Summary: Many people believe Jesus for the things that He does. That’s not the kind of belief that Jesus is looking for.
Several years ago a famous liberal named Norman Cousins wrote an editorial for a magazine called the Saturday Review. Understand that he was no friend to Christianity when he wrote this. But what he wrote was true and should convict us all. He wrote about a conversation he had on a trip to India with a Hindu priest named Satis Prasad. Mr. Prasad told Cousins that he wanted to come to America as a missionary. Of course Cousins assumed that he meant that he wanted to convert Americans to the Hindu religion. But that wasn’t the case. Mr. Prasad said, “I would like to convert them to the Christian religion.” That didn’t make a whole lot of sense to Cousins, so he asked him to explain. Mr. Prasad did. He said, “Christianity cannot survive in the abstract. It needs not membership, but believers. The people of your country may claim they believe in Christianity, but from what I see at this distance, Christianity is more a custom than anything else. I would ask that either you accept the teachings of Jesus in your everyday life and in your affairs as a nation, or stop invoking His name as sanction for everything you do. I want to help save Christianity for the Christian.” Mr. Prasad had it right. Christianity doesn’t need membership. Christianity needs believers. This nation is filled with church members. This nation is filled with people who identify themselves as Christian. Some surveys indicate that up to 80% of Americans call themselves Christian. If that’s the case, why are our churches empty? Why are drugs and alcohol problems so rampant? Why is homosexuality becoming socially acceptable? Why is the mass murder of unborn babies not just tolerated, but promoted? Because there are a lot of people in America today who believe—but don’t really believe. There is a huge difference between claiming belief and really believing. Just like there was a difference between the disciples who believed in Jesus in the past two passages… and the many who “believed” in this passage this morning. At the wedding in Cana that we talked about two weeks ago… Jesus performed a miracle. He miraculously turned the water into wine. And 2:11 tells us that the disciples believed in Him. But ultimately, they didn’t believe in Jesus because of the sign. They didn’t believe in Jesus because He changed the water into wine. They believed in Jesus because He changed their hearts. And then last week we talked about the first time that Jesus cleansed the temple. And verse 22 says that the disciples remembered Jesus’ Word, and they believed the Scripture. They believed in Scripture and in Jesus. The disciples truly believed in Jesus. They had a true, saving belief in Jesus. But then when we get into our passage this morning, there is a stark contrast. The past two events resulted in a few people truly believing in Jesus. But that wasn’t the case with everybody. So what was the difference? Apparently all of these people saw the same things. They all saw the miracle Jesus performed. They all saw the authority Jesus exercised. So why did a few truly believe while the vast majority only “believed.” In order to figure that out, this passage lets us know what belief isn’t. First, true belief in Jesus isn’t about chasing Jesus’ signs.
Notice where verse 23 says, “Many believed in His name when they saw the miracles which He did.” True belief isn’t about chasing Jesus’ signs. When you study the earthly ministry of Jesus, one of the interesting things to look at is how the people responded to Him. Early on in His ministry, just a few people followed Him. But then He started performing miracles. And as soon as the miracles started happening, the crowds started building. People are always looking for a good show, aren’t they? And they were sure getting one. We don’t know what all happened between the time that Jesus cleansed the temple and verse 23. But Jesus was performing some miracles. It was an action packed Passover. It started with Jesus raising a ruckus with the moneychangers and moved on to Him performing miracles. I’m sure He was making the lame to walk, giving sight to the blind, causing the deaf to hear. I’m sure He was doing all of that, just like He did throughout His time on earth. And when all that happened, the crowds grew and grew. But as you look at Jesus’ ministry, it hit a turning point. The nature and frequency of the miracles slowed down. And at the same time, the teaching became more difficult. It didn’t really become more difficult—it’s just that the people began to really understand what Jesus was teaching. They began to understand things like, “Whoever puts their hand to the plow and looks back isn’t fit for the kingdom of heaven.” They began to understand things like, “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” They began to understand things like, “take up your cross daily and follow me.” And as they began to understand that teaching, the crowds began to shrink. They even dwindled down to the point that Jesus even asked His disciples if they were going to leave Him too. The novelty of the show began to wear off. That’s the thing about a show, isn’t it? A show always has to get bigger and louder and more dramatic to hold our attention. Otherwise, it gets old. The novelty wears off. It can even get boring. Hollywood knows that. That’s why movies have to get more and more violent. They have to get more and more action packed. They have to get louder and louder. The sex and violence have to get more graphic. The suspense and romance have to get much more manipulative and complicated. Otherwise, people are bored with it. If you believe Jesus only for the show, it’ll never be enough for you. If you only believe Jesus for the signs, you’ll end up being one of the multitudes who walked away from Him. If you only believe Jesus for what He can do for you, then He won’t commit Himself to you. He won’t commit Himself to you, because He knows your heart. And if you only believe in Jesus for what He can do for you, then who is your focus? Your focus is you. And if your focus is you, then you are the one who is on the throne of your life. You are only calling on Jesus to serve you. And if you are looking for Jesus to serve you, then you are the Lord of your life. And Jesus won’t be your savior if He can’t be your Lord. Jesus knew those people’s hearts. He knew that they only “believed” in Him because He was putting on a good show. They only “believed” in Him because He was doing things for them. They only “believed” in Jesus because of His signs. And that’s not true belief. True belief isn’t about chasing Jesus’ signs. But that’s not the only thing that belief isn’t. Because true belief isn’t about building Jesus’ team.