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Jesus is sitting with his closest friends and followers. The eleven are there–Judas, the one who would betray him, had already left.

Jesus wants to help these dear friends make sense of what he has been saying. He has told them he is going to be delivered over to the authorities, he is going to be tried and unjustly condemned, he will be horribly crucified, he will die. He has explained that one of their own will betray him, that all of them will flee, and that one of the leaders among them will swear with oaths that he doesn’t even know this Jesus.

Understandably, they are devastated. They had been living with Jesus for years–day in and day out sharing life with him, watching and participating in some incredible ministry. But that doesn’t look like it’s going to continue. And they are, with reason, distraught.

So he speaks to them words of comfort:

“Do not let you heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me” (John 14:1).

Because of the way that Greek works, there is a little debate about whether Jesus is offering commands (as in “I tell you to believe . . .”) or whether he is affirming something (as in “You do believe in God . . .”). But regardless of how that debate is resolved, the essence of what Jesus said is clear.

In the way that Old Testament “saints” understood believing in God, Jesus wants these friends (and, by extension, all of his friends . . . including us) to believe in him. That “believing” is more than just affirming truth about God, agreeing with what God has revealed about himself. To believe in God is to trust in, rely on, depend on, look to, rest in him.

Like Abraham did when depending on God to provide a promised son. Like Moses did in trusting in God to deliver the children of Israel. Like David did looking to God in his battle with Goliath. Like Elijah did resting in God as he asked God to send fire from heaven in a confrontation with false prophets.

Here is the antidote for trouble-heartedness–even in the face of such startlingly troubling news as had been shared with the eleven: Depend on Jesus, rest on Jesus, look to Jesus, rely on Jesus, believe in Jesus.

That is not religious cliché. That is more than a pat answer. Coming to understand what that is like, how to live there, what that will mean, is the foundation for life in the midst of incomprehensible hardship. And Jesus begins his words of comfort with this invitation.

Jesus says, “Believe in me!”

It seems to me to be a fitting invitation at the start of this new year. In the weeks to come I’ll be living in Jesus word’s to his friends as found in the Upper Room Discourse (John 14-17). And we start here. The foundation for the coming year: Believing in Jesus.

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As we learn new things, we make connections with what we already know. That is, new stuff has the best chance of making sense if we already have some mental anchors to hang it on.

That doesn’t mean, however, that having those anchors, we will necessarily make those connections. Sometimes, the new is such a challenge to what we think we already know that we find it hard–maybe even impossible–to put the old with the new. And we end up holding on to what we think we know, what we are already comfortable with, and reject the new.

This happened in Jesus’ ministry . . . often. And I sometimes find myself stumbling over the freshness and newness of what he is saying in my journey with him as well.

This is evident in a question Jesus asked. It’s another example of how Jesus used questions to stir good thinking in the minds and hearts of his hearers. Speaking to some quite religious and well-informed Jews, Jesus posed them a question when they were in the process of resisting what he was saying.

“For if you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (John 5:46-47)

Those he was talking with had some “old stuff” already stored away in their theological cupboard. They knew some of the things they had read “in Moses.” That is, they were familiar with the Old Testament books written by Moses–the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible.

Jesus tells them that there are things in those writings that point to and talk about him. (That would be a great Bible study, but something we won’t be able to unpack in this short post!) But they were not believing–they were not allowing Moses’ writing to really shape the way they were pursuing life. As a result, they were not allowing what they knew of the writings of Moses to open the door to what Jesus was saying. They could have built on what they knew . . . if only they believed what they read. They could have built on what they knew . . . and what Jesus’ was saying would have made sense. They would have responded to Jesus appropriately!

It seems to me that Jesus is doing two things in asking this question. First, Jesus is willing to build on what they already are familiar with. He doesn’t start from where they’re not (except to note that they aren’t believing what they have already read in Moses!). The second thing implied in the question is that the things they had been reading in Moses should have been part of their believing–not merely part of their informed thinking. Scripture has been given to us by God to draw us to faith, to believing him, to trusting him. It is not merely for amassing a wealth of knowledge about “religious stuff.”

