The recent film Risen explores the interesting question: Will seeing Jesus in the flesh really help us believe in Him?
Shot from a fresh perspective of a non-believing fictitious Roman tribune tasked with guarding and finding the corpse of Jesus following His crucifixion and subsequent resurrection, it stays close enough to the Bible while still examining what it might be like for someone to have his entire world view and beliefs overturned in encountering the risen Christ face to face.
We all know the saying: Seeing is believing. If we can see something, then it becomes real to us. Or, we can only be persuaded to believe something if we see physical or concrete evidence.
But, is seeing really believing? Countless people have drowned believing that the water was as shallow as they saw it to be. Optical illusions have tricked us into seeing black spots on white spaces and straight lines as slanted simply because of the effects of the surrounding picture. Even magicians exploit this to make us believe that their sleight of hand is really something remarkable.
So then believing becomes a 2-stage process: First, let us see the evidence; then, let us test and research it thoroughly to make sure it’s not a hoax, and after eliminating all other possibilities, come to the solid and ironclad conclusion that it is the real deal.
Ours is a scam-weary generation. We rely heavily on facts, figures, research, theories based on solid things that we have proved before and are sure of.
But facts and figures don’t always all tally; new studies appear that supersede what was indicated by previous research; and even the best theories can be toppled by a single error found in our methodology or the basis upon which the theory was made.
Interestingly, Wikipedia links the saying “seeing is believing” in essence with what the apostle Thomas said: “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25)
Perhaps Thomas was just feeling left out. After all, Jesus had appeared to all the rest of the disciples earlier and showed them His hands and His side – and they seeing, rejoiced in the truth of His resurrection and their full justification before God (John 20:20). Thomas had missed out on that moment, unfortunately not being present at the time.
And the Lord Jesus, in all His grace, appeared once again to all the disciples a week later, and invited Thomas to do exactly as he’d asked for. He also encouraged Thomas, “Do not be unbelieving, but believing…because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed.” (John 20:26-29)
Today, all of us have the privilege of being in that category that Jesus Himself blessed – those who have not seen and yet believed. The truth is, the trigger to our believing lies not in our eyes, but in our heart.
We can say we believe in the Big Bang theory and evolution, but we didn’t actually see what happened when the universe was formed, neither were we there to see the Neanderthals live or change into the modern man. We had to make a decision to believe the theories formed by people based on whatever knowledge and fossil remains they found in the course of their study, combined with their imagination of what might have happened. Believing never started with our eyes.
What would seeing the risen Jesus with His scars in the flesh actually accomplish? Some might question, was Jesus’s death somehow faked and the scars painted on? Some might say, alright, so Jesus was a man who really lived. Others, after checking through all avenues, might even acknowledge, Jesus really died and was raised from the dead by the power of God. But all of this doesn’t mean that we’d recognise Jesus as the Son of God who came as a sacrifice for all our sins and we’d be blessed by God through believing in Him.
God knew that it would take more than seeing for man to truly believe. It would take a step of faith, a blind decision to not try to figure it all out but simply take God at His Word. To truly see God and receive His promises requires faith.
When we hear or read about receiving God’s promises by grace through faith, most of us get stuck at “through faith”. We think, well, if only I could have more faith, maybe I could receive better. We read chapters like Hebrews 11 on the Hall of Fame of faith-filled men and women of God and we wish we could have their kind of faith. We try our best to believe more and doubt less; we do everything we can from praying to fasting to following others’ examples to work up more faith.
What we need to realise is: Jesus IS the author (originator) and finisher (perfecter) of our faith (Hebrews 12:2, emphasis mine). What this simply means is, Jesus starts faith in us, and He perfects and finishes faith in us. He is the One who plants the seed of faith in us, He is the One who nurtures it, and He is the One who causes it to grow and flourish until it results in us seeing miracles and wonders in our life. He is the One who causes us to do things we never thought we could do.
Portions like Hebrews 11 are not meant to make us bemoan our little faith, nor are they even there to inspire us to do better. They are there to encourage us, to show us what God really considers as faith.
Because when we reference what God records in Hebrews 11 with the actual stories and accounts of those faith giants in the Bible, we find that they weren’t all that always-believing at all. In fact, most times they questioned, they doubted, they laughed, they strayed, they argued, they did things unknowingly simply following what was natural by the circumstances. And God wrote all of those deeds down as being done “by faith”. Only Grace Himself does that.
We don’t have to struggle to be always-believing. None of the apostles or disciples or anyone who received a miracle from Jesus were always-believing. The only thing they did, was to choose to believe in Jesus as God and that He could help them – and He would help them. That was their common denominator. It’s one we can share in today.
They didn’t have to be always-believing – because the always-believing One was with them, either in Person, or in Spirit. And today we who are in Christ have the greater benefit of having the always-believing One with us, in us. He’s closer than you think.
Jesus is always present with us, ready to help us. That He is no longer confined by a human body today is even better for us, because it means He can be present with every one of us at all times. The more we speak to Him, the more we realise He is there. Whether aloud or in our hearts, He hears. And He always answers.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t yet understand or know everything, if you can’t see the whole picture or connect all the dots.
Just turn your heart to believe in Jesus, the Son of God, the Lord and Saviour of all who are in need. And He will help you to both see the truth, and to believe.
Because when you encounter Jesus, you encounter grace.