Why the disciples came so close to losing their own salvation
Mark 16:11 And when they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe.
It’s amazing that the world thinks that great distinctions belong to those that men deem to be great. It’s amazing that God didn’t choose someone with the supposed dignity of a Pope, a president, or a celebrity to be the first to witness that Jesus was alive. God chose a woman out of whom Jesus had cast many demons. This former prostitute whose life was transformed by the love and power of God was the first witness of the greatest event of creation’s history.
It would seem nearly as amazing that His own disciples did not believe that Jesus had been resurrected when Mary Magdelene told them. Yet we only need to look at our own heart’s easy doubts about the love and power of God to realize that unbelief is not so amazing at all. It’s common.
Mark 16:13 And they went and told it to the rest, but they did not believe them either.
Jesus then appeared to two men walking in the country side, and at first they didn’t recognize Him until their eyes were opened. These two also went to Jesus’ disciples and told them that He was alive. “Neither believed they them,” the Bible says. It would seem only natural to the natural mind that it is next door to impossible to believe God’s Word in the face of incredible tragedy, grief, and scientific impossibility. Even though there were several people from two different encounters entirely, these disciples who had not only seen the power of Jesus, but they had also experienced this same power in their lives, still did not believe.
Jesus had told them that He would rise from the dead. He even told them where to go to meet Him. But I’ve always contended that these men couldn’t believe because of the heart condition that they had. While Jesus was walking into the city, knowing that He would soon be crucified, His disciples argued about which of them would have the greater ministry when He was gone! Their pride blocked their vision and their faith. They would have to be sifted, and Jesus knew it. He told them that they would forsake Him, but they didn’t believe that either – until it happened.
Their grief was so great over their own failures that they couldn’t believe what Jesus had said. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again.” Oftentimes our grief is so great, our problems so difficult, that we can’t believe that God will be faithful to deliver us from all of our fears and afflictions if we will fear Him, trust Him, and seek Him. (Psalms 34) But these disciples feared men, trusted in their own greatness, and did not seek Him where He told them to find Him after He was risen.
Mark 16:14 Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.
Unbelief and hardness of heart go together. It existed even in those closest to Jesus. It’s close allies are personal self-defense (defensiveness) and pride. Jesus knew then, and He knows now that such formidable adversaries exist in all of men’s hearts. He also knows how to love them past it if they will let life’s trials achieve their intended end. Jesus then told them that in essence, nothing has changed as a result of your unbelief. “Believe now, and go and tell others about the good news.”
Mark 16:16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
See how close Jesus’ own disciples came to losing their own salvation. Even after several witnesses told of Jesus’ resurrection, they did not believe! Yet God is the Author and Finisher of our faith. The turning around of one’s heart in these days seems especially hard. There’s so much to be accomplished by our own education, ability, and opportunity. America is on the edge of being the most sinful nation in human history. Hardly any nation in recorded time has run the full circle of sin like America by formally adopting same sex marriage as law. (We haven’t done it yet. The Netherlands did it in 2000. The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is in the Bible for a reason.)
People are under great pressure to doubt God’s Word. Christians barely have the strength to believe in the face of imminent danger. But God knows how to lead us through our worst enemies – the exaltation of our own pride and human potential over God. He will never leave us or forsake us. As long as there is breath in our lungs God will work with us to bring us to the greatest power on earth – faith in the resurrection power of God to overturn every obstacle that we face. If his power conquered the consequences of sin, then we can expect His power to demonstrate that reality in our lives! “Don’t be afraid. Only believe.” Mark 5:36