April 24, 2011

Believe: Signposts That Point To the Kingdom

"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 20:31

What does John mean when he says belief/believe? He means a personal response to Jesus' claim of being from God, is one with God, that He is the Son of God who has come into the world (time and space). To believe that everything He did and said were the works and words of God. To trivialize this, to deny this or to demean this in any fashion constitutes unbelief and is worthy of condemnation, not conversation. 

Elsewhere in the Gospels we see Jesus' amazing works referred to as miracles. In John we see them referred to as signs. John had his theological reasoning for doing this. Mostly because John wanted to show that Jesus' signs [σημειων] were signposts or indicators that the Kingdom of God [βασιλεια του θεου] had arrived in the form of Jesus and His signs pointed the way. To show that Jesus was indeed the Son of God. If the Kingdom had come in power as Jesus had said it was, it was best revealed in the works that Jesus did that transcended the normal or nature/natural. It is where we would expect to find God. In the supernatural. The signs. The very thing that modern liberal scholars reject because of their improbability are the very things that we as believers should look for when attempting to sort out what is purely naturalistic and that which is from beyond. The very things that are unexplainable through naturalistic human means should be the focal point of man's desire to encounter the Divine in Scripture. That which is from God. So that we may believe.

The outcroppings and manifestations of the Kingdom of God. The point at which we see the absolute holiness of Christ and His grace and mercy pierce time and space and blossom into our vision. We see seven distinct "signs" in John.

Water to wine John 2:1-12
Healing of the official’s son John 4:43-54
Healing a paralyzed man John 5:1-15
Feeding 5000 John 6:1-15
Walking on water John 6:16-24
Healing a man born blind John 9:1-12

Then the most dramatic sign before Jesus' crucifixion which itself is a signpost to the Kingdom is the raising Lazarus from the dead. This also was so that the people would believe.

"So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face." John 11:41-44

Signs inspire and inspired belief. We see this plainly stated by Jesus in the episode of Lazarus.

"So then he told them plainly,“Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” John 11:14-15

In these seven signs we see heaven or the Kingdom of God break through to us through Jesus' works. In the crucifixion we will see Jesus bridge this chasm completely when He is "lifted up"...to be suspended between heaven and earth. Between the holy and the sinful. Between man and the divine. Forever connecting the two. 

"And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." John 12:32

When we look at the disciples and followers of Jesus we see that Nathanael believes in Jesus because of a sign (John 1:50) . Other disciples believe because of the miracle/sign at Cana (John 2:11) . The royal official believes because of the sign of His word (John 4:48) . The man born blind believes in Jesus as the Son of God because He sees (John 9:35-38) . Many people believed after the raising of Lazarus (John 11:45) . Before Jesus raises Lazarus we see Jesus challenge Martha to believe and she responds commendably. She states, "You are the Christ, Son of God who is to come into the world." Great answer. What we see interwoven with these signs that also solicit belief are Christ's words (John 4:39, 41, 50; 5:24, 27; 8:30; 17:30, etc).

All of these signs and words point to Jesus' death...and ultimately to His resurrection. The first seven signs initiate the final sign. It is especially at the raising of Lazarus from the dead that we see the immediate preceding parallel of what Jesus will go through. It is also at this preceding parallel that we see the wicked actions and heart condition of the religious leaders and the powers of the dark. The raising of Lazarus so infuriates the religious leaders that they seek to kill Lazarus and plot to kill Jesus (John 11:45-57) . In these verses the Sanhedrin meets and ask:

“What are we accomplishing? Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.” John 11:47-48

Even they religious leaders understood how the signs were resulting in belief. In addition, their rejection of Jesus and embrace of their own legalistic twisting of God's law they have shown exactly who is their master...and it isn't Jesus

Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” John 8:42-47

We also see the temple come up again. Little do they realize that Jesus himself is performing the function of the temple. Jesus’ presence among His people as a sacrifice is the final once and for all connection between heaven and earth. Then Caiaphas unwittingly prophesies of the final sign in John by saying:

“You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” (11:50)

Jesus speaks all throughout His ministry of belief. He tells Nicodemus that:

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son." John 3:16-18

In Jesus' last discourse (Upper Room Discourse)  He speaks to the disciples about belief:

