What Kind of Faith?

What kind of faith do you have? How good is Jesus at meeting your expectations? Does he seem to be answering your prayers right now, in the way that you expect him to? John 4:43-54 describes a faith that expects Jesus to work signs, to perform miracles, in short, to meet the expectations of his followers. Jesus had turned water into wine at the wedding at Cana. He had worked signs in Jerusalem. Now the crowd welcomed him, but as the performer of signs and wonders. I have seen people who have had little interest in following Jesus suddenly, when faced with a crisis, expect him to respond to their urgent need. (To be sure, he sometimes graciously does that, nurturing shallow faith into something deeper.) Even within the church we tend to pray, perhaps for our children or for an urgent need in the fellowship, expecting Jesus to answer our prayer right now in just the way we expect.

John describes an official who comes to Jesus begging him to heal his son, who was close to death. Any parent who has agonized over the serious illness of a child can relate to the urgency of the request. Yet Jesus responds, “Unless you see miraculous signs and wonders, you will never believe” (John 4:48). Although he is about to heal the dying boy, first he makes an important point. The “you” in Jesus’ response is plural. He is speaking not just to the father, but to the crowds who see him as some kind of magic worker. Too often Jesus is treated, even today, as a heavenly vending machine: pray the appropriate prayer, ask in the correct way, do the right thing, and Jesus has to give you what you want. That is a faith that focuses on the sign and misses the Lord.

The official renews his request. Notice what he doesn’t say. He doesn’t try to bargain with Jesus. He doesn’t pull rank (“Do you know who I am?). He simply asks out of his great need, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” The heart of faith is recognizing our own inability and need and casting ourselves on God’s mercy in Christ.

Jesus responds simply, “You may go. Your son lives.” Not: “I will go with you and see what I can do,” nor “He’ll begin to get better.” Rather, “Your son lives.” The father took Jesus at his word. John emphasizes that he believed the word that Jesus had spoken. True faith simply takes Jesus at his word, trusting him to do what is best. It is his agenda, not ours, that is important.

Calvin reflects on the compassion of Christ: “The first thing that strikes us here is the astonishing kindness and condescension of Christ, that he bears with the man’s ignorance, and stretches his power beyond what had been expected. . . . We may conclude from it how highly he values even a small measure of faith. It is worthy of observation that Christ, while he does not comply with his desire [to come to Capernaum], grants much more than he had requested; for he testifies as to the present health of his son. Thus it frequently happens that our Heavenly Father, while he does not comply with our wishes in every particular, proceeds to relieve us by unexpected methods, that we may learn not to prescribe to him in anything.”

John wrote his Gospel so that you, his readers, might come to genuine faith, true trust in Christ. Near the end of the book, the risen Jesus, having shown his pierced hands to doubting Thomas, said, “Because you have seen my, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Do you take Jesus at his word?

[Written in preparation for a message delivered on April 15, 2012]

 

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.
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