Believing comes before understanding

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:

Then Peter and the other disciple jumped up and ran to the tomb to go see for themselves. They started out together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He didn’t enter the tomb, but peeked in, and saw only the linen cloths lying there. Then Peter came behind him and went right into the tomb. He too noticed the linen cloths lying there, but the burial cloth that had been on Jesus’ head had been rolled up and placed separate from the other cloths.

Then the other disciple who had reached the tomb first went in, and after one look, he believed!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)

May you have a very blessed Resurrection Day celebration on this Day that changed everything! And may your mind be blown, over and over again, by the majesty and awesome wonder of Jesus Christ who rose from the dead, and even more remarkably, raised us up with Him (Eph.2:4-6)!

* All emphasis added.

About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 40 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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7 Responses to Believing comes before understanding

  1. SLIMJIM says:

    It is amazing how brutally honest the Bible is about the flaws of its characters; which is why when Jesus is presented as Sinless I’m prone to believe it given the integrity of the Bible.

    • Mel Wild says:

      I agree, Jim. It’s also what sets the Bible apart from other religious books. We are getting their limited human perspective as they are experiencing it, not holding anything back. That makes it really sound like genuine testimony, not contrived.

      Interestingly, it’s also the seeming contradictions (although not actual contradictions) in eye-witness accounts that make it more genuine. It’s the kind of testimony you would expect from people who witnessed the same event from different perspectives. For instance, law enforcement know that people have colluded together when all say exactly the same thing. No one believes a testimony where everyone just parrots what everyone else is saying.

  2. Steve Sawyer says:

    One of your best, thought-provoking post ever

  3. Good post, Mel! I’ll put this up on my fridge, “We need to know this because you will never come to faith by trying to understand everything first.” There’s something really wonderful about just receiving or taking it all in, without know how it’s all going to work out, without fully understanding. Let God catch you by surprise!

    I also really like what you’ve said about how “faith is a heart issue.” One of the really neat things about the gospels is you get a peek into their character, their heart issues, who they are and how they are observing reality. They all tell the same story, but in their own voice. I really like how the disciple wins the foot race, but stops short and only peeks in the tomb. Peter may be slower, but he arrives and just barges right in.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks, IB. As we’ve talked about before, we need to enjoy the mystery sometimes and not get so hung up on trying to figure everything out before we respond. It’s kind of dysfunctional when you think about it. As we used to call it, “the paralysis of analysis.”

      I really like what you said here and in your post about the foot race and what it reveals about Peter and John. The gospels are so raw and real, allowing the diversity of personalities and levels of faith, not trying to gloss over their shortcomings. Whoever inspired them to write that way must’ve been pretty smart. 🙂

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