Wednesday, October 22, 2014

"And Jesus rebuked Thomas..." Or did He?

"Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, 'We have seen the Lord,' but he said to them, 'Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe." - John 20:24-25

People who have never read the Bible are still familiar with the terminology, "Doubting Thomas."  This is because of the event outlined in John 20:24-29 and the stigma attached to the Apostle Thomas for his lack of faith after the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  But did you ever stop to consider that his lack of faith might have been reasonable?  Think of what this man had just been through.  We do not know exactly how long Thomas had been following Jesus but we can reasonably conclude that it was a period of at least a couple of years.  What remarkable things Thomas saw in that time!

Consider back in John 11 when news came of Lazarus' sickness and Jesus announced his death. It was the Apostle Thomas who said of Jesus to the other Disciples, "Let us also go that we may die with him" (verse 16).  Afterwards, Thomas was one of the witnesses to the resurrection of Lazarus and heard the proclamation of Christ, "I am the resurrection and the life: he that believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live" (verse 25).  There had to have been no doubt in Thomas' mind at that point of the reality of the resurrection.  He had seen with his own eyes a man laid in the grave for four days suddenly returning to live.  This is not to mention the countless other miracles he had seen in his sojourn with Jesus.

But now, after the praises of adoring crowds had changed into shouts calling for blood, Jesus of Nazareth, the miracle working Son of God, was reduced to nothing more than a horribly beaten, bloody figure of a man hanging by nails on a cross, motionless and empty of life.  Jesus was dead and Thomas saw it all.  As with the other Disciples, Thomas had forsaken all to follow Jesus.  And now, having been removed from the cross and laid in a borrowed tomb, all of the hopes and dreams of this Disciple were dead and buried.  Can you imagine the feeling?

Can't you hear the promises of Jesus being repeated in the mind of Thomas?  He said He was the Savior.  He said He was the Son of God.  He said He was the way.  He said He was the Father dwelling among men.  He said He would raise from the dead.  One day passes.  Two days.  Three.  What happened?  How had Thomas been so foolish as to put all of his hopes in this man?  Can you imagine the heartache?  In a period of only a few days he had gone from a Disciple to a despondent and faithless character.  But who can blame him?  He had watched it all: the popularity, the adoration, the miracles and then the opposition, the persecution and the crucifixion.

Thomas was being reasonable when the other Disciples came to him claiming to have seen the resurrected Christ.  Certainly he had disbelieved.  Certainly he had doubted.  Most of us would have too especially when ten other people come to us who were also Disciples claiming to have had an experience that we had not yet had.  It might have even passed through Thomas' mind, "What a cruel joke to play on me after all I have been through!  How dare you!  Don't you understand what I have been through?  But...if I can see the nail-prints, I will believe."  In that moment of supreme doubt, there was a glimmer of hope.

What did Jesus do?  Eight days later, the Lord appeared to the Disciples and, this time, Thomas was present.  Giving a greeting of peace, Jesus walked past the other Disciples and offered Thomas His hand.  Jesus was so eager for Thomas to believe that He met him right at the place of his doubt and proved Himself to be alive.  We would have rebuked Thomas.  He would have been the object of our scorn and ridicule.  Of course, we do still call him Doubting Thomas, don't we?  How self-righteous we have become.  But Jesus Christ Himself did not rebuke him.  He simply condescended to a level on which Thomas could relate, even on the shifting sands of doubt, and reached out a nail scared hand of compassion.

Your questions will not knock God off of His throne.  Having questions and doubts are not unnatural nor are they to be condemned.  But you must learn how to deal with your questions and doubts correctly.  Bring them to Jesus Christ.  Don't hide them.  Don't be ashamed of them.  You are not abnormal because you struggle with disbelief.  Jesus Christ will not condemn you for it if you will give Him a chance to meet you at your place of doubt and prove Himself to you.  It may take eight days after everyone else is certain, but if you will allow God to work in His time, you will receive your answers.  You must be content to wait upon Him and trust that He will not fail you.

Thomas gave a bold profession of faith at that moment, "My Lord and my God!"  He had no more reason to doubt who Jesus Christ was.  Yes, the Lord told him that those who hadn't seen and yet believed were blessed.  But who among us is prepared to look at the Apostle Thomas and say he was not blessed as well?  Take your doubts to Jesus Christ and He will meet you there and prove Himself to be your Lord and your God.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Our Reaction To The Reed And The Flax

"A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory." - Matthew 12:20

The Church is often a very dangerous place to ask questions or demonstrate honest weaknesses.  The ministry of Christ was one where the frequent scene of spiritual education was a group of curious misfits gathered around the Master asking questions and processing answers.  Foolish or provoking questions were dispatched with wisdom while honest questions were received with love and answered directly.  Likewise, the drunkard, cheat and prostitute found in Christ a friend who would accept them as flawed while doing all that He could to draw them to a point of radical transformation.  Casting away the religiously self-righteous, Jesus of Nazareth bore the moniker of "a friend of sinners."

