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Posts Tagged ‘inadequate faith’

We are starting back into our series on the Gospel of John, with a specific  focus for the next few weeks on Jesus’ interactions with Nicodemus.

As you will remember, so far in the story:

  • Jesus has been certified by John the Baptist as the Messiah.
  • He has gathered together his first disciples.
  • He has performed his first recorded miracle – turning water into wine; a private miracle.
  • And in chapter 2, although we didn’t cover this, Jesus has launched his public ministry, by means of clearing the temple in Jerusalem.

Our text today picks up just after this, while he is still in Jerusalem.

Nicodemus’ faith

2:23Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing.”

Our verse talks about Jesus doing signs in Jerusalem. These aren’t narrated. As John 20:30 tells us, Jesus did many signs or miracles that are not recorded (Also 21:25). This is probably referring to various healings that Jesus did. 

Jesus performed signs in order to lead people to believe in him. And at least on some level it worked here, for it says, “many believed in his name,” when they saw him perform these miracles.

But on another level, it didn’t work here. 24But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25and needed no one to bear witness about a person, for he himself knew what was in a person.”

This doesn’t come out in English very well, but v. 23 and v. 24 use the same word.

  • “many believed/trusted in his name” – v. 23
  • “but Jesus on his part did not believe/entrust himself to them” – v. 24

It’s like Jesus is saying, ‘you believe in me? I don’t believe in you! You trust me? I don’t trust you! At least not yet.’

And he was able to know that there was a problem, John tells us, because “he himself knew what was in a person.” We have already seen this in his interactions with Peter and Nathanael. He knew their character and what was in their hearts, and will see this again in John’s gospel, for instance with the Samaritan woman.

What’s the problem that Jesus saw in them?? Why doesn’t Jesus entrust himself to them? They only had what can be called “signs faith.” As I said, Jesus performed signs to lead people to believe in him (John 1:51; 20:30-31). But sometimes when people believed based on signs, their faith turned out to be inadequate.

In the Gospels, and especially in John, miracles are more than just acts of power. They are precisely “signs.” That is, they point beyond themselves to something about Jesus’ identity and purpose. Jesus isn’t about miracles. This is “signs faith.” Miracles are about Jesus, teaching us who he is, which leads to true faith.

So when Jesus does a sign, people are to see, not just the miracle, but what it says about Jesus. For instance when Jesus brought Lazarus back to life, it’s not just about an amazing miracle. It points to the fact that  Jesus is, as he says, “the resurrection and the life,” and that he has come to bring eternal life to all. But mere “signs faith” doesn’t get what the signs tell us about who Jesus is and what he has come to do. 

So when you only have signs faith,  you may honor Jesus as special. 

  • But you don’t understand who Jesus truly is; you don’t get it; you don’t see the bigger picture. And so you end up with some lesser version of Jesus – a teacher (3:2), a prophet (6:14), even the Messiah, but a distorted understanding of what it means to be the Messiah (also 6:14).
  • And because you don’t understand who Jesus truly is, you also don’t get what Jesus has truly come to give. You end up with something lesser – a teaching (3), a miracle (6:2), bread (6:26), an earthly ruler (6:15). Things that have to do with your needs in this life.

“Signs faith” is an inadequate faith in Jesus; it distorts who Jesus is and what he is up to.

3:1Now there was a person of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2This one came to Jesus by night . . ..” After talking about those with mere “signs faith,” Nicodemus is presented here as a representative of this inadequate faith. This comes out in two ways:

  • v. 25 says that Jesus “knew what was in a person” speaking of those with mere “signs faith.” And then 3:1 says, “now there was a person” (same word) who came to Jesus. This is a clue for us.
  • And 3:2 says, “this one” came to Jesus – that is, this one who represents this kind of believer. (In both cases I have modified the ESV to help bring this out.)

We learn more about Nicodemus. He was a Pharisee, a member of a strict and devout sect of Judaism. We are also told that Nicodemus was “a ruler of the Jews.” He was most likely on the Sanhedrin, the ruling body in Jerusalem. He was an important person. Later in v. 10 Jesus calls him “the teacher of Israel.”

Notice that he came to Jesus “by night.” Most likely he didn’t want to be publicly identified with Jesus. He wanted a secret meeting. But there is also some symbolism going on here. Darkness in the Gospel of John represents the realm that doesn’t know God and that stands in opposition to God (1:5).

2 . . .  and (Nicodemus) said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.’” This is a nice confession of faith for one who has mere “signs faith” in Jesus. (Notice he repeats the phrase of v. 23 “the signs that he was doing” here as “these signs that you do.”)

He is saying, “Jesus, because you do signs, there is something special about you. We believe this. We know this.” But since he doesn’t get what the signs point to about Jesus, his understanding of  Jesus and what he has come to give is wrong.

Who is Jesus? In this case he is merely a teacher come from God. What has Jesus come to give? Perhaps he has come with some special teaching or message from God. Despite his honoring of Jesus and some measure of faith, he is still represented as not yet being in the light; and as someone whom Jesus doesn’t trust.

So these verses give us the introduction to the Nicodemus story. Jesus will go on to correct him about who he is and what he has come to give.

  • In vs. 3-8 – Jesus is not just giving a new teaching, he is bringing in the kingdom of God itself and the possibility of being born of the Spirit; of receiving new life from God.
  • In vs. 9-15 – Jesus is not simply a teacher. He is the Son of Man come from heaven to die on the cross to make eternal life available to all.

Looking at Nicodemus helps us to learns some things about –

Inadequate faith today

1. Many today don’t truly understand who Jesus is or what he came to give. In the world Jesus can be a popular person. And in general people want to have Jesus on their side. They see him as special for one reason or another.

But they don’t get from his life and deeds who he truly is. Jesus is just a teacher, or a prophet, or a model political revolutionary, or a mystic or a wonderworker. And since they don’t understand who   Jesus really is, they don’t understand what he came to give. He give just a life philosophy, an ethical system, a model of political action, a spiritual experience, or magical fixes for our lives. 

They don’t understand that Jesus is the eternal Son of God who has come to give eternal life to all who believe. And so they don’t receive this.

So these are people who “believe” in some sense, but their faith is inadequate. They are still in darkness. And Jesus doesn’t entrust himself to them.

But it’s not just people who don’t go to church. 2. Some who come to church, don’t truly understand who Jesus is or what he came to give. Nicodemus was a very religious person. He was devout and he was a religious leader.

And there are some today who come to church who have a form of faith. They honor Jesus, but their faith is also inadequate. And so, since they don’t get who Jesus really is – the eternal Son of God, they don’t receive the eternal life that he came to give. This is truly a tragedy.

3. Christians can have some of the traits of “signs faith.” We do this when we allow our faith to be based on Jesus’ miracles, and receiving these from him. Jesus is not about miracles, the miracles are about Jesus.

So our belief never moves from seeing miracles,  to trusting in Jesus and his word to us and being content with this, even if he never gives us any (more) miracles. Now, I’m not saying that Jesus doesn’t still do miracles, he does. But they are not to be the focus, so that this is why we follow after Jesus; so that we seek to receive from him what we need or want for our life in this world; our health and wealth.

Yes, God does miracles, but it is not God’s purpose to salvage our lives in this world -by means of making things perfect here and now through miracles. God is about the bigger project of life on earth in a new creation at the resurrection.

This is a call for all of us to examine ourselves. Do we have “signs faith” or something like this? Are you still in the darkness? Does Jesus not trust you?

Give yourself to fully believe that he is the eternal Son of God who has come to give eternal life to all who believe, and you will receive this gift that he has come to give.

William Higgins

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