the same around us all the time. We believe Jesus lives in our hearts and we have a personal relationship with him. But when a difficult situation arises, we try to handle it on our own, and it isn’t long before we fail. Then Jesus comes to us and says, “I forgive you. I know you all too often trust only in yourself. But I am right here to give you power and strength and grace. You can do it.” That is the patience of God with us.
Just stop and think how patient Jesus has been with us. Whenever I hear somebody say in a speech or a personal conversation, “You can do anything you want to do if you set your mind to do it,” I don’t believe it. I know what the person means, and it is good advice up to a point, but there are certain things I will never be able to do. For example, I could never build a house. It would fall down. The hammer is not a close friend of mine. I could never be a soloist. Even if I took singing lessons, one right after another, people would never thank God for my singing ability.
But I can do anything Jesus Christ wants me to do and empowers me to do if I rely on him. That is the point. He is patiently waiting for me and he is patiently waiting for you to get over some of your shortcomings. He will take the time with you and lead you along the way until you grow in the Christian faith. You can love the person you don’t like now. You can be a better father or mother to the child God has given you. You can do all of these things Ð not by yourself but by relying on the patience of God.
I marvel when I think of what Jesus went through with the disciples. Although they were ordinary men, it wasn’t until the Holy Spirit was in their hearts and minds Ð Peter, Paul, John, and all the rest Ð that they became people whom God could really use. And when Jesus has done that work in us, there is no end to what we can do for Jesus. Patiently, he waits.