Eastertide — Week 2

This is the second week of Eastertide—fifty days that extend the celebration of resurrection from Easter Sunday to Pentecost Sunday.

 

Monday, April 29

Read: John 20:19-24

Consider: “The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord”—when they could see the truth standing in front of them (20:20). He was alive! It had happened just as Mary of Magdala told them. May had told the truth, but her word was not enough for them. They didn’t believe her. But now they believed, because now they saw what could not be denied.

This raises an issue that they had to face and one that we must face as well. They didn’t believe based on what was true. They believed based on the evidence that they saw—evidence that they demanded. In other words, Jesus was alive, whether he appeared to them or not. In fact, he didn’t appear to all of them. John tells us that Thomas was not with his fellow disciples when Jesus came to them (20:24).

Jesus had told them what would happen. On multiple occasions, in plain language, he said…

“We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.” (Luke 18:31-33)

The prophets had foretold it, the psalmist spoke of it, Jesus explained it before the fact, and still they did not believe. They didn’t embrace truth. They embraced their need for evidence.

Now, I don’t want to be too hard on those disciples. After all, they had overwhelming evidence that Jesus was dead. Add to that the emotional devastation that they had endured. So, let’s go easy on them. But what I want is for us to see ourselves in them. Do we long for truth or do we long for evidence?

That may sound like word games, a matter of semantics. But there is a difference, as we will see this week. We must all determine if we will believe, why we will believe and what it means for us to believe.

Pray: “Lord, you have revealed yourself to me in so many ways. There is no way I can doubt your goodness and your love. Still, I’m often tempted to wonder if you really are at work in my life. Rather than seeing what you have already given to me, I am often inclined to ask you to—or even demand that you—act in certain ways. You have assured me of your care and then proven it to me. I thank you. And I humbly ask you to help me this day to see what you have done rather than demanding more.”

 

Tuesday, April 30

Read: John 20:24-25

Consider: Of the eleven disciples that remained, Thomas was the most vocal and specific when it came to his demands for evidence. His words were clear — “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” (20:25).

Thomas points us to an important truth. Belief is a choice.

Most people think they must be convinced, as if being convinced is a passive thing over which they have no control. They want overwhelming evidence so that they don’t have to make a decision. It will be made for them. That’s where Thomas stood. He was firmly maintaining that overwhelming evidence—the kind that takes no choice—was what he needed and demanded.

What he didn’t see was that he had already chosen. He had already made the decision not to act in faith. He had already decided not to survey his heart and see what God was doing there. He had decided not to search the scriptures and what they said about the Messiah and how he would deliver us. He decided to distrust the experience of the ten people on earth who were closest to him and were passionately trying to tell him good news. He had made the decision not to believe.

As I said yesterday regarding the other disciples, I don’t want to be too hard on Thomas. He had endured so much. But, without realizing it, his words were arrogant in their demands. He was saying, “Here’s how Jesus has to work in order for me to follow him.”

That is the kind of arrogance that causes us to keep God at arm’s length. It causes us to postpone intimacy with Christ. But the humility to listen is what always draws us near to him, even when we are struggling with doubts.

Pray: “Today, Lord, I choose. I choose to listen rather than demand. I choose to see you in the manner you reveal yourself to me, instead of telling you how to work in my life. I choose to see you when your presence is not overwhelming. I choose to place my faith in you before I have all the answers.”

 

Wednesday, May 1

Read: John 20:30-31

Consider: Before we finish John’s account of Thomas’ encounter with the risen Christ, let’s fast forward to John’s words about why he recorded the events surrounding Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. 

“These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (20:31)

It’s important for us to understand what John was saying. He didn’t say, “I wrote this to prove to you…” or even, “I wrote this to convince you…” No, he said he wrote “that you may believe.”

What does it mean to believe? In our day, people associate belief with credibility. Do you find the story credible? Do you believe its veracity? Do you think it’s accurate? If they give mental assent to the Jesus story, they call themselves “believers” and are satisfied that they have fulfilled God’s intention for their lives.

But that is not what John means by belief. To John, and to all the writers of our New Testament, and especially to Jesus, to believe something was to place your faith in it. So, to believe in Jesus, is to place your life in his hands. John said that he wrote about these things so that we would live our lives in Christ—the Messiah—and in doing so, we would “have life” in him.

Yesterday we considered the fact that belief is a choice. Seldom is a person overwhelmed by evidence. We choose to place our faith in Christ based on the evidence we already have. Or we choose, as Thomas did, to wait for more evidence. Of course, the irony is that when we wait for evidence it seldom arrives. But when we place our life in Christ’s life, our days are filled with the evidence of his presence, his care and his love.

Believing is seeing.

Pray: “Lord, with all the insight you have given me and all that you still have to show me, I place my life in your hands. I don’t need proof. I don’t even need more evidence. I simply need you to empower my faith and teach me to listen.”

