For several years I was pastored by Jeff Garner in San Francisco, CA. He is an amazing shepherd and friend. In addition, he is a Johannine scholar who often brought aspects of the Fourth Gospel to my attention that I may have never noticed otherwise. One example is fitting for our celebration in the resurrection on Easter Sunday.
In John 20.1-9 we have the first description of Easter morning in this Gospel. Throughout the latter half of the narrative we have seen this mysterious character known by most as the “Beloved Disciple”. He was the closest to Jesus at the meal, he stood under the cross with Mary, and now he will be one of the first witnesses to the resurrection.
What I find beautiful about the picture painted in this Gospel is how applicable it is to us today. Over the last several days we have had some good discussions on the blog regarding the historicity of the resurrection. There are many skeptics (some things never change) who can give a million plausible scenarios that explain away what we believe. Yet in our heart of hearts we know we have good reason to believe that Jesus really rose from the dead. It is the gospel that was preached to us. It is the gospel that is the power of God unto salvation. When we have exhausted all our reasons for why others should believe and we have heard all the reasons we shouldn’t believe we still believe.
In John 20.1-9 Mary Magdalene comes running to the disciples telling them that she has seen the stone removed from the tomb. At this juncture in the narrative there is no indication anyone had seen him alive. Peter and the Beloved Disciples take off on a sprint toward the tomb. The Beloved outruns Peter and when both have arrived all they see is burial linens. When the Beloved went inside the tomb he examined what he saw and it says, “He saw and he believed”.
What did he believe? At this juncture he did not believe some objective historical event known as “the resurrection” for in v. 9 it says “They did not understand from the Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead”. In other words, the Beloved Disciple believed that something right, something good, something amazing had happened even though the disciples had not yet fully put two and two together. Whatever had happened it was not the removal of his body by Roman soldiers or the Jewish authorities. This was not a grave robbery. While the words “he is risen” had not made sense who he was did make sense.
I was taught by my pastor that part of the function of the Beloved Disciple character in this Gospel and the reason for anonymity is so that the reader can step into his shoes and see the story from his perspective. All may not agree but it still makes for a valuable reading approach. I for one want to stand in the sandals of the Beloved Disciple on this Resurrection Sunday peering into the tomb knowing that the Jesus in whom we believe in trustworthy. Yes, it is a matter of faith.
Even before the Beloved Disciple has the evidence he first trusted. This is often the case. It is often “faith seeking understanding” and not the other way around. Is this scientific? No. Is this acceptable to the academic elites? It hasn’t been since Peter and John stood before the Sanhedrin and Paul before the philosophers in Athens. It is “provable”. Of course not. Is it “true”. I believe so. I believed that we can confidently proclaim with the disciples of years past that “He is risen!”