A sermon by Howard Batson, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Amarillo, Tx.
April 6, 2014
“Seeing is believing.” No, I’m not referring to the Elvis song, nor to the 1941 mystery novel by Carter Dickson. “Seeing is believing,” I have discovered in recent weeks, is the central theme of John’s gospel.
You don’t discover this theme studying one parable or one pericope per passage. But if you step back from John’s gospel and look from a distance at the words “seeing” and “believing,” you realize there can be no coincidence here. This gospel is about those who “see and believe.” And, even more so, those who believe and, thus, are able to see.
We’re going to do a little hand raising today in this Baptist church. How many of you have actually – with your own eyes – seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa? The construction of this tower – we are told – occurred in three stages over a period of almost 200 years – 199 to be exact. The tower was built on unstable subsoil and has a foundation of only three meters. The design was flawed from the beginning, and if construction had not been halted for almost half a century because of battles Pisa faced, the tower would have almost certainly toppled. The foundation was laid in 1173, and the bell chamber was finally finished in 1372. Architects have tried to compensate for the leaning bell tower over the years by building upper floors with one side taller than the other, so the tower is actually curved in construction. Oh, it’s a remarkable thing to behold – or so I’m told. To tell you the truth, I’ve never seen it. Notice I didn’t raise my hand.
All right, a few of you have seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa. For those of us who have never, with our own eyes, actually seen the tower of itself – not a picture, but the tower itself – for those of us who have never seen it, how many of us believe that it actually exists?
Well, I see most hands went up, so even though you haven’t seen it, you actually believe it. And why do you believe it? Because of the testimony of so many who have seen it. Perhaps you’ve seen pictures. Maybe a documentary. There is enough evidence around you to conclude that although your own eyes have never beheld the almost toppling tower that you can have confidence in its existence because of the testimony of others.
Do you realize you believe most things that way? Maybe you’ve never seen the Eiffel Tower either. Do you believe it’s there? I believed the clock, Big Ben, existed before I ever saw it – this architectural marvel at the north end of the Palace of Westminster in London. I’d always heard about it. I’d always believed in it. And then, one day, I saw it. It was as reported.
C. S. Lewis wrote, “Ninety-nine percent of the things you believe are believed on authority. The ordinary person believes in the solar system, atoms, and the circulation of the blood on authority – because scientists say so. Every historical statement is believed on authority. None of us has seen the Norman Conquest or the defeat of the Spanish Armada. But we believe them simply because people who did see them left writings that tell us about them.” (C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed)
Rush with me to John 20, where we have the apex of all that John wants us to see. I almost said “hear,” but John wants us to see.
In John 20, it’s the first day of the week. Mary of Magdala is coming early to the tomb – it’s still dark outside. Perhaps she ponders all along the way how she is going to remove the enormous stone to complete the burial of Jesus, a burial that had been done in haste because of the approaching Sabbath. When she gets there, the stone has already been rolled away. The tomb is empty. She runs to Simon Peter and John. “They’ve taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb. I don’t know where they’ve laid Him,” she cries.
Peter and John have a foot race all the way back to the tomb. John is younger and faster – he arrives first, but he dare not go in. When Peter finally comes (20:6), he enters the tomb immediately. He sees the linen wrappings that had been on our Lord’s body, and he sees the face cloth which had adorned His head. And then John enters, or the one called “the Beloved Disciple” in John’s gospel. Look at John 20:8. “So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb entered then also, and he saw and he believed. For as yet they did not understand the scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. So the disciples went away again to their own homes.”
What did John see? He saw that death could not defeat our Lord. He saw an empty tomb, and then he remembered that Jesus said that He must rise again from the dead. All became clear. At that one moment, he both saw and he believed completely in the identity and the lordship of rabbi Jesus. The wanna-be disciple became a devotee that day – he saw and he believed.
That’s the moment that all must come to. It’s the moment that John leads you to in his gospel, when you both see and believe. John seeks to lead his reader to repeat his own “ah ha” moment.
We don’t have time to look at them all, but how did I ever come to the conclusion that seeing and believing is what John is all about? It’s a woven tapestry within the text.
Turn back to John 1. If you’re going to write these passages down, the first one is John 1:18. John, the one who saw and believed in the empty tomb, writes:
“No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained him” (1:18).
I like the way Eugene Peterson says it in The Message: “No one has ever seen God, not so much as a glimpse, this one of a kind God expression who exists at the very heart of the Father. He made Him plain as day.”
Jesus, when you see Him , when you really see Him, makes God as plain as day.
