Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter Changes Everything

DOUBTING THOMAS

Spring is a time of change. It’s often said, “April showers bring May flowers.” The weather is getting warmer, the grass is turning green, and the flowers will soon be in bloom.

Every spring, we observe Easter. But Easter is a celebration, not of natural change, but of spiritual change. Spiritually, Easter—the message of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection—changes everything.

Easter changes lives.

The life of Thomas, one of Jesus’ disciples, was radically changed by Easter. John’s Gospel reveals that Thomas, before the resurrection, was loyal, but pessimistic.

Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16).

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (John 14:5).

But [Thomas] 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” (John 20:25).

A CHANGED LIFE

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!” (John 20:26-28).

Thomas applied to Jesus two titles of deity: “Lord” (kyrios) and “God” (theos). The most outrageous doubter of the resurrection uttered the greatest confession of faith in the risen Jesus.

Thomas went from “Doubting Thomas” to “Daring Thomas.”

First, Thomas may have taken the gospel as far east as India.

“There is a considerable amount of ancient testimony that suggest Thomas carried the gospel as far as India. There is to this day a small hill near the airport in Chennai (Madras), India, where Thomas is said to have been buried. There are churches in south India whose roots are traceable to the beginning of the church age, and tradition says they were founded under the ministry of Thomas” (John MacArthur, Twelve Ordinary Men, p. 164).

Today, Christianity is India’s third largest religion, with approximately 24 million followers, constituting 2.3% of India’s population (Census of India, 2001).

Second, Thomas was martyred for his faith in the risen Jesus.

“The strongest traditions say he was martyred for his faith by being run through with a spear—a fitting form of martyrdom for one whose faith came of age when he saw the spear mark in his Master’s side....” (John MacArthur, Twelve Ordinary Men, p. 164).

BELIEVING WITHOUT SEEING

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

Thomas believed because he had seen the risen Jesus. We are in the second category of people: “those who have not seen.” How can we believe in the resurrection?

I have in my library three books: Who Moved the Stone? by Frank Morison, Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell, and The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. What do these three authors have in common? All three were once skeptics of Christianity, but were converted when they studied the biblical accounts of the resurrection of Jesus.

Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:30-31).

The greatest miracle in the Gospel of John is the resurrection of Jesus. Christianity rises and falls on the resurrection. If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, the gospel is a lie. If Jesus did rise from the dead, He is Lord.

How can we who have never seen Jesus be sure that He really rose from the dead?

First, the disciples were transformed.

“Perhaps the transformation of the disciples of Jesus is the greatest evidence of all for the resurrection” (John R. W. Stott, Basic Christianity, pp. 58-59).

When Jesus was arrested, “All of the disciples deserted him and fled” (Matthew 26:56). But after they claimed that Jesus had risen from the dead, they were changed men. For example, Peter, after the resurrection, said to the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem, “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. He is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:8-12). Could Peter have been any more bold? Remember that this was the man who had denied Jesus three times prior to the resurrection. Now he was speaking to the same people who had been responsible for the death of Jesus. Something had changed him.

None of the theories used to deny the resurrection are believable: (1) The disciples did not steal the body. “When therefore the disciples began to preach the resurrection in Jerusalem and people responded, and when religious authorities stood helplessly by, the tomb must have been empty. The simple fact that the Christian fellowship, founded on belief in Jesus’ resurrection, came into existence and flourished in the very city where he was executed and buried is powerful evidence for the historicity of the empty tomb” (William Lane Craig). (2) The disciples did not go to the wrong tomb. (3) The disciples did not see a resuscitated Jesus. (4) The disciples did not hallucinate.

Second, liars make poor martyrs.

According to church tradition, all of the apostles, except John, were martyred.

“Men will die for what they believe to be true, though it may actually be false. They do not, however, die for what they know is a lie” (Paul Little, Know Why You Believe, p. 52).

“When a sword is at your throat and you are told to deny the resurrection of Christ or die—what kind of evidence causes you to choose death over life? What prevents you from speaking the simple words, “Well, I never actually saw Him alive. You must be right—He didn’t rise from the dead”? We can imagine that two or even three deluded disciples might be willing to die for mistaken belief in the resurrection of Jesus—but all eleven? Isn’t it reasonable to suppose that at least one of them would cave in when threatened with death? Yet none of them did so. The only explanation must be that, when confronted with death, the minds of the disciples raced back to several rock-solid, airtight reasons for maintaining their unshakeable conviction that Jesus rose from the dead. Without that, what could have kept at least one or two from recanting? Yet none of them ever did so. Why not? Because they not only believed He had risen from the dead, they knew He had. They had spoken to Him. They had seen Him. They had watched Him eat. They had touched Him. They knew” (Tim LaHaye, Jesus: Who Is He?, p. 266).

JESUS IS ALIVE. PASS IT ON.

Chris Moretz decided to ride out Hurricane Katrina alone at home. After the worst of the storm had passed, his house was flooded and destroyed. Chris needed to let his family know that he was still alive. But they were in Tucson, Arizona, and there was no way to contact them. So Chris painted the following message on the roof of his house: “C. MORETZ IS ALIVE. PASS IT ON.” Also included was the phone number of Chris’s brother Gerard.

Finally, Chris’s rooftop message was shown on TV and posted on some websites. Chris’s family began getting phone calls from all over the country that Chris was alive (USA TODAY).

Thankfully, because of people like Thomas, the message “JESUS IS ALIVE” has been passed on to us. Now it’s our turn. We must pass it on to others, so that the lives of others might be changed.

Jesus is alive. Pass it on.