In my study of the New Testament last week, I read the last chapters of the gospels, where the Savior resurrected and was seen of the disciples. Matthew recounts that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were at the tomb when an angel rolled back the stone and announced that the Savior had resurrected. He told them to go to the disciples and share this message. As they traveled, the Savior himself appeared to them and commanded them to announce his resurrection to his disciples. Mark adds that when Mary Magdalene testified that she had seen the Savior, the disciples didn’t believe. Mark also shares the experience of two men who saw the Savior on the road to Emmaus but again, their testimony was not believed. When the Savior finally appeared to the eleven apostles, he rebuked them for their disbelief. Luke describes the response of the disciples to the testimony of the women at the garden (Luke includes Joanna and other women): “their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not.” Even when the Savior did appear to the eleven, their response was fear and uncertainty. Only when the Savior invited them to handle him did they rejoice and believe. John shares the beautiful experience of Mary at the tomb with the Savior and the gladness the apostles felt when they finally understood that the Savior had come back to them. He also recounts the doubt that Thomas felt at the testimony of the apostles and his humbling experience with the Savior himself.
As I read these different accounts I was struck with a couple of things. First, I wonder at the relationship the Savior had with these women that he would choose to appear to them first. What a tender blessing to the grieving hearts of those women who had followed and served and consoled the Savior during His ministry. Second, why did everyone doubt their testimony, as well as the testimonies of the men on the road to Emmaus? Surely they knew each other well enough to trust in their words? Was the concept of resurrection so impossible to believe when they had seen the Savior raise so many from the dead? As I try to put myself in their shoes, I wonder if maybe they were afraid to believe, to hope in the resurrection? As one who has grieved deeply, I think I could understand that a little. But I think it also reflects a fundamental lack of understanding in the mission of the Savior. Despite His continual teachings, these men who had worked with Him still didn’t understand the Atonement and Resurrection. Fortunately for them and all of us, the Savior was merciful and gave them both experience and the gift of the Holy Ghost to help them understand.
We often point to Thomas – doubting Thomas who had to actually see and touch to believe. But the other gospels point out that Thomas wasn’t the only one who didn’t believe. Until they had personal witness of His resurrected glory, none of the apostles believed. John shares these words of the Savior: “blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” The early apostles had the privilege of seeing the resurrected Christ, but most of us will be in the category of having not seen but having believed anyway. We will have to exercise faith in the testimony of those who have already seen. But, just like He came to the apostles, the Savior can come to us through the Holy Spirit and confirm in our hearts that which we believe.
I guess what I’ve learned from these passages is that even the most faithful and knowledgeable of us can have trouble believing. We have moments of doubt and uncertainty. Sometimes we are prideful in our demands to “see in his hands the print of the nails”. But the beautiful message in these chapters is that the Savior doesn’t give up on us. He didn’t cast off Thomas for his unbelief. He didn’t refuse to appear to the apostles because they didn’t believe the testimony of the women at the tomb. He didn’t refuse to linger with Mary and the men on the road to Emmaus because they didn’t immediately recognize Him. Instead He loved them and patiently opened their eyes to Him and taught them and invited them to be more believing. How grateful I am for those always inviting and outstretched arms.