John 11:16 Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
I have always loved the whole story of Lazarus’ death and resurrection. This particular verse strikes me because Thomas tends to get a bad rap as “the unbelieving one” after Jesus’ resurrection. Here, however, he shows a fierce loyalty to Jesus that is unsurpassed by any of the other disciples. Frankly, none of us knows what following Jesus is going to mean in our earthly lives. There are preachers who focus on the blessings to the exclusion of everything else, but Jesus Himself said that in this world we would have troubles. (John 16:33) He also said that we would have conflict because of Him. (Matthew 10:34) We don’t like to hear that sort of stuff! Sometimes we need to be like Thomas, with a plain, dogged commitment that hangs in there regardless of circumstances. Thomas wasn’t in it for the perks, he was in it because he believed Jesus was the Lord, and a disciple is true to his Lord. Thinking about it, Thomas showed a very Japanese attitude. Loyalty has long been one of the highest values in Japanese society, sometimes to the point of severe distortion and absurdity. The famous story of “The 47 Samurai” is a case in point. (The Japanese title translates as, “The Storehouse of Faithful Hearts.”) A minor feudal Lord is unfairly disgraced and forced to commit ritual suicide, and 47 of his retainers sacrifice their own families and their own lives to avenge his death. That sort of attitude and action seems almost incomprehensible to most Westerners, but the story was long held as something of an ultimate ideal of loyalty, inspiring the infamous “kamikaze” suicide fighters of WWII. That is certainly a distortion, but we would all benefit from more of Thomas’ attitude. We are too prone to follow Jesus for the “perks,” and fall away when things get difficult. Jesus talked about that, too, in His parable of the different kinds of soil. (Matthew 13:1-9, and more)
I find myself challenged by all of this. I think my loyalty is fairly secure, but I can’t presume. I’ve had rough patches in life, but God has been more than gracious to me. As a pastor I deal with people and their problems all the time, and sometimes get accused of insensitivity when I tell people that Jesus is greater than, and worth more than, all their problems. I am not to sugar-coat the Gospel; it is more than marvelous all on its own. I am to teach both John 16:33 and 2 Corinthians 4:17, never promising easy street but insisting that it is all more than worth it. Like Thomas, I am to follow my Lord regardless of the immediate consequences to myself, knowing that His plans for me are good, (Jeremiah 29:11) and He is to be trusted.
Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for the idea of preaching on “Jesus’ Japanese Disciple.” May I not only be loyal to You, but also effective in drawing others into loyal commitment, so that together we may tear down the gates of hell that have bound the Japanese people for so long. (Matthew 16:18) Thank You. Hallelujah!