Faith That Can Be Trusted

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : John 2:23-25

Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs which he did; but Jesus did not trust himself to them, because he knew all men and needed no one to bear witness of man; for he himself knew what was in man.

John 2:23-25 rsv

Here is a brief scripture passage crammed with surprising things. Listen! It’s from the Gospel according to John, chapter 2, verse 23: “Now when he [that is, Jesus] was in Jerusalem at the Passover feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs which he did; but Jesus did not trust himself to them, because he knew all men and needed no one to bear witness of man; for he himself knew what was in man.”

SURPRISING THINGS

Some people, I imagine, might be surprised at this revelation of what Jesus knew. “He knew,” says the gospel writer, “all men.” And He knew “what was in man.” It’s taught of Jesus here that He had a profound understanding of human nature, of what people are like. But more than that, He knew what was in man. He knew people’s thoughts and motives, their inner selves. Nothing that anyone else could tell Him about the human heart was ever a surprise to Jesus. He knew people. He knows you and me and everything that goes on in the supposedly secret places of our lives.

Now that is not surprising, of course, if we take seriously the whole New Testament witness about Jesus; that is, that He is the eternal Word made flesh. He is the living God incarnate. He is the creator come down to identify Himself with His creation.

His becoming a genuine human being surely involved self-limitation on His part. He needed to learn, for example, as all of us learn. But He looked on people with a vision unclouded by any moral darkness. He was, even as man, the great heart-searcher.

Some would be surprised perhaps by what this passage implies about human nature. Jesus, we read, “did not [en]trust himself to them,” because He “knew what was in man.” Apparently there is something in us, in all of us, that tends to make us less than trustworthy. Apparently our human nature is so flawed as to be unreliable. But again this is not a shocking revelation to us if we’re familiar with the total witness of the Bible. Because we have rebelled against God’s commands, because we have willfully gone our own way, we have lost, as we say, credibility. From God’s perspective we are profoundly undependable. He can’t count on us.

But here is the really startling part for me in this passage. These particular persons to whom Jesus would not entrust Himself were among those who “believed in his name”! Apparently there is even a kind of faith which cannot be trusted. We’re not talking about hypocrisy now, about play-acting. The persons involved here did not simply say they believed. The gospel writer himself says that about them. Theirs was a real faith, but not a mature one. It made them His disciples, but somehow not fully so. What, we wonder, was the problem?

THE BEGINNINGS OF FAITH

Notice, first, how this faith is described. “Many believed in his name when they saw the signs which he did.” We aren’t told exactly what signs these were, but from the rest of the gospel story we can surmise that some of them at least were miraculous healings. Jesus probably gave sight to some blind people and made lame ones to walk. Maybe He raised someone from the dead or brought release and relief to a person crazed by demonic power. And John lets us see that it was while these mighty works were going on that many believed. Later on, in the eighth chapter of his gospel, John tells us that many believed on Jesus after they had heard Him speak. Their faith, too, proved subsequently to be inadequate.

Now there’s nothing wrong, of course, with believing in Jesus when we see His mighty works or when we listen to His words. But, apparently, that can happen in us and not go nearly far enough. The faith that we are reading about here seems to have been based on an initial reaction to Jesus’ words and works. People were impressed at first by what He said or awed by what He did. But the fact that such faith remains unreliable is made clear in each case by later events.

For example, John tells us in chapter 6 that, after Jesus had fed a crowd of thousands with five barley loaves and two fish, people who witnessed the sign said, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” That certainly sounds like a measure of faith. But Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king. That was obviously not the kind of faith and understanding and loyalty that He was looking for. And some of those believers described in John, chapter 8, were later so infuriated by what Jesus said about their enslavement to sin that they were ready, imagine it, to do away with Him.

We find the same surprising use of the word disciple in the Gospel according to John. Listen to this: “After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him” (John 6:66). A strange statement! They were Jesus’ disciples, which means His followers, His learners. But after He made claims they couldn’t understand or accept, they stopped following Him. Their faith seemed to disappear.

When I think about such people, I’m reminded of Jesus’ parable of the soils. Remember the seed that fell on the rocky ground? “The seeds,” we read, “immediately sprang up.” There was response there, life, growth. You could certainly say, in some sense, that these people believed. But it didn’t last. There was no follow-through; there was no fruit.

So there’s the enigma. People can, in some sense, believe in Jesus and yet later act in ways that seem to deny that faith. They may try to impose their will on the Lord; they may call His teachings in question, they may desert Him, even turn violently against Him.

