On 3 July 1973, the Indian Posts and Telegraphs Department brought out a stamp commemorating the 1900th anniversary of the death of Thomas the Apostle in AD.72. Why? Because he died in India. I love this historical artifact that supports our faith that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead. I will explain.
During this part of the year we especially celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead. It’s nearly impossible to read the New Testament and miss this core message. What the first Christians believed was perfectly clear. Jesus is Lord and he has risen from the dead. Our sins are forgiven through his sacrificial death, and our faith in him secures our salvation, in this world and the next. (Acts ch. 2 & 10, Romans 10:9.) He is even eating with the disciples in Luke 24 and in John 21:13. I find it exhilarating to talk about Jesus’ actual physical resurrection.
Yet this essential center of our faith is most readily denied by skeptical Bible scholars who are still stuck in the modernist philosophical view of reality. They say Jesus’ disciples had mystical visions, or spiritual yearnings that filled them with such hope that they began to talk about Jesus as if he was actually raised from the dead. These scholars/philosophers explain that this feeling led to them creating a symbolic story, a mythical description of Jesus’ presence as if he rose from the dead and was alive. But it was not really meant to be taken literally the way millions of Christians since, like me,
have understood it.
Here’s why I love that postage stamp from India. During the Roman rule of Jerusalem and Israel several would-be messiahs did show up who were passionate leaders. They had followers who were passionate. The Romans would hunt them down and crucify them. And they were heard of no more. Can we name one? When Jesus was crucified, after a brief time, his followers exploded with confidence and joy, going everywhere telling people the Good News that Jesus was alive. This is the historical fact that cannot be explained away.
These ordinary guys (and women) became powerful evangelists who attracted people that became believers in Jesus like them. They were often abused or killed for their faith, but they just couldn’t be stopped. There is rich undeniable historical evidence that Thomas the apostle went all the way to India via the normal trade routes to bring the Gospel to Jews living on the Malabar coast. It was a center of spice growing and export trade into the middle east and Europe. Besides Jews, a number of Hindu families including Brahman leaders became Christians. When Portuguese explorer Vasco Da Gama arrived there on Sunday, May 20, 1498, to his surprise they discovered Christian believers who knew all about Jesus. When asked how did they know this? They replied, “from Thomas.” To this day, they call themselves Mar-Thoma Christians. In the last census there are 6.3 million in that state (Kerala) who identify as Christians.
Now, I find it very hard to believe that Thomas would be so motivated as to travel 5,000 miles by land and sea to bring a message about a crucified messiah named Jesus, who he ONLY sort of felt was alive in some mystical, spiritual way, and had not actually risen from the dead. That seems to me a real stretch. On the other hand, if Jesus actually rose from the dead, asked Thomas to put his finger into the scars on his hands, and ate some supper with his disciples, then it’s easy to see why Thomas would go with fire in his belly to spread the word.
That’s why I love the fact that India issued a stamp to commemorate Thomas’ death in India. It is just one among many evidences of the passion and unstoppable energy of Thomas and the other apostles, those first evangelists, who turned the world upside down.