Revive Our Hearts Podcast

The Ministry of the Forty Days

Leslie Basham: Nancy Leigh DeMoss describes the appearances Jesus made after His resurrection.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: It's interesting that they were not big, flashy appearances. Jesus was not, at this point, trying to make headline news. Most of these appearances were small, personal, intimate encounters with individuals or small groups.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Tuesday, April 7, 2015.

Nancy is continuing in the series "The Incomparable Christ."

Nancy: I've had to do a lot of traveling over the years in ministry. I'm pretty much a homebody myself. I like staying at home. I've often said about traveling that I wouldn't do this for anybody other than Jesus. I've done a lot of it for Him, and He blesses that. But when I’m on the road, out of town, I just can’t wait to get home. Occasionally over the years, I have had instances where I get delayed, and I am asked to make one more stop, or fulfill one more responsibility. I have to tell you, it's tough, because I want to get home.

I love serving. I love what the Lord has called me to do. But, I love sleeping in my own bed. I want to get home. I thought about that when I came to this session in our series on "The Incomparable Christ," and how after the resurrection, how eager Jesus must have been to get back to heaven and to see His Father! After all He had endured, after all He had been through—from the time He came to this earth as a little baby, to His growing up years, His adult life, His ministry, His trial, His crucifixion—after all that extended time of separation physically from His Father, how much He must have been eager to get back home.

But the Scripture tells us that He stayed here on this earth for forty more days after the resurrection—five weeks and five days. Now that may not seem like long, but when you're traveling and you're ready to get home, that can seem like a really long time. I think that this ministry of Christ during the forty days between the resurrection and His ascension back to heaven shows the tender, compassionate heart of Christ. For Him to spend forty more days in this wretched world—I mean, who wants to stay here when you could be in heaven?

But He cared more about His disciples than He cared about Himself. He cared more about us than He cared about Himself. He  was more committed to His Father’s agenda and plan than His own comfort and His own agenda. In fact, His agenda was His Father’s agenda. He always said, “I came to do My Father's will.” Because this forty-day period was part of His Father's will, He embraced it and fulfilled it.

Now, this transition between the resurrection and His ascension we said was forty days. I find that interesting. One writer said that “the space of forty days is always in Scripture a period of solemn waiting followed by issues of momentous interest.”1 He pointed out several instances—I'm sure some of those come to mind as you think about forty days, where there was waiting followed by a major issue. Think about:

  • The forty days and nights of rain during the flood. Waiting for that to be over, and those in the ark to be able to get back out onto dry land.
  • Moses on the mountain for forty days receiving the Law before he came down and gave it to the people.
  • The forty days offered to the Ninevites to repent in Jonah's day.
  • The forty days that Jesus fasted in the wilderness and was tempted by the devil. That was the beginning of His earthly ministry. Through those forty days, Jesus was preparing to begin His ministry in the fullness and power of the Holy Spirit.

Now we see Jesus at the end of His earthly ministry, preparing His disciples to carry on His work on earth, in the power of the Holy Spirit. So His life, His ministry is bracketed by two periods of forty days each.

Now we have to ask the question. Why did He stay on earth for those weeks after the resurrection? The obvious answer is His Father wanted Him to. But why didn't God just let Jesus be resurrected right back up into heaven, from the tomb to the right hand of the throne of God? What was the purpose of those days? What did He do?

It's interesting as you research this. A lot of speculation is out there. There is a lot of occultic, apocryphal accounts. I think this is because Scripture doesn't tell us a lot. People have used their imagination and said, "This is what He did." Most of that is total speculation. That's why we need to look to the Scripture and see what does it tell us about that forty-day ministry, and what are the implications of that for our lives?

Let me ask you, if you have your Bible, to turn to the book of Acts, chapter 1. In the opening paragraph of the book of Acts, we have the briefest of summaries—just three verses—that summarize this forty-day ministry. Well see as we read this in just a moment that this forty days was not an accident. It wasn't just a parenthetical thing. It was an intentional part of God's plan. Keep in mind that the disciples had just lost their dearest friend and Lord, so they thought. He had died. They were confused. They were grieving His loss. They thought He was the King, the one who was going to bring in the kingdom of God. And now their King was dead.

