“I Have Seen the Lord!”
In 1999, an unpleasant visitor came into my household—his name was death. Eight years ago, the body that gave me birth became lifeless. I learned to sigh deeply, to clutch to fading memories, to weep instantly in uncomfortable places and at uncomfortable times. I learned death didn’t wait for the right time, for no time would ever be right for this visitor. He is the unwelcome guest who’s company every home must open the door to.
Have you found this guest coming to your home? Immediate family? Extended Family? Close Friends? Everyone of us.
Easter Day dawned as every other day, with the black ink of darkness slowly diluting into pale blue. And under that shifting expanse, lay several who’s hearts burn with heaviness. Their Master … gone. Their friend — and what a Friend! — departed. Their plans wrecked. Their hopes shattered. They are perplexed, baffled. They despair. Abandon hope, all ye who enter here! See John 20:19, their “doors were shut for fear of the Jews.” Jesus of Nazareth … Crucified … that was the Farewell to Hope!
Am I exaggerating? Was there not so much as a ray of hope shining through the clouds of gloom and despair? A half-conscious expectation that somehow light would arise out of darkness, that the night would make room for the dawn, that … perhaps … the Master might even … rise again? Read the account for yourself:
“And they, when they heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, disbelieved.” Mark 16:11. “And they went away and told it unto the rest. Neither believed they them.” Mark 16:13. “And the … women … told these things unto the apostles. And these words appeared in their sight as idle talk; and they disbelieved them.” Luke 24:10, 11.“And he upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.” Mark 16:14. “The other disciples therefore said unto him (Thomas), We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
Not one of the Eleven expected Jesus to arise from the grave. That thought was farthest removed from their minds. Jesus was dead. He was gone! These happy days of close fellowship and intimate association with the Great Prophet of Nazareth would never return.
Cleopas and His Companion
These two friends of Jesus are returning to Emmaus. It is Spring-time. Yet they hear not the singing of birds. They see not the awakening of Nature. With lagging feet, under leaden skies they continue on their way home … home from a funeral! A dear one has been buried. Jesus of Nazareth. “Yes, stranger, we hoped that he was the One who would redeem Israel.” “We hoped — past tense — but now all hope is gone. The Cross and the Grave have blasted every last remnant of hope. Eternal despair reigns supreme in our hearts.”
Mary, the Mother of the Lord
She, too, was in the grip of cold winter. A sword was piercing through her own soul, Luke 2:35, as she saw her own son, her first-born, dying the death of a condemned criminal. A feeling of overwhelming sadness takes possession of me whenever I read the lines of that ancient hymn, describing Mary’s tears:
“Stabat mater dolorosa
juxta crucem lacrimosa …”
For her, too, the Cross was the Farewell to Hope.
The Women and The disciples
See these women trudging sorrowfully through the streets of Jerusalem very early, Sunday morning.
While the Eleven are in deep mourning and despair, Thomas resembling a man who is caught in the midst of an earthquake, the very ground under his feet caving in; Peter overwhelmed with remorse; John tenderly caring for the woman with the tempest-tossed soul (Mary); while night has settled upon these Eleven men, what are these women going to do? Is it their design to welcome the Risen Lord? Not in the least. The cross has blasted their hopes. The grave has buried them forever. They come … to anoint a dead body, the corpse of Jesus of Nazareth, their Friend and Helper. Never was there a more dejected, disappointed, crushed group of men and women!
Death is a destruction of relationships—an intrusion, enemy
They supposed like we all do that there is nothing left but a body, decaying and decomposing. When the Master died, the disciples, too, died. Their hopes, their aspirations, their deepest affections and fondest anticipations were buried with their Lord. If ever hope was to be revived in their hearts, their souls would have to be rescued from the grip of death. There would have to be a new beginning … and that … by all the laws of human logic … was impossible!
Death brings anguish and grief (see Mary in
she was “crying.” The verb klaiein appears eight times in this Gospel, three times in the Lazarus death scene, once in the predication of lament that would come to the disciples with the death of Jesus (16:20), and four times in Mary’s lament here (20:11[2x],13, 15).
The term is used for the anguished crying or wailing associated with mourning as at funerals and in times of bereavement. Morris adds that it would hardly be viewed as “a quiet, restrained shedding of tears, but the noisy lamentation typical of Easterners of that day.”