 

Thursday, May 2

Read: John 20:24-29

Consider: Let’s return to Thomas’ encounter with Jesus. Thomas demanded a sign and God gave him the very thing he demanded. Thomas wanted to be overwhelmed by the evidence, and Jesus gave him exactly that—evidence that could not be denied.

Thomas then did something no one had done before. He called Jesus, “God.” Later, when John wrote this gospel, he would teach us that Jesus is God (1:1). But as far as we know, Thomas was the first one to say it. And you can tell by the manner in which John relates the scene that Thomas was truly overwhelmed.

But that was not what Jesus had desired for Thomas. He had desired that Thomas would believe for different reasons. He said to Thomas…

“Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (20:29)

“Blessed indeed are ‘those who have not seen, and yet have learned to believe!’ Those who ask not for miracles, demand nothing out of the ordinary, but who find God’s message in everyday life. Those who require no compelling proofs, but who know that everything coming from God must remain in a certain ultimate suspense, so that faith may never cease to require daring.” — Romano Guardini

I love the way Guardini speaks about “a certain ultimate suspense.” That requires faith. On this side of eternity, I will never see the physical, risen Christ. I will not, as Thomas did, touch the nail scars in his hands or see the result of the spear that was thrust in his side. I will not have irrefutable proof, so I must have faith. And because of the faith that I can exercise, Jesus said that I am blessed—blessed in a manner that Thomas and the others did not experience on that day.

As Anne Lamott has said, “The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty.”

Pray: “Thank you, Lord, for the blessing of daring faith. It is a gift from you. And it is a gift that I promise to nurture and to build upon as I walk with you.”

 

Friday, May 3

Read: Colossians 2:1-9

Consider: When you read Paul’s New Testament letters, there is a word that you’ll run into from time to time — “mystery.” As he wrote to the Colossian believers, he used that word in a very specific manner. He said the “mystery of God” is “Christ” (2:2).

For many years I almost totally disregarded that word when I read Paul’s writings. I felt that the mystery had already been revealed to us, so it was no longer a mystery. There was something that I didn’t like about mystery. I wanted to be sure, to be certain, to know I was right. So, I wanted to put mystery in the past and insight into the present. I felt like certainty was the hallmark of spiritual maturity. I tried to be certain and to teach others to be certain as well.

As I look back, I now see that I was wrong. I actually had it backwards. I’ve learned that spiritual maturity can only come when we embrace the mystery, not when we try to solve it.

I think sometimes we pursue certainty because we want our faith to be validated and we want that to happen now. But that is not how mature faith works. Our faith is never fully completed. It is not stamped as valid at a certain point on our journey. Faith is dynamic. It is validated over time, challenged, stretched to new proportions, validated some more, challenged some more, then stretched some more.

If, as Paul said, Christ is the mystery, then I can embrace the mystery of God as it gradually unfolds before me. I can love Christ without fully comprehending him. He is not something to be figured out, he is someone to embrace.

Our need for certainty can rob us. It can keep us from the joy of the unfolding journey into the mystery that is Christ.

Pray: “Lord, keep me from worshipping certainty and help me to embrace the mystery. You are the gift—the mystery that unfolds before me as I love you and give myself to you. I don’t want to reduce you to a thing that I need to understand. I want to walk with you and allow you to show me how to love. Your love is what I want to know in an ever-increasing manner. So, stretch my faith to new proportions as I embrace the Christ—the mystery of God.”

 

Saturday, May 4

Read: Philippians 3:10-14

Consider: This week we’ve looked at two contrasting ways of knowing. First, there was Thomas, who demanded evidence. He said, “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” (John 20:25).

And then we looked at Paul, a man who had never seen Jesus in the flesh. Unlike Thomas, he didn’t get to sit on the hillside as Jesus taught the crowds. He didn’t get to watch as the multitudes were fed with only five loaves and two fish. He didn’t get to see Lazarus raised from the dead. He didn’t get to touch Jesus’ nail-scarred hands. And yet, Paul embraced Christ, and reveled in “the mystery” (Colossians 2:2).

And as Paul wrote to the Philippian believers, we hear and feel his passion as he exclaims, “I want to know Christ” (3:10). This “knowing” that Paul speaks of is a far cry from the proof that Thomas demanded.

Thomas was at the beginning of his journey when he made his demand. He was still immature in his faith. Thomas grew and became a great man of faith, laying down his life for Christ. When we read Paul’s words, we hear the heart of a more mature believer. He no longer felt the need to be right and to have Christ all figured out. He had a burning desire to be one with Christ. When Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians, he had been walking with Jesus for years. We would call him a believer, a disciple, an apostle and someone who intimately knew the Lord. And still the cry of his heart was, “I want to know Christ.”

This is how we embrace the mystery. It is not certainty we desire, but relationship we pursue. And as we give ourselves to Christ, our confidence grows and our love flourishes. Ironically, our certainty grows as well. But it is not born of concepts and ideas. Our certainty is in the One we know will never forsake us—the One who will always love us and walk with us on this journey.

That is why Jesus said to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

Pray: Let’s make Paul’s prayer our prayer…

“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10-11)