Saturday, April 3, 2010
Easter isn't just a day. It's a door that stands open. You are invited to enter and explore the first reports of those who saw, heard, and touched the resurrected Jesus. You are invited to think about what this great event means for us. Think about the fact that God promises to raise the dead in the future, just as he did with Jesus.
I like to read John 20 about Thomas, or Luke 24, about how Jesus demonstrated to his disciples that he wasn't a ghost.
Let's take the account of Thomas, for example. I have always liked reading about Thomas because he is the kind of person I respect and understand. When he heard his friends say they had seen Jesus alive, within only a couple days of his crucifixion, he said, "I won't believe unless I see the nail marks in his hands, and put my finger where the nails went through, and touch his side" (John 20:25).
I like Thomas because he demanded evidence. There was no way Jesus could have come off the cross alive, not after a spear had been thrust into him that indicated his heart had already stopped beating. The Roman executioners were both competent and thorough in completing their work.
They had to verify death, or their own lives would have been at stake.
Thomas knew Jesus had died, and he couldn't accept that Jesus was alive without vital evidence. I think this was a most reasonable request, because he was in a position to recognize the real Jesus versus a fraud. He knew how to test the reality of Jesus' identity, as well as his physical condition. Most dead men stay dead, and Thomas wouldn't easily believe otherwise.
The death of Jesus probably had made all of the disciples think that God had lifted his favor and protection and healing power. After all, why had God abandoned Jesus to such a cruel death and not lifted a finger to help him? Secondly, none of them expected God to raise the dead during ongoing human history. The news that Jesus was seen alive shattered all expectations.
A short time later, Jesus also visited Thomas. When he appeared to Thomas, Jesus said, "Here are the nail holes and the wound made by the spear. Use your finger and touch me here and know that it is I. I am alive. Don't doubt any more, but believe" (John 20:27). And Thomas confessed out loud that he was in the presence of his true Lord and God.
Some have labeled Thomas a doubter. But that paints him with a negative brush. Thomas refused to be duped or sidetracked by happy news when he was feeling "down in the hole" over the death of Jesus.
He was realistic enough to know what would move him to change his mind and acknowledge that Jesus was alive.
Thomas' doubt prepared the way for faith, because he was open to knowing the truth. Only when people are not open to knowing the truth does their "doubt" keep them from making new discoveries.
Faith can grow through asking hard questions, and then seeking answers. Faith can grow through Thomas' kind of doubt.
Now Thomas was in a position to know Jesus by sight, let alone know where the nails were driven through. Thomas could verify that it was indeed Jesus. I'm glad that Jesus came to him in the midst of his doubt and clarified the reality of his resurrection.
You and I may believe now based, in part, on those early eyewitness reports. I'm so glad that Thomas demanded the most stringent criteria of demonstrable evidence. He was no fool easily duped. Verification mattered to him. Many of the others did not believe the women's first report either, until they, too, were visited by the risen Jesus. These were not credulous people.
Now, we who don't know what Jesus actually looked like, who didn't see him gasp his last breath on a cross, and who didn't watch his corpse get swabbed and wrapped and placed in a tomb, what can we do? We can accept the testimony of those who were there. We can compare reports.
They all knew he had died. They also claimed that he was resurrected from the dead. Do we trust their reports? Trust and reliance on those who were eyewitnesses is necessary in any historical investigation. In this case, those we rely on had nothing to gain by making up a story about a dead man coming back to life. They sacrificed comfort, respect and even freedom and life itself to tell their testimony. Their lives were never "normal" again, and they didn't care. They were impassioned about the future because God had raised Jesus from the dead.
There's nothing wrong with doubting or withholding judgment, so long as you are searching to find answers. The right attitude towards knowing the truth makes new discoveries possible, whether you are a scientist, or a historian or a musician.
I'm grateful for Thomas.The Rev. Mark Koonz is pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran Church, 628 Lincoln St.. Contact him by telephone at 509-525-6872, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org . Pastors in the U-B circulation area who want to write a column should contact Catherine Hicks at 509-526-8312, or by e-mail at email@example.com.