Absurd Trust Jesus Inspires Impractical Faith

At the bottom, faith in Jesus is utterly absurd.  Those of us who have followed Jesus for a long time take completely for granted things that are impossible to understand, much less trust.

Let’s just run through a few things that we believe that are hard to wrap our minds around:

  • God created everything seen and unseen out of absolutely nothing.
  • This all-powerful God of the entire universe cares about each of us.
  • God has always existed as Father, Son, and Spirit — three persons, yet one essence.
  • The second person of the Trinity, Jesus, became fully human while remaining fully God.
  • And Jesus did this because he loves humans, though none of us deserve his love.
  • Jesus, who was fully human, never sinned.
  • Jesus was killed as a rebel but was raised from the dead by the power of God.
  • Subsequent to Jesus’ death, the Spirit was sent to live within all who follow Jesus.
  • The God of the universe empowers his broken followers to live out his divine mission.
  • God calls together a community of diverse people who can love one another more closely than family.
  • And at the end Jesus will return to earth in power to serve as ultimate Judge.

And that’s just a few things!  Any item from that list could be examined on it’s own and could be labeled as patently absurd!

What we believe can really seem bonkers, which is easy to forget when we’re inundated with it all the time.

But there’s another aspect of following Jesus that’s absurd as well, namely, that Jesus can do great things with very little starting material.

We see this very plainly in John 6, which I’ll focus on for the rest of this post.

What’s Absurd in John 6?

Let’s look at John 6.5-9:

When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.  Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”  Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

It’s pretty easy to see what’s absurd in this passage.  Andrew brings a boy’s small lunch to Jesus in response to a massive and hungry crowd of people.  What did he think Jesus was going to do with such a small amount of food?  Even in offering it us, Andrew waffled a bit when he said “but how far will [it] go among so many?”

Isn’t Philip’s response to Jesus’ question a bit more reasonable?  I mean, doesn’t it make more sense to take in the whole situation, do a quick quantitative analysis, and then present the facts?  Philip was right in what he said.  He was reasonable.  It would take a fortune for everyone to just have a little.

But when Philip was doing his calculations in his head, he forgot about the one huge wildcard, the one factor that makes the absurd possible.  That wildcard, that factor is Jesus.

And, if we remember rightly, Andrew, Philip, and all the rest already know that Jesus deals in the absurd all the time.  He turned a huge amount of water into really fine wine (John 2).  He healed a man who had been disabled for more than most people lived at the time (John 5).  And now a huge group of people were following him around because he had healed the sick (John 6.2).

They should have and could have known better.  And they perhaps would have known better had either of them been given three days to think things through.

But right there in the moment Andrew leaned on being realistic and strategic.  And even though Philip’s response could be seen as hopeful or even faithful, he ultimately hedged his bets by casting doubt on the situation.

We know the end of this story, Jesus causes the absurd once more.  He turns this little boy’s lunch into enough food to feed 5000+ people to fullness, with a bunch of leftovers remaining.

Jesus didn’t just use this as an opportunity to feed some people who would get hungry again.  No!  Instead, for Jesus this became a prime opportunity to engage in some leadership development.  Jesus knew that for his followers to begin truly to have absurd faith, they would have to be walked through the process carefully.  And he was willing and patient enough to take on this task.

Absurd Faith Today

What about now? Is Jesus still walking us through opportunities to trust him, no matter how crazy the scenarios we face might be?

Is he still teaching us to be curious and faithful?

The answers, of course, are “yes.”

Think abut this: Jesus came to accomplish a major rescue and restoration project on all of humanity.  He got the ball rolling (to put it lightly!) and then he entrusted this mission to us.

Us.  Broken, sinful, untrusting us.  How utterly ridiculous!

How does he expect us to do this?  How does Jesus expect us to help him fulfill this mission?

Here are a few initial thoughts:

  1. Seek divine guidance. The first thing that we must do in order to build absurd trust in God into our lives is by reaching out to him.  We need to pray and ask God to help us trust him more and more.  And when we face crazy situations in life, and we will!, that’s when we need to pray for his guidance…and then do whatever he leads us to do!  And it will help us to peruse the Scriptures seeking to learn how God taught others to have this kind of trust in him and then attempt to make ourselves open to the same kind of divine assistance too.  And, very importantly, we will be best served to seek this divine guidance within community so that we can hold each other accountable and encourage one another.
  2. Submit to the Spirit. “Submit” is a pretty dirty word these days but it’s vital if we want to trust God more and more.  Why?  Because we are tempted to submit to all sorts of other things and people…and we often give in!  What are some of those things that compete for our submission?  Our selfish desires, our friends and family, our bosses, out cultural standards, money, power, possessions, comfort, etc., etc.  Instead of submitting to all of those things, let’s submit to the Spirit, who will most assuredly lead us into deeper faith.
  3. Hold to our strategies loosely. Philip wasn’t wrong to think things through.   But perhaps he was wrong in that he held to his strategy too tightly; so much so that he couldn’t see past it.  So as we seek to be closer to Jesus, become more missional, lead better, be better spouses, friends, parents, etc., let’s not let our versions of what will work get in the way of God’s version of what actually will work!
  4. Give to Jesus what we have access to. I’m being a little bit tongue-in-cheek here because Jesus already owns all that we have and all that we can potentially get.  It’s all his.  But when we pretend that we can selfishly hold stuff for ourselves, we miss out on opportunities to see what God might do with whatever we have to offer, even if it’s just some bread and fish.  So, our job is to turn all that we steward back to God (not just 10%)!  In so doing we will witness him do great things with what we have given him, thus making us more likely to trust him the next time!
  5. Be consistent in our efforts. It is hard to have absurd faith that God can do anything.  But as we make a habit of doing it more and more, it will become a more regular occurrence in our lives.  It will never be easy because we all still have to deal with the gravitational pull of our selfishness.  But with consistency we can build habits that in turn will grow into deeply-rooted patterns of behavior.  And that’s the zone that we all want to be in!
  6. Allow our trust to grow with evidence. But the Enemy and our old way of doing things won’t quit easily!  When we exhibit this kind of faith in God and he comes through like he so often does (though in surprising ways that don’t always match our expectations), we might be tempted to explain away how God moved.  Maybe it was a fluke.  Maybe it was really our efforts and skill.  Maybe this, maybe that.  But if we give God the credit he deserves, then our trust in him can grow so that the next time we’ll be a bit more likely to lean on him no matter what.

