Let me now remind you, dear brothers and sisters, of the Good News I preached to you before. You welcomed it then, and you still stand firm in it. It is this Good News that saves you if you continue to believe the message I told you—unless, of course, you believed something that was never true in the first place. I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. –I Cor. 15:1-6 (NLT)
Within a few years of the death and resurrection of Jesus, Paul had gone to Jerusalem to confer with Peter and James, the Lord’s brother (Gal. 1:18-19) around 33 A.D. Some twenty years later he wrote the first letter to the Corinthians. In the scripture quoted above Paul summarizes the heart of the Gospel: the resurrection of Jesus. To buttress his argument for the resurrection Paul states that in addition to the Twelve and he having seen the resurrected Christ there were still another 500 people, most of whom were still alive at the time of his letter, that had witnessed it. In other words, Paul was saying, “If you don’t believe me, there are plenty of other people around who saw him after his resurrection.”
Today there are no longer eyewitnesses to the resurrection. They have all long since died. Many refuse to believe in the Resurrection on the grounds that it is impossible for a human to come back from the dead. Thomas believed that at least to a point. Although he had witnessed Jesus raise people from the dead, including Lazarus shortly before Jesus’ crucifixion, he could not bring himself to believe that Jesus was alive after such a brutal execution on the Cross. He had seen him on the cross. He knew Jesus was dead. He also knew for a fact that Jesus was buried in a tomb that was sealed by a large stone and guarded by a squad of Roman soldiers.
In fact, Thomas was so adamant in his unbelief that despite all of his friends telling him they had seen the resurrected Lord, he laid down the ultimate skeptic’s challenge: “Unless I put my fingers into the holes in his flesh, I will not believe.” Shortly thereafter Jesus appeared to him and gave him the opportunity to touch his crucifixion scars. That was enough for Thomas, who fell to his knees proclaiming, “My Lord and my God.” Jesus responded with a message for Thomas and a blessing for us:
“Thomas, because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
You and I have not seen Jesus as did Paul, the Twelve and hundreds of others have. Yet, we believe. We believe not only because the evidence (the empty tomb, desertion by the Roman guards, men willing to die confessing the resurrection—no one dies for a lie, His enemies never produced a dead body to disprove the resurrection, etc.), but because of the inward working of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus departed the Holy Spirit came into the world to convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgement, as well as to reveal the truth about Jesus (John 16:5-15).
It is the Holy Spirit working through the Gospel and the means of grace (the sacraments), who imparts faith to believe in the unseen Christ. For us as, well as those who have lived since the time of the original witnesses, that is enough…we hear the Good News and we believe by the power of faith imparted to us.
Do we have to touch the nail prints in Jesus’ hands to believe? Must we have a relic like the Shroud of Turin before we accept the Resurrection as truth? The answer is ‘no’. We have the Word of God and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. With that we proclaim together with the first disciples: “Christ is risen indeed!”