20th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, the one in whom we place our trust, dear friends in Christ,
“You just have to believe!” “You just gotta have faith!” Ever heard those words before? Perhaps you’ve found yourself going through a difficult time and someone told you, “Come on, you just gotta believe.” But, what does that mean? It can actually be a rather frustrating thing to hear when you’re in the midst of trying circumstances. Faith, faith in what? And doesn’t that stem from the way that our society often views this concept of faith. There was a professor at college who kind of liked to paint this soap-opera-like picture: The guy comes home early, having just been fired from his job and finds that his wife has run off with another man. He decides to find some comfort in his favorite thing – his bowling ball – and as he reached to take it down off the shelf, it fell on his head, and then dropped onto his foot. As he limped into the kitchen to get some ice, he stumbled against the stove, where he had unknowingly left a burner on with cooking oil in the pan, and it flew into the curtains, which burst into flames. Then he stumbles outside to watch his house burn to the ground, and his best friend says to him, “Come on, you just gotta have faith.”
Have faith?!?!? Have faith in what?!?!?!? His job was gone, his wife was gone, he was hurt, his house had burnt to the ground and his most cherished possession (the bowling ball) was gone. And he should “have faith?”
Sure that’s kind of a bizarre story, but doesn’t it illustrate the way that our society often uses this word “faith”? That “faith” is just some sort of irrational hope-for-the-best sort of thing? That faith is just some sort of a wish or a hope that things will just sort of all work together no matter what’s going on or what the reality actually is.
While that might be the way our culture views faith that’s not really how God deals with faith in His Word. In this text we notice that the apostles ask Jesus to increase their faith, and Jesus doesn’t rebuke them for that rather He addressed it. In the Bible faith is something that is connected to God’s promises and connected to God’s works. Generally, when the Bible talks about faith or believing or trusting it connects it with an object. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes IN HIM will not perish but have eternal life.” Jesus said, “Trust in God.” (John 14). In Proverbs, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart.” Again and again the Bible connects faith to its object which is God. So the question isn’t so much “How much do I trust?” The better question is, “How strong and reliable and trustworthy is the One in whom I trust?” If I ask, “How much do I trust?” The focus is on me. But when I ask, “How strong and reliable and trustworthy is my God?” Then the focus is on God- who he is and what He’s done.
Jesus addressed that in our text. After Jesus had given some instructions in the first few verses the apostles seemed to be shaking their heads thinking, “How is this possible? We must need more faith!” Then in verse 6 Jesus said, “If you had faith as small as a mustard seed…” He’s addressing them as a group and pretty much saying, “You know, if you knew who your God is, you wouldn’t even be asking the question.” After all, God does have the ability to do absolutely anything including uprooting mulberry trees and plant them in the sea if he wanted to. And he would do so if it was necessary for our salvation.
But that’s not what God wants us to focus on. Rather he wants us to focus on his words. Here, He was instructing His apostles to watch out that they didn’t cause others to sin and if someone sins, rebuke him. If he repents, forgive him. If he sins 7x in a day, and comes back to you 7x and says, “I repent” forgive him. And why would we do that? Because that’s the way that God deals with us. But really? We don’t commit the same sin 7x in a day, do we? Well, how many times today have we failed to fear, love, and trust in God above all things? A dozen, a hundred, a thousand times? And that’s just today! How many corrupt and evil thoughts have come into our minds? How many times have we led someone else into sin? How many times have we failed to confront someone politely who’s acting in a sinful way? How many times have we refused to forgive? But what does our God do? He forgives us again and again and again. Jesus paid for every sin with His death on the cross.
So faith looks at what God has done and listens to what God has said about it. Jesus really did come, Jesus really did live, Jesus really did die on a cross, Jesus really did rise from the dead – those are real historical facts. And what does God say about those things? He says, “Because Jesus died and rose your sins- all of them- are forgiven.” Faith simply looks at that, listens to that and goes on. Does that sound like a wishful, hopeful, just-gotta-believe sort of feeling? Not at all!
Now we have to remember that the fact that we believe in Jesus is a miracle. By nature each of us was dead in our sins, incapable of doing anything on our own, until God worked a miracle in our hearts to bring us to faith.
But once God has given us faith, faith simply looks at what God has done, what God has said, what God tells us that means and responds. So, since God has forgiven us and God has instructed us to forgive, faith simply forgives. Since God loves us and since sin leads away from God and since God instructs us to watch out that we don’t lead someone into sin, faith simply takes care not to lead anyone into sin.
And that’s the point Jesus made in the last part of our text. We’ve got to transport ourselves into a time and culture of servants to get the point. It was the servant’s job to serve his master, to work in the field and then prepare the dinner, and since it was simply his job to do it, he didn’t deserve a pat on the back from his master. So it is with faith. Faith doesn’t look for a pat on the back, good job. When we’re careful not to sin or we take care not to lead someone else into sin or we forgive others or serve others, we don’t do so for a pat on the back. That’s just what faith does. It doesn’t look for praise. Faith simply serves. Faith simply forgives.
Why? Because of what God did for us. Finally, God is the ultimate Master. He didn’t need to lift a finger. God doesn’t owe us anything. But in amazing love the Master became the Servant. He served us in the most amazing way by coming into our world as a child, by lifting the burden of our sins and putting them on His shoulders and carrying them to the cross, it was His service of blood and pain that opened heaven’s doors to you and to me! And so faith simply looks at what God’s done, listens to what God says, trusts what God says all of that means and faith simply responds by doing what God wants.
“Just have more faith?” No the question is not, “How great is my faith?” The question is, “How great, how reliable, how trustworthy, is my God?” And looking into His Word I see that, “Yes, God’s trustworthy, so I trust in Him.” You know, I’m always amazed at my little Lucas’ trust in me. It doesn’t matter what height he’s standing on be it a bunk bed or on top of the playground or the top of the steps if he sees me no matter the distance, he just jumps and falls into my hands. He knows me, he trusts me, I haven’t dropped him (yet!) and everything’s ok.
And in a way there’s a 2 year old in each of us. Our God is with us, our God has been faithful, we see what God has done for us in His Word, He’s proven His love and faithfulness to us, and so no matter the outward circumstances He is faithful so we trust in Him! Faith looks at what God has done, looks at what God has said, trusts what God says all that means and responds. So, when God says, “Be careful not to sin.” Faith says, “Yes Lord!” When God says, “Be careful not to lead one of these little ones to sin.” Faith says, “Yes Lord!” When God says, “Rebuke someone who sins politely.” Faith says, “Yes Lord!” When God says, “Forgive someone, forgive someone 7x if you have to.” Faith says, “Yes Lord!” That simply what faith does! Amen.