by Samantha Shrauner
We live in a post-Easter world.
Christ is risen from the dead, his victory is secure, and those who have put their trust in him for salvation have the joy of abundant life now and the hope of eternal life in the future.
We have been blessed with abundant provision and have access to a close relationship with God. But sometimes the pieces of our lives just don’t fall into place. Things happen that make no sense to us. Stability turns into uncertainty. Relationships that we thought were strong grow strained and then fracture. God-honouring plans crumble to pieces.
When our understanding of what life should be doesn’t match up to the reality, how do we make sense of what God is doing?
In John 20:1-9, we see witnesses to the resurrection who don’t understand what they’re witnessing. It’s great good news, but they can’t see it yet. Soon enough their sorrow will turn into joy, but right now there is fear and sorrow and confusion. While recounting these events, John points us to where we can find context, meaning, and purpose in the midst of every confusing circumstance of life.
The First Witness
"Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him." - John 20:1-2
Easter morning begins in the dark with a woman going to a tomb. Standing far back from the picture with the full view, we view the first Easter as a celebration and a victory. But for those who experienced it first-hand, the day started in grief and then descended into gut-wrenching disorientation. In the midst of grief, physical graves can bring a measure of comfort and closure. Mary went to tend to a dead man, but coming to the tomb she finds that it has been disturbed and his body is gone. Even this small consolation appears to have been ripped away. Commenting on Mark’s account of the women at the tomb, pastor Jonty Allcock writes, “This is not a warm and fluffy ending where everyone smiles and feels good. They weren’t dealing with a sentimental fairy story. They were presented with hard facts that shook the very foundation of their world.” (1) The day looks like it will be worse than Mary expected. We know the day will end with joy; she cannot yet see it.
Our lives are filled with unexpected moments, some welcome and some very unwelcome. When we find ourselves in grief and uncertainty, when our sorrow has not yet turned to joy, where can we turn to find God’s heart?
God has given us his word so that we might know his character. In narratives, psalms, sermons, and exhortations the Bible reveals the God who created, sustains, and saves us.
When sorrow overwhelms, Scripture draws us close to the God of all comfort.
In the midst of every uncertainty and grief in life, find God’s heart in God’s Word.
Details from an Eyewitness
"So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going towards the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. " - John 20:3-7
If it weren’t so confusing it would be beautiful. This tomb is body-less, but not entirely empty: the grave clothes remain. The face cloth is folded neatly. Maybe the body was stolen, but chances are slim that thieves would steal a corpse and leave the wrappings. (2) Peter doesn’t realise it yet, but the evidence of the resurrection is staring him in the face. All the pieces of the good news that he will proclaim for the rest of his life are right there. When the picture comes together, everything will change.
On the other side of Easter Sunday the picture is complete and beautiful. The empty tomb and the neatly folded linens make our hearts soar with hope. We affirm the resurrection and celebrate with joy. Christians have entrusted their lives and their futures to God’s sovereign purpose. But there are times of frustration in our lives when all we can see is a jumble of pieces and not the full picture.
When the facts of life seem disconnected from God’s plan, how do we make sense of all the details?
God has given us his word so that we can put our lives in context. In its pages, we discover that God is at work in the details and puts nothing to waste. Like Peter and John, there will be times when we see things so closely that we cannot grasp what God is doing. In these times Scripture reminds us that God is trustworthy. When life feels jumbled and it’s hard to see how things fit together, find God’s heart in God’s Word.
The Witness of Scripture (3)
"Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes." - John 20:8-10
Klink suggests that the ending of verse 8 is better understood, “he saw and began to believe.” (4) This explains the verses that follow: the disciples have seen the empty tomb and the neat grave cloths, but they don’t yet understand the Old Testament as it relates to Jesus. Belief, true understanding of who Jesus is and what he has done, is beginning to dawn. When this belief takes hold, God will turn these disciples into apostles and their witness will go out to the ends of the earth. On Easter morning they aren’t proclaiming good news to anyone - they go back to their own homes. John points out what’s missing from their understanding: they haven’t grasped how Jesus fulfils the Old Testament.
All of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation tells a unified, coherent story. At the centre of this narrative is the resurrection of Jesus. Everything that precedes has been leading up to this, and everything that follows points back to it. If Peter and John had fully understood the Old Testament they would have recognised who Jesus was. They would have grasped why it was necessary for him to die and then defeat death through resurrection. Everything was there in the pages of Scripture, but they couldn’t see it yet.
We understand that the resurrection was part of God’s plan from the beginning. We can see the whole story of Easter and we know how Sunday ends. At the same time, we have uncertainties too. Life is more complex than we bargained for. Our belief in the gospel doesn’t seem to match up to the troubles we come against in life.
When anxiety threatens to quash our faith, where can we go to rekindle our trust in God?
God has given us the Bible to show us his plan from beginning to end. Scripture reveals the complete picture of what God is doing in the world he has made. Some of it hasn’t happened yet, but we have put our trust in a God who keeps his promises. Read Scripture to see how God has been faithful in the past, then read Scripture to see what God will surely do in the future. When you are tempted to go back to your home instead of proclaiming the resurrection, find God’s heart in God’s word.
Mary, Peter, and John are witnesses to the greatest event in history, but they haven’t seen the full picture yet. Our view is wider and more complete, and we must not take our vantage point for granted. Rather, we should turn to God’s Word and take every opportunity to draw closer to him for comfort, for purpose, and for greater faith. When life becomes uncertain, find God’s heart in God’s Word.
(1) Allcock, Jonty, Happily Ever After, (The Good Book Company, 2020), 29-30.
(2) Edward Klink, John, Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 832.
(3) I am indebted to Klink for pointing out the importance of Scripture in this passage, particularly in the section titled “The Testimony of Scripture.” Klink, 837
(4) Klink, 834