Following the crucifixion of Jesus, after His body had been prepared for burial and was sealed in a borrowed tomb (borrowed from a wealthy and secret disciple, “borrowed” for it was only going to be used for three days), His disciples were together once again in the same upper room where they had met with the Master for the Passover. They were in great distress. They had believed Jesus was the Messiah, the one who would redeem Israel, restoring the nation to its former glory, but now he was “dead and buried.” All their hopes had been buried with Him! What would they do now? Would they go back home? Would they return to their former jobs? Peter and Andrew, James and John, were probably thinking they would go back to Galilee, back to their boats, back to mending their nets, back to the business of just fishing for fish (Jesus had called them to be “fishers of men”). But for now, they had locked themselves in behind closed doors for fear of the authorities. They too could be arrested and even executed for being followers of Jesus.
Then, they were suddenly startled, someone was knocking at the door! It was very early on Sunday morning. Who could it be at such an early hour? Whoever it was, they were knocking with authority, as if they had the right to enter. When one of the disciples finally opened the door, with fear and trembling, everyone was greatly relieved to see that it was two of their own, the “two Marys.” The women were so excited and so breathless that they could hardly speak! They had been running. They announced that they had been to the garden to visit the tomb, and were greatly alarmed when they saw that the stone with which the tomb of Jesus was sealed had been rolled away, and the tomb was empty! The body of Jesus was gone! Then suddenly an angel appeared to them, and they were so afraid. The angel told them, “He is not here! He is risen! Go tell His disciples that He is going before them to Galilee. He will meet them there.”
Luke, the faithful historian of the Early Church, gives us this footnote in His gospel account of this incident: “These words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:12). Does that surprise you? How do you think you would have reacted if you had been there when the women burst into the room with such an incredible announcement? I wonder if I would have taken them seriously. The Apostle John tells us in the fourth gospel what he did – in fact, what he and Peter did – they “ran to the tomb” and found it just as the women had told them. Yes, the stone had been rolled away. The Roman soldiers who had been assigned to guard the tomb were no longer there. No one was there, and when they entered the tomb they saw that the grave-clothes were still there, in the very same place where the body had been prepared for burial. John tells us that it was when they saw the grave-clothes undisturbed, and the napkin that had been around His head, not on the floor of the tomb, but rolled up in its place by itself, that is when they believed!
It was as if the body of Jesus had simply dematerialized, leaving the grave-clothes collapsed, and the spices that had been placed in the folds of the grave-clothes still in their place – not spilled on the floor of the tomb, as they would have been if the body had been hastily unwrapped and taken by grave robbers (which is the rumor that was circulated later to discredit the claim that Jesus had been raised from the dead, a suggestion that was fabricated by the authorities to refute the resurrection story, claiming that his own disciples had obviously gone to the garden, rolled the stone away from the entrance to the tomb, and removed the body of Jesus). Does any of that make sense to you? Don’t forget that Pilate had ordered that the tomb be sealed with the seal of Rome so no one would dare trifle with the tomb. Furthermore, he had commanded that Roman soldiers be assigned to guard the tomb day and night. So how could anyone have possibly succeeded in carrying out such a plot? Do you believe anyone would have had the courage to even attempt it? And what about those soldiers who had been stationed there to keep that very thing from happening? What became of them? Is it not more likely that they fled when that stone was mysteriously rolled away by strong invisible forces that swept through the garden?
The stone was rolled away not to let Jesus out, but to let the women and the disciples in! If you have trouble believing this, do you really think it is more reasonable to believe the apostles, who proclaimed the message of the resurrection – especially the “eyewitnesses” who had actually seen Jesus alive more than once in His resurrection appearances – would have been willing to die a martyr’s death for a lie, for such a fantastic and fictitious story they themselves had concocted? Don’t forget the fact that they were the first ones who doubted the report initially, who considered the testimony of the women “an idle tale, and did not believe them.” It was in the evening of that same day, the Day of Resurrection, that the disciples were together again in the upper room. That morning Thomas, one of the original twelve, had not been with them. When the other disciples told him they had seen Jesus alive, that He had actually appeared to them, “…he did not believe them” (John 20:25). That is why he has been called “Doubting Thomas.” He told the other disciples, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his riven side, I will not believe.”
It was eight days later when all of them were together once again, sharing the experience and making their plans to go back to Galilee, where their resurrected Lord had promised to meet them, and this time Thomas was with them (vs. 26). Jesus appeared once more in the power of His resurrection. John says, “He came and stood among us, and said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing” (vs. 27). Thomas fell to his knees, saying “My Lord and my God!” (vs. 28). Jesus asked him, (vs. 29), “Do you believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe.” It is the author of the Letter to the Hebrews who tells us that faith does not need “evidence.” Faith is the evidence! Critics and skeptics speak of “blind faith,” but true faith is not blind – it is not the closing of eyes to reality, but rather the opening of the eyes to ultimate reality. Faith does not see less. Faith sees more. “Faith is the evidence of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”(Hebrews 11:1).
