Seeing is Believing, and Believing is Seeing
A Sermon for Resurrection Sunday, April 4, 2021
John 20:1-10 & 19-29
At Veterans Memorial Chapel
By Ch Jim Odell
This is a synopsis, or quick review, of the Resurrection Sunday sermon for April 4, 2021. I am only hitting the highlights of the message, not reproducing the entire sermon.
The original Resurrection Sunday started early for Mary Magdalene and some of the other women followers of Jesus. While Jesus had repeatedly spoken about His death and resurrection, His disciples, both male and female, seem to be more willing to hear and remember the lessons about the coming kingdom, not the “way of the cross.” Now let’s not be too hard on the ancient disciples. We modern disciples also seem to think more about God’s promised blessings, than of times of trials and testings. And like them, we get disillusioned when God does not live up to what we expect Him to do.
So early on Sunday, the day after the Sabbath, Mary Magdalene, and some other women disciples, to include Mary, Jesus’ mother, set out with spices to anoint Jesus’ body for burial. The hasty burial at sundown before Sabbath, had not given them ample time to properly prepare the body. So now with Sabbath past, they could do the job right. They loved Jesus, and very likely wondered about why He had died, and not instead established His kingdom.
As they approached the tomb just at sunrise, they found the stone rolled away and the body missing. Angels told the story that He had risen from the dead. But in astonishment, and not seeing Jesus, they had problems believing the message. Mary Magdalene, in particular, ran to the upper room to tell the eleven disciples. Most of which were skeptical of the women’s wild story. But Peter and John, immediately took off on a footrace to the tomb to check out the story. Now John, being a bit younger, outran Peter and arrived at the tomb first. He waited outside and peered into the tomb. Impetuous Peter, did not stop running till he was inside the tomb. The evidence was there. The grave wrappings, both the body and the head wraps, were all folded neatly, as though around the body, but no body was there. John admits, he “saw and believed,” but “did not understand.” (20:8-9).
Mary Magdalene, following the two back to the tomb, stood outside as Peter and John headed back to the upper room. As her tears clouded her vision, she heard the words of the angel in disbelief (20:12). Turning about, she saw someone. This early in the morning it could only be a gardener. “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where and I will take care of him.” (paraphrase 10:15). But the gardener was not a gardener!! He was Jesus. “Mary,” He replied. Mary Magdalene made the first “Jesus sighting” that day. She replied in astonishment and faith “Rabboni!” meaning “my Teacher!!”
The Gospels tell us that “Jesus sightings” kept coming into the upper room all day long. Yet there was still doubt. Are these being imagined by people in sorrow, grief, and disillusion, or are they for real. At supper time, the disciples and others are gathered in the Upper Room. The door is locked tight, for fear the authorities would finish their persecution of Jesus by coming after the disciples. Suddenly Jesus appeared in their midst. Some scholars think He just walked through the walls in some form of “new body osmosis.” Others think He materialized, much like we “more modern people” know as a “StarTrek” transporter. The bottom line was He appeared.
His first order of business was to convince His audience He was not a spirit or a ghost. “Reach out and touch me. See my hands, my feet, my side. Touch me.” Other Gospel narratives tell of Him requesting food and eating before them. He was not an idea, or a ghost, He was the same person who died, standing bodily before them. He was alive!!!
Now when He made His first bodily appearance to the disciples, as a whole, Thomas was not present. When He returned, the others began telling of another “Jesus sighting,” right there in the Upper Room. Thomas, having had enough of these stories all day long, replied, “Only if I see the nail marks in His hands, and put my fingers in them, and my hand in His side, will I believe” (paraphrase 20:25). A week later, Jesus once again entered the locked Upper Room. Looking at Thomas, He invited Thomas to touch Him and see that He is real and really alive. Thomas replies, “My Lord and My God!!!”
Jesus’ reply is most interesting. “Blessed are you because you have seen, and thus believed. More blessed are those who believe and are unable to see” (my paraphrase of 20:29).
This is the last discourse of Jesus, besides the one in Chapter 21, often considered an appendix to the Gospel. Once again the message is the same, “Believe in Me.” Believe because you can see, believe even when you can’t see. It is interesting that John begins his Gospel with the lovely prologue of “The Word was God, and believe in that Word” (1:1 & 12) and it concludes with “Doubting Thomas’ “ explanation, viewing the risen Lord, saying “My Lord and My God!!”
CH Jim Odell