Sunday, April 3, 2016

THE DOUBTERS

Jesus had risen from the dead!
Mary Magdalene even saw him alive at the tomb and reported this news to the disciples. Also, the other women who had gone with Mary told the disciples that they saw the empty tomb and that angels had appeared to them, telling them that Jesus had risen from the dead.

Nevertheless, in large part, it seems like most of the disciples were reluctant believe any of this. They were skeptical of what the women told them. Perhaps they thought that the women wanted so badly for this all to be true that they had imagined it.

But Peter and John had also been to the tomb. They also had seen that it was empty. They saw no angels, but based on what they did see, they came to believe what Jesus had said about himself rising from the dead actually had come true. I am not sure all the things that would have convinced them of this, but they did see the linen grave wrappings in the tomb. If someone had stolen the body, certainly the thieves would not have first unwrapped it and leave the cloths lying there. They would not have taken time to neatly fold or roll up the cloth that went over the face.

There must have been other factors as well that helped Peter and John to believe, but whatever they were, the men went away from the grave believing that Jesus had risen from the dead.

As far as we know, none of the other disciples went to the tomb to see if what the women told them was correct. They still had questions about the events of the morning. In fact, they had more than questions. They were also a bit afraid of what this could all mean to them. It does not seem that they went to the grave to confirm what the women had said, but if it was true that the body of Jesus was gone, they thought that they might be accused of stealing it. After all, this was the plot that the Pharisees thought that the followers of Jesus might try. That is why the Roman guards were placed at the grave and the seal put on the stone over the entrance. 

A Room Full of Doubters

Because of all of this, on the evening of that same day that Jesus rose from the dead, the disciples had gathered together in a room. They were hiding somewhat out of fear. It is not clear, from the different accounts in the Bible, just how many of the disciples were together at this point. We know that Thomas was not with them on that evening. That much is mentioned. I think that perhaps Peter and John also were not there. From the events of the morning, when Mary Magdalene left the tomb the first time, she went to tell Peter and John about the empty grave. It seems that at that point at least, they had been staying at a place apart from the other disciples. (To continue reading click the READ MORE link below)


Again I will mention (as I did in the previous post), there was a lot that was happening at that time. As the gospel writers each told of the events, they included what they wanted and left out want they did not think necessary to what they were saying. They may have even condensed some incidents into a single event. 

Doubtful Readers

Some people today say that they do not believe these accounts because of the small differences that they have from one another. I actually view this in quite the opposite way. I think that these small dissimilarities actually verify the veracity of the writers.

If all of these gospel accounts were part of an elaborate scheme by the followers of Jesus to mislead people as to what happened (as some today accuse them of doing); if the disciples had simply had made it all up, they would have been sure to have their stories all say exactly the same thing. They would have been sure to make every detail identical. Whenever two or more people are trying to work a deception, they want to make sure that their stories agree completely, so that one cannot be used against the other. The deceivers corroborate their stories with each other. They make sure that they say exactly the same thing.

In the four accounts of the events of the night of the resurrection, just as in the four different accounts of the resurrection itself, there is no disagreement between the explanations. It is just that they bring out different aspects. Different aspects of the evening stood out for each writer.

Nevertheless, all of this is not to say that this takes all of our difficulties away. We are still left with questions as we try and piece the accounts together. 

The Lesson to the Doubters on the Road

What I can say at this point is that on the same evening as the resurrection, on the first day of the week, the disciples were gathered together in a room and that they were hiding from the Jews out of fear as what might happen to them (John 20:19). As I said, I do not know all those who were present. Some of the disciples may not have been there, such as Peter and John. Thomas definitely was not there. But there may have also been other people who were not of the principle disciples that were there. We are not given a list of who was present.

For instance, two of the accounts (Mark and Luke) tell also of two men, who sometime during that same day, were walking on a road to go to the Emmaus, a village a few miles away. As they walked, they were talking about the reports of the women and about all of the events that seem to have taken place.


Way to Emmaus - Robert Zünd
As they walked, a third man joined them. This man was Jesus, but they did not recognize him. In fact, the way Luke tells the story, they were prevented from recognizing him (Luke 24:16, see also Mark 16:12). The man asked them what they had been talking about as they walked.

“Are you the only one in Jerusalem who is unaware of what has been happening there in the past days,” one of the men asked Jesus.

“What things?” Jesus asked.

This question set the two men off on a long explanation of the events of the day to this poor, uninformed visitor. They told him about “Jesus the Nazarene,” and how many people had put their hopes in this man but how the priests and the Romans had crucified him. That had happened three days earlier. Now however, on that same morning, his body could not be found. No one seems to know what had happened to it.

