By Dr. Mark Scott
God’s victorious love unites with his resurrection power to bring life out of death. Out of the watery chaotic mass of the earth God brought light (Genesis 1:2, 3). Out of the death of Egyptian bondage God brought a new people (Exodus 14:30, 31). Out of the Babylonian exile God brought a remnant home (Ezra 2:1). Out of the slavery of sin God brought freedom (John 8:31-34).
Three people in our text today discovered this victorious love: Mary Magdalene, out of whom Jesus had cast seven demons (Luke 8:2), the disciple whom Jesus loved (John), who observed carefully the details of this victory, and Peter, who was like a bull in a china shop but was overwhelmed with what this victory meant in daily life. All three saw the resurrected Christ but would come to realize that there is something even better.
Seeing Can Lead to Believing
This text is one of the many resurrection appearances of Jesus. It takes place on the day of the resurrection early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark. Mary went to the tomb (a term that occurs six times in these verses) of Jesus with some of the other women (Mark 16:1). They went to anoint his body since the Passover Sabbath hindered them from doing this on Good Friday.
Upon on arriving at the tomb Mary saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. She immediately assumed that Jesus’ body had been stolen and ran to tell Peter and John. Her despair could not be more obvious. But those who study biblical narratives speak of character delineation—noting where the person is at the beginning of the story in contrast to where the person is at the end of the story. When she encountered Jesus (whom at first she thought was the gardener), she was overjoyed and exclaimed, “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18).
Easter can make you run. Mary ran, and then Peter and John ran. (And John seems to enjoy telling us that he outran Peter.) John carefully looked around before going into the tomb. He saw the shroud lying in strips in the tomb. Then Peter arrived, went past John, and saw the shroud and the sudarium (face cloth that wrapped the jaw shut) folded up neatly—even Jesus made his bed. John then went inside the tomb and saw and believed.
In Mary’s case victorious love allowed her despair to give way to exuberance. In the case of Peter and John, victorious love allowed observation to give way to belief (this is exactly why John wrote his gospel—John 20:30, 31). The key is the word saw. Three different Greek words are used. The first one just means the physical activity of the eyes (v. 1). The second term means to see and also perceive (v. 6). But the final word means to see, perceive, understand, and embrace what the seeing means (v. 8). That is why it is paired with believed. So seeing can lead to believing.
Believing Is Better Than Seeing
1 Peter 1:3-9
But seeing does not ensure believing. Many people who saw Jesus do miracles and heard him teach did not believe in him (Mark 6:5, 6). For many people pride kept them from believing in Jesus (John 12:42, 43). But for believers, like Peter, believing surpassed seeing Jesus alive with his own eyes.
More than 30 years had passed from when Peter saw the resurrected Lord to when he wrote his first epistle to the people of modern-day Turkey. The recipients of Peter’s letter needed to be reminded of what the resurrection had done for them. First, it had given them new birth. We are born of the water and the Spirit (last week’s lesson) as well as born into a living hope. Second, we are born into an inheritance. This inheritance can never fade and is secure in the hands of heaven. Third, we are able to endure any trial because our trials are temporary, refine our faith, and result in praise to God. Believers will ultimately see the salvation of God when Christ returns (mentioned three times in this text). But for now believing is better than seeing (v. 8). No wonder Peter’s response was praise (v. 3) and joy (v. 8).
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2012, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.