Jesus never gives a straight answer. Tell us, his enemies demand, Are you the Christ? Frequently, He refuses to answer, and when He gives an answer, He says things like “You have said” and “You say that I am.” Maddening.
Jesus could have preemptively silenced a century and more of scholarly debate with a simple declarative sentence. Something along the lines of “I am the Christ, the only-begotten Son of God,…”
[Jesus’ deliberate indirection] reveals the supreme modesty of a God who creates a world of such magnetic beauty that it can tempt us to idolatry, and then hides Himself away. — Indirection, Peter J Leithart
I was thinking about this over Easter, about the resurrection and how I might have handled it differently if I had been Jesus.
After leaving the tomb, Jesus quietly stole away to Galilee where he later met with his disciples behind closed doors.
I would have gone directly to the Temple and presented myself to the religious leaders as a kind of in-your-face show of force to put them in their place.
In fact, Jesus commanded something like that when he healed the 10 lepers.
And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. — Luke 17:12-14, NLT
This turns out to be a response to Leviticus 13. By presenting themselves to the priest, these former lepers would be declared clean and reunited with the community of faith.
But Jesus neither needed approval, nor did he seem interested in confronting the ones who had sent him to the cross.
Still, wouldn’t it have been better for us today if he announced his resurrection publicly? Wouldn’t it have helped to erase the doubts of future generations?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said something interesting about this:
The one consistent witness of all these accounts, as divergent as they are in telling what occurred and was experienced here, is that the Resurrected [Jesus] appeared not to the world, but only to his followers (Acts 10:40ff). Jesus does not present himself to some impartial authority to attest before the world the miracle of his resurrection, thus coercing the world to acknowledge him. … The world, as it were, sees only the negative, the earthly impression of the divine miracle. It sees the empty tomb. …
It is the blessing of Jesus Christ that he does not yet reveal himself visibly to the world, for the very moment that happened would be the end and thus the judgment on unbelief. So the Resurrected withdraws from any visible salvaging of his honor before the world. — Meditations on the Cross, “Resurrection,” Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Thus, the ambiguity of the empty tomb is in fact a special grace. Had Jesus taken away that ambiguity, our belief in him would have been “coerced,” to use Bonhoeffer’s term. Why is that?
If the sovereign Creator reveals himself to us unambiguously, we creatures lose any opportunity to doubt or question of vacillate. Face to face with the Truth, our only choice would be to bow down and worship, or to set ourselves against God. The Sovereign cannot be refused.
Whereas, the parables, the artful dodging in Jesus’ words, the negative evidence of the empty tomb, these leave us with some uncertainty about what we may have seen and heard. Uncertainty, in turn, grants us the grace of time to think, to seek him out, to sift the evidence. That very grace of time has made it possible for generations to come to him at their own pace, in their own time.
By choosing not to “[salvage] his honor before the world,” as Bonhoeffer puts it, God in Christ Jesus has given the world a very important gift — time, to tell the story of the empty tomb to every generation, to the farthest corners of the earth. Perhaps Jesus’ frustrating indirection has given untold millions an opportunity they wouldn’t have otherwise had, to seek and find Him.
Illustration credit: Supper at Emmaus, Hendrick Terbrugghen, 1621