“I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am. John 13:19

"Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father." John 14:10-12

“You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. John 14:28

"I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe." John 14:29

Jesus tells Thomas after His Resurrection that those who have not experienced His earthly ministry yet still believe are blessed (John 20:8) . Belief /faith is the key theme through Jesus' ministry and the Bible at large. It is Jesus' primary teaching outside of His death which itself was according to Scripture. We then have His burial...according to Scripture, and then His Resurrection according to Scripture. Jesus constantly and continually challenges those around Him to respond in faith and belief. In belief of His claim that He has come from the Father. In the belief that these signs that He has produced were solely for the benefit of glorifying God.

What Jesus' ministry does not allow is for one to be apathetic. It does not allow one to not act. The very act of inaction in and of itself constitutes a lack of faith and thereby makes one condemned. You must either believe or not believe and inaction is unbelief. To not make a decision actually constitutes a decision...a bad one. One must decide if Jesus has come from God. One must decide if He is God. One must respond to His words. Jesus' words do not fall on deaf ears, they fall on ignorant ones. Even Lazarus heard Him, a dead man! Dead men don't hear folks! Living ignorant people have no excuse. To claim you have not heard when a dead man could hear Jesus leaves one no excuse at all. It just shows selective hearing or brazen ignorance/arrogance.

Unbelief is to deny Jesus' works. Unbelief is deny Jesus' words. To deny Jesus is to deny the Father. This denial results in condemnation because it exposes one to the wrath and justice of a holy God. To deny who Jesus is shows that the observer does not recognize that Jesus is indeed from the Father. If you cannot recognize what is and what is not of God...this shows just how separated that person is from God and the things of God.

"Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son." John 3:18

"Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them." John 3:36

Christ and His works were not only the signpost to the Kingdom, he was the way to the Kingdom. He was the Way, The Truth and the Life. The religious leaders and sinners like them are the road blocks or speed bumps. Inhibitors. Sinners are inhibitors to progress to the Kingdom until they too become signposts remade as new creations in the image of their Master. Signs that are there to give you direction to your intended destination are only as good as the one who creates the sign. If you have a liar giving you bad directions you will never arrive at your destination or the wrong one but if you have the One who came from the Kingdom, who came from the Father telling you how to get there and you accept His directions...you are as good as there already.

As for the Pharisees and those pharisaical we only need to read the following passages to come to grips with the end of those that put themselves or other men before God.

"But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him, that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke: “ Lord, who has believed our report?And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?" Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again:“ He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, Lest they should see with their eyes, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn. So that I should heal them.” These things Isaiah said when he saw His glory and spoke of Him. John 12:37-41

The fact that many failed to believe in Jesus' words about Himself is a fulfillment of two passages from Isaiah (Isaiah 52:13, 53:12). The Servant-King-Shepherd. The man of sorrows rejected by His own people (John 1:11). He will take upon Himself the transgression, iniquity and affliction due others. But yet...

"Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God." John 12:42-43

The word praise [δόξα/doxa] (better understood as glory) is used to describe life giving nature but here it is attributed to certain religious leaders that prefer the δόξα of men to that of God. They prefer the status or "glory" attained in the eyes of men rather than that of One much more important...that of God. They thereby reject the status they would have personally attained had they gone with the Son of God. In John 12:42 the word "confess" is [ὁμολογέω/homologeo] in the imperfect tense. This indicates that these Pharisees were retreating from a view or opinion they once held. In other words they are being peer-pressured and influenced by other people to abandon their beliefs....that Jesus is the Son of God and then subsequently His teachings and words. This shows why the prophecy of Isaiah is filled. Man abandons God. God never abandons men.

One's response to Jesus is a response to God. Those that come to the Light (Jesus) and those that do the Truth are true believers. Jesus states that He did not come to judge the world but to save it (John 3:17-18). People judge themselves by their response to Jesus' words. By refusing to accept Jesus and accept His words (and work), they have chosen to live in darkness rather than the Light. They condemn themselves.

These words applied to the Pharisees and religious leaders then...and they apply to us now. May the Spirit of Christ dwell in you richly and may His words reshape and remake your life. Happy Risen Christ Day.

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