Faith (11 Apr 2021)

The word “faith” means different things to different people.

The American author and cynic, Mark Twain said, “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so”, a dismissive definition which has often been repeated.

German philosopher and writer, Friedrich Nietzsche said, “Faith is not wanting to know what is true”, but then his philosophy led to the development of the Nazi government in Germany.

Bono is the Irish singer and songwriter, leader of the group, “U2”.  He is a Christian who admitted “It’s hard to believe, hard to be a believer, when you see the way the things are in the world. But I am a believer!”  

Hang in there, Bono!  That’s the kind of faith we sing about in this song: “I have decided to follow Jesus… no turning back, no turning back.”

When I thought about the Bible readings from the Apostle John that song seems to fall short of describing faith for us.  It sounds like we are going to believe no matter what. It’s a matter of pig-headedness. Grit your teeth and hang in there! 

OK, to be honest, there’s some sense in that, but I think there is a different song which illustrates what we mean by Faith.

“it’s not just a story”

1 John 1:1-3

1That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us.

When John wrote these words he was making it clear that he had heard things himself.  He had seen things with his own eyes and now he was declaring these things not as wishful thinking, not as morals or legends, not just a story but reality. Having seen and heard Jesus himself these events were totally real to John and now he was sharing this story, plain and simple as it might seem, as a reality.  It was real to him and he wanted to make it real to his readers – real to us.

John spent at least three years with Jesus as he moved around the country preaching his message, “repent, for the Kingdom of God is near”.  As he went he demonstrated the fact that he was the Son of God, God incarnate, God with us in human form.  He was the Word of life. He is the source of eternal life.  John saw him, heard him and he was now proclaiming the message to us so that we, too, may share in it with John and with Jesus himself.

As John wrote,

5This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 7But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from allsin.

8If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

You cannot be a friend of God unless you are as perfect as God is – absolutely no darkness at all, only the purity of light. He knows what we are like.  He knows we fall short of his holiness. The Bible points out the obvious to us. But if we try to claim to be perfect, to be without sin we are deceiving ourselves, leaving the world of reality to live in a world of make-believe. At the same time we are committing yet another sin; we blaspheme by effectively saying God is a liar.  Demonstrably, his word, his truth is not in us.

The wonderful news that John wanted us to know is that as we confess our sins God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins.  Even more! He will purify us from all unrighteousness. Bring purified by God in this way we are now fit to be his friend, to have our place in eternity with him settled and secure.

How can this be?

It can be because God the Son, the Lord Jesus, was crucified on our behalf to bear the pain, punishment and power of our sin.

And we know that God made this effective by raising Jesus from the dead.  There is no other saviour available, no option open to us but to place our faith in Jesus. There is no other name under heaven by which we may be saved!

John’s writings make it clear that when we believe in Jesus we are not believing in something that isn’t true.  On the contrary! It is true! We believe it because it is true. It is so true and the testimony of first-hand witnesses point this out.  People who do not have faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ have their own faith instead and they don’t want to know what is true.

History records clearly that Jesus lived and was crucified. Historical documents report that many people at the time were sure he was raised from the dead.

After his crucifixion some of his devastated followers headed for home to a village called Emmaus and on the way the resurrected Jesus appeared, talked and walked with them. They hurried back to Jerusalem to tell the others of this wonderful and amazing news. He who was dead is alive!

Luke 24:36-42.

While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’

37They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.’

40When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, ‘Do you have anything here to eat?’ 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate it in their presence.

Not surprisingly they were startled and frightened.  The Jesus they had roamed the countryside with for the last three years was crucified, dead and buried only a few days ago and now he is standing in our presence, talking to us and eating some cooked fish.  

But this was no apparition, this was no ghost.  This was Jesus himself in his mysteriously wonderful resurrected body.  What will our body be like when we, too, are resurrected when Jesus returns?  It will be like the one Jesus had.  Recognisable. Touchable. Having flesh and bones, hands and feet. Able to enjoy a familiar meal with friends.

