Seeing and Believing

John 20:11-31



Jerry A. Collins

We always struggle with believing something we cannot verify as fact. And often that is justified. It can be difficult to take somebody’s word for it. However, when it involves believing God for something He has said in His Word, like salvation, then we learn that faith is commitment before knowing. I know I will have eternal life by faith not knowledge because I am not there yet. The two words ‘faith’ and ‘know’ stand opposite one another. God has built us that way. For instance, whether taking a prescription drug, flying on an airplane, or getting married, you are forced to walk by faith. But sometimes God bolsters our faith by the way He works so that we may overcome our unbelief. He did so with a group of people immediately after His resurrection. We will observe three different sighting of Jesus each of them designed to bolster the faith of those seeing. The need to bolster our faith is the result of our immaturity and weak faith. It is not a sign of God’s blessing us for we know that God says and without faith it is impossible to please for he who comes to God must believe that He is and He is a rewarder of those who seek Him (Heb 11:6).


When Peter and John left the tomb Mary remained behind. First, she remained outside the tomb weeping. Second, she stooped and looked into the tomb. Third, she conversed with the angels there. Not unusual since angels often just look like men in the Bible. But their question implies that her tears were not really called for. The reason is because they are ill-founded. It is obvious that in her thinking this was a very dark moment in her life. Yet her tears were based on false assumptions that Jesus was dead and that His body had been stolen and she would be unable to find it. If Mary had known the real reason why the tomb was empty when she peered in, she would have been crying tears of exhilaration not sorrow! When she sees Jesus she does not recognize Him. Of course, the last time she saw him he was a horrible sight, badly beaten, bloodied, swollen and disfigured. He repeats the angels question and then adds another designed to set the stage for revealing Himself to her. With one word He does. Mary instantly recognizes Him and clings to him in some way overcome with emotion! For Mary, seeing was not believing but hearing was. Jesus disengaged himself saying do not cling to me now for I have not yet ascended to my father. The point is that Jesus is trying to make it clear to her that He is going to be leaving for sure not by death but by translation. From the world to heaven. Clinging to him will not prevent His departure. Mary will have a new relationship with Christ now and so will all of His followers. He is not going to continue with them in a close physical relationship. Touching may give you comfort but it will no longer be that way. It still is that way. Now Mary who was the first to go out to the tomb is the first to share the good news of His resurrection. Why did Jesus manifest Himself to Mary first? (1) Her love for him. (2) Her grief over him. (3) She was there first.

When we come to see things as they really are we will find that many of our tears were unnecessary. We so easily forget the promises of God and lapse into unbelief. Martin Luther once spent days in black depression because of something that had gone wrong. On the third day his wife came downstairs dressed in black. Who’s dead? he asked her. ‘God’ she replied. Luther rebuked her ‘what do you mean God is dead. God cannot die! Well, she said, the way you’ve been acting I was sure He had! In heaven there will be no more tears and the reason is because there will no longer be those things which cause us to cry. But another reason is because we shall then see all of our sorrows in an entirely different light. We will have seen them in the context of God’s purposes achieved thru the things which caused us to weep. We will discover then what we should believe now, that many of our tears of sorrow, grief, loss, difficulties, unrealized dreams, were as groundless as Mary’s tears. Our sorrow then is often the result of our inadequate knowledge of what God is doing in and thru our adversities. Instead, we will see that everything that ever happened was for our good and God’s glory. It is hard to see that now but that is why God has given us His promises and told us to take it by faith! It is not heaven yet. Like Mary, we need to remember the promises of God and cling to them not unbelief.


The disciples must have been deeply troubled by the reports they had heard that Jesus was alive. They had already heard such from Mary, the two disciples on the road to Emmaus and then Peter’s visit with Jesus. So they met behind locked doors with only Thomas missing. Jesus sudden appearance was unusual and twice Jesus repeats peace be with you. Peace instead of fear. Inner calmness instead of anxiety. This is the inheritance of Gods people. Fear and faith are incompatible. Then Jesus identifies himself by showing his side and his hands. It was the same body that had been put into the grave. To make it even clearer he eats a piece of fish in their presence (Luke 24). Never heard of a ghost doing that. Jesus is making it crystal clear that he is alive and risen. He appears to them so that he can commission them for their new service as apostles. The HS will now be with them and in them in Acts 2. A work of God not longer outward but now within. Just like the breathe of life in Gen 3 for physical life is this breath of life, the new life imparted to us at salvation. As the coming of the Spirit upon Jesus at his baptism marked beginning of His ministry, so this marks the beginning of theirs. This ministry is the message of the gospel and forgiveness of sins. Same ministry we have today. We too need the enablement of the HS to witness, to mature.


Inspite of the evidence, Thomas refused to believe. 8 days later Jesus appears to Thomas and invites him to touch him. His stubborn foolish doubts are washed away and immediately confesses Christ. Believers today are not deprived by not seeing Jesus physically. John writes this book to say that it is better to believe and then see (30-31). Faith is better because the rewards are better.