Why didn’t they believe?

What would it have been like to be the first to discover that Jesus’ tomb was empty? With all that Jesus had said about his rising on the third day, you might think that the apostles excitedly camped out the night before at the tomb awaiting Jesus’ resurrection. But that was not what happened!.

It was a group of women who discovered that the tomb was empty early that Sunday morning. They went to tell the apostles and all his followers that he was no longer in the tomb. “But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:11 ESV).

Although it would be easy to criticize them, the apostles’ reaction was quite normal, even if we had been there. If we knew that Jesus had been publicly executed and we knew where he was buried, we would not be easy to convince that he was alive again.

John related this event in his gospel from Mary Magdalene’s perspective. After finding the tomb empty, she went to find Peter and John. They ran to see for themselves. And the tomb was empty! But what they saw convinced them that he was alive.

“He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself” (John 20:6-7). The cloth that had covered his face was folded up, but the rest were still in place, as if Jesus had passed through the linen cloths! “Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead” (John 20:8–9).

It was later that day that Jesus appeared in a closed and locked room to the disciples who had gathered there to discuss the ‘sightings’ that day of Jesus (see Luke 24:33-36). “Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord” (John 20:19-20).

But one apostle was missing. When Thomas was told by the others that they had seen Jesus, he replied: “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (John 20:25).

We often call him “doubting Thomas” – but was he more doubting than the other apostles who also did not believe it when they were told?

A week later Jesus appeared again to all the apostles, and this time Thomas was there. After being shown the same evidence the others had seen his reply was, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). Jesus responded, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

The apostles needed evidence that Jesus had returned from the dead. We don’t have that privilege today. He won’t appear to us and show us his hands and side. But we have the testimony of those who saw him.

Peter later wrote, “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9).

May we have the faith that these early Christians had and not only believe in Jesus but have an inexpressible joy as we live for him.

Readings for next week:
18 December – John 17
19 December – John 18
20 December – John 19
21 December – John 20
22 December – John 21

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