Thomas, it appears, was the only core disciple not present that resurrection day evening. He was cautious when all the other disciples told him about their experience of Jesus behind locked doors. Thomas was like many today who are unwilling to believe without what they consider to be good evidence. Thomas wanted the same as the other disciples, to see Jesus along with his wounds. The disciples had told Thomas Jesus had shown them his hands and side and he wanted the same. It seems reasonable, doesn’t it? The problem is it is not a constantly repeatable thing. It wasn’t long before Jesus was going to ascend to heaven. If the gospel was to reach all nations then it would be necessary for people to believe without personally examining Jesus hands, feet and side. Thomas did immediately believe in Jesus’ resurrection and his divinity once Jesus met with him. Along with the other disciples he then remained faithful until his eventual martyrdom. But Jesus words to him were all important. ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’ v29 It remains an essential part of the church’s role to clearly present the excellent evidence for the Christian faith. We are not asking people to believe in a fictional tale. We are asking people to believe in Christ who was historically real and for whom there is myriad evidence. However, we are asked to believe even though we can no longer see him for ourselves. That is only achievable through the Holy Spirit and the word of God. Have we equipped ourselves to defend our faith and communicate the gospel to others?
It was later in the same day when the disciples had gathered behind locked doors that Jesus next appeared. No doubt the only topic of conversation would have been the various individual reports from those who had seen Jesus during the day. This though hadn’t changed their basic mind set. They were still afraid probably thinking that they could be arrested at any moment. This was a group who had yet to understand the victory Jesus had achieved. Even if they had fully believed the reports they may well have considered Jesus’ resurrection in the same terms as Lazarus – resurrected to die again at some time in the future. They had not yet become bold, but Jesus was just about to deal with that. John records that, ‘Jesus came and stood among them.’ v19 There is no explanation as to how this happened although the implication is that it was miraculous. Jesus first of all ministered to their fear with the words, ‘Peace be with you!’ v19 Shalom (peace) is one of the key words in the bible regarding salvation. It carries multidimensional meanings. In the New Testament it concerns, “the reconciliation of all things to God through the work of Christ.” (NIV Study Bible 2011: Tim Keller.) Shalom is peace experienced by one’s whole being: physical, mental, spiritual and in relationship with one another. Jesus through his blessing to the disciples was referring to all he had succeeded in doing on the cross. ‘God was pleased … to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace by the blood of his cross.’ Colossians 1:19-20 Jesus showed them the physical evidence that he was indeed the Jesus who had been crucified. The disciples’ reaction was the one of all true disciples when in the presence of Jesus, they were overjoyed. He then commissioned and equipped them for their ongoing work. Along with all the blessing that receiving Christ’s shalom involved they were told that he was sending them in the same way as he had been sent by God the Father. To confirm that he breathed on them to receive the Holy Spirit. There has been much discussion about what that meant. Some have said it was the gift of the Holy Spirit as in the Old Testament, given to particular people for particular tasks. Others say it was symbolizing the gift of the Holy Spirit to all disciples that took place 50 days later on the day of Pentecost. The forgiving of sins was not meant as disciples taking on the role of God to forgive. It is much more likely that it referred to their future gospel work declaring that God will forgive all those who repent and believe. In this one short passage then we have the disciples receiving the full blessing Jesus attained for them on the cross. The immediate joy of the disciples being in the presence of Christ and the commissioning and equipping of the disciples for their gospel work. This was a very focused visit and it does not seem as if there was any time for social chit chat. Are you trusting Christ for the full blessing Jesus gives his disciples?
John must have felt the weight of the world was on him. He had watched as Jesus died his slow agonizing death. Jesus had added to his burden by giving him the responsibility for the care of Mary, Jesus’ mother. There had existed a deep intimate bond between John and Jesus, so much so he termed himself, ‘the one Jesus loved.’ v2 His hopes had been dashed. Jesus’ words must have been going round in his head without him making full sense of them. It was in this state that Mary cut across all he was thinking with the news that Jesus’ body had been removed with no indication as to where. Peter and John were seen as the leaders of the disciples and so it was to them Mary went first. Both ran to the tomb, John being the faster but although he could see inside and see the linen strips used to bind Jesus’ body laid to one side he did not initially enter. Peter had no such hesitancy, and in he went. From the inside he could now see the separate material to bind the head had been laid where the head should have been. This was no normal raid on a tomb, what tomb robbers would delay to unbind the body? John plucked up courage and followed Peter into the tomb. It was at that moment that spiritual insight dawned on John. He recorded that moment in the briefest of terms. ‘He saw and believed.’ v8 What did he believe? It was not a complete biblical doctrine at this time. He confesses as much, ‘They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.’ v9 It was at that moment that John simply believed Jesus had risen from the dead. It was an amazing Holy Spirit induced insight. The most likely explanation was still what Mary had said, somebody had stolen the body. John was about to receive ample evidence to back up his belief but he believed without knowing the whole story. At what moment did you believe Jesus was raised from the dead? What led to that belief?
In chapter 20 John pulls together several of the disciples’ personal accounts and experiences. He of course was one of them, almost certainly the disciple who out ran Peter and then hesitated at the tombs entrance. When reading the chapter as a whole in one go it felt to me as if I was overhearing the various participants personal stories. Perhaps told over a meal and a glass of wine, maybe even following sharing in the Lord’s supper. The honest vulnerability of Mary’s account captures perfectly the emotional spectrum she went through starting with her grief on the path to the tomb, then the distress at finding Jesus’ body gone as she rushed back to Peter and the other disciples with her news. Mary probably could not keep up with the men when they ran to the tomb. At some point she found herself alone there, standing outside weeping, her vision probably distorted by her tears and distress. Mary did not immediately grasp that Jesus had risen, she thought his body had been stolen, she answered the angel’s question with her despairing comment, ‘I do not know where they have laid him.’ v13 Turning she found herself facing Jesus but did not recognise him. Jesus repeated the question and clarified it with, ‘Whom are you seeking?’ v15 It was not until Jesus spoke her name that Mary, passionately, joyfully grasped it was Jesus who was addressing her. How much does this reflect your own journey as a seeker? When did you realise who Jesus is?
The tone of John’s gospel takes on a sudden shift at the beginning of chapter 20. Chapter 19 concludes with the hurried burial arrangements for Jesus’ body, ‘since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.’ John 19:42Chapter 20 opens with Mary Magdalene’s grief-stricken visit to Jesus’ tomb. It was her first possible chance, she couldn’t visit on the Sabbath and so before sunrise she made her way to Jesus’ grave. There then follows a series of events that are so unexpected that it becomes difficult to describe the emotions that flood out of the disciples. Awestruck, wonder, confusion, belief and disbelief, mystery, weeping, love, joy, passion and deep peace are words and phrases that describe the heady mix of responses felt by Jesus’ followers as the reality of Jesus’ physical resurrection sinks in.
However, the significance of his resurrection is far more than friends reunited. It has profound personal, global and eternal consequences. The deep personal consequences are summed up by Paul, ‘For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sister. And those he predestined, he also called, he also justified, those he justified, he also glorified.’ Romans 8:28-30 Jesus’ resurrection opened the way for his followers to be adopted children of God. Jesus’ resurrection heralds the future resurrection of all who have believed in him. ‘But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits, then when he comes, those who belong to him. 1 Corinthians 15:20-23 Christ’s resurrection demonstrates his supremacy over the church and all things. ‘He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have supremacy. Colossians 1:17-18 Have you taken time to reflect on the breadth of consequences the resurrection of Jesus has for you personally and the whole of humanity?