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|"Those Who Have Not Seen"
What does it require to believe? I mean, what are the
requirements, the necessities, for our believing something? In a
court of law we have rules of evidence, we have burdens of
In the scientific world we have specific methods and exact procedures for the stating and testing of hypotheses. But what does it require for us to believe something SPIRITUAL?
Recall the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. She ran to tell folks, "Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?" And they all rushed out to investigate this person. Later, "They said to the woman, "It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.
Now, I wonder. Did they believe her in the first place? Or did they NOT REALLY BELIEVE until they had heard for themselves?
On the first Easter, according to the twentieth chapter of the gospel according to John,
"When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’”
Now obviously, according to John's narrative, the disciples are scared to death to be seen in public, so it was nice of Jesus to go looking for them.
But according to the preceding verse, "Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her."
And what I want to know is this: "Did they BELIEVE her?" Because look what happens: "After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord."
You know what I think? I think they REALLY DID NOT BELIEVE Mary Magdalene. I think THEY needed to see Jesus before they would believe. Now, I don't mean to be hard on the disciples. Any more than I mean to be critical of Christians in general.
I just suspect that NONE of us truly BELIEVES that READILY, when someone else tells us. Rather, I suspect that BELIEF sets in when something deep down inside of us gets moved, grabbed, shaken loose.
We need our own personalized, internalized, assimilated experience. In short, I think BELIEF comes through a kind of CONVERSION. And I don't mean the superficial, emotive response to the ramblings of a windbag preacher. About all that's getting changed there is pulse rate and blood pressure. No, I'm talking about a conversion that changes the very way we THINK, not just the way we feel.
But let’s get back to Jesus post-resurrection appearance. "Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’”
Now, WHY did he need to repeat himself? I suppose because when he said "Peace be with you" the first time they were so in shock at seeing him that they missed it.
They were more interested in SEEING his hands and his side than they were in HEARING what he had to say. But then he quickly gets down to business, that business being the commissioning.
Now, each of the gospel writers has a final "commission" from Jesus, the best-known probably being that of Matthew, although my favorite is that of Luke.
And "When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."
OK. End of appearance of Jesus. But let's recreate this event. What if Jesus had not APPEARED to the disciples. That is, what if they had not SEEN him, had not SEEN his hands, had not SEEN his side? Well, there is still his VOICE. They have HEARD him.
And who ELSE would--or could--have spoken the words that he did? Who ELSE would have said anything like "the Father has sent me?" Who ELSE would have spoken of the forgiveness of sins?
Now I know that it is DRAMATIC to envision the disciples witnessing the pierced side and the hands with the nailprints, but did they really NEED that? What does it REQUIRE to really believe?
Well, let's pick on the missing disciple. "Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came."
And I often wonder WHY he wasn't there. All the other disciples are scared to death, hiding behind locked doors, and Thomas is out gallivanting around. Or maybe he was as scared as the rest of them, but somebody had to go out for food.
Or maybe he wasn't afraid at all! Maybe he didn't sense his association with Jesus as being all that close, and figured why hide behind locked doors? Maybe he figured that with the crucifixion over and done with, with Jesus dead and in the tomb, it was just time for him to get on with his life. Maybe his belief in the LIVING Jesus had not been all that strong. Well, it's a lot of speculation. In any case, he WAS NOT THERE.
“So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe."
And the disciples are really hung up on this "seeing" stuff. They don't tell Thomas, "We have HEARD the Lord." Their visual experience has overwhelmed Jesus' verbal message. But throughout the history of Christianity we have picked on Thomas--DOUBTING Thomas--for uttering those words "unless I see." But CAN we really blame him? How often do WE take the word of others for strange events they have witnessed?
But let's give Thomas some credit. Let's assume that he really WANTS to believe, but he wants to believe on his own terms. He wants his belief to be based on his OWN personal experience. And in that respect I don't think he's a whole lot different from a lot of us.
If I were to proclaim to someone who had absolutely no knowledge of Jesus of Nazareth that he was the Son of God, I think it would be asking an awful lot for that person to believe me. Why SHOULD she? We all need some internalized reason to believe.
But there is another dimension to Thomas. And it may be less a doubting of Jesus' resurrection than it is a doubting of his fellow disciples. Remember, all they have said is "We have SEEN the Lord." And as far as Thomas knows, they may have been hallucinating. So he wants to FEEL what the other disciples claim to have seen, to put his finger in the nail marks and his hand in Jesus side.
But what if the disciples HAD said, "We have HEARD the Lord speak to us"? What then might Thomas have said?
"A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you."
A week later. So what had happened during that week? What had Thomas been thinking about? What had the DISCIPLES been thinking about? What had they TALKED about? Surely they didn't spend the week comatose! They MUST have talked about the previous appearance! But did they discuss what Jesus SAID to them? Did Thomas learn from the disciples that Jesus talked about his calling and theirs; that Jesus talked about the Holy Spirit; that Jesus talked about the forgiveness of sins? And if he HAD learned of all that, would he have NEEDED to FEEL the evidence of Jesus crucified body in order to believe? What does it REQUIRE for us to believe?
"Then Jesus said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe."
So Jesus KNOWS Thomas's needs. And Jesus MEETS those needs. And in his doing so, I hear a re-enactment of the parable of the lost sheep from the eighteenth chapter of Matthew:
"If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?
“And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost."
And just like that shepherd, Jesus is going out of his way to reach Thomas.
"Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!"
And Thomas believes. Thomas told the disciples what it would require for him to believe; Jesus provided that; and Thomas believes.
But recall again the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus had a beautiful message for her: "those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life." But it didn't work! She didn't understand it! So he tried something else.
He told her to go get her husband. And in the conversation that followed, she finally figured out that THIS was someone special. That THIS might even be the Messiah.
Jesus didn't give up. If one approach didn't work, he'd try another. And if the words he had left with the disciples weren't going to be convincing to Thomas, Jesus would do something that WOULD be convincing.
But Jesus has a word of caution, for them and for us: "Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."
And I am reminded of the opening verse of the eleventh chapter of the letter to the Hebrews: "faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."
Now, we can't be as demanding as Thomas. But I would hope that we would not NEED to be. WE have the written record of Jesus’ life and teaching, and for me that is sufficient evidence for my belief.
I have the gospels, the letters, and all the Hebrew scriptures that contain the prophecies of the coming of the messiah.
And John goes on to tell us, "Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name."
What does it require for US to believe? What does it require for ANYONE to believe? I suspect that there are two requirements. First of all, I think we need EVIDENCE. For Thomas that was SEEING Jesus.
For me, it is being able to read the scriptures; for those who cannot read the scriptures, it is hearing them read or hearing them preached. But second, I think we need to EXPERIENCE the evidence.
Thomas needed to FEEL Jesus crucified and resurrected body. And we can't do that. But we CAN experience the meaning of scripture in our lives. We CAN come to know the truth of what Jesus had to say to us. That doesn't mean that it's easy.
Because I don't think it is. Believing ultimately requires a leap of faith.
But for those of us who can come to have a personal, emotional, intellectual FEEL for the truth of scripture; for those of us who can find ourselves IN TOUCH with that truth, that leap has been made.
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