By Pastor Glenn Pease
Ministers frequently call at a home when the man alone is there, and he will respond in some such manner as this: "I'm sorry my wife isn't home. She takes care of the religious matters in our home." I have not just read about this, but have experienced it, and have wondered how it is possible to be so misinformed about the Christian life. Men in general seem to think that spiritual matters are for women to handle. Men tend to be more skeptical, and women tend to be more sensitive to spiritual things. Eve may have gotten the problem of sin started, but men seem to have the biggest part in hindering God's solution to the sin problem. For some reason men feel that faith is feminine and not to be associated with the strong and self-sufficient image of the ideal man. Religion has the reputation of being a crutch, and no man wants a crutch, for he wants to walk on his own.
This attitude has had an effect on the lives of even those men already committed to Christ, and has made them timid. The message of Christ's manliness is missed, and even Christian males slip into the background, and let the women do the work. It is no joke, but actual fact, that many male responses to the call for missionaries is, "Here am I Lord, send my sister." Statistics reveal this to be far from fictitious. Dr. Barton was not just trying to be funny when he wrote,
In the world's broad fields of battle,
In the bivouac of life,
You will find the Christian soldier
Represented by his wife.
He was serious, and was stating a well known fact. However else men are superior to women, they are statistically inferior in their commitment and devotion. Nothing could be more unprofitable, however, then to rant and rave about the problem. More profit, I am sure, can be gained by recognizing that this has always been the case. It is not new, but has been a characteristic of men from the start.
The very group of men Jesus hand picked to be the foundation on which He would build His church were of like nature. They were the first body of skeptics in the Christian church. If they had not been convinced by the personal appearance of Jesus in their presence, they would not have believed in the resurrection. If Jesus had not soundly rebuked them for their skepticism, they would have been the greatest hindrance to the advancement of the cause of Christ. The fact that Jesus did go to this length to convince them shows that in spite of the fact that men are more skeptical and harder to convince about spiritual realities, yet, they are responsible for the leadership of the church. They were the foundation, and once convinced they were dynamos of devotion. Men are harder to win, but when they are won they are of greater power, and power is what is needed to make Christianity appealing to other men. There must be a Christ-centered manliness for the church to appeal to the masculine mind. We want to consider how hard it was to even bring the Apostles to a state of belief and commitment to the risen Redeemer. In contrast to the devotion of the women, we see in the men, first of all-
I. DESPAIR DISPLAYED. v. 10
While the women, who are supposedly more emotional, were up early and out actively doing something practical in the face of the great tragedy that had struck them, the men, most of whom had fled, and, as far as we know, did not even see the crucifixion, as did the women, were setting idle mourning and weeping in despair. They thought they were really going to be something, and now the whole thing has proven to be a failure, and they are left with no leader, humiliated and helpless, and with no further hope of establishing a kingdom. They are sad sheep without a shepherd. Despair had immobilized them. They were in the slough of despond. If the discovery of the empty tomb had depended upon them, the world would have long remained in darkness and ignorance.
Someone has said, "Despair is the greatest of our errors." This was certainly true on this resurrection day. All day long these men were in sorrow when the greatest event in history had taken place. Christ was alive, and they were the key servants of this living king of kings, and yet they lived in despair. These men give us a picture that is parallel with what is true in millions of lives in every age. The good news is available, and eternal life in heaven, and abundant life now is potentially theirs, yet while this good news is either unknown or unbelieved, they gain no benefit, and so are without God and without hope. The disciples had every reason to be the most happy men in the world, but they sat weeping in despair because they were ignorant. Even after they were informed of the fact of the resurrection they gained none of its benefits because they persisted in their unbelief.
Despair is an evil, for it is being ungrateful for the fact that the path of hope is still open. Despair refuses to move against the obstacles because it has already decided that the battle is lost. We saw that when the women advanced to meet the difficulty it dissolved. They cannot stand before determined devotion, but despair disables men and defeats them before they even encounter the enemy. These despairing disciples speculate on the problems from a distance, and their very attitude of despair distorts their vision, and all they can see are insurmountable obstacles. Burke said, "A speculative despair is unpardonable where it is our duty to act." If men would get out and put their faith to work, and test their devotion, belief, and hope by action, they would see difficulty dissolved. But to set in despair produces a vicious circle. Despair produces such a hopeless attitude that it actually does become a hopeless situation. Howe wrote,
The wise and active conquer difficulties
By daring to attempt them, sloth and folly
Shimmer and shrink at the sight of toil and hazard,
And make the impossibility they fear.
