In Whom You Believe (September 2, 2018)
John 14: 1-14
In Whom You Believe
So no skit today due to Labor Day, but that will come back. We’re continuing our series on things that God never said; things that maybe sound true but in reality aren’t. Today we are talking about the phrase “it doesn’t matter what you believe.” This is the phrase that has been thrown around a lot more recently than in previous times, but it actually can be thrown at Methodists quite often. And that’s with some evidence. Wesley had a sermon that he preached called Catholic Spirit: this is catholic with a little c meaning “universal,” in which he says that as Christians we should make sure that we believe the same in the essentials, but in the nonessentials there some leeway there. So, it is “in essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty.” And this has been taken to mean that Methodists can believe whatever they want; that there’s liberty to believe whatever they want. This isn’t true, of course; obviously you can’t be heretical. But we have this mindset that Wesley had.
It does matter what you believe, but not necessarily how you might think. When we talk about what you believe, we usually start with John 3:16 where it says that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, so that whoever might believe in him might never die, but have eternal life.” And then we say, “well if that’s so important that we do it to have eternal life, then what does it mean to believe in him?” To answer this we turn two general ways. First, protestant churches normally talk about the Salvation Path, which comes from Romans 8. And this is kind like: “you must believe this, this, this, this, and this; you must go along this path of thought; and when you complete it you will believe in Jesus, you believe what you need to believe in, and you will have eternal life.” If you’re from a Catholic or certain non-Catholic churches (sometimes Methodists get stuck in the middle), these denominations would say a creed. The creeds show you what you need to believe. Just believe this, this, this, this, and this; and if you believe this entire creed, then you will inherit eternal life, then you believe in Jesus.
There’s nothing inherently wrong about either of those ideas. However, in my reading of John chapter 14, what struck me this week was that Jesus does not tend to focus very much on the what here. Jesus does not provide a list of things you need to ascribe to you in order to inherit heaven, which that’s a different problem we’ll talk about maybe later in this series, this idea that heaven is the only goal of Christianity and Jesus doesn’t give us anything now. Jesus here seems instead to be focused not on what to believe; in other words, he doesn’t give a creed or a way of believing certain things you must ascribe to you in order to obtain this gift of eternal life. Instead he says you must believe in the Father, you must believe in Jesus, you must know Jesus, you must believe that Jesus is in the Father and vice versa, you must believe in Jesus because of his works, and you must believe that you as the church can do greater works than Jesus did.
Now you might be saying, “that sounds like a list, Pastor Michael,” and it does, except I believe that all of these are actually saying the exact same thing. And you can kind of see that when you begin to look at number one and number two, or “believe in the father” and “believe in Jesus” with number four, “believe that Jesus is the Father and the Father is Jesus.” Or with “believe in Jesus” and then the one where he says to help you believe in Jesus, look to the works that Jesus has done. All of these go together.
Except there’s one that doesn’t quite fit. My cadence was thrown off at number three, where I couldn’t use the word “believe” very well, instead saying “you must know Jesus.” The quote: “If you know me, you know my Father.” If all of these are together and all of these are saying the same thing, that can actually help us understand what Jesus is meaning with this. If we believe that Jesus is in the father and believe in Jesus, and that is the same as knowing Jesus and therefore knowing the Father (because the Father is in Jesus), then Jesus is not referring to what we would think of when we hear the word “believe” here. Instead, Jesus is using a different definition of the word believe.
Believe can mean different things, and it’s kind of like a level system: each time you move to the next definition it gets a little more meaningful for you, there’s a little more stakes to it. So you can say something like “I believe the Royals will win tonight.” That’s probably not factual correct, but it’s perfectly correct grammatically. And I will tell you that I’m not going go, even if I were a betting man, I would not be going to Vegas immediately to go bet on the Royals to win. This definition is more of a “I really hope this will happen.” When you refer to believing in Jesus like this, when you’re saying “I really hope this Jesus thing is right, because I don’t really have many other options,” that’s not going to impact you very much. Your life in this world is not going to change very much.
The next way we use the word believe is like “I believe that the Republican Party, or the Democratic Party, is the right party to move our country, or state, or city forward.” Or “I believe that what we should do is this, or that.” In this sense for using the word believe, it has an opinion. So, “I believe in Jesus because it’s what we should do.” That might impact you a little bit more than the hope, but your motivation is not going to move you very far beyond this place. This is where many people were for a long time; “I believe in Jesus. I go to church because that’s what you do.” That’s why this is an opinion level of believe. And I’m not saying any of these levels of believers are going to go to heaven or not, but I am saying that there is a place to grow beyond that. But it may be difficult.