Now they were receiving word of the resurrection. But how were they to believe this? How were they to know it was really true? Two women brought the first report, and in those days women couldn't be used as witnesses in a court of law because the testimony of women was not considered trustworthy or reliable.

So they are getting these reports, but everyone is emotional and confused. Well, Jesus used this brief forty-day period to encourage His disciples. He did that in two primary ways you see here in Acts 1. First, He ministered to their doubts by providing proof—rock-solid proof—of His resurrection, that He really was alive. Number 2, He prepared them for their future during these forty days. He gave them hope, a vision, and marching orders for after His departure. He used this time to provide them proof of His resurrection and to prepare them for their future.

Let me read this paragraph in Acts 1, and then we'll take it apart.

In the first book [referring to the Gospel of Luke, both of these were written by Dr. Luke], O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. To them he presented himself alive after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:1–3).

Let's just unpack that some.

He provided proof or evidence of His resurrection during these forty days. The Scripture says many proofs. He presented Himself to them, appearing to them during forty days. That word "proofs" is a strong word in the original language. It means “positive proof,”  “a sure sign.” Some of your translations say “many convincing proofs” or “many infallible proofs.”

He used those weeks to build the faith of His disciples. He was going to be leaving them. The whole future of His mission was going to depend on them having confidence that He was alive, that He had overcome the grave. And not only did they have to be confident, but they were going to have to convince others that this crucified, supposed criminal was indeed the Son of God who had risen from the dead. That wasn't going to be an easy sell. So they first needed to be sure themselves. During these days, Jesus presented them with evidence they couldn’t refute.

He did that by appearing to them, this passage says. What greater proof of the resurrection than to see the one you thought was dead, alive and in person. He gave them physical evidence. They saw His physical body. It was His glorified body. It's not the same, but recognizable. They could see the scars from nails in hands and His feet.  They saw Him, touched Him, ate with Him, and talked with Him. He gave them physical evidence of His resurrection.

He did so by means of multiple appearances—post-resurrection appearances—to multiple people, in multiple circumstances. You have to put all four of the Gospels together to get the whole list of appearances, and it's not easy to harmonize, because each of them tells about some of the appearances but not all. When you put it all together it appears that there are ten or eleven of these post-resurrection appearances in Scripture.

These appearances were impressive, because they thought He was dead, but it's interesting that they were not big, flashy appearances. Jesus was not, at this point, trying to make headline news. Most of these appearances were small, personal, intimate encounters with individuals or small groups. By the way, most, if not all of them, were believers in Christ. You remember some of the appearances:

  • The first recorded post-resurrection appearance was to Mary Magdalene at the tomb who was distraught and weeping outside the tomb. As with many of the appearances, you see there just this tender exchange, and this personal encouragement that Jesus gave to this woman who loved Jesus so deeply and had been so deeply impacted by His life and ministry but was grieving His loss. He comes and ministers to her so tenderly in her grief (see Mark 16:9–10, John 20:11).
  • Then we have the appearance to Mary Magdalene and other Mary who were returning from the empty tomb on Resurrection Day (see Matt. 28:9–10).
  • Then to the two disciples on road to Emmaus (see Luke 24:13; Mark 16:12).
  • Then that amazing encounter with Peter in Jerusalem which was part of the  restorative process in his life (see Luke 24:34).
  • Another appearance to the disciples who were in locked room in Jerusalem. Remember? On that occasion one of the disciples was absent. Thomas—so when he heard about this he had a hard time believing (see John 20:19–23).
  • The next time Jesus appeared was to the eleven apostles in a house. He did it for Thomas’ sake, to make sure that Thomas had the same evidence, the proof of the resurrection (see John 20:26).
  • Then you remember he appeared to seven apostles who were fishing on the Sea of Galilee (see John 21:1).
  • Then He appeared to His brother James, who had not previously believed, but became a strong believer—one of the leaders of the church, and the author of the Epistle of James in the New Testament (see 1 Cor. 15:7).
  • Then over 500 saw Him at one time. That was the large group event that we know about. But most of these were much more personal, intimate encounters (see 1 Cor. 15:6).

