WHY Do Some People Believe – and Others Don’t?

Heritage Presbyterian Church https://heritagepresbyterian.org

Second Sunday in Lent 
March 5, 2023

Scripture readings: Genesis 12: 1-4a, Romans 4: 1-5,13-17, and John 3: 1-17

My name is Gorion, and my beloved father was Nicodemus.  He lived a good life, full of years and love and purpose.  He was my inspiration and my guide for my entire life.  It has been many years since his passing, but his real story has not been told until now.  Today may be the last chance I have to share what I heard from my Father’s lips and what I learned at his knee.  I know that the religious officials from Jerusalem have sent guards to arrest me and put me in jail for blasphemy.  

After today, I will send copies of this document to other churches in the Empire.  I hope my humble words will inspire others as Father inspired me.

My only hesitation is that if certain people find my words written on documents, the holder of those documents may be in danger and could also be killed.  My words and those of my Father will be judged as blasphemy – and the penalty for that is death by stoning, no matter who holds the words.  I must hurry and so I begin.  

First is the question that Father and I debated and discussed for years and years:

Why is it that some people believe – and others do not?

This is the kind of question that the elders in Jerusalem enjoyed discussing too, but they were never able to articulate anything other than their own “perfect” answer – nothing else would suffice.

My father always began his instruction to younger students with a conversation about Father Abraham.

What a paragon of faith and service!  What a wonderful man for all of Yahweh’s children to call “Father.”  What an example to us even today.

The greatest facet of Abraham’s personality – according to Father – was that Yahweh told Father Abraham to leave his successful, prosperous life; told him to leave his home where he was well respected and even admired; told him to leave the world he knew for one that he didn’t know at all…and Abraham went as Yahweh told him.

Father always made a point of reminding me that Abraham didn’t go because Yahweh promised him greatness or riches or safety; Yahweh promised to bless Abraham, and that was enough for him.

Father Abraham did exactly as Yahweh commanded.

Father Abraham DARED to believe – others didn’t – and Abraham was seen as righteous.

Next, Father was always interested in new schools of thought, new ideas for looking at Yahweh and following Him.  No matter how old Father got, his greatest joy was working with his students.  You would think that one as old and experienced as Father would impart what he knew to his students – but Father enjoyed asking them questions and seeing what they knew, how they thought, and especially if any of them had new ideas that he had never heard before.  His fellow elders and teachers of the Law scorned anything and everything new – they knew the Scriptures, they knew all about Yahweh.  They were there to teach and train, not to expand their own knowledge.

Father was very different.

One of his favorite new thinkers was a man once known as Saul.  Early in his life, Saul was one of those who never questioned anything and never wavered in believing in himself.  Then something happened to young Saul while he was traveling to Damascus… something dramatic, frightening, and wonderful.  

Saul encountered the living Son of God, and Saul was never the same.

It was very different from the encounter Father had with Jesus of Nazareth years earlier; Saul’s encounter was so dramatic that he went blind for three days – and then became a believer, a follower, and finally an apostle of Jesus of Nazareth – who I know is the Messiah, the Christ.  

After his conversation, Saul became Paul – and also became one who traveled and taught that Jesus was the Messiah.  Paul wrote that it was not the Law that made Abraham righteous, but rather Abraham’s faith in Yahweh.  To Paul, the Law almost seemed to matter very little.  It was Abraham’s faith that did it all.

So, Father’s second answer to the question of why some believe and others don’t was that the Law can become a burden instead of a blessing.  Paul was very blunt on this point: those whose faith depends on the Law will say all day long, “We’re sons of Abraham” as their declaration of faith.

Paul and Father both thought that was completely wrong.

The righteousness that comes by faith is the reason some believe and others don’t; others depend on a set of rules, a list of Commandments, their family heritage, perfected practices of fasting and praying in just the right way, or even doing the right things in their own way – instead of with their whole hearts for their faith.  That’s not faith.  Not at all.

Finally, Father told me the following story again and again during his long life.  

One night, he traveled in secret to talk with Jesus of Nazareth, never realizing that he was indeed the Messiah, the Christ.  He went at night – he shamefully admitted to me – because he didn’t want any of his fellow elders seeing him and judging him.  He truly wanted to understand what Jesus was saying.  This was the part of him that was always seeking new ideas, new schools of thought, new things to bring new understanding to his life-long quest for knowledge.  Father had listened to Jesus teach and had tried to follow his message.  When he could not do it, instead of merely dismissing Jesus as just another fool (as his fellow elders had done), Father found that he just had to talk more with Jesus.

Unfortunately, instead of getting answers to his questions, Father found himself with even more questions.  Father told me time and time again that his conversation with Jesus did nothing to quell the storm in his soul.  He knew Jesus was preaching the truth – somehow he just knew it.  

But Father told me that when he first met Jesus, he didn’t believe because he didn’t understand.

And that’s the third answer to Father’s question: Some people don’t believe because they are not ready to do so.  What they have just learned about faith doesn’t fit with what they already know.

When Father first heard the words and teaching of Jesus, he was not alarmed or infuriated or scoffing.  Instead, as he was so often with his own students, he was intrigued.  Then as he tried and tried to make sense of what Jesus was saying – and as they both talked again on that fateful night – Father found himself completely unable to understand Jesus’ words…

…and yet somehow…knowing Jesus was saying the truth.

Father described to me in clear detail the agony that held his soul as he made his way home that night after their secret meeting.  Father did not sleep that night, nor the next night either.  Instead, he just sat looking out the window and chewing on his thumbnail – a sure sign that he was troubled by something.  Later on, he began talking with other men who also admired Jesus but didn’t entirely understand him either.

From there, Father became a slow, quiet convert to “The Way” – which is what early followers of Jesus called themselves.

When Jesus was executed by the Romans, Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate to ask for Jesus’ body.  Father accompanied Joseph to retrieve the body and put it in a fresh tomb that had not held anyone else.  Both men sealed the tomb quickly since the Sabbath was approaching.  They planned on telling the women where the body was and arranging for them to wash and properly prepare the body after the Sabbath was done.

When Father did this, I hesitantly reminded him that because he had touched the dead body of Jesus, he was unclean and could not lead the Sabbath for our family.  Father smiled sadly and told me I was old enough – I should do it.  I did so proudly, but I knew it wasn’t right. 

Something had changed in our family…something vital… something important.

Three days later, I found out what it was.

As it turned out, Father was right.  There was…something about Jesus that was not the same as others.  As it turned out, that something was that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, the Christ, the One promised by Yahweh long ago.

From that day forward, having faith and believing in Jesus became our new law.

I spent the rest of Father’s life at his side as the two of us worked to spread the word about the Messiah.  Some days were hard and some days were easier, but all days were good.

We had faith.  We believed!

We didn’t understand everything – and I don’t think any believer truly does. 

But for teachers like Father, that’s acceptable.

Faith fills in the blanks when we struggle to understand and believe.

I am tired of writing.  This message is long enough, and that will make it somewhat difficult to copy for other churches.

But my words will reach the ears of other early believers.

Perhaps my Father’s name – Nicodemus – will inspire then to listen to the words from his son, Gorion.

Perhaps not.

I have faith, I believe, and I have a duty to get these words to as many people as possible before Yahweh calls me home, like he called my Father home many years ago.

I look forward to seeing his smiling face again, to hugging him tightly and laughing as we used to laugh together.

I look forward to seeing the face of the Master – Jesus Christ – the one who was the teacher for my own father, the teacher.

But my prayer is that somehow faith in Jesus Christ will become the faith for life for all people who seek to believe in Yahweh.

Oh, Dear Lord God!  May it be so!