Faith in Jesus

Dr. Brian Allison

Who is Jesus Christ to you? For a Muslim, Jesus was a notable prophet. For some Jewish sects, Jesus was a deceived renegade. For a Buddhist, Jesus was a noble teacher. For an atheist, Jesus was the scam artist of the ages. Maybe for you, Jesus is Saviour and Lord. Now, saying that Jesus is Saviour and Lord is often the typical response given by evangelical Christians (and it is a good response); but sometimes the manner of response seems to be no more than a programmed, mechanical one. It seems that we can just as easily (and often flippantly) say that Jesus is Saviour and Lord as to say 'hello' in answering the telephone. But try to think a bit more deeply about this question: Who is Jesus Christ to you? What does it mean for you to be in an experiential relationship with Jesus Christ? What is the nature of your personal and present connection with Jesus Christ? How does the person of Jesus Christ really and actually figure into your daily living? Who is Jesus Christ to you?

Let us turn to the Gospel accounts. If we are to know real growth in our faith, if we are to know spiritual revival of heart, then we must acquire a fresh vision of Jesus; who He really is and what He has become to us by grace through faith. Let us focus particularly on John 4:46-54. It reads,

[Jesus] came again therefore to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine. And there was a certain royal official, whose son was sick at Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him, and was requesting Him to come down and heal his son; for he was at the point of death. Jesus therefore said to him, "Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe." The royal official said to Him, "Sir, come down before my son dies." Jesus said to him, "Go your way; your son lives." The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he started off. As he was now going down, his slaves met him, saying that his son was living. So he inquired of them the hour when he began to get better. They said therefore to him, "Yesterday, at the seventh hour the fever left him." So the father knew that it was at that hour in which Jesus said to him, "Your son lives"; and he himself believed, and his whole household. This again, a second sign which Jesus had performed when He had come out of Judea into Galilee.

Background to the royal official's faith

Jesus, after His baptism, had entered into Galilee from Judea for the first time (see Jn. 1:29; 1:43). He arrived at Cana where He performed His first miracle – "And on the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there...This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him" (Jn. 2:1,11). The term 'sign' simply means an 'attesting miracle'. It is a miracle that has spiritual significance and consequence; it confirms a spiritual fact – and in this case, the true identity of Jesus.

Jesus then traveled to Capernaum from Cana (Jn. 2:12), and then to Jerusalem for the Passover (Jn. 2:23). From Jerusalem, Jesus and His disciples began baptizing in the region of Judea, though Jesus Himself did not baptize (Jn. 3:22). Jesus then left Judea and departed again into Galilee, passing through Samaria (Jn. 4:3). From Samaria, Jesus again entered into Galilee and "the Galileans received Him, having seen all the things that He did in Jerusalem at the feast; for they themselves also went to the feast" (Jn. 4:45).

An impossible situation: the context for faith

Apparently, the fame of Jesus had spread abroad; reports of His miraculous feats had been conveyed by the Galileans who had witnessed them in Judea. Accordingly, when Jesus again came to Cana of Galilee, a Jewish royal official (most likely of the administration of the tetrarch Herod Antipas) traveled from Capernaum (some 30 kilometres from Cana), seeking the help of Jesus – "When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea, into Galilee, he went to Him and was requesting Him to come down and heal his son; for he was at the point of death" (Jn. 4:47). One of the most painful of human experiences is knowing that your son or daughter is about to die. For instance, the grief of Abraham Lincoln and his wife were unbearable and inexpressible when they lost their son Willie in 1862, twelve years after losing their son Edward. Needless to say, this royal official was distraught and desperate.

For this desperate father, the 'big lady was about to sing'; the 'curtain was about to drop'; the 'farm was about to be sold'. Now the practical point that we can learn from this man's example is that when all else has failed, and all human ingenuity, human resources, and human help has been exhausted, Jesus is still able to help. Do you believe that? Jesus is the God of the impossible. Do you believe that? When you are at your wits end, when you have run out of options, when you are pushed flat up against the wall, are you convinced that Jesus is still able to help? Jesus uttered some rather convicting and penetrating words to another man whose son was demon-possessed. This father had brought his foam-spewing, teeth-grinding, body-stiffening, often convulsing, mute son to Jesus in order for him to be healed. We read, "And [Jesus] asked his father, 'How long has this been happening to him?' And he said, 'From childhood. And it [a demon] has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us!'" Jesus seemed to respond with indignation, "If You can! All things are possible to him who believes" (Mk. 9:21-32). The statement seemed incredible to Jesus. Jesus' statement implies the unacceptability of any doubt or uncertainty.