John the Baptist is preaching. Jesus arrives when John is baptizing. And John cries out in 1:29, “Behold the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world.” Behold, or “see” the Lamb of God. And then in verse 34, he says, “And I have seen and have born witness that this is the Son of God.”
John the Baptist, the first preacher of the gospel, says “I have seen, and now I tell you. This Jesus is the Son of God.”
We don’t even have to leave the chapter until we have the next one. Philip finds Nathanael and says, “We have found the one of whom Moses and the Law and prophets wrote: Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Philip makes that great disciple’s declaration, “We have found the one.” Nathanael retorts, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
And Philip says, “Come and see” (1:46).
That is the invitation of the gospel of John. Come, walk with Jesus. Come and see. Spend some time with Him and behold who He is.
When Nathanael approaches Jesus, Jesus says, “Behold, an Israelite in whom there is no guile.” Nathanael says, “How do you know me?” And Jesus said, “Before Philip called you, when you were still under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered and said, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God. You are the King of Israel” (John 1:47-49).
And Jesus said to him, “Because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You will see greater things than these… Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (John 1:50).
Seeing and believing. Philip saw, he shared, and Nathanael believed. “But you’re going to see bigger and better,” Jesus said to Nathanael.
If you do not come to believe, then you will not see. You see, “seeing is believing” but, also, “believing is seeing.”
What do I mean? In John 3, we have that familiar passage where Nicodemus comes to Jesus saying that he knows the miracles are an indication that Jesus has come from God. Jesus answers and says to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Jesus tried to explain to Nicodemus (3:11), “We speak that which we know and bear witness of that which we have seen, and you do not receive our witness.”
You see, seeing is believing, but believing is also seeing.
The testimony of John the Baptizer – his last testimony. “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
Seeing as believing continues in John 4, the very next chapter, with the woman at the well. She goes to fetch her water at an odd time, avoiding the mockers who make much of her life of sin – this woman who has had five husbands and now lives with a man to whom she’s not even married. Having asked her for a cup of cool water from the well, Jesus now tells her that He has living water to give her. The woman is so excited that she has met the Messiah that she runs to the men of the city and declares
“Come and see the man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ, is it?” (John 4:29).
Like Philip said to Nathanael in chapter 1, now the sinful woman of Samaria says to the men of the city, “Come and see.”
Jesus goes to Cana again, the town where he has turned the water into wine. There is a royal official whose son is sick at Capernaum – 22 miles away. When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to him, requesting Him to come down to heal his son, for he was at the point of death. Jesus says “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe” (John 4:48).
There it is. “Unless you see, you will not believe.”
“Sir, come on, before my child dies.” He didn’t want to enter a theological debate or sit at a philosophical round table. He wanted his son healed.
“Go away. Your son lives.”
The man, indeed, sees the sign. When he gets home, they meet him, declaring, “Your son is well.” “What hour did he get well?” They told him, and the man knew that it was the very hour at which Jesus said (John 4:53), “ ‘Your son lives,’ and he himself believed and his whole household.”
You have to see to believe. The man saw and the man believed.
All these stories and characters in John’s gospel are a miniature of John himself – the John who walked into the Easter tomb seeing and believing.
You don’t have to travel far – just over to John 6:30. In chapter 6, Jesus has fed the 5,000. They are ready to make Him king (6:15). Jesus walks on the water to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. The disciples see Him walking on the water. They are fearful; they begin to cry out, thinking they see a ghost. He declares, “It is I; don’t be afraid” (6:20). The multitude came to meet Him on the other side. They had seen too many signs to be deterred in their desire to see the miraculous. Jesus makes it clear, “Truly, truly I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate loaves that were filled” (6:26). You want more of the same. Your bellies are full. Like Moses giving new manna, they wanted to follow this miracle worker.
“How can we do the works of God?” they ask in 6:28. And Jesus says to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him who He has sent.”
And they said, “Give us a sign, so that we may see, and believe you. What miracle will you perform?” (6:30).
Jesus says the miraculous manna that He provided for the disciples to devour is not the real answer. He declares that He is the bread of life, and if you partake in Him, you will not hunger. And if you believe, you will never thirst (John 6:35).
They ask for a sign to see, and Jesus says, “You have seen me, yet you do not believe” (John 6:36).
“For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40).
Just one chapter over, in chapter 7, His brothers, who do not believe in Him at the time, but who, thank goodness, later believe Him, urge Him to go to Jerusalem for the feast to show off some of His miracles.
“His brothers said to Him, depart from here and go into Judea, so that your disciples may also see your works that you are doing” (7:3).
And then just one chapter over, John adds Abraham to the list of the “seeing and believing.”
