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Let’s pray. How precious to us are Your thoughts, O God. How vast is the sum of them. If we would count them, they are more than the sand. Teach us Your ways, show us the truth, the truth about You, about Your Word, about ourselves. Search us, O God, and know our hearts. Try us and know our thoughts. See if there be any grievous way in us and lead us in the way everlasting. In Jesus we humbly pray. Amen.
Please turn in your Bibles to the Gospel according to John, chapter 2. I’ll be reading versus 23 through 25. We’ll continue with John for the next few weeks, and then we’ll take a couple of weeks to think about Christmas as we lead up to the 25th, and then I will be on a couple of, well, one week of vacation, and then Trisha and I are going to Hawaii to serve the Lord there and I am preaching at a church there (so it’s a great way to get a free ticket to Hawaii), and then in January we will have a short series on marriage before we jump back into John. When we have these long series — you can tell that we’re going to be in John for a little while — it’s good to break it up and have a few little series here and there so we will do that in January before we jump back in.
But this morning we come to these three verses at the end of chapter 2.
“Now when He,” that is Jesus, “was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs that He was doing. But Jesus on His part did not entrust Himself to them, because He knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for He Himself knew what was in man.”
Only three verses here. But, oh, how much God may choose to do with just three verses. I think and I pray that God may do a mighty work in your heart through these three verses, and perhaps you’re here thinking not too much about worship really, thinking about going back to school, you’re thinking about traveling back home, you’re thinking about what the week ahead has for you, you’re thinking about the leftovers in the fridge. My prayer has been all week that God would do a mighty work, a surprising work, through these verses. It’s a short passage, but I think you’ll find it’s also surprising, startling, and searching, and perhaps for some of you it may end up to be saving.
We can see right away that this is short, just three verses. In fact, it looks like a little, nothing passage in between two very famous stories. We had last week Jesus cleansing out the temple with the whip of cords, driving out the animals, flipping over the table of the money-changers; we know that story. We have coming up in chapter 3 Jesus’s encounter with Nicodemus. We’re coming to one of the most famous chapters and some of the most famous verses in all the Bible. And so it looks as if we have here nothing but a bit of transition, and it is a transition passage, but a hugely important one, as we’ll see. If nothing else, it’s a good reminder that we ought not to ignore anything in our Bibles. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable, every verse, God has something for us. And so He does with these verses.
It’s a short passage, but if we linger just a bit, we can see that this short passage is surprising. It’s surprising because of that word “believed” in verse 23. “Many believed in His name.” If you know anything about John’s Gospel, you know how important this theme of believing is. Look in chapter 1, verse 12: “To all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.”
Flip over to John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, He gave His only Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
And we’ve already referenced several times the very end of the book where John gives us his purpose statement in John chapter 20, verse 30: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples which are not written in this book, but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.”
So this book is meant to cause us to believe. So when we come to that word in verse 23, we are conditioned by John’s gospel itself to think this is really good news, this is encouraging, this is what we saw in chapter 1, this is what Jesus will say in chapter 3, this is what John gives us as the purpose of the whole gospel in chapter 20. These things were written so that we may believe.
And so come to verse 23, and we say “yes, it’s happening.” Which is why verse 24 is so surprising. “But,” so here’s a contrast, “Jesus did not on His part entrust Himself to them.” Verse 23 “many believed;” verse 24, Jesus isn’t buying it.
In fact, it’s even more surprising in the Greek. Verse 23 says “many ‘episteusan’, believed,” believed in His name. You can hear the English word, we have a word epistemology, how you know something or how you believe something. It’s from this word, that root “pistis” which means faith or belief or faithfulness. “Eisteusan,” they believed in His name. And then verse 24, it says Jesus for His part “ouk episteuen,” “ouk” means “not,” He did not. So you could, if you wanted to be overly literal, “they believed in His name, and Jesus did not believe them.”
