Acts 3:12-19 / I John 3:1-7 / Luke 24:36b-48
There are many interesting variations in the gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection, but there is one theme that is absolutely consistent, and that is that no one believes in the good news of Jesus’ resurrection when they first hear it. No one. And that includes Jesus’ own disciples, those who were closest to him and spent the most time with him. In fact, the disbelief begins with them.
Luke tells us that the disciples dismissed outright the testimony of the women who had been to the empty tomb. “These words seemed to them an idle tale,” says Luke, “and they did not believe them” (24:11). Actually, “idle tale” is a polite translation. The Greek word that Luke uses – leros – is the root of our word delirious. When the disciples heard the women’s report they considered it crazy; they thought these women were out of their minds!
Not surprising, really, when you think about it, because what happened defies rational thought. Dead people don’t just get up and walk out of their tombs; we’re sure about that. So when someone insists that a dead person has actually been raised – well, it upsets the natural order and causes us to lose confidence in pretty much everything we thought we could count on.
So it’s not terribly surprising that the disciples shook their heads with disbelief at the women’s testimony. What’s more surprising is that when the Risen Lord actually shows up in the place where they’re gathered later that same day, they still have a hard time believing! He is standing there with them, extending his hands and inviting them to touch him, wanting them to see that it’s really him. Even with all this, Luke tells us, “in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering…” (24:41).
Isn’t that amazing? Even in his presence they still are struggling to believe. And even more amazing is the fact that they are both joyful and disbelieving at the same time.
So, let me just say it: It’s okay if you have doubts. Doubt is not the opposite of faith. If fact, it is a necessary part of faith because faith, by definition, implies trusting even when it is impossible to prove that in which we are putting our trust. We exercise this kind of faith every day, in countless ways. We trust that the lights will come on when we flip the switch, even though we can’t be absolutely certain they will. We trust that the grocer has not sold us contaminated food, even though we have no proof. We trust that winter will eventually give way to spring, and the night will yield to the dawn, even we see no evidence of it in the moment.
Faith asks us to trust even when we cannot prove that in which we are putting our trust. The mystery of the resurrection transcends our ability to comprehend it. It lies outside the realm of our experience and defies reason. We shouldn’t be shocked that people find it hard to accept. We need not be dismayed if they, or we, harbor doubts. Faith can accommodate doubt. Faith is about trusting, even when we lack the certainty of scientific proof.
So it is not shocking that the news of Jesus’ resurrection is initially met with disbelief and doubt; that is understandable. What eventually overcomes the initial experience of disbelief is the first-hand experience of these followers of Jesus, and their testimony that they have seen him, spoken with him, eaten with him, touched him – after they saw him die. There is also the evidence of their complete and total transformation, from a frightened little band hiding behind locked doors and trembling with fear that those who put Jesus to death would also find and kill them – to fearless witnesses, boldly proclaiming their conviction that he is RISEN and that their lives have been forever changed. They testify to this without a shred of fear, refusing to withdraw their words even when persecuted and put to death. Something – someone – transformed them, sweeping away their doubts and filling them with power and conviction and joy!
Considering what they have seen and have now come to believe, it hardly surprises them that a lame man at the entrance to the temple stands up and walks when they extend their hands to him in Jesus’ name. The people who see the man “walking and praising God” and who recognize him as “the one who used to sit and ask for alms” are astounded – “utterly astonished,” Luke tells us. But Peter responds as if the healing was not at all unexpected or out of the ordinary! “Why do you wonder at this?” he asks, “[and] why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk?” (Acts 3:12). It’s GOD’s doing, not ours, Peter insists. It is GOD who is bringing life out of death, overcoming evil with good, scattering darkness with light, renewing and restoring the brokenness of creation. What else would you expect from the God of heaven and earth?
This is the truth to which the disciples have awakened. This is the good news to which they now testify with power and great might: that God has broken the power of sin and death by raising Jesus to life, and that God is restoring the whole created order – including each of us – to its original beauty and purpose. This is God’s mission, they insist, and God will not rest until it is accomplished.