Fast forward to Christendom in the 21st century and we see that questions are often met as rebellion to authority and those with revealed flaws are viewed as cancerous tumors necessitating immediate removal to quell the risk of contagion.  In this way, we have fundamentally removed Christianity from Christendom.  True Christianity works in the order established by her namesake.  When the prophet Isaiah looked forward through the veil of time and was shown the coming Messiah, he spoke of His nature with poignant clarity: "A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth" (Isaiah 42:3).  

Jesus Christ was not a weak character.  His sermons were not the popular tripe of the modern neo-secular "Christian" pulpit.  His message was one delivered with power and authority; a message with a direct call to repentance and a clear view of the consequences of spiritual negligence.  At the same time, the message was appealing to the outcast, the downtrodden, the unwanted, the unloved, the unaccepted and the otherwise unworthy.  How could it be that the Christ of the New Testament would attract such a crowd with a message such as He did while the religious caste was, for the most part, repulsed?

Consider what Jesus was always criticized for.  Being a friend of sinners was no compliment.  Those who clung to Him as their Teacher and Master were mainly a ragtag bunch of undesirables.  Yet Christ was open to their questions, patient with their weaknesses and willing to heal their diseases and, ultimately, change their lives and their eternities.  For this, Jesus found Himself to be the object of the ire of those who felt themselves worthy to enter the Kingdom because they were children of Abraham.  No wonder they were so terribly vexed when Christ told them that seed for Abraham could be raised from among the stones if need be.  He slapped their heritage in the face and disregarded their longstanding and parentage as meaningless without personal relationship with the Divine.  

The bruised reed would not be broken by the Messiah according to Isaiah.  In short, that which has already been injured need not fear further injury at the hands of the Savior of mankind.  Those who have been bruised by tragedy, disappointment, rejection, fear, heartache, the normal and abnormal situations of life and even those who have been bruised as a result of the consequences of their own foolish actions can look to Jesus Christ as one who will not destroy them.  One need not fear the severity of the Righteous Judge until He brings forth judgment.  Today, God desires mercy and, in the arms of Christ, perfect love and forgiveness is demonstrated.  To sinner and saint alike, the grace of God remains perpetually abundant and accessible.

Are you bruised? Do you have weaknesses which you have not been able to overcome? Are there flaws in your character that you have yet to be able to defeat? Don't run from Christ.  Run to Him.  Let Him take you in His arms and receive you.  Be willing to trust Him and the work He shall do.  While it may feel like He is breaking you into a million pieces at times during the purifying process, trust the promise of His Word that a bruised reed He will not break.  

The smoking flax or, in other words, the wick of a lamp which is only faintly alive with an ember of former flame shall not be put out by the hand of the Messiah.  The fiery zeal of a new convert is often extinguished by the trimming process of time.  One will not live for Christ very long before they realize it is not all Sunday night shout-downs and Wednesday night prayer meetings.  There is some real living to do beyond the doors of the Sanctuary which bring us back to the reality of having to live our Christianity and not only experience it in the safety of an institution.  Before long, the flame has died to nothing more than a smoking flax.  

So, certainly, we cast the wick away! Oh no! Certainly not! If there is even a hint of possibility for renewal and restoration, Jesus Christ will find a way to bring it about.  No one is ever thrown away by Christ simply because the fire has died, questions have arisen, problems and situations have caused confusion or any other number of means by which the fervency of times past has been replaced by a coldness.  Rather, there is hope in the person of Jesus Christ for the smoking flax.  The one that everyone would throw away and give up on is the very one that the Lord looks at and says, "Come to me if you are weary and weighted down." 

Christendom has responded poorly to the reed and the flax because, truthfully, they require us to be Christians instead of "Church people."  We are uncomfortable when they walk into our Assemblies because we have forgotten how to relate.  Yet we will often respond better to a sinner than a Brother who has become the reed or the flax.  It is far easier to feign piety than to practice godliness.  Instead of restoring the erring in a spirit of meekness while considering ourselves lest we fall (Galatians 6:1) we criticize, critique, berate and, in every way, provide an uphill climb for our Brother.  How foolish can we be?

To the reed and the flax outside of the covenant of God we must extend a hand of mercy, understand, love, grace, straightforwardness, honesty, clarity and hope for the purpose of reconciling them unto God.  To our Brethren we must extend the exact same hand coupled with the realization that we will need our restored Brother to, one day, restore us when we fall.  A bruised reed Jesus will not break.  A smoking flax Jesus will not quench.  Oh to God that a Christlike spirit would abound in the Church today that we, as God's Children, would do the same.