This is not how we like to think of Jesus. Isn’t Jesus the guy who always believes in us? Isn’t He the one who believes in you even when you don’t believe in yourself? Isn’t Jesus the one who puts His arm around you, and like a good infomercial savior, says “you can do it”? “Come on, I believe in you.” Isn’t he always just gathering us, hugging us, saying “I want you on my team, I’m so glad to be your friend, I’m so glad you want to be with me.” That’s the sort of Jesus you’ll encounter in many churches, but that’s not what we see here. It’s surprising.
They believe in His name and Jesus does not believe them, that they really believe in His name. Which is why the passage is not only surprising, but it’s startling, it’s shocking. Maybe even a little scary.
We tend to think there are only two categories when it comes to relating to Jesus, two categories. Belief/unbelief. Good guys/bad guys. And up to this point, that’s more or less what we’ve seen. Look at chapter 2, verse 11. “This, the first of His signs, Jesus did at Cana and Galilee, and manifested His glory and His disciples believed in Him.” All right, Team Jesus. We like that.
And then last week we saw verse 18, after the cleansing of the Temple, and so the Jews, and in particular here it’s probably the Sanhedrin, the Temple authorities, the Jewish leaders, said to Him “What sign do you show us for these things?” He said “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews said “It’s taken 46 years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” Not Team Jesus. Team Jesus, the disciples, they believed. Not Team Jesus, these Jewish leaders, they say “Who are you to clear out the Temple like this? Come on, come on, give us some sort of sign to show that you have authority to do such things.” Belief and unbelief.
Verse 22 says “when therefore He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.” So it seems as if up this point we have seen two distinct options: We can be on the side of the disciples, they believe in Jesus, they follow Jesus, pro Jesus; or we can be on the side of the Jewish establishment, they disbelieved Him, they rejected Him.
And when we think those are the only two choices, we feel pretty good. After all, we are here at church. We’re not anti-Jesus people. We like Jesus. If you have an opinion poll, Jesus, thumbs up/thumbs down. Okay, almost everyone in America would say big thumbs up, even the ones who aren’t Christian, even the ones who never go to church. If there’s a team that’s for Jesus and against Jesus, we’re all going to be on the “for Jesus” team. So, we figure we’re good to go. We’re disciples, we’re followers, we’re Christians.
Except that Jesus now introduces to us a third option. There is a kind of “believing,” and let’s put in quotes, there is a kind of “believing” that does not save. You say that doesn’t sound theologically correct. Well, isn’t that what we see in verse 23? They believe, verse 24, Jesus doesn’t buy it. You can’t say, well, in the Greek… No, same word. Believe. And Jesus doesn’t believe them, that they really believe in Him.
So we’re introduced here to a third option. There is a faith, so-called, in Jesus that He does not trust. A trusting in Him that He will not trust. Which means, and here’s where I said it’s startling, it’s surprising, and it’s maybe scary, it means it is possible that you are sitting here this morning, or listening to this some years from now in internet heaven, and you are saying to yourself “I believe in Jesus,” and Jesus isn’t buying it.
In fact, it would be surprising in a room this size if that did not describe someone in this room. “I’m on the Jesus team.” Many believed in His name. Jesus says “I’m not ready to say that they’re a part of my team. I’m not ready to entrust myself to them.”
Well, what was the problem? We see hints of the problem in the second half of verse 23, “many believed in His name when they saw the signs that He was doing.” There’s no problem with the signs — John is going to make a point to say here’s the sign, and the next sign, and the next sign, and the wedding at Cana in Galilee was the first sign, and obviously John is only giving us a select few. There were already many signs that had taken place, and many people were seeing Jesus do these miracles, and they said “I want to get a part of that. I’m going to follow this guy on Twitter. I’m going to like him on Facebook. I am going to buy his books. I’m gonna download his albums. I like this Jesus guy.”
Their faith, so-called, was not rooted in a firm conviction about the Gospel, it was instead connected only to the miraculous. Again, it’s not a problem that the miraculous would play a role in confirming their faith. That’s part of what the signs were meant to do. They were supposed to show this Jesus is someone unique. They were meant to be signs demonstrating His identity, authenticating His ministry, but they were often misunderstood. They were misunderstood as being the point when they were only supposed to be pointers. We see this all throughout the Gospels. People want to be near to Jesus because he does so many cool things. Who wouldn’t want to be near Jesus?
Sometimes we get this picture that Jesus in the Gospels, He must have just been sort of floating around and just kind of staring blankly into the heavens, just communing with God, just sort of undisturbed… He would have been pressed upon by people, remember sometimes He has to go out into a boat into the lake there are so many people that want to get by Him. If this were in our context, we’d say He’s got lines out the door for people to sign books, everybody wants Him to speak at their conference, He’s got more followers on Twitter than Taylor Swift. Never heard of Taylor Swift? That’s the extent of my pop culture reference. Go look her up…I do know it is a her.
Jesus was a popular guy. Of course, He’s doing miracles. Don’t you think if somebody were here today doing the things that Jesus was doing, don’t you think word would get around? “Did you hear what He did with the tables? Did you hear about the water into wine? Did you hear about there was somebody who was dead?” “Really?” “Yeah, I was there. Dead. Alive.” You don’t think people would be making a beeline to figure out who this guy is? You don’t think there’d be people seeing all these miraculous signs who’d say “I want to be with that guy! I like this Jesus.” He’s amazing. They can see with their own eyes He’s not like other men.
And so many believed in His name. But it was only an attraction to power, an attraction to the sensational, a draw toward notoriety, rather than a firm faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
One commentator says Jesus looked for genuine conversion, not enthusiasm for the spectacular. That’s why many people still believe in Jesus.
Who isn’t enthusiastic about the spectacular? Who doesn’t want help in their life? Who doesn’t want their felt needs met?
What accounts for your interest in Jesus? Many, many people are interested in Jesus because of the benefits they can get from Jesus. There are many popular preachers who basically preach a message that says Jesus has power for you, Jesus can do amazing things for you, Jesus believes in you. Believe in Jesus, believe in yourself, and look at all the amazing things that will happen. Of course, there is some truth in that. He does have power, He does do amazing things.
But it’s not all quite that simple. Time and again, we see people are fascinated with the pointers and they miss the point. And throughout the gospels, when people get fixated on the miracles themselves, Jesus says “I’m not going to do any more miracles here.” They did not question the authenticity of the miracles, but the miracles did not make genuine believers. Sometimes we say “if only I could have seen the miracles that they say, I would be a believer, too.” Really? How many people saw out and out miracles, cannot deny miracles, and how many people really believed in Jesus and the gospels. Not many.
Turn over for a moment to John chapter 7, verse 3: “His brothers said to Him, ‘Leave here and go to Judea that your disciples also may see the works You are doing, for no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly.” If you do these things, show yourself to the world.
And then notice verse 5: “For not even His brothers believed in Him.” Isn’t that interesting? Verse 3, His brothers, so this is talking about His earthly brothers, or half-brothers, Mary’s other children, come to Him, saying “Look, do some of these things, don’t keep doing them in secret, do them in public. People aren’t really going to get who you are, and they’re not really going to be drawn to you unless you start doing these things in the open. Show yourself to the world!”
Now we would think that that might be a sign that his brothers did believe in Him, but verse 5 tells us “for not even His brothers believed in Him.” It was not a sign of their faith, but their lack of faith. Oh, they believed in the miracles all right, but they didn’t really get who Jesus was. They were fixated on the pointers, missed the point.
There is a danger of being a sign-seeker. “False Christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders so as to lead astray if possible even the elect,” Jesus says, Mathew 24:24. We know from 2 Thessalonians “the coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing because they refuse to love the truth and so be saved.”
