Wednesday, March 31, 2010


You’ve probably heard this man’s name used in vain, even used it yourself, “Doubting Thomas.” This is a man whose reputation I believe has suffered from bad press. We have a caricature of this disciple in our minds: a man who refused to believe, who refused to take the leap of faith, a man who had to be confronted with the most incontrovertible evidence, a man who had to “see to believe.” He’s a sort of bad guy in the roll call of disciples.

Then there are others who would uphold Thomas as a real intellectual, the first “Christian rationalist.”

Well, what kind of person was Thomas anyway? Why on earth would Jesus choose such a man? Why does John record this incident in his gospel when the other three gospel writers didn’t? His story is told in John, chapter 20.

“But Thomas, one of the twelve, the one called Didymus (both names mean “the twin”) wasn’t with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples were telling him, ‘We’ve seen the Lord!’ But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in His hands and stick my finger into the mark of the nails and stick my hand into His side, I will not believe’” (John 20:24, 25).

Thomas was one of the disciples who had fled when Jesus was arrested in the garden. He apparently, however, had snuck back and witnessed the crucifixion. He’d seen the nails driven into Jesus’ hands and feet and the spear thrust into His side. He knew his Master had died. And now these guys were telling him they’d seen Jesus alive? If I were in Thomas’ place, I suppose I might have said the same thing.

Would the other disciples have acted any differently? Go back to that first sighting.

“When it was evening on that day, the first of the week and the doors were locked tight where the disciples were, because of fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the middle of them and says to then, ‘Peace to you!’ And when He said this He showed them His hands and His side” (John 20:19, 20).

“And they were fearful and afraid and thought they were seeing a ghost. And He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled and why do reasonings rise up in your heart? Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost doesn’t have flesh and bones as you see me having.’ And when He said this He showed them His hands and feet. And as they were still unbelieving from joy and marveling … (Luke 24:37-41).

It seems to me that Thomas was asking for no more than the other disciples had experienced. They had received indisputable evidence that Jesus had risen from the dead. Thomas wanted the same.

And the following week, Jesus gave Thomas the same opportunity as the others.

“Eight days later, His disciples were inside again and Thomas with them. Though the doors were locked tight, Jesus came and He stood in the middle of them and said, ‘Peace to you!’ Then He says to Thomas, ‘Bring your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand here and stick it into my side. Stop doubting and start believing!’” (John 20:26, 27)

There seems to be no rebuke. Jesus doesn’t say, “Thomas, how much evidence is it going to take to convince you?” No! Nor does He say (as many think He does), “Thomas, don’t worry about the evidence, just take a leap of faith.” Jesus’ concept of faith, the biblical concept, is not that of many present day pop psychologists and theologians. His challenge seems to be simply this, “You want evidence, well, here it is, standing right in front of you! Examine the evidence!”

And the challenge to stop doubting and start believing is not a rebuke either. It’s as though Jesus is saying, “You wanted proof; I gave you proof – now act on it!”

And Thomas did. We never read whether or not Thomas took the challenge to touch and no one can say dogmatically whether he did or didn’t. But I think he did – not because he needed to in order to believe. His sight confirmed to him that this was really Jesus – crucified and risen. If Thomas did reach out and touch Jesus’ wounds, he did it because Jesus told him to.

His cry, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28), is not an oath. Thomas wasn’t just blurting out God’s name as people so commonly do today. He was speaking directly to Jesus, not to no one in particular, not to God in heaven, but to this man standing right in front of him. He was confessing that Jesus is Lord and God. (Thomas is the first person to specifically call Jesus “God.”) And Thomas was making it personal – “my Lord and my God.”

“Jesus says to him, “Because you have seen me have you believed? How happy (or lucky) are those who have not seen and have believed!” (John 20:29)

At last, Thomas is a confirmed witness of the resurrected Christ – and of His deity. He has believed because he saw.

But we are those “who have not seen and have believed.” We are the “happy” or “lucky” ones. Happier than Thomas? Jesus doesn’t say that; He is not grading or comparing different faiths. It is because Thomas and the rest had to see, that we can believe their witness. We accept the testimony of trustworthy persons. Jesus didn’t pick gullible fools or superstitious religious nuts, He picked hard-headed men who asked questions, who all had to see to believe. We can trust their witness because they were convinced by the evidence they saw and touched.

The resurrection is the great proof of the person and work of Jesus Christ. Only one man ever came back from the dead permanently. His resurrection furnishes proof to the world that He is the Son of God and that He accomplished what He was sent to do!

