This blog post is part 52 of the series Seven Invisible Barriers to Spiritual Growth
What if you were there for the last twenty-four hours of the life of Jesus Christ? How would things look through your eyes? What would you be feeling? What are the thoughts running through your mind? What would your conclusions be?
There is no doubt in the minds of many of Jesus’ followers that He was the Messiah and that He would redeem Israel. He was One who would break the yoke of slavery to Rome and cleanse the land of all the Gentile influences that polluted it.
Jesus Killed Before Their Very Eyes
Yet when the soldiers and temple police come to arrest him, Jesus went peacefully. He refused to allow Peter to fight and defend him. They tried him illegally at night, provided false witnesses to seek to condemn Him.
They beat him mercilessly and repeatedly throughout the evening and morning. They mocked Him, spit in His face, and plucked sections out of His beard. Pilate had Him beaten with a whip 39 times. The soldiers placed a robe on Him and beat a crown of thorns upon his head with a stick.
Pilate stood Jesus before the people and said, “Behold, the man.” The crowds shouted for Him to be crucified, He was led away in shame, placed upon the cross, where He died and agonizing death.
To assure He was dead, a Roman soldier took a spear and stabbed him in His side. Water and blood came out. They took him off the cross and buried Him in a new grave.
Jesus was dead. There was no doubt of that. The crowds saw what happened with their own eyes. Many of the disciples were at the cross watching their hopes die. They watched as His beaten, battered, and bruised body was taken off the cross.
The disciples did what many of us would do, they hid. They gathered together behind locked doors to grieve and see what would happen next. Imagine the myriad of feelings and thoughts running through their minds. Sorrow. Regret. Shock. Disbelief. Despair. Horror. Fear. Helplessness. Hopelessness. Anxiety.
All Hope Is Gone
The hours pass by slowly. Everyone in the room is mourning and weeping. Suddenly there is an urgent banging on the door. A group of women is shouting to be let in. Mary Magdalene is at the head of the group. Breathlessly she reports to the disciples, He is alive. I have seen Him with my own eyes. I have touched Him with my own hands. Jesus is alive.
You would expect the room to erupt in cheering and shouts of joy. Mourning turned into dancing. Sorrow turned to happiness. Despair turned into hope. But that’s not what happened. The Apostle John tells us what took place:
9 Now after He had risen early on the first day of the week, He first appeared to Mary Magdalene, from whom He had cast out seven demons. 10 She went and reported to those who had been with Him, while they were mourning and weeping.11 When they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they refused to believe it.
They Refused to Believe It
The disciples refused to believe Mary Magdalene. Maybe they thought she was delusional. She was still in shock and could not believe that Jesus was really dead. This must be her coping mechanism to deal with the tragedy of Jesus’ death.
They saw what took place. They could not get the grizzly details of Friday’s events out of their mind. There is no way Jesus could have survived. There is no way that a man so badly beaten was alive, let alone walking around and talking with Mary.
Mary wasn’t the only one to see Jesus alive. There were others. We don’t have an exact, moment-by-moment timeline of how the following events took place, but here is what happened on what we call Sunday morning and evening.
- There is a group of at least five women, probably more, that tell the disciples that they saw two angels at the tomb of Jesus saying that He was not there, but was risen from the dead. (Luke 23:33-24:11)
- Mary Magdalene saw the angels and had Jesus Himself appear to her and they did not believe. (John 20:11-18)
- Jesus appeared to two men walking on the road to the Emmaus. They immediately traveled back to Jerusalem and told the disciples, but they refused to believe them.
- Jesus appears to the disciples and they all see Him, except for Thomas and he refuses to believe without evidence. (Mark 16:12-13)
The bottom line is that every one of the disciples refused to believe that Jesus rose from the dead until they saw it with their own eyes. Ten of the disciples had at least seven people telling them that Jesus had risen. Thomas had a minimum of seventeen.
Let’s look at four aspects of unbelief and some possible ways to defeat it in your own life.
Insights on Unbelief
Unbelief Refuses to Believe the Word of God
From the moment that Peter made His famous declaration that Jesus was the Christ, Jesus began teaching His disciples that He was going to be betrayed, killed, raised again on the third day:
And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. (Mark 8:31)
For He was teaching His disciples and telling them, “The Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him; and when He has been killed, He will rise three days later. (Mark 9:31)
17 As Jesus was about to go up to Jerusalem, He took the twelve disciples aside by themselves, and on the way He said to them, 18 “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death, 19 and will hand Him over to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify Him, and on the third day He will be raised up.” (Matthew 20:17-19)
Mark 9:32 tells us that the disciples did not understand what Jesus was talking about but they were afraid to ask. Even though the words of Jesus were very clear, the disciples did not understand what He was talking about.
