Forgetful People, Redeemed by a Faithful Savior
The glorious resurrection of Jesus came as a shock to those who had followed Him. Mourning and despair were the lot of the men and women who knew and loved the Galilean rabbi Whose death seemed to have crushed their hopes. Yet once the reality of His conquest of death sunk in, joy, relief, and gratitude supplanted their grief.
The men who became the apostles were not the first people in biblical history to panic. The people of God have often been forgetful and afraid. The Israelites worshipped an idol, a calf made of molten gold, a short time after they had walked across the seabed of the Red Sea. Even Peter was quick to forget: He began practicing Jewish ceremonial traditions while with the church in Galatia, receiving public rebuke from Paul for returning to legalistic rules that had nothing to do with new life in Christ (Galatians 2:11-14).
We forget God’s fidelity to His word because we are finite and fallen. We allow the distractions, fears, and anxieties of the present to obscure the light of His truth and His fidelity to His promises. Our focus on the immediate discourages reflection on God’s past faithfulness and the certainty of His promises for the future.
So it was with the disciples in the aftermath of the cross. Despite Jesus’s repeated teaching that He would die and rise again (see, for example, Mark 9:30-32), the twelve disciples were rattled, going into hiding and wondering what would become of them. Even as Jesus prepared to ascend into heaven, there were those who still doubted (Matthew 28:17).
Things are no different today. Christians serve a God Who “declares the end from the beginning, and ancient times from what is still to come” (Isaiah 46:10). The psalmist assures us that despite the efforts of human powers to “burst the bonds” of God’s rule, “He Who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision” (Psalm 2:3-4).
Yet so often, we become furtive and anxious. In a way, it’s hard not to. In a country whose moral lights are flickering and a world in which Christian faith is used to justify great evil, is persecuted cruelly, or is rejected with passive indifference, it is easy to feel not only outnumbered but hopeless. We surrender not just to discouragement but despair, expecting collapse and even hardship in the days ahead.
Here’s the reality: We don’t know what God will do or allow in coming years, either in America or anywhere else. We know that He has promised to place all things under the sovereign rule of His Son (Ephesians 1:22-23) and that King Jesus will reign forever and ever. These are truths to which Christians must not only cling but in which we need to rejoice. They are why, until the complete inauguration of His universal kingdom, believers in Jesus are called to be faithful to His calling on our lives.
This is the ongoing challenge before the people of God in America and everywhere. Were faith in God always easy, the Bible would not have exhorted us to trust in the Lord from Genesis through Revelation.
There are two more aspects to all of this: Outright unbelief and doubt. After He had been raised, “Jesus appeared to the eleven as they were eating; He rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen Him after He had risen” (Mark 16:14). As the theologian Ligon Duncan writes, if unbelief is “dangerous for the disciples themselves, surely that unbelief is dangerous for us.”
There is a point at which honest questioning becomes a pretense for rebellious unbelief. A few years ago, I had a student who professed to have a crisis of faith. After meeting with him and providing him with substantive evidence that the New Testament accounts of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection were credible, he refused to accept the historical reliability of the Gospels and Acts. I realized that the issue was not one of intellectual struggle but of spiritual rebellion. His questions had become a pretext for a lifestyle of disobedience.
Then there’s doubt. While Jesus reproved defiant unbelief, He was gentle with honest doubters. When a man brought his demon-possessed son to the Savior for healing, Jesus said to him, “‘If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.’ Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!’” Jesus then “rebuked the unclean spirit” (Mark 9:14-29).
So it is with us. We serve a Lord Who described Himself as “gentle and humble” (Matthew 11:29). Honest doubt is met by gracious and compelling answers.
The surprise of the first Christians when they encountered the Risen One became radiance. We forget easily. We doubt often. But an eternal Prince neither forgets nor abandons those He has bought with a price. This, we know, because He lives.
Rob Schwarzwalder, Ph.D., is Senior Lecturer in Regent University's Honors College.