At this, Jesus begins to explain to these two men how, just as the prophets of old had said, all of these things were necessary for the Christ to enter into glory. Jesus talked about what Moses had said, in fact what all of the prophets had said concerning these things. To the two men listening these words, this was all so enlightening that when the three together had reached their destination, the two men persuaded Jesus to stay with them, even though they still did not realize that it was him.

As they were about to eat a meal together, Jesus blessed the food. When he began to serve them, “their eyes were opened,” as Luke puts it, and they recognized him. It was Jesus! Once they recognized him, Jesus vanished from their site. When this happened, even though it was already evening, the two men hastened back to Jerusalem to tell the others about their experience. 

Additional Testimony for the other Doubters

These two men also seemed to be in the room with the disciples on that evening. They had told the disciples everything, but the disciples did not believe them (Mark 16:13), just as they had not believed the women who had told them of the empty grave.

It was during this gathering that Jesus suddenly appeared in the room with them. Jesus, it seems, was pretty disappointed with his disciples. The way the gospel writer Mark put it, “Jesus reproached them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who had seen Him after He had risen” (Mark 16:14).

They had not believed Mary, who had seen him alive, they had not believed the two men who had spoken to him on the road, and they had not believed the numerous reports about the empty grave. Now, Jesus was standing right in their midst. Surprisingly, they still did not believe! They thought that they were seeing a spirit!

Finally, Jesus decided that he had to convince these reluctant disciples once and for all. “Why do you continue to have these doubts,” he scolded them. Can’t you see that it is me? Look at my hands and my feet. Here, touch me! Does a spirit have flesh and bones? I do!”

Now the disciples were simply amazed, but they were still having trouble being convinced that Jesus was really alive.

“Look…” Jesus continued, “Do you have anything to eat?”

They gave him a piece of broiled fish, which he took and ate. It was not necessarily because he was hungry that he ate it, but just to help his disciples believe. He was Jesus and he was not merely a spirit. He had a body of flesh and bones. (From Mark 16:37-43) 

Peace for the Doubters

 But Jesus did not want to dwell on the point of the disciples’ unbelief. He had not returned to scold them. His true reason for coming to them that evening was actually not to convince them that he was alive, but rather so that they would believe and be at peace instead of hiding in fear. “Peace be with you,” He told them.

Then, as he did with the two men as he walked with them on the road, Jesus began to instruct the disciples. “Do you not remember when I was still with you, how I explained to you all of the things that Moses and the Prophets wrote that had to be fulfilled?”

He explained to them (once again) how Moses wrote about him, how the prophets wrote about him, and even in the Psalms they should have learned about some of the things that had happened in the past few days.

Jesus told them, “It is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You yourselves are witnesses of these things.” (from Luke 24:44-49) 

A Doubtful Beginning

Quite frankly, it seems that these disciples were off to a bad start. For three years Jesus had been instructing them, and actually, everything had turned out just has he had told his disciples they would. But now, instead of being the witnesses who were explaining these teachings to the rest of the people, the disciples had shut themselves behind a closed door and were cowering in fear.

But Jesus knew this about these men. He knew that in and of themselves, they could do nothing. He was not telling them to act like men and be courageous. This was not a half time pep talk. This talk, as far as I can tell, had three purposes. The first was to convince the doubting disciples that he had actually risen from the dead. That was the first thing. The second was that they should be at peace instead of cowering in fear. “Peace be with you,” Jesus told them.

The third thing was to equip the disciples to do the work that he had given them to do. This is coming now. Jesus breathed on them and told them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” 

Help for the Doubters

Usually, when we think of the giving of the Holy Spirit, we think of the Day of Pentecost. This is when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples with the sound like a violent, rushing wind. This is also when, what appeared to be tongues of fire, rested on each one of the disciples. Indeed, in the room there on that evening, Jesus even refers to this future event. It was in anticipation of this Day of Pentecost that Jesus instructs the people to not leave the city until they be “clothed with power from on high.”  (Luke 24:49)

Jesus did not specifically say that power was the coming of his Holy Spirit, but even here on the very evening of his resurrection, Jesus does speak of his spirit. He breathed upon them when saying this as an indication that the Holy Spirit was to be, to the disciples, just as the presence of Jesus in the flesh had earlier been. It is the person of the Holy Spirit with whom we have God’s presence with us today.

There are many more things to say about this, and as we near the observance of the Day of Pentecost, I will speak more of it. 

Doubting Thomas (Sorry Tom)
Caravaggio - Incredulity of St. Thomas

Now however, there is the story of yet one more disciple that I want to mention. That is the story of the disciple Thomas. Thomas was not present as all this was happening in this room. He had not seen Jesus, he had not witnessed Jesus eating the fish and showing his wounded hands, feet and side. When the others saw Thomas later, they told him about all of these things, but he could not bring himself to believe it.

“Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe,” Thomas said.

Thomas has come to have the unfortunate moniker given to him as “the doubter.” Doubting Thomas. But we have seen that he was no different than the others. Most of the others had also been doubters, it is just that Thomas had not been present to do his doubting at the same time.

It was not until eight days later that Jesus again appeared to the group of disciples. This time Thomas was with them. Again, they were behind closed doors, but again Jesus was suddenly standing in their midst. Again he greeted them with the words, “Peace be with you.”

 Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see my hands; and reach here your hand and put it into my side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.”

With this, Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Then these words from Jesus: “Because you have seen me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” (John 20:26-29) 

The Believers

I would like to consider these words of Jesus, because more than any of the others, these words apply directly to you and to me. With all of the other parts of the story, we can brush them aside as actions of other people. We can comfort ourselves by saying, “If I would have been there, I would have been different. I would have remembered the prophecies that Jesus talked about. I would have believed the angels at the tomb. I would have recognized Jesus in the garden and I would have believed the testimony of the women.”

When it comes to Thomas, we call him the doubter. “I would not have doubted,” we tell ourselves.

The common theme in all of these stories of all of the people involved is that they relied heavily upon physical evidence in order to make them believe. We also sometimes tend to think that if people today had more physical evidence of the reality of the word of God and of Jesus Christ, then they would be unable to deny the truth of his claims. Certainly, in these cases, Jesus demonstrated physical evidence of his resurrection. But do we see that he was trying to teach the disciples not to rely so heavily on what they saw, and to begin to learn to believe based on faith?

Physical evidence can only take us so far. Think about it. The Pharisees of the time knew of Jesus’ own words that he had earlier said about rising from the dead. It was because of this they had gone to Pilate to request that guards be placed there to prevent the disciples from stealing the body so that they could make that claim. Pilate even placed a seal there in order to increase the security of it.

However, despite all of their efforts, Jesus “disappeared.” Surely the Pharisees knew what happened. They knew that the disciples had not really taken the body. The Roman guards were there and saw the angels. The Pharisees had their eye witness account and their testimony.

They could see that the disciples, on the other hand, were staying silent. The followers of Jesus also were confused about the events of the day. The Pharisees must have known that it was not the disciples who had taken the body of Jesus. If they had, by now they would be proclaiming widely that Jesus had risen from the dead. 

Blessings for the Believers

In the room that evening, although Jesus was providing the physical proof of his resurrection to the disciples that they needed, he was also trying to teach them that physical proof is not really the primary evidence that they would need in their own belief.

“Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”

The same remains true today. We may think that if there were more physical evidence to convince people that the Word of God is true, they would believe. It is not that way. The physical evidence is all around us for any person with an open and honest mind. More evidence would do nothing. People today do not believe in Jesus for the same reasons that the Pharisees did not believe. They do not want to believe. It would interfere too much with their present way of thinking and perhaps with their lifestyle.

Physical evidence can only carry us so far. Jesus was finally able to convince the doubting disciples that he had risen from the dead. He could make them believe this based only on physical evidence. But do you see, physical evidence can do nothing to help one know what to believe about eternity. How can it? There is nothing that I can hold in my hand to help you believe that what God says about eternity is real. This is a matter that only faith can address.

There are many philosophers and scientists who speak of eternity as if they know exactly what they are talking about. They know nothing. They are fools who think that the greatest power in the universe is their own mind. If they cannot conceive of it, for them it does not exist. 

A Walk by Faith for Believers

The Apostle Paul said, “We walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). How do we learn to do this? We all would prefer to walk by sight, but we can see that this can teach us nothing about eternity.

As a suggestion, I would ask you to try what I did. In my own journey of faith, I first took the words of Jesus and the Bible that I could verify, and I acted upon them. If Jesus promised something concerning my physical needs, I took him at his word. I tested the promise to see if it really were true. I tried to make sure that I was acting upon what Jesus actually promised in his own words, and not what I wanted him to promise or what some preacher told me that Jesus promised. I merely took Jesus himself at his word.

In the past I have told you some stories concerning how God answered my needs according to his promises. I have more. Had I not lived these experiences, some of these incidents would have been quite unbelievable to me. I was a doubter. But I saw the evidence and I could not deny it. To me, each of these times was a confirmation that what God tells me about eternity is also true.

As Jesus himself said, “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much” (Luke 16:10).

Jesus told Thomas, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”

Peter, one of the disciples who actually went to the grave to see if what the women said was true, later said to his churches, “Though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8-9)

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