When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.
It wasn’t just the women who had a hard time believing in Christ’s resurrection. They thought the women’s report to them was nonsensical. They had not been expecting a resurrection either, despite the repeated statements Jesus had made to them before his death.
Peter was bothered by it, however. He knew these women. For them to have left the tomb without completing their mission and to have returned with such a clear yet seemingly impossible message, he was at least perplexed to the point where he couldn’t rest without checking out the tomb for himself. So he ran the entire way.
The women had clearly been right about the stone: Peter was able to stoop and look right into the tomb. And then he saw that the tomb wasn’t entirely empty: the strips of linen that had once been wrapped around the body of Christ, in accordance with burial tradition, were still lying there. But there was no body.
What had happened? The strips of linen were not simply lying in a jumbled pile on the floor of the tomb, as they would have been if someone had removed them and taken away the body. They were lying, as John’s description in his account makes clear, as if the body was still there. But the body had gone.
As yet Peter couldn’t come up with an explanation. But it was clear something had happened. Might there be truth in the women’s story after all? It was just so hard to believe.
When I was an undergraduate student, working through some of my questions about the Christian faith, I remember how helpful I found it that Luke not only begins his account of the life of Christ with a person – Zacharias, a priest – who can’t bring himself to believe in God’s supernatural intervention in human history (see Luke 1:5-25), but also he ends his account with Peter and his friends experiencing a similar struggle.
I remember being told in a university literature class that in the 1st century, long before the Enlightenment and the age of science, people were so superstitious and gullible that they would believe any supernatural explanation they were given, which is why the stories of Christ’s miracles and his resurrection were so easily accepted.
That theory seemed very implausible to me! In all periods of history, whatever the state of scientific theory, people have always known that dead bodies don’t come back to life. Moreover, if people are routinely expecting miracles, then one more miraculous event won’t make much difference.
In any case, the facts get in the way of my lecturer’s theory (a theory it seems many would like to be true). The facts are that the people of the time, including the apostles themselves, did not rush to believe in Christ’s resurrection.
Why did they find it so difficult to believe? And what was it that changed their minds so that they became convinced advocates of Christ’s resurrection, not only believing it to be historically true but being prepared to give their lives for its truth? Having raised the questions, Luke now turns to supplying the answers.