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Volume 15, Issue 1: Stauron

Believing is Seeing

Gary Hagen

The disciples had all witnessed the betrayal in the garden. As they fled into the darkness, they quickly glanced back over their shoulders. Strobing torchlight revealed the arrest of the king. With hands tied tightly behind his back, the soldiers led him down the road to Calvary. First stop, Annas' house.

At least a few of the disciples also witnessed the trial—first before the High Priest, then Pilate. They would have also heard Jesus' final warning to the crowds as he climbed the heights of Golgotha that next morning, "Weep for yourselves—not for me!" Time is pregnant. The twins will soon be born. Wrath and Destruction will trample Jerusalem.
They saw him crucified, die, and be buried. All were convinced of his death—either by first-hand observation or by the testimony of the braver few. There was no question. It was finished.
So when the resurrected Christ appeared to Mary Magdalene, Mary (Mrs. Zebedee), Joanna, and several other women early in the morning, the eleven were incredulous. Later that day, much later, the eleven deemed two travelers from Emmaus to be likewise delusional. Thus when Thomas declared his citizenship in Missouri, he was following the established tradition of the early church up to that point. Yet when Thomas saw, he believed and worshipped. The same would not be said of all the disciples (Mt. 28:17).
Jesus told Thomas that those who would believe based on the testimony of witnesses—without seeing Him—would be truly blessed. Paul wrote that we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). Hebrews tells us that things not seen are evidenced by faith. Indeed, faith comes by hearing the Word of God. But faith is not just our natal breath in the new birth, but our daily breath in the new life (Gal. 2:20, cf. Hab. 2:4). Christ died, not simply to give us new birth, but new life. And this life is lived by faith (Rom. 1:17). But this faith is often misunderstood, even within the Church.
Faith cannot be seen as some New Testament novelty. Our faith follows the promise made to Abraham—our father in faith (Rom. 4:16-17). Faith is not a temporary experience at conversion, but the life-long experience of our walk on earth. Christ endured the cross and now gives us enduring faith. He died to save His people (hence the angel's prophecy of His name). He did not die that faith in Him might one day be possible. He died to give His people life, salvation, and faith (Heb. 12:1-2, cf. Eph. 2:8-9). He is faith's author and finisher—from beginning to end.
By faith we understand that God spoke the galaxies into existence (Heb. 11:3). Unbelief looks up to the stars and down to the grass and sees random chance. Faith perceives the Creator's hand in the Fibonacci fractions of each planet's orbit overhead in the night sky as well as in the leaf arrangements of plants under its feet.1
Faith is frequently mischaracterized by unbelievers. And who should be surprised? The problem is that these unbelieving definitions of faith quickly creep into the church. Many misconstrue faith to be little more than wishful thinking, "things hoped for." The "name it and claim it" evangelical crowd takes this one step further and suggests that if we just hope hard enough and wish long enough, God will cooperate with "our faith." The Creator of the universe needs a little help from us for the small stuff, they think.
We often get this backwards when it comes to faith. Classic among these examples is the strong proclivity to cast faith as something we do, specifically as a cognitive process that hinges on understanding or reason. We speak of a "rational basis for faith." But Scripture speaks somewhat differently.
When Christ castigated the Pharisees for not understanding His preaching, He didn't chide them about logical fallacies or harass them about mistaken hermeneutics. Rather, Jesus charged them with a lack of faith. They failed to demonstrate the faith of the father they were claiming (Abraham) and instead imitated their father the devil (Jn. 8:39_47, cf. Jas. 2:21-22). Faith and understanding are God's work in His own (Mt. 16:17).
Even the Lord's disciples, who were often called those of "little faith," were not upbraided for a lack of alphabet soup after their signatures. Even for these, Jesus pointed to hard hearts (lack of faith) as the cause for their lack of understanding, not the other way around (Mk. 8:17, cf. Mt. 16 8-9). Seeing this helps explain how Jesus could not only say that infants could also receive the gift of faith, but that they could serve as models for adult faith (Mk. 10:14-16, cf. Mt. 18:6,10).
The familiar halls of the eleventh chapter of Hebrews are filled with champions of faith. Faith gave them understanding, endurance, courage, and strength because Christ's gift of faith enabled them to see Him who is invisible (Heb. 11:27, cf. Dan. 11:32).

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