In your impossible situation, do you believe that God can help? Do you believe that God will help? Often we may believe that God is able to help, but we are unsure that He actually will. (To believe that God will help is not necessarily presumption, but rather the assurance of strong faith.) Notice how this particular father responded to Jesus' statement of indignation (and of hope). He cried out, "I do believe; help my unbelief" (Mk. 9:24). We can believe that the Lord can help, yet doubt that He will. Is that your response sometimes? You believe, yet you also have unbelief. What is your impossible situation right now? Maybe it is a work situation. Maybe it is a family situation. Maybe it is a financial situation. What have you been stewing over and wondering about, trying to figure out and resolve? What is weighing heavy on you? What is preoccupying your thoughts? What is causing you anxiety as you consider how the future is going to unfold? Jesus is the God of the impossible What is impossible for a human being is possible for God. In our impossible, desperate situation, would Jesus have to rebuke us by saying, "If You can!"

Faith in the miracle-working power of Jesus

Apparently this royal official who came to Jesus believed that He could surely help him; that explains why he would even go to Him. He believed that Jesus could heal his son from the fatal illness. He believed in the miracle-working power of Jesus. Jesus can work the same way today. We readily acknowledge this fact, we give hearty intellectual assent to it, but do we really believe it? Jesus is the same! He has not changed, yet sometimes we entertain the wrong idea that Jesus manifested His glory and power in ancient days, but does not do so today. We may argue, "God does not do these kinds of miraculous works today." Why not? He is the same Jesus. Here is a principle of the kingdom: All things are possible to him who believes. I have seen the display of the miracle-working power of Jesus in people being delivered from demonization. I have seen the Lord heal mental problems. I have heard of people being healed of cancer. Who is the Jesus whom you worship? Is He the same Jesus of John's Gospel?

Jesus' response to this father initially seemed rather strange. We read, "Jesus therefore said to him, 'Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe'" (Jn. 4:48). Apparently, this royal official did believe that Jesus could heal his son. Why else would he be asking Jesus to come down and heal his son if he did not have some belief in the miracle-working power of Jesus? Jesus, however, was here referring to another kind of belief, a different object of belief. The father believed in what Jesus could do, but he did not yet believe in who Jesus really was. This discrepancy certainly appears contradictory because what Jesus could do was designed to reveal and confirm who Jesus really was, namely, the Messiah, the Son of God. So Jesus was saying, in effect, "Unless you people see signs and wonders you will simply not believe in me, in my Name, in who I really am."

For the Jews, one's God-commissioned, God-appointed ministry, was to be confirmed and validated by extraordinary works. So we read, "Jesus answered and said to them, 'This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.' They said therefore to Him, 'What then do You do for a sign, that we may see, and believe You? What work do You perform?'" (Jn. 6:29); again, "They were seeking therefore to seize Him; and no man laid his hand on Him, because His hour had not yet come. But many of the multitude believed in Him; and they were saying, 'When the Christ shall come, He will not perform more signs than those which this man has, will He?'" (Jn. 7:30,31). Again, the signs that Jesus performed clearly indicated and confirmed His true identity. The attesting miracles authenticated this divinely appointed messenger; but further, these attesting miracles had the design of evoking faith in Him, by providing proof of His true identity. So we read, "This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory and His disciples believed in Him" (Jn. 2:11); again, "Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, beholding His signs which He was doing" (Jn. 2:23).

Now, apparently Jesus was exasperated that such proof was required in order to evoke belief, rather than simply believing His words, and that is why He said, "Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe." Is that true of you? Do you need to see the miraculous working of the Lord before you will believe in who He is and what He says about Himself. I have heard Christians say, "I just want to see one miracle and all my doubts will be dissolved; just one miracle and all my uncertainties will disappear." Do you talk like that?

If you are looking for that one miracle in order to support or solidify your faith, then you are asking for that which virtually contradicts and nullifies faith. Sight excludes Biblical faith. Faith needs no proof; faith carries its own proof. Faith is self-validating. I wonder whether Jesus is exasperated with us when we require or seek a miracle in order to have assurance that He is present or is ready to help.

Jesus, however, understands our weakness. He is patient and accommodates Himself to our unbelief. Thus, He said to His disciples who had heard His words for over three years, "Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. Believe Me that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me; otherwise believe on account of the works themselves" Jn. 14:10,11). Jesus was concessional. Though He wanted His disciples to believe His words on the basis of their own merit, He invited them to believe Him because of the works that bore witness to Him. Accordingly, we are to believe Christ because of what He has said, requiring no proof. We should rest in the Scriptures.

Faith in Jesus' miracles vs. faith in His name

This father was insistent – "The royal official said to Him, 'Sir, come down before my child dies.'" Jesus had just implicitly rebuked this man, but apparently it had no effect. He could not 'hear' because he was consumed with the need of his son. He was a believing man, but he was not yet a true believer. He believed that Jesus could heal, but he had not yet come to believe who Jesus really was. He believed that Jesus was a miracle worker, but he had not yet come to believe that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God.

