“He is risen!”
“He is risen indeed!”
We will hear these words many times over the next few days. I truly enjoy this week, moving from Palm Sunday, Jesus’ triumphal entry, through Passover, into Good Friday and then Resurrection Sunday. This week is filled with history, with great lessons, emotions and opportunity. As I have been reading each account of Jesus’ resurrection in the Gospels this week I have been struck by a common thread that runs through them, doubt.
Matthew gives us an account that is not unexpected, the chief priests, upon hearing the report from the Roman soldiers bribe them to say that the disciples came during the night and stole Jesus’ body. The other three accounts are a bit unexpected. Mark tells us that when Mary Magdalene reported that she had seen the risen Lord that “they did not believe.” He continued and wrote that Jesus also appeared to two men as they walked along the road, “but they did not believe them either.” Luke writes that when the women that first saw the angels at the tomb and heard the news of Jesus’ resurrection reported all these things to the disciples that “their words seemed to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them.” And John 20 tells us of Thomas’ doubt and the requirements he set for him to believe, to see and touch the wounds of Jesus’ crucifixion.
As I read these accounts this week I asked, “what caused such great doubt?” No sooner did I ask that question than I heard the Holy Spirit ask me, “what causes yours?” Painful questions often offer answers that bring deliverance, if we will accept them.
So why all the doubt? Why did Peter and John run to the empty grave but the other nine were unmoved? Why did the women believe strongly enough to go and tell what they had seen and heard but Thomas didn’t just doubt, he refused to believe until his demands were met? What about you and me? Why do we believe that the Red Sea parted but we reject the promise of healing? Why do we believe that “His eye is on the sparrow” but we doubt that we are remembered? Why do we intercede with faith and hope for far away nations but push away any promise of life for our own household? I believe that Luke gave us a great insight into all of these questions.
As Cleopas and his friend, another believer, walked along the road to Emmaus, they were discussing all that had happened over the course of the weekend, Jesus’ arrest, death and resurrection. They were animated, concerned and even sad. Jesus came and joined them on the journey, but they didn’t know it was Him. Along the way He asked why they were sad, asked what they were talking about but gave no clue as to who He was or even that He knew what had happened. Cleopas tells Jesus all the details and then he shares what I believe is the heart of the issue and the reason for the doubt, “But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel.” There it is! Cleopas tells us the truth of his soul and probably of all the other doubting believers. They had a plan for Jesus, they followed Him, trusted Him, believed Him but they also had a plan for Him. We often quote from Jeremiah 29, “For I know the plans that I have for you . . .” God’s plans for our lives are meant to bring us comfort and build faith, but our plans for God often lead us to fear and to doubt. Why? Because, as Isaiah tells us, His thoughts and ways are higher than ours. I Corinthians 2:9 tells us “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined the things that God has prepared for those who love Him.” None of us have been able to grasp the fullness, the power and the glory of the plans of God. All of our plans, our hopes, our dreams, our ideas and even our imaginations, for our lives and for God’s will, fall short. We can not reach His greatness, we can not conceive or perceive of the fullness of His glory. The disciples doubted because Jesus did not fulfill their plan, but their plan was too small, their plan was for a season not for eternity. Their plan was for their people, not for all people. Their plan was for the shame of men to be removed from their lives, God’s plan was for the shame of sin to be removed from their eternal spirits. Their doubt was created by disappointment that God didn’t fulfill THEIR plan.
I believe it is the same with each of us. We love Jesus, we follow Him, we listen to Him, we trust Him and yet at the same time we often have a plan for Him. We have a want and a desire; a specific plan that we want to see Him do in our lives. When He acts in a different way, even when He does abundantly more than we hoped or imagined our disappointment comes from not getting our way and not being able to see and believe in His greater way. We have all been in situations in which we did not get our way, we were disappointed, frustrated maybe even angry. And yet, when we arrived at the way chosen for us, rather than the way we chose for ourselves we have had to face the truth, “this was better.” I am truly trying to believe and trust that God’s plan is better.
Thomas refused to believe and like some of us he put stipulations on his faith. “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” The kindness of God allows Him to not simply cast Thomas out. His loving kindness draws men to repentance and to belief. Jesus came to the disciples again, this time when Thomas was present. Jesus, knowing Thomas’ heart and his words said to him, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side.” The last statement Jesus made to Thomas was one He is making to me and I believe He is making to many of us today: “Stop doubting, and believe!”
There comes a point in which we must cast down our plans and take up Jesus’. There comes a point in which He should not have to prove Himself, we must make the choice to embrace faith and reject unbelief and doubt. Many of us want doubt to simply vanish, that is not faith. Faith is when we believe, even when we don’t get our way and our plans are not chosen for our lives. Thomas responded to Jesus, the touching of the wounds was not the end of their interaction. Thomas answered Jesus with these words, “My Lord and my God!” Something new happened for Thomas that day. I believe Jesus was his God, He was his teacher, His leader but up until then Jesus was not his Lord. Thomas was still setting the requirements for his faith, his life, his path and plan. When we make Jesus Lord we move into a position of laying down our lives, laying down our thoughts, our hopes, our plans and sometimes even our beliefs. We move into a position of being children in the hands of God, of being followers being led by a Leader, of being sheep in the care of a Shepherd.
This weekend many of us will enter and depart from churches, family gatherings, and community projects with the words, “He is risen!” “He is risen indeed!” I pray that those words would lead us to an even greater declaration. I pray that Jesus’ resurrection would lead us all to a place where we would declare not merely with our words but with our hearts and lives, “My Lord and my God!” May we set aside our plans for God and be completely wrapped in His plans for us. May we become His possession so that we can see the fulfillment of all that He has promised to do in us, through us and for us. Because He is risen I can rest, I can trust and I can believe.