What does it mean to believe in Jesus to you? We easily say that we believe in Jesus. But if someone asks you about “the meaning” of it, what would be your answer? Of course, we can answer with some bible verses, with standard doctrines of our denomination, or with some theological concepts we know. But what does it mean to believe in Jesus “to you,” especially, in your life?
Last week I happened to see one pastor’s sermon online, and this was the opening question of his sermon. The question resonated deeply in my heart. What made this question more powerful is his pastoral journey. For his lifetime, this pastor has devoted himself to serving dwindling churches in small islands in South Korea. Korea is a peninsular and there are more than three thousand small islands around it. Most of them are uninhibited. Some of them have a few residents, but as you can imagine, there is no hospital, no proper school system, no grocery store, and so on. Needed supplies are delivered through the regular liner that stops by once or twice a week. Serving the churches in those islands means nothing short of sacrificing his life and… the life of his wife and children.
So how did he start this ministry? Pastor Moon said that he never had any vision for that. As a seminarian, he just visited a church in an island just as experience and preached once. After the service, however, the members of the church begged him to be their pastor. He avoided this call and escaped from them. But eventually, he returned and began his special journey from there with only three church members. All through his journey, he has kept asking one question to himself: “What does it mean to believe in Jesus to me? What is it all about?”
Today’s Gospel reading shows the disciples who argue with Jesus about belief. Right before he walks into his passion and death, Jesus asks the disciples to believe in him, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me” (John 14:1). But the disciples throw questions at him in return. Thomas asks, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (John 14:5) Philip asks, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied” (John 14:8). What they ask here is simple. “Jesus, we should know at least where we are going. You’re asking us to believe in you, but don’t you think we need some proof? What does it mean to believe in you to us? What is it all about?”
Jesus says to them, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). This is his first response to the disciples. This precious revelation of Jesus’ identity is the core of the disciples’ belief and our belief. As followers of Jesus Christ, we believe in Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life. But what it means to believe in Jesus here? Does it mean to accept the truth and affirm this proposition of faith? Surely that is part of it. But believing in Jesus means much more than that. Let us hear what Jesus says to the disciples later. “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these” (John 14:12). Here, to believe in Jesus exactly means to do what he did. It is not only about knowing and confessing Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life, but more importantly, it is about living out the way he walked, living out the truth he revealed, and living out the life he opened for us.
Jesus walked many ways. He walked the way to the river Jordan and got baptized. He walked the way into the wilderness and underwent the temptation. He walked the way to gather his disciples, and with them, he walked the ways to Galilee, Capernaum, Samaria, and Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, he walked the way through the lonesome valley and finally, the way to the cross, the Via Dolorosa.
And yes, Jesus gave us the truth. But he did not convey the truth through abstract ideas and concepts like philosophers. Instead, Jesus revealed the truth by embodying the truth in his life. By serving others, by healing others, by forgiving others, by embracing others, by sacrificing himself on the cross for us, Jesus revealed the truth that God is love, God so loves us, and God graciously sent him for our salvation.
Jesus opened up the life. In his love, there is new life, the true life, the everlasting life. The tomb was opened and he was risen. Through his resurrection, Jesus showed the disciples the everlasting life that can never be defeated by death. And he leads all the believers into new life that we can live in him here and now.
The way, the truth, and the life… the disciples of Jesus in history including pastor Moon have taken up the cross and followed Jesus. They have revealed the truth by loving God and loving others with their self-sacrificing and self-denying love. And yet, they have lived the life of grace and joy within the light of Jesus’ resurrection for their lifetime. Look at Thomas, Philip, and especially, Stephen in today’s Acts reading. They lived what they believed. They lived the Christ-like life. What does it mean to believe in Jesus to us? What is it all about? Now we can tell that we believe in Jesus in our action as well as in our confession. And for all followers of Jesus Christ, believing and living can never be separate. Indeed, when we believe, we walk the way; we reveal the truth; we live the life.
In our own context of life, how much do we try to translate our belief into our everyday life? How much do we actualize our faith with our own hands and feet, in our own words and deeds? Believing in Jesus is more than just knowing him and agreeing with him. Believing is doing and living. Let us walk the way by denying ourselves, reveal the truth by loving God and loving our neighbor, and live the new life now by transforming the world with the grace of God, so that may our lives be the most plausible answers to the question, what does it mean to believe in Jesus. Amen.