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by David Phelps

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa

May, 2012

It’s time for my eighteenth annual column about the balloons that decorate our church on Easter Sunday morning. I’d like to tell you about filling the balloons with helium and tying ribbons to them. But I can’t. I’d like to tell you about decorating the church. But I can’t. I’d like to tell you about how the balloons looked as they rose into the sky. But I can’t. I can’t because I wasn’t there to see it. There was an emergency at work and I had to work that day. As a result, I missed Easter Sunday services for the first time in—well, at least eighteen years.

My wife, Charlotte, told me all about the events and activities that morning. And of course I’ve seen pictures of the balloons. And I’ve seen the letter from the nine-year-old boy in Galatia, Illinois, 120 miles away, who found one of the balloons.

I have no trouble believing in the balloons. But then, I’ve seen them before, many times. Thomas and the rest of the original disciples didn’t have that advantage where the risen Christ was concerned. They had never seen Jesus rise from the dead before. They had seen him raise Lazarus (John 11:1-44) and we know Thomas was there (vs. 16). And of course he had raised others as well. But it’s one thing to see someone raise the dead and quite another to see someone rise from the dead without apparent outside help.

When Jesus appeared to the other disciples for the first time after the resurrection, Thomas wasn’t with them (John 20:24). So naturally, he didn’t believe (vs. 25b). I probably wouldn’t have either, and neither would you. Jesus came back a week later (vs. 26-29) and this time Thomas saw him and believed. We don’t know if he made a special visit just for Thomas’ benefit but I suspect he did. It was important to have all the disciples saying and believing the same thing. Jesus said to Thomas “‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’” (vs. 29 ESV). Those words are for our benefit, yours and mine and all the later generations of Christians who didn’t see the risen Christ for ourselves.

John wrote that his Gospel was “. . . written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (vs. 31b ESV). And that he was “. . . the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.” (21:24 ESV). Thomas didn’t believe the testimony of the other disciples. But we can believe the testimony of John, Matthew, Mark , Luke and all the rest. The Scriptures we have today are the testimony of our spiritual ancestors, written so that we might believe. Sometimes they testify to events that had no witnesses: No one witnessed the creation but we have the story to testify that God was responsible, so we believe (Gen. 1:1-2:4). No one witnessed Moses talking to the burning bush but we believe it (Exod. 3:1-4:17). No one else heard God speaking to young Samuel in the night but we believe (1 Sam. 3:1-18). No one else heard the “still small voice” that spoke to Elijah but we believe it (1 Kings 19:11-13). No one except Mary, Joseph, and a few shepherds heard the angel say Jesus was God’s son but we believe it (Matt. 1:18-25; Luke 1:26-38; 2:8-20).

The things of God can’t be proven; they have to be believed. They resonate within us on a spiritual level. “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Cor. 2:14). Doubt is understandable: Faith can be hard. Proof is easy; evidence is easy. It’s easy to believe in a savior who stands in the middle of your living room and invites you to touch his wounds. It’s less easy to believe one you’ve only heard or read about.

Others can’t see God or know the reality of the resurrection. They can’t see proof of the things we believe. All they have is our testimony. They can only hear what we say and measure it against what we do. We can only pray that our words and actions will measure up and give us a testimony that others can believe.

“Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. . . . And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” (1 John 5:10a, 11 ESV.)

Copyright © 2012 by David Phelps