What do you struggle to believe about Jesus? To believe something is to accept that something is true and reliable. When you and I believe that something is true and reliable, we put our trust in it; we do not trust what we do not believe to be true or reliable.
If I believe that a chair will hold my weight, then I will trust it to hold me by actually sitting in it. If I do not believe that the chair is trustworthy, then I will not sit in it. If I believe that a person will be honest with me and loyal to me then I will trust them to be my friend. This is what it means to have faith: to believe and to therefore trust.
The Christmas season is a time when our ability to believe and to trust oftentimes gets tested, shaken, and hopefully strengthened; especially in regards to who Jesus is and in what he promises for those who believe in him and trust him with their lives. Sadly, for many, believing in Jesus is no different than believing in Santa.
Growing up, Christmas was usually confusing and sometimes difficult for me. I grew up without a dad around, my mom seemed to have a different boyfriend every year, and most of those boyfriends were not trustworthy men. My mom would tell me about Jesus during the Christmas season, while smoking her weed, guzzling her Wild Turkey, and listening to her favorite Rock and Roll. She would tell me that Jesus was not like any of the men that I knew and that he loved me and died for me but it was difficult for me to believe that any man would be any different than the men I grew up with that used my mom for their own personal pleasure.
On top of all this, my mom was an emotionally broken woman who left a lot of scars deep in my heart. By the time I left my mom’s house at the ripe young age of seventeen, I had experienced a life that was full of neglect, abandonment, rejection, manipulation, emotional abuse and physical abuse. I knew there was a God and that he had a Son named Jesus that had come into this world during the Christmas season to die on a cross for me and to leave the tomb empty on the third day because he supposedly loved me, but I had a hard time believing and trusting that the God who allowed my life to happen the way it had, could really be a loving god.
On top of all that, I had stumbled into many daily routines that provided the escape from the pain that I desired and the control over pleasure that I desperately longed for. Sexual perversion of all kinds, drunkenness, and drug use were my medications and I believed/trusted that they would provide what I desperately longed for: healing, escape, acceptance, control, etc. How could Jesus really love the filthy person I had become? Believing in Jesus was the same as believing in Santa as far as I was concerned.
You do not have to have the same experiences with Christmas as I did to wonder if your belief in Jesus is any different than your belief in Santa or to realize that what you believe affects who you trust. If you know me well enough, then you know that I have some major trust issues because of my childhood and also because I know – at least in part – how unfaithful and divided my own heart has been and can still be in the midst of any given situation. I struggle to believe in Jesus so therefore I struggle to trust in Jesus completely. This is exactly the heart of John’s gospel. Look at a few select texts from John’s gospel with me.
1:1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. 9The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12But to all did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. 14And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15(John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) 16For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.
3:16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.
12:35Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. 36While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. 37Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, 38so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” 39Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, 40”He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.” 41Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him. 42Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; 43for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.
19:24Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe. 26Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
20:30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
#1: JOHN’S USE OF THE WORD “BELIEVE”
John uses the word “believe” eighteen times in the passages I read at the beginning of this message, and it is most definitely the main word he uses all throughout his gospel in relation to Jesus. The last passage I read this morning (Jn. 20:30 – 31) is John’s purpose statement for his gospel. In those verses he says that 20:30…Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. John’s entire purpose in writing this gospel is to testify to who Jesus is and what he has done so that you and I can believe in him and trust in him for eternal life.
The gospel of John literally teaches us that some people will believe in Jesus while others will reject him. John also wants us to know that Jesus accepts those who accept him, and he rejects those who reject him (Jn. 3:18; 36). At the end of the day, John presents Jesus as a very polarizing character. But the question is, “What was it that made Jesus so divisive and polarizing? What was it about Jesus that caused people to either believe in him or to reject him?” There are four basic claims about Jesus that John testifies to that helps us to understand why Jesus was so polarizing.
