PastorRodney’s Weblog

Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

Obey Jesus: Walk By Faith

07/26 Walk By Faith (Matthew 17; Luke 17; Mark 6); Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20200726_faith.mp3

Today I want to look at what Jesus taught about faith. Up front I want to distinguish between what we will call ‘saving faith’ and faith for other supernatural things short of salvation. We dealt specifically with the saving kind of faith or believing in Jesus at the beginning of our series on Obeying Jesus; because it is the most important thing Jesus commanded of us. Saving faith is the kind of faith we see in John 3:16

John 3:14 …the Son of Man [must] be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. …18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

God gave his only Son Jesus to pay the price for our sins at the cross, so that whoever has faith, whoever believes in him, whoever trusts in him, depends on him only and completely, will not perish but will have eternal life. That is what I mean by saving faith through the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. That is primary. That is essential. If you’re not trusting only and completely in Jesus’ finished work for you on the cross, nothing else I will say matters at all. I must understand that I am a sinner and as such I deserve God’s wrath. But God’s wrath toward me was poured out on his only Son Jesus on the cross, so that by faith, by trusting in him, I am brought in to a relationship with God, forgiven, accepted, loved. We will come back around to this at the end and see how this all connects, but that is not the focus of what I want to look at today.

Jesus disciples said ‘increase our faith!’ Jesus reprimanded his followers on several occasions ‘O you of little faith.’ He made their success in doing what he called them to do contingent on faith in contrast to doubting. We will call this ‘walking by faith’ as we follow Jesus, in contrast to ‘living by faith’ or having new life given to us by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

One of the reasons I want to look at this today is there is a good deal of misunderstanding around some of the passages we will look at, even some dangerous teaching. By looking at those in their context we will be able to gain a clearer understanding of what they mean, and ultimately of what it means to walk with Jesus by faith.

O Faithless Generation; (Mt.17:14-20; Mk.9:18-29)

In Matthew 17, Jesus is coming down from the mount of transfiguration with three of his closest disciples.

Matthew 17:14 And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him, 15 said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. 16 And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.” 17 And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.”

Jesus rebukes the whole generation for being faithless and warped. This would include everyone; the religious leaders, the crowds, the father, even his own disciples. They are rebuked for their lack of faith. Mark’s account includes a conversation between Jesus and the father of the boy.

Mark 9:21 And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”

This father had already asserted that Jesus’ disciples ‘could not heal him’. Now he asks Jesus if he is able to do anything for them. He frames his request to Jesus with doubt. ‘If you can.’ If you are able to do anything to help us, have compassion on us.

Mark 9:23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

Jesus confronts this father’s lack of faith head on. He quotes back to him his own words ‘if you can’. Do you know who you are talking to? I can’t think of any time where it would be appropriate to use these words in prayer. God, if you are able… God is able. Omnipotent. That is what it means to be God. Nothing is impossible with God.

Psalm 115:3 Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.

Psalm 135:6 Whatever the LORD pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps. (cf. Ecclesiastes 8:3)

What does the word ‘faith’ or ‘believe’ actually mean? The root of this word group [πείθω] means ‘to be persuaded or convinced’. To believe is to be so persuaded of something that you trust in it, you depend on it, you put your weight on it.

Faith in a Tree

Faith can be misplaced or well placed. I once put my trust in a tree. I was hiking up the steep slope of a mountain, and I reached out to steady myself on a tree, and I ended up maybe a hundred yards below the tree, unconscious, bleeding, with a fractured skull. The tree was strong enough, but I didn’t realize it was wet and slippery. It was my grip that failed. Faith is only as good as the object in which it is placed. It doesn’t matter how strongly you believe something. If you believe the wrong thing, it will let you down, and it may let you down hard.

This father of the demon possessed boy began to see that he was looking more at his own hopeless circumstances than he was at who it was who was standing in front of him, ready and willing to help. He begins to recognize his own need. and prays a good prayer to Jesus. His first request was prefaced by ‘if you can do anything to come to our aid’. Now he prays ‘Come to the aid of my unbelief’. Never underestimate the power of God. Jesus is able to take unbelief and change it into faith.

Little-Faith [ὀλιγόπιστος]

Matthew 17:18 And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly. 19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” 20 He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” 21 —

The disciples want to know where they went wrong. And as with the boy’s father, Jesus points to their little faith. They failed to cast out the demon because of their little faith. Jesus uses a compound word ‘little-faith’; and the ‘little’ can be lacking in extent, in degree, in duration or in value. It could mean that they didn’t have strong enough or big enough faith; they didn’t believe hard enough, or that they didn’t believe long enough, or it could mean that their faith lacked value; it was lacking because it was misplaced. Jesus makes it clear that it is not the quantity or size of the faith that matters; he says if you have faith the size of a grain of mustard seed, which is a very tiny seed, you can move mountains; nothing will be impossible for you. So he must mean little faith in the sense of lacking in value; or misplaced faith.

Failed Faith or Prayer?

It is interesting to compare Matthew’s account with Mark’s. In Mark’s account, when the disciples ask Jesus privately why they were not able to cast out the demon, Jesus answers “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” This is surprising, because in none of the three accounts, Matthew, Mark or Luke, does Jesus pray. But he had just come down from being with his Father on the mountain. In Matthew, Jesus gives the reason as their little faith, or faith of little value; misplaced faith; In Mark Jesus gives the reason as a lack of prayer. The one with faith in God, who really trusts in God, who is depending on God, expresses that dependence through prayer, asking God to do what only he can do.

Moving Mountains, Uprooting Trees

The disciples asked Jesus in Luke 17:5

Luke 17:5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

Jesus’ answer to his disciples is the same. It is not the quantity of your faith that is the problem. Mustard seed faith is enough. Faith like a grain of mustard seed is enough to move mountains and uproot trees.