After the death of their Lord John reported it this way in chapter 20:

John 20:19-20

19On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

After the way the authorities had treated Jesus it is not surprising that when the disciples gathered together they locked the doors for fear of the Jewish leaders.  But locked doors were no impediment for Jesus in his resurrected body, unrestricted by the usual physical barriers.

John 20:24-28

24Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.’

26A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though 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; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’

28Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’

Not only did Peter see and hear things which he reported, so did Thomas. 

So often I hear people saying “Oh, my god” or the shorthand, OMG. When I hear people saying “Oh, my god” I have a strong desire to ask, “who is?” or to ask “is he?” or, “shall we pray?”

I was talking with some lovely Jehovah’s Witnesses on time.  JWs do not believe Jesus was the God in the flesh but rather that he is a created being like us.  When I asked them about this episode with Thomas they said he was so shocked that he said those words, “my Lord and my God”.

But Thomas was a well-taught Jew and would never have used the name of God in such a way. Jesus, of course, was a rabbi and as such would have been appalled by such blasphemy but instead his response was one of approval and encouragement.

The reaction of Thomas here is not a blasphemous expression of shock or surprise but rather a declaration of acknowledgement, submission and worship.  Jesus, you are my Lord. You are my God!

Afterwards Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. Some of them had gone fishing but caught nothing. Although at first they didn’t recognise Jesus standing on the shore or when he called out to tell them to throw their net on the right side of the boat but when they pulled in a catch almost too much to handle it came clear that this was Jesus, well and truly alive.

They joined him on the shore for a breakfast he had prepared. They were in no doubt that Jesus was alive.

In his letter to the Corinthians Paul wrote to encourage the Corinthians and, in turn, to encourage us and to summarise the reality of Jesus’ resurrection with the words,

1 Corinthians 15:3-7

3For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

Then he emphasised the importance of this by adding, 

1 Corinthians 15:13-15

If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead.

The Apostle John simply reported what he had seen and heard.  He was a first-hand witness to the death and resurrection of Jesus.

But he wasn’t the only one! Hundreds of people saw Jesus crucified.  Hundreds saw him in his resurrected body.  Sometimes he met them in smaller groups, sometimes he met individuals.  When the books of the New Testament were written most of these witnesses were still living and were available to provide corroboration.

In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul points out that the reality of Jesus’ resurrection is a basic, vital and essential truth.  If it did not really happen then not only were the New Testament writers false witnesses, proclaiming a falsehood.

In addition, not only their preaching but that of Christians ever since is useless. The whole Christian movement, Christianity as a whole, the denominations, be they Anglican, Roman Catholic, Uniting Church are useless and so are our meetings. 

Not only that but this very message is useless right now and any form of faith any of us hold today is also useless.

But our faith is not useless because it is based on reality, on actual events brought to us by first-hand witnesses, on truth.

But we can be tempted to say, “I could believe more easily it if I had seen it for myself”. Jesus himself acknowledged this and added an encouragement.

John 20:29-30

29Then Jesus told [Thomas], ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’

30Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31But 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.

Today there is a special blessing for you and me and Jesus wants to touch us with it. 

Much of what Jesus did and said is all written down for us in the books of the New Testament of the Bible – and then there was so much more unrecorded. What has been recorded in the Bible is there for us so that in reading it we will know, we will believe, we will have faith that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, Crucified for us and raised from the dead as the first and most important person who has ever been.  He has given us eternal life, the form of life which goes eternally beyond death and ultimately to our own resurrection.

Having looked at the reports of the witnesses, having read the testimony of those who were there, living as we are in the time following the gift of the Holy Spirit we can have the peace that Jesus blessed his disciples with, we, too can be confident in our belief, our faith, blessed by Jesus as those who have not seen yet have believed.

I heard a story of Jesus

Sounded like music in my ears

Beautiful story of Jesus, dispelled my doubts and all my fears

How marvellous is His love

brought to me from above

Oo it’s not just a story but reality