The next level of believe it is factual, it is knowledge based. This is saying, “I believe Johnny Depp played Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean,” or “I believe Sir Alec Guinness played Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars.” These are the kind of statements that are more factual here. You might actually put something on this. Without a show of hands, because we’re all good Methodists and this has never happened to any of us, but how many times of you said “I believe this is correct. I believe such and such is correct,” and followed it with “you want to bet?” Now we’re getting some stakes, some impact. Things can change. I believe a majority of the church is here. They say “I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe in the resurrection. It is factual. I will go to battle for that belief.” And that will impact some of how you live, but I don’t think you can get to the point where you are yielding control of your life to Jesus if you stay here.
There’s one more stage of belief. This is the stage of belief that not many Christians get to, but which I believe Jesus is calling all of us toward, especially in this passage. That is a level of belief that’s more like trusting. This is when you say the phrase “I believe in my spouse.” When your husband goes out on Friday night with his friends and you say “I believe in him.” When your child goes off to college and you say “I believe in my child.” That’s a trust there. The stakes are significant, and there is a confidence and there is a conviction in that as well. And when you believe in Jesus in this way, it means you’re giving more, and more, and more of your life over to him because you trust Jesus is going to handle it well; that Jesus has your best interests at heart. You believe in Jesus because Jesus is God.
How do you believe in Jesus? How do you believe in the resurrection? How do you believe in salvation?
I want to end by answering the question of how do I get there? How do I trust? Because this is what Jesus is saying at the end of this passage when he’s answering the disciples. And I think it’s important to remember that he’s answering the disciples question. The disciples are basically asking that same question: how do I find Jesus? How do I trust in Jesus? And his disciples had been with Jesus (Jesus! The best preacher to walk the history of the planet) for three years. They’ve heard him for three years. And they can’t figure it out after that. So take comfort in knowing that if you struggle with this, you’re not alone, and you’ve got good company.
But of course Jesus answers that question by saying “if you can’t believe because of what I’m saying, then believe because of my works.” You see Jesus through Jesus’s works. So what are his works? Well, first off you have his works from the past. This includes the Scriptures itself, the red letters in some Bibles.
And a plug here. In Springhill we’re going to be doing a Bible Study on Wednesday nights in a couple weeks. And I’m going to be looking at the parables of Jesus. Because someone brought up to me on Facebook that they wanted a Bible study for people who haven’t been able to see Jesus, who haven’t really been able to experience what we talk about so often. And I thought, “well, how can I help that person?” And then I realized that Jesus tried to help people like that through his parables: “the kingdom of God is like this. God is like that story.” So we’re going to study the parables in an effort to try and see Jesus, in an effort to move further along the way toward trusting Jesus. I invite you to come during that time if you can and try to experience that.
You also can see Jesus through the works that he’s done through the church throughout the years. The church has a lot in its history that plenty of people point that out that’s not that great and doesn’t point to the Jesus I know. But there’s also a lot of good to focus on starting with the saints; people like St. Francis, and Saint Theresa, and St. Grandma. Look at the works that Jesus showed you through people like this. Focus on that and you will see Jesus in the works of the church.
Of course if Jesus works for the church in the past, then Jesus works in the present as well. Jesus is still working through the church and through Christians. Now, be cautious with this one. There are plenty of Christians who are not showing you Jesus; and whether or not you are showing the world Jesus as a Christian is another sermon that you might want to think about. But Jesus is working through the church today, and Jesus is also working through God the Holy Spirit (the third person of the Trinity) which dwells within each and everyone of us and is guiding each and every one of us. The little nudges, the little feelings, the things we sometimes we call our gut; I think that’s the Spirit working. You can see Jesus when Jesus is leading you in Spirit.
Finally, you still can see Jesus in future works. This is the “fake it till you make it” approach. You pray for something and you yield to Jesus, or at least try to yield it to Jesus, and through that you are investing in the future works of Jesus. And you may not see that result today. You might not see it tomorrow. You might not see you till next year. But you still put yourself in a better position in the future because you have the opportunity for Jesus to go “hey, you remember that thing you had that you gave to me a few weeks ago, a few days ago, a few hours ago? I’m paying that off. This is my work.”
It matters what you believe. But more importantly, it matters in whom you believe, in whom you have your trust. Place your trust in Jesus, that you might see Him and, through Him, you might indeed see the Father. May that happen to you, and may God bless you. Amen.