Monday, October 15, 2012

True and False Kinds of Faith (John 4:43-54)


The Gospel According to John has been accurately described as the “Gospel of Belief.” The Greek verb that we commonly translate as “believe” occurs nearly 100 times in this Gospel. In John 20:31, the author tells us his reason for writing: “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” It is a Gospel of belief, and of a kind of belief that brings life. It is not surprising therefore that numerous times in this Gospel, the Apostle John, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, points out that there are different kinds of faith, and not all of them are the kind that leads to life. Here in this passage, the same subject returns to view as Jesus encounters several kinds of faith on His return to Galilee.

You may not have noticed it, but there are actually a couple of very difficult ideas here in the opening verses of this text. Notice that Jesus went into Galilee in verse 43, but did you notice the reason why? His reason is told to us in verse 44. He went to Galilee because He had testified that a prophet has no honor in His own country. And Galilee was His own country. Not only did He go there knowing He would have no honor there; He went there because He would have no honor there. This is an immediate challenge to us who prefer to stay in our comfort zones. When we discuss traveling to some part of town, some part of the nation, or some part of the world where we know that life is hard and the name of Jesus is not honored, we tend to shrink back and find excuses to not go. But the Lord Jesus went to a place where He knew that He would not be honored, and He went for that reason. I pray that God would stir my heart and our hearts together to begin looking upon those hard places in the world, and in our own city and country, where there is no honor given to the Lord Jesus, and see that very condition as all the more reason why we should take the name of Jesus there and fill the soil with the seed of the Gospel!

There’s another difficulty just after that in the text. Jesus went to Galilee because He knew He would not be honored there, yet verse 45 tells us that when He got there, the Galileans received Him! Was Jesus mistaken? Was He surprised? Never. If your theology has room for Jesus to be mistaken or surprised, then you have a deficient theology. There must be something else going on here. Though we often use the terms “receiving Jesus” and “believing in Jesus” interchangeably, they are not necessarily the same thing. Those words can mean different things at different times. So that means we have to be careful with how we talk about these things: believing, having faith, receiving Jesus, trusting Him. We can mean very different things when we use those words, and it can be very confusing. That is why we have to make sure we understand the difference between true and false kinds of faith. That is what this entire text is about! We’re going to see two kinds of false faith, and two aspects of genuine faith here in these verses.

I. Curious faith is a false kind of faith (v45)

Here we come into a full encounter with the mystery of Jesus’ words about the prophet having no honor in his own country and the reception He received in Galilee. As we said, at first glance, it looks like Jesus might have been mistaken or surprised by the warm welcome extended to Him in Galilee. But, that is not the case. Notice in verse 45 the reason why the people received Him as they did: they had “seen all the things that He did in Jerusalem at the feast; for they themselves also went to the feast.” This harkens back to Chapter 2, when Jesus was at the Passover in Jerusalem and He cleared the temple. He also performed some other signs while He was there, but we are not told in John what they were. We are simply told that there were many who believed in His name because they had observed the signs which He was doing. But we read there in John 2:24 that Jesus was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and knew what was in man. He did not recognize their faith as genuine because it was a faith that was merely interested in the miraculous things that He did, rather than the more important matter of who Jesus is. They had no interest in knowing Him, personally placing their faith in Him as Lord and Savior, worshiping or serving Him. They just wanted to see Him do these spectacular miracles. And we are told here in John 4:45 that some of these Galileans had been among that crowd that Jesus did not entrust Himself to. They had a kind of faith, but it was not really faith at all; it was merely a curiosity. They welcomed Him because they wondered if He might do some more amazing miracles in their midst.

Jesus had said He would not be honored when He came to Galilee, but on the surface it looks like He was being honored when the people received Him. And that is the point of Jesus’ statement. This kind of self-centered curiosity that looks to Jesus as an object of entertainment, a performer of tricks, is not in any way honoring to Him. They had not come out to meet Him because they thought He was the Messiah, not because they understood Him to be God in the flesh who had come to save them from sin, but rather as a kind of sideshow act to deliver them from boredom. You can just hear them telling their neighbors, “Hey, did you hear? Jesus is coming! He’s the guy we were telling you about that did the cool tricks down in Jerusalem. You will want to get out there early so you can get a good seat so you don’t miss anything!” But this kind of curiosity does not honor Jesus as Lord.