In these encounters we see that Jesus dealt tenderly and directly with the doubts and fears of His followers. For example, Luke 24 says,

As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, "Peace to you!" But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have."

And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?” Then they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them” (vv. 36–42).

More evidence! Proof positive evidence that Jesus really was alive.

The evidence was persuasive. It was convincing. It was indisputable. So much so that those apostles never doubted again, from the moment Jesus ascended to heaven . . . You go through the book of Acts, you see this powerful, convinced, persuaded preaching of the resurrection of  Christ. They never doubted it. They preached it with conviction because Jesus stayed around long enough to give them proof of His resurrection.

It's interesting that "He presented himself alive after his suffering by many proofs" (Acts 1:3). The fact that He was showing Himself to them after His suffering was a reminder and an assurance that suffering and death were not final. You see, they were going to suffer, too. Jesus had called them to “take up their cross and follow Him” (Matt. 10:38). But they would also share, after their sufferings, in His resurrection.

Therefore they could proclaim Christ with boldness and without fear even when it became illegal to do so under the oppressive Roman government. Because the worst that could happen them, they knew, is that they could be put to death. But here was Jesus standing before them as evidence that there is life after death! Death is not the end.

I'm so grateful that Jesus provided this proof, this evidence of His resurrection, not just for His disciples, but as evidence for future generations of skeptics—eyewitness accounts of the resurrected Christ are one of the greatest proofs of the resurrection. We have those eyewitness accounts.

So as we make it personal to our own hearts, we're just reminded that Jesus is alive. We're called to banish doubts and fears. He showed Himself during this forty-day period. Ours is to believe the evidence and receive His peace.

He prepared His disciples for ministry after He was gone. How did Jesus prepare His disciples for what lay ahead? Let me suggest three things that stand out to me in these post-resurrection accounts.

He provided instruction. He was speaking about the kingdom of God. These were possibly things that He had said before, but they had not understood and grasped. You see, as you go on in the book of Acts that they were still looking for an earthly, political kingdom that would drive out the Romans. But Jesus spoke to them about the kingdom of God, His reign and rule in the hearts of His people that would transform lives and homes and impact this world with His kingship. He was trying to instruct them in the real meaning of the kingdom of God.

As He did, He taught them from the Scripture. Remember the two men on road to Emmaus who first didn't recognize Jesus on the day of His resurrection? It says, “Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). He pointed them back to the Word of God to instruct them, to prepare them to proclaim the gospel after He left.

Again you see it in Luke 24 when He appeared to the disciples,

“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, 'Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead'” (Luke 24:44–46).

Here they are, seeing Him with their own eyes, but He's saying the most sure thing you have, the most compelling evidence, is what is written in the Scripture. I'm so glad that we have that Word ourselves, and that He has given us His Holy Spirit to illumine our understanding and to teach us how we should do ministry—how we should be a part of bringing about His kingdom on this earth. So instruction is part of His preparing them for future ministry.

Mission—in these forty days He confirmed to them what they were to do after He left. He said to them, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21). He was sending them in the same way the Father had sent Him. So how was He sending them?

  • To live humble, holy, obedient lives as He had
  • To proclaim the kingdom of God as He had
  • To call people to repent and believe the gospel as He had
  • To live in conscious dependence on their heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit as Jesus had
  • To live a life of prayer, sacrifice, and service as Jesus had

They weren't just to sit back and talk about the good old days and enjoy the blessings of their relationship with the Lord as He was here on earth. Because then why not just take them to heaven with Him? He was leaving them behind on earth for a purpose. He explained that mission,

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you (Matt. 28:19–20).

He made the mission clear. He said to them in Luke 24,

Repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things (vv. 47–48).

