I have heard stories of people attempting to get through in the rainy season. They have come to flood waters and have turned back to find that another stream has risen and blocked the way back!
Some things that happen to us in life change us permanently in a major way - there is no way back. There are those who say that history repeats itself. But there are some things that have happened in history that have changed human life in a major way - there is no way back! Such in recent times was the dropping of atom bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. But such, supremely, has been the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
We look at the Easter events with the knowledge of hindsight. No matter how we try to put ourselves in the situation of the distraught disciples, we know that the resurrection is up ahead.
Marilyn Haverkate expressed it in this poem:
Mary's crying her eyes out
'cause her baby Jesus is dead.
The disciples are running in every direction
like sheep without a shepherd.
Pilate's strutting around, washing his hands
'cause he thinks he's got
all the power and the victory.
People are saying, "As things have been,
so shall they always be.
You can't change anything in this world."
The temple veil ripped from top to bottom -
the earth shook -
the rocks split and tombs opened.
The centurion screamed in fear,
"Truly he was the Son of God!"
The angel, like dazzling lightning,
rolled the stone away, exclaiming,
"He is not here! He is risen!"
I rather like that. Our whole view of the events of Good Friday is coloured by the knowledge that "Sunday's coming". The resurrection has changed for ever our understanding of the crucifixion of Jesus and our view of human history.
As we read the story in John 20, it seems as if the stage is hardly set for belief that Jesus Christ is risen. There are those who have suggested to us that the disciples were so shocked with the death of Jesus that they longed so much and believed so hard that their fertile imaginations managed to come up with the conviction that Jesus was alive. But that's not the way I read the story. Total unbelief. Unpreparedness for the great news they were soon to learn.
Mary Magdalene - "They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him!" (v. 2)
So Peter and "the other disciple, the one Jesus loved", wondering what on earth had happened, raced off down to the tomb. The other disciple was apparently the better runner of the two and got there first. He bent over and saw the strips of linen, but didn't go in. Peter had no such hesitation. When he came up he went straight in and saw the strips of linen lying there and the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. It rather struck him that "the cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen" (v. 7b).
Then the other disciple also went in and "he saw and believed" (v. 8). This other disciple was John who was writing this Gospel record. He tells the story quite plainly, declaring about himself that "he saw and believed". But what did he believe? He acknowledges that "they did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead" (v. 9). At this point he believed what Mary had said - that the body of Jesus was missing, apparently because someone had stolen it. The thought that Jesus might have risen from death wasn't further from his mind.
It is significant for us that the story of that Easter Day begins with this kind of unbelief. In the Four Gospels, the disciples are presented, not as credulous people who were prepared to believe anything, but as those who at first didn't believe. This gospel accounts have all the appearance of the confessions of people who didn't believe.
But the story continues. Mary was there, filled with grief. Jesus had shown compassion on her when the rest of society had rejected her. She had been an immoral woman. Why, people even said she had seven devils because she was so wicked. But Jesus had brought the forgiveness and peace of God into her soul. Now Jesus was dead and even his body was gone. His friends who wanted express their love and affectionate remembrance couldn't do a thing.
"Woman, why are you crying?" "They have taken my Lord away, and I don't know where they have put him!" (v. 13) Then she turned round and saw Jesus. She didn't know it was Jesus. Her eyes were too filled with tears, and she wasn't expecting to see Jesus. "Woman, why are you crying? Who is it that you are looking for?" She thought he was the gardener. "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him." (v. 15). "Mary!" "Rabboni!" (v. 16)
It was Jesus! No one else could speak like that. "Do not hold on to me", Jesus said, "for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God" (v. 17).
For Mary - and for the other disciples as they realised what had happened - life could begin to make sense again. "I have seen the Lord!" Despair and unbelief was replaced by faith that Jesus Christ is risen.
In his book World Aflame, Billy Graham tells the story about Auguste Comte, the French philosopher, and Thomas Carlyle, the Scottish essayist. Comte said he was going to start a new religion that would supplant the religion of Christ. It was to have no mysteries and was to be as plain as the multiplication table; its name was to be positivism. "Very good, Mr. Comte," Carlyle replied, "very good. All you will need to do will be to speak as never a man spake, and live as never a man lived, and be crucified, and rise again the third day, and get the world to believe that you are still alive. Then your religion will have a chance to get on."
Jesus is risen! Hallelujah! Put your trust in him now! Live for him now!
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