Seeing God’s power at work in the world breathes new life into these frightened disciples and sets them on fire. Their lives are charged with new meaning and purpose. They see what God is doing and they recognize that they are called to participate with God in this great work. They are meant to be channels of God’s grace and power to others, bringing LIFE and HOPE into a defeated world. This is the conviction that has set their hearts aflame.
The God who is making all things new is also making them new. St. Paul, an early apostle, explains: “If anyone is in Christ,” he tells the Corinthians, “there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new” (II Cor.5:17). “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself… and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ” (II Cor. 5:19,20a). This is the truth the disciples now see. That God is reconciling all things, the whole world and everyone in it, in Christ – and that we are witnesses to this, agents and co-workers with God in this process of reconciliation and renewal. We are ambassadors of this good news.
We not only have a new mission and a new message in Christ; we also have a new identity. “See what love the Father has given us,” remarks the author of First John, “that we should be called the children of God; and that is what we are!” (I Jn. 3:1) “We are God’s children now,” he goes on to say, “what we will be has not yet been revealed” (I Jn. 3:2). God is renewing us, transforming us, changing us into the very image and likeness of Christ. We have an amazing future ahead of us – every one of us! God is at work in us, bringing about an amazing transformation. “We are God’s children now, [but] what we will be has not yet been revealed.”
I’m reminded of a young couple who once lived next door to me, whose hobby was collecting antique furniture. I have to confess that their passion for old furniture was a bit of a mystery to me. I would see them head off on Saturday mornings to the flea market and return some hours later with the most hopeless pile of castoffs. I couldn’t imagine why they wanted these beat up, broken down chairs and dressers; it all looked like junk to me! I wouldn’t have paid a dime for it!
But then they would set to work – stripping off layers of paint and varnish, sanding and smoothing the surfaces, re-attaching broken handles or legs, and applying a shiny new finish. The results were beyond anything I could ever have imagined. Their home was filled with the most beautiful antiques, each of which had been carefully selected and lovingly reclaimed. They saw the hidden beauty that I could never have imagined, and knew exactly how to bring it out.
God is like that. God looks over this broken and scarred world – and over the broken and scarred people who inhabit it – and reclaims it, and them, with love. God sees what we so often cannot see: the hidden beauty and the glorious purpose of every thing he has made, and God reclaims it and sets about to renew and restore it, and bring it back to life. That is God’s work. In and through Christ, God was reconciling the whole world to himself – rivers and rocks, salamanders and snowflakes, human beings and animals, plants and trees, everything that exists – God is breathing new life into his world, and making it new.
“To this we are witnesses.” Witnesses to the power of good to triumph over evil. Witnesses to the power of light to overcome darkness. Witnesses to the power of life to conquer death.
The world needs this witness because there are times when the world seems very dark indeed, and when evil seems to be winning out. There are days when we ourselves are tempted to doubt and to despair, when we too are in need of this witness – which is why we need each other, just as the early Christians needed each other, to keep before us and within us an unquenchable hope, and the faith that God will have the final say.
I am an admirer of Mahatma Gandhi, the great spiritual leader of India in the 20th century. Even though he was not a Christian, I am convinced that he grasped the Christian vision. He firmly believed that goodness would overcome evil in the end. “When I despair,” he said, “I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it – always.”
This is the faith that overcomes the world. The faith that God is at work, healing and renewing the whole creation; overcoming hatred with love, darkness with light, evil with good. Our hope lies not in what we have done for God, but in what God has done, and is doing, for us. We put our trust in God alone. And we pledge ourselves to God’s work in the world, seeking to be God’s agents of peace and reconciliation and renewal.
“Peace be with you,” the Risen Jesus says to his frightened and confused followers. “Do not be afraid. ‘In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!’” (John 16:33).
Take courage today and do not be afraid. Christ has overcome the world!
ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! THE LORD IS RISEN INDEED! ALLELUIA!
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