By Matt Horantightrope walker

During the latter part of the 19th century there was a tightrope walker in Europe who was famous for saying, “If you can string a line across it, I can walk it.” His name was Jean-Francois Gravelet, but he went by the stage name of “The Great Blondin.”  He was one of the greatest acrobats of all time.

His greatest feat occurred on September 14, 1860 when he accepted the challenge to cross Niagara Falls on a tightrope.  There was a wealthy American who provided the funding to string a 1,100 feet rope across Niagara Falls, 160 feet above the water, so The Great Blondin could be put to the ultimate test.

In front of thousands of people and the press, The Great Blondin asked the wealthy American if he thought Blondin could make it across. The American replied, “Honestly, no.” And promptly the tightrope walker got on the rope and walked across Niagara Falls – not just once, but multiple times. One time he walked across while on stilts. One time he walked across blindfolded. A third time he walked across while in a potato sack, and lastly he rolled a giant wheelbarrow all the way across the rope and back.

Amid the cheers of everyone watching, The Great Blondin asked the wealthy American, “Do you still doubt or do you now believe I can do it?” The American replied, “Yes!” “Do you really believe?” “Yes, I really believe.” “Are you sure you have faith that I can walk across Niagara Falls?” “Yes, yes, yes,” the American responded again. And The Great Blondin answered back, “Okay, get in the wheelbarrow and we’ll do it again.”

We have lived with the story of the resurrected Christ for most if not all of our lives.  In fact, the world has lived with the story for almost 2000 years.  So sometimes we can lose sight of how unbelievable what the apostles asked Thomas to believe really was.  People didn’t “come back” from crucifixion.  The Roman Empire executed people with cold efficiency.  They were a dominating force, and had been for a long time.  There’s no way that their rabbi, exceptional as he was, had gone through a crucifixion and then stood before them in person again.  No way.

Thomas’s story of doubt happened a week in to life after Jesus.  He was a devoted follower, his heart invested in their cause.  But after having his hopes deflated, he was surely now evaluating his options.  Should he go into hiding?  Flee to a safer area where no one knew him?  If they’d crucified Jesus, what would be done to his followers?  He was getting himself used to the reality that the One he thought was the Messiah was obviously not.  Perhaps he felt like a fool.  How could he be duped like this?

Then, when he encounters the other apostles, they tell him that Jesus is alive.  They want him to believe that their movement is not over yet, and that the One who was crucified is not dead, but alive.  They wanted him to not lose hope, but rather, continue in the hope that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah.

Thomas has surely gone through stages of the grieving process.  He’d obviously gotten to a place where he’d accepted the fact that Jesus was gone.  It was time to move on with his life.  He would have to see the very scars on Jesus’ hands and feet to believe something like that.

But then, he sees Jesus.  Alive and well, restored even beyond what he had been.  But he has the scars, and Jesus approaches Thomas, reassuring him that it’s alright to need to see them.  He invites him to see and touch them, because in the future, it is scars that will carry the transforming Gospel of Jesus Christ to others.

Jesus tells Thomas and the others, “You have believed because you saw me.  Blessed are those who believe, but have not seen.”  This is the way of the church from now on.  They will not see Jesus in person like the apostles did.  Here Jesus institutes the new plan—the movement will go on without him, inspired and propelled and energized from now on by the Holy Spirit.  Jesus suffered first, and he was the first to gain the scars to show for it.  But God has brought him to a new place, a victorious place of renewal and wholeness and restoration.  This restoration was so astonishing that the very disciples that walked with him for three years barely even recognized him.  Ultimately, his scars made them believe.

This is how the Gospel will go forward, but it will go forward without Jesus.  Instead, the scars will be ours.  As we suffer in this world, the wounds will hurt.  But the work of God is to walk with us while we heal, taking those wounds and making them scars that testify to the faithfulness of a God who never leaves our side, even though we can’t always see Him in the moment.

That is our testimony.  It’s great if we can articulate the Biblical story, and great if we can offer people a specific invitation to welcome Christ into their lives and begin the journey as a disciple of Jesus.  But the basic call on our lives as evangelists is not to give an impenetrable argument for faith in Christ.  It is simply to let people see our scars, and to celebrate the work of God to bring us through the suffering to a place of restoration and peace.  God doesn’t take away suffering.  God is present with us in our suffering, working to bring us through it to a place of victory and wholeness, allowing us to testify to the hope that we have—even in the midst of suffering—that we will someday reach that place of restoration and peace.  By letting people see our scars, and by showing them that we were able to come through the pain to a place of rest, peace, and redemption; we will give people something that they can see.

One of my favorite stories in the Bible is in John 9.  A man was blind from birth, and Jesus cures him.  The religious leaders don’t know what to do with Jesus, so they question the blind man, they question his parents—they do all they can to discredit Him.  Finally they try to get the blind man to testify against Jesus, “Come on, surely this man is a sinner.”

The blind man replies, “Whether he is a sinner, I do not know.  The one thing I do know is this: Once I was blind, but now, I can see.”  He is healed, but he has not forgotten his blindness.  His scars testify to the power of God.

It can be scary to let someone see our scars.  Perhaps more scary even than getting into the wheelbarrow to go across Niagara Falls.  But seeing the scars can give people courage to press on, courage to have faith, and courage to follow Jesus.  What might the story of your scars tell to someone who isn’t sure what to believe?

In the year 1292, the explorer Marco Polo landed on the shores of India.  He wasn’t sure what to expect, but surely the last thing he expected to find were flourishing Christian churches.  But that’s what he found.  When he asked them how Christianity had arrived in India, he was told that in the first century an original apostle of Jesus visited them.

His name was Thomas.

  1. Excellent post, Matt. Great illustrations and explanation.


  2. Matt Wallis says:

    Here, here!! Well done, Matt.


  3. Matt Horan says:

    Many thanks to Jay Therrell for pointing out “The Great Blondin.” I love that story.


  4. Hi Matt,

    I was looking for an image of a tightrope walker for a poem I wrote entitled Poetry & Logic. Your image was wonderful and even more so your post. Though I have been a Christian for over 30 years, I feel like I’m finally taking a step on the tightrope with Our Lord’s hand on my shoulder, steadying me and providing balance. He is, of course, the Logos and as such embodies the essence of both poetry and logic. Here’s the poem (I’m thinking you may be interested):

    Logic & Poetry

    A poet’s muse dances on a tightrope,
    Suspending concern about connections,
    Focusing each, delicate, step of grace.
    You are mesmerized: all her word’s actions –
    Attractively balanced each seamless trope:
    Her art – her being; a thin line – her place.

    Illusions encompass the human race:
    Logic is not meant to limit our scope
    But to help blossom all our perfections.
    Inspiring balance, no distractions –
    Logic adores the muse’s lovely pace
    Uniting him in complete, moving hope.

    For what is hers is his, and what is his is hers –
    And they master chaos with answers … and dancers.

    Take care,

    Jan Peter


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