Today we are 8 weeks into our study of the Gospel of John. We will start every one of these conversations with a reminder of John’s objective.
Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)
John is intentionally working towards this objective.
If believing that Jesus is the Messiah and that there is life in relationship with Him was easy, this book would be radically different. If it was just a matter of being told, or of being logically convinced, or of being argued into believing, or even of being emotionally swayed or wooed, this book would be radically different.
John is writing in a way that has so much depth and intentionality, with themes, repetition, parallel meanings, and endless hyperlinks to other Biblical truth and narrative. And as we come to the end of John 4, he is building a repetitive narrative that we have glanced at over the past weeks, a theme that focuses on the complexity of “getting it,” of understanding and/or seeing who Jesus is (John’ objective).
We see this contrast between Nicodemus, a religious authority who didn’t get it, and the Samaritan woman who, even though she was marginalized, even though she was seen as subhuman and unworthy and unclean, still got it.
And now today, insiders are gawking to see if Jesus will do something miraculous. If he does, then they will believe--their belief is contingent on what Jesus does next. And a well-to-do authority of some kind who would have been seen by the “normal people” as not needing a thing in the world needs Jesus, and in that need his request is met, but away from all the gawkers.
And next week, a man is looking to be healed by healing water. Jesus is the healer, and heals him. When he’s asked who healed him, the man doesn’t even know who Jesus is.
What commonalities have you noticed in Christians?
Was faith one of your commonalities? The Bible is loaded with conversations about faith:
If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer. (Matthew 21:22)
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17)
“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” (Mark 11:22-24)
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
For we walk by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7)
What is faith?
Maybe it’s helpful to identify the actions we see in people that we perceive to have “faith,” or the actions we have taken when we “had faith,” whatever that may mean. Maybe it’s helpful to think about faith outside of the confines of religion or Christianity.
What does faith in a friendship or relationship look like? How do you know when faith is present?
Now let’s ask a similar question, but in terms of Christianity. Remember your answer from the previous question.
Why is faith an important part of Christianity?
Jesus spent two days with the Samaritans and then He made His way home.
After the two days he left for Galilee. (Now Jesus himself had pointed out that a prophet has no honor in his own country.) When he arrived in Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him. They had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, for they also had been there.
Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death. “Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”
The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” “Go,” Jesus replied, “your son will live.” The man took Jesus at his word and departed. While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, “Yesterday, at one in the afternoon, the fever left him.”
Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he and his whole household believed. This was the second sign Jesus performed after coming from Judea to Galilee. (John 4:43-54)
There are two general groups of people in this narrative.
There is the crowd of people that was wanting to see something--and if they did, they would consider putting faith in Jesus as the Messiah. This crowd knew the words from Isaiah well, words pointing towards signs that the Messiah was present:
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. (Isaiah 35:5-6)
I will call this group of people the see-to-believe group. This is an easy group to judge, saying they are the worst; they should have just believed; they were just looking for miracles; they didn’t really want to follow Jesus.
But then there is the other group. This is the dad--a royal official, a person in leadership, a person with more than average economic privilege and education and capacity. He came and wanted Jesus to help his son.
I will call this person the needs-help group. This is a person (or group) that it is easy to love on: he trusted Jesus; he believed in Jesus; he obeyed Jesus; he came to Jesus; he and his house believed in Jesus.
So, the first group, the see-to-believe people, were looking for the Messiah. This isn’t bad. They wondered if Jesus was the Messiah. This isn’t bad. They either saw or experienced the miracle when Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding. This isn’t bad. Jesus saw something in them and said:
“Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.” (John 4:48)
What is happening internally when there is a requirement of seeing before believing (having faith)?
Let’s dig into the second group a little, the needs-help group. Would this man be here before Jesus if he had any other options? He was a person of means, authority, resource, connection, and power, and he found himself at a place where his son was about to die and all of who he was could do nothing to stop it.
If the royal official's son was not ill, would he have been there? No. If his son was not ill, would he have traveled to find Jesus or begged for Jesus’ help? No. If his son was not ill, would he and his household have seen a miracle or believed? No. Need was an important part of this story.
Why is need an important part of faith?
Jesus begins His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 with a discourse on what it is to be blessed, and these blessed statements disrupt the hearer’s (my) perspective of what it is to be blessed.
He said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:3-12)
We are blessed when we need God.
Remember John’s objective, that we would see that Jesus is the Messiah and see that there is life in Him. Remember the oscillations that John is in the midst of displaying: Nicodemus, who should have gotten it and didn’t, and the Samaritans, who should have never gotten it and did; a crowd looking for sign so they could get it, but didn’t, and a royal authority who needed God and got it.
When have you needed God?
These stories we’re reading are not necessarily about the people, but about Jesus, about His character, about who He is in all of these moments. He’s showing us his character and inviting us to know Him. Again, John’s objective is that we would hear these stories and believe that Jesus is the Messiah and find life in him.
