“Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting, and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:24-29, NIV)
Thomas is famous for not being sure, and has been known throughout history as “Doubting Thomas”. I’m sure there was more to Thomas than doubt, but that’s what people call him. I respect his skepticism, and I think that many thoughtful people have a hard time capitulating to faith. Most rational thinkers want evidence to support belief. Thomas saw the evidence and was able to remove all doubt. I bet if you looked at the evidence you’d come to the same conclusion. Jesus told him, “because you have seen me, you have believed.” Maybe he should be known as Believing Thomas. After all, that’s really who he was.
After the crucifixion, Mary Magdalene was distraught because she thought someone had taken the body. John 20:14 says, “she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. “Woman”, he said, “why are you crying? Who is it that you are looking for?” Thinking that it was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).
Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”
Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her. (John 20:14-18, NIV)
I love the honesty of this story, because it captures Mary’s emotions and confusion. A work of fiction would not include details like her failure to recognize Jesus at first, and her thinking that he was the gardener. And a Hebrew literary work from this time would not have made a woman such a central character in this discovery—women were not considered legal witnesses, and did not have social standing that justified her inclusion in this event. John actually risks all credibility by telling the truth, so the logical conclusion is that this has to be true. If it was an attempt to convince others of the plausibility of Jesus’ resurrection, John went about it all wrong. He should have had Peter or James meet the risen Lord first, and he should have made it seamlessly perfect. But Mary’s testimony is valuable because it IS true, and it has significance because it is told so simply and so accurately. And John’s gospel is noteworthy because he ignores social convention. He tells the truth when a lie would have been easier. Probably a good practice for all of us.
I mentioned day before yesterday that Stephen used “Son of Man” in Acts 7:56: “Look”, he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” Stephen, one of seven men with Greek names chosen to wait tables by the early church, is not an Apostle (one who saw Jesus in the flesh), although he did miraculous things (Acts 6:8) and contended with the wisdom of the Spirit (6:10). For a guy chosen to be a mere waiter, Stephen had a fairly comprehensive knowledge of the Bible, and preached a pretty effective sermon before the Sanhedrin in Acts 7. The Sanhedrin condemned him and dragged him out to be stoned, and he became the first martyr in Jerusalem. (Oh yeah, his stoning was approved by a guy named Saul, who probably heard that sermon and had it bear unexpected fruit in his life just a little ways down the road…) A couple of things about Stephen: in the face of death he continued to proclaim his belief in Jesus; he died even while forgiving those who were casting stones to kill him. So how do we normal folks apply Stephen’s experience in our lives? I think he makes a pretty strong argument that seeing Jesus “in the flesh” is not necessary to have faith or to experience life-changing belief in Jesus. We can do that too. Also, we should realize that it’s not what we DO or how we serve that gives us value. You can be a waitress or a salesman or a sanitary engineer, but if you know Jesus and God’s word, you can contend with wisdom, and you can live a changed life.
Peter’s testimony wasn’t limited to speaking in Jesus’ presence; he continued to testify later in his life. His later statements are made all the more remarkable because of what happened the night Jesus was betrayed. (After bold predictions of loyalty, he denied even knowing Jesus during Christ’s trial at Caiaphas’ house, and left there a broken man, Matt 26:75). Following this devastating personal failure, he was restored by the resurrection and encouragement of Jesus, recorded in John 21. So it was he who stood up in Jerusalem to deliver the first sermon at Pentecost: “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.”…”God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.” (Acts 2:22, 32, NIV) Peter, who betrayed his best friend and wept bitterly became Peter, the powerful witness. Peter the Professional Fisherman became Peter the prophet. He was not depending on his own merit to stand up and preach, he was depending on the facts about Jesus. While he lost confidence about himself, he gained confidence in Christ. Perhaps you have had some failures regarding being loyal to Jesus; the Lord knows I have over the course of my life. In fact, I have made the biggest mistakes in my life as a Christian; like Peter, I made bold promises about my commitment and then failed. But just like Peter, we can be reclaimed and restored. The amazing thing about giving testimony is that it doesn’t depend on our success or worthiness, or what we’ve accomplished. It depends on what Jesus did, and the confidence we can have in him. If there is ANY difference in your life because you know Jesus, then speak up! It’ll preach.