Mary Magdalene was not the only follower of Jesus who needed a changed focus. In the same chapter John recounts Jesus’ encounter with another of His followers:
Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came [on Easter evening]. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in His hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe it.”
A week later His disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”
Then He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see My hands. Reach out your hand and put it into My side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Thomas said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”
Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen Me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:24–29)
In both cases Jesus made a special appearance to one of His followers—to Mary in the garden and to Thomas in the upper room with the locked door. Both Mary and Thomas had thought Jesus was dead. They were preoccupied with the Jesus of the past. Only the physical presence of Jesus would convince them otherwise.
These who had set their minds on what they could see or touch had to learn to worship and love by faith. They could not cling to Jesus’ physical presence. They had to learn to relate to the Savior in a different way.
Mary knew Jesus’ voice when He spoke her name. To her Jesus gave a commission: Go and tell. To Thomas, who had refused to believe the testimony of the other disciples, He gave a gentle rebuke: You have believed because you have seen me. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.
When I was a child, my parents took me to church almost every time the doors were open. Our church had a strong evangelistic outreach. Every service closed with a public invitation to non-Christians to come to Christ.
Each summer the church sponsored six weeks of tent meetings at which various evangelists preached every night. Over the years our family never missed a service. It was not surprising that at the age of eight I went forward in a tent meeting to ask Jesus to come into my life.
What was supposed to be a source of great peace, however, was for me a source of great torment. During the next ten years I was wretched. I was sure God had not heard my prayers and made me a part of His family.
In listening to all the visiting preachers at our church, I had gotten the idea that I’d feel cleansed from sin if God had truly forgiven me. I didn’t have any earth-shaking, shivery experiences like the ones the evangelists described as part of other people’s conversions. For me that meant I was not yet a Christian.
As a child and then as a teenager, I agonized and prayed. I wanted the experience that would confirm for me that God had, indeed, forgiven me and made me His child. I didn’t understand that there are “diff’rent strokes for diff’rent folks.”
To some people come experiences like Mary’s in the garden or like Thomas’s in the upper room. To others of us comes the word Jesus spoke to Thomas: Blessed are they who have not seen anything spectacular and yet have believed. I began to understand this only dimly after my first year in college. Later experiences as a pastor’s wife and as a missionary helped me see more clearly that God deals with each of us as individuals. He calls each of His sheep by name. He knows exactly what we need as we walk with Him.
That is what our discipleship is about. It means learning to believe whether or not we have tangible evidence to go on. It means learning to trust our sovereign, loving God to do what is best for us, whether He does it with some dramatic experience or with silence.
How has God worked in your life? What have you learned about Him that makes a difference in your life? Where have you moved in your understanding of who God is and what He is doing in and through you? Your answers to such questions will tell you the shape of your discipleship.
Women as well as men were disciples of the Savior in Israel two thousand years ago. They followed Him, listened to Him, learned from Him, ministered to Him.
We don’t have Jesus’ physical presence among us to see and touch and help as they did. We have been asked to “walk by faith and not by sight.” But our discipleship can be just as real as theirs. We have the Bible to guide us and the fellowship of other Christians to sustain us and correct us.
In school we moved along from learning addition to subtraction to the multiplication tables, then on to fractions, percentages, equations, and theorems. We learned these things so we can now balance a checkbook, work in a bank, or become an astrophysicist. All of that learning was to good purpose.
Jesus, the Master Teacher, guides each of us in different ways to learn what we need to know. No two of us have the same life experience. He takes us where we are and works with us there, but always to the same purpose. He wants to move us from ignorance of God to acquaintance to a deep relationship as His daughters and sons. He moves us from no faith to faith to an unshakable confidence in the living God. He teaches us to see tough times as God’s way of moving us to new ways of thinking about ourselves and our purpose in life.
We walk with God each day as learners so that we can distinguish good from evil. We go on to maturity.