Sunday, October 20, 2013

What Does It Mean to Believe in Jesus?

Twenty-First Sunday after Trinity
October 20, 2013
What does it mean to believe in Jesus? As Christians, we believe in Jesus. It would seem self-evident that we know what that means. Since today’s Gospel reading Jesus teaches us exactly that, let’s go with the assumption that we need to understand what it means to believe in Him. To understand what it means to believe in Jesus is to know that understanding Him is only part of the equation. There is an aspect of intellectually grasping that Jesus is true God even as He is true man. Not that we can understand this. But we can intellectually know that Jesus is no mere man, that He is truly God, and conversely, that God actually came in the flesh in the person of Jesus.

But actual faith, belief in Jesus, is not simply intellectual understanding. If it were, the man in the Gospel reading would not have started going back home to his son. He asked Jesus to come to his home in order to heal his son. When Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live,” the man went. He believed Jesus. It’s simply not possible that he understood intellectually how Jesus would bring his son from imminent death to full restoration. Especially since the man requested Jesus to come to his son. Jesus simply spoke to the man. Your son is going to live. You can go to him.

That the man did shows us what faith is. This is what it means to believe in Jesus. Believing in Jesus is not intellectual understanding. Nor is it a general notion that God is all-powerful or that He is loving. It is specific. It is concentrated into one thing, and that is Christ. To be even more specific, it is God in the flesh. Jesus is true God and is known to us as the Person who walked this earth and did things like restore a child to life without even seeing him or going to him.

The man’s initial request actually was met with a rebuke from Jesus. Too many people refused to believe in Him unless they witnessed the miraculous. You won’t believe in Me simply because I say I am who I say I am. You must see Me do something to prove it, and then you will believe. But Jesus’ rebuke is not met with resistance or rationalization. It’s met with a simple plea. Lord, my son is going to die, please come.

At this, all rebuke is washed away. He does for the father what the father has requested. His son will live. Jesus will restore his little boy to a life in which he will play and go to school and eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

But Jesus did this in a way the man didn’t request. Jesus didn’t go with the man. He didn’t lay His hands on the boy. He simply told the man his son would live. And what did this man do? He believed. He went as Jesus told him. Far from requiring miraculous signs, the man took Jesus at His word. When he found out exactly when his son began to recover he was pleased to know that his faith was not in vain. Everyone in his family believed this simple thing. What was it? It was the word of Jesus.

This is what it means to believe in Jesus. It is something very specific. It is not something He does which conforms to our conditions. It is rather the gift given which He gives by speaking it. What it actually is is the Word of God that is given. The Word of God is the Person of Jesus Himself. He is the Word made flesh. The eternal God became a human being.

The man had heard about Jesus. Jesus had indeed performed some miraculous signs. I will go to Him and ask Him to come do the same for my son. Nothing else can prevent him from dying. What the man got was the Word of God. Jesus stood before Him and spoke to him, “Your son will live. You can go back to him now.”

The true miracle Jesus performed was speaking faith into that man. He believed, yes. But his request of Jesus was according to his own conditions. Jesus dispels him of any such notions. If you are going to believe, simply believe. Your request is that your son be spared death. That is all you need. I bring it about simply by bringing it about, not by corresponding to your conditions.

And because Jesus spoke faith into that man, he believed. He spoke no further. There were no protestations. No, “Are You sure you won’t come down to my house, you know, just to make sure he’ll be all right, just to make sure that there’s nothing more needed like You placing Your hands on him?” No, the man believed and went home. He found exactly what Jesus had said.

And of course, Jesus had said it. That’s what it means to believe in Jesus. It is to take Him at His word. It is not to think that you somehow have a part in it. Or that there must be certain conditions placed on it.

This teaches us four things about faith:

First, faith goes to the source. It goes directly to Jesus. It holds fast to Him. It doesn’t look within. If you are looking within yourself for some sort of feeling or confirmation, that is not faith. That is you sinful nature. Your sinful nature looks within. Faith looks to Christ.

Second, faith receives. Faith is utterly humble, recognizing that of yourself you are nothing in the presence of Christ. You will never believe unless you see signs and wonders. Faith does not count on itself to muster itself up. It simply, and humbly, receives. It hears the word of Christ and rejoices in it. It doesn’t rejoice in itself. Look at how wonderful my faith is! It sure is such a good thing I have strong faith! No, it simply, and humbly, hears Christ. This is nothing other than flowing out of number one—faith always, always goes back to the source. It also goes back to Christ and receives Him.

Third, faith is bold. Since faith receives from Christ what Christ Himself delivers, faith is bold. It has to be! If it’s timid, it’s not faith. Or at least it’s weak faith. Faith that looks to Christ, that clings to Christ, that humbly receives what Christ offers, that faith is bold. Because it simply responds back to Christ what Christ Himself has delivered in the speaking of His Word and has imparted to you.

Fourth, faith is never alone. It is not static. It is dynamic. It is alive. It brings along with it acts of love and service and compassion. It lives itself out in serving others and loving them in Christ-like love.

That faith is centered in Christ and is authored and perfected by Christ, as it says in Hebrews, means that it never rests in itself. No, it is produced by Christ and then sustained by Him. When He gives you faith, He gives you His Holy Spirit. His Holy Spirit strengthens you in faith in the Gospel and the Sacraments. How can you be sustained in faith if you remove yourself from those ways He comes to you to sustain you in your faith? How can you serve Him if you are not being equipped by Him in the very means through which He equips you?

In these means the Holy Spirit delivers to you what Christ accomplished in His suffering and dying on the cross. Faith latches on to that. This is what it means to believe in Jesus. Amen.


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