So I wonder how this question would come to me. How might Jesus ask me, ask us, the same sort of question.

“If you believed what you read in the Gospels, you would really trust me, you would rely on me. But if you do not believe what you read there, how will you ever come to trust me?”

“If you really trusted in what you have heard about me and my death for you, you would depend on me deeply, daily. But if you do not take to heart and accept what you read there, how will you ever experience the kind of dependent and faith-filled life I want for you?”

When a question is asked, it often forces the one asked to re-evaluate, to re-think his or her point of view. It can be a gracious way to raise an issue without provoking the knee-jerk reaction of opposition. This is not the only reason that Jesus asks questions, but we can see the gears turning in the minds and hearts of those he in talking with when he does ask questions.

In tracking through John’s Gospel, I am trying to watch and learn from Jesus as he does just that. When he asks questions, I want to understand why he is asking what he does and then to wrestle through the implications of that particular question for myself . . . and for you.

In John 5, Jesus is in the midst of an exchange with some religious leaders, some pious people–and they are a bit antagonistic toward him. In 5:19-37, Jesus seeks to help his hearers see that the way he is living and the testimony of John and the witness of the Father on his behalf all are working together to invite them to trust in him, to rely on him, to believe in him.

As he continues to unpack this call for his hearers to believe in him, Jesus asks another question. Having asserted that he is not seeking glory from men, not hungry for their approval (5:41), Jesus addresses those listening who find it hard to trust in him.

“How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another, and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God?” (John 5:44)

It’s an intriguing question. And when I first listen, it’s not immediately apparent what Jesus is driving at.

Clearly he wants those who are struggling to believe in him, to trust him, to think through why they find it hard to surrender in faith. And the question implies that the hunt for glory is part of what prevents them from believing well.

It seems to me that what he wants them to reflect on how their pursuit of approval and acceptance of those around them trumps the pursuit of the glory of God. And, seeing as they are not most hungry for God’s glory, they can more easily dismiss Jesus.

Although it is not a perfect analogy, in thinking about this my mind turned back to a moment in time with my son. He got on to the school soccer team; he was thrilled. He loved the game; he’d been playing in a rec league for some time. But the coach placed him on defense, in the backfield. Initially that didn’t settle well with my son. And, he was finding it hard to give in to the coach’s instructions; he wasn’t trusting the coach.

Part of the problem is that my son (like so many young boys!) wanted others to see what a good soccer player he was. He was hungry for “glory from one another.” The coach wanted a great team; my son wanted personal glory a bit more. And that trumped his trusting the coach. But only initially.

I was delighted to watch the transition in my son. He “got” that the coach was about the team. The coach wanted “glory” for the team, not for particular individuals. And when my son understood that and decided that was what he wanted, too, he found it easy to trust the coach.

As long as I am pursuing honor from others, making my goal to gain and maintain their approval of men, I will not be running after the glory that really matters.  Seeing as Jesus is not about that at all, not only will he not aid me in that pursuit but I won’t find much reason to rest in and rely on him. Hungry for such approval, trusting Jesus is going to be hard.

At least that is how I hear Jesus’ question . . . when he asks it of those in his day . . . as he asks it of me today.

There are three times in John’s Gospel were we read of Jesus explaining why it will be hard for someone to believe. As John tells us the story of Jesus, believing is not simply “getting saved” (although it might include that) but believing is about living in a dependent relationship of trust with Jesus. (Something that might get explored in future posts.)

Life is lived with Jesus “in faith” (the same Greek word is the basis for the English words “faith” and “believe/belief” in most Bibles). We enjoy this relationship with Jesus in our believing. But there are things that can hinder this dependence, this believing. And Jesus mentions three.

Jesus said, “If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12)

This statement comes up in Jesus’ conversation with a Jewish religious leader named Nicodemus. He is explaining to Nicodemus that he needs a change in soul to genuinely experience life–he needs to be “born again.” Nicodemus is struggling to make sense of what Jesus is saying, questioning Jesus’ statements. Jesus uses a very natural illustration to make his point, and Nicodemus still seems resistant. And this prompts Jesus’ remark.

What point is Jesus making?

