Believing comes before understanding
April 4, 2021
I’m always struck by the naked honesty of the disciple’s account of Jesus’ resurrection. Rather than making some pretentious claim of superior understanding, they confess their unbelief and confusion over the whole matter. In fact, they disclose that initially it was the women who had more faith than they did (see Luke 24:10-11), which would’ve been unthinkable to admit in their culture. This is important for us to understand because faith always comes before understanding.
According to this resurrection account in John’s gospel, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb just before sunrise, only to find Jesus not in the tomb, so she runs back to the disciple to tell them His body is missing. Here’s what happens next:
3 Then Peter and the other disciple jumped up and ran to the tomb to go see for themselves. 4 They started out together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He didn’t enter the tomb, but peeked in, and saw only the linen cloths lying there. 6 Then Peter came behind him and went right into the tomb. He too noticed the linen cloths lying there, 7 but the burial cloth that had been on Jesus’ head had been rolled up and placed separate from the other cloths.
8 Then the other disciple who had reached the tomb first went in, and after one look, he believed!9 For until then they hadn’t understood the Scriptures that prophesied that he was destined to rise from the dead. 10 Puzzled, Peter and the other disciple then left and went back to their homes. (John 20:3-10 TPT*)
What’s interesting here is that the disciples believed but they weren’t understanding just what they believed! They left the empty tomb puzzled.
These disciples were in Jesus’ inner cirle; they had lived with Him for over three years, they heard Him speak words of life, they saw the miracles, and yet even though He told them He would suffer and die and on the third day rise from the dead, they could not hear it.
They could not hear because they had no mental grid for what Jesus was saying plainly to them.
31 For He taught His disciples and said to them, “The Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. And after He is killed, He will rise the third day.” 32 But they did not understand this saying, and were afraid to ask Him. (Mark 9:31-32 NKJV*)
This is an important lesson for us because faith is a heart issue (Rom.10:10), not a head issue. Believing always comes before understanding. We need to know this because you will never come to faith by trying to understand everything first.
As Jesus told Thomas when He appeared to him after the resurrection:
“Thomas, don’t give in to your doubts any longer, just believe!” (John 20:17c TPT)
Kierkegaard’s “leap of faith” is essentially true about believing. But here’s the thing: faith is required whether you believe or you don’t believe. For we can neither prove nor disprove something outside of the natural order of things.
But our “leap” here is not like the futility of unbelief that leads foolish hearts into darkness (Rom.1:21), for it will faithfully lead us into the light and life of Christ, if our heart remains open to it.
We must learn to “trust in the Lord with all of our heart and lean not on our own understanding” (Prov.3:5). Human understanding is subjective, limited, and circumstantially-driven. We often ignorantly assume that because we know something, we actually understand it. This is a flaw of human nature, and why intellectual pride actually makes us blind.
25 Then Jesus exclaimed, “Father, thank you, for you are Lord, the Supreme Ruler over heaven and earth! And you have hidden the great revelation of your authority from those who are proud and think they are wise and unveiled it instead to little children. (Matt.11:25 TPT*)
This was the problem with the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. Because they only trusted their own limited understanding, they were blind to something beyond themselves.
39 And Jesus said, “I have come to judge those who think they see and make them blind. And for those who are blind, I have come to make them see.”
40 Some of the Pharisees were standing nearby and overheard these words. They interrupted Jesus and said, “You mean to tell us that we are blind?”
41 Jesus told them, “If you would acknowledge your blindness, then your sin would be removed. But now that you claim to see, your sin remains with you!” (John 9:39-41 TPT*)
This unprecedented resurrection event should be instructive to us. Our understanding of things should be ever-growing. But for us to grow beyond the echo of our own thoughts, as I’ve said before, we must keep our heart open.
Beloved, I’ll say it again. The heart is the gateway to greater understanding, embracing those things by faith before our mind can rap itself around something bigger than our myopic view of reality.
15 He who has ears to hear, let him hear! (Matt.11:15 NKJV)