Seeing & Believing

John 20:1-18



All around the world Christians celebrate Easter with this greeting.

  • It’s our faith confession. We are saying that death is not the final word. We are saying that Jesus was raised from the dead… and because of that, we too can experience resurrection. And not just life after death, or as some cynics have described the Christian belief – “Pie in the Sky By and By” – but abundant, inspired, joy-filled life – now, today!
  • How is your faith today? Many people – and not only at Easter – actually feel very inadequate in their faith. Maybe you feel that you don’t believe with quite enough conviction…. Or that your believing is somehow inferior to that of others. Maybe you worry that you just don’t understand enough. Or maybe some experience in your life has just caused you not to believe at all…. or even to want to believe.
  • I want you to know that you are more than welcome here this morning. In fact, the text that we just read from John 20 speaks directly to the fact that all of us will express our faith and believing in different ways and with various stages and timing.
  • This morning I would like to look with you at the three followers of Jesus who appear here in John chapter 20 – Mary, Peter, and John.


Mary visits Jesus’ tomb early in the morning. She sees the stone is rolled away…. and draws a conclusion. She hurries to Peter and the others saying “They have taken his body away…” Mary sees the empty tomb…. but does not yet believe. Later, Mary looks into the tomb and sees two angels. They ask her why she’s crying – she says “they have taken my Lord…” Then she turns and sees Jesus, but does not recognize him. She thinks it’s the gardener and speaks to him “Sir, if you’ve taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus then calls her by name – “Mary.” At this, she suddenly realizes it is Jesus, and everything changes. Later she tells the others “I have seen the Lord”.

While Mary sees a great deal, it takes a special encounter – Jesus calling her by name – in order for her to believe that Jesus was truly alive.


Alerted by Mary that the tomb is open – Peter and John run to the tomb. Although John arrives first, Peter rushes in and sees Jesus’ burial garments. Nothing else is said about Peter. He returns to where the other disciples are staying. As far as we are told, Peter does not yet believe or understand anything.


John runs with Peter to the empty tomb. Although he hesitates, he looks inside to see the strips of linen lying there. After Peter, John also goes inside the tomb and it says that “he saw and believed.” We’re not quite sure from this account exactly what he believed – that Jesus was alive? …. or only that Jesus’ tomb was empty?

Each individual experienced this Easter morning differently.

John sees …. and believes

Mary sees… but needs some help in believing (Jesus calls her name)

Peter sees…. And does not believe.

While each is different, there is a common thread that runs through all of their experiences. And that is, that eventually, each of them believed – not just from “seeing something” but from actually meeting, having an encounter with, the risen Christ.

Other Examples

Here are some other examples where “seeing and believing” were not so simple.

Two disciples on the road to Emmaus – they walk with Jesus….and see him, but don’t recognize him.

Later that night when Jesus appears to the disciples (Jesus walks through doors, appears to have an appetite, greets them, etc.) the disciples are glad, but also afraid. Thomas, who was missing, later states that he won’t believe what they’re saying….unless he sees Jesus with his own eyes and touches Jesus with his own hands.

A week later Jesus appears again, this time when Thomas is present. Thomas declares “My Lord, and my God.”

In John 21 Jesus appears to the disciples along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, while they are fishing. John recognizes him from the boat and they all rush ashore…. but seem shy and uncertain about how to relate to Jesus.

In each case, seeing Jesus (although usually not recognizing him) does not always result in believing. That usually involves a longer process. Jesus does not judge any of them. However, he offers special peace to each of them, and encourages them to believe.

Are you seeing…. and believing today?

Are you open to the possibility of resurrection?  Of abundant, rich, eternal life?

If you feel that your faith is not strong enough, can you imagine God accepting your faith just as it is?

As a church, we also have a need to believe and rely on God for resurrection life.

In every case, the disciples moved toward faith – not by forcing themselves to believe something – but through an encounter with the resurrected Christ.

Have you had such an encounter? Do you sense his presence in your daily journey?

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

(the above is a summary of the message shared during Easter worship on April 17, 2022.)