When Jesus walked with the two men on the road to Emmaus they were discussing Jesus and what had happened to Him. The men mention that they had hoped that Jesus was the One who would redeem Israel. They told Him of the women who had seen the angels and testified that Jesus was alive. (Luke 24:18-24)
In response, Jesus said:
25 And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures. (Luke 24:25-27)
The Scriptures from Moses and the prophets clearly showed what Jesus must go through, including His death and resurrection. I sure wish I could have been in on that teaching session.
Unbelief Demands Physical Proof
There are some who will not believe unless they see it with their own eyes. They will not take in faith the word of God or the accounts of trustworthy witnesses. Many of the women and the ten disciples told Thomas that Jesus was alive.
Thomas’ response was:
Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe. (John 20:25b)
This was not a shining moment for Thomas. It’s usually Peter who says things that he would regret, but this time it is Thomas. Just think about how his name has been connected with doubting because of this one statement. People say, Oh, don’t be a doubting Thomas.”
Faith requires believing in the unseen. Thomas wanted not only to see, but to put his finger in the nail holes and his hand into Jesus’ side. This is hard core unbelief.
The idea that evidence will convince a person to believe is dispelled by a parable that Jesus told His disciples. He speaks of a man who dies and goes to the grave. He is in a very bad place of torment. He asks Abraham to send someone to warn his brothers. He says:
28 for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham *said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ 31 But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’” (Luke 16:28-31)
Abraham clearly states that physical evidence, even a visit from someone from the grave, will not change the hearts of those who refuse to believe the word of God.
Matthew 26:17 tells us that some of the people who saw Jesus with their own eyes still doubted. Many believe that signs and wonders will convince unbelievers of the power of God. It doesn’t, just look at the Pharisees and Scribes who saw all the miracles Jesus did, yet they refused to believe in Him and put Him to death
Jesus did not appear to Thomas right away. He had to wait for eight days. The next times Jesus appeared to the disciples this is what took place:
27 Then He *said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” 28 Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus *said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”
Jesus tells Thomas to quit refusing to believe. Unbelief is the opposite of faith. He tells him to believe. Thomas sees Jesus and falls to his knees in worship without having to touch His wounds.
Doubting Thomas became believing Thomas. Maybe we shouldn’t let eight days of unbelief identify a man of faith who spread the Gospel to India.
Jesus says blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believed.
Unbelief is a Sign of a Hard Heart
Jesus reproaches the disciples for their unbelief. This is a harsh word that means to reproach or bring a complaint against someone for a wrong they have committed. To reproach means to speak to someone in such a way as to express disappointment or disapproval.
Jesus was not happy about the blatant unbelief of His key disciples. He shows His disappointment and disapproval for their unbelief and hardness of heart. Remember unbelief is a refusal to believe and is the direct opposite of faith, which is choosing to believe.
The concept behind hardness of heart is one of stubbornness and complete unwillingness. The disciples were not wavering back and forth in doubt. Their hearts were set like stone in their unbelief and Jesus did not like it.
It seems like the more people who told them that Jesus was alive the harder their hearts became. Who knows, it could have been based on pride. Remember the arguments about who was going to be the greatest? Maybe they refused to believe because Jesus did not come to them first.
Whatever the reason, Jesus confronted them and called them to believe.
Unbelief Does Not Have to Affect Every Area of Our Lives
That is the interesting thing about unbelief. Many times we pick and choose what to believe and what to not believe. We are not totally in unbelief, only partially.
For example, there are those who believe that Jesus is their savior but also disbelieve that healing is for today. Some believe in the fruit of the Spirit but reject the gifts of the Spirit. Some believe that God still baptizes people with the Holy Spirit and they speak in tongues. Others believe that speaking in tongues is not for today and is from the devil.
Unbelief does not have to touch every area of one’s life to be unbelief. Unbelief touches anything that rejects the truth of God’s word. God is calling us to believe the fullness of His word.
Our Response to Unbelief
You should treat unbelief as a rattle snake. You should think of its touch in your life as death to your faith. If Jesus reproached His disciples for their unbelief, how can you think that He will allow you to live in unbelief?
Let the Word of God Challenge Your Beliefs
If you are going to overcome unbelief you must choose to believe the word of God. There are so many man-made doctrines that do away with the active power of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.
Read the word of God for what it says. If it disagrees with something you have been taught growing up or in the church you attend, choose to believe the word of God. God is looking for people of faith.
Believe What God Says
The author of Hebrews tells us:
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for the evidence of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval. (Hebrew 12:1-2)
And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. (Hebrews 12:6)
And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but those who were disobedient? So we see that they were not able to enter because of their unbelief. (Hebrews 3:18-19)
Unbelief robs us of the promises and blessings of God. It is only through faith that we will receive His promises. Unbelief leads to disobedience to God. Choose today to believe God.
Destroy any thought that does not line up with God’s word. Learn to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.
May God open your understanding to everything that He has in store for you. May your heart greatly rejoice in His promises and receive them through a vibrant and active faith.
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