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Religious but Refusing to Believe

Mark 16:14
Later 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. (NIVUK)

The disciples followed Jesus but did they believe Him; what He said and who He was?  The narrative of Jesus' post-resurrection encounter with the disciples in Luke 24:41-43 does not have the stern rebuke that is recorded here.  However, the fact was that the disciples were not believing, nor were their hearts filled with joy.  They were filled with fear and unwilling to believe what they could not see or rationalise.  They stubbornly refused to accept the often-repeated promise of Jesus that He would rise from the dead on the third day.

The concept of 'refusal to believe' is perhaps hard for us to deal with.  ‘Maybe they were uninformed, confused or possibly too simple minded to grasp all that Jesus had said’, we may think.  Yet Jesus had often drawn their attention to their faithlessness (Matthew 8:26; Matthew 14:31, Matthew 16:8; Matthew 17:20).  His Word seemed to have less authority with them than with lepers, demoniacs and blind people.

Unbelief is a form of inner blindness.  But it is more than just 'not getting it'; it involves an active decision not to trust the evidence that is available.  They should have trusted Jesus' words and taken them at face value, but the disciples insisted on putting the spoken truth through the grid of their experience - eliminating everything that was unfamiliar to them.  Even when Jesus appeared after the resurrection, He chided Thomas's obstinacy (John 20:24-29) on the grounds that he ought to have believed the words Jesus had previously spoken.  Indeed, the Saviour pointed forwards to the time (these days) when the gospel would be a straightforward story - to be told and believed.

21st Century sceptics still demand the evidence while they refuse to believe the Word of God.  But many 21st Century Christians have a similar problem: not that they do not believe (they must do, or they would not be Christians), but they don't believe that others will believe the Gospel simply explained straight from the Bible.  Somehow they think that the Word of God is an inadequate witness to Jesus, and needs to be bulked out with miracles or at least something physical, so that their eyes can see it.  But the Gospel is designed for the eyes of the heart, and it is powerful, because the Holy Spirit gets behind the words and gives people the ability to believe them.  There is no problem with the ability of the Gospel to change lives; the problem lies with Christians who lack the confidence that it can and will!

Father God. Thank You that Your Word is true, reliable and available. Forgive me for not believing what You say, or for doubting that the gospel is Your powerful tool to change lives and save people. Help me to believe that Your Word is still powerful, so that I will be unashamed to tell my friends and colleagues. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams