Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Believe... life (John 4:46-54)

In my last post, I talked about Jesus' healing of the nobleman's son (John 4:46-54). One theme is the growth of belief - the crowd has inadequate belief, the nobleman believes before the healing, and the nobleman believes (more) after the healing, along with his household. Another theme is life: the repetition of the phrase "your son lives" is John's hint to us about what matters in the story.

These two themes remind us of the message of John's gospel: believing in Jesus leads to life. John tells us that he wrote his gospel so that "you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that by believing you may have life..." (John 20:31, see also 10:10).

This is an easy one for mature Christians to overlook. We reason that we have already believed in Jesus and so already have life. John's message, we think, is for those who do not yet believe. But I agree with most John scholars that John was written for believers. If our first belief brought us life, then our growing belief brings us growing life. Martha clearly believes in Jesus (John 11:21), but Jesus asks her to believe more (John 11:26); after Martha believes more (John 11:27), Jesus asks her to believe still more (John 11:40).

Jesus' word to the nobleman, Jesus' word to Martha, Jesus' word to us: believe and have life... believe more, and have more life. It's a simple challenge to take up, one that we can try tomorrow: learn something more about Jesus, believe it, experience more of the abundant life. On the days that we believe the most, we live the most. The times that we feel the most shrivelled are the times when we are least contemplating and trusting Jesus.

(Side note on Greek: in this scene, the boy is called a paidarion (child, with the implication "little" or "dear"), a huios (son), and a pais (child or boy). That reminds us that different words often mean the same thing, and that an author may use synonyms just for style or for very slight nuance. If there is any significance to John's variation, it's only that it is appropriate for the father to use the word paidarion as a term of endearment).

The picture: The Raising of Lazarus, by Duccio di Buoninsegna, 1310-11. One of my favorite medieval artists.


  1. This is some fierce stuff, Gary.
    I'm loving it.
    I am going to listen to the radio show later on today. :)

    See you soon.

  2. Thanks, Justin! This post is a lesson I am trying to learn this week.

  3. How much belief is needed to be saved?


  4. Good question to wrestle with, Keoki. Belief, like love or hate, is difficult to quantify. How much is a pound of faith?

    The answer in the gospel of John seems to be that we must believe in who Jesus is and what he does. We must believe that he can and will give us this "life" to us.


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