The books of Acts is a fascinating, exciting, and challenging book. It is the story of the early Church, fueled by the Spirit of God but also young and green like a fawn struggling to get used to its new legs. Even though He is usually veiled to human sight, throughout the book of Acts, Jesus is still very present with His people; in fact, the book of Acts should be considered to be the story of the continuing acts of Jesus through His Church (Acts 1:1-2). So, the book is about Jesus but not quite like the Gospels. In the Gospels, we have the red letters, the direct words of Jesus. In the book of Acts, Jesus is still present but He is usually communicating and acting through His people, the Church. So, in a sense, we have Jesus filtered through the lens of the Church. But why isn’t Jesus walking around Galilee today in the way that He was before? Wouldn’t believing in Jesus be easier if He was visible?
The difficulty with believing in Jesus is not chiefly due to the lack of visibility. This may be demonstrated in the peculiar statement that Matthew makes as he ends his gospel:
“...the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him, but some were doubtful.”
If the difficulty of having faith in Jesus is mostly due to the absence of His physical presence, this verse is very shocking indeed. There are also many other examples recorded in the Bible of those who saw Jesus and his miracles and yet did not acknowledge His claim to Lordship. Apparently, it is not mainly physicality that creates belief, and similarly, it is not a lack of physicality which suspends belief, though it does play a part. It is mostly the ramifications of Jesus’ claim to Lordship and the radically shocking image of God that He presents to us that provides the greatest challenge to our acceptance or acknowledgment of Him as Lord and God.
We all have expectations for how God would and should act if He were God and if He were involved with our lives. If those expectations are not met, then our allegiance to God is often withheld. And maybe we are even uncomfortable with saying that we have or are seeking any allegiance to “God” at all but prefer to say that we are seeking “the truth”. That is fine. Let us start there. But are we as honestly committed to the truth as we claim? That is a tough question to answer because we are all motivated to find “truths” that are convenient to our ambitions, just as we are equally motivated to find “gods” that are convenient to our ambitions.
Therein lies the challenge. Not the physicality of Jesus but rather Jesus Himself. If God raised Jesus from the dead, then that means that we have to take Jesus and His claims seriously. And the claims that Jesus made were that the Kingdom of God was and is being established on the earth, in and through Him. Jesus claimed that He is the Lord of the cosmos and that God fully approved all that He did and said. The conclusion we are led to draw is that if God were to come down and demonstrate for us what a human being is supposed to do and to be, He would look and act like and in fact be Jesus. What human beings struggle to accept is the God who is rather than the God we would create. If Jesus has been raised from the dead, then we know who God is. The challenge we have is to accept and readjust our minds and lives around the fact that God looks like Jesus and calls us to accept this image of Him as the ultimate truth.
But still, the fact that Jesus isn’t usually perceivable to the human eye or accessible to the touch of the human hand can be a stumbling block to many potential followers. Especially in our Western culture that doesn’t want to define anything as “truth” if it cannot be felt, touched, smelled, or seen. Why doesn’t Jesus reveal Himself in the flesh today? It seems that Jesus is still not acting the way we think He should if He were God...
This is a very significant question and to answer it we must go back to the beginnings, the foundation, the purpose found in the book of Genesis. Genesis (or “beginnings” as the word means) makes the claim that human beings were designed to reflect the image of the creator God into the world. According to Genesis, the human race was designed to carry forward God’s creation project, bringing God’s wise and fruitful order to bear on the planet. But humans rebelled and fell into chaos, thus causing the earth to descend into chaos. The story of the call of Abraham, also found in Genesis, is the story of God’s calling of a particular family to become His rescuing agents for the creation project. All the world had been cursed in Adam’s failure but all the world would be blessed in Abraham’s family. Through Abraham, the image-bearing vocation of the human race would be put back on track. That is the promise. What was cursed in Adam would now be blessed in Abraham.
“In your seed (family) all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 22:18