Jesus' Appearances met with Unbelief
Reading: Mark 16:9-
Despite the fact that the Bible makes it very clear that Jesus Christ rose from the dead many people are reluctant to believe. Some of them baulk at the enormity of the very idea of a man coming back to life after experiencing a very real death. Although we have probably all heard stories telling us about people "coming back to life" as they waken out of a long coma the story of Jesus is completely different. Jesus had not swooned on the cross nor had he dropped into a coma, nor was he kept alive by any life-
And yet on the third day, the Bible says we was once more alive – not as a shattered wreck who had somehow managed to cheat death for a while but as a man so full of life that he can only be properly be understood as a man who had conquered death itself!
But still folk have not wanted to trust what the Bible has to say and have come up with a host of improbable suggestions as to why the Bible can't be trusted. One such attempt was to say that the NT record was written by Jesus' supporters and that they had written what they wanted to be true rather than what was true. Some have suggested that Jesus' disciples didn't deliberate set out to deceive others but suffered hallucinations – in other words they saw what they so desperately wanted to see.
It sounds plausible I suppose – at least to the person who doesn't want to be overly bothered by the actual facts of the matter.
One difficulty conveniently overlooked by the hallucination theory was the diverse nature of Jesus' appearances: he appeared to individuals alone but also to small groups as well as to one crowd of at least 500 people. He appeared at different times of the day and in different places. He appeared to a variety of different people who did not have identical emotional make-
A second major difficulty also conveniently overlooked by those who prefer to reject the very possibility of the NT narratives being true is that those disciples who bore witness to the resurrection most definitely did not expect to see Jesus alive again! Far from being predisposed to believe these disciples demonstrated instead a guilty unwillingness to believe!
At the end of Mark's gospel we have a brief summary of some of the resurrection appearances of the Lord Jesus – the other gospel writers provide more detail but Mark's summary helpfully allows us to focus our thoughts on how Jesus' appearances were initially met not with an enthusiastic warm welcome but with a negative reaction of unbelief. The disciples, far from being so eager to believe that they saw what wasn't true, were rather far too slow to believe what was being established by the testimony of others.
As we look a little more closely at this we must notice that each time Mark describes one of Jesus' resurrection appearances he links it to an initial and persevering unbelief on the part of these disciples. Twice they hear eye witness accounts and twice they react in unbelief. Then when Jesus himself meets them Jesus he doesn't applaud them for their critical spirit but rebukes them for their unbelief and for their hardness of heart!
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Let's take things step by step pausing to draw out some lessons and implications for ourselves along the way.
This Mary, who is not to be confused with Jesus' mother, had had a dreadful past. She had been subject to demon possession and this possession had been devastating. (The reference to seven demons could be a reference to the actual number of demons who dwelt in her or it could refer to the complete dominance that these evil spirits exerted over her – 7 is one of the Bible's ways of emphasising completeness).
Jesus had delivered her from the trauma of this demon possession and so it is hardly surprising that she felt a great sense of gratitude towards Jesus and we're not at all surprised to find her wanting to express her thankfulness in ministering to him in death.
Her very presence at the tomb is evidence that Jesus' salvation is for not for the so-
Mary was saved by Jesus but she wasn't an embarrassment who because of her past could only be allowed a low profile from now on! Our pasts can be ever so bad but are no hindrance to our being made useful in Jesus' service when once we have been saved and delivered. Mary had an important role to play in Christian history – she was made a prime witness of the resurrection.
It is worth our pausing at this point to underline just how radically different this all is from the way in which the world likes to look at things. You've watched the TV court scenes where the character of an important witness is systematically dismantled. If the witness has had a poor track record then that record is put forward as a sufficient reason for not believing his/her testimony now. You know too how in elections a candidate can be destroyed if the press manages to find a skeleton or two in the closet.
But the Bible is happy to operate according to a different logic – if you were making up a story you'd never call such a woman with such a history as a witness. But when Jesus saves a person the slate is wiped clean – if you are in Christ then you have become a new creation!
And Mary as a new creation is privileged to see the risen Lord Jesus!
But the blessing is not to be selfishly guarded for herself alone with privilege comes responsibility – she must go and tell his disciples that Jesus is alive!
The disciples were in a piteous state. They weren't expecting a resurrection, their hopes and dreams had all been shattered and all they could do was to weep and to mourn as they tried to keep their heads down so as not to attract attention to themselves.
Jesus had told them not that long ago that they would experience just this:
Jn.16:20 "Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy."
