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So the disciples went to the tomb, Peter, and John, and Mary Magdelene, of whom John and Mary had seen Jesus die two days before, and they found that Jesus was not in the tomb. And when Mary waited in the Garden she found that Jesus was in the garden, walking and talking. And when John and Peter returned to the house where they were used to gather, they found that Jesus was in the house, eating and drinking. And none of those (more than 500, Paul tells us [1 Cor. 15:6]) who saw the empty tomb, or the living Jesus, could stop talking and writing about this extraordinary event, this extraordinary man, as long as they lived. And it changed them all.
This dead Jesus walked the earth alive; this buried Jesus had walked out of the tomb; this crucified Jesus walked among them in the splendour of his divinity.
And it took them a while to get used to the idea. All four Gospels record at first the disciples’ negative reaction to the resurrection. Matthew remembers an atmosphere of fear, turning only afterwards to joy and confidence; Mark reports disbelief at first, then the change of heart, and at last belief; Luke writes of astonishment and puzzlement, then of knowledge and worship.
All this was very natural. But there is no cause for you and me to fear, no excuse to disbelieve, no call for us to be astonished. We knew this was coming, we have heard the evidence before, we have had access to the testimony, unchallenged for almost two thousand years, and to twenty centuries’ tradition of joy, of belief, of confidence and of worship.
And now for John. He too had a negative reaction, at first. It was not fear; nor was it puzzlement; nor disbelief. He describes himself (for he it is, thinly disguised under the title of ‘the beloved disciple’) running fearlessly to the tomb, seeing the grave clothes and drawing his conclusion, and [v.8] believing, just as we, on rather more evidence, also now believe.
What, then, is his negative reaction? It is lack of understanding. With the benefit of some years’ hindsight he writes [v.9] : “they (for he is too coy to say ‘we’) did not yet understand the Scripture” but that now, at the time of writing, he does claim to understand, “the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.”
John’s is the gospel you and I need to hear at Easter 2006. He knew and believed from the first that Christ was raised from the dead, just as we were taught this from the first day we entered the Church. But he wanted to know, why? what difference has it made?
It makes this difference: he came to understand the Scriptures, to understand what God was saying to the world, or we might better translate, as the Authorised Version does, he came to know the scripture, to know what God was saying, with the regretful admission that really he did not know before.
Now when John, or any of the writers in the New Testament, refer to “scripture”, they mean, of course, what we call the Old Testament. And John, along with all the writers of the New Testament, is very clear about the subject of the Old.
The Old Testament does not exist to give John, or Paul, or Peter, or you, or me, information about Iron Age history, or Greek politics, or astrophysics, or whatever it might be. Sometimes Scripture
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