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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Doubting Thomas?

We speak of Thomas’ doubt in chapter 20 of John as though no other disciple (including us) has ever experienced doubt in the face of all that we yet do not know and understand about God. Despite doubt and spiritual immaturity, the twelve forsook all else and followed Jesus. Personally, there are some things I have yet to forsake completely in order to more perfectly follow Christ. Just how perfectly can our finite minds understand how Father, Son, and The Holy Spirit can be one God? The disciples’ response to the good news is all that matters, not their level of understanding. They are merely representative of our own limitations of mind and will in contrast to the perfection of Christ who was, after all, not merely a man. Yet, if we will just follow Him, Jesus is able to perfect that which concerns us. “His strength is made perfect in our weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). Concerning Thomas’ doubt in chapter 20 I would ask the question; do we, Brian and Timothy, do all things without murmurings and disputings? (Philippians 2:14). In his response to Jesus, Thomas was ready and willing to go, regardless of the destination or consequences. He was just beginning to learn that Jesus was God, that Jesus was thus omnipotent, that death could not hold Him, and that He was perfect in all of His ways. How ironic is it that these same imperfect and "unlearned men" (as they were called in Acts after Pentecost) would together propagate Christianity beyond the confines of Judaism to blossom and thrive in Rome, the capital of the gentile world at that time, just a few centuries later, despite zealous murderous persecution by powerful Roman emperors? The Pharisees rejected Jesus and thus the stone that the builders rejected, after His resurrection, became the head of the corner (Mark 12:10, Acts 4:11, Psalm 118:22). Bless that wonderful name of Jesus! Thomas shows extreme loyalty to Jesus. He knew Jesus was going to Bethany with or without the twelve and Thomas wanted to be by His side even if it meant going to his death. We don’t do justice to Thomas’ character when we define him by his moment of doubt upon hearing the first news that Jesus’ resurrection. Let’s remember that everyone scattered and left Jesus’ side on his way to the cross. Discipleship is not an easy road to travel. Men, know matter how godly, can never match the perfection of God. I can only hope and pray that I would not deny Christ if I were in that position under the circumstances which the twelve faced as Jesus determined to go back to Bethany. Clearly neither Thomas nor any of the disciples understood Jesus’ power over death. I think Thomas had realized at that point that a life without Jesus would not be worth living. If all future hope of a resurrection was based upon the coming of the Messiah, and Jesus was this Messiah, then certainly I could entrust my life to Him and follow Him wherever he would go, whether it be to life or death. I don’t know how familiar Thomas was with the OT Scriptures, specifically the prophecies that were references to the resurrection of the body, such as Psalm 16, Isaiah 26, Daniel 12, and Hosea 6. Jesus prophesied many times that he would be killed and on the third day be raised from the dead, and yet, the disciples never seemed to catch on to what Jesus was really saying. In John 10:17-18 Jesus said, "The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father." Why didn’t the disciples, Thomas included, simply ask more questions in order to get an understanding of what Jesus was saying? In John 14:19 Jesus told his disciples, "Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live." I would have asked Jesus, “Master, what sayest thou?” What was so difficult about just admitting, “Lord, we do not understand what you mean?” I certainly would expect that Peter would ask, especially when he was rebuked in Matthew 16. I think what some have referred to as blind faith is absolutely necessary, born of love and obedience. When we are four years of age and our cognitive ability has not yet developed enough to understand why we shouldn't touch the hot stove, we can either have blind faith in the benevolent wisdom of our parents' instructions, or we can suffer the consequences. At age four, we have to just trust and obey that our parents know what's best for us. "Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3) As adults, however, our own reasoning often short circuits the type of intimacy with Jesus that makes trust and obedience effortless, even in the midst of adversity or imminent death. This makes me think of Martyrs like Polycarp. "Yes, though I walk through the [deep, sunless] valley of the shadow of death, I will fear or dread no evil, for You are with me; Your rod [to protect] and Your staff [to guide], they comfort me" (Psalm 23 Amp). The Good Shepherd, The True Vine, The Husbandman, The Lion of Judah - God Almighty is sovereign and perfect in all His ways! "Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief" (Mark 9:24). I am praying that the Lord help me to believe more perfectly. I want a greater gift of faith than I currently possess. I think belief is more of a progressive rather than a gestalt experience, and, it is none other than trials and tribulations than trials and tribulations that exercise and develop our ability to believe more maturely (James 1:2). Consider when Jesus told Peter, And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren" (Luke 22:32). I think of the process I've attempted to describe as the type of conversion Jesus is referring to in this passage, though I could be mistaken.

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