The trap of unbelief

Luke 4:28 NIV
All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this.

What made the people so angry? I believe there were a number of reasons. But first read the passage in Luke 4 which describes Jesus’ first sermon in Nazareth.

Offended

First, they were offended by what Jesus said about himself. They had certain preconceptions about who Jesus was and his claims to be something more than that made them angry. At this stage Jesus had not claimed to be equal with God, but he was apparently claiming equality with the greatest of their prophets: Isaiah, Elijah and Elisha. This made them furious.

Why did they react this way? Here was a guy who preached a sermon which stirred their souls – look at their initial reaction. But their amazement and positivity gave way to questioning and skepticism. They had heard stories of miracles. But now they wanted proof. They were not prepared to simply accept what Jesus said about himself, or what they had heard, they wanted to see it with their own eyes.

Second, they were offended by what Jesus said about them. Jesus refused to perform any miracles because of their unbelief. He exposed their sin, their unwillingness to believe in him and said that he would not give them the proof they wanted because of the attitude of their hearts. Here is a conundrum. They ask for proof apparently in order to believe. Jesus refuses to give it because they don’t already believe!

Is this still true? Jesus implies that the proof of his power and his identity as the son of God will come after our decision to believe, not before. He asks us to first put our faith in him, and then ask for miracles. So often we do the opposite. We say we will believe when we see God act. God says he will act when we believe. Jesus knew then that people were often more interested in the miracles than in the one who performed them. When he perceived this in those who he met he often disappointed them. The same thing is true today.

Third, they were offended by what Jesus said about the Gentiles. Jesus says quite simply that God’s grace and blessings are not limited to the Jews, but are available to all. These gifts of God are dependent not on our birth or our heritage, but on our attitude. They are dependent on our acceptance of Jesus. Jesus had already exposed the true attitude of his listeners that day. What is he saying to me about my attitude today? Do I think I am entitled to his blessings because of who I am in this world, because Jesus says that entitles me to nothing. If I am to see the power of God at work I must believe in Jesus, regardless of whether I am Jew or Gentile, educated or uneducated, beautiful or ugly, rich or poor. I cannot depend on anything else but Jesus.

Unbelief

Unbelief is a massive barrier to the power of God becoming evident in our lives. But the skepticism that is so rife in our world today is often promoted as a good thing. We are taught that it is right to question. We are encouraged to not accept people’s statements but to ask for evidence, and then to weigh the evidence on the balance of our own reason. We are challenged not to be gullible, not to be taken in by fine sounding con men. Cynicism is a way of life for many of us, and doctors are among the worst offenders.

But when we apply this principle of skepticism to Jesus it kills the possibility of the abundant life he offers. We seldom see the supernatural, we seldom see the power of God at work. We prefer our own reason and knowledge, based on our own education and experience, to blind acceptance of outrageous claims by Jesus or anyone else.

I believe this is a major problem for many of us, but especially for doctors. The challenge for us as Christian doctors is to balance our desire for proof with a willingness to believe that Jesus is who he says he is – God – even before the proof is evident. For some this feels like a leap in the dark. To a certain extent faith always involves an element of this. There is always a degree of risk. Nothing is ever completely certain in this life.

There is a divine order of things here – first belief, then evidence. This is completely opposite to our way of thinking, especially for doctors. We look for evidence first and then base our beliefs on those observations. However, using this approach can easily lead to us becoming controlled by unbelief (skepticism). Jesus chooses, however, not to act in an environment of unbelief. He takes his miracles elsewhere. It happened to the people of his home town. It can happen to us.

Displacing unbelief

How are we to respond to this story? We need to examine our hearts. Do we believe that Jesus is who he says he is? Do we believe what Jesus taught, about God the father, son and Holy Spirit? About ourselves and the nature of humanity? About the supernatural? About the world? So often we cherry pick what we believe, just taking the bits that we are comfortable with, or that fit into our pre existing world view. So often we squeeze Jesus into a shape that we like, instead of seeing him as he is. So often our pride and arrogance blinds us to our own unbelief. So often we refuse to let our lives be shaped and directed by Jesus, preferring instead to use Jesus to support the lives we have imagined or chosen for ourselves.

If we, like the Jews, find Jesus confronting and offensive, find that he irritates us, makes us angry, we need to stop in our tracks and refocus on Jesus before our anger, disappointment or offense lead us down the track of throwing Jesus off the cliff. In such a scenario, Jesus will not die, but he will be lost to us. If we can confess our unbelief and turn from it, placing our faith firmly in Him, then we will enter a life we never would have believed possible.

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