Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Known by the Scars


While flipping through the channels on the television one time, I happened upon a rerun of Everybody Loves Raymond.  I have not watched this show all that many times, but I stopped for a moment because I heard one of the characters mention God and the Bible.  Knowing that most sitcoms disparage God, Christianity and the Bible, I was, nonetheless, stuck with curiosity as to what would be said.  There was some predictable poking of fun at matters concerning the Faith, but I had to take pause concerning a serious question that was raised.  The question – “what is the meaning of life?”  They were looking half-heartedly at the Bible for answers, (with the irony being…the Bible really does have the answer to this question).  One of the characters came up with the agreed upon answer that – “the meaning is in the pursuit itself.”  This is rather vague…although, it is true in a sense.  But what is that pursuit?  Glorify God and keep His commands.  Yet, this is only half of it, because there is not only the pursuit, there is also the discovery!  Jesus Christ, the Son of God is Savior and Lord!  This is where purpose and discovery meet with eternal destination.  Pretty important stuff they were talking about…and they didn’t realize the half of it.  And this is why I am here to tell all of it…the whole story.  This is really part two of John’s resurrection story, following Mary Magdalene, Peter and John at the empty tomb.

Following Jesus’ resurrection, the news that Jesus is alive begins to spread among His followers…at first with hesitation, but then with enthusiasm. (John 20:19-29)  Even the disciples do not believe the first reports, but whenever people are confronted with the reality of the resurrection, their lives are transformed.  The Lord turns the fear of the disciples into courage.  How so?  First…He comes to them.  We do not know where these men were, but Jesus finds them…and it is amazing how it happens.  In His resurrection body, Jesus is able to just appear among them without ever opening a door. Yet, He has a solid body which can be touched, as we will see.  What we realize is that Jesus’ spiritual body is not limited. And it causes us to realize -- you could never really play “hide and seek” with Jesus. :-)

It is somewhat amazing that these men are actually afraid.  The women reported to them that Jesus was alive and the two Emmaus disciples likely added to their witness.  Jesus’ first word to them is the traditional greeting – shalom, (peace).  He could rebuke them for their unfaithfulness and cowardice, but He doesn’t.  He reassures them – He shows them His wounded hands and side, giving them the opportunity to discover that He is indeed their Master and not some sort of phantom.  The wounds mean more than identification – they are also evidence that the price of salvation has been paid and that man truly can have peace with God.  When Jesus sees that the disciples’ fear has now turned to joy, He commissions them (v.21)…this being His dedication of His disciples to the task of world evangelism (Matthew 28).  It must have given these men great joy to realize that, despite their many failures, Jesus still entrusts them with His words and His work.  Finally, Jesus enables them through His Holy Spirit, giving them a portion of power (v.22) in order that they should continue to grow in wisdom to be able to witness with power.

Now we come to the big question?  Why is Thomas (called Didymus – twin) not with the other disciples when they are together?  What we know is that Thomas is a man of courage (John 11:16), and is spiritually-minded, asking questions of Jesus (14:5).  Still, there seems to be this underlying “pessimism” to Thomas.  Many call him “doubting Thomas.”  Perhaps, this is too harsh of a designation…since he is looking for assurances.  Jesus does rebuke him, but it is not for doubt, as we call it, but unbelief.  Doubt is often an intellectual problem – we want to believe, but faith is overwhelmed by problems and questions.  Unbelief is a moral problem of the will – we simply refuse to believe. So, it is important to separate the two.  And this raises another question…what is it that Thomas does not believe?  Apparently, the reports of the other Christians that Jesus is alive. And this may be why Thomas had not been with the other disciples.  He reasons like a man – “seeing is believing.”  On the one hand we can admire Thomas for wanting personal experience.  On the other hand, we must fault him for laying conditions for the Lord to meet!  The other ten disciples had told Thomas that they had seen the Lord’s hands and side (v.20), so Thomas makes this his test.  Thomas’ own words help us to understand the difference between doubt and unbelief.  Doubt says, “I cannot believe”…there are too many problems.  Unbelief says “I will not believe unless you give me evidence.”  After one week, Jesus deals with Thomas and his unbelief.  The grace of our Lord is amazing, if you consider – he stoops to our level of experience to lift us up!  He grants Thomas’ request.  There is no record that Thomas accepts the Lord’s invite to touch Him, but his response seems to indicate such.  When the time comes to prove his faith, Thomas steps up.  Jesus’ next words are, literally, “stop becoming faithless, but become a believer.”  Jesus has seen a dangerous process at work in Thomas’ heart and He wants to put a stop to it.

One day, a group of agnostics asked a Christian scientist this question: "As a person rooted in science, how can you believe that God will raise the dead from the dust?"  Working quickly, the scientist mixed a few handfuls of sand with the smallest of iron shavings. Then he challenged the unbelievers, saying, "Before I answer your question, let me ask one of my own: Which of you can take this pile and separate the particles into two groups?"  Taken off guard, the unbelievers didn't really think their answer through.  This is what the Christian scientist did -- he took a high-powered magnet and held it over the mixed pile. In a second, the filings "jumped" from the desktop onto the magnet.  Turning to the unbelievers he then challenged them with this thought: "If the Creator establishes the laws which give such powers to a magnet, how can you believe He does not have greater powers Himself? I believe if the unseen power of the magnet can pull iron shavings out of the dirt; my God can use His almighty power to call forth bodies which have turned to dust."

How many disciples were in the room when Jesus first arrived?  That is right, ten.  Judas did not make it. Number eleven, Thomas, nearly did not make it.  I am thankful that he did not choose to continue on in his unbelief and have the same fate as Judas…and as so many others who live in this world choose.  We have every spiritual opportunity in Christ, just as did Thomas, to make the right decision about Jesus.  This is why Jesus says at the conclusion – “blessed are those who have believed without seeing.”  The Lord has a personal interest in each and every one of us.  In every way, He wants to strengthen our faith and include us in the blessings He has for us!  Thomas’ unbelief represents the “scientific approach” to life – I need proof.  It may be where some are today, but as with Thomas…it doesn’t work.  Only faith works…belief and assurance concerning what our Lord Jesus Christ has done for us.  We must understand that we are saved by the grace of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, and our obedient faith response to Him.  He is the basis for all peace; He died for all people – rich and poor, black and white, male and female, old and young, Jew and Gentile.  He rose from the dead victorious over Satan, sin and death for all time – and now He lives for us…and in us through His Spirit.  God has given us a most precious gift – our souls.  How can we not trust Him who made us, saves us, and knows us better that we know ourselves…with or souls?  In this we fulfill the pursuit…we have the discovery, and our lives have meaning!

Blessings, Don

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