Have you ever tried that? Tried to move mountains with your faith? I have. I grew up in Minnesota, so I’d never really seen mountains. I think it was around second grade when we took a family road trip out through Glacier National Park in Montana. That’s where we found out I needed glasses because I couldn’t even see the mountains until we got pretty close. I had heard these verses growing up. And with the faith of a seven year old looking out of the back seat window of our station wagon at the majestic mountains of Montana, I wanted to see if the Bible was really true. I believed as hard as I could. And all Montana thanks God that nothing happened. Imagine the chaos that would ensue if God were obligated to uproot mountains at the whim of every seven year old around the planet! Remember, faith is not some superpower like the force. Faith, like prayer, is only as good as the object in which it is placed.

Promises of Prayer with Faith

In Matthew 21, Jesus connects faith with prayer.

Matthew 21:22 And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”

Jesus made some audacious promises to his followers about prayer.

John 14:12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

‘Whatever you ask I will do’ is qualified by ‘whoever believes in me’ and ‘whatever you ask in my name,’that the Father may be glorified.’ We as believers, are to ask in the name of Jesus, which means that we ask for what Jesus would ask for, pursuing the glory of the Father. As John puts it,

1 John 5:14 And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.

Prayer is unstoppable when it is aligned with the will of God. Faith accomplishes the impossible when it is placed in what God has revealed in his written word to be his will.

Faith: Fully Convinced God is Able to Do What He Promised

I think the clearest definition of faith in the Bible is Romans 4:20-21. Talking about Abraham’s faith.

Romans 4:20 No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.

Faith is being fully convinced that God is able to do what he has promised, in spite of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Faith ultimately brings glory to God as it realizes God’s impossible promises. We ask in prayer with faith when we take God at his word, believing he will do what he has said, and asking him to do it.

Unbelief and Jesus’ Inability

There is a passage in Mark 6 that is often misunderstood and misapplied. It is when Jesus came to his hometown in Nazareth, and all were astonished because of his wisdom and mighty works, but they began to question where he got these things because they were familiar with him and his family.

Mark 6:4 And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” 5 And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6 And he marveled because of their unbelief. And he went about among the villages teaching.

I have heard people say that the unbelief of the people tied Jesus’ hands, so that he was unable to do the works he wanted to do, and then they draw the conclusion that our unbelief holds back the power of God to do supernatural things in our lives now, and conversely it is our faith that unlocks or activates the power of God in our lives.

This is dangerous for multiple reasons. It is dangerous because it undermines the sovereignty of God and make his power contingent on us and our faith. God is absolutely sovereign; he does whatever he pleases. After Nebuchadnezzar was warned, then humbled by God because of his pride, when ‘his reason returned’ to him, he acknowledged that

Daniel 4:35 … he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”

Saying that our unbelief limits the power of God, and that Jesus cannot overcome our unbelief is dangerous because it undermines the New Covenant promises of God. God promises to remove our heart of stone and give us a heart of flesh (Ezek.36:26). In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul tells us that God can and does overcome Satanic blindness.

2 Corinthians 4:6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Implying that our unbelief limits Jesus’ power misreads the passage. It does say that Jesus “could do no mighty work there, except…” and then it goes on to list the few miracles of healing that he did do there. And it says in verse 6 that Jesus “marveled because of their unbelief.” But it stops short of making unbelief the cause of the ‘could not’. If we look at Matthew’s account, he tells us not that he could not, but that “he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.” So the reason Jesus did not do many mighty works in Nazareth was because of unbelief. Putting Matthew and Mark together, we can say that Jesus could not do many mighty works there for an undefined reason, that he marveled at their unbelief, and that he did not do many might works there because of their unbelief. But we also have Luke’s account in Luke 4. Luke tells us that Jesus went into the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood to read. He read from the prophet Isaiah:

Luke 4:18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

This is where they began to question “Is this not Joseph’s son?”

Luke actually tells us what their unbelief consisted of, and how their unbelief prevented Jesus from doing many might works in their town. They were disbelieving Jesus’ claim to be himself the fulfillment of the messianic prophesies of the Old Testament. They disbelieved his identity as Messiah because they were familiar with him and his family. Jesus confronts their unbelief and desire to see signs, and then he points to the Old Testament examples where Israel was in unbelief, and God turned instead to bless Gentiles.

Luke 4:28 When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. 29 And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. 30 But passing through their midst, he went away. 31 And he went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee…

He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief in him as Messiah. He could not do many mighty works there because they drove him out of their town and attempted to execute him. Their rejection of Jesus as their promised rescuer, their rejection of him as the one bringing good news of salvation, their driving him out of their town cut them off from the other blessings he brought.

Could Jesus have overcome their unbelief in him as Messiah? Yes, but he came to die.

Could Jesus overcome their unbelief? He did, at least with some. James and Judas (or Jude), two of his half-brothers who had rejected him during his lifetime, after his resurrection came to believe in him, and went on to write letters now included in the New Testament.

Live by faith/ walk by faith

Let’s pull this together. Faith is being fully convinced that God is able to do what he has promised. Saving faith is depending on Jesus alone as the fulfillment of God’s promises, trusting Jesus alone for our reconciliation with God. God ‘gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.’ You have his word on that. God can overcome your unbelief. Cry out to him ‘Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!’ and he will give you a new heart to believe in him. And having been made alive by faith, we also walk day by day with Jesus through faith, believing he is able do do what he has promised. Paul tells the Galatians:

Galatians 3:1 …It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?

He tells the Colossians:

Colossians 2:6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him,

We begin the Christian life by faith, and we walk day by day by hearing the word with faith.

***

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

July 29, 2020 - Posted by | discipleship, occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , ,

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