The first three incidents trace the beginnings of faith in those first close disciples who came to be numbered among the picked inner twelve. The first story is one of the rarest of John's many rare stories. It is characteristic of the real thing of faith that beginning with two they quickly number five. The attachment of the two to John, the Witness, reveals them as of the earnest inquiring sort, after the very best. John never forgot that talk with Jesus in the gathering twilight by the Jordan. It sends Andrew out for Peter, and John likely for James, while the Master gets Philip, and he in turn Nathaniel. That reveals the real stuff of faith. It has a mind whose questionings have been satisfied, a heart that catches fire, and feet that hasten out-of-doors for others. That's the real thing.
Their faith takes deeper root at Cana. A new personal experience of Jesus' power is a great deepener of faith, the great deepener. This is the only pathway from faith to a deeper realer sturdier faith. A man can get a deeper faith only by walking on his own feet where Jesus leads.
Their faith grows imperceptibly but by leaps and bounds. It grows down deeper and so up stronger and out farther by their companionship with Jesus through those brief packed years. What a school that was! the school of companionship with Jesus, with lessons daily, but the chiefest lesson the Teacher Himself. What a school it is! The only one for learning the real thing of faith: still open: pupils received at any time.
If we would shut our eyes and go with them as they company with Jesus through those wondrous days and events and experiences we may get some hold on how their faith grew. They actually saw the handful of loaves and fishes grow in their hands until thousands were fed. Their own eyes saw Jesus walking on the water.
It was out of their very hearts that they cry out through Peter's lips in answer to Jesus' pathetic pleading question and say, "To whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life." And without doubt Thomas acts as spokesman for all when Jesus announced His intention of returning to the danger zone, and Thomas sturdily says, "Let us also go, that we may die with Him."
But you are thinking of that terrible break of theirs on the betrayal night, are you? Well, perhaps if we call to mind with what an utter shock the events of that terrific twenty four hours came, intensified the more by the unexpectedness and the suddenness of it; and then if -- perhaps -- we may call to mind the more recent behaviour of some modern disciples who have had enormous advantages over them in regard to that terrific experience it may chasten our feelings a bit and soften the edge of our thought about them.
But dear faithful John never faltered. We must always love him for that. How humiliating for us if not even one had stood that test. And how their after-contact with John must have affected the others. John pulled the others back and up. And how their faith so sorely chastened and tested came to its fine seasoned strength afterwards.
These very events of the early days now come back with new meaning to them. Jesus' words at the temple cleansing, and the kingly entry into Jerusalem, shine now in a new light and give new strength to their faith. But John himself brings us back to this again in that long talk of the betrayal night. So we leave it now. But blue is a good colour for the eyes. It reveals great beauty in the bit of tapestry-pattern John is weaving for us to trace these true blue threadings.
But there's more here, much more, that adds greatly to the pattern. There are faithful disciples and precious intimate friendships outside the circle of these future leaders. Take only a moment for these as we push on.
There's that night visitor of the early Jerusalem days. Aristocrat, ruler, scholar, with all the supercautiousness that these qualities always grain in, Nicodemus actually left the inner circle of temple-rulers who were as sore to the touch as a boil over John's drastic cleansing, and comes for a personal interview. His utter sincerity is shown in the temper of his remarks and questions, and shown yet more in the openness of Jesus' spirit in talking with him. For this is a trait in Jesus' dealings, -- openness when He finds an opening door. It must be so, then and now. He can open up only where there is an opening up to Him. Openness warms and loosens. The reverse chills and locks up.
It is in another just such situation but far more acute, that this man speaks out for Jesus in an official meeting of these same rulers. Timidly? have you thought, cautiously? Yet he spoke out when no one else did, though others there believed in Jesus. A really rare courage it was that told of a growing faith. And the personal devotion side of his faith, evidence again of the real thing, stands out to our eyes as we see him bring the unusual gift of very costly ointments for the precious body of his personal friend. It's a winsome story, this of Nicodemus. May there be many a modern duplicate of it.
