Bystanders: The Minor Characters of Easter

By Jaime Sherman

During our spring Bible study at UFC, we will dig into the Gospels and meet 13 women whose lives were forever altered by their face-to-face encounters with Jesus. Some of these women were healed and freed from physical and spiritual burdens. One became an unlikely missionary to a people group shunned by the religious establishment. Still others were the first to see the resurrected Jesus.

Listen to Jaime share today’s post.

Their stories are incredible. If these women were living today, they would be on the Christian speakers’ circuit, capturing the attention of large audiences as they told about how they encountered Jesus. Wherever they spoke, tears would flow and lives would be changed for eternity. And guaranteed, someone in the crowd would think, “If only I had such a powerful story to tell, I could make a difference, too.”

Not all of us have gripping stories of encountering Jesus. Yes, we have been redeemed by His blood, which is incredible news all by itself, but because we started walking with Jesus when we were little, we view our stories as rather ho-hum. I was that person in the crowd until one night in college. After a sweet friend shared her moving testimony, I told her how much more powerful her story was than my own, and she stopped me mid-sentence.

“I would give anything for your story of being raised in a Christian home and believing in Jesus at a young age,” she said, explaining that her past without Jesus still haunted her. Even though she knew she was forgiven and made new in Him, feelings of shame and guilt from past choices tried to condemn her day after day. My self-perceived, boring story of trusting Jesus as a small child was a gift, she said. 

Through her encouragement, I began to shift my perspective to view my personal encounter with Jesus as special and worth sharing with others. Note, I said “began,” for it’s been a journey. I’ve often suggested someone else’s story deserved to be shared rather than my own, and when I’ve chosen writing projects for Bible study and the blog, I’ve picked the great, named heroes of the faith who have incredible, public testimonies of faith in God.

But when planning for this year’s Easter feature and scanning the Gospel accounts for inspiration, the minor characters of the Easter week kept popping up. As I slowed in the sentences Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John penned about them, I affectionately started calling them bystanders, and I saw myself in their simple stories. I realized I had missed many of them over the years as I jumped to what I deemed the most important sections of the Passion Week story.

They were the men, women, and children who were quietly present in Jesus’ earthly story, often near enough to touch Him, and yet some of their stories span no more than a sentence and reside in just one or two Gospel accounts. Many of them weren’t even named by the writers, and it is tempting to think their stories are ho-hum and of little to no importance. And yet, their stories — and mine and yours — are powerful and worthy to be shared because we have encountered Jesus.

I invite you to join me in these next two weeks as we get to know these bystanders, whose stories appear briefly in the Palm Sunday to Good Friday narrative found in Matthew 21-27, Mark 14-15, Luke 19:28-23:56, and John 12-19. While my goal in recounting their stories is to remain true to the Gospel accounts, you will find sprinkled into their stories some historic and cultural details not found in the text. You’ll also be given a little room to imagine how these bystanders felt, what they might have said, and how their lives might have been changed by their brief encounters with Jesus.

As we examine their stories, my prayer is that you will come to treasure and to share your own story of faith in Jesus no matter how simple it may be. And for those of you who have yet to say “yes” to beginning a story with Jesus, my prayer for you is that this series about simple people encountering Jesus would forever change your life.

Jaime Sherman grew up fluent in the stories of the Bible and tagged along to her first women’s Bible study when she was in fourth grade. She is a self-described Bible nerd, lover of information gathering, and most comfortable with a pen in her hand. The early morning hours are Jaime’s favorite of the day as she makes a mug of tea, opens her Bible, and writes, often crafting creative, biblical narratives that seek to remain faithful to God’s Word while adding details from sources on history and culture of the biblical world.