The Bible tells no more of Thomas except that he was with the others on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 1:13). Tradition tells us that he died a martyr’s death in India. I personally know a man who grew up in a church supposedly founded by him.

Bill Ball

Friday, March 26, 2010


In my previous post I attempted to make clear the truth that every person who has put their faith in Jesus Christ has been reconciled to every other believer. We are all one in “the body of Christ,” “the new man,” the church universal. I asked the question, “So why don’t we behave that way?”

The world – human kind – outside of Christ, has found infinite ways to divide itself, to continue in that alienation. And we should not be surprised.

If we turn on our daily TV news, we see this alienation acting itself out in wars, in terrorism, in hateful speech, not only in foreign lands; but also here in America. If we glance back at history, even American history, we see the same thing. People divide themselves over political issues, over race, ethnicity, religion and nationalism.

But it should not be so in the body of Christ, the church. We have been reconciled. This is what the old-time dispensational preachers called “positional truth.” It is true in the mind of God and will someday be lived out in the coming kingdom. But why isn’t it lived out now?

In fact, Christians have many more ways to divide themselves that the unbelieving world hasn’t even thought of! We divide over minutia of biblical interpretation and doctrine and over various practices that are seen as ethical. I’m not saying that the things we divide over are necessarily unimportant. It’s just that their importance is often greatly exaggerated and becomes an excuse for hostility. We often carry a sort of “righteous indignation” toward those with whom we differ, making no distinction between unbelievers and our follow believers.

And we carry our righteous indignation into other areas, such as the political. Those who differ are seen as unchristian. It is assumed that everyone who is a Christian holds a certain political view and those who differ obviously are not Christians (or are worldly or unspiritual or immature or at least uninformed).

Brothers, it ought not to be this way! We, who know Christ, should be an example of the reconciliation and unity that is ours. Jesus told the eleven on the evening before He went to the cross, “A new commandment I’m giving to you – that you love one another, even as I loved you, that you also love one another. In this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among each other” (John 13:34, 35).

Perhaps the world is looking at us to see what disciples of Christ look like. Do they see people who are living out this command? Or do they simply see an image of themselves?

Our task is to carry the message of reconciliation to an unreconciled world. Paul says, “God has placed in us the message of reconciliation … as though God were urging through us, ‘we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God’” (2 Corinthians 5:19, 20). It seems that if they are to accept that message, they need to see it lived out in our lives.

Bill Ball

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


“…when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son…” (Romans 5:10).

Most believers in Christ have some understanding of the above fact. We were alienated from God through sin and the fall. God gave His Son, Jesus, to pay the penalty for our sin. This death accomplished our reconciliation. We have been restored to a right relationship, a friendship with God.

However, there is another alienation and reconciliation that we often overlook. Some are even ignorant of it.

First we need to understand the alienation. For that we need to go back to the Garden of Eden (see: WHAT HAPPENED?). The man and his wife were alienated from God through their sin and separated from Him by being cast out of the Garden.

But there’s more. The man and his wife also experienced an alienation from each other. We see it starting when the man attempts to shift blame for his sin to the woman as well as to God. “The woman you gave to me, she gave me from the tree and I ate!” (Genesis 3:12). God tells the woman, “Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you!” (Genesis 3:16). (The word translated “desire” most likely has the meaning of “desire for control” – see 4:7; Song of Solomon 7:10.) The “battle of the sexes” began in the Garden!

And it gets worse in chapter 4. Their son murders his brother and is driven from God’s presence and sets up an apparently godless civilization characterized by violence.

In other words, humankind – man – has experienced alienation within the race. This continues through history, both biblical and secular, but finds its ultimate expression in Genesis 11, with God’s judgment by the confounding of languages and the dispersion of the nations over the whole earth (11:7, 8).

So not only is man alienated from God, he is alienated from his fellow human beings. I believe we can conclude that both alienations are the result of man’s sin against God.

But God had a plan and that plan was put into play right from the beginning. We see it first stated in God’s promise in Genesis 3:17, that the woman’s “seed” would crush the head of the serpent. In the 12th chapter of Genesis, we see God calling Abraham from among the nations to become the father of “a great nation” and that through him “all families of the earth” would be blessed (12:1-3). Later Abraham is told that it is through his “seed” these blessings would come.

As we look, however, at the rest of the Old Testament, we see Abraham’s “seed” not being a blessing to “the families of the earth,” but separating themselves. The alienation still seems to be in effect today. Humankind is divided into two groups – Jews (the children of Abraham) and Gentiles (everybody else). Not only that, but the Gentiles – the word can also be translated “nations” – are alienated from each other.