There are people today who believe that Jesus can work miracles, that He can do great wonders, and yet they do not really believe in the true identity of Jesus. Many Jews believed that Jesus could restore hearing to the deaf, sight to the blind, and mobility to the lame, but they did not really know Jesus. This is a wake up call for us. We can affirm all the stupendous statements and claims concerning Jesus and really not truly know Him, that is, understand and believe in His true identity. Again, this is an apparent contradiction, but, no doubt, is the experience of many. People make empty promises to God, fueled by fear or guilt, for self-expeditious reasons. God, supposedly, is the Great Quick-fixer. Many have typically prayed something like this: "God, I am in a real jam. If you just get me out of this mess, then I promise to keep my nose clean. Lord, just help me this one time, and I won't do it again," only to turn to their wayward deeds again. One's motivation is not to please God and live for Him, but rather to ease life's stress and to satisfy selfish needs. There is no conception of who the true God is. Jesus wants us to believe in His mighty works, but He would rather we believe in His mighty name; and the result of belief in His name is eternal blessing. So, we read, "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become the children of God, even to those who believe in His name" (Jn. 1:12).

From faith in miracles to faith in Jesus

Regardless of this royal official's misdirected object of faith, Jesus nonetheless had compassion on him. For Jesus, there are no strings attached; He is pleased to honour faith. He simply feels the need, and He responds to it – "Jesus said to him, 'Go your way; your son lives.' The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he started off." This father believed that his son was going to be healed. Now, Jesus helped this man in such a way as to evoke faith in Jesus' true identity. Notice that Jesus did not go with the man. Jesus healed from a distance. Jesus did not often heal from a distance during His earthly ministry, but He did here. This was truly a glorious miracle! The world has known many healers, but the astounding thing about Jesus was that He could heal from a distance – a revelation of His deity.

Interestingly enough, though this father left Cana, believing Jesus' word of healing, apparently he still harboured some unbelief. He sought verification from his slaves – "And as he was now going down, his slaves met him, saying that his son was living...So he inquired of them the hour when he began to get better. They said, therefore to him, 'Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.'" Why did he inquire? He wanted to make sure that it was indeed Jesus who healed the lad. Conceivably, the lad may have begun recovery even before Jesus had spoken the word.

Do you see what that is saying practically? Often belief is mixed with doubt – "Lord, I do believe. Help my unbelief." We are an anomaly. We are a mixture of good and evil; of righteous and unrighteous; of faith and doubt. As with this man, we believe, yet we do not believe.

Why does doubt arise? Simply because of the lack of proof. Doubt begs for proof; and so the question is: How can we be assured in our faith? Answer: God must prove Himself; the Holy Spirit must give that inner certainty, which means that we are wholly dependent upon God not only for faith itself, but also for the assurance of faith. You cannot simply manufacture or whip up true faith, merely convincing yourself to believe. It cannot be done. Through the Spirit's power, the strength and fruit of faith are realized. You need to ask God to strengthen your faith. You must cast yourself upon Him for a pure faith.

In realizing the glory of this miracle, this father came to believe in the true identity of Jesus. He came to have faith in Jesus as Saviour and Lord – "So the father knew that it was at the hour in which Jesus said to him, 'Your son lives'; and he and himself believed [in His name], and his whole household." Faith can have different objects. This man initially believed in the works of Jesus; he came to believe in the name or person of Jesus.

Consider your own faith

Now, this historical account does raise some searching questions concerning our faith. Sometimes we do not look at this matter of faith closely enough to recognize that we can truly believe and still be spiritually 'off track'. We can believe some things about Jesus and yet be 'outside of the fold'. We need to believe in what Jesus has done and can do, as well as understand and believe who He really is. God is pleased to work in our lives so that we may realize who Jesus really is. For example, when Saul (i.e., the apostle Paul) traveled on the road to Damascus, Jesus broke into his life and experience, revealing Himself for who He really was; and Saul's first response was, "Who are You, Lord?" Similarly, when Jesus breaks into our life and experience, revealing to us who He really is, our response should be similar. When we begin to see Jesus for who He really is, we will marvel. When He encounters us, then faith will be brought to birth or solidified and confirmed, and we will stand in amazement and say, "Who are You, Lord?"

Maybe you are wrestling with an empty, weak, or cold faith. Be honest with yourself. One helpful thing that you can do in order to strengthen your faith is to meditate on the miraculous works of Jesus. Again, one of the primary designs of the signs or attesting miracles of Jesus was to evoke faith in who Jesus really was. We read, "Many other signs therefore Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name" (Jn. 20:30,31). So we need to meditate on the miracles of Jesus, and acquire a fresh vision of the Saviour. Again, who is Jesus Christ to you?