There are people, in other words, who love the signs more than they love the truth, and they will be deceived. And Paul says to the Thessalonians, there is coming a time when there will be signs, and you don’t think the devil can do signs? You don’t think false prophets? You don’t think there’s a spiritual realm of darkness that can make your head spin? Maybe now literally, maybe. So if you’re just looking for signs, if you’re just saying “where’s the power?” if you’re just saying “impress me,” if you’re just looking for the spectacular, for the fantastic, you’re going to be led astray if you love the signs more than you love the truth.
These three verses here in John 2 are meant to set the stage for Jesus’s interaction with Nicodemus? Have you ever noticed that before? It’d be obvious, except there’s a big, black 3 at the end of chapter 2 that makes us think that “Oh, now, this is disconnected from what came before.” But put that aside for a moment. You see verse 25? “For He Himself knew what was in man. Now there was a man,” it couldn’t be more obvious.
This is to introduce to us someone like Nicodemus. There was a man just like Jesus knows what is in man, someone who was drawn to the signs, someone who recognized the authority, and yet did not have a clue about who Jesus really was and was not yet born again.
Do you see chapter 3, verse 2? “Rabbi,” Nicodemus says, “we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” I wonder how many of us would be content with that expression of faith, even though Jesus, we’ll see next week, is going to tell Nicodemus “you have not yet been born again.” Nicodemus is this sort of man who believed in His name when they saw the signs he was doing. Nicodemus fully recognized “Jesus, you’re a teacher. Jesus, you do miracles. Jesus, you come from God.” And we should think that we would all say, “Well, praise the Lord for what’s going on with Nicodemus,” and Jesus says to him “I can see your heart, and you need a new one. You’re drawn to the signs. You recognize the miracles, you like me for what I can do and for the show that I bring, but I am not buying it.”
Nicodemus was a ruler in Israel, he was a teacher in Israel. He could see Jesus did miracles in Israel. He recognized this is a man sent from God, and yet for all of that, Nicodemus was not born again. He believed without really believing. That’s exactly what verse 23 is talking about. Many had this kind of belief in His name. Which is why I say these verses are surprising and they are startling, because they make us wonder “Could I be in this category? Could I be this sort of person, who believes but not with the belief that Jesus believes in?”
And the passage is not just surprising and startling, it’s also searching. Verse 23 looks like good news, “They believed!” but it’s not. Why not? Because Jesus could see what was really going on in their hearts. If there is one thing God knows for certain, it is what is going on inside of you, and inside of me.
1 Samuel 16:7: “Man looks on the outward appearances, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
1 Chronicles 28:9: “The Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought.”
Psalm 139: “O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down, you are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, You lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.”
Jeremiah 17:10: “I, the Lord, search the heart and test the mind.”
Do you know that God sees things about you that you don’t even see? Things about me. A lot of us would be happier in life and we’d be holier in life if we could get in our heads and in our hearts this one crucial bit of theology. Here it is: God knows more than you. He knows more than me. And He knows you and me better than we know ourselves. Other people may not see, but God sees.
Around the time of Jesus, somewhere in the first or second century, there was a rabbinical commentary on the book of Exodus and one of the verses is this: Seven things are hidden from man; the day of death, the day of consultation, the depth of judgment, one’s reward, the time of restoring the kingdom of David, the time when the guilty kingdom will be destroyed (that’s Rome), and what is within another.
There are all sorts of things hidden from us. We can’t always know motivations. We can’t always see what’s going on in a heart. We don’t always know if someone says “I’m sorry” do they mean it. If they say “I believe what’s happening,” we don’t know what sort of wrestlings and strugglings. There are all sorts of things hidden from you and from me, but they are not hidden from God. And they were not hidden from Jesus.
Go back to verse 24: “Jesus on His part did not entrust Himself to them because He knew them.” He knew them better than they knew themselves.
We think we know ourselves. Some of us are very reflective, some less so, but we all think we know ourselves. We kind of understand what makes us tick. We understand what makes us happy, what makes us sad, when we’re hungry, when we’re hurt, how we’re feeling, what we do, where we want to go… We feel like other people don’t understand, but we understand ourselves.
