Resurrection Sunday 2013 is behind us now. The Easter story has been told again, a million times. It’s been preached from pulpits, taught in Sunday school classes large and small in all corners of the world. It’s even been on television in a popular miniseries. We have reread or been retold the story of Christ’s death, his burial, and his resurrection. We have been reminded in great detail of the great passion and pain that Jesus endured during his mock trial and cruel death. We also relived, with the disciples, the great surprise and triumph of the empty tomb.
And then the greatest drama the world has ever known is put back in the book and it goes back on the shelf as we go on with our increasingly busy lives.
Like most pastors, I pause every year and wonder who have we touched, who have we convinced, who now believes what they didn’t before. I guess it is a preacher’s dilemma. There is a well-known story that illustrates my question. It comes from John 20; it’s about a guy who was there, witnessed it all, and still was not convinced.
The man’s name was Thomas. He was a friend, a student of Jesus’. He’d walked and talked with him at length. Then he’d watched him die. For Thomas that was that.
A few days later some his friends came to him and said, “We’ve seen Jesus, he’s alive.”
Thomas’ response was, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands…” In his statement, Thomas articulates the majority opinion of the 21st century. This is the faith problem.
In the Biblical book of Hebrews, the writer says, “Faith means being sure of the things we hope for and knowing that something is real even if we do not see it” (11:1 NCV). Thomas’ friends said, “We’ve seen him.” Thomas was not convinced. He wouldn’t, he couldn’t, believe the testimony of others who claimed they’d seen Jesus walking around. He couldn’t believe what he didn’t personally witness. Many people are like Thomas today. They are unable to believe that something can be true that they haven’t seen or experienced firsthand, especially in spiritual things.
Eight days after Thomas made his famous declaration, his mind was changed. What happened was that Jesus walked into his presence and showed him the open wounds. Jesus said to him, “Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!” And Thomas did. He did because he could now see the reality of what had happened. He exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!”
“Doubting” Thomas became a believer. My guess is that nearly anyone who was able to see Jesus in the flesh and touch the scars would become believers. Probably not everyone but certainly most people.
The words that Jesus then spoke to Thomas ring out to our day. Jesus said, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me” (John 20:29).
Those who witnessed the resurrection of Jesus, even those like Thomas who needed special instruction, would never be the same. They couldn’t put the story away for another year and go back to life as usual. They were forever changed. They became the bearers of the “good news.” They went everywhere and told everyone who would listen that, “He has risen from the dead. He’s alive and we are saved from our sin.” Many died because of their words.
I am privileged to know personally many of the pastors on the Plateau. I know that to the core of their being they hope they have presented the resurrection story so clearly and with sufficient passion, that many people are now able to see with their hearts the truth – and are now able to believe what Thomas came to believe.
Easter has passed for another year but the story continues. The reality of what we’ve celebrated is not just a blip on our Google calendar but a life-giving event that has the potential to change our hearts and lives.
I join with my fellow shepherds and pray dear reader that you may hear the words of Jesus, “Don’t be without faith any longer, believe!” and that you might respond, as Thomas did, “My Lord and my God!”
May God bless each of you and may you experience peace, his peace, from now until he returns.