Death clouds our thinking
While she was giving vent to her bitter sorrow, she stooped to peer into the tomb (see on verse 5). She saw two angels sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. Mary’s answer to the angelic visitors was that her wailing was because she thought the burial tomb had been violated and the body had been removed.
It seems apparent that her presence at the tomb was to get close to the corpse as though in revering the tomb the presence of the dead person might seem close at hand. In ministry one frequently encounters people who have lost their spouses, parents, or children, and the grieving person visits the tomb to “talk” to the person who is buried there. Or the bereaved person may sit at a table and “speak” with the person who used to sit there.
So all-absorbing was her sorrow that she was able to converse with the two angels who now appear within the burial crypt, showing no fear, whereas the other women were terrified by their encounter with the angelic messengers at the tomb a short time before. The heavenly spirits, sent forth to minister to one who is an heir of salvation, show their sympathy in the question, “Why weepest thou?” Mary’s answer, given in language which is almost identical to that of her announcement to Peter and John, reveals how intense was her preoccupation with the loss of the Savior’s body. She had lost Him through death on the cross. Now to lose even His cherished form was a devastating blow that brought her to the verge of collapse.
Under ordinary circumstances, Mary would no doubt have been enthralled at the experience of conversing with angels. But today it is not so. If He is not there, angels have little interest for her. So she turned away sorrowing, not waiting for reply.
The probable truth is that the mind of Mary was so sealed by the certainty that Jesus was dead that she could not connect any upright figure with her Lord. At best this man could be a source of information, especially if he chanced to be the gardener and had removed the body himself. Mary’s best expectation was in the next moment exceeded. It is the risen Lord who is able to do exceeding abundantly above what we ask or think.
The Resurrection Came in Intimacy
The message is intimate: Jesus called Mary, Miriam in the NT, an indication that this was no stranger, but one who calls to her with her family name.
16. Jesus said to her, Miriam. With infinite tenderness and warmth, in a tone which resembled that of former days, Jesus now addresses Mary by using just one word, “Miriam.” Jesus addresses her by her native name, in her native tongue!
She turned and said to him in Aramaic, Rabboni (which means Teacher). When Mary hears this word — her own name in her own language — spoken in that familiar way as only One person could ever pronounce it, she quickly turns away from the tomb and toward the speaker (see on verse 15) and with a word of dramatic surprise, glad recognition, and humble reverence exclaims, “Rabboni.”
The Resurrection Message is unique
It is fascinating to note that the John describes the transforming recognition occurring through the use of one word.
In the sea story it occurred when the disciples responded obediently to the stranger on the shore and cast their nets (in what seemed to be a foolish act) on the other side of the boat (21:6–7). In the Luke’s Emmaus story the recognition occurred in the breaking of bread.
These examples demonstrate Jesus does not need to follow a single pattern. Coming to the point of conviction that Jesus is alive is probably as varied as the nature of the people who believe.
“In the resurrection appearances we discover a pattern with the following features: (1) The beneficiaries of the appearance are engulfed in a human emotion (Mary, grief; the disciples, fear; and Thomas, doubt). (2) The risen Christ appears to them in the midst of their condition. (3) As a result, their condition is transformed (Mary, mission; the disciples, gladness; Thomas, faith).”
The Resurrection Calls for Joy
One moment you see her weeping profusely. Her whole heart is in these tears, so much so that even the presence of angels hardly registers. But the next moment — the moment of joyful recognition, when the resurrected Lord pronounced her name — all has changed. “Rabboni,” she exclaims; and, arrived in the company of the disciples, she can hardly wait to shout, “I have seen the Lord.” No longer was she thinking about a corpse now. No, this was the living Lord, gloriously risen from the grave! — Mary conveyed her message, word for word, exactly as the Lord had told her to do. And these words must have been like apples of gold in a framework of silver.
v. 20 The disciples therefore were “filled with joy” as they grasped that he who stood before them was their own Master, alive from the dead. The promise of Jesus, made to them in the Upper Room, that he would “come” to them (14:18) and turn their grief into joy (16:20–22) was now fulfilled. Joy is a fundamental blessing of the kingdom of God and “Joy is the basic mood of Easter”
The Resurrection Calls for Trust and Reverence
The best explanation seems to be that Mary was holding onto Jesus as though she would never let Him go. Jesus told her to stop doing that or, if He knew she was about to do it, He told her not to do it. He was almost ready to disappear permanently. The reason she should release Him was that He had not yet ascended to the Father. He had other work to do first.