 

What do you think about absurd faith?  What’s difficult about it?  How can we make it a larger part of our lives?  Let me know in the comments below!

Known by Jesus: John 1.43-51

One of my favorite passages in all of the Bible is Philippians 3.10-11: “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.”

Maybe I like this passage because I’ve spent much of my life trying to get to know Jesus.  I’ve read about him.  I’ve meditated on his words and on the words of others who have written about him.  I’ve sung about him.  I’ve talked about him.  And I’ve written about him a lot.

But even more meaningful is what we see in John 1.43-51 — people are known by Jesus.  We may want to know him, which is important.  But he already knows us.  We are known by Jesus.

Let’s unpack this…

 

Context

As I wrote about earlier, Jesus just called his first disciples.  He asked them to follow him and they did, thanks to the witness of John the Baptist and their families.

But what I didn’t write about was a miraculous moment between Jesus and Peter.  Here’s what it looked like:

Andrew meets Jesus and is enamored.  He goes to tell his brother Simon.  When Jesus meets Simon he identifies him without being told anything about him.  Jesus simply looked at him and said “You are Simon, son of John.”

Did you catch it?  Simon, who Jesus says will be called Peter, was known by Jesus before they ever met face to face.  That’s pretty cool, right?

It gets better, just wait.

 

Known by Jesus: Nathaniel

Jesus is so cool in this passage!

In verse 43, Jesus finds Philip and invites him to follow him.  Philip apparently said yes and wanted to let his brother, Nathaniel, know too.  So, Philip told Nathaniel that the long-awaited Messiah has come and that he’s from Nazareth.

Nathaniel’s first response was prejudiced and shallow: “Nazareth? Can anything good come from there?”  But instead of correcting him, Philip does something profound.  He simply says come and see for yourself.  I love this: when people are making judgments about Jesus that are annoying and naive, we can just invite them to meet the real Jesus.

So Philip and Nathaniel go to meet Jesus and as they are approaching Jesus he says to Nathaniel that he’s a good, upstanding guy.  Nathaniel is shocked and says “How do you know me?”

Jesus’ response in verse 48 is enigmatic: “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”  What’s so special about this?  There are at least two things:

  1. Jesus is saying that he knew Nathaniel before Philip had even told Nathaniel about him.
  2. There’s also something about the fig tree here.  In the Old Testament fig trees sometimes refer to home and in some rabbinic sources they are seen as places of mediation (DA Carson, The Gospel according to John, 161).  So, Jesus is saying that he knew Nathaniel when he was in the privacy of his own home, or he’s saying that he knew Nathaniel when he was in the midst of praying, or both.

Either way, what Jesus said really impacted Nathaniel.  His response in verse 49 goes like this: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”  He was saying that he was all in!  Then Jesus responds, “You ain’t seen anything yet!”

 

Conclusion

The most amazing thing about this story is that Nathaniel was known by Jesus.  And this fact blew Nathaniel away!  But how was Nathaniel known by Jesus?  In John’s Gospel, we don’t know yet for sure.  But in the opening verses of John we read that the Word, who is Jesus, has always been around, even at the very beginning.  Thus, Nathaniel was known by Jesus from the beginning.  There was never a time when he wasn’t known by Jesus.  That’s really pretty cool!

Psychologists tell us that one of our basic human needs is to be known.  And we all know what it feels like to be in a relationship with someone who doesn’t really care to know us.  It hurts and it feels exploitative.

But the truth is that each and every one of us is known by God and we have been known by him from the foundations of the universe.

But that can be scary.

Think about it: If God has always known me, then he has always known all my problems, my failures, my hatreds, my prejudices, my mistakes, etc.  How could he love me if he has always known me?  I mean, come on, I have a hard time loving myself!

But that’s the miracle of the good news of Jesus and his kingdom; God has always known us and he loves us anyway.  Romans 5.8 is helpful to memorize: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Let’s put that in plain English: We are all known by God, and yet he loves us anyway.  Despite our mistakes and sinfulness, Jesus came for us.  We are known by God and he still desires so passionately to be with us that he went to the greatest lengths possible!

Friends, we have two responses: 1) Accept and live into the love that God so graciously lavishes upon us, even though we don’t deserve it; and 2) Share that love with others, because to do otherwise would be incredibly, incredibly selfish.

 

What do you think?  What does it feel like to be known by Jesus?  Let me know in the comments below!