I find it very odd, today, that so many people profess to be believers, and yet so few attend God’s church. Indeed, when people are admitted to hospital, a fair number still confess to have some sort of religious affiliation. When it’s time for a church funeral, the person nearly always has a claim with that particular denomination. When it comes time to filling in the census papers, the majority still own up to belonging to one denomination or another. And when a church is being closed because of lack of support, so many people come out of the woodwork to object, claiming to be affiliated with that church in some way. And yet, if as many people who indicated they were believers actually attended church, even on an irregular basis, what a huge difference it would make to the body of believers.
Of course the answer to the dilemma of belief is obvious. People mean different things by the term. That is why there is a great discrepancy between those who say they believe and those who go to church. Nevertheless, it doesn’t stop people saying that they believe, no matter on what level they belong.
And an example of that couldn’t be better illustrated than in the story of the man in John’s gospel. Because in it we see a man who seems to have faith—and would probably have said that he was a believer—but as we examine the story, it’s really not like that at all.
Now the story begins with a man whose son was dying on his bed, at home in Capernaum (46). The man was a nobleman of Herod’s court—probably a Jew. And he’d evidently heard that Jesus had used miraculous powers to change water into wine. As a consequence, he was hoping that Jesus would do another miracle—that he would cure his son. So, when the officer heard of Jesus’s arrival in Cana, he immediately went to meet him (47). His need was great, and he pressed Jesus to go with him.
Jesus, on the other hand, was more concerned that people were missing the point of his ministry (48). That they were looking for the miraculous not for faith. So he made a few comments—not just to the man, but to the people around him as well. To which, the nobleman did not defend himself or argue (49), he simply expressed his continuing anxiety for his son.
As a result, Jesus’s reply to the man would probably have come as a shock (50). The man had expressed the need for Jesus to go with him to heal his son. He evidently thought that Jesus needed to be present to perform the cure. But all Jesus did was to tell the man to go home, and that his son had been cured. And perhaps, surprisingly, in what seems like an act of faith, the man did not stand and argue. He didn’t stay and insist that Jesus go with him. He simply took Jesus at his word, turned around and went home.
And then, as the man journeyed home, he met his servants coming to meet him (51-53). He was then told that his son was cured. And when he asked his servants the time his son had got better, it matched exactly the time that Jesus had said that his son would live. And, as a result, we are told that he and his whole household believed.
Now from a superficial level, the official seems to have demonstrated an unwavering faith— solid as a rock—throughout the whole process. He’d heard about the miracle of the water into wine, and so he had come to Jesus hoping that he would perform a miracle for his son. Indeed, when told to go home he didn’t argue, he did exactly as he was told. And, when his son was cured, he and his household, we’re told, believed in Jesus.
But as I say, that’s what it seems at first glance. But is that really what the passage says? And the reason I ask this, is because in the gospel of John the term “believing” is expressed in three different ways. And this puts a whole new perspective on the story.
Because, firstly, John uses the term, in regard to accepting the facts of the situation—believing the events that happen. Secondly, John uses the term in regard to the acceptance of what people say is true. And thirdly, John uses the term in regard to people believing in Jesus—an activity which takes people out of themselves and makes them one with Christ. An activity that requires personal trust and a reliance on Jesus for salvation, and for everyday life.
Consequently, with that in mind, we need to reassess the story, and be open to a completely different view.
Because, in this story we actually have all three stages of belief. Firstly, the man believed in the facts of the things that had occurred. He’d heard that Jesus had changed the water into wine. And he believed it to be true, so he acted on what he’d heard. Secondly, he believed Jesus, when he told him that his son would live. He accepted Jesus’s words, as though they were true. That is why he was able to return home without question. And, thirdly, when his son was healed, as a result of the miracle that had taken place, only then, did he and his whole household believe in Jesus, and become followers for the first time.
Now you can see the difference in the stories. This isn’t a story of a man who is rock solid in his beliefs all the way through. This is a story of a man who was on a steep learning curve, and whose progressed through the three different levels of belief. Because only at the end did he express a saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
And, with that in mind, let’s go back to our own dilemma, and the problem of people professing the faith in the world today. Because John’s three levels of faith in this story are the same as the three levels that are evident in people today.
Indeed, firstly, there are people who have heard about the historical Jesus, and the facts of his existence. And, maybe in some way, that is reflected in the way that they live their lives. But secondly, there are those who believe what the church has said to be true. But that doesn’t mean they have made the ultimate connection. And then, thirdly, there are those who have put their faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. And to these people, and only to these people, they have been rewarded with the gift of eternal life.
Now living in a world where so many people claim to have belief, may seem very odd at times. Particularly, when it is disconnected from active membership of God’s church. However it should be something of which we should all be aware. After all, how can we help those who claim to have faith, if we don’t understand which level they’re on? And to whom should we share the true faith, if we don’t know their need?
Posted: 30th November 2018
© 2018, Brian A Curtis