The Jews are saying that Jesus has a demon (8:48). Jesus tells them that if anyone keeps His words, they will never see death. They reply in verse 52, “Now we know that you have a demon. Abraham died, and the prophets also. You’re not greater than Abraham, are you?” (v. 53). “You better than the prophets? Who do you make yourself out to be?”
“Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56).
“You’re not fifty years old yet, Jesus, and you say that you have seen Abraham?” (v. 57).
“I was before Abraham,” (v. 58).
They were ready to stone Him for saying that Abraham had seen and believed.
Giving us a central masterpiece about “seeing and believing,” John brings us to the blind man. You remember, he’s born blind. The disciples ask, “Who sinned, that he’s blind? His parents or he?”
“Oh, no one sinned. He’s blind that God may be glorified.”
Jesus heals him. The authorities investigate. They ask the parents, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? Then how does he see?” (John 9:19).
The religious leaders keep pressing the blind man. “How is it that you were blind, but now you see?” They cannot accept that Jesus gives sight to the blind.
John is trying to show us that we’re the blind ones, and Jesus gives us sight so that we may believe. And in believing, we see the kingdom of God.
They have told the blind man to glorify God because Jesus is a sinner. And he makes the great testimony of John 9:25, “Whether Jesus is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, I once was blind, but now I see.”
Jesus makes a declaration, concluding the story, “For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see [those who think they see] may become blind” (John 9:39).
In chapter 11, Jesus’ dear friend Lazarus dies and Martha and Mary are troubled that the Lord was not there. “If you had been here, he would not have died,” they say.
“Oh, I’m glad I wasn’t here,” Jesus replies, “so that you may believe. Let’s go to him” (11:15).
Jesus, visiting the tomb of Lazarus declares, “Remove the stone,” to which Martha protests. “It’s been too long, Lord. There will be the stench of death.” And Jesus declares
“Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” (John 11:40).
Seeing is believing in John. But also, believing is seeing.
In case you’ve missed the meaning of “seeing and believing,” John circles around again in the very next chapter.
The Greeks come up to Philip and say, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
Then, using the prophet Isaiah, John speaks of those who harden their hearts against God, those of whom the prophet Isaiah has spoken. “Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom of the arm of the Lord been revealed? For this reason they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, ‘He has blinded their eyes and He hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes and perceive with their heart, and be converted and I heal them’” (John 12:38-40).
And Jesus concludes, “He who believes in Me does not believe in Me but in Him who sent Me…’ (John 12:44).
“He who sees Me sees the One who sent Me” (John 12:45)
To believe in Jesus is to believe in God. To see Jesus is to see God. (See also John 14:9.)
In John 19:35, John has both seen and testified. Why has John seen and testified? So that you may believe (19:35).
After John sees the empty tomb and believes in chapter 20, the disciples go back to their own homes. Mary stands around the tomb. There is someone behind her. She supposes he is the gardener. “Tell me where His body is. I won’t ask any questions. I’ll just take Him away.”
And Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She understood at that moment that her Lord was living. And Mary becomes the first preacher of the gospel. In John 20, Mary Magdalene came announcing to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord” (John 20:18).
She saw and she believed.
Finally, Thomas is gone, the disciples are gathered, the doors are shut. The resurrected Jesus miraculously stands in their midst. “Peace be with you.” He shows them His hands and His feet.
The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord (John 20:20).
Thomas was absent, but they report, “We’ve seen the Lord” (v. 25). Thomas says, “Unless I shall see His hands and the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”
Unless I see, I will not believe. The doubting disciple of John.
A week passes. The disciples are again gathered – Thomas, this time, with them. Jesus appears – the same words. “Peace be with you.” He turns to Thomas and says, “Come here, bring your finger and see my hands.” Notice, he didn’t say touch. “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands…and be not unbelieving, but believing.” And Thomas made the great declaration of faith, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:27-28).
Then Jesus says, “Because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who did not see, and yet believed.”
I’ve never seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa, but I believe with everything that I am that if I could travel to Tuscany tomorrow, when I arrived it would be standing, leaning – no less – just as all the voices have testified. C.S. Lewis says, “I have to believe that Jesus was and is God, and it seems plain as a matter of history that He taught His followers that the new life was communicated in this way.”
The voices are unanimous in John:
•John the Baptist
•The woman at the well
•John the Apostle
•And yes, even a blind man.
They all “see and believe.”
John saw and John believed.
And we who believe will see the kingdom of God.
I don’t know what your testimony is. I hope you join your voice with these. “I once was blind, but now I see.” And, in believing, you see the kingdom of God.