Thomas had faith in the Jesus he had seen, the Jesus he had known; he was questioning the Jesus he had not known, the one the other disciples were talking about, for he had not shared that experience. He had seen the crucifixion. He knew Jesus had been buried in a garden tomb, but he was not with the other disciples when the resurrected Lord appeared to them, and when they reported that the same Jesus they had known had actually reappeared to them in his resurrected body. It was their testimony that he was doubting. When they said the mysterious person who had appeared to them in the upper room was the same Jesus they had spent three years with, the same Jesus who was “crucified, dead, and buried,” Thomas said he would not believe it unless he saw for himself the nail holes in his hands and could actually put his hand into the wound where a spear had pierced his body on the cross to hasten his death.
Have you ever felt that way? Have you wished you could see for yourself? If we truly believe that the Jesus we meet in the gospels is truly the real Jesus, “fully God” as well as “fully man,” why is it so hard for us to believe that death could not hold him? Why is it so difficult for us to believe that the same Jesus was raised physically from the dead, and then make himself known to his disciples in his resurrection appearances? Do we really believe that nothing is impossible for God? Do we only have limited faith in a limited God, or do we have unlimited faith in an unlimited God, a God for whom there are no impossibilities at all?
This is still the most important theological question for anyone who is seeking to discover the truth about Jesus Christ: Do you believe that the Jesus of the gospels is the real Jesus and that he and the risen Christ of the Easter story are one, the very same person? Although you have not seen Him do you believe this? The world says, “Seeing is believing.” The New Testament says, “Believing is seeing.” In his first letter to the young Church, the Apostle Peter was writing to believers who were being terribly persecuted for their faith, believers who had not seen the historical Jesus, and yet they believed. Is this your own testimony? Can the same be said of you? If not, why not? Why is it so hard for us to believe beyond what we have seen?
Is it because we believe that only the material and physical world is real? Is it because we refuse to believe in the reality of anything beyond this world? Can we not accept the possibility that this world is not actually the real world at all, for everything in this material world is temporary, nothing here is permanent; everything we can see will pass away? Why can we not believe that the real world is the spirit world, and that we are “…surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses” in that world (Hebrews 12:1) who have preceded us in death, and who want us to know that there are “many dwelling places” in our heavenly Father’s house (John 14:1) – that the earth is only “one room” in a vast creation where there are “many rooms” with a dwelling place for all believers, just as Jesus has promised: “I go to prepare a place for you” (i.e. a place of permanent fellowship with Him)?
Once again, why is it so hard for us to believe beyond what we can see? Is it because our faith is under attack, that the enemy of our soul is always trying to convince all believers that “seeing is believing”? Perhaps all of these reasons are a part of the answer to this question, but the most obvious is the latter: DOUBT IS NOT THE ABSENCE OF FAITH, BUT RATHER AN ATTACK ON FAITH. It is so important to understand that we have an enemy who is real, and who has great power. No, the devil is not omnipotent. Only God is “all-powerful.” Nevertheless, Satan is a powerful foe, and doubts are among his most effective weapons against those who do believe. Do you realize that believers are the only ones who have doubts? Unbelievers do not have doubts; no, they simply do not believe. They have hardened their hearts and refuse to believe in spite of the evidence. Doubts are not the same as unbelief. Doubt is not the absence of faith. In fact, doubts prove you have faith, for doubts are an attack on faith. If you didn’t have faith, you wouldn’t have doubts.
It is because our faith is under attack, because we are involved in a mighty spiritual conflict, that the Apostle Paul admonishes believers to “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). This is why the Apostle Peter uses such strong language when he too encourages believers to “Resist the devil…keep alert…humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God…for your adversary the devil goes around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour” (i.e. looking for believers to deceive, to discourage, to“devour”, i.e. to destroy – 1 Peter 5:6-9). So, my brothers and sisters in Christ, resist the devil! Do not allow him to burden you with haunting guilt trips because you have succumbed to his attacks. You should not feel guilty because you have doubts, and therefore begin to question your faith. No, rebuke Satan, renounce all demonic powers, all “the wiles of the devil,” “…be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might…Pray in the Spirit at all times…always persevere in supplication for all the saints (i.e. for all believers – Ephesians 6:10,18) – “Discipline yourselves, keep alert…remain steadfast in your faith…and the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 5:8-10).