Acts 10:34-43 Corinthians 15:19-26 St John 20:1-30
The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the central truth of the Christian faith. It is also the most offensive element of the Christian faith for those who are not Christian. Many think that Jesus was a good man and taught some important ethical maxims which are as relevant today as they were there and then. But stumble at the thought that this good man who was crucified for his teaching was revealed in His resurrection as the Son, the only Son, of the eternal God through whom the world came to be. Who, post the resurrection, is given the title Lord, (which is the NT Greek translation of the Old Testament name for God. ( יהוה Translated as Yahweh but written as an unpronounceable word by the human larynx in Hebrew to safeguard God’s holiness from defilement.) The early Christians addressed this man in prayer as Lord
During the 40 days after His resurrection the disciples came to see that He had always been with them as the Lord God, but in a form that was veiled for them. During the 40 days the presence of God in and with this man Jesus was no longer a paradox to them; He was no longer the hidden God but the revealed God. They see, as St Paul declares, ‘God was in Christ’. (2 Cor 5:19) He had been veiled as he had moved among His disciples, but now he was unmistakably revealed to be who He was and is, the only begotten Son of the Father. Their doubts and unbelief were dispelled, never to return.
For the disciples this was not a discovery of their own, the resurrection for them was not a self-evident truth. It was a conviction that went entirely against their previous beliefs. This is made abundantly evident in the resurrection narratives that they have given to us. The resurrected Jesus not only speaks with binding authority and effectiveness, but with truth and power. Such that his speech was able to overcome, the fears the grief, the bewilderment and doubts, the unbelief of the disciples. They came to see and believe that the resurrection was not a resuscitation of a human miracle worker but such an act whose only parallel for them was the creation of the world. It was a creation out of nothing, the dead body of the man Jesus who as the veiled Son of God had died with the desperate cry of dereliction upon His lips ‘My God, My God, how have you forsaken Me?’ (Matthew 27:46) In this form He wills to be the representative sinner for all sinners since the creation of Adam. So much so that St Paul unhesitatingly declares in (1 Cor 15:17) that if this dead Son of God is not raised from the dead the Christian faith as a word of astounding novelty is futile, is in fact a lie. It has nothing to say to the world caught up in the deadly web of its own deceit and estrangement from God. If there is no resurrection you are still in your sins, Paul says, and of all people Christians are the most miserable and of all people most to be pitied. (vs. 17-19)
One of the striking things about the New Testament’s account of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is that its writers reflect their difficulty in coming to terms with it. None of them attempt to give a coherent account of it. They do not in any way attempt to say what the resurrection as an event is. They tell us of the signs associated with it, such as the empty tomb, but remain silent as to the nature of the resurrection as such. Their historical narratives as we have them in the New Testament cannot be reconciled as to their chronology or geography; and no one thought it appropriate or necessary in the early church to reconcile these differences, to cover up these discrepancies. In this manner they simply point in their own way to their own incomprehension about the event to which they bear testimony
The gospel (St John 20) speaks of Mary and Thomas in relation to the appearance to the disciples of the risen Lord. The doubt of Thomas with which his name has become associated, doubting Thomas; his doubt is no wit different from all the other disciples in relation to Jesus’ resurrection. As was Mary’s confusion about the stranger who greeted her on the first resurrection day. As was Jesus’ direction to her not to touch me.
All the accounts of Jesus post resurrection appearances demonstrate the fact that Jesus created the disciples’ faith. We can speak of the disciples’ faith in the risen Lord only in the sense in which their unbelief is overcome by the action of Jesus. So, St. Thomas’ doubt and his subsequent faith is not a unique experience in respect of the other apostles. The circumstances in which Jesus creates Thomas’ faith are his, but he is no different to all the other disciples as the risen Jesus overcomes their doubt by His own action. Jesus’ resurrection far from being a belief created by the disciples’ ability to believe the unbelievable, it is in itself the foundation of their faith.
Jesus says they are blessed who unlike Thomas ‘have not seen and yet believe.’ The blessedness of which Jesus speaks is the fact that all those, apart from the apostles, who are not witnesses of the resurrection have no possibility of touching or handling Jesus the resurrected One, as they did. The blessedness of which Jesus speaks is that all others, this includes us of course, who apart from the apostles, have only the Apostolic word of testimony and the promised Holy Spirit as the basis of their faith, their union with Jesus.
Unlike Thomas and the other disciples including Mary of Magdala, these others of whom Jesus speaks do not face the temptation to which they all were subject. This is the temptation they all wanted to know: how the truth of their faith in Jesus as the risen Lord could be established for them by something other than Jesus own word of promise. Their request to touch the resurrected Jesus indicates their desire to settle the truth of their belief in Jesus Lordship by their ability to trust their physical sense of touch.
Mary Magdalene, whom Jesus met in the garden near the tomb wanted to touch Jesus. He refused to let her touch or hold Him, refused to have a direct relationship with Him, this meeting also speaks to us of the same question, faced by Thomas on that evening in Jerusalem so long ago when, on that first Easter Day, where the disciples gathered behind closed doors for fear of the Jews. The temptation of both Thomas and Mary consisted in their wanting to know that the truth of their faith in Jesus as the risen Lord could be established for them by something other than Jesus own word of promise. They wanted to see Jesus as some sort of object that could be grasped, touched like any object in this world, and so find a basis of their faith apart from Jesus’ word about who He is. They wanted their belief in Jesus to be verified or confirmed by their touch.
The apostles, and Thomas and Mary in particular, show how they were caught in the natural dilemma of wanting to seek a foundation for their faith in something other than Jesus’ word of promise to them concerning Himself.
They sought the veracity of their belief in the truth of their experience, a belief in their belief ; and in this way give their faith a basis of certainty in themselves. Thomas and Mary in their own way are the examples of an affliction that affected all the disciples, as they became witnesses of the resurrection.
We, on the other hand, hear a word of promise that comes to us from the apostolic witness of the scriptures. This word invites us to place our confidence in the One to whom they testify as the Lord of life. We are invited to obey the promise of this One whose word bears witness to Himself, that He is the risen victor of Gethsemane and Golgotha. This word of promise invites us to believe that Jesus is who He is for us; and that this is the only basis for understanding the truth of our faith. The certainty of our faith lays precisely in the uncertainty that we have in our selves. Certainty consists in the veracity of the word of promise that we hear from the One speaks it to us, as it is given to us in the scriptures. He it is who alone creates for us the basis and certainty of faith. Unlike St. Thomas or Mary of Magdala we have no possibility of establishing our faith by believing in the veracity of our senses by touching Jesus and thus, like Thomas and Mary, attempt to find an independent point of reference for the truth of Jesus word.
It is for this reason that Jesus calls those who have not seen or touched him blessed. ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe’ (John 20:29); we unlike Thomas or Mary are given the freedom to obey the Word of Jesus as the sole basis of faith. In this word and nothing else we find the truth of our life. This truth is no abstract proposition, but the truth of our life before God and each other, as grounded in Him who was raised by God for our sake. This means we recognise the truth of our life before God and each other is established not by us but for us.
I believe that by my own reason or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and preserves it in union with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. (Luther M The Small Catechism.)
It is this mystery of grace that we celebrate today by the means Jesus has given to us. His very body and blood which, given and received, makes us to be what we are not naturally, beloved children of the Father for the sake of His crucified and risen Son.
Dr. Pastor Gordon Watson.