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Gospel of John 20: 1-10 (NIV)
1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)
10 Then the disciples went back to their homes …
Let us accept for this reflection that, referring to “the other disciple, the one Jesus loved” (verse 2), the evangelist was writing autobiographically.
What a startling admission: “He saw and believed” (verse 8b)! The implication is that, until that moment, he did not believe. This disciple’s understanding of all that Jesus had taught in the preceeding three years was perhaps “head knowledge”. It had not been accepted in the deepest part of his being as foundational truth, as “heart knowledge”.
Believed what? The statement is imprecise however there is a glimpse of intended meaning in the following verse: “(They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)” I take it that this disciple, in an instant, perceived the truth. The explanation for the removal of the stone from the tomb’s entrance, for the absence of the Lord from the tomb and for the positioning of the strips of linen and the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head was that the Lord had risen! Death could not hold him! All that he had taught them was true!
Perhaps this disciple was not much different from many of us today. Was he asking “how” questions: “if the Lord was dead on the cross and dead when laid in the tomb, how could he now be not-dead?” “How can such an event be explained?” “If the Lord who raised others including, most recently, their friend Lazarus from death was now dead, how could he raise himself?”
Did this disciple consider the “why” questions? “Why was this person Jesus executed in the first place? Why was he raised?”
Decades later as he wrote this Gospel, this disciple explained his reasons for setting out all that he had witnessed of Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee: “But these are written that you may believe,” and “by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20: 31).
Believe what? He stated it thus: “that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God”.
Certainly this disciple, this evangelist, by then believed.
What about you? Because we might never have the opportunity to “see and believe”, the truth has been preserved for us in the Gospels. As Jesus himself said, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20: 29). Trust him! Believe!