There is deep irony in Luke’s account of Easter morning. We see a roomful of men identified by Jesus as his apostles, those commissioned and sent out to bear witness to him. Yet on the morning when Jesus rises from the dead, they are holed up in a room together, trembling with fear. It takes a group of bold women to come and bear witness to the resurrection to these apostles . . . but when they hear the gospel message, they don’t believe it. They dismiss the glad tidings as nothing but “an idle tale,” delirious talk.
All except one.
We should not be surprised that the one person who responds differently to the resurrection is Peter. Of all the disciples, Peter had experienced the most dramatic personal encounters with Jesus. It was Peter who, after Jesus delivered a miraculous catch of fish, fell at Jesus’ feet, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord (Lk 5:8).” When Jesus had asked the disciples who he was, it was Peter who said, “The Christ of God (Lk 9:20).” It was Peter who had walked on the water out to the Lord.
But the scene at the forefront of Peter’s mind here would be that last encounter, when Jesus had said before his betrayal that Peter would deny him three times before the rooster crowed. Peter had protested, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death (22:33)!”But then he had gone out and done just that, denying Jesus three times while Jesus stood bound before his accusers. And only Luke records how, as the rooster crowed, Jesus turned and looked at Peter, sending him out into the night, weeping bitterly. That’s the last we’ve heard of Peter until now. Peter hasn’t been able to get that gaze out of his mind these last two days.
And now these women say he is alive.
So what does Peter do? He “rose and ran to the tomb.” Aristotle once said, “great men never run in public.” Running was certainly beneath the dignity of a Jewish man; this is part of the shock of the Prodigal Son’s father running to meet him in Luke 15. But when you carry the shame that Peter does here, you know there isn’t any dignity left to preserve. He runs to the tomb, because he has to know if it is true. We can see him, heart pounding, lungs burning, as he rounds the corner and sees the tomb open; he stoops and looks in, trembling.
So far, Luke has only told us what is not in the tomb: the body of the Lord. Now, Luke tells us what is. Peter sees the linen grave clothes that two days before had been wrapped around the lifeless body of Jesus of Nazareth, now lying by themselves. No grave robbers would have taken the time to unbind this corpse and neatly fold them up. This is the sign of a living man, who woke up early Sunday morning and left them behind, because he no longer had use for them. Peter sees this, and knows that Jesus is alive.
I don’t know this, but as he sees those cloths, I bet Peter remembered Jesus’ words from Lk 22:31-34. Satan had demanded Peter, to sift him like wheat – but the Savior had stepped in and prayed for him, so that his faith would not fail. In his death, Jesus had secured the forgiveness for Peter’s betrayal. In his death, Jesus the innocent One had received the judgment for Peter’s guilt. In his death, Jesus had received the full weight of God’s righteous wrath against Peter’s wicked rebellion. In his death, Jesus was clothed in Peter’s shame so Peter could be clothed in Jesus’ righteousness. Now, as Peter peers into the tomb, he sees only the grave clothes of the crucified and risen Savior who now extends mercy and grace to all who like Peter who will come to him (Peter himself would proclaim this in Acts 10:36-43).
Peter leaves the tomb marveling, the same reaction Jesus has evoked throughout Luke’s Gospel. And you know, Peter never stopped marveling at the death and resurrection of Christ. He never got over Jesus and what he accomplished for him in this three-day span. When Jesus predicted Peter’s denial he had told him, “When you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” That is exactly what Peter spends the rest of his life doing: strengthening sinners like himself with the glorious message of Christ crucified and risen. Under the inspiration of the Spirit, Peter would write some of the most beautiful, personal passages about the death of Christ: “You were ransomed not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ . . . He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness, by his wounds you have been healed . . . for Christ also suffered, once for sin, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God . . . Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 P 1:19; 2:24; 3:18).” Peter can apply the Gospel message in such a deeply personal way because he had experienced it firsthand. Peter left the tomb marveling at this Savior that day, and he never stopped marveling.
Do you still marvel at Christ? Have you ever been brought to such wonder by the gospel? We know from John’s Gospel that John also ran to the tomb that morning, and even beat Peter because he is younger. But Luke wants us to focus us on Peter, the fallen follower, the disgraced disciple, who came to know the mercy of the risen Jesus at the deepest and most personal level that first Easter. I think all of you know the facts of the Gospel story. But it must become as personal for you as it did for Peter for it to do you any good. Has it become personal to you yet? Can you not only say that Jesus bore the punishment for sins, but Jesus bore the punishment for my sins? Can you not only say that Jesus was covered in shame to clothe sinners with his righteousness, but Jesus was covered in my shame, to clothe me with his righteousness before God? Not only is Jesus a risen Savior and Lord, but he is my risen Savior, and my Lord? It’s not saving faith, not Easter faith, until it’s personal.