According to recent polling, 30% of Americans are skeptical about God. The journalist who reported this today was pretty sure it’s a shocking fact. He did not disclose that 48% of Americans believe that UFO’s may well be creatures like ET! (Seriously!) In fact, I can even top that: probably 30% of the closest friends of Jesus Christ had doubts about the resurrection.
You may wonder why I would suggest such a thing, especially at Easter! Well, I mention it because the Bible does. Read the gospel accounts of the original Easter one more time and you’ll see what I mean. In the Gospel of Mark alone, it happens time and again.
- 16:8 The women who are first alerted by an angel are so terrified and jolted that they disobey the angel’s command to notify the apostles. They run away and tell no one.
- 16:11 When Mary Magdalene tells the disciples Christ is back, they refuse to believe her.
- 16:12 When two disciples return from a walk near Emmaus, declaring they’ve spoken with the resurrected Lord, the apostles mock them as well.
- 16:14 Before Jesus delivers his historic Great Commission, he pauses to rebuke the eleven for their unbelief and hardness of heart in not believing!
I wondered for a while why Mark goes to such lengths in his very brief account to elaborate on the doubts that haunted the first witnesses to the resurrection. Why mention them at all? Do people like you and me really want to know some of the earliest witnesses had doubts? I believe we do, and here are a few reasons why.
- This confirms the first believers were not just gullible, superstitious fools willing to believe anything they were told. They all had experience with death and biology. They realized there’s a rule about dead people: they don’t resuscitate themselves! This refutes raging skeptics who argue that the gospels survived only because the first readers were so ignorant that they didn’t know better.
- It demonstrates how honest and trustworthy the scriptures are. Conspirators hoping to perpetrate a hoax would have shaped the details and emphasized the positive. But the writers of the gospels reveal the unvarnished truth about themselves and their best friends. They also denied Jesus, abandoned him, forgot his promises and feared he had led them off on fool’s errand that had ended badly. They weren’t waiting for news of a resurrection; their only thought was that they were about to be rounded up and arrested. The Bible is so honest it’s almost painful! That’s why we trust it.
- It reminds us that doubt only means you’re thinking. Everybody knew that resurrection was unnatural and unbelievable: it broke all the rules. People didn’t believe it because it was easy. They believed it because nothing else worked with all the evidence. So the third time they looked Jesus in the eye and saw the nail prints in his hand, they had to file their doubts away and embrace the truth.
It’s not much of a testimony to boast you’ve never doubted Christ. When someone makes audacious, outrageous claims, you ought to start from a position of skepticism, no matter what your parents told you when you were a kid! But when you dare you confront the reasons for your doubt only to discover that Christ makes a better case, you begin to build unshakable convictions: the confidence to actually talk about what you believe.
So we can identify with Thomas and those halting witnesses this Resurrection Sunday. Many of the Lord’s followers first approached the empty tomb with open minds: this is impossible. But as C.K. Chesterton once quipped, “The object of opening the mind, like opening the mouth, is to finally close it again on something solid.” Jesus blessed Thomas because seeing, he finally believed. And he issued a blessing for you and me as well: those who never saw but still believe. Be blessed!
And lift up the Cross!