HOW MANY TIMES DOES GOD HAVE TO SHOW US SOMETHING BEFORE WE COME TO FULLY BELIEVE?
A SERMON ORIGINALLY DELIVERED AT
THE FEDERATED CHURCH OF ATHENS
12 SEPTEMBER 1993
By Frank L. Hoffman, Pastor
John 2:11, 23
20:25, 27, 29
We have talked about the many little miracles that God continues to show us, if we keep our hearts and minds open to see them.
Most of these miracles are personal ones that only we, individually, seem to recognize or understand.
These are God's gift of encouragement to us, that our faith would remain strong.
Have you ever heard the expression about someone being a "doubting Thomas," because they wouldn't believe anything unless they saw it or experienced it for themselves?
In our preparation verse for this morning (John 20:29), we heard what Jesus said to Thomas, who had previously said he would not believe that Jesus rose from the dead unless he could see the nail prints and feel the hole in His side (John 20:25).
25. So the other disciples were saying to him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe."
Thus the Apostle Thomas lent his name to the expression, "doubting Thomas."
But the Lord's love reaches beyond our doubts; and He came and presented himself to Thomas who became a believer (John 20:27).
27. Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.”
29. Jesus said to him, "Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed."
It is with this thought in mind, that I would like us to turn to Exodus 14:19-31, and look in upon a situation that took place some 3,500 years ago.
The Lord, through His servant Moses, desired to free Israel from their bonds of slavery in Egypt, but Pharaoh wouldn't let His people go.
So the Lord brought ten plagues upon the land, that they would realize that He alone was God, and that He wanted His people to return to the Promised Land.
God wanted the Egyptians' hearts to soften, that they, too, would believe.
After the tenth plague, Pharaoh did agree to let Israel leave, but his heart never changed, and he didn't come to believe.
So Pharaoh sent out his army to recapture Israel, as they were camped against the Red Sea.
19. And the angel of God, who had been going before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them.
20. So it came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel; and there was the cloud along with the darkness, yet it gave light at night. Thus the one did not come near the other all night.
When it comes to spiritual things, people more often fear what they see more than they come to believe because of what they see.
21. Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord swept the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land, so the waters were divided.
22. And the sons of Israel went through the midst of the sea on the dry land, and the waters were like a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.
Even though many of the Israelites didn't believe, they went through the midst of the sea because of the believers, or because of what they saw.
And the Egyptians also saw what had happened.
23. Then the Egyptians took up the pursuit, and all Pharaoh's horses, his chariots and his horsemen went in after them into the midst of the sea.
Now remember, they couldn't have believed in God, or they wouldn't have continued to do things against the will of God.
The Egyptians only believed in what they saw. If Israel could cross the sea, so could they – a foolish mistake when it comes to the ways of God.
24. And it came about at the morning watch, that the Lord looked down on the army of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and cloud and brought the army of the Egyptians into confusion.
25. And He caused their chariot wheels to swerve, and He made them drive with difficulty; so the Egyptians said, "Let us flee from Israel, for the Lord is fighting for them against the Egyptians."
This is recognizing the truth because of fear, but it is not coming to believe.
The Egyptians had seen the ten plagues, the column of cloud and fire, and the opening of the Red Sea; twelve miracles, and yet they didn't come to believe.
But with the thirteenth miracle, when the Lord fought for Israel against them, it was too late.
26. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may come back over the Egyptians, over their chariots and their horsemen.”
27. So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal state at daybreak, while the Egyptians were fleeing right into it; then the Lord overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea.
28. And the waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen, even Pharaoh's entire army that had gone into the sea after them; not even one of them remained.
What a horrible and wasteful way to come to believe; for once we are dead, and it is too late to make a choice, we will indeed come to believe – even every person who has ever lived.
There is no such thing as an unbeliever in either heaven or hell; for as we are told in James 2:19, "the demons also believe, and shudder," because of what awaits them.
19. You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.
29. But the sons of Israel walked on dry land through the midst of the sea, and the waters were like a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.
30. Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore.
31. And when Israel saw the great power which the Lord had used against the Egyptians, the people feared [or reverenced] the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and His servant Moses.
Belief that is based upon such spectacular events is quite often short lived, because such people need a constant "show"; and when they are past “show time,” they also quite often find themselves without belief and – more importantly – without faith.
This is exactly what Jesus was telling Thomas; those who come to believe without seeing are blessed, because their belief stretches beyond what they see and turns into real faith that will carry them beyond this lifetime and into heaven.
If we turn ahead to the book of John, we will see many examples of coming to believe in similar ways.
First let's look at John 2:11, after Jesus changed the water into wine.
11. This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.
The signs brought them to believe; but like us, they had to move beyond seeing. They had to move on to see Jesus for who He is, and not simply what He can do.
Look also at verse 23.
23. Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, beholding His signs which He was doing.
And after Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead, the same thing happened. Note John 11:45.
45. Many therefore of the Jews, who had come to Mary and beheld what He had done, believed in Him.
Now if we go back to John 10:37-38, Jesus explains why He did all these miracles then, and why He is still doing them today – if we care to see them.
37. “If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me;
38. but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.”
Here is where we make the full circle, and it comes back to each and every one of us who call ourselves Christians.
For if we are Christians, the Holy Spirit does indeed dwell within us; so if people don't believe in Jesus on their own, they should come to believe because, here upon this earth, we are doing the works of Our Father who is in Heaven.
And this is why I believe Jesus' half brother James came to write what he did about the necessity of faith and works functioning together as one, in the life of a true believer.
Note what he says in 2:17-18:
17. Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.
18. But someone may well say, "You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
Jesus Christ is no longer walking in this world among us in a form we can see. Likewise, we cannot see the Holy Spirit, but He is here nevertheless.
But if people cannot see the little miracles that are continually going on around us, how are they going to come to believe in Jesus Christ, who is even less visible.
The only way is to see His works being performed through us who are the faithful, just as they saw them performed through Moses.
When a person’s life is changed by the Holy Spirit, it is a miracle that can easily be seen by others; even if they won't acknowledge it, or even if they call us names because of it, they do indeed see it.
For our rebirth in Christ produces the desire to do the works He has prepared for us to do beforehand (Ephesians 2:10).
10. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
With the vast majority of people, you cannot talk them into believing, you cannot beat them over the head with your Bibles with the hope of pounding the truth into them; all you can do is show them the miracle of the change that has come into your life, and pray that they will respond.
We each must show the world around us that Christians are indeed different.
We each must show the world that there is indeed hope here upon this earth, even with all the problems we have.
We are to be the loving, compassionate, peacemaking children of God that Jesus called us to be toward the whole of creation.
And we each must show the world that there is eternal hope beyond the grave.
Perhaps if we all do this, then there may be just enough signs and wonders to cause someone to come to fully believe, as we say we have fully come to believe.
Your Comments are welcome
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