Meet the Makarioi (Dispensers of Grace)

BELIEVING WITHOUT EYE SIGHT

A lady went to the Sultan of Turkey and complained,  “I fell asleep robbers came and stole my belongings.”  “Why did you fall asleep,” asked the Sultan?  “I fell asleep because I believed you were awake,” was the astonishing reply.  The Sultan compensated the lady for her loss because she had trusted in his protection.  Believing in people is all about trusting in them and what they can do for us.  Someone said, “Faith never stands around with its hands in its pockets” (Kn. 115).  In other words, we do not merely believe, but we also are being believed in.  Ben Franklin had it right, “Trust thyself and another shall not betray thee.”  We can betray ourselves in thinking that all we have to do is simply affirm that we accept God, Christ or any of His miracles.  We would, if there were no doubts.  But since we live in doubt and are surrounded by it, we must give evidence of our belief.  And that brings us to our encounter between Jesus and Thomas.  Jesus used faith to turn his people into “makarioi” or “blessed ones.”

It is not difficult to identify with Thomas.  A week earlier, the Risen Christ had appeared to ten of his disciples. Thomas was absent.  They glowed with excitement as they told Thomas that their Lord was alive and the Lord had been in their midst.  All ten of them insisted that they had seen Jesus.  What was Thomas’s response to all their testimony?  “I don’t believe it!  I must for myself see the nail marks and put my hand in His side, before I believe.”  Because of this doubter, Jesus had to reappear, offer His nail prints and His bleeding side to Thomas.  Only when Thomas saw for himself, he exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!” That gave Jesus the reason to declare,  “Blessed (makarioi) are those who do not see but believe” (Jn.20: 29)!

The Gospel of John was written for only one purpose.  The writer insisted that, “…these things (concerning Jesus) were written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that in believing you may have life eternal in his name” (Jn. 20:31).  The word in question is not “pistos” but “pisteuo.”  It is not faith, but believing or trusting in Jesus as a person, whom God had sent into the world for a very special purpose.  Jesus announced that purpose Himself in Mark 1:14, “The time has come.  The kingdom of God is near.  Repent and believe the good news.”  The good news was demonstrated in Jesus’ ministry to the sick, mentally depressed, hope for the poor, and the release of those in bondage.  Everything Jesus did was to encourage believing in what He had come to do.  And what Jesus did was of such a nature that linked Him to God and the long-awaited Messiah.  It was this particular work that would get Jesus in trouble with the leaders, which resulted in His death on the cross.

At the outset, we are not dealing with a people of unbelief but with believers.  All of Jesus’ oppositions believed in God, Moses, the Prophets, the Psalms and what they predicted.  Only a fool – the lowest among human rational – would hold that there is no God.  The universe was far too coordinated to have come into existence on its own or by chance.  There had to be a superior being who created the universe and all life forms.  There were no scientific proofs but faith.  In our time, we still are without tangible evidence except that assumptions have become facts.  In reality, they are no more than fiction.  Fiction, in itself, is an escape into a world of make-belief.  It allows the unbeliever to believe in chance and the possibility that chance can be substantiated.  The Bible calls such an endeavor as the way of fools.  There was absolutely no question that the present world required a God who had created all things.

Their problem was not unbelief but understanding the interpretation of prophecy.  They interpreted Scripture differently from Jesus and his supporters.  Jesus did not fit into their frame of thought.  Their world did not call for a man on a donkey but for one on a warring horse.  The people were looking for a military hero.  They wanted another Moses who could deliver them from Rome and give them manna from heaven.  Only this Moses looked more like king David who could slay another giant with a sling.  That is why when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, He was hailed as the Son of David who was coming in the name of the Lord.  Only, Jesus did not kick out the Romans but chased the merchants and the swindlers out of the temple.  Jesus deliberately had to escape from the crowd that wanted to make Him king.  Yet, when the time came to find one damaging reason, why Jesus should be crucified, they accused Jesus of being, “a rival to Rome.”   And that forced Pilate to pronounce the death sentence on Jesus.   Remember, that Jesus was crucified as, “The King of the Jews.”

