‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 29. Amazing, Incredible, Unbelievable! – Sunday
Jn 20:1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.
Uncertainty??????????: If you are not expecting something… no, if you know something is impossible, then if you were trying to measure the ‘uncertainty factor’, on this day you would be right off the scale! At the risk of sounding tedious, but ever making this point about trying to get into the shoes of the disciples from this point of history, put aside (and I know it’s impossible but imagine it) the fact that you have read Matt 28, Mk 16, Lk 24 and Jn 20 before. If you were one of the disciples, you DIDN’T know any of this. You are just shut in behind closed doors, grieving, fearful and no doubt full of guilt. And one further thing that you have learnt through life – dead men stay dead! You might have seen the Master raising the occasional person from the dead, but that was him. He’s now dead, hung on a cross for hours, struggling to breath as he hung there until his body collapses, and some Roman sticks a spear in his side to make sure he was dead. No question about this; these guys are professional executioners and their lives depend on it – he’s dead!
Expectancy Levels: Somebody said to me the other day that ‘hope’ is a great word, but hope went out the door before sunset on Friday. When Jesus was put in a tomb and a mega-stone rolled over the entrance, what is the point of even thinking about rolling it back and taking the body out? Friday night they were all too devastated to even think about it – and what would you do with a dead body anyway? The Jewish authorities hadn’t given it any thought then; it was only the next day that they thought about putting a guard on. (Mt 27:62-66)
At the end of Friday as sunset came Luke notes, “It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin,” (Lk 23:54) then adding in respect of the women who had wanted to bring spices, “they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.” (Lk 23:56) No one has any expectations whatsoever now, of anything happening. But then early on Sunday morning there is a violent earthquake and the stone is rolled away (Mt 28:2), all this caused by an angel who scared the life out of the guards (Mt 28:2-4). The guards report all this to the authorities and are bribed to say the disciples stole the body (Mt 28:11-15). Confusion (and unbelief?) among the authorities. Uncertainty where Jesus’ body might now be.
Further Struggles to Believe: The two Mary’s who had gone to the tomb are spoken to by the angel and told that Jesus has risen (Mt 28:5-7). As they leave they meet Jesus (v.9,10). They dash back to the rest of the disciples and tell them, “But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.” (Lk 24:11). Nevertheless Peter and John go and see for themselves that the body had gone. (Lk 24:12). Later in the day two disciples, on the way to Emmaus encounter Jesus, although they initially don’t realise who it is, and return hastily to Jerusalem to tell the others (Lk 24:13-35). While they are telling them, Jesus appears with them.
Their responses to him are instructive: “They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost,” (Lk 24:37) and when he seeks to reassure them, “they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement.” (v.41) Their expectancy level, again and again, despite having been told of his resurrection by the women and then later by the two disciples returned from Emmaus, is zero. Don’t be hard on them, you and I would have been the same. Dead men stay dead – even if they have prophesied this. Some things are just too hard to believe.
There is some more to come but that is for another day. This day has ended, Jesus is back but we don’t know where he went after he had met them all. Uncertainty! It keeps on and there is more to come. The fact that he is back doesn’t make everything great, there are still some questions to be answered, some serious conversations to be had, and we must be patient.
Certainty: But there one certainty that is impossible to deny – unless you are of the closed mind type – that Jesus has risen from the dead. If you’ve never come across it before, the book, “Who Moved the Stone,” by lawyer, Frank Morison, is worth a read, a very thorough and detailed assessment of all that happened with the ultimate-certainty conclusion, He is risen! One of the most compelling reasons to believe, I find, is the fact that these scared-for-their-lives disciples within a very short period are utterly fearless in their testimony that he had risen and of the remaining eleven (Judas having committed suicide), ten of them died martyrs deaths, John being the only one who died of old age, but even that after having been persecuted and sent for a time to the prison island of Patmos.
Bad Explanations: Various people over the years have sought to deny the possibility of Christ rising from the dead. One favourite was that the Jesus on the cross was a stand-in. Who would do that and would the disciples give their lives for a lie? Another favourite is that it was Jesus but he never actually died. Read again what happened to him, the awful beatings he received before being taken out, the awfulness of the crucifixion process, the spear in the side, the certainty of the Roman executioners that he was dead, being left in a cold tomb for hours, and then you expect us to belief this wreck of a body is able to walk about without causing consternation in those who met him, that he walked miles in the heat to Emmaus – and back at high speed – and again appeared fine to his followers; who are you kidding? A fourth favourite was that his body was stolen by the disciples. If you believe that you haven’t been listening to the last few days, taking in this utterly dispirited bunch of disloyal, denying failures, who struggle to believe it when they meet him. These men don’t have the ability to pull off such a thing – and then live and die in the face of what they know to be a lie.
All of these lame explanations actually fall at the first hurdle, and that being the required unbelief that says the whole story is a fairy-tale, and made up, and such wilful unbelief can only be put forward when the intellect is put to sleep and somehow you believe that all these writers, all these witnesses, and all the millions whose lives have been transformed by this piece of history, were utterly conned. Why should such large numbers give their very lives for such a belief if it were not true.
And So? At the end of this day our response need to be that of believing-Thomas, “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:28) and if it takes a while, with him, to believe, that’s all right, we’ll see that next. Slow belief is better than no belief. For those who want to be secure with God, carefully read the records prayerfully, come to your own conclusions – and worship. Anything less than worship and you haven’t seen the truth. To conclude: “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. 3 With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” (Lk 1:1-4) Such clarity, such certainty. And, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make your joy complete.” (1 Jn 1:-4) In a world of uncertainty, let this clarity, this certainty, dispel your uncertainties and rejoice in it, so that on this day we can be confident with all uncertainties swept away in this final, glorious truth: He IS risen, He us still with us! Hallelujah!