I only have one reference point for the rapid change of emotion the disciples must have experienced upon seeing the resurrected Christ. A few years ago, my sister called early one morning to tell me that my dad had died in the hospital after open heart surgery. I immediately packed my bags and began the ten-hour trip to South Alabama to grieve with my family.
As I got about twenty minutes down the interstate, my phone rang. It was my dad. The hospital had made a mistake. A different “Charles” had died. My dad was alive.
My dad did not experience a resurrection because he never died. But from my vantage point, it was no different. He was dead. Then he was alive. That’s the only reference point I have for such a quick transition from the depths of grief to immeasurable joy.
But the disciples’ joy must have been even greater. They weren’t just getting back someone they loved. They must’ve understood that Jesus being alive meant a completely different world. The Son of God raised indicated that nothing would ever be the same again, that everything wrong in the world was being made right, that life and truth and righteousness would win out over death and lies and sin.
Jesus invites us into that very same joy. All we need to do is receive it through faith. Just believe. That’s it. But just believing, however, is tricky for a couple of reasons. First, most people think they already do believe. But the Bible tells us that Jesus’ transition from death to life is reproduced in the souls of all who believe in him. In other words, those who believe experience their own death and resurrection. The old person passes away. Behold, a new person is born. Faith in Christ results in nothing short of internal resurrection. Have you experienced that?
Second, a lot of people would like to believe, but for whatever reason, they’re just not intellectually convinced. We Americans really resonate with doubting Thomas who, upon hearing from the other ten disciples that they had seen the resurrected Christ, vowed, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (John 20:25).
Thomas is the disciple for Americans. We want to see for ourselves. Show us the evidence. He’s the smart skeptic, the independent thinker. He’s the one spending hours alone doing his own internet research. He won’t be fooled. And neither will we.
Thomas’s problem isn’t that he requires evidence. God expects us to need evidence. Thomas’s problem—and ours too—is that he refuses the evidence provided. Here were ten of his closest friends—men he had spent three years with and men he trusted—and they were unanimously telling him that they had seen Jesus alive. Thomas refused to believe their testimony. Sadly, many of us make the same choice today.
In C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, four siblings play a game of hide-and-seek inside a country mansion where they are staying as evacuees from London during World War II. Lucy hides in an old wardrobe and falls out the back of it into another world. She explores the magical world and even interacts with creatures there. Upon returning, she tries to convince her three siblings of what she saw, but they don’t believe her. Who would?
Lucy persists in her story, and the concerned siblings decide to appeal to the professor who owns the mansion. Certainly, the smart academic will set Lucy straight. Certainly, they will get a logical answer from a university professor. And they do. He says, “There are only three possibilities. Either your sister is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth.”
We have the same three choices when it comes to the apostles. Are they lying? I find it incredibly difficult to believe they were lying when they all died for this belief. Who would knowingly die for a lie? If they didn’t really believe they saw the resurrected Jesus, they wouldn’t have devoted the remainder of their lives to telling others they saw him. If Jesus wasn’t raised, how do you explain the widespread faith of the earliest Christians, who came to believe it against all odds?
Were they mad? Paul tells us that after his appearances to the disciples, Jesus “appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive” (1 Corinthians 15:6). I find it hard to believe that over five hundred people were all crazy at the same time.
Where does that leave us? They must have been telling the truth. Jesus was resurrected. He won the victory over sin and death. He won eternal salvation for all who believe. Will you believe?