Well, not for the Jews. They not only believed in God but their whole history seemed to them to be proof for the particular God whose name was Yahweh. Solid evidence was everywhere from the stars to the miracles God had done for them to their very existence.
But empirical evidence? Had they personally seen God or touched him? Had they ever talked with God as a man talks with a man? Well, no. Maybe some special men in the distant past. But they themselves? No. But they didn't expect to. That sort of thing was unimaginable. No. God is in heaven.
Until Jesus appeared along the shores of Galilee.
Writing from a distance of sixty years John the Apostle writes about Jesus:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. (1 John 1:1,2)Yes. In Jesus God became visible and touchable. And John saw him and touched him. And had the incredible experience of having a three year conversation with him.
What made John so sure Jesus was God in the flesh?
John was a Jew. All of the disciples were Jews. They were believers in God. But they were absolute skeptics when it came to God showing up as a man. It was an idea that could not and would not be entertained. It was perhaps the greatest sin. No.
Yet after three years with Jesus, John and all of his disciple companions were convinced that God had come down to them in the person of this man. Here's what happened.
They heard Jesus speak. And Jesus spoke with wisdom and perception that no man they knew could have or could possibly have. He knew Andrew had been sitting under a fig tree before Phillip found him and told him about Jesus, and he knew Andrew's heart (John 1:44-49). And Jesus kept doing that.
In John 4, Jesus knew that the Samaritan woman has had five husbands and was living with a man who was not her husband (4:16-26). It was a shock to her that this stranger could know her life. Who does that?It was enough to convince her that Jesus was the Messiah.
Time and again Jesus knew the secret thoughts of the hearts of those he met. And he spoke directly to that issue, even when it had not been spoken (Luke 7:36-50). He knew what was really in the heart of the rich young ruler who had come to him to ask about eternal life. He even knew where the fish were when lifelong fishermen did not. Who can do that? It was enough to convince Peter (Luke 5:1-11).
And Jesus spoke with authority. When he spoke, people were healed. When he spoke, the storm was quieted. When he spoke, demons fled. When he spoke of God, people knew that he spoke truth because he spoke to them more deeply that anyone ever had. He spoke with more than wisdom; others had done that. He spoke to the heart of men.
Not only were his words and wisdom convincing, his power was beyond anything ever seen or heard. He healed diseases. He made the blind see and the lame walk. He multiplied the bread. He walked on the water. He quieted the storm. He raised the dead. And all he did was in line with what the disciples understood of God. These were not tricks meant to draw attention and wow people. He had no coin hidden up his sleeve. He was not a magician. He was not a sorcerer who conjured up ghosts. He did not tell fortunes. This was not spectacle. Everything he did fit the picture the prophets had painted of the Messiah.
This is what Jesus said to John the Baptist when he sent his disciples to ask if Jesus were actually the Messiah:
Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me” (Matthew 11:4-6).
These were the things Isaiah had spoken of:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And then there was the affirmation of God. The disciples had heard the voice from heaven - and were afraid, we might add. This they were convinced was God speaking and affirming that Jesus was his Son. They had seen Jesus transformed into a figure more glorious and incredible than they could imagine.This does not happen in "real" life. Unless God does it.
But. They also saw Jesus die. And it was ugly - and as final as any death is. What then?
That was the final punctuation mark on Jesus' life. It was not an exclamation mark; it was a period. How could the Messiah die? How could God die? It is not possible. The only conclusion they could come to was that they were mistaken. The two men whom Jesus joined on their walk home to Emmaus after Jesus' death said as much: "The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel."
The other disciples would have said the same, but they were hiding, afraid they would be next. Even the women who went to the grave expected to find a dead body.
That was that.
Had Jesus remained in the grave. That would have been the end of the story. Jesus might have been remembered for a while as a prophet and a good man. But the reality is that he left no written words by which to be remembered in history. The only thing we know that he wrote, he wrote in the dust, and the wind eventually blew it away.
And what would his disciples have written, even if they could? "We had hoped." That is all.
Better to go fishing.
But God didn't let it rest at that. He raised Jesus from the grave, alive with a resurrection body, immortal, never to die again.
Now, if you have trouble believing that, you have company. The disciples did not believe it either. They thought him a ghost. After all, he could appear in a locked room. He could disappear while they talked with him. Yet he had substance. He lit a fire. He ate with them. They touched him. They had conversations with him. He had flesh and bones, as he said.
What were they to make of this? What do we make of this? It was stranger than anything they had seen yet. But hadn't Jesus told them to expect his return to them alive? Yes. A lot of times. But who believes that?
Well, the disciples now did. They might as well deny the noses on their faces as to deny that Jesus stood before than as much a physical man as he had ever been. But more.
Then it dawned on them. What Jesus had told them before his death made perfect sense. Philip had asked, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us," and Jesus answered, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father."
Yes. They had seen God. And now they were sure without a shadow of a doubt. God had affirmed in the most dramatic way possible that Jesus was his Son. That absolute certainty carried them to the end of their lives.
And for us? The fact of Jesus is sufficient to not only prove to us that God IS but that God came down to us in Jesus. He was seen and touched. His words were heard. His words were the words of God. His touch was the touch of God. He did everything necessary to demonstrate for us in real time and space that he is God the Son. If you want empirical proof, there is is.
The only question is what will you do with him.