This also was a time of many Messianic pretenders.  Many were misled and punished by the Romans.  The Jewish people were weary of these false claims and failures on their part to rally behind a legitimate pretender.  Then, there were the leaders who had everything going their way.  The leaders enjoyed the protection of Rome.  They had the Romans do their sentencing of unwanted pretenders.  At this time, the Sadducees, who were in power, were not the legitimate priestly line.  Herod, the king, was not a Jew nor was Herod from the house of David.  Herod was an Edomite and he had purchased his kingship from Rome.  Herod was not going to allow any Jewish king to be born in Bethlehem.  Hence, Herod had all the babies killed during the time that Jesus was born.  Jesus, Himself, issued a warning about false Messiahs.  Jesus told his followers that many false leaders would come, many would claim to be the Messiah, and lead people astray.  They would be wolves, in sheep clothing, and hirelings deserting their sheep.  Jesus had to spend much time on that He was who He was.  All four Gospels were written to prove that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God.  Unfortunately, these Gospels were not in writing and the “makarioi” had to live on faith and what they found in the Old Testament Scriptures.

Therefore, belief in the Scriptures of the Old Testament was essential for the setting of the Messiah.  Hence, the witnesses or the “makarioi” of Jesus saw Jesus in the light of the Old Testament writings.  According to them, Jesus saw Himself fulfilling the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms.  The greatest names in Scripture were Abraham, Moses and David.  Jesus was linked with all three.  Abraham believed in Him, Moses wrote about Him and David called Him, “Lord.”  Jesus also was linked with Moses and Elijah, the two greatest Prophets who disappeared before their death.  From birth to death, Jesus was cast in the light of Old Testament’s Scripture.  Particularly, Elijah was important because Elijah believed that he would reappear and prepare the way for Christ.  According to Jesus and the Gospel writers, John the Baptist was the one who carried the mantle of Elijah.  John saw himself as that voice in the wilderness preparing the way of the Lord and pointing out Jesus as the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.  John had received a sign that a dove, representing the Spirit of the Lord, would descend on a man and remain on him and that He would be the “One” whom God had sent. 

On that day, only two curiosity seekers followed Jesus and spent the day with Jesus.  These two were Andrew and John.  Both were convinced that Jesus was the Christ and they returned home to share their discovery.  Andrew managed to bring Peter to Jesus.  Peter, too, became convinced that Jesus was the Messiah.  Hereinafter, it was up to Jesus to make people believe that He was the Christ whom God had sent into the world as the Savior of man.  During Jesus’ lifetime, the Old Testament’s Scriptures did not make much sense to the disciples.  Even the Risen Christ had problems with his followers when Jesus reasoned with the men on the road to Emmaus, “how foolish you are and slow to believe all that the Prophets had predicted” (Lk. 24:25).  The rich glutton, in hell, had begged Abraham to sent one from the dead to warn his brothers.  Abraham told him that they had Moses and the Prophets to listen to; yet, they did not listen to Moses and the Prophets, and for that reason, no dead man could impact them.  Now, that one had come back from the dead; they still did not believe.  The fact was that it was not until after the resurrection of Christ that the followers of Jesus began to see their Lord in the light of the Old Testament.

There is one more distinction between the lack of faith and little faith.  Matthew used the word “oligopistoi” which means small or weak faith and not a lack of faith.  The disciples had faith, but it was small or weak.  The word occurs on three occasions.  It was used in connection with the daily needs, like food and clothing.  God, who lends beauty to flowers and clothes grass, has not forgotten man who exceeds in value.  It was the disciples’ small faith, which kept them from recognizing an ever-caring God.  The second time, the disciples were with Jesus in the same boat; yet, they feared for their lives when a storm came up.  Jesus, on the other hand, was asleep and undisturbed.  Jesus told them that their faith was too small to face the storms.  And the third encounter had to do with their ministry.  They could not heal a lunatic and they asked their Teacher as to why they had failed.  Jesus told them that it was due to their little faith.  It was not even as large as a mustard seed.  The same is true of us.  We all claim to believe.  We do have faith.  The question is, “How much faith do we really have?”  A self-analysis will prove that we may even be weaker than the disciples were.   Like them, we are far from being a “makarioi.”  The “makarioi” were to trust or believe without visual help.