Fast forward 2000 or so years from Abraham’s time. A young man, a descendant of Abraham is put to death on a Roman cross – Jesus the Messiah, the Christ, whom we are told is that promised “seed” of Abraham (Galatians 3:16).

Paul tells his readers – non-Jewish believers -- what they were in Ephesians 2:11, 12, “…you the Gentiles in flesh…you were separate from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and godless in the world.” A description of people who were not only alienated from God, but from God’s covenant people. And we might add, from one another.

“But now, in Christ Jesus, you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ” (verse 13). Near to whom? Near both to God and to His people!

Christ fulfilled the requirement and took the penalty of the Mosaic Law, including the Ten Commandments. This Law had had a twofold effect. For the Jew – the physical child of Abraham – it held forth a set of requirements that it was impossible to fulfill. For the Gentile, the one outside of God’s covenant community, it was a barrier keeping him permanently outside this community. Paul uses some bold language in the next verses. “For He is our peace, who made the both one and broke down the dividing wall, the fence, the enmity – in His flesh, having nullified the Law of Commandments in decrees, that He might in Himself create the two into one new man, making peace…” (verses 14, 15).

Christ by His death on the cross we are told, nullified the Mosaic Law, thus reconciling both Jew and Gentile to each other and to God, uniting us together as God’s people in the church, the New man, the body of Christ. “…and might reconcile the both in one body to God, through the cross, having killed the enmity in it (or in Himself)!” (verse 16)

We who are believers in Christ have been reconciled not only to God but to each other. The cross of Christ has removed the barrier. And though in this passage, Paul is speaking of that between Jew and Gentile, it is clear from other passages that all barriers have been eliminated. When the Christ broke down the barrier of the Law, all other barriers are removed as well. They are insignificant!

“…you have stripped off the old man with his practices and have clothed yourselves with the new…in which there is neither Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free, but Christ is all and in all!” (Colossians 3:9-11)

“For you, those who were baptized into Christ, have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no Jew or Greek, there is no slave or free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus!” (Galatians 3:27, 28)

Could anything be clearer? Christ has accomplished reconciliation. He has eliminated all barriers that could possibly be placed between believers in Christ: religious (denominational?), ethnic, national, gender, socio-economic status, race. We are all one in Christ.

So why don’t we behave that way?

Bill Ball

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


“And there were Jews dwelling in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven.

Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappodocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the regions of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs …” (Acts 2:5, 9-11a).

On the first Day of Pentecost (or the Feast of Weeks) after Christ had risen and ascended, when the Holy Spirit fell on the disciples in Jerusalem, when the first “Christian” sermon was preached, the speakers had a huge audience, both Pilgrims and settlers from all over the Mediterranean and middle eastern world. Jesus had commanded these disciples to be His witnesses “even to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8), but then had brought this audience to them. Luke tells us that “about three thousand souls” were converted on that day (Acts 1:41).

What happened to these people afterward? Undoubtedly many stayed in Jerusalem and added to the growth of the church there. But others must have returned to their home countries, carrying their newfound faith with them. When the first missionaries arrived in these regions years later, they would have found believers already there. Many of these regions are not mentioned any more in the rest of the New Testament, yet history tells us that Christianity had spread to these regions and beyond within a few centuries. The church truly became what Paul described, a church “in which there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all and in all” (Colossians 3:11) -- a truly universal church that transcends boundaries, whether national or ethnic or linguistic.

But many of the churches I know and have attended haven’t reflected this truth too well. We tend to all look the same; in my case, white and middle class.

When I was young, the milkman delivered unhomogenized milk to our door in clear glass bottles. We could see that the milk had separated into cream and what could be called skim milk. So before we poured the milk, we had to shake it up to blend the parts.

It seems to me that God is “shaking up” the church in America these days. The huge number of immigrants and visitors from other nations is giving us a situation similar to that of the first Day of Pentecost. We have people arriving here from other nations, some to study, some to do business, some to work, some to settle down. They bring with them their (to us) exotic ways – strange names, strange accents, strange foods and strange religions. And they bring with them their need for Christ. What an opportunity!

Now I no longer have to sit in church only with people who look and sound like me. God has given me the privilege of meeting with and fellowshipping with and learning from and witnessing to people from “every tribe and tongue and nation.”

Uni and I and some other couples have had the privilege of working with a Sunday afternoon Bible class with college students from at least six different nations. What a privilege it has been to teach these young people and to know that not only are they receiving words of eternal life, but that they will be carrying these words back with them to their home nations, just like those early believers in the Book of Acts.

Bill Ball