RPM, Volume 20, Number 28, July 8 to July 14, 2018

Blessed Are Those Who Believe

Matthew 27:62—28:9,18-20

By Bryn MacPhail

Jesus told them so. Jesus told them so. Jesus, on a few occasions, predicted that He would rise from the dead (Mt.16:21; 17:23; 20:19). The disciples should have been waiting for this, but it seems that only the enemies of Jesus had this "Resurrection" talk on their minds.

The chief priests and the Pharisees, met with, and were petitioning Pilate to give "orders for the grave to be made secure . . . lest the disciples come and steal Him away and say to the people, '(Jesus) has risen from the dead'"(27:64).

Pilate then commissioned guards to secure the grave with a large stone and a seal, and to keep watch over it(27:65, 66). Interestingly enough, the disciples never visited the tomb. Perhaps they were too ashamed after deserting Jesus(26:56). Or maybe they were just too afraid to venture into public view(Jn.20:19).

So, it was not any of the 11 disciples that came to the tomb Sunday morning, but it was Mary Magdalene and some other women who came to visit Jesus' grave(28:1; Lk.24:10).

When the women arrived at the grave, however, the massive stone had already been rolled away. Verses 2 to 4 of Matthew 28 tell us how this occurred. There was a "severe earthquake" and "an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and rolled away the stone"(28:2).

The response of the guards is not surprising--they literally "shook" from fear--they saw the angel and "became like dead men"(28:4). And since the guards are not mentioned when the women arrive, it is safe to assume that they, shortly after seeing the angel, fled the scene--they had run to the authorities to report the disturbance(28:11).

What we have left then, is the "angel of the Lord" sitting on the stone ready to tell the women about the greatest miracle in the history of the world. "Do not be afraid", the angel tells them, "I know you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said"(28:5, 6).

Jesus had told them so . . . and now the angel instructed the women to go and tell the disciples exactly that--that "(Jesus) had risen from the dead"(28:7). What was the response of the women? They ran. They ran from the tomb "with fear and great joy"(28:8).

Yet while the women are running, the guards are rehearsing their alibi--their cover-up scheme, which will land them a large sum of silver(28:12).

Like most things in Jesus' life, His Resurrection drew forth two contrasting responses. Those who believed, had their actions transformed. But those who refused to believe, found ways to ignore the evidence which was right before their eyes.

Today, in 1998, there are many who discount the Resurrection of Jesus. The skeptics generally fall into two categories: The first category of skeptics are those who tend to think of the disciples as a bunch of gullible followers --a group that was easily swayed by rumours. The second category of skeptics portray the disciples as shrewd conspirators --conspirators that contrived this Resurrection plot to attract support for their movement.

Now there are grave difficulties with both these portrayals of the disciples. The primary difficulty is that the Bible presents a radically different picture of the disciples. The Bible portrays the disciples, not as gullible followers, but as the most skeptical of the rumours about a risen Jesus.

The Gospel of Luke records that when Mary Magdalene and the other women reported to the disciples what the angel had said to them--that Jesus was not in the tomb--the disciples regarded her words "as nonsense, and they would not believe them"(Lk.24:11).

Peter and John, however, had their curiosity triggered enough that they immediately ran to the tomb(Jn.20:3, 4). Luke tells us, in his gospel, how Peter "marveled" when he saw the empty tomb(Lk.24:12). But John is careful to note, in his gospel, that the two disciples did not yet fully understand that Jesus had risen--only that Jesus was not in the tomb(Jn.20:8, 9).

With Mary Magdalene remaining at the tomb, after Peter and John had left, Jesus appears first to her(Jn.20:14). When Mary realizes that Jesus is alive, she runs again to report all this to the disciples(Jn.20:18).

The first time Mary told the disciples about the words of the angel, they disregarded her as nonsensical, but this time she had actually SEEN Jesus. Surely, they would believe her now . . . but they didn't, "they refused to believe it", Mark writes in his gospel(Mk.16:11).

Far from contriving a plot to promote their movement, the disciples of Jesus were the most stubborn in believing that Jesus had risen. Mary Magdalene had tried twice to convince them, but they still wouldn't buy it.

Later that Sunday night, John's gospel tells us that some of the disciples huddled together in a room and locked the door(Jn.20:19). Finally, Jesus appears to them and the disciples recognize that He has indeed risen from the dead(Jn.20:19, 20).

But notice that it took a personal, in the flesh, appearance before any of the disciples believed that Jesus had risen from the dead. They wouldn't take Mary's word for it. Not even the empty tomb was enough. They had to see Jesus for themselves.

And we all know the story of "doubting Thomas"--he wouldn't even take his fellow disciples' word for it! In the same way Mary's testimony wouldn't convince the disciples, Thomas insisted that he had to see "the imprint of the nails" and that he needed to "put (his) hand into (Jesus') side" before he would believe(Jn.20:25).

What is amazing in all of this is that Jesus painstakingly condescends to meet their level of skepticism. For even the doubtful Thomas gets an invitation to touch Jesus' scars with his fingers(Jn.20:27). And what is Thomas' response? . . . "My Lord, and my God!"(Jn.20:28).

Mary Magdalene had encountered the risen Jesus. The eleven disciples all got to see the risen Jesus. And many others, we are told, saw the Resurrected Jesus. To them, Jesus said, "Because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed"(Jn.20:29).

The disciples did not invent the idea of Jesus' Resurrection--for a time, they rejected it. But they saw Jesus and they believed.

Perhaps you were once a skeptic. Maybe there was a time when you doubted that Jesus actually rose from the dead in bodily form. Perhaps you still have doubts. The trouble is, we will not get the same evidence that the disciples got. That is why Jesus said, "Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed"(Jn.20:29). There remains for us, however, an expectation to believe in the risen Jesus--even without the physical evidence.

The disciples would not take Mary's word for it. Thomas would not take the disciples' word for it. But we MUST take their word for it.To be fair, we have much more than the words of a small clan of disciples--we have their legacy. We can examine how their faith and their lives changed radically after the Easter event. After seeing and believing in the risen Jesus, the disciples were never the same.

We all know the famous commissioning from the risen Jesus, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you"(Mt.28:19, 20).

That statement is so familiar to us that it often sounds ordinary. But remember their skepticism. Remember how, for a week, the disciples huddled together in locked rooms. They were frightened for their lives. But Easter changed that.

Seeing and believing in the risen Jesus gave them courage. They left the comfort of their locked rooms and they literally went to all the nations proclaiming the death and Resurrection of Christ. They proclaimed Christ with such vigour and conviction that nearly all of them were executed for it.

After the Easter event, they could not keep still. They could not keep quiet. They believed sharing the gospel was more important than life itself.

Now what about us? Which disciples do we resemble? Do we resemble the disciples that doubted Jesus' Resurrection? Or do we resemble the disciples who believed, as fact, that Jesus had risen from the dead?

Do we resemble the ones that doubted and locked themselves in their rooms? Or do we resemble the ones that believed and shared the blessed gospel with everyone they encountered?

This church can be our "locked room" or it can be our training ground for discipleship. The choice is ours.

Surely Easter is more than simply an archaic religious tradition. Surely there is more to Easter than a nice dinner with family . . . surely EASTER IS MEANT TO TRANSFORM US. . . Blessed are those who believe in the risen Christ. Amen.

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