The Twenty-Ninth in a Series of Sermons on the Gospel of John
There is faith, and then there is faith. Throughout the public ministry of Jesus there has always been a group of people to whom God has granted eternal life and who are said to “believe” in Jesus. They are completely devoted to his messianic mission and continue to follow him through difficult times. There is also a group of people (the Jews in John’s Gospel) who see Jesus as a threat, and who oppose just about everything Jesus says and does. These people do not believe–and Jesus grants them no quarter whenever he encounters them. And then there is a third group; those who are said to “believe in Jesus” and are even called “disciples,” but who eventually demonstrate that they do not truly believe in Jesus, and never really have. These people are following Jesus out of desperation. They believe Jesus to be a miracle-worker who can help them in crisis. Some of them see Jesus as the prophet foretold by Moses because no one else could do and say the things Jesus says. Then there are others in this group who see in Jesus someone who can lead the nation into battle against their Roman oppressors. These are people who want to make Jesus king (Messiah). But people in this third group tend to fall away when Jesus utters hard sayings (as in the “Bread of Life” discourse), or when Jesus does something which does not meet their expectations (he claims to be God, he challenges their self-righteousness, or exposes their sin).
Therefore, not everyone whom John says believes in Jesus, really believes in Jesus. Not everyone who follows Jesus is truly his disciple. In fact, in John 2:23-25, John introduced us to such people when he wrote of them, “now when [Jesus] was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.” There are people whom John says “believe” in Jesus, but who over time prove they do not. They are mixed with those following Jesus who really do believe the gospel because God has given them eternal life. What are we to make of this problem? How do we tell who is who? Who is the true believer?
We continue our series on the Gospel of John and we are in John 8, working our way through the so-called “conflict phase” of Jesus’ ministry (chapters 7-10)–that part of Jesus’ messianic mission which is characterized by increasing conflict between Jesus and the religious leadership of Israel, the Jews. We have seen that this conflict takes place during the Feast of Booths when Jesus goes to Jerusalem and declares himself to be the one who will give the people of God living water (the Holy Spirit), before declaring himself to be the light of the world (the Messiah, whose message of salvation will shine to the ends of the earth). John tells repeatedly us that Jesus’ hour has not yet come (which is why the Pharisees’ plot to kill Jesus has not come to fruition). John also reveals that Jesus is now telling his disciples that he must leave them, and that where he is going, no one can come. Those who know how John’s Gospel turns out in the end, know that Jesus is referring to his coming death, resurrection, and ascension (when he returns to the Father) before sending the Holy Spirit (Pentecost).
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