People who wanted to see something or wanted to see signs in order to believe--what was their challenge in faith? People who were in moments of great need and desperately wanted Jesus to help--what was their challenge in faith?
The thing is, we often can think that faith happens without seeing God do things/miracles, or that it happens without having moments of need, but every person comes to moments of need, and everyone comes to moments of seeing God do things. What are some moments of need for God in your life? What are some moments you’ve seen God work in powerful ways in your life?
How has seeing God and needing God impacted your faith in the past?
The crazy thing about being human is that, even though I’ve had moments where God has met my needs in my desperate times, and even when I’ve seen Jesus do miraculous things in my life, I can still live in a way now as though those things didn’t happen or didn’t impact me.
Read through Exodus and you’ll see this at play. God saves the Israelites from the Egyptians and leads them through the wilderness. He constantly provides for them in regards to food and water and is with them through signs. They have seen God do amazing things, and they’ve seen God meet their needs.
But then in Exodus 32, even after seeing God do things, and even after having amazing needs met by Him, they decide it’s not enough. They ask Aaron, one of the leaders, to make them a golden calf so they could worship it. They no longer wanted to trust God but wanted to put their faith in something else.
Human nature lends itself to this, that even after we’ve seen or had provision, we still face moments where we don’t want to trust. We see this with Thomas after Jesus appears to the disciples in John 20.
Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:24-29)
I don’t think Jesus was saying to believe blindly. Faith is not belief without evidence. And it’s not just belief because of a single piece of evidence. So what was he getting at?
Faith is actually a commitment based on evidence over time.
The thing about Thomas and the other disciples is that they already had plenty of evidence. They had seen Jesus clearly throughout the three years they had spent with Him. They watched Him perform miracles. They heard Him teach. They saw His character day in and day out. Peter literally had Him pick him up as they were supernaturally walking on water together. And Jesus had already told them that He would die and come back to life. So as shocking as it was for these guys, they at least had some idea directly from Jesus’ mouth about what would take place.
Yet through all of these things the disciples could have said it wasn’t enough. They could have decided that, in spite of all they had seen, that Jesus wasn’t who He said He was. But that sounds crazy.
It’s an even crazier thought to imagine Jesus showing up as a stranger, calling his disciples, and laying out everything about Himself to them and expecting them to believe everything right off the bat: “All right, hi guys, I’m Jesus, I’m the Son of God, the Messiah, and I’m going to perform all kinds of miracles, and I’ve actually come to take away the sins of the world, and I just need you to trust me, okay?”
That would be weird.
But there is direction in relationship. It would probably be an unhealthy decision for my wife to agree to marry me if I asked her on the first day we met each other. But after a certain amount of time, of getting to know each other, there comes a point of deciding to commit.
We all have periods of getting to know Jesus, hearing about Him, learning His character, seeing if He really is who He says He is. Faith is deciding to commit to a continuing relationship, to a future together, and trusting that He will continue to be who He says.
Take everything you’ve ever seen and heard and you’re still left with a decision to commit to the process of faith or not. Nothing you’ve seen or heard can “be” faith. Faith is chosen belief in light of these things. And not just once. Not just a prayer. Not just a moment at an altar. But a series of choosing to follow.
Remember that earlier list of Bible verses about faith. Maybe it’s good to set those notions to the side for a moment and just process, what is faith?
I think about my marriage and how faith plays out in my relationship with my wife. My having faith in my wife is believing that she’ll continue to be my wife because that’s who she’s chosen to be ever since we got married. That no matter what circumstances we face, what hardships we encounter, or what challenges we come into, she’ll be my partner. That even at my worst, she’s with me and she’s not leaving. And I could feel afraid and not have faith that she’ll stay with me. I’ve had dark moments like that. And her character is one of staying, even when I don’t believe it or have a hard time trusting. But faith on my end looks like trusting that we’re one and putting my confidence in that, even sometimes against my feelings.
You may find yourself in a moment of either a need for God to do something to help you in your need or wanting to see another sign from God. Jesus met people's needs and showed people signs pretty often. Yet it didn’t always keep people following him.
Faith is not about seeing signs all of the time so I can be certain at every moment. And it’s not about having God meet our needs all the time so we never go without. I’m not going to give a full answer, but maybe faith is a lot about choosing to follow even when signs aren’t present or needs aren’t met, because of what we’ve seen God do before. You can see the trustworthy character of God all throughout scripture. I have seen his trustworthy character all throughout my life. He is trustworthy.
Where have you seen God’s faithfulness before?
What needs feel the most pressing for you in the here and now?
What do you feel encouraged/challenged to process in regards to faith today?
Take It Deeper Questions:
- Read John 4:43-54
- How has your definition of “illness” changed over the past year?
- What does “bringing your need to Jesus” mean to you?
- How does seeing impact faith?
- How does desperation impact faith?
- How are you challenged, focused, encouraged and/or confused by this narrative in John?
Bible Reading Plan:
- Exodus 5
- Exodus 6
- Exodus 7
- Exodus 8
- John 17
- John 18