- John testifies to the fact that Jesus is the Word who became flesh (Jn. 1:14). John used this language to show that Jesus was the manifestation of God in the flesh (this is a notion that would have been very divisive in the surrounding culture).2 The very idea that Jesus is God in the flesh, is something that even some who call themselves “Christian” reject.
- John testifies to the fact that Jesus is the Lamb of God (Jn. 1:29; 36). John describes Jesus in this way – as the sacrificial Messiah and Deliverer of his people who is the only means of escape from the penalty of sin and our only hope for eternity.3 In a culture that valued pluralism, the starkness of John’s claim regarding Jesus’ Messianic nature, would have inevitably caused a division of acceptance and rejection or belief and unbelief (to believe is to accept; to not believe is to reject). There are some people who cannot believe that Jesus is the Lamb of God.
- John testifies to the fact that Jesus is the personification of wisdom and the agent who was sent by God to speak and act on his behalf (Jn. 1:9, 45; 3:17; 4:34; 5:46).4 This is an audacious and polarizing claim to make in a culture that valued the lukewarm melting pot of relative truths. How could anyone ever claim to have the perfect truth or to be perfectly wise, or to speak for God for that matter? Truth and wisdom in our culture is said to be dictated by the culture itself or by the individuals in that culture. There is no certain truth or wisdom. Only that which is accepted by the shifting culture can be accepted by the majority. Do not claim to speak for God because it could get you killed!
- John testifies to the fact that Jesus is God as revealed by his seven “I am” statements (Jn. 6:35; 8:12; 9:5; 10:7, 11; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1.). This is a claim that would be so audacious that even the Jews would hear this as blasphemy (Jn. 10:30 – 33) causing some to accept or to believe in him as God and others to reject or to not believe in him and to regard him as a heretic and a fake.5 When Jesus claimed to be the bread of life, the light of the world, the gate for the sheep, the good shepherd, the resurrection and the life, the way, the truth, and the life, and the true vine, he inevitably placed a bullseye on his back for his enemies to take aim at because in making these claims, he claimed to be the Great “I am” which is shorthand for saying “I am God!”
So, when John says that he wants to present Jesus as someone that we can believe in and trust with our lives, he presents him as the Word who became flesh, the Lamb of God, wisdom in the flesh, a messenger from God, and even God in the flesh. The idea that God condescended from Heaven to this filthy earth in the person of Jesus, is most definitely an idea that causes division between those who believe and those who do not believe. But John does not merely rely on verbal descriptions of Jesus such as we have just examined. He also describes the miracles of Jesus to help us believe.
#2: JOHN’S USE OF THE MIRACLES OF JESUS
In the first half of John’s gospel (chaps. 1 – 11) we see seven different miracles that are designed to help us wrestle with Jesus’ powerful works and then in the second half of the gospel (chaps. 12 – 21) we see the events leading up to and culminating in Jesus’ death and resurrection with the resurrection being the final and most powerful of all Jesus’ miracles.6 Let us look at those seven miracles briefly to see what they teach us about what we should believe about Jesus.
- Jesus turns water into wine (2:1 – 11). This miracle happened at a wedding at Cana in Galilee right after Jesus called his disciples to follow him. Through this miracle we see that Jesus is powerful over a created substance like water and this truth helped his disciples to believe in him (vs. 11). It is funny to acknowledge that Jesus turned water into wine and Christians in the West have tried to turn wine back into water ever since then by saying that drinking is a sin! All joking aside though, if Jesus is powerful over a created substance then are we not being asked to believe that he is the Creator?
- Jesus heals an official’s son (4:46 – 54). This miracle happened right after Jesus visited the woman at the well in Samaria where many Samaritans came to believe in Jesus (4:39). This miracle is meant to teach us that Jesus is powerful over sickness and disease. Furthermore, this truth – that Jesus is powerful over sickness and disease – is something that helped the official as well as his household believe in Jesus (vs. 53). Sometimes, there is nothing more powerful than sickness and disease to shake our belief in Jesus.
