John 20:3-29, 1 Peter 1:8-12
When my grandfather passed away shortly before my ninth birthday I knew, even at that young age, I would not see him again. I knew what death meant, that when someone dies we don’t see them again in this life. I was certain that my grandpa would never take me for another tractor ride or teach me to ride a horse or catch a catfish again. He was gone from my life.
Put yourself in the place of the disciples after Jesus was crucified. The one they had placed their hopes in was dead. Now imagine that a friend, Mary Magdalene, appears and says that the tomb is empty and they’ve taken Jesus away. If you’re like me, your first thought probably wouldn’t be, He’s alive! It would most likely be, Who took Him? What have they done with Him? Where is He?
This is how we find Peter and John, with Mary, as they race to Jesus’s gravesite. They arrive to witness an empty tomb and folded burial cloths. Peter was slow to recognize what this meant, but John believed and recalled Jesus’s words that He must die and be raised from the dead (Luke 9:22–24).
Mary could not reconcile what she saw—an empty tomb—with what she knew of death. So as odd as it seems, of course she did not recognize Jesus when He approached her. Of course she pleaded with this seeming stranger to show where the body was. There was no way a dead man could be speaking with her. It was only when Jesus said her name that she knew Him. (And isn’t that how Jesus calls us out of darkness, too—gently and by name?)
At Jesus’s prompting, Mary returned to the rest of the disciples and announced “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18). Paired with what John and Peter had told them, belief began to take root; their Lord who was dead was… alive. Everyone believed, except Thomas. He could not see how death could be temporary. He could not reconcile the sight of Jesus’s body, cold and lifeless and laid in a tomb, with the idea of Him being very much alive again. And so Thomas insisted (in great agony of soul, I am sure) that he must see for himself the nail-scarred hands and spear-torn side of Jesus in order to believe.
In His kindness, Jesus gave Thomas what he needed. He appeared to the disciples and showed His pierced hands to Thomas, inviting him to place a hand on His scars. But Jesus made a point to bless all those who believed without seeing. Years later Peter would hearken back to this in his first epistle: “Though you have not seen him, you love him; though not seeing him now, you believe in him, and you rejoice with inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8).
This is us, anyone who follows Jesus today. We do not need to see His nail-scarred hands to know they were nailed to a cross for our sins. By faith, we rest in the work of Jesus on the cross and believe the promises He’s made to us through Scripture.
Written by Barnabas Piper