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?

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