Summary: True faith seeks glory from God.
“Seeing is believing,” or is it? Is “seeing, believing,” or is “believing, seeing”? A group of men stand meters from Jesus; they believe he is there; they know he exists; they see his miracles. Yet he says that they do not believe.
Earlier we read James’ indictment of faith without fruit. James 2.19-20: “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe — and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?”
The Bible defines “believing” as more than a mere profession or even an orthodox statement of faith. “Come Ye Sinners” calls for “true belief and true repentance” — Jesus is after these in our lives.
Some of you know that true belief is the means by which people are saved. “True belief” is also the means by which we are changed, by which Christ “renews us by his Spirit to be like himself.” In theological language, “both salvation and sanctification are by grace alone through faith alone, and such faith is never alone, but produces good works.” And since faith is the means both of beginning and of growing in Christ-likeness, this text is relevant whether you are first considering the claims of Jesus or we have been his follower for years. If you would like to follow along, I will be reading John 5.30-47. [Pray.]
Visiting the Sears Tower is a favorite Chicago activity for me. The race up 1,353 feet in one of the world’s fastest elevators is exhilarating. And when the doors open, you discover a fascinating museum of the history of this great city. But the real purpose and pleasure is the view from this highest observatory in the Western Hemisphere. On a clear day, you can see forty miles and four states (Illinois (obviously), Michigan, Indiana, and Wisconsin).
So you are there, taking in the view, watching the sun set, catching street lights appear on Michigan Avenue, looking for Wrigley Field, when a man comes up to you and says, “Amazing, isn’t it?”
“Yea,” you say, “Fantastic!”
“Yes,” he responds, “I have never seen glass this fine.”
“The glass, the window—I noticed you were staring at it. Is it not beautifully set in this steel frame? And the tinting — just right to allow light in while reducing glare. Look here,” he says as he pulls out a screwdriver and pocket knife and begins to work at one corner of the window, “Under this rubber we can expose the serial number and the date it was manufactured. That will show what plant it was made in. Help me with this knife and we will scrape off some of the surface coating so I can do a chemical analysis. What is your phone number — I will call you as soon as I have completed my study and tell you the details of its composition.” [From Kent Hughes, John, 171, Crossway, modified.]
You expect to hear Allen Funt: “Smile, you’re on Candid Camera.”
The window does not exist to attract attention, but only to reveal other sights. The purpose of the windows is to show us Chicago. And the purpose of the Bible is to show us Messiah — God’s solution to sin and separation.
As Jesus notes (John 5.39), the Jews studied “the Scriptures.” [If you are unfamiliar with the word, “Scripture,” it comes from a Latin word, “scriptura.” Jesus did not speak Latin; the Greek word Jesus uses is graphás (from which we get “graphics” the writing down of something). Verse 39 literally says, “You search the writings….” In the New Testament, “the writings” always and only refers to the Jewish “sacred writings,” that which we call “The Old Testament.” When Jesus’ word was translated from Greek to Latin, they used “scriptura” from which we get “The Scriptures.”]
That tedious history lesson gets to this point: the Jews were people of the book. Nothing was more important to them that “the writings.” They scoured these Scriptures, searching what must be done to please God. They “pulled back the edges” to find the serial numbers and they “scraped” them to run chemical tests. And all their work was worthless because they missed the purpose.
When standing in the Skydeck of the Sears Tower, you can force your eyes to focus unnaturally and see the glass. But in so doing, you do not see the very thing the glass is for. So how could a people study so carefully the writings of God and miss the One about whom God wrote? How indeed.
That is precisely the problem Jesus preaches about in John 5. He speaks of three truths concerning belief. First, that we have every reason to believe. Second, why we have every reason not to believe. Then third, he gives us every reason to believe. Let’s look at these together, that we might understand how we can “truly believe.”