John 20:24-29; Acts 5:27-32
All right, we’ve been looking at some evidence that Jesus physically rose from the dead. There are the guards, the rock, the fact that the primary witnesses were women, and the fact that the disciples were caught completely unaware by the event. Today’s exhibit in the case is slightly related to yesterday’s entry, but it’s different enough that it merits a look all its own.
We examined yesterday the attitude that the followers (including his closest ones) had after the Passion. None of them were anticipating his return. All of them were in hiding from the authorities, with good reason. The people in charge had arrested and crucified their Leader, so it'd be understandable that they feared that they'd be next. When they were told about the empty tomb, one of the apostles actually believed upon running there and seeing it, but most of them certainly didn't believe that anything miraculous had happened.
Don’t you feel just a little sorry for Thomas? He’s forever linked with doubting. In fact, he’s a nickname for people who doubt when they should believe: Who hasn’t ever heard of a “Doubting Thomas”?
But I’m forever grateful for him. His doubting might not have been a great example for us, but he stands as the best example of the hard-core skeptic who would never have accepted the testimony of others. How's he introduced into this narrative? It wouldn’t be enough for this man to see the risen Savior. He said he would have to physically touch the wounds on the risen body. Then Jesus appeared in front of him and invited him to do just that. We aren’t told whether he actually put his finger on the scars, but we do know something that he did do: Proclaim that this is the Lord of all Creation in front of him.
This story epitomizes the change in the hearts of the apostles and other followers. Right after the death of their Master, they’re all hiding behind locked doors, fearing that at any moment they’ll hear the stomps of Roman soldiers approaching to drag them all away. Fifty days later, Simon "I don’t know this man you’re talking about!" Peter is delivering a public sermon in front of thousands of people, and here’s the finale of his message: “Let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” Quite a turnaround, no?
The passage today from Acts is pretty typical of the rest of the book: The followers were brought in front of the authorities, were warned not to teach anymore in the name of Jesus, and promptly defied the ones who could kill them. What could've happened to make this change?
Remember the most popular theory of the skeptics, their counter-explanation for what happened on Easter Sunday? They tell us that the disciples overpowered the guards and stole the body. But that theory has some real problems: Why would these men be willing to die for what they knew was a lie? And if anyone was qualified to know if Jesus was still dead, these men would be. But they were the same ones who stood in front of High Priests and Roman governors and told them “We must obey God rather than men!”
And this dying prospect wasn’t a hypothetical scenario. According to church tradition (the best source we have from that period), each of the Twelve (minus Judas plus Paul) died a martyr’s death. There was one exception to this—John the apostle died of old age, but he did so in exile on the Isle of Patmos and suffered many hardships for his Lord. The best explanation for all of this is that they saw, talked with, touched, and ate with the risen Savior.
Again we have an application here besides just the bolstering of our faith (and answering the skeptics). The same Jesus who turned cowards into martyrs lives inside me right now. He’s no less capable of making the same change in me that he did then. Is that what I want? Is it what you want?
Yes Lord, that’s what I want. So often I’m hiding away when I ought to be proclaiming the Good News about you. Make the change, please.