There are many today who look at Jesus with this same kind of curiosity. They know there is something interesting and unique about Him. They may like to talk about Him and read about Him, and they may wish they could see the same kind of demonstrations of His power that the people of that day saw. It is not enough to be curious about Jesus, viewing Him as an entertainment figure. The Samaritans in John 4:42 had come to recognize that Jesus was the Savior of the world! The Galileans, and so many who are like them, merely view Him as some kind of phenomenal oddity. That is a curious kind of faith, but it is not true faith.

II. Crisis faith is a false kind of faith (vv46-47)

The inescapable fact of life is that we all endure suffering and hardship. We live in a fallen world, with sin and evil all around us. Our bodies are radically corrupted by sin’s presence, and we are subject to an ever expanding catalog of sicknesses, injuries, and other sources of suffering. And none of us are immune. You may think that if you were rich and powerful, you could avoid some of life’s hardships. Jesus met a man in this text who would tell you that this is simply not the case. In verse 46 we find this man. He is powerful – a royal official, likely an important member of Herod Agrippa’s court. He is obviously wealthy – verse 51 tells us that he owns slaves. But all of his money and influence cannot insulate him from the realities of life in a fallen world. His son (the Greek wording of verse 49 is affectionate – it is his “little boy”) is sick and drawing closer to death’s door with every passing minute. Some of you know that there is no greater or more unnatural grief than the death of your child, no matter what age it happens. This man is living in the fear and horror of that dark valley even at that very moment. As a royal official, he has undoubtedly had access to the finest health care around, but to no avail. He would have given up all hope, except that he has heard that Jesus was in Cana, and that this Jesus can do miracles. He did the right thing – he came to Jesus. But as he speaks to Jesus he indicates that he has a false kind of faith. It is a crisis faith. He is not interested in Jesus for who Jesus is. He is interested in Jesus’ ability to fix the problem with his little boy.

Notice that this father makes three incorrect assumptions about Jesus. First, he assumes that simply because Jesus can heal, that He always will. He is imploring Him to come and heal the boy. As a royal official, this man is used to commanding people to obey him immediately. Jesus doesn’t operate that way. Some of us have had to learn the hard way that Jesus does not always heal when we ask Him to. Our loved ones have slipped into eternity even as we prayed for them to be well. We’re carrying around pain and sickness in our bodies that we’ve asked the Lord to take away repeatedly. We know He can; we have come to learn that He doesn’t have to, and He doesn’t always. This man also assumes that Jesus has to be present to heal his son. He is insisting that Jesus go with him to Capernaum, some 15 miles or so from Cana, so that He can heal his son. He has not considered that if Jesus is the Lord of Glory, He could heal the boy from anywhere. He doesn’t have some kind of special elixir or magical implement that He has to apply to the boy. The mere exercise of His divine will and Word would raise the boy up from any distance. And the royal official has also assumed that Jesus has a deadline. He has to come before the child dies. He doesn’t understand that it is no harder for Jesus to raise the dead than it is for Him to heal sickness. It has been said that Jesus ruined every funeral He ever attended. But this man hasn’t come to realize that about Jesus yet. In his mind, there are some things that are too hard for even Jesus. Note this well, there is no problem too big for Jesus! But in crisis faith, we panic and we begin to insist that if God were good, if He was really loving, if Jesus really cared for me at all, then He would do what I want Him to do, right here and right now. That is not true faith.

I remember when I was an unbeliever, a Christian asked me one day, “Why will you not believe in Jesus?” I said, “Who does He think He is anyway, demanding that I believe in Him without even proving to me that He is there?” I will never forget her response: “Who do you think you are, demanding that He do what you think He must do to prove Himself to you?” That question haunted me for a long time! Who do you think you are? Who do you think you are that you should be exempt from the sufferings of this fallen world? Who do you think you are to insist that Jesus give in to your demands? Who do you think you are to put deadlines and boundaries on Him? This kind of crisis faith is a false faith because it is not submitted to Him for who He is. This is not a faith that looks to Jesus and says, “Thy will be done.” This faith says, “My will be done, now, or else!”

