Mark 16:9-14 (NIV): When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.
Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either.
Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.
Even though this final section is not part of Mark’s original gospel, it provides a summary of information condensed from the other gospels and Acts, bringing this gospel to a “neater” finish than it had before.
Some have wondered why it was to Mary Magdalene that Jesus chose to appear first. The simple answer is that she was the first one who hung around the tomb long enough for Him to make contact. The other women (and Mary) ran to tell the disciples about the open tomb, the missing body, and the angels, immediately after they heard the news. No opportunity there. Peter and John ran into the tomb, followed by Mary, but after they had verified that the body was missing, they immediately walked away (John 20:3-11). But Mary stayed at the tomb until she became aware of a man standing nearby who she thought was a gardener, and then realized was Jesus (John 20:14-16). If the others had stayed at the tomb for a while, they would have seen Him, too. A lot of the time people miss out on huge blessings because they are far too anxious to move on to the next thing. Their minds and hearts are focused somewhere down the line, and they miss out on what is right next to them, waiting to be revealed.
When Mary reported to the gathered disciples that she had actually seen and spoken to Jesus Himself, they thought that she was crazy, or at best hallucinating. With no frame of reference, no prior similar event in biblical history to point to, they would not believe such an outrageous thing (even though their hearts really wanted to).
Next recalled is Jesus’ appearance to Cleopas and another disciple on the road to Emmaus (cf. Luke 14:13-35). Even though Jesus walked with them for some time, talking with them and teaching them, they had no idea it was Him. They didn’t believe that He had risen, even though they had heard the testimony of Mary, and they had no expectation that He would suddenly show up next to them on the road, so their eyes were closed to who He really was. It was only when He broke and blessed the bread that their eyes were opened, and they suddenly recognized Him. And then He simply vanished, leaving them with even more questions.
Late that same evening, after Cleopas and the other disciple returned to Jerusalem with their story of seeing Jesus, He suddenly appeared in the midst of their gathering (Luke 24:36-49). Even with Him standing right there, they still had a hard time believing that the resurrection was real. They though He was a ghost, and it took a while to convince them otherwise.
Jesus rebuked the disciples for not believing those who had already seen Him. No matter how strange His resurrection might have been, no matter how far outside of “normal” experience it was, He had told them clearly that it was going to happen, and that should have been enough for them to be waiting for it, expecting it, and rejoicing greatly when they heard that it had happened.
Father, we are still so much like those early disciples today. You have made us so many amazing and excellent promises, but we are shocked, and in some cases disbelieving, when You actually make them happen. Father, help us to read and to hear Your promises with new eyes and ears, and with hearts that believe and look for their fulfillment. Help our first response to be faith every time You speak, so that we don’t waste time doubting or trying to explain things away when You act. Amen.