FAITH THAT LASTS

Now here’s the sad result as John describes it: Jesus cannot entrust Himself to such people. Think what that implies now about mature faith, about the full-orbed faith that God is looking for in people. That faith must lead to a mutual relationship; that faith must involve two-way commitment. And where there isn’t real commitment on our part, there apparently can’t be on His.

In that sense, faith in Jesus Christ is something like a marriage or a close friendship. Relationships like that have to have mutual commitment, don’t they, or they’ll never work? They’ll not last. If neither person is committed, obviously it’s no marriage or no friendship. If only one is committed, the relationship is probably headed for heartbreak and disappointment. It’s only when we both pledge ourselves and mean it that the relationship has a chance at real fulfillment. In a marriage, of course, the vows are formally taken. In a friendship they may be unspoken but they are still understood. I know that my friend will be there for me and I fully intend to be someone he or she can count on. Marriage or friendship, you see, is built on a mutual covenant. But where either party to the covenant proves consistently unreliable, unfaithful, the relationship breaks down.

Perhaps we’ve thought a good deal about our faith in God or our faith in Jesus. Have we ever wondered about His faith in us? Pondering this passage has raised for me personally some searching personal questions. Can Jesus trust my faith, my commitment, my loyalty? Can He trust me, for example, with His resources, knowing that I’ll be a good steward of them? Or, if He lets me have very much, will I let it go to my head and use it mainly for myself? Can He trust me with His Word, that I will communicate it faithfully, that I will pass it on to others just as He gives it? Or will I adjust it to my liking, voicing only the elements in it that seem currently popular? Can He trust me with His flock, that I will genuinely care for His sheep? Or will I become a petty tyrant over them and exploit them for my own advantage? Or, when they are in danger, will I concentrate on my own safety and leave them to the wolves?

Can Jesus trust me with a task, that I will responsibly carry it out? Or will I merely talk about doing it? Or, make a start and fail to follow through?

Can He trust me with His name, that I will seek to honor Him and reflect credit upon His cause, or will I think chiefly of my own reputation and care little for His? To sum it all up, can He trust me to remain loyal to Him for the long haul?

What kind of faith will it take to face these penetrating questions? It will surely begin, as it did for these others, with beholding Jesus’ signs and listening to His teaching. But it will have to move from enthusiasm about His Words and works to loyalty to Him. It will have to go from believing about Jesus to trusting in Him or upon Him, entering into personal relationship with Him, resting all our weight and all our hopes on Him.

At a deeper level, it will mean actually partaking of Him. Remember how Jesus said, “If any man thirsts, let him come to me and drink”? And again, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst”? With one image after another He described faith as an appropriation in which we receive Him and His life into our inmost being.

And, as we were thinking together a while ago, it will need to be a faith that involves commitment. Commitment to Jesus’ person, to be loyal at all costs. And commitment to His cause, to put our lives on the line for what most deeply concerns Him.

Does all that sound unattainable, a kind of counsel of despair, a faith to which we can never hope to rise? It surely would be that if this faith were something we had to generate from within us. But listen to this great word of Jesus to some who had begun to believe in Him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” Jesus’ words, He tells His followers, are “spirit and life.” They are powerful, life-producing, faith-creating. It is His Word, brought home to our hearts by the power of His Spirit, that can make us genuine believers. And so the message is that we are to keep on listening to Him, keep on internalizing what He has to say. And as we hang in there, drinking in the Word of the Lord, tasting and seeing that He is good, we find that Word to be a quickening dynamic for us. More and more He recreates us by it to be covenant keepers.

The more you learn in His Word of His mercies, of His faithful love toward you, the more you are drawn to trust in Him. The more you recognize from His Word how utterly He has given Himself on your behalf, the more you will be inclined to offer yourself in grateful commitment to Him.

Faith deepens and grows in that kind of reciprocal relationship. The more fully you trust and follow Him, the more He will entrust Himself to you, take up His abode in you. And the more He lives in you by His Spirit, the more He will make you the kind of person He can trust.

We were talking earlier about a marriage or a friendship. One of the things we learn in those relationships is that they need attention and cultivation, don’t they? The commitments they involve need to be renewed and enriched over and over again. It’s that way in faith, too. Concentrate, friends, on Jesus Christ and your relationship to Him as being supremely important in life. Continue in His Word, keep on keeping on, and by His grace He will make you the kind of Christian you are meant to be. He will bring forth in you more and more the kind of faith He can trust.

PRAYER: Thank You, Lord, for being utterly faithful to us, true to Your covenant. So work in us, we pray, by Your Word and Spirit, that we may be Your trustworthy servants. In Jesus’ name. Amen.