“I believe! Help my lack of faith!” (Mk. 9:24)
by Rev. Chris Rice
John 14:1-8; John 16:25-33.
One of the things I really love about the Gospel of John is that he takes us inside the room and replays the conversations Jesus had with his disciples about what was going to happen when he was crucified and raised from the dead. I love it because it is clear they are on a journey of belief, and they haven’t arrived. They thought they understood what it meant to follow Jesus. But as he talks about himself and the Father, and where he is going, they open their mouths and the confusion spills out. And then when they understand, and accept Jesus’ words, he lets them know that there is far more to come.
So often we speak of faith and belief in very wooden and confident terms. And we only talk of doubt or lack of faith very impatiently, confessing that doubt may be present, but that God is always trustworthy. We’re afraid to talk about how we’re really feeling. Afraid that in talking about our problems, our fear and doubt will overcome our faith, and we’ll be lost.
Let’s go to God in prayer now:
We come to you just as we are, perhaps half-heartedly, full of suspicions, fear, anger, and shame. We ask that you open our spiritual eyes to the wonders you have given. Have mercy on us, Lord Jesus, and bring to our minds the truth that we need. So that forsaking all else, we will cling only to your word and place our trust, our desires, our longings, solely in your hands. Have your way in us.
In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Faith is a gift from God. It is not something we can buy, something we inherit, or something that a lot of education can bestow on us. I can’t pretend to explain how it works, except to say that God puts in all of us a sense of wonder and longing. We know that the truth is out there, and we have a lot of different ways of finding it. Our hearts are restless until they can rest safely in God. But we live in times where the words faith and belief are confused to be the same thing. When someone commonly says, “I have faith”, what they mean is that they have an assurance of something they can’t see. When someone says, “I believe” it can be taken as another way of saying, “I think, but I have no way of knowing for sure.” Now when the person says, “I know”, and with confidence, it’s understood as less of a stabbing in the dark and more of a way of describing their real experience.
In the book of John Jesus spoke with the authority of one who knew what he was talking about. And this could be really disconcerting even to his closest friends, because they had no other frame of reference for his words. In John 14:1 (New Living Testament) Jesus said,
“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. 2There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? 3When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. 4And you know the way to where I am going.” (NLT)
But they didn’t know, and Thomas was brave enough to speak up about it.
5“No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
6Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. 7If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!”
The way, the truth, the life. The only way. In our day and age, these words sound too narrow.
There’s a popular comic on the internet of Jesus standing at a door knocking,
saying, “Knock knock.”
and the answer comes, “Who’s There?”
And Jesus says, “It’s Jesus. Let me in.”
And the answer comes, “Why?”
Jesus say, “Because I’ve come to save you.” “From what?” is the reply.
And then the comic Jesus says,
“From what I’m going to do to you if you don’t let me in.”
This is how many people think of Jesus, someone who wants to come in and steal away their sins…or else.
First we’d like to imagine that we’re safest in the four walls of our own mind. We don’t need anyone or anything else, because we humans are fundamentally sound creatures who are doing a great job with what we have. There’s not really much evidence for that, but we feel pretty good about it, and it works for right now, so why change?
Jesus says, “If you really know me, you know the Father.”
Belief is a fickle thing, and faith is nothing at all without the Father who gives it. We all place our trust in many things, beginning with our own reasoning, our abilities, and in what we can know from experience. And we question everything.
8Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”
Sadhu Sundar Singh, a Christian evangelist from Northern India, told this story “of a poor grass cutter who found a beautiful stone in the jungle. He had often heard of people finding valuable diamonds and thought this must be one. He took it to a jeweler and showed it to him with delight. Being a kind and sympathetic man, the jeweler knew that if he bluntly told the grass cutter that his stone was worthless glass, the man would either refuse to believe it or else fall into a state of depression. So instead, the jeweler offered the grass cutter some work in his shop so that he might become better acquainted with precious stones and their value. Meanwhile, the man kept his stone safely locked away in a strongbox. Several weeks later, the jeweler encouraged the man to bring out his own stone and examine it. As soon as he took it out of the chest and looked at it more closely, he immediately saw that it was worthless. His disappointment was great, but he went to the jeweler and said: ‘I thank you that you did not destroy my hope but aided me instead to see my mistake on my own. If you will have me, I will stay with you and faithfully serve you, as you are a good and kind master.'” (From Wisdom of the Sadhu, Plough.)
