Why didn’t Jesus just appear to everybody and remove all doubt?
Let’s put aside those who might say that to ask such a question is blasphemy. I personally believe they are wrong. I believe we must be willing to ask this question and have some sort of defense prepared for those who do not believe in Jesus and who might ask it of you and me.
For face it, we make certain claims about God. We claim that God is all-powerful. We claim that God is all-knowing. We claim that God is present everywhere. We claim that Jesus is part of the Holy Trinity and that He has such powers, knowledge and presence. We claim that God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son so that everyone who believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. We claim all of these things, and so, a person who is logical, who is rational might just ask, "Well, if Jesus loves the world so much AND desires all to be saved AND wants everyone to believe in Him, then why does He leave room for doubt? Why doesn’t He just make an appearance that cannot be missed?"
These are legitimate questions. I mean, if Jesus really wanted to, He could have shown up on national television the other night when Louisville’s Kevin Ware sustained a major injury. Jesus could have knelt down beside the basketball player with millions of people watching. Jesus could have healed Kevin, turned to the cameras, showed His hands and feet, said something like, "Believe in me," and then vanished before our eyes. The eyewitness and televison accounts would have been indisputable. That scene alone would have been good for at least a billion converts. So might have been Jesus appearing at worship services around the globe last Sunday on Easter. With so many services now being recorded and streamed on the internet, such a move by the Lord would have brought untold numbers into the Church.
So, why didn’t or doesn’t Jesus do such a thing? Why leave room for doubt? Why doesn’t He just pull a Thomas moment as revealed in our Gospel lesson this morning.
You see, Thomas didn’t believe that Jesus had risen from the dead. When the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord," Thomas responded with, "Until I place my fingers in the holes in His hand and place my hand in His side, I will not believe."
Thomas gets a lot of play in this story. So does doubt, but this story isn’t about Thomas. It’s about Jesus.
And Jesus appears to the disciples again. He makes sure Thomas is with them. Jesus goes straight to
Thomas and says, "Put your fingers in my hand. Do not doubt, but believe."
Thomas falls on his knees and says, "My Lord, and my God!"
Jesus then responds, "Blessed are those who have not seen and still believe!"
Now, as we look at this story today, perhaps we could, like Jesus tell those who ask of us, "Why doesn’t Jesus just appear?" the same thing Jesus said. We could look them square in the eye and say, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe." We could tell them, "I haven’t seen, but I believe."
This might work for a few, but the obvious question follows, "Why? Why do you believe? Not seeing might be good enough for you, but why should I consent to something that I cannot see? Something that cannot be proved? Why should I become a Christian if Jesus doesn’t come to me like He did to Thomas?"
I have spent a little bit of time reflecting upon this, and a partial answer began formulating up in my brain. Perhaps it was put there by the Spirit. I do not know for certain, but I will put it before you now. If I am totally off base, then forgive me. Perhaps God has led you to a better answer, and if He has, I would really appreciate you sharing it with me.
But, if I were pressed with such a question, "Why should I become a Christian if Jesus doesn’t come to me like He did to Thomas?", I would respond thusly.
"Because it isn’t just about you."
I have begun reading a very interesting book titled, Why God Won’t Go Away by neuro-surgeon Andrew Newberg. As Dr. Newberg has studied the brain, he has discovered that we are hard-wired for belief in God. Let that sink in for a moment. We are hard-wired for belief in God. Our brains have come preassembled to have belief! Think about that for a moment as you recall Martin Luther’s explanation to the Third Article of the Apostle’s Creed where he says, "I cannot by my own reason or strength come to believe in Jesus Christ or have faith in Him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in the true faith.
"It isn’t just about you."
Faith in God; belief in the resurrection; is placed within you by God’s Holy Spirit. He has hardwired your brain, and now He must jump start your belief. Everything begins with God, and just because Jesus is not appearing to you showing you His hands and His feet and His side, doesn’t mean that He’s not working on you and in you to bring you to faith. We believe He is living and active–a very real presence in this world.
"But it’s not just about you."
For you see, the Christian faith isn’t only about you and Jesus. The Christian faith isn’t only about intellectually believing in Jesus Christ and securing your personal salvation. Certainly, as individuals, we are transformed by an encounter with Jesus. Sometimes this transformation is gradual. Sometimes it happens in a moment, in an instant, in the twinkling of an eye. God comes down and meets us, but He never, ever stops there.
"It’s not just about you."
When God brings us to faith, we recognize that we are a part of a greater family. Our vision is expanded. No longer does everything revolve around us and what we want and desire. Suddenly, we think about what God wants and what God desires. We think about His love for creation and for humanity. We recognize that God makes Himself known to us in the poor, in the hungry, in the sick, in the naked, and those in prison. We are touched by God so that we now seek Him as He comes to us around us. We learn to work for justice and mercy and forgiveness.
"It’s not just about you."
Think of it in this manner, as you look at a cross, you see the vertical relationship between God and us. You can visualize an arrow pointing down as Christ comes to us in that relationship, hardwiring our brain to believe in Him and bringing us to faith. It is the foundational relationship and the one that changes everything.
But then there is also the horizontal cross beam. This one signifies our relationships with each other. Our willingness to proclaim God’s news to our neighbor–to love one another as Christ loved us–to treat others as we desire to be treated.
Perhaps one of the reasons you are having difficulty with the idea that Jesus hasn’t come to you or isn’t coming to you is that you are simply focusing on one relationship–between you and God. Stop thinking it’s just about you. It’s about your relationship with God AND your relationship with others. Instead of focusing on yourself, focus on the cross. Amen.