One of the revolutionary things when you read the Bible is the Bible tells us, “Well, no, you may not actually understand yourself very well.”
Do you believe it’s possible for someone to know you better than you know you? Some of you have been married so long your spouse knows you better than you know you. And isn’t it amazing they’re still with you and they know you better than you know you? They know how you like to have your bread cut, they know how you like your clothes washed, they know where you want to go on vacation, they know all sorts of things about you. They know when you’re happy, when you’re sad. You can’t hide anything from them. They know you. You have friends. Some of you have friends, they know you.
Do you believe it’s possible for someone to know you better than you know yourself? There are things about ourselves we may not see that may be obvious to other people. C.S. Lewis has a famous essay called “The Problem with X” and he describes how all of us have on occasion gathered with other people and we talk about “you know the problem with X? You know the problem with Kevin? You know the problem with Judy? You know the problem… ” and you start talking about somebody, “oh, the problem.” And it’s so obvious to you what their problem is. And C.S. Lewis says you need to realize that you are X in someone’s life. That there are people who have spent time, probably over the weekend, that’s what you do. You gather for the family, and then you all disperse so you can all then say “oh, do you know what the problem with him is?” And then you can come back together for Christmas and say “ahhh, do you know what the problem with him is?” Somebody in your family had that conversation about this week! About me: Why is Kevin always like that? Why do they always do that?
There’s a good book, I showed some of the chapters to our executive leadership team. It’s a book on wisdom and leadership by Craig Hamilton. He has a similar chapter to C.S. Lewis. The chapter is called “Everyone Already Knows,” and he says we like to think if just focus on our strengths, if we just play up our gifts, if we just do that, people won’t see our weaknesses, they won’t know all the things that we’re not good at. And he says, no. “The truth is often the exact opposite. My flaws and weaknesses are some of the most obvious and easily noted aspects of who I am.” You’re not fooling anyone. And we’re not fooling God.
You know, we’ve all that that experience when you’re eating across from somebody, and they get the French fry and they put it in the ketchup and they take a big bite, and you just wonder “Should I tell them they have a huge glob of ketchup right here?” and you’re listening to them and you’re not really listening to anything, you’re just thinking “There is so much ketchup on your face, I’m surprised you can even blink, it just seems to be growing by the moment, there’s just gobs of ketchup. They must be out of ketchup here, you have so… “It just gets bigger and bigger and you just wonder “am I going to say something?” And of course they’re just going on eating more fries. They don’t know; everyone else knows.
Do you believe it’s possible for someone to know you better than you know yourself? You don’t think Jesus sees the bit of ranch dressing on the side of your lips? So if He sees and if He knows, we might as well be honest with Him.
Witness is one of those big themes in John’s Gospel. John the Baptist came to be a witness and he wants us to bear witness. A witness. But here is one witness Jesus doesn’t need. It says in verse 25: “He needed no one to bear witness about man.” He does not need your help to figure you out. He doesn’t need many counselors. He doesn’t need to steal your journal. He doesn’t need access to your hard drive or your web browsing. He doesn’t need to put you on the couch and ask you 20 questions. He needs no help in figuring you out. He understands your motivation. He knows what makes you tick. He sees into the places of your heart that you don’t even see. And if you’re showing up at church every Sunday for something other than the Gospel, Jesus knows. If you’re here for the show and the show alone, Jesus knows. If your belief, your profession of faith, is just a vague kind of pro-Jesus sentiment and nothing more, He knows.
Jesus knew what was in a man. That could be the banner flying over the theme for these next chapters: “Jesus knew what was in people.” And so we are going to see Nicodemus. And think about what comes next in John’s Gospel. We’re going to come to the Samaritan woman. “You’re right, lady, that you have no husband. You have actually had five husbands and the man that you’re with now is not your husband.” You think Jesus knows what’s in a person?
