The story is told of a young boy whose mother took him to Sunday School.
His mother knew that the lesson that day was on Moses and the Israelites crossing the Red Sea.
She figured that lesson would spark some interest in her son, so she asked him on their way home, "What did you learn in Sunday School today?"
Her son paused for a few moments, then began to relate the story.
"Well,” he said, “The Egyptians had the Israelites trapped against the sea. So Moses called in some top-level engineers and set up a floating-bridge across the Red Sea, and in the night he moved all the Israelites across to the other side.
In the morning the Egyptians saw what had happened and drove across the bridge in their tanks. But just before they got to the other side, Moses called in the Israeli Air Force who bombed the bridge, which resulted in the drowning of the Egyptians.”
“Son," the mother asked, "Did the Sunday School teacher tell the story that way!"
"Well, not exactly," he said, "But if I told it the way she told it, you just wouldn't believe it!"
Without a doubt, the Death, Burial and Resurrection of Christ constitutes the most central and critical aspect of the Christian Faith. Indeed in I Corinthians chapter 15, the Apostle Paul puts it this way:
“If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.”
Ostensibly, Paul saying that if the Resurrection of Christ did not occur, then those of us who claim to be His followers are Liars, Lunatics and Losers! Simply put, without the reality of the Resurrection Christianity is dead in the water (no pun intended).
It is within this context that out text this morning provides hindsight and insight into the initial response of the first followers of Christ to His Resurrection. Interestingly, the text reveals and reemphasises the fact that their initial response was not faith but doubt AND not belief but disbelief. They were essentially “Unbelieving Believers”!
Truth be told, they were not AND are not the only “Unbelieving Believers” in existence. Truth be told, there are many “Unbelieving Believers” among us today. They are in the pews and pulpits, laity and clergy of our churches. They can be anyone of us and anywhere among us!
The simple fact is that each and every one of us who claims to be a follower of Christ has already or will at some point in our Christian journey experience what it is to be called an “Unbelieving Believer” and yet learn how to believe “Beyond Reasonable Doubt”! So, it is not just Doubting Thomas (so-called) or the rest of the Disciples but all of us needing to shout at some point: “Lord I believe, help thou mine unbelief!”
Perhaps at this juncture you are wondering and asking how is it that these Disciples who (apart from His family) were the closest individuals to Him on planet earth, failed to believe (at least in the initial stages) in His resurrection?
Perhaps you are wondering and asking how is it that those men who walked and talked with Him for at least three and a half years and heard His utterances about His pending death and resurrection, could be so doubtful instead of faithful.
Perhaps you are wondering and asking how is it that those same men who were first-hand witnesses of the raisings from the dead of Lazarus, the daughter of Jairus and the son of a widow from Nain, disbelieve the fact of His resurrection?
Well I’m glad you wondered and I’m glad you asked because so too have I. A closer and deeper examination of the text and its context reveals that there are 3 main possible-explanations for their initial disbelief and / or unbelief:
- THE STORY WAS TOO INCREDIBLE
Remember what Luke said in the King James Version of chapter 24 verses 10 to 11:
“It was Mary Magdalene and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles. And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not.”
The Living Bible states: “But the story sounded like a fairy tale to the men- they didn’t believe it.”
What are fairy-tales? They are fabricated stories that usually have happy endings!
What are fairy-tales? They are fictitious stories that are usually regarded as being too good to be true!
For the Disciples, on that first Easter Sunday, the stories they heard about the Resurrection of Christ were like “Fairy Tales”, and thus they failed to believe what they heard! They perhaps believed that, like that Sunday School student mentioned earlier, the story was essentially fabricated and fictitious!
They had no difficulty with the fact that Jesus had told them about it before or that He had raised others from the dead before. They had personally heard and seen that “with their own two ears and eyes”! However, they just could not initially come to grips with the fact that Jesus was able to, not only raise others from the dead, but raise Himself from the dead!
It was like a fairy-tale: Too good to be true!
Again, the Disciples are not alone in this. There are many today who regard the story of the Resurrection of Christ as nothing more than a fairy tale! A fictitious, fabricated, falsified account of a man who was born in a stable, crucified on a cross, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven!
In response they cast doubt and disbelief on the Resurrection Story by ostracizing it, romanticizing it and / or spiritualizing it!
