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The Rest of the Story: Thomas

I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.  John 14:25-26

On October 11th a barkeep faced a judgement to pay the debts of his former partner or face liquidation of all the rest of his personal property. The barkeep unfamiliar with the law reluctantly agreed. He vowed never to get involved in such a business deal again. The next January this former partner passed away and this barkeep was saddled with even more debt! The amount was equivalent to $100,000! He argued that he was only a partner a few weeks before he sold his shares and that numerous lawsuits had depleted the business’ finances. The judge was unimpressed and said he should never have been involved in such a risky adventure and furthermore he should know more about the law. And that is just what the barkeep did. (As told by Paul Harvey.)

As Paul Harvey tells it:

And two years later he passed the bar and entered into politics. “And now the next time you contemplate the war between the states; the next time, you reflect on the freeing on the slaves, the next time you hear the words four score and seven years ago I want you to remember a bumbling bartender in hoc up to his stove pipe hat, a barkeep named Abraham Lincoln! Now you know the rest of the story.”  (Paul Harvey, The Rest of the Story)

Renowned broadcaster Paul Harvey’s The Rest of the Story aired for over 30 years sharing the untold stories which revealed fascinating details unknown to history.  

We are used to tales through history that build to a climax and end with the storybook wedding or a fantastic heroic battle but in truth there is always more. 

Long ago the story had ended in death, and it seemed to be an unfitting conclusion for the miracle worker who meant so much to the people. But it was not the end. Inexplicably the story continued. He rose again and started a whole new chapter, the original surprise sequel that would reverberate down in history. But apparently the Bible only captures the merest fraction of Jesus’ story.

At the end of John’s gospel, we discover one of the most intriguing verses in all of scripture, “But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” (John 21:25)

Imagine the rest of the stories we know nothing about. The number of people uplifted, the miracles that blessed the sick, the teachings that brought hope.  

But the spread of Christianity is not only about Jesus.

Upon His resurrection He sent the Holy Spirit to His disciples and commands them literally to go into the world teaching and baptizing. Up until now they had no real inkling of Jesus’ ultimate mission but at that moment, they realized the rest of the story would be told through them which eventually creates a movement much wider than the disciples ever conceived.

So far, they had experienced healings, sermons, miracles, internal religious strife, foolish arguments about place in the kingdom, a short sword fight, fear and a terrible death, but it was all contained in a small region of the world; and the message had a narrow application to them and theirs.

But upon His resurrection Jesus gives the final instructions that this is not only for us but everyone! The whole world. And then ‘poof’ He disappears, leaving it in their hands. From reading the rest of the Bible, such as the Acts of the Apostles and the various letters to churches,we are left with the impression of a fairly successful movement but not one that you would have expected to become the worldwide force and presence it is today. 

In those letters in the Acts of the Apostles we see so many internal squabbles we see some vibrant communities, but ones that are a few dozen or perhaps a few 100 at most. Scripture gives us no hints of how the rest of this story is going to unfold as it does today with 1 billion Catholics, hundreds of millions of orthodox Christians, hundreds of millions of Protestants, countless number of lives transformed, of hope found. How we go from this provincial movement to something that changes an entire planet, largely it is due to the untold story, the rest of the story of the disciples lives after Jesus gives them this Commission at the end of Matthew.

The disciples were not convinced at the outset that this was their mandate. Peter fights against a vision of a sheet coming down from heaven with live animals on it meant to teach him that God's will and Jesus’ love is meant for all people. And it takes Cornelius, a Roman soldier, who's enlightened by the Spirit of God and the truth found in Scriptures to finally convince Peter that Jesus means for him to help this movement grow. It takes Paul, being struck on the road to Damascus, stricken blind but not stricken down, to turn away from his murderous ways into the greatest evangelist the world has ever known. 

The disciples realize it is up to them to spread the good news to the four corners of the earth. Imagine for a moment you are one of these disciples. This miracle working Nazarene,who’s teaching about love and servanthood and humility and God and ourselves, dies, is resurrected, gives you a task, and then disappears from the face of the planet. And you know that your fellow disciples are perhaps no more capable, courageous, or equipped to take on the WORLD! So how do you and your friends react? Well, their path sounds like that of a bunch of fraternity boys that can't think of anything better; they essentially rolled dice to see who is going to go where!

