(Hushed)...Hey you. Yes you...come over here. Hello. My name is Peter - and yes...I’m in prison. I’m a prisoner of the Roman Empire...here in Rome. They’ve put me in jail for the things I’ve been saying about a man called Jesus of Nazareth. And it all goes back to a day, about 30 years ago. Let me tell you about it.
Frankly, that day, I was feeling rather sorry for myself. You see, for the previous three years I had been traipsing along around Judea with this amazing Rabbi, called Jesus of Nazareth. He had recruited me to his band of followers when I was mending my fishing nets one day...and he just seemed such an amazing character, that I had to follow him.
Well, over those three years, we wandered around from town to town, listening to all that this Jesus was telling people. You should have heard him preach...it was amazing. The things he said were just so wise that you could hear a pin drop when he started to speak. He told us all about his Father in heaven - God - whom he said wanted to be our Father too. And he told us about how God was setting up a new Kingdom of peace and justice.
The really amazing thing is that Jesus was so plugged into God that he could do the most amazing miracles. We watched him heal people just with a word or a touch. We watched him calm a storm, and walk on water...and even raise people from the dead!
But through it all, he kept telling us that the real reason he had come was not to do miracles, not even to preach especially, but actually to die, and then rise again from the dead. Which frankly I never quite got my head around.
So much so, that when he was arrested by the Chief Priests of the Temple, I got really scared. I didn’t know what was going on. And when someone in the crowd outside the temple claimed to recognise me as one of Jesus’ followers...well...I’m ashamed to admit...I denied that I knew him at all. Three times, they challenged me…”You were one of his followers weren’t you!”. “No!” I insisted…”I never knew him” I slunk away from the crowd...feeling really guilty, and really confused, and really frightened. I ran away and hid…
While I was hiding, like a terrified mouse, some of Jesus’ other followers came and told me what had happened. They told me that Jesus had been taken out of the city, and nailed to one of those crosses that the Romans kept for executing criminals. I couldn’t believe it! Why?! What had Jesus done to deserve that?! All he had done was help people...and teach them to love one another.
‘Well’, I thought to myself, ‘that’s that then’. All we had hoped for, all the things that Jesus had hoped for...it was all over. ‘I might as well go back to my fishing business’. There’s not much point in hanging around in Jerusalem, waiting to be recognised as a follower of Jesus...and risk getting strung up myself.
Now, I couldn’t actually go anywhere on the day after Jesus was crucified. You see, that was a Saturday, and that’s the day that we Jews call the ‘Sabbath’ - a day of rest...and no-one is allowed to go on a journey or carry luggage or anything like that. So I stayed in Jerusalem with my friends, and waited for the dawn - so that I could get out of the city.
Early the next morning, I started to pack my stuff. I didn’t have much...following Jesus wasn’t exactly a lucrative business. But I was just gathering my bits and bobs together, grabbing a handful of dried fish to eat for breakfast, when suddenly there was a loud noise at the door. There were some women outside, bashing on the door with all their might and demanding to be let in.
Well, one of my friends opened the door, and in tumbled these women - Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and a few others whose names I don’t remember now. They had all been followers of Jesus with us. They collapsed breathless onto the floor. John, (one of my mates) went over to them with a cup of water, and asked them whatever was the matter.
“He’s alive!” they said. “He’s alive!”
“What?!” said I. “Who’s alive? Whatever are you going on about?”
“Jesus!” said Mary Magdalene. “Jesus is alive! We’ve just been to the tomb to prepare his body for a proper burial. But when we got there we found that the stone in front of the tomb was rolled away...and there were two men who were sort of shining, standing there telling us that Jesus isn’t dead anymore...he’s alive!”
Another of my mates, Matthew, piped up at that point.
“What a load a rubbish,” he said. “You’re being hysterical. People don’t just get up from the dead all by themselves! Don’t be so stupid”
But I wasn’t so sure. After all, I remembered, didn’t Jesus tell us that this was precisely what would happen? And didn’t he have the power to raise other people from the dead. There was that bloke Lazarus, and that little girl...what was her name?...Jairus’ daughter.
“Well,” I said, “I don’t know about you blokes...but I’m going to see for myself” So I legged it out of the house, down the street, and out of the city gates to the graveyard. My legs were pumping for all they were worth...my chest was gasping for air...but I had to see for myself what the women were talking about. Maybe, just maybe, they were right.
Eventually, I made it to the tomb. And there, sure enough, just as the women had said...the stone had been rolled away...and inside there was no body. Just a few strips of cloth that his body had been temporarily wrapped in. “Perhaps someone has stolen the body?” I thought to myself. “But no...who would steal a body, and leave the cloth that it was wrapped in? That doesn’t make any sense.
I couldn’t decide what had happened...so I made my way back to the house. Me and my friends just sat there for a few hours...stunned, and confused. What had happened? Had some lunatic stolen the body to sell? Or could it possibly be true that he had actually risen from the dead.
A short while later, two men came to the door….with another amazing story. They told us that they had actually met with Jesus...that he had walked with them on the road out to Emmaus, and had eaten with them, before suddenly disappearing.
We were all listening intently to what they were saying when suddenly, without any warning, you’ll never believe what happened...Jesus! Suddenly Jesus was standing there in the room with us! “It’s a ghost!” said John - frightened out of his wits. And then Jesus spoke…
“Why are you so surprised?! Didn’t I tell you that this would happen? Don’t you trust me? Look...I’m not a ghost...I’m real flesh and blood. Touch me...feel my flesh and bones. Does a ghost have those? I tell you what...have you got any food here?”
We did...there was a bit of fish left over from breakfast...and Mary brought some over to him. Jesus took that piece of fish, and ate it in front of us. He chewed it, and swallowed it...this was definitely no ghost!
It was true. It was really true! Jesus, who some of us had seen as dead as a door-nail just two days before...was alive! What’s more, he stayed around with us for another 40 days - teaching us all that we needed to know to make sure that his words had been correctly understood. And then, he left us...at least physically. He was taken up into heaven as we watched.
But you know...since then, we’ve realised that Jesus never really left us. He had to take his body away from us, so that his Spirit could be with us always. And that is what all of us followers of Jesus have discovered over the last 30 years. He really is alive! We know, deep down inside, that he is with us all the time...that his Spirit is with us….strengthening us, leading us, helping us to live as he has called us to live.
And that, ultimately, is why I am in prison. You see, SO many people have discovered the truth that Jesus is alive, that we have become quite a threat to the Romans. We are beginning to call ourselves Christians - Christ-ians now...and there are Christians all over the Empire. Most of them never had my good fortune….of actually seeing Jesus while he was still with us. But they’ve all discovered by faith what I saw with my eyes...that Jesus is alive! And he’s with us now...right here.
I just hope that all of you who are hearing my story will be able to meet Jesus yourself. It really is worth it...let me tell you! All you have to do is talk to him. Tell him that you are sorry that you’ve tried to live your life your own way. And tell him that you want him to come into your life, and transform it the way that he has transformed mine. I promise you - you will never regret it.
Let me tell you - life with Jesus...even in prison...is a million times better than life on your own.
Anyway...that’s enough from me. You’d better go...the guards will be along in a minute to bring me my bread and water...and they get rather cross if they find me talking to people. Come back another time...and I’ll tell you more!