Article of the week: Seeing and believing
3 April 2021
Major Jim Bryden reflects on the experiences of those who discovered the empty tomb
A SPACIOUS garden and a safe house were settings for Jesus’ resurrection appearances. The Gospels record that he appeared only to the disciples.
First to see him was Mary Magdalene, whom Jesus had cured of demon possession. She had accompanied Jesus and the disciples during his ministry and was present at his crucifixion. The other disciples, including John, Peter and Thomas, encountered Jesus ‘behind locked doors, because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities’ (John 20:19 Good News Bible).
In the dark, Mary, distressed by Jesus’ crucifixion, made her way to the tomb where his body had been laid. To her horror she found it empty. She ran for Peter and John, saying: ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!’ (v2).
Peter and John raced to the scene. They found the folded grave clothes as if the body of Jesus had simply evaporated. John, the disciple who had been so close to Jesus, rejected any notion that the body had been stolen. Instead, although he had not seen it happen, he believed that God had raised Jesus to life.
John is recorded as the first of those who ‘saw and believed’ (v8), even though he hadn’t yet seen Jesus in his resurrected form. RVG Tasker writes: ‘Without having any encounter with the risen Lord, he believed that the Lord’s body had not been removed by human hands, but raised by divine intervention.’ It is right to say that John was the first of millions ever since of whom Jesus says, ‘Blessed are those who believe without seeing me’ (v29 New Living Translation).
Alone by the tomb, Mary cried inconsolably. ‘Woman, why are you crying?’ asked two angels (v13). She then heard the same question asked by another voice. She had no idea it was Jesus speaking, believing him to be the gardener. Tears may have blurred her vision or perhaps she was facing the empty tomb and Jesus was standing behind her, because moments later ‘she turned towards him’ (v16). Either way, when she heard her name spoken, she knew it was the Lord.
Can you imagine her joy? Jesus, crucified and dead, was now alive and standing in front of her! He told her that she should go and tell the others. What news Mary brought to the disciples that day: ‘I have seen the Lord!’ (v18).
Centuries later, we see Christ through eyes of faith. The Holy Spirit makes him known to us. We experience him within our lives in a way that was impossible when he walked the Earth. ‘We know these things are true by believing, not by seeing’ (2 Corinthians 5:7 The Living Bible). May our response always be to go and tell others of our walk with Jesus.
I invite you to unpack the truths of seeing Christ further by reflecting on the following questions:
Many people approach life with the old adage ‘seeing is believing’. As a Christian, what advice would you offer that would help such people to believe in the risen Christ?
In John 20, as in many other parts of the Bible, angels appear as messengers with a special task to carry out. Why do you think angels appeared to Mary? What do they mean to you?
Mary Magdalene plays a pivotal role among the disciples because of her encounter with the risen Saviour. In your own words, write a simple account of this and apply it to today’s world.
MAJOR BRYDEN LIVES IN RETIREMENT IN BELLSHILL