But the rest of the story is the story we don’t find in Scripture, is that of the apostles obeying Jesus’ command with absolutely mind-blowing determination, faith, courage, and devotion. You and I have a hard enough time setting across a trip to the Atlantic, hopping on a plane to get to London in a few hours. Imagine the drive that it took that disciples to go into new places well beyond their homes to share this good news of the gospel.

In the Acts of the Apostles, the Bible only captures merest fractions of their travels to spread the good news throughout the earth. So, this Eastertide we will explore the rest of the story for several of Jesus’ disciples and friends. And today we begin with everyone’s favorite disciple, Thomas!

Like Abraham Lincoln, the so-called bumbling bartender, Thomas’s final path could not have been seen from his beginnings. He questioned Jesus’ promise that Jesus would take them to the heavenly kingdom, and he famously refused to believe his eyes upon seeing the risen Christ; he insists on putting his hand in Jesus’ wounds.  

But there is an ancient text dating back somewhere in the early two hundreds of an account of Thomas’ missionary endeavors. Thomas drew the India lot and even received instructions from Jesus in a dream to go there. Thomas objected, claiming ill health and the impossible language and cultural barriers. But Jesus appears to a merchant named Abban and sells Thomas to him, upon which Thomas goes willingly. 

Two thousand years later in India there are 26 million Christians, and they are seeking to shape their country into one welcoming for all people. India, like all vast countries, has much to be proud of and also much that challenges it to be a just society. Tragically, India today is arguably the country with the most child slaves in the world. There are Indian Christian organizations working tirelessly with support from around the world to stop child slavery. And as our country still grapples with the effects of slavery, India still struggles with the ancient discrimination of Dalit’s, the people previously known as outcastes or untouchables, the names which in themselves convey a world of oppression.

I knew a Dalit Catholic priest, Benjamin Chinnapin, who shared with me some of the challenges Christians and especially Dalit Christians face in India. They are not allowed to have funeral parades on the same street as other Indians. This is no minor squabble. Dalit mourners were slaughtered on the street, so Benjamin and others like him fight for equal protection under the law for all Dalits.

Within India there are mixed feelings about Christians, but it is a source of pride for many.

The former Indian president, Rajendra Prasud, said in a speech on St. Thomas’s Day in New Delhi:

St Thomas came to India when many countries in Europe had not yet become Christian; and so those Indians that trace their Christianity back to him have a longer history and a higher ancestry than the Christians of many European countries do; and it is really a matter of pride to us that it so happened.

Discovering precisely how Thomas shared the good news is inspiring. The merchant Abban whom Jesus appeared to was looking for a carpenter to work for an Indian king, Gondophares.

Once [Thomas] arrives in the city, Gondophares assigns Thomas to build him a palace outside the city gates. Thomas agrees, but instead of using the money to build the palace, he gives it away to the poor and afflicted. Gondophares, furious when he heard how Thomas used the money, casts him in prison, contemplating how he would kill him. That very night the king’s brother Gad died and was taken by an angel to see the palace Thomas had built in heaven. Gad was allowed to return to life the next day and tell his brother all he had seen. As a result, both Gondophares and Gad sought the forgiveness of Thomas, and decide also to follow the Lord. Thomas travels to another land, and after preaching, casting out demons, and performing miracles, he is eventually thrown in prison by king Misdaeus (Mizdai) [for converting his multiple wives). Thomas prays as he is escorted to his death by four guards who kill him with spears.*

Though the historic nature of Thomas’ journeys is clouded by time, the ancient venerable history of the Church in India is indisputable. 

So next time you contemplate the presence of Christianity around the globe, the next time you think about 2 billion Christians around the globe, I want you to remember a fumbling disciple reluctant to leave his home for a land called India. I want you to remember the world's most famous doubter who became a martyr of the faith, which eventually created one of the most ancient and venerable churches on all the planet, which today continues to fight for justice and God's love for all. And now you know the rest of the story! Amen.


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