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Early reports of "sightings" were met with stubborn resistance, which the eleven disciples later regretted. Would/Could these doubters turn into faithful witnesses?
When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons. She went and told those who had been with Him, as they mourned and wept. When they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe.
After that, He appeared in another form to two of them as they walked and went into the country. They went and told it to the rest, but they did not believe them either.
Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him.
He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned."
After the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven. They went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through accompanying signs. Amen.
Mark 16:9-19 NKJV, condensed
The God of Hope
If you were a betting person, what odds would you give these guys--Simon Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, little James, Thaddaeus, and the Zealot named Simon? They were good at doubting, would they also be good at convincing the world to believe in a God who loves each person and desires that everyone be present when the roll is called up yonder.
The message of God's love is amazing. So is the trust that Jesus placed in his messengers. His is an eternal hope that defies the odds and refuses to accept the realities of human frailties. The God of hope--working with the eleven disciples and the family members and friends who traveled with them, working with all those who have believed throughout the ages, even with us today as we continue to preach and teach and live out the old, old story that is forever new.
The God of hope--who never leaves us alone, never stops loving, never gives up on us. Would those eleven frightened, doubting, inadequate disciples become faithful ambassadors for Jesus? Not if it were up to them! But with God's consistent, persistent, unrelenting care, they accomplished more than they could ever imagine. We think small and are easily distracted; but God's mission is immeasurable! It reminds me of Martin Bell's "Rag-Time Army" in his book, The Way of the Wolf, published by Ballantine Books, 1983. It goes as follows:
"I think God must be very old and very tired. Maybe he used to look splendid and fine in his general's uniform, but no more. He's been on the march a long time, you know. And look at his rag-tag little army! All he has for soldiers are you and me. Dumb little army. Listen! The drum beat isn't even regular. Everyone is out of step. And there! You see? God keeps stopping along the way to pick up one of his tinier soldiers who decided to wander off and play with a frog, or run in a field, or whose foot got tangled in the underbrush. He'll never get anywhere that way. And yet, the march goes on.
"Do you see how the marchers have broken up into little groups? Look at that group up near the front. Now, there's a snappy outfit. They all look pretty much alike--at least they're in step with each other. Only they're not wearing their shoes. They're carrying them in their hands. Silly little band. They won't get far before God will have to stop again.
"Or how about that other group over there? They're all holding hands as they march. The only trouble with this is the men on each end of the line. Pretty soon they realize that one of their hands isn't holding onto anything--one hand is reaching, empty, alone. And so they hold hands with each other, and everybody marches around in circles. . . . And so God must stop again.
"If God were more sensible he'd take his little army and shape them up. Why, whoever heard of a soldier stopping to romp in a field? It's ridiculous. But even more absurd is a general who will stop the march of eternity to go and bring him back.
"But that's God for you. His is not endless, empty marching. He is going somewhere. His steps are deliberate and purposive. He may be old, and he may be tired. But he knows where he's going. And he means to take every last one of his tiny soldiers with him.
"Only there aren't going to be any forced marches. And, after all, there are frogs and flowers, and thorns and underbrush along the way. And even though our foreheads have been signed with the sign of the cross, we are only human. Most of us are afraid and lonely and would like to hold hands or cry or run away. And we don't know where we are going, and we can't seem to trust God--especially when it's dark out and we can't see him!
"He won't go on without us. And that's why it's taking so long. Listen! The drum beat isn't even regular. Everyone is out of step. And there! You see? God keeps stopping along the way. . . . And yet, the march goes on."
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: What rank would you like to be in God's army? State the reason for your choice.
Have you ever tried to persuade another person about something and the other person doubted your word and refused to believe you? What's it like to be unsuccessful when trying to convince someone? How do you know when your persuasive words have prevailed?
Put yourself in the place of the disciples when Jesus rebuked them for their doubting. What reasons might you have offered for your lack of faith?
Why would Jesus trust those doubting disciples to be faithful to the task to which he assigned them? Give an example of your being inspired by the trust someone had in you.
Do you think the fact that the early disciples had difficulty overcoming their doubts added to, or detracted from, their Christian witness? In a court of law, what makes for a good witness? Locally or globally, wherever you live, what makes for an effective Christian witness? What makes you a believable witness for Christ and the church?
React to Martin Bell's tale. What part of the story seems most real to you? If you don't like the story, what don't you like about it? How would your life be different if you thought of it as a march toward eternity? Have you been chasing any "frogs" lately? Or stuck in any underbrush?
Do you believe that God is consistent, persistent and unrelenting in caring for you? If so, how did you arrive at that conclusion?
Where do you see evidence of hope in the world? What are the distinguishing characteristics of a hopeful person? In what ways does God model hope?Which is easier--to have faith or to doubt? Explain your answer.
Describe a time when God worked something good through you and you accomplished more than you ever thought possible. Would you like more, or less, of those experiences?