As I was preparing for yet another year of Easter services this year, something occurred to me that I had never really noticed before.
In John’s account of the story (chapter 20), when Mary Magdelene shares the news that the body of Jesus is missing, a foot race ensues between John and Peter.
John gets to the tomb first but doesn’t go in. Arriving right on his heels is Peter. True to his sometimes impetuous form, Peter charges right in to the empty tomb, and inside he discovers the evidence. Strips of linen that had been wrapped around Jesus body…the burial cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head folded up by itself, separate from the rest.
John finally went inside as well. And the record tells us that once inside, John ‘saw and believed’.
It made me wonder what, if any, significance there was to the fact that John arrived first but Peter barged in ahead of him? Reading it again today, I am surmising the following.
John was hurting. This beloved disciple of Jesus, arguably the closest to Him relationally in the inner circle, was experiencing deep grief and loss, more so than any of the other disciples because of the intimate nature of his relationship with Jesus. It stands to reason that he would pause at the entrance to the tomb. In that moment, he feared only further grief and loss at the thought that the body of His Lord may have been stolen and spirited away. Perhaps in his deep grief and sorrow, any thoughts of resurrection had escaped him in that moment. Verse nine would reflect that – up until this point, they still did not understand that Jesus had to rise from the dead.
John wanted the resurrection to be true but was having a tough time seeing past the gaping hole of loss that Christ’s death had cut through his soul. And in a moment inside of the empty tomb, John’s experience was one in which, for him, seeing was believing.
Peter, on the other hand, had a much more pressing issue. Fresh from a triple denial of Jesus, the only way Peter could feel like he had any shot at a redemptive moment would be if Jesus were indeed alive. And true to his aggressive self, even though John beat him to the tomb – Peter took advantage of John’s hesitation and butted right in front of him. Why? Because if John wanted the resurrection to be true…Peter NEEDED the resurrection to be true. He needed to know that in the aftermath of his failure and brokenness, there was a chance for redemptive restoration.
I think most of us, if we are really honest with ourselves, can identify with both John and Peter. Deep down we want the resurrection to be true. And whether we admit it in the open or not – because of the failure and the brokenness and even the hopelessness we all sometimes experience, we NEED the resurrection to be true. Because it is only in the resurrected Christ that we have hope. The cross is the door to eternal life…but the resurrection is the hinge on which that door swings open.
Paul summed it up nicely in 1 Corinthians 15:14 when he said this. “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”
I, for one, need the resurrection to be true! He is risen!