That was their mission, to be witnesses. They were to get out of their comfort zones. There was hard work to do and a message to proclaim.

Well, Jesus has left us with a mission, a mandate, and a message. He is coming back someday, and at that point He will hold us accountable for how well we have carried out our mission in His absence. As Jesus said in Luke 12, “Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes” (v. 43). Will we be found faithful fulfilling the mission He has given us to do?

During that forty-day period, Jesus instructed His disciples about the kingdom of God, He commissioned them with their mission, and let them know what to do. Then He made provision for them as they were heading into that ministry.

How were they to fulfill this mission to proclaim His Kingdom? They had to be wondering, How are we going to do this without you, Jesus? That seems impossible. The Roman government  was so big and so powerful and so opposed to Christ. Well, in the final hours before His crucifixion, Jesus had promised the disciples that He would ask the Father to send the Holy Spirit. Now during this forty-day period, He reminded them of that promise and of the provision that He would send to them.

You read about this in the last chapter of the Gospel of Luke and in the first chapter of Acts. Both books were written by Dr. Luke. Luke 24,

Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high (vv. 46–49).

What was that power? The power of the Holy Spirit. You see the same thing in Acts 1,

He ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, "you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now. . . . But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (vv. 4–5, 8).

The coming of the Holy Spirit, the promised provision of the Spirit meant that Jesus would always be with them by His indwelling Holy Spirit. Isn't that what He said at the end of Matthew 28, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (v. 29). Here he is getting ready to leave. But He says, “I will always be with you.” That was because of the promised provision of the Holy Spirit. He was not sending them out to do this on their own. He does not send us out to serve Him on our own.

Aren't you conscious, as I am, when the Lord asks you to serve Him in different ways how weak and inadequate you are and how greatly we need the provision and power of His Holy Spirit and the encouragement that God has the resources to fulfill His mission and His mandate for our lives in the Holy Spirit and the presence of Christ.

Throughout these forty days, He reminded His disciples that the window of opportunity was not going to be forever—that there was a limited time in which they would be serving Him and extending His kingdom in this way. He said to them, do this “until I come” (John 21:22); “unto the end [consummation] of the age” (Matt. 28:20). He let them know that there was a definite time period that they would have to fulfill their calling.

The challenge to those disciples, and to us today, is to live for what matters. Not our program, goals, agenda, but His. Redeeming the time. For as Jesus said, the night is coming when no man can work. And those forty days, how thankful we can be that Jesus took those days to provide proof of His resurrection, to prepare His disciples for what lay ahead by giving them instruction, a sense of mission and commission, what they were to do, and then His divine provision to fulfill that calling.

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been explaining an important question: Why did Jesus stay on this earth forty days after being raised from the dead? The entire series, "The Incomparable Christ," has been like this. Nancy asks questions I’ve never considered before. The answers are drawing us far deeper into who Christ is. The teaching is helping us appreciate in new ways the work He has done.

When women teach other women, the results can be powerful. If you are involved in teaching other women God's Word, you need times to get away and be refreshed yourself. We’d like to give you the opportunity to breathe, and to hear God’s Word taught with the needs of women’s ministry leaders in mind. Revive Our Hearts invites you to the conference, Revive '15: Women Teaching Women.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss will be speaking, helping you become a more effective teacher. And Jen Wilkin will show you how to dig into God’s Word and understand it. Knowing the Bible will help you teach more effectively. Lauren Chandler will join us to lead worship.

Revive '15 is coming to Indianapolis September 25–26. Make your plans, get in on early pricing, and get details at ReviveOurHearts.com, or call 1–800–569–5959.

Well, forty days after being raised from the dead, Jesus ascended to heaven. Most churches don't make a big deal of this event. Does it really matter? Tomorrow, Nancy will show you the hope we can receive in the ascension. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version.

1“The Resurrection Appearances of Christ,” Sermon by Doremus A. Hayes, in Great Sermons on Christ, Vol. 3: Jesus’ Resurrection, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991), Wilbur M. Smith, ed., 63 (quoting “Westcott”).

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