John 2:13-25 (AD 27)
There’s belief, and there’s belief, and they’re not the same thing.
We have them here, one after the other, for contrast.
Verse twenty-two tells us that whilst the disciples didn’t understand the reference at the time, they “believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken” (v.22) after the resurrection. The impact of that belief was clear – every one of them became courageous missionaries. All but one of them were so devoted to their Saviour that they were murdered for it.
Their belief had gone to the core of their being, and after Pentecost they had Holy Spirit in them, equipping them as he also equips us. The belief was real and became part of who they were.
Verse twenty-three says, “many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name”. The Greek word ‘pisteuo’ is behind both instances of ‘believed’ – it seems the belief presented it itself in similar ways for both groups, but verse twenty-four shows the difference: “But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people”.
It reminds me of a professional footballer’s Instragram post recently. After a narrow victory by his (my!) team, he said, “Thanks for your unconditional support!”. Deep down, he must know that the support is anything but unconditional. As long as he plays well, the crowd will support him enthusiastically. When he doesn’t play so well but is obviously devoted to the cause of the team, he will be somewhat tolerated. But if he plays badly for any length of time, he’ll soon find out how thoroughly conditional that support is.
The crowd’s support of – belief in – Jesus was similarly limited. While they could see him doing amazing things, they were impressed and thought great things about him. Many responded to what Jesus did with approval and a belief that he was special, different, maybe even from God. But that belief was only miracle-deep. It didn’t go down to the level of believing the message of the gospel. In time the belief simply evaporated, revealing that true belief was never really there. Or it was discouraged away, distracted away or tempted away, as Jesus would later explain during the Parable of the Seeds.
We all love it when God does obvious things right in front of our faces, but let’s repent of any dependence on that, as if God needs to earn our faith every day.
Rather, let’s ask for our faith to run ever deeper so that it affects every attitude, motivation and decision we make. For our faith, in other words, to be proven real.