Resurrection brings a confession
John 20:20 (saw the Lord), John 20: (Thomas confession)
It is most probable then that when Thomas made his demand for proof, he hardly expected to have his material proof met. This story is particularly captivating. Imagine for a moment Thomas the realist coming to the community meeting on Sunday after having made his firm demands. Into that meeting Jesus materialized.
Then, having given the “Peace,” Jesus looked around and his eyes fastened on Thomas. Then he said something like: “Hello, Thomas! Fancy meeting you here.” After Thomas had taken a big gulp, Jesus continued, “Oh, Thomas, I think I heard you say something this past week about needing to touch my hands and my side.”
After a brief but interminable pause, Jesus continued. “Well, come here Thomas and bring your finger!” By this time Thomas was almost completely undone. But Jesus continued. “No, Thomas, put your finger right here!” “And now your hand, Thomas, put it right here in my side.” Can you feel the churning that must have gone on in the whole psyche of this early disciple? Authentic believing was the issue. Thomas was now prepared to make his unforgettable declaration.
Thomas’s response forms the high point of confession in the Gospel.
What it does is bring the Gospel full circle from the Prologue, where it is emphatically said that the “Word was God” (1:1) to this confession, “My Lord and my God.”
►In the process of writing this Gospel the evangelist has proclaimed that Jesus was active in creation (1:2), the Word who became incarnate/enfleshed (1:14), the sin-bearing Lamb of God (1:29, 36), the Messiah (1:41; 4:25–26), the Son of God (1:48), the King of Israel (1:48), the new Temple (2:19–21), a teacher sent from God (3:2), a new symbol of God’s power exhibited through Moses (3:14), the evidence of the love of God (3:16), the Savior of the World (4:42), equal with God (5:18), the authority in judgment (5:27), the agent of God (5:30), the fulfillment of Scripture (5:39), the expected prophet (6:14), the “I am” (6:35, etc.), the supplier of living water (7:38), the one who was from God (9:31–33), the Son of Man (9:35), the consecrated/Holy one (10:36), the lifted up one (4:14; 12:32–34), the glorified one (13:31), the preparer of his followers’ destiny (14:2), the nonabandoning one (14:18), the one in whom we must abide and who is the basis for the fruitfulness of his followers (15:5–7), the sender of the Paraclete (15:26), the bearer of truth (18:37), the crucified King (19:15), the risen Lord (20:20) and God (20:26).
In the years of contemplating the significance of Jesus, John has supplied for the church of all ages a truly masterful statement about Jesus—Jesus is indeed Lord and God!
NOTICE THAT it is a confession issuing from the depths of Thomas’ soul: “You are my Lord and my God” (so Bruce, 394). So it comes about that the most outrageous doubter of the resurrection of Jesus utters the greatest confession of the Lord who rose from the dead. His utterance does not simply acknowledge the reality of the resurrection of Jesus, but expresses its ultimate meaning, i.e., as revelation of who Jesus is.
Yet it is not an abstract theological definition concerning the person of Christ. The personal pronoun is of vital importance “my Lord, and my God.” He confesses to the risen Jesus that he belongs to him as his willing subject; he adores him and henceforth will serve him as he deserves.
The resurrection brings a challenge and a promise
20:29 But the evangelist was unwilling to conclude this account with the climactic confession of Thomas. He was writing to a community who had never seen the risen Lord and whose witnesses to the historical presence of Jesus had for the most part died or were about to die. Therefore there was one last part of the exchange between Thomas and the risen Jesus that needed to be communicated. It was in the form of both a rhetorical question and a concluding beatitude.
Although many tend to view this initial statement as a rebuke, I see it as a call for believing that is not based on sight or touch but on the message of the witnesses. The Gospel is intended to engender such believing that is parallel to that of the early witnesses without the benefit of tangible evidences.
To this rhetorical question the evangelist added that Jesus pronounced a blessing upon those who believe without such first-hand support or proof. This beatitude is both a striking challenge and a powerful promise of divine blessing upon our lives as believers who wait for the coming end to witness first hand the unseen reality of the risen Lord Jesus.
The Resurrection brings a mission
That clear identification was to become critically important for the Church to maintain; the Crucified is the risen Lord, in the fullest sense of the term, and the risen Lord is the Crucified, the flesh and blood Redeemer, whose real death and real resurrection accomplished salvation for the whole person and the whole world.
i.e. id est, that is