The dark watches of the night. Outside, all is hushed except for the occasional cricket song, croaking frog and distant barking dog. Inside, anxiety gnaws at the pit of their stomach, fear is a ball of fire in their heart and grief crushes like lead weight.
Read between the lines and picture the disciples between chapters 19 and 20 in the book of John. They have locked themselves away to mourn and grieve. Sleepless nights find them gathered in dark rooms, talking in hushed tones about what they have seen and reminiscing about good times with their friend, their teacher, their Lord.
The question of where to go from here is the gnawing anxiety they feel.
Fear for their lives is that ball of fire in their heart.
Grief for their murdered friend and Lord is the crushing lead weight.
Mary Magdalene visits the tomb in the dark early hours of morning after her own sleepless night. As soon as it was “tomorrow”—at the earliest opportunity—she was up and on her way to the tomb of the Savior she loved. Can you feel her fear as she races to tell Peter and John that she found the stone rolled away from the tomb that morning? Can you see the worried lines that crease the disciples’ foreheads as they quietly rush to investigate? The moment he saw the empty tomb, John believed. But, surprisingly, John 20:9 says, They (the disciples) still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.
I have to admit that I sometimes find myself a little annoyed with the disciples. Wouldn’t you think that after sleepless nights, grieving over the death of Jesus, they would be overjoyed to find His tomb empty? Wouldn’t you think they would remember all He had said and know that He had risen? But it is my annoyance and impatience with them that only enhances the loving picture of the Savior throughout the rest of John chapter 20.
For you see, instead of being angry because of their unbelief, instead of throwing up His hands in frustration and returning to heaven to take His place at the right hand of the Father, Jesus instead appeared to them multiple times. He appeared to a sobbing Mary in the garden where she stayed after the disciples returned to their homes that morning. He tenderly calls her name and her grief is replaced by the joy of seeing the risen Savior, Rabboni, her teacher.
On the evening of the first day of the week He appears to the disciples who are locked away in their fear. He shows them His hands and side and then breathes on them the precious gift of the Holy Spirit.
Thomas wasn’t with them when Jesus came and he wasn’t just going to take his friend’s word for it! It was too far-fetched! Even though he had walked with and been taught by Jesus for three years, he still wanted to see Him with his own eyes before he would believe. And so, one full week later Jesus appears to the disciples again, specifically to Thomas. He is not upset by Thomas’ doubt—He welcomes it. Thomas wanted and needed proof that the Savior had risen and Jesus was more than happy to provide it. He not only appears to Thomas, but He patiently and lovingly invites Him to touch His hands and side.
When they needed visual evidence, Jesus appeared. When just one of them needed tangible evidence, Jesus became touchable for him. He appeared to them so that they would believe beyond any doubt; so that these men, his disciples and friends, would know and emphatically believe that He truly was the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior.
I suggest to you that the Savior appeared to them multiple times because of His great love not only for them but also for us! Looking through time, Jesus saw us and knew we needed to hear this story! The disciples’ unwavering belief and love for the Savior would be the catalyst for their lifelong preaching of the Gospel and the telling of the story for millennia! In order to believe in Him as our own Savior, the story—the Gospel—needed to be told and passed down through all generations. For …faith comes by hearing [what is told], and what is heard comes by the preaching [of the message that came from the lips] of Christ (the Messiah Himself). (Romans 10:17 AMP)
Sleepless nights filled with anxiety and fear? Where is it that you need Him to meet you? What is the reason for your doubt? He will meet you at the point of your need and show you what you need to see. He welcomes your questions. Just like the disciples, He wants you to know and emphatically believe that He IS the Christ, He IS the Messiah, He IS your Savior. BELIEVE!
…if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. (Romans 10:9-10 NIV)