Jesus said, “Because you have seen me, you have believed;
blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)
It was common practice for graduating seniors at my high school to put a favorite quote beneath their yearbook photo. Mine was, “For those who believe, no explanation is necessary. For those who do not believe, no explanation will suffice.”
That quote is attributed to Joseph Dunninger, an early 20th century mentalist who built a career around exposing fraudulent mediums and psychics. When I selected that quote, I was not thinking about fortune-tellers or Christians; I was thinking about the tension between my mother and me. Mom questioned every move I made, which was understandable (in retrospect) considering the fact that I was dating a college boy and working late at a restaurant two towns over. I didn’t always tell her where I was going, and sometimes I blatantly lied about my whereabouts. Even when I did tell the truth, she had her doubts.
Earlier this week, we celebrated Easter and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Depending on which gospel you read, the resurrected Christ was first seen by either Mary Magdalene or Peter. It doesn’t really matter who saw Jesus first. What does matter is how the people closest to him responded to the report. When they heard that Jesus was alive and that [Mary] had seen him, they did not believe it (Mark 16:11). I’m sure I would have responded the same way. We are, after all, hardwired to doubt what we hear if we don’t see it with our own eyes.
That’s probably why my parents showed up at the restaurant where I worked. On this particular night, I was still there because several customers had lingered at their tables, sipping cocktails. Though I was too young to serve alcohol, until their tabs were paid, I was unable to cash out. Mom saw with her own eyes that I was still working and not out frolicking with my boyfriend, which is exactly what I would have been doing had my customers paid their tabs on time! If that had been the case, I would have been forced to lie about my whereabouts. You see, there was much to be gained by lying, and a lot to lose by telling the truth.
The same can be said for the disciples. After Jesus’ died and was buried, they had much to gain by lying.
The Bible says they locked themselves behind closed doors out of fear. Fear seems like a weak word. Most likely, they were terrified!! Their leader had been brutally killed, and they were probably thinking they were next on the hit list. Every step they heard, every knock on the door must have set their hearts pounding in panic. I imagine they discussed how best to proceed with their lives, and I’d bet that lying was an option they considered. Lying about their affiliation with Jesus could buy them time to gather their belongings and get out of town. Lying could demonstrate that they had been duped as well as everyone else. Lying might even exonerate them in the eyes of the Sanhedrin. Lying had the potential to save their lives.
But then Jesus showed up. On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them… (John 20:19). Yikes! That must have been a shock. How I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall. Suddenly, the testimony of Mary or Peter became truth because the disciples saw Jesus alive with their own eyes.
We may not say it aloud, but many of us identify with Thomas when he said, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it” (John 21:25). I find it interesting that Jesus let Thomas sit in doubt for a week. When he finally showed up, he invited Thomas to probe the wounds in his hands and side. Then he said, “Stop doubting and believe” (John 21:27). No explanation was necessary.
There were countless individuals who saw the risen Christ. Mary and her friend. Cleopas and his walking companion. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles (1 Corinthians 15:4-7). None of these individuals had anything to gain by saying that they had seen Jesus alive if it wasn’t true. Quite the opposite. They had everything to lose if their testimony was a lie.
So, I ask you, is the resurrected Christ your truth or your lie?
If we stand with Jesus on the side of truth and allow ourselves to trust the eyewitness accounts, then there is no room for doubt. However, if we stand with the naysayers on the side of a lie, we are no better than the Pharisees who refused to see what was right in front of them. I’ve often wondered if the risen Christ appeared to Pilate, Caiaphas, or any of the Pharisees who condemned him to death. If he did, they obviously chose to continue living a lie than accept the truth.
Personally, I choose to believe the eyewitnesses, and I savor the fact that Jesus rebuked the Eleven for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen (Mark 16:14).
This Easter holiday may be over, but the resurrected Christ is still here and very much alive. You can see him if you look with your hearts instead of your eyes. Let’s make every effort to live into the truth and not put Jesus away with the Easter baskets.
THE SONG THAT COMES TO MIND IS They Just Believe by Josh Wilson.
Lyrics: “Jesus, give me grace to trust what I can’t see.”