First Things First

What does it take to bring an unbeliever to Jesus Christ? This question has been asked throughout the history of the Christian faith. Jesus gives us some help.

In our text, Jesus had just fed five thousand people with five loaves and two fish. It was a tremendous miracle. When the crowd was satisfied, they rushed around him and the disciples. So Jesus told the disciples to get in a boat and go to a quiet place where they could get some rest.

So the disciples got in the boat to sail across the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum. However, during the course of their sailing, a tremendous storm came up and they were very afraid. Suddenly Jesus came walking on the water and said to them, “It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

Some do not believe Jesus could walk on the water and believe this story must have another interpretation. But I say, why is it so difficult to believe? When you see all that Jesus has done on this earth, can it be beyond reason that he could also walk on water? Think of how intricately the heart was put together. Is it so difficult to believe the Savior can do anything, even walk on water?

The next day, when the people realized Jesus and his disciples were not there, they went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. When they found him, they asked, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” They were looking for miraculous signs so they might see and then believe in him. Jesus answered them in verse 29, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” He was telling them that only after they believe Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, would they begin to see his miraculous powers.

The same is true today. We think that if we could only see one great miracle, then we could believe. It is not enough to hear something being preached from the Bible; I have to be shown proof before I will believe. This is especially true when it comes to important matters for which someone does not have an answer, like health problems.

I once walked into the hospital room of a man’s dying daughter. She was the mother of two little children. He took me into the corridor and said, “Pastor, I know you are going to read a passage of scripture, and I want you to do that. I know you are going to pray, and I surely want you to do that. But if Jesus would only give me a sign that my daughter is going to live, then I would believe in him.”

Jesus does not work this way. He never said he was going to heal the sick in that manner. Instead, we must first trust him, and then see what he’s doing. That is the order in which he works. It’s not first give the great miracle, and then I’ll believe.

People from the very beginning of the Christian faith have sought to find something more tangible than the words of the gospel. St. Paul said, “Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (I Corinthians 1:22-24). These verses are telling us to trust Christ first, then we will find the miracles we seek.

In the book of Acts, Paul and Silas were at Philippi. The leaders became disgusted with them and threw them into jail. One night, as they sat in the jail cell waiting to be killed, they had a terrible earthquake, and the prison doors flew open. Seeing this, the jailer, who was held accountable for the prisoners, drew his sword with the intention of taking his own life. But Paul stopped him by saying, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

The jailer rushed into their cell and said to them, “You’ve been singing these hymns. What must I do to be saved?”

They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved Ð you and your household.” That is the order Ð first believe, then all these things will come your way. You can read this story in Acts 16.

Bishop Ryle, who lived hundreds of years ago, was a bishop in England. He wrote this: “Humans say Ôshow us some miraculous signs and I will believe.’ But I say this is the common language of many unconverted hearts.”

Asking for a miracle before faith is evidence of an unconverted heart, according to the bishop, and it is inverting God’s order. Faith must come first; sight will follow.

My wife had a stroke seventeen years ago and since then, she has been unable to walk without assistance. Following her stroke, I did everything humanly possible to help her, medically speaking. We consulted some of the greatest physicians we could find, but no one could help her, for the damage had already been done. As time went on, I grew somewhat depressed, but did not give up, and began looking for a miraculous sign. I got it.

I got it one Sunday in church. As I listened to my pastor speak from the pulpit, he said words to this effect: “After we have tried everything to solve our problems and there is nothing else we can do, remember this: Jesus stands there with us.” Does that mean he will give us all our desires and work these miracles? No, and the pastor did not ever intimate that. But he did say that Jesus stands with us.

As I sat in the pew that day, I felt as if the Holy Spirit had taken those words, which came from the Scriptures, lifted me up and said, “Look! I have said, ÔCast all of your cares upon me, I care for you.’ I haven’t left you. I’m right here!” I left the church that day feeling elated because of the words delivered to me by a faithful pastor who not only ached with his people, but also knew it is true Ð Jesus stands with us.

That week my wife entered the hospital for some tests. As we settled into her room, here came our second pastor! He opened the book of Psalms and read, “Trust in the Lord, for all things are in his hand. Therefore, I will not fear.” Then he prayed from the bottom of his heart that we may continue to have that peace.

This pastor knew my wife and I had lived in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ for many years. We were assured of our heavenly home, and we still are today. But no matter how long I had lived with that assurance, I needed to be reminded of it.

Faith must come first, and then the earth becomes new. When I look at my wife today and see all the things she can do, then I know all is well.

It is a tremendous opportunity to have a Savior like this. But first we have to be in a living relationship with him, then our eyes are opened. Can I believe Jesus walked on the water? Of course. Why not? Can I believe his promises are true when he says, “Come unto me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest”? Of course. Why not? For he is my Savior, the Creator of it all. But please remember the order.

We started by asking what it takes to bring an unbeliever to Christ. It takes the Word. Jesus speaks through the Word Ð the Word that comes from the pulpit. The Word you read in your home and share with others. The Word that tells you Jesus is standing with you forever. Then when the eyelid closes, we will be at home with him.

First things first. Christ and then all the other things.