Last week we focused on the New Testament’s teaching about the resurrection of Christ. We identified three timeless truths of the resurrection, namely:
This week, I would like to ask a followup question, and that is: What should be our response to this stupendous miracle? What should we do, and how should we live, in light of Christ’s victory over sin, death, and the devil?
The first thing that needs to be said is that these truths should be given first importance in all that we say and all that we do in life and liturgy. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is what constitutes the heart of the Gospel. These realities should not be looked upon simply as one of many items on a long list of theological truths we Christians hold dear. On the contrary, they are of “first importance.”
Listen to what St. Paul says in I Corinthians 15:1-4:
Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preach to you, which you also received, in which you also stand, by which, also, you are saved, if you hold fast to the word which I preach to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you, as of first importance, what I also received, that Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day, according to the scriptures.
Here, Paul tells us that the gospel focuses on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and that is where we, too, are to place the emphasis of our lives and liturgy. It is, “of first importance,” says Paul.
That explains a lot of what I try to do on Simply Orthodox. On the home page of my podcast I describe it as focusing on the centrality of the gospel for everyday life and liturgy. Why? Because that is where the apostolic faith centers us. We are to be clearly centered on the gospel of Jesus Christ. Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures, but he rose from the dead and is coming back to judge the world, both the living and the dead.
That, my brothers and sisters, is the gospel in a nutshell. Everything we do in church, and everything we do as Christians outside of church, ought to somehow be directly tied to this central teaching of the Christian faith. Christ is risen, we declare between Pascha and Pentecost, and that is the reason why we are to keep our eyes focused on the gospel of Jesus Christ. Without that, all our liturgies, all our moral strivings, all our pastoral care, all our Christian living, will be distorted or badly out of focus.
So I ask: Is your life and ministry focused on the gospel of Jesus Christ: Do you base your life and work squarely on the Church’s paschal proclamation, “Christ is risen?” Or are you focused more on rubrics than you are on the resurrection?
Let all of us in the Church be clear on what St. Paul wants us to be clear on when he says in I Corinthians 15:
I delivered unto you, as of first importance, what I also received, that Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day.
There is one more thing St. Paul calls our attention to in I Corinthians 15. He tells us that the gospel was preached to the Corinthians and that many of them believed in Christ. This week, in the Church’s calendar we are to fasten our eyes on St. Thomas, one of the twelve apostles of Christ. Thomas gives us a very important lesson to learn in the Church’s liturgical calendar this week. If there is one, and only one thing to learn from the life of St. Thomas, the doubter, it is this: We can be amazed at the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and we can be awestruck by the fact that a real person has returned from the graves in an immortal body, but that, in itself, is simply not enough.
Awe and amazement will not get us into the Kingdom of God. We may still remain outside the Kingdom until we taken one final step and actually put our faith in Jesus Christ. From hearts filled with awe and worship must come the simple affirmation of faith. St. Thomas recognizes the divinity of the risen Jesus, but he does more than that. He puts his faith in Jesus. He declares, “My Lord, and my God.”
What does this teach us? Simply this: We can be Orthodox in the things we believe, but unless we go beyond theology and actually entrust ourselves to the living Lord, not one of us will ever enter the Kingdom of God. Never. It is simply not enough to mouth the Lord’s Prayer, recite the Nicene Creed, sing in the choir, chant the services, or rely on the great fathers and ecumenical councils of the Orthodox faith.
God bless St. Athanasius, the Cappadocian fathers, John Chrysostom, Gregory Palamas, and all the saints and hierarchs of the Church. God bless the Orthodox faith. But the experience of St. Thomas is here to tell us that the Orthodox faith will never save you, in and of itself. Although it is absolutely central to Christian identify, having all the right answers about who Jesus is and what he did for our salvation, it will simply not be enough to get us into the Kingdom of God.
Theologians, scholars, educators, priests, bishops, laymen—all of us must personally believe in Jesus Christ. We must personally trust Christ as our Lord, God, and savior. That is what St. Thomas did, and that is what we are to do, as well.
But you say, “That’s easy for you to say. Thomas saw the risen Lord, I haven’t. It was easier for him to trust Christ than it is for me. I have never seen the risen Lord like Thomas did, so give me a break.” Well, Jesus thought of you, too, at this time, my beloved. He knew there would be people like you and me who would come after Thomas who might say the very thing you are thinking. But there is good news. At the end of the episode, Jesus tells Thomas in John 20:29, “Because you have seen me, you have believed in me. Blessed are those who believe without ever seeing me.”
So take heart. Blessed are those who believe in Jesus even though they have never seen him with their own two eyes. This week, the Church calls us to imitate St. Thomas. We are not only to believe in Christ as Lord and God, we are to entrust our lives to him, even now. If you do that, Jesus promises that you, like Thomas, will enter the Kingdom of God.
Perhaps the best way to illustrate the lesson of St. Thomas is to share a story. About a century ago, there was a famous tightrope walker named Blondin. One day he decided to do a great feat in front of everybody, so he went to Niagara to cross the great waterfalls. The day came, and hundreds of people stood atop the mountain waiting for Blondin to do his trick. He put his tightrope on one side of the falls and then hooked up the other side. Down below was a loud and torrential waterfall with rocks at the bottom of the falls.
Needless to say, it was very dangerous. Blondin then picked up his balancing pole and began slowly walking across the falls as everyone waited quietly. He reached the side and slowly turned around to walk back. Everyone was as quiet as a mouse, but sure enough, Blondin made it. Everyone cheered. “Wow, what a walk! Great job, Blondin!”
Then Blondin did something unexpected. He turned to the crowd and asked them a question: How many of you believe I can take you across the falls with me?” he asked. “Yeah, you can do it!” they said. “Okay,” said Blondin, and he walked over to a man who was standing there and he said to him, “Get on my back.” “No way, Jose,” said the man. “I believe you can carry me across the falls, but don’t ask me to get on your back. Not me.”
Blondin went to several other people, asking the same question: “Do you believe I can take you across Niagara Falls safely?” “Yes,” they replied. “Okay, get on my back.” But no one would trust themselves to him. They believed he could do it. They believed he had the ability to do it, but would not entrust their lives to him.
Finally, one little 12-year-old boy perked up. “I believe you can carry me across the falls.” “You do?” asked Blondin. “Yes, I do.” “Okay, then get on my back.” The young man got on Blondin’s back. I don’t know where his mother was at this time, but he got on anyway. Well, the young man entrusted his life to Blondin, and Blondin began to walk across the falls. Everyone was anxiously waiting as they went slowly to one side of the falls, and then back to the other side, very slowly, and they made it.
Well, this little story tells an important truth that fits well with the Sunday of St. Thomas. You see, the adults believed in Blondin. They had the head knowledge. They knew he could take them across the falls, but they were not willing to actually get on his back and let him take them across the falls.
The same is true for us. We, like Thomas, might believe that Jesus is the Son of God. We might confess the Nicene Creed, go to Church every Sunday, make the sign of the cross, say our prayers, and sing in the choir, but that is not enough to save us. We need to actually put our lives in Jesus’ hands. We need to say to Jesus, “Lord, I believe in you, and I give you my heart. I entrust my whole life to you. I not only recite the Creed, I get on your back and trust you as my Lord and my savior. Like Thomas, I believe you are my Lord and my God.”