Am I being too hard on this poor father? After all, I’m a father. My little boy is not so little anymore, but he’s still my little boy! And if he were in the same throes of death that this man’s son was in, you better believe I would be bombarding heaven with petitions for him to be made well. Adrian Rogers says, “But here’s the problem: this man has yet to bow at the feet of Jesus Christ and worship Him. So many of us are concerned only about our health, our welfare, our children, our families, and our future—but not about the will and kingdom of Jesus. … Could it be wrong to plead for the health of a child? In itself, of course not. But strong faith is interested primarily in the glory of God and a right relationship with Him.”[1]

So now Jesus pronounces a verdict on all this false faith He is presented with here in Galilee. He is speaking to the royal official, but not about him solely. He is using plurals to indict the entire population: “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe.” Jesus renounces all the false and shallow sign-seeking faith that has been brought before Him. His rebuke is a challenge to us all! We often say, “Seeing is believing,” but Jesus is saying that is not accurate. He is pressing us to see Him as more than just a sideshow magician, more than a cosmic errand-boy who exists to do our bidding, more than a spiritual lifeguard to rescue us from the waves of this world. He is challenging us to seek Him for who He is as the Lord of Glory and the Savior of the World. And amazingly, the royal official finds his crisis faith transformed by that challenge. He alone, of all these Galileans, finds that his false faith has become true faith. That is evidenced in the remaining verses, as we see two aspects of true faith in him. Rather than being a curious faith or a crisis faith, …

III. True faith is a committed faith (vv49-50)

Notice how, after Jesus pronounces this indictment on the false and shallow faith of the Galileans, this man tries one more time. He says in verse 49, “Sir, come down before my little boy dies.” And Jesus responds rather simply, “Go, your son lives.” Now the man has a choice to make. Jesus isn’t coming, He’s made that clear. So the man can walk away dejected and hopeless, and go home to bury his little boy, or he can walk away believing that the words Jesus spoke are true. He had wanted to see before he would believe. Jesus tells him to believe, and then to go see. And praise the Lord, this man “believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started off.” 

In his crisis faith, he had come to Jesus because he had heard about him from others. In his committed faith, he went away believing what Jesus Himself had spoken. He had the kind of true faith now that the Samaritans demonstrated when they said to the woman who had told them about Jesus, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world!” This man from Capernaum could say “Amen” to that as well, for he no longer believed simply because of what others had told him; he had come to Jesus, heard Him speak, and put His faith in the word that was spoken. And we know that faith was genuine, because he acted on it. He believed the word and started off toward home.

It is one thing to hear the word of Christ, another to say you believe it, and still something more to act in faith on it. In reality, if you do not act upon His word, you really do not believe it. Has the Gospel begun to shape your worldview, your behavior, your relationships, your opinions? Will the Gospel influence your vote in November? Does it influence how you treat difficult people? Has it begun to change the way you live? Does it compel you to act in a decidedly different way than every other influence in your life? Genuine faith does that, because it is committed to Christ on the basis of His Word. It believes upon Christ for who He is; it believes upon Christ for what He has promised; it believes upon Christ in an active and visible way.

When we have that kind of faith, we begin to see the things we believe take shape in our lives. This man went home believing. He had stopped for the night somewhere, and set out the next day to finish the journey. But before he could get back home, his slaves met him and reported to him that his son was living, and that the fever had broken. He inquired, “What time did that happen?” They told him that it was the seventh hour (1 pm) on the preceding day, precisely the moment that Jesus had spoken the word of healing. He didn’t see, and then believe. He believed, and then he saw.