Despair did this to the disciples. It hardened them so they would not even respond to the evidence. This brings us to the second point which is an attitude growing out of their despair.
II. DISBELIEF DEMONSTRATED. v.11
You would think that a company of men in such despair would have welcomed, as an angel of light, anyone with a word of comfort and cheer. Anything that would ease the burden and lift the weight of darkness that had settled over their souls, you would think would be welcomed with joy. But instead we see them unresponsive even to the glorious news that Jesus was not dead but alive, and had actually been seen by Mary Magdalene. Certainly the paralysis will wear off soon, and they will shout for joy with Mary. But not so, we read on in verses 12 and 13 and discover that they persisted in disbelief all day. In the evening when the two on the road to Emmaus returned to tell them of their experience, they still stubbornly refused to yield to the evidence and testimony of fellow believers.
Here is a paradox. The men who would soon be proclaiming the message of the crucified and living Christ, who would be persistent in their emphasis on the resurrection as the foundation of belief, are here examples of the most narrow minded unbelief. Mary and the other two disciples had seen Jesus and the empty tomb with the stone rolled away. Peter and John had seen the evidence as well, and yet the disciples are unconvinced of the reality of the resurrection.
Remember this when you are quick to condemn the unbeliever or the skeptic who refuses to yield to your array of evidence for the resurrection. Why should we expect men today to be less skeptical than the disciples who had eye witness testimonies from intimate friends, and still demonstrated a disbelieving heart? Unbelief, is the most natural response of men to the resurrection, and we should expect it. If this experience of the disciples teaches us anything, it should teach us that belief in the reality of the resurrection is not a matter of evidence, but it is a matter of the will. All the evidence in the world may not convince a man, but all that is needed sometimes is a testimony to the fact that Christ is alive and has changed your life. If a man will not be willing to believe, no amount of evidence will persuade him. One must want to experience the reality of the resurrection. You cannot compel them to believe by amassing evidence. The evidence only becomes valuable when the will has chosen to believe.
A paragraph from an editorial in Life Magazine way back in 1956 is worth repeating:
"The resurrection cannot be tamed or tethered by any
utilitarian test. It is a vast watershed in history or it is
nothing. It cannot be tested for truth; it is the test of
lesser truths. No light can be thrown on it; its own light
blinds the investigator. It does not compel belief, it
resists it. But once accepted as fact it tells more about the
universe, about history, and about man's state and fate than
all the mountains of other facts in the human accumulation."
This being the case, we need to do less proving and more proclaiming of this truth. We need more testimony to the reality of the resurrection in our own lives and attitudes. Only as men actually encounter the living Christ in us will they have a desire to will that he live in them. G. Campbell Morgan said, "The resurrection is a fact that cannot be proved except to the faith of the heart." The evidence must be approached with faith, or it will not convince the skeptic.
The evidence did not convince those who were already followers of Christ, and so we should not expect it to convince those who are not his followers today. The only thing that could bring them to belief out of their stubborn unbelief was a personal encounter with Christ, and this is still true today for most. The disciples spent the whole day of the first Easter being bombarded by the evidence of the reality of the resurrection, and yet we see them in the evening still locked behind closed doors in the darkness of despair. Mark tells us that Jesus had to rebuke them for their unbelief. Imagine this, on the first Easter, the day of the greatest victory in history, Jesus has to give a message of rebuke, not to the world, but to his own church. Jesus had his problems with men that he never had with women. He had to make his first message a negative one on this great day of joy.
We call Thomas the doubting Thomas, but remember he just happened to be absent from the meeting. He was no more a doubter than the rest of them. They all needed the same evidence that he demanded before they would believe. Let us then be aware that it is hard to convince men of this truth. They will need more than evidence and argument. They will need to see Christ in us before they will believe in the reality of the resurrection.