- Jesus heals an invalid at the pool of Bethesda (5:1 – 18). This miracle happened during a feast of the Jews in Jerusalem on the Sabbath (vs. 1). Once again, we learn that Jesus is powerful even over a sickness or disease that has crippled someone for thirty-eight years. Even more importantly we learn that Jesus is equal with God by calling God his Father according to verse 18. Ultimately, we have to admit that prolonged suffering with sickness and disease can cause us to question Jesus’ power or presence or love.
- Jesus feeds five thousand people with five barley loaves and two fish (6:1 – 15). This miracle happened right before the Passover (vs. 4). Through this miracle we learn that Jesus is powerful over our physical needs. The people actually proclaimed that Jesus “is the Prophet who is to come into the world” (vs. 14) and Jesus also later claims that he is “the bread of life”who gives eternal life (6:32 – 40). John is teaching us here that Jesus is the only one who can sustain us; there is no eternal nourishment that can be found outside of Jesus.
- Jesus walks on water while the disciples labor to get across the sea in a rowboat in the middle of a stormy night (6:16 – 21). This miracle happened immediately after Jesus fed five thousand people and it teaches us that Jesus is powerful over the elements of nature such as the storm, the wind, and the sea (vs. 18). If the storm, the wind, and the sea obey Jesus, why would we disobey him? The answer is that we disobey because we struggle with believing in Jesus and therefore, we trust something or someone other than Jesus (i.e. our own ingenuity, intellect, ability to reason, etc.).
- Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath who was born blind by putting a mixture of spit/mud in his eyes and having him wash his eyes in a pool of water (9:1 – 41). This miracle happened immediately after Jesus had been teaching in the temple but then had to flee because the Jews were going to stone him (8:59). In this miracle, we learn that Jesus has been sent by God to do his work (9:3 – 5) so that by his judgment, believers who can see spiritually will be separated from unbelievers who are spiritually blind (vss. 35 – 41). This miracle literally begs us to beg God to remove any spiritual blindness from our eyes so that we might believe in him.
- Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead after four days in the tomb (11:38 – 44). This miracle happened just before the major narrative change in chapter twelve where Jesus makes his triumphal entry into Jerusalem (see 12:12 – 19). This miracle acts as a climax to the first half of the story while foreshadowing Jesus’ death and resurrection (we will examine this narrative shift in chapter twelve in just a moment). For now, what we learn in this miracle of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead is that Jesus is powerful even over death itself and this truth helped many who were present to believe in him (11:45). The fact that Jesus is powerful even over death, is a truth that you and I must wrestle with. Even the Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 that the resurrection is the truth upon which you and I can stake our faith – if we believe in Jesus’ power over death itself, then we can certainly trust him as our Savior. This all leads in a foreshadow to Jesus’ own resurrection.
- Jesus is raised from the dead three days after his death by crucifixion (20:1 – 18). There is not enough room in this sermon to adequately cover the historical and theological details of this miracle. Suffice it to say, this miracle took place just outside of Jerusalem and Jesus’ subsequent appearances throughout the remainder of this gospel proves that Jesus is ultimately more powerful than Satan, Sin and Death and many people in John’s gospel – and all throughout history – came to believe in Jesus as a result of his miraculous resurrection (20:8; 18; 20; 24 – 29).
So, the miracles of Jesus in John’s gospel are presented as positive reinforcement or encouraging testimony in accordance with John’s purpose for the book which is to convince people to believe in Jesus who is the Christ and the Son of God and to gain eternal life through that belief (Jn. 20:31).7
For believers and for unbelievers alike, these stories act as a witness to believe in Christ as our Savior who is powerful over all things in Heaven and on Earth (Eph. 1:15 – 23).8 But it is not just John’s use of the word “believe” and his use of the descriptions of Jesus’ miracles that are designed to help us to believe in Jesus. John’s use of the Old Testament is the final way John testifies to the trustworthiness of Jesus.