And then at the end of chapter 4 we come to the Gentile official, and Jesus says “unless you see signs and wonders, you will not believe.” He knows what’s in his heart. And then in chapter 5 there’s a man at the pool in Bethesda and Jesus saw him and knew that he had been there a long time, even before he said anything. Jesus knows what is in a person.
Jesus knows you better than you know yourself. Which is why this passage is startling and surprising and searching and scary. You may fool your friends, you may fool your parents, you may fool your kids, you may fool your pastors. All we have to go on is what we hear and what we see. But you will not fool the Word who was with God and the Word who is God.
When you come up to a tree, all you can see is the trunk, the leaves, the branches. And it may look strong, and it may topple if the roots don’t go down very deep. You can’t see the roots; they’re underground. You see the tree, you see the bark, you see the trunk. That’s what we see. We see the fruit, and the fruit is supposed to be a reflection of the root. But it is possible to fake the fruit for a time. And we may not see what the real roots are going down. And I’m just sure that in a room this size there are some people here, you have been faking fruit for years, hoping mom and dad don’t notice. Not being honest with what you’re really wrestling with, what you’re really struggling with, too afraid to tell anyone, or too afraid to really be honest about the double life that you’ve been living, but though the fruit may fool us, the roots don’t fool Jesus.
Think of that famous theological poem “you don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit into the wind, you don’t pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger, and you don’t mess around with Jim.” And you don’t fool Jesus. That wasn’t a part of the song, but you could add that. You don’t fool Jesus.
I said at the very beginning that this passage was short, surprising, startling, and searching, and there is one more “S.” I said perhaps this passage will prove to be, for some of you, saving. The prayer that I prayed at the very beginning, you know thought goes into those prayers. The prayer was from the psalmist: “Search me, O God, and know my heart. Try me and know my thoughts and see if there be any grievous way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.” That would be a good prayer to pray. This isn’t about making all of us so unsure of our salvation, but it is perhaps about making people who aren’t really saved be unsure of their salvation. If no one ever leaves church wondering if they’re saved then we only can assume that everyone who goes to church is always and forever saved. Well, you are forever saved, but some people aren’t yet saved. And this is a good prayer: “Search me, God. Am I in this category of believing in His name but Jesus doesn’t believe in me? I don’t want to be in that category.” May it never be that anyone at Christ Covenant Church could stand before God someday and say “I never had anybody warn me. I never had anybody tell me. I just thought I went to church and I went through the Communicants class and I became a member and I professed faith in Christ and I went on about my life and I tried to get out of harm’s way. No one ever told me there was anything else.” May it never be the case that you could stand before God and say “no one told me,” because you’re hearing it now.
God already knows. He knows who you are, He knows what’s in your heart. So why hide that from Him? You think He can’t handle it? Do we really think every person at every one of these big churches in Charlotte really understands the Gospel? Really follows Christ? Really believes with the kind of saving faith? That would be completely not in keeping with the example we see in Jesus’ own ministry.
But let me ask another question. Do we really believe that Jesus is mighty to save? Not only the prodigal, but the religious, the churchgoer, the cultural Christian, the man, woman, or child who has never understood themselves as Jesus understands them. Can Jesus save you? Of course.
Don’t content yourself with being an option 3, vaguely pro-Jesus. Not one of the bad guys, not one of the crucifiers, surely. But it’s a belief that Jesus doesn’t really believe in. The One who sees and knows, the One who needs not the approval of man nor anyone to bear witness about man, this One searches hearts, but He is Lord, and He is Savior, and He will forgive, and He will receive when we truly believe and repent.
Let’s pray. Our gracious heavenly Father, apart from your Spirit, these will only be words, just human words. But by the power of your Spirit, these can be life-changing words, eternally significant words. Do work in our hearts, Lord Jesus. Come, Holy Spirit, search us, try us, and lead us in the way of everlasting life. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.