In utter social contrast stands the next bit of this sort following so hard that the contrast strikes you at once. It's a half-breed Samaritan this time, and a woman, and an openly bad life. The Samaritans were hated by Jew and Gentile alike as belonging to neither, ground between the two opposing social national millstones. Womanhood was debased and held down in the way all too familiar always and everywhere. And a moral outcast ranks lowest in influence.
But true love discerns the possible lily in the black slime bulb at the pond's bottom and woos it into blossoming flower, till its purity and beauty greet our delighted eyes. Under the simple tact of love's true touch, out of such surroundings grows a faith, through the successive stages of gossipy curiosity, cynical remark, interest, eagerness, guilty self-consciousness that would avoid any such personal conversation, out and out comes a faith that means a changed life, and then earnest bringing of others till the whole village acclaims Jesus a Saviour, the Saviour.
And the very title they apply to Jesus reveals as by a flash-light the chief personal meaning the interview had for this outcast woman. In one way her faith meant more than Nicodemus', for it meant a radical change of outer life with her. And many a one stops short of that, though the real thing never does, and can't.
Then the circle widens yet more, geographically. Jew, Samaritan, it is a Roman this time, one of the conquering nation under whose iron heel the nation writhes restlessly. He is of gentle birth and high official position. It is his sense of acute personal need that draws him to Jesus. The child of his love is slipping from his clinging but helpless grasp.
There's the loose sort of hearsay groping faith that turns to Jesus in desperation. Things can't be worse, and possibly there might be help. There's the very different faith that looks Jesus in the face and hears the simple word of assurance so quietly spoken. He actually heard the word spoken about his dying darling, "thy son liveth."
Then there is that wondrous new sort of faith whose sharper hooks of steel enter and take hold of your very being as you actually experience the power of Jesus in a way wholly new to you. As it came to his keenly awakened mind that the favourable turn had come at the very moment Jesus uttered those quiet words, and then as he looked into the changed face of his recovering child, he became a changed man. The faith in Jesus was a part of his being. The two could never be put asunder. So the Roman world brought its grateful tribute of acceptance to this great wooing brooding Lover. The wooing had won again.
And now there's another extreme social turnabout in the circle that feels the power of Jesus' wooing. We turned from Jerusalem aristocrat to Samaritan outcast; now it's from gentle Roman official to a beggaring pauper. It is at the Tabernacles' visit. Jesus, quietly masterfully passing out from the thick of the crowd that would stone Him, noticed a blind ragged beggar by the roadway. One of those speculative questions that are always pushing in, and that never help any one is asked: "Who's to blame here?"
With His characteristic intense practicality Jesus quietly pushes the speculative question aside with a broken sentence, a sentence broken by His action as He begins helping the man. In effect He says, "Neither this man nor his parents are immediately to blame; the thing goes farther back. But" -- and He reaches down and begins to make the soft clay with His spittle -- "the thing is to see the power of God at work to help." And the touch is given and the testing command to wash, and then eyes that see for the first time.
But the one thing that concerns us now in this great ninth chapter is the faith that was so warmly wooed up out of nothing to a thing of courageous action and personal devotion to Jesus. It is fairly fascinating to watch the man move from birth-blind hopelessness through clay-anointed surprise and wonder and Siloam-walking expectancy on to water-washing eyesight.
It is yet more fascinating to see his spirit move up in the language he uses, from "the man called Jesus," and the cautious but blunt "I don't know about His being a sinner, but I know I can see," on to the bolder "clearly not a sinner but a man in reverent touch with God Himself."
Then the yet bolder, "a man from God," brings the break with the dreaded authorities which branded him before all as an outcast and as a damned soul. And then the earnest reverent cry "Who is He, Lord, that I may believe?" reveals the yearning purpose of his own heart. And then the great climax comes in the heart cry, "Lord, I believe, I believe Thee to be the very Son of God."
And the outcast of the rulers casts in his lot with Jesus and begins at once living the eternal quality of life which goes on endlessly. What a day for him from hopeless blindness of body and heart to eyesight that can see Jesus' face and know Him as his Saviour and Lord! Growth of faith clearly is not limited to the counting of hours. It waits only on one's walking out fully into all the light that comes, no matter where it may lead your steps.