Sunday, February 26, 2017

Fake News and the Gospel

There’s a new cliché that been sweeping our nation. “Fake news” can be heard from the lips of presidents, news anchors, protestors and even parents. Yeah, there was a time I called “fake news” after being accused of taking some of my daughter’s candy. Maybe that wasn’t fake news, though. It’s hard to know who to trust these days.

For the disciples of Jesus, it was also difficult to determine reality in the days following His crucifixion. Matthew records that just after Jesus rose from the dead, the Jewish authorities conspired together with the soldiers guarding the tomb to disseminate fake news among the people. They instructed the soldiers, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.’ And if this should come to the governor’s ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble (Matthew 28:13-14).”

The possibility of fake news reeked havoc in the mind of one of Jesus’ disciples that same resurrection Sunday.

Even though John and Peter had seen the stone rolled away and Jesus’ burial cloths folded in the tomb, even though Mary Magdalene reported to the disciples that she had seen, spoken with and hugged the risen Lord, the disciples huddled together in an upper room in unbelief. Then suddenly, Jesus stood in their midst and showed them the scars from His hands and side. They all rejoiced together and received the Holy Spirit. All of them, that is, except Thomas.

The Gospel of John records that Thomas happened to be out and about at the time Jesus arrived, and when he finally made it back to the upper room, Jesus had vanished. Can you imagine the emotional roller coaster he must have been on when he heard the news? It all seemed to good to be true, so Thomas called “fake news”.

He said to them, “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 20:25).”

Exactly one week later, though, Jesus again returned to the upper room, this time when Thomas was with the others.

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.” Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed (John 20:27-29).”

It seemed unbelievable to Thomas that real, death-defeating power could spring forth from his Lord being marred beyond all recognition and savagely murdered. But with the resurrected Jesus starring him in the face, Thomas could live in denial no longer. Belief in the gospel transformed Thomas. According to Church history he courageously took that life-changing message to Parthia and India where he was eventually martyred.

The good news of the way, life, death and resurrection of Jesus quickly began to spread all over the known world by believers like Thomas. Soon, thousands, hundreds of thousands and even millions of people throughout the Roman Empire were renouncing their hope in the Pax Romana for gospel of the kingdom of God.

Justin Martyr was one of several early Christians who wrote about the drastic shift that occurred in the lives of those who dared to take Jesus at His word.

We who hated and destroyed one another, and on account of their different manners would not live with men of a different tribe, now, since the coming of Christ, live familiarly with them, and pray for our enemies, and endeavor to persuade those who hate us unjustly to live conformably to the good precepts of Christ, to the end that they may become partakers with us of the same joyful hope of a reward from God the ruler of all. … We who were filled with war, and mutual slaughter, and every wickedness, have each through the whole earth changed our warlike weapons - our swords into ploughshares, and our spears into implements of tillage - and we cultivate piety, righteousness, philanthropy, faith, and hope, which we have from the Father Himself through Him who was crucified. – Justin Martyr 160CE, Volume 1, pg. 167, 254 [CD-ROM]

How do you feel about Justin’s testimony? Does it make you want to call “fake news”? Justin Martyr proclaimed that throughout the entire world, the eschatological prophecies of Isaiah 2 and Micah 4 were already coming true in the followers of Jesus.

How powerful do you believe the gospel is? Do you believe it’s not only powerful enough to transform enemies of God into His friends, but your enemies into your friends as well?

There is much propaganda and fake news floating around in our world, it’s true. But the timeless truth of the gospel will continue to regenerate and transform those like Thomas who will humbly and simply give their lives fully over to Jesus and His kingdom. 

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