Thank God the Father that he did not come as we had expected Him. We come to God with all of our accusations and failed expectations. We come to Him looking for a reflection of ourselves. And when He’s not what we expect, we get frustrated and want to give up. Belief in Jesus means sticking around long enough to get confused, afraid, lonely, angry, weary, and yet hang on with expectation for gratitude. True Belief is simply another way of saying, “I know that I am loved, that I belong. And even where I don’t understand, I’m staying.”
Over time in the same setting, two chapters later, after Jesus had washed their feet and Judas had left, Jesus said,
25“I have spoken of these matters in figures of speech, but soon I will stop speaking figuratively and will tell you plainly all about the Father. 26Then you will ask in my name. I’m not saying I will ask the Father on your behalf, 27for the Father himself loves you dearly because you love me and believe that I came from God. 28Yes, I came from the Father into the world, and now I will leave the world and return to the Father.”
29Then his disciples said, “At last you are speaking plainly and not figuratively. 30Now we understand that you know everything, and there’s no need to question you. From this we believe that you came from God.”
31Jesus asked, “Do you finally believe? 32But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when you will be scattered, each one going his own way, leaving me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. 33I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:25-33, NLT)
Seeing how the disciples finally say, “we believe you came from God”, even where they had been with Jesus for so many years, might cause us to snicker and think, “How could they be so dull?” But instead let us look at ourselves. In what ways have we been with Jesus, seen him doing wonderful things around us, and yet have become slow of heart, confused about what’s next? It should not come as a surprise that Jesus’ disciples were learning to believe. It should come as a relief. God uses slow people, impatient, angry, ugly, sad, disorganized, frustrated, anxious human beings. And he is loving and patient enough to see the faith he gives us through the fire of life.
Jesus question, “Do you finally believe?” comes to us aloud today, and I hear it not as an accusation, but as the assurance that our Lord, who knows my slowness of heart, and knows the road that lies before me, knows that the faith He has given, is strong enough to endure. Peace. Jesus tells the truth and offers peace. How terrible it would be for us if Jesus had told us only what we want to hear. If he had said, “You will arise every morning full of sunshine, and your path will be laid about with moonbeams and rose petals. I will take all trouble from your mind and everyone will love you because you belong to me. And if anyone dare oppose you I will provide the political power for you to destroy your opponents. They will know you are followers of mine because of the glory that will follow you.”
Sadly, I sometimes think that’s what many church goers want Jesus to say to them. Instead he promises us many trials and sorrows. Marked by sorrow, by trial, by the cross. And yet, we followers of Jesus are called to take heart, to rejoice, to be exceedingly glad! Because Jesus has overcome the world!
Why do I believe in Jesus when life is hard? Why do I continue to accept His invitation to follow hard after him, when I find that I am accused falsely of all kinds of wrong? The daily service is not noticed by adversaries and I can’t seem to make my intentions clear to my family and friends. The devil would accuse me that I’m doing it wrong! The temptation to give up is in the corner doing push-ups. Is this really the Abundant Life? Surely there’s an easier way.
I can tell you from experience that I have been the one who did quit, time and time again. I was the resentful one, the hateful one, the mocker, the one who stood aside and watched “all the hypocrites”. And that life led me to ruin. I believe in Jesus because life is hard! Because my faith is not contrived but is a gift. Because I belong to a worldwide body of believers who will not shrink from seeing this world in all its brokenness, and will not give up. God’s Spirit is alive and active on planet earth, caring for creation, blessing all that God calls good, and loving Him with our whole heart, mind and strength, living to His glory! And yes, calling sin—sin, repenting and turning from wrong to do right.
I believe that the invitation to follow Jesus means being led by His Spirit into an adventurous life, where we don’t know what’s coming next, but we DO know that Jesus is RISEN from the grave and has opened up the reality of a past forgiven, a present redeemed, and a future victorious for all believers in Him. To believe is to live in worship, knowing that “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence.” (2 Peter 1:3, NLT)