And his followers were stuck in the first part of what he had said and totally forgotten the second!
He had told them he would rise from the dead but they hadn't taken his words to heart and so they were discouraged and despondent.
In loving compassion Jesus sent Mary to his disciples and her words should have been so encouraging and comforting to them but, no, they wouldn't listen. They were locked into a mindset of unbelief and they didn't, couldn't or wouldn't pay attention to what Mary told them.
Sometimes faith comes quickly to an individual but for others the awakening of faith can be a slower more drawn out affair. For these disciples faith in the risen Lord Jesus Christ did not come immediately -
These disciples heard but didn't believe – but Jesus didn't give up on them, they weren't thrown over and abandoned as no-
We should all be very glad that the Lord is not hasty and is patient with us in our slowness to believe. But we must never allow ourselves to abuse this patience as though coming to faith is a matter of little importance!
In Mark's summary he compresses into just two verses what Luke describes in 20.
A comparison of the two accounts seems to suggest that Jesus' disciples were in the process of moving towards faith at differing speeds. As Mark sees things however unbelief remains the dominant factor.
The disciples have already heard from Mary Magdalene that Jesus was alive now they hear the same message from the lips of two others. These testimonies confirmed the surprising and unexpected news that Jesus was alive. Surely now, the disciples would remember what Jesus had said about rising from the dead, surely they would begin to give at least some credence to these two unsolicited reports of genuine sightings. But no, unbelief hung heavy in the hearts and minds of these men.
And what about you? Is unbelief still the dominant factor in your life?
Will Jesus give up on them now? After all he'd repeatedly taught them what would take place, now he had sent two different sets of witnesses to them and still they don't believe.
How can anyone honestly surveying the evidence ever dare to suggest that these disciples were somehow predisposed to believe? Who dare suggest that they saw what they so desperately longed to see? These disciples were not expecting to see anything at all such was their sorrow and despondency!
Jesus Appears to his Disciples
The third of Jesus' appearances that Mark records is this time directly to his disciples. The earlier two appearances when recounted to them had met only with unbelief now as Jesus meets them he immediately refers to their unbelief and it is in order to rebuke them for it!
In other words they had no reason for such unbelief – they had his teaching and they had independent eye witness testimony – they ought to have believed. Nevertheless Jesus did meet with them so that their faith might be solidly established. This was so important because they were to be the ones entrusted with going into the world to share the good news and the good news would be incomplete without the resurrection!
The good news they were to declare was to be preached with a view to leading men and women, boys and girls, to believe for themselves and in so believing to be saved!
And it would not be long before the disciples would set about that their task. They began at Jerusalem, they went to Judea and then they went Samaria before moving on to spread the good news to the ends of the earth.
This good news came to our shores hundreds of years ago and has done so much good both on an individual level and also on a national level. And now the good news is being proclaimed to you again this morning. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and you must believe in him the only risen Lord and Saviour who can do your never-
Have you responded yet with faith in Jesus or are you still holding out in the shadows of unbelief?
Please don't try to sit on the fence and hold out for some special personal visitation such as Jesus earliest disciples experienced. Jesus is now in heaven having fully established the truthfulness and historicity of his resurrection. He had made it clear to his disciples that they ought to have believed his word and the testimony of the eye witnesses he sent – their reaction of unbelief and of hardness of heart was quite simply wrong. The implication for us is that we have sufficient reason for believing ourselves.
In his love and mercy Jesus did appear to his disciples – he needed to convince them of his victory over death, these men who were to be the foundation of his church and they had to possess a complete confidence in him as they were to proclaim this good news throughout the world. But Jesus himself declared that it was not necessary to see him in order to believe in him and to believe that he had risen from the dead:
Jn.20:29 "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."
And so it has been down through the centuries that men and women have not seen with their eyes but they have believed. They have heard the good news, they've considered the evidence, they've examined the evidence and they have believed into Jesus Christ. So believing they have been united to him and saved by him. He has transformed their lives and continues to do so even today. These men and women have not seen visions, heard voices, or seen with their physical eyes the risen Lord Jesus but believing the report God has granted faith and trust. We have some two thousand years of history now behind us and the message remains the same:
1Cor.15:4 "he was buried (and) he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,"
And Peter could write to ordinary believers, to those who like us have not personally seen with our own eyes the risen Jesus:
Let me ask you one question in closing: is Peter describing you?
May God grant us all the repentance that leads to life and bring us to love and trust the risen Jesus as our Saviour and as our Lord.