If only Jesus was here – it would be so much easier to believe, so much easier to accept him, so much easier to be a Christian. First century Jews had it so easy – they could see Jesus perform miracles, they could talk to him, they could ask him about what he was doing. But here I am, almost 2000 years after he died, expected to put my faith in him, and follow his commandments, when I cannot see him, cannot ask him questions, cannot even know what he was like.
These thoughts go through the minds of many people around the world every day – people who call themselves Christians, and people who would not. When I was growing up in a Christian family, I know that these thoughts went through my mind very frequently.
Christianity is about trust, though, and about putting one’s trust in Jesus as our saviour. It is common to have doubts, and there is a biblical example of this – Thomas Didymus, commonly known as “Doubting Thomas.” In his Gospel, John tells us that Thomas refused to believe in the resurrection of Jesus unless he saw the nail marks in his hands and put his finger on the hole, and put his hand into his side (John 20:25). Later, when Jesus appeared to Thomas, he told his doubting disciple “because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (John 20:29). This is Jesus talking directly to us – we have not seen the resurrected Jesus in the flesh, as Thomas did, yet we believe, and because of this, Jesus says that we are blessed. Because we have placed our faith in him, we follow his commands, and therefore can enjoy the eternal life that Jesus won for us by his death on the cross, and his resurrection three days later.
The resurrection is of fundamental importance to the Christian faith – it is a sign of Jesus’ overwhelming powers – the powers he possessed because he was the Son of God. It was also the moment that Jesus overcame death, as a result of which if we accept Jesus, we can have eternal life. To say that Jesus is dead is wrong – he died, but he rose again, and is now with the Father in heaven. Therefore, to say that things would be easier if Jesus were here is also a poor statement to make, since he is constantly with us. He himself said, as part of the Great Commission, “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Not only that, but when Jesus ascended into heaven, he left behind the Holy Spirit, which he described in John’s Gospel as a Counsellor – the Spirit of truth: “‘If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you’” (John 14:15-17). Not only, then, is this spirit with us, but it is actually inside us as Christians, helping us to live our lives as Jesus wants us to, and to spread the Gospel. Just prior to this statement, Jesus even states that “‘anyone who has faith in me [Jesus] will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it’” (John 14:12-14). This is surely amazing – at first glance it may seem strange that Jesus says believers can do greater things than he did, but if one looks at the spread of Christianity since Jesus ascended into heaven – a faith that twenty percent of the earth’s population follow at the beginning of the twenty first century – maybe he might have been right!
As Christians, we should want to continue Jesus’ work, and we should want to spread the Gospel – if we make this the focus of our lives, no matter what we are doing, whether we’re at school, at work and whatever profession we’re in, we will bring glory to the Father. And as we do this, we can prayerfully turn to Jesus and ask him whatever we want in his name, and, if it will glorify the Father, he will do it. What a promise this is! The book of Acts is a testament to what ordinary people can do when they are serving God – in chapter two of the book, the Counsellor that Jesus promised the disciples arrives in the form of the Holy Spirit. The disciples are filled with the Spirit, as Jesus said they would be, and begin preaching in tongues. Following this, and after Peter’s address, Luke, the writer of Acts, describes how “about three thousand were added to their [the believers] number that day” (Acts 2:41). As Christians, the Holy Spirit lives in us in the same way it did Peter and the early disciples, and we can achieve the same sort of thing!
In conclusion, then, I feel that it is wrong to say that early Christians had it easier than us. Jesus IS with us today, and we can talk to him through prayer. God continues the work of Jesus through the Holy Spirit, which works through us. We simply try to explain away miracles that do occur. In addition, we have the added advantage of 2,000 years of thought and research that can help us in our faith. Even if Jesus were walking the planet today, it is no guarantee that things would be any easier to believe – after all, a very small proportion of the population of first century Israel put their faith in Jesus. Many more people refused to accept who he said he was, despite his teaching and the miracles he performed.