Now, lest anyone be misled here, we are not saying that belief in Jesus will mean that all your sicknesses and all of your loved ones will always be healed and all of your prayers always answered in the way you want them to. But we are saying that committed faith finds no promise of Jesus ever going unfulfilled. You cannot necessarily take the specific promise that He made to this man and apply it to your life; but there are plenty of universal promises in His Word that apply to your life and everyone else’s life as well. You will find that if you are born again, you will have eternal life. You will find that though this world is filled with hardships, He will never leave you nor forsake you. You will find that His peace passes all understanding. You will find that He does work all things together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purposes. You will find that nothing can ever separate you from Him. You will find that He is able to cleanse you from sin, and empower you to live in a way you’ve never imagined. And you will find a host of other comforting assurances coming to fruition in your life as you commit yourself to Him in this kind of genuine faith. It all starts by believing who He is and what He has promised to do. He is God-incarnate, the sovereign Lord of the universe, who has become a man so that He could live and die for you and conquer death for you through His resurrection, so that you can have life abundant and life eternal. He hasn’t come to make you healthy, wealthy, and wise in the things of this world. He has come to deliver you from this world of suffering and offer you a life that is infinitely better. That life begins here and now, but comes into full bloom in His glorious presence in eternity. Have you trusted in Him in this committed way, and begun to see the transformation the He desires to produce in you?


IV. True faith is a contagious faith (v53b)

What this man had discovered about Jesus was too good to keep to himself. When he got back home, he shared with everyone in his house about the Christ he had met, and they all joined him in his newfound faith. “He himself believed and his whole household.” He was one more example of the promise Jesus made to His disciples when He said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” If you follow Him by faith, your faith will be contagious. You will want to share it with others! The Samaritan woman couldn’t wait to tell her whole village about Jesus after she met Him. This royal official couldn’t wait to share the good news with his family. One of the marks of genuine faith is that we desire to give it away. We believe that this good news is not just for ourselves! We believe it is for the whole world! If you are following, then you are fishing. So, if you aren’t fishing, you have to ask yourself if you are really following? I don’t know how many times I have shared the good news of Jesus throughout my life – surely not enough – but there’s one thing I have discovered: I have never shared the Gospel by accident. There is an intentionality in every offer of the good news. There is a desire to make the Christ who has transformed our lives known to another person. We may not all be rich and powerful like this royal official, but we are all like him in that we live in a world surrounded by grief, suffering, and hardship. No one is immune. Where is the hope that can help us through this life and secure us a better life beyond this one? That hope is found in Jesus alone! We have to know that there is no sin He cannot forgive, no sorrow He cannot comfort, no suffering He cannot soothe. He’s done it for me; he’s done it for so many of you! He can do it for your family—your children, your spouse, your parents, your siblings; He can do it for your friends; He can do it for your neighbors; He can do it for the stranger you encounter this afternoon; He can do it for anyone in the world. But they have to know about Him if they are going to believe in Him, and that is where you and I come in. We have to tell them. Will they believe? That is where God comes in. But if they see genuine faith in us, the kind that is committed to Christ on the basis of who He is and what He has promised, the kind that transforms us and changes our lives, the kind that can’t stop talking about Him, then they will never be able to plead ignorance when they stand before Him on the final day.

There is no greater joy than knowing Jesus. I hope you do. I hope you have committed yourself to Him as Lord and Savior in a genuine and true way that goes beyond curious faith and crisis faith. For those who have experienced the joy of knowing Him, you know that there is no other joy that comes so close to that as knowing that your loved ones know Him too. This man shared the good news of Jesus with his entire family, and they believed! His son was raised to life from death, and his entire household was given new life that would extend beyond death. His faith was contagious.

So, what kind of faith do you have? Is it merely a religious curiosity that has you interested in Jesus as a means of entertainment? Is it a crisis faith that looks to Him to help you out of life’s jams? Or is it true faith, anchored to Jesus for who He is and what He promises? That kind of faith is committed and contagious. If you didn’t come in with that kind of faith today, you can leave with it, just like this royal official from Capernaum did.

[1] Adrian Rogers, Believe in Miracles, but Trust in Jesus (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1997), 66. 

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