If we don’t take Jesus at his word, we will find it difficult to believe him, to trust him, to rely on him.

Jesus said, “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God?” (John 5:44)

Jesus makes this remark in the midst of a dialogue with some religious leaders. They are struggling with making sense of Jesus and his ministry. He seems to be at odds with how they would want things done. He doesn’t seem to be willing to play according to their rules. They are unwilling to entrust themselves to him and to his words. And this prompts Jesus’ remark.

What point is Jesus making?

If we care more about what others think of us (longing for the “glory” they can bestow on us) than God’s glory, we will find it difficult to believe Jesus, to trust him, to rely on him.

Jesus said, “But if you do not believe [Moses’] writings, how will you believe My words?” (John 5:47)

This comment comes in the same conversation Jesus was having with the religious leaders as the previous remark. These religious leaders are resisting Jesus’ instruction, reluctant to entrust themselves to Jesus, and have no real interest in trusting Jesus. They wanted to hold themselves up as students of the Scripture, but they weren’t even willing to rely on those writings for the kind of spiritual direction they needed. And this prompts Jesus’ remark.

What point is Jesus making?

If we are not willing to let the Scriptures speak into our lives and direct our thinking, we will find it difficult to believe Jesus, to trust him, to rely on him.

I really do want to live in a dependent, faith-shaped relationship with Jesus. For me to live in that well, must learn to take Jesus at his word, privilege what he thinks about me over what others may think, and allow the Scriptures to speak into my life and direct my thinking. With those obstacles out of the way, living a “believing life” will come easier.

Although most of the posts (to date) have been anchored in either Mark or Philippians, I am still personally drilling down into other books of the Bible, trying to learn what it is that God is up to in the world, in my community of faith, in my life. Recently, I have been spending time in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, and although this is not a “new read” for me, I have been delightfully surprised by what the Spirit has called my attention to.

In this letter, in chapter one, verses 3 through 14, Paul describes what it is that God has done for those who have come to faith in Jesus. As Paul wrote it, it is one long sentence that celebrates the grace and goodness and glory of God in drawing people into life through what he has done through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus. (It’s well worth taking a minute or so to read the passage. If you don’t have a Bible at hand, the link at the bottom of this page will take you to a web site where you can read what Paul wrote.)

The first thing that strikes me about this pantheon of praise to God is how God-centric it is. The real “actor” in this passage is God himself. It is all about what God did.

He (God) blessed, he chose, he predestined, he bestowed, he lavished, he is working out all things for the good pleasure of his will. It’s just layer upon layer of rich and undeserved and unmerited and entirely gracious and free blessings–all by God’s doing. Life and adoption and holiness and redemption and forgiveness and salvation and the provision of the Spirit all come to us freely through the grace of God that he pours out on us for his own purposes and so that all that happens would be to the praise of the glory of his grace. Amazing stuff.

But that left me thinking: What is my part in all of this? What am I supposed to do in light of all this that God does?

Perhaps you’ve felt yourself put under pressure by some well-intentioned church-goer who demanded of you: God has done so much for you, what are going to do for him? Maybe you simply live with the weight of feeling or thinking or believing that this “good news” of what God has done is just too good to be true and you anticipate the “bad news” coming and are getting ready to pull your weight and do your part to ensure that this life with God becomes real.

Well, I noticed, that in this lengthy proclamation of the good news of God’s grace that reaches us in and through Jesus, that we do have a part–only it is not what I anticipated or what is often championed.

Paul wrote and said that those who were the recipients of these many and manifold blessings . . .

Listened to the message of this good news of God’s grace (1:13)

Placed their hope in Jesus Christ in anticipation of what God would, in grace, do (1:12)

Believed what it was that God said he would in and for them because of Jesus (1:13)

Listened, hoped, believed. That’s it. That’s my part in the outworking of this amazing and life-altering plan of God to bestow blessings on the undeserving because of what Jesus accomplished in coming to give his life for sinners.

My part is to listen to this great and good news, fix my hope on what God says that he will ultimately do in getting glory for himself, and believe or trust him that what he says and what he does will be that life transforming, that good.

My part is . . . well . . . to embrace this good news as if it really is good news!

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