Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying (John 20:1-10, NIV).
I can only imagine the grief, confusion, and fear the disciples must have been feeling after seeing their friend and Rabbi so brutally and sadistically killed. Who was to say that the Pharisees would not come and do the same to them? So they huddled behind a locked door with only shattered hope and shaken faith for company.
Then Mary Magdalene comes and tells them that the tomb has been robbed and Jesus’ body had been taken.
Peter and John both throw caution to the wind and run back to the grave. As Mary said, it was wide open. Jesus was gone. However, things did not look like thieves or robbers had been there. Odder still was that the grave clothes that Joseph and Nicodemus had wrapped Him in were all in place where they belonged…just without Jesus in them.
Verse 8 says that John “believed.” Believed what? I think it means he believed Mary…that Jesus’ body was gone, not that He had been resurrected. That seems clear from verse 9, which says that they did not yet believe that Jesus rose from the dead.
Empty. No body. No clues as to what happened. So now being even more confused and defeated than before, they turn around and go back home.
One of the things I have been learning is that sometimes we can be looking at a great thing God is doing—and totally miss it. All sorts of things can contribute to this like:
- When we are dealing with strong affections like grief (like in the case of Mary, Peter, and John), anxiety, anger, or hopelessness.
- When we are convinced that God is going to work only in the way we ask or expect.
- When God is doing something that we would never think to look for.
- When we are not expecting God to do anything.
I’m sure you could think of more. The point is, just because we don’t see God working, or discern His presence, or feel His love, it does not follow that God is not working, present, or no longer loving us.
A good magician uses distraction to keep people from seeing what he is doing so that it looks like something amazing has happened. When it comes to watching God, often the opposite is true; we get so preoccupied in our own perceptions and perspectives that we miss the awesome thing that God is doing and conclude that He is not doing much.
The good news is that God doesn’t relate to us, love us, save us, or bless us based on our ability to discern what He is doing. Jesus did not go home because Peter and John did. Instead He showed up at their home (John 20:19). He did not stop working to reveal Himself to Mary even when she did not see He was right in front of her. He kept revealing more and more until she fully realized what God had been doing (John 20:11-17). What He did for them He will do for you too.
So let us remember how easy it is for us to deceive ourselves into thinking that God is absent when we do not see Him or understand what He is doing. But let us also be encouraged by knowing that God will not let His work and blessings and love go unnoticed by His children. He is both patient and persistent. He will not stop until we join Mary in her heartfelt and joyous embrace of the Savior who exceeds all our expectations.