Sunday, January 22, 2017

"Believing is Seeing"

My first ministry position was when I was in college, finishing up my undergraduate degree in religious studies. As a first-time minister it was strange for me to leave the church where I grew up and had attended for so many years, to go to a church where I knew nobody in order to serve. I felt that the time I was there were very good years of ministry, and of my own personal growth. During the time that I was there, my first child was born. Because my family’s financial needs increased, and the church was not able to pay more, and because I graduated and was heading to a local seminary, I felt that I needed to begin looking for a different ministry location. About the same time, my home church’s youth ministry position came available. I thought it’d be a perfect match. After all, I knew all the families, all the names, all the personalities and quirks. So I sent them my resume. Do you know—they didn’t even want to have a conversation about it? Not even a phone call. Why? Because those were the same people who changed my diapers. They saw the mistakes and shenanigans growing up. Honestly, it’s hard to respect someone you knew as a little kid.

This is why Jesus could do few miracles in his hometown—because the people didn’t believe in him. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked (Luke 4:22). In other words—they changed his diapers. They knew he never studied (John 7:17). How could they respect him? This is why it says in John 4:44, “He himself had said that a prophet is not honored in his own hometown.” They did not believe because they had seen too much. They had changed his diapers and watched him grow, and so they couldn’t believe. So he went to Galilee, where they didn’t know him as well.

Verses 45-46a say, “Yet the Galileans welcomed him, for they had been in Jerusalem at the Passover celebration and had seen everything he did there. As he traveled through Galilee, he came to Cana, where he had turned the water into wine.” In contrast to the Nazarenes who didn’t believe because they’d seen too much, the Galileans believed because they did see. But instead of seeing Jesus’ immature years, they had seen the fruits of his ministry. They’d watched him turn water to wine, and so believed him because of his miraculous signs.

Different kinds of people need different proofs if they are going to believe. 1 Corinthians 1:22 says that the gospel “…is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom.” In either case, some require miraculous proof and some need ironclad logic. Yet matters of faith aren’t a matter of proof, but of trust. This is why many consider it to be foolishness. After the resurrection, Thomas disbelieved because he hadn’t witnessed it for himself. Once he saw the risen Lord and believed, Jesus told him, “…You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me (John 20:29)." It is just this kind of faith-without-proof that we see next. Some say, “I can’t believe because I’ve seen too much.” Others say, “Seeing is believing.” But the government official with the dying son learned, “Believing is seeing.”

When his son fell ill and he heard that Jesus was near, the first thing the official did was beat the bushes looking for Jesus. This isn’t the same thing as faith. But it was hope that if he could just find the Master, everything would be okay. So he searched high and low for the Lord’s help. How far would you go, to find the help that you need today? Jesus said, “Keep on seeking, and you will find (Matthew 7:7).” So the man searched, and I hope you will too.

Next, the man fell on his face and “begged Jesus to come to Capernaum to heal his son, who was about to die (John 4:47b).” In Matthew 7:7 Jesus also says, “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for.” In the Parable of the Persistent Widow (Luke 18:7-8), Jesus says, “…Don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly!” God wants us to continue in prayer, untiringly and trustingly asking for the things we need. Yet even his begging is not true faith, but hope inspired from need.

John 4:50 says, “Then Jesus told him, ‘Go back home. Your son will live!’ And the man believed what Jesus said and started home.” It was only after Jesus declared the boy’s healing that the official trusted that Jesus was going to help him. We could chide him with the words Jesus spoke to Thomas, but remember this official hadn’t traveled and ministered with the Master for three years. He was just taking his first steps of faith. The miracle is that once he believed, he saw the fruit of faith. Verses 51-53 say:
While the man was on his way, some of his servants met him with the news that his son was alive and well. He asked them when the boy had begun to get better, and they replied, “Yesterday afternoon at one o’clock his fever suddenly disappeared!” Then the father realized that that was the very time Jesus had told him, “Your son will live.” And he and his entire household believed in Jesus.

While it’s not within the scope of this article to answer the question why Jesus didn’t heal every dying child in Galilee and why God doesn’t work miracles for every prayer lifted to the heavens, it is important to point one thing out: “Name it and claim it” Christians believe that if you only believe enough, God will do a miracle for you. Notice here that this man did not believe until after Jesus declared the healing. His faith helped him to see the fruit of the healing. The healing helped others to believe. But Jesus didn’t heal the boy because he just believed hard enough. In the end, faith is trust—trust that God will do the good that God does, and trust that a loving God is holding you in loving hands. “Believing is seeing” doesn’t mean that your faith forces God to do anything. It means that without faith, you cannot see the miracles that God is already doing, because without faith you can’t see the hand of God at work in the world. Whatever stage at which you find yourself—“I can’t believe because I’ve seen too much,” or “Seeing is believing,” or “Believing is seeing”—I pray that you’ll find God as the official did, “while the man was on his way… (John 4:51)”. I pray that somewhere along the way you’ll see the God who loves you and cares for you and works on your behalf. I pray you’ll trust God with every care you have, and that, believing, you’ll see the miracles God is already doing in your life. I pray you’ll hear the Lord say to you as He said to Thomas, “Blessed are those who believe without seeing (John 20:29)."

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