For those of us who seek to daily transition from “Unbelieving Believers” to “Believing Believers”, the uneasy but necessary task is that of actualizing the Resurrection Story in our everyday lives.
We do this by constantly reminding ourselves that (as Ephesians 1 verses 19 to 20 notes) the same resurrection power that was in Christ Jesus, rests and abides in us today!
A second possible explanation for the disbelief and / or unbelief of the Disciples that day was that:
- THE SOURCES WERE CONSIDERED UNRELIABLE
What I am about to say is very unfortunate, but according to many Bible commentators, in those days the testimony of women were oftentimes regarded as (shall we say) less than credible. In fact, in many Jewish courts women were considered ineligible to give testimony.
Josephus (the well-known 1st century Jewish historian) wrote (and I quote): “But let not the testimony of women be admitted, since it is probable that they may not speak with truth.” (End of quote)
To add insult to injury, the Talmud (a civil and ceremonial Jewish document) reads as follows: “Any evidence which a woman gives, is not valid.” (End of quote)
But be that as it may, the Resurrected Lord chose reveal Himself FIRST to a woman. Her name was Mary Magdalene. And He did so despite and in spite of the fact that she was once possessed with as much as seven demons!
As if to hammer home the point, Mary Magdalene was not the only woman that was among the first to see the Resurrected Lord. Indeed the Scriptures record that she was accompanied by Mary the mother of James and Salome.
You may recall that Mark mentions the fact that Jesus “appeared in another form” unto two other individuals “as they walked, and went into the country”.Yet when they told it to the Disciples, they did not believe them either.
Luke’s version of the account informs us that the two individuals were actually two men. Luke tells us that one was named Cleopas, but he does not disclose the name of the other. That itself would raise some doubts as to the validity of their testimony. However, the main issue would have been the fact that they testified that Jesus “appeared in another form”.
In today’s world, lawyers would argue that the testimonies given are inconsistent. In other words, how could the same person (that is Jesus) appear in different forms to different people? This would have undoubtedly created “reasonable doubt” in the minds of the jurors and the case would have been thrown out!
Faced with such “unreliable sources”, it not difficult to see why the Disciples initially had their doubts about the Resurrection of Christ.
Be that as it may, Jesus still chose to use those so-called “unreliable sources” to testify of the Good News of His Resurrection. So called “Unreliable Sources” are imperfect and inconsistent individuals who may not always be right but thankfully neither are they always wrong!
The Lord in His sovereignty can use those considered to be both “Reliable Sources and Unreliable Sources”. He can use anyone or anything He chooses. So if you can use anything Lord, you can use me!
That is the essence of the Easter message my friend! Jesus can use the least likely to do the most unlikely! So let us not right-off anybody, let us not look-down upon anybody! The ground is still level at the foot of the cross!
Allow me to posit a third and final explanation for the disbelief of the Disciples. It is this:
- THEIR SHAME WAS SO UNBEARABLE
Could it be that the Disciples disbelieved the testimonies of the witnesses because they simply did not want to believe them?
Could it be that Peter still felt ashamed of the fact that he denied Christ not once but three times, and therefore would have preferred Christ to remain dead in the sepulchre?
Could it be that the other Disciples felt ashamed that when the Lord needed them most, at the foot of the cross, only John stayed while they ran away like scared dog?
Could it be that when they were told that the Resurrected Lord appeared to others before appearing to them, they felt embarrassed that they His chosen Disciples were now the recipients of second-hand information about Christ?
If so, it is not difficult to imagine they felt so ashamed that they truly preferred to disbelieve the accounts of His Resurrection. They preferred not to see Him now, at least not so soon!
But a part of the message that the women were given was “tell the Disciples and Peter that the Lord goes before you into Galilee. There you shall see Him.”
Thankfully the Lord, when he met them, even while they were meeting behind closed doors (afraid and ashamed) greeted them with the words: “Peace Be Unto You!” He then Re-commissioned them with the words: “As My Father has sent me, so send I you!”
And so it is, that on this another Easter Sunday, in spite of the fact that the Resurrection Story may seem too incredible, the sources are regarded as unreliable or the shame seemingly too unbearable, we can move beyond reasonable doubt and declare to the world that He truly lives!
Why? Because He lives within our hearts! Amen
Reading from Mark chapter 16 verses 9 to 13 AND Luke chapter 24 verses 10 to 11
(Christ For Today – April 16 2017 – Dylan Toussaint)