#3: JOHN’S USE OF THE OLD TESTAMENT
In John 12:37 – 43 – which we read at the beginning of this message – the apostle John quotes Isaiah 53:1 and 6:10 as an explanation for the people’s unbelief. Despite the various signs that Jesus had recently performed such as raising Lazarus from the dead (11:38 – 44), healing the man born blind (9:1 – 41) and the feeding of the five thousand (6:1 – 15), the people still didn’t believe in Jesus.
The question is, why did they not believe in Jesus? An why now? Why does John quote Isaiah at this point in his gospel? There is no doubt that there are people who did not believe in Jesus prior to this point in this gospel (see 6:42; 52; 66; 7:5; 8:13; etc.). So why quote Isaiah now?
It appears that chapter twelve is the turning point to the second half of John’s narrative. Up until this point the first half of John’s gospel has been focused on a series of miracles and discourses that climax in the raising of Lazarus (11:38 – 44).9
Periodically throughout the first half of the gospel we see either Jesus or John explaining that the time for Jesus’ death and glorification has not yet come (see 2:4; 7:30; 8:20).10 It’s almost as though the first half of the gospel (filled with its signs and discourses) was a vital part of John’s legal fashion of writing which would prove that anyone who didn’t believe up until now was guilty of what Isaiah had prophesied.
In 12:23 Jesus says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” signifying a turn in the story. This turn in the story leads us back to John’s use of Isaiah in 12:37 – 43. John, here in these verses, is not only explaining that there are people who do not believe in Christ, he is explaining whythey don’t believe in Christ. These people’s eyes (according to the narrative so far and supported by Isaiah) have been blinded because they relied on their ability to see signs that their unregenerate hearts could not comprehend (vs. 40) and they loved human glory more than the glory that is from God (vs. 43).
This is John’s core accusation against an unbelieving humanity: We do not believe – not because Jesus is not trustworthy – we do not believe because we are spiritually blind, and we are spiritually blind because we love the attention, we get from humans rather than the love we can have from God. This is the reason we struggle to believe in Jesus. God help us to see – with regenerated hearts – the glory of Jesus our risen Savior! Amen?
So, in conclusion, I asked earlier, about what you struggle to believe about Jesus. Remember, what you do not believe, you do not trust. A relationship without trust is a broken relationship in need of repair. What Jesus wants is to have a relationship with you. But that relationship will be a mess at best if you do not identify what you struggle to believe and therefor struggle to trust about Jesus and then ask him to remove your blindness and help you to see.
John wants us to believe and therefore to ultimately trust in Jesus. So, he goes to great lengths to describe Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. He is the Word who became flesh. He is the Lamb of God who was sacrificed so that sinners could become children of God. He is the personification of wisdom. He is God’s perfect ambassador. Ultimately, Jesus is God. He is powerful over created substances, sickness and disease and the elements of nature such as storms, the wind, and the sea. He literally is God in the flesh; crucified, risen, and returning in victory over Satan, Sin, and Death.
Which of these attributes of Jesus do you currently struggle with believing? Which of these attributes do you believe as much as you believe in Santa? Maybe today, on this Christmas Eve, God will grant you the spiritual eyesight to behold Jesus in all his glory, so that you can believe and trust in him as the Christ, the Son of God, the Word who became flesh, the Lamb of God, the personification of wisdom, the perfect Heavenly ambassador, powerful over all created things as well as nature, and literally God in the flesh who was crucified, risen, and is returning in victory over Satan, Sin, and Death! God help us to see and to believe and to trust in Jesus according to John! – Amen!
1 Unless otherwise specified, all Bible references in this post are to the English Standard Version Bible, The New Classic Reference Edition (ESV) (Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, 2001).
2 Craig L. Blomberg, Jesus and the Gospels: An Introduction and Survey, 2nd Edition (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2009), 187.
4 Ibid., 187 – 188.
5 Ibid., 188.
6 Ibid., 184.
7 Ibid., 189.
8 Ibid., 184.
9 Ibid., 184 – 185.
10 Ibid., 191.