“Accused and Guilty”

Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:

Acts 5:12, 17-32
Revelation 1:4-18
John 20:19-31

As is the case each year on the Sunday after Easter, this Sunday’s Gospel lesson records an event that occurred eight days after Jesus’ resurrection. It is the familiar story of Honest Thomas. After unfortunately being absent when Jesus appeared to the rest of the 11, Thomas wanted to see Jesus for himself. It eventually happened, and Thomas was on the receiving end of Jesus’ famous lines: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

About 2,000 years later, many people still think: “Blessed was Thomas because he got to see!” It strikes me that all Thomas really wanted was the same opportunity all his closest friends already had. I can imagine that he had wanted (as we often do after we’ve done something dumb, or missed something good) to give himself a good swift kick in the slats for being absent when Jesus appeared to the disciples the first time.

He certainly overstated his case by saying he would not believe if he did not touch and see for himself, but that may have been the result of his anger at himself. When the opportunity finally came, Thomas didn’t touch, but he did believe. He probably did not feel very good, however, about Jesus’ comment. That had to feel like a slam. Was it a slam? Was Jesus putting Thomas down or was he just lifting up all those who would hear and believe without seeing? If those who believe without seeing are blessed, was Thomas NOT blessed? If he wasn’t, then what about the other 10? They all believed after seeing.

Thomas was indeed blessed. He was blessed by a truly remarkable love from our truly remarkable Savior. If we take Jesus’ words as a slam to a doubting disciple, I think it is because we would expect that. Jesus had given up all His glory to become a human being. He had suffered humiliation, insult, ridicule, torture and death. He had conquered sin, death and all the vain power of evil and come back to life and then one of His best friends says he won’t believe if he can’t touch and see for himself! Who does this smart aleck, low-life human think he is, anyway?

From our sinful perspective, we would expect Jesus to come back and say to Thomas, “All right, you jerk, get over here and touch and see for yourself!” Sin makes us think that way. In all honesty, however, from sin’s perspective, Jesus would have never come back at all! He’d have said (literally), “To hell with Thomas! After all the time I spent with him, after all I said to him and did for him–even giving my life for him–if he still can’t believe I rose as I said I would, if he can’t even believe his own best friends, to hell with him!”

Jesus didn’t say that. Sin is wrong. Sin is always wrong–especially about God. Jesus told Thomas to come and touch His hands and side. Then He added, “Do not be faithless, but believing.” Thomas, without touching as far as we know, exclaimed: “My Lord and my God!”

We shall never know for sure if I am correct in assuming that Thomas simply wanted to see Jesus again as the others already had, or if he really could not believe without physical proof! Without the power of the Holy Spirit, the latter is certainly possible. When all is said and done, it doesn’t matter.

What really matters from this unusual story is Jesus’ marvelous patience and unbelievable compassion toward Thomas. There is not a hint of a grudge or reluctance, not a whisper of anger–only a love that has no restraints and no boundaries. In Jesus, forgiveness is neither tentative nor conditional. It is flamboyant and generous to the point of lavish.

The other thing that matters as we read this story is whether or not WE are counted among “those who have not seen and yet believe.” Someone once asked the following, thought-provoking question: If a pagan government overthrew our own, and we were put on trial–accused of being Christians–would there be enough evidence to convict us?

Have you ever wondered what Thomas was doing on that first Easter day when Jesus appeared to the other 10? Where was he? What kept him away? It would all be conjecture, but my personal favorite conjecture is that Thomas left the locked room to go to the local, first century equivalent of McDonald’s or the grocery store. We do not have historical “proof” about what happened to Thomas after the Resurrection either, but traditions abound. All of them present Thomas as a fearless witness to His Risen Lord–a man with unwavering, stubborn loyalty to the One he called, “My Lord and my God!” What will the “traditions” say about us?

The first lesson for this Sunday comes from The Acts of the Apostles. It is just one of many stories that demonstrate the tenacity and courage of the Apostles after the Holy Spirit came to them. The early believers were quickly increasing in numbers and were gathering regularly in an open area of the Temple called Solomon’s Porch. Apparently, the Apostles were taking attention away from the normal Temple activities, because Luke tells us that the high priest and the Sadducees “became extremely jealous.” They arrested the Apostles and put them in the public jail.

During the night, “an angel of the Lord” released them, and the next day they were right back in the Temple teaching again. Their freedom didn’t last long. They were arrested for the second time in as many days. They stood before the Council where the high priest accused them of defying a direct order not to teach about Jesus. They responded: “We must obey God, not men.” They continued by preaching the Gospel right then and there to the very people who had ordered them to stop!

What had happened to the timid men who ran away in the night when Jesus was arrested? What had happened to those who even denied knowing Jesus? What had happened to the 11 who had gathered behind locked doors for fear of the very people they now defied? Like Thomas, they had seen and believed! They were not simply participants in a spring ritual of new clothes and hidden eggs.

They were committed followers of a loving God whose boundless love had transformed them. Their minds were no longer closed by a system of religion that missed the promised Messiah and pictured God as a legalist, a loan shark who loaned us life for His own high interest. Their minds and lives had been set free and physical imprisonment couldn’t change that.

Their loving and forgiving God had given them a new life and they intended to live it! The worst weapon their enemies had was death and they knew for certain that weapon was of no lasting consequence. Their exuberant faith, their exaggerated joy and confidence, their unlimited freedom were so compelling–it’s no wonder their enemies were jealous! They were on trial for being Christians and the evidence was overwhelming.

In the Nineteenth Century, the Venetian traveler, Marco Polo, returned from the Orient with such unbelievable stories of the wonders and marvels he had seen that his contemporaries began to accuse him of lying. Eventually, they ridiculed everything he tried to say. When he was dying at the age of 70, some people tried to get him to confess his lies before he went to meet his Maker. Marco Polo confessed at the last: “I never told the half of it.”

Now, I’m not going to tell you that Marco Polo had not made a discovery or two worth being excited about, but I am going to tell you that “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.” May you and I be accused of believing that and may we most obviously be guilty.

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