When Jesus doesn’t fix it.

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How is your faith?  Is it strong?  Is it weak?  Do you doubt or question often?  Or are you rock solid, like a tree planted by a stream?  If you are a normal human being, chances are that you vacillate in between the two extremes regularly!  When Jesus was walking the Earth, He preformed many miracles.  And when the disciples were amazed at his to speak death over a fig tree, Jesus said to them:

“Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him.”

– Mark 11.23

This is truly a phenomenal statement.  Jesus, as God of the universe, promises that whoever has faith without doubting can literally cast a mountain into the sea.  Have you ever seen that happen?  Such an occurrence has never been documented…  When Jesus had sent the disciples out to proclaim His coming, they encountered a demon that they were unable to cast out.  To this, Jesus said,

“And He said to them, ‘Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you’.”

– Matt 17.20

Jesus rebuked the disciples for having to little faith to cast out a demon.  They had enough faith to try, but the demon itself was more powerful than their faith.  Jesus’ answer was that even the smallest amount of faith – the size of  a mustard seed – would not only cast out demons but move entire mountains.  Exorcisms have been documented and noted around the world, but again – no mountains relocating.

This teaching of Jesus has been greatly distorted and abused.  There is no an entire sect of Christianity that essentially worships faith and chastises people for their situations – declaring it to be a result of nothing other than their lack of faith.  Are you sick?  You have too little faith.  Did you lose your job?  You do not believe enough!  Is your child straying form the Church?  You have to believe it for it to be fixed!

This teaching is not only dangerous, but heretical.  Why?  Firstly, because it idolizes faith and not the object of the faith.  Instead of pointing people to Scripture to claim the actual promises of God like Rom 8.28 – “All things work together for good for those who love God” – it points to the individual’s heart.  If you are in crisis, the onus is on you to muster up faith bigger than a mustard seed so that it will be made right.  Faith in what?  Faith that it will be fixed, of course!  Instead of glorifying God, instead of teaching people to depend on God, this worldview focuses on the individual, the problem, and neatly forces people into a corner.  You have no one to blame but yourself for your situation, and the only hope you have to is press in harder and force faith.  Bland, pointless, self-gratifying faith.

Secondly, this teaching is heretical because it is simply not the intention of Jesus.  When we take this teaching to its logical end, it necessarily fall apart.  Why?  Because everyone is going to die.  Scripture promises that not only will we all die, we will all subsequently stand judgment:

“And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment…”

– Heb 9.27

Everyone is going to die, regardless of the amount of faith that we have.  Even if your life is posh, comfortable and without major crisis, you are going to die and then be judged for your actions while you were alive.  No amount of faith can alter this destiny because it is ordained by God as the result of sin.

What does this one single truth consequently teach us?  Blind faith and object-less faith is meaningless.  You might truly believe that you can fly.  But if you jump out of an airplane without a parachute, you will not fly.  You might concoct a suit that allows you to soar or float, but you do not have the innate ability to fly within your body.  You might truly believe and have faith that your bank account will suddenly be multiplied to millions of dollars overnight.  But unless you work hard, win the lottery or somehow have the money added to your name, your faith alone in a bigger bank account will not generate that money.

But more importantly, it is not “faith alone” that saves us.  Our souls are not saved simply because we have faith.  Scripture says,

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

– Eph 2.8-9

It is by faith alone that we are saved.  What is the difference?  We are saved by faith in something, and that something is the grace of God.  We cannot will our salvation by believing that we are good enough, that we have done enough, that we are simply OK.  Our faith must be in the promise and provision of God alone.

And do you know what else?  God never promises to heal all of our pains or satisfy all of our desires.  In fact, eleven of the twelve disciples were killed for their faith.  The early Church was scattered by the Roman Emperors persecuting and murdering them.  Christians throughout all generations have suffered great and terrible persecution, had their land plundered, their families killed and jobs lost.

I wrote earlier this week on Jesus’ miracle at the pool of Bethesda.  You can read that here.   When Jesus approached the pool of Bethesda, there was a multitude – a huge crowd – of people who were sick, paralyzed, physically handicapped and waiting for a miracle.  Jesus went in and chose to heal one man.  Just one, out of a huge crowd.  He healed that man and then slipped out so no one saw Him.

Why?

Did Jesus not come to heal everyone?  We do see in some stories that Jesus occasionally invested much time to heal everyone who was around (Matt 4.23, 9.35), however that is not why Jesus came to the Earth the first time.  He declared that His purpose was to “seek and to save that which was lost” (Matt 18.10).  If you survey every time Jesus declared His purpose in coming, without fail He references salvation and/or dealing with sin.  He did not come to end suffering or bring about the New Earth.  He did not come to take everyone to Heaven, and when people believe in Him He leaves them on the Earth to continue to tell other people and does not sweep them away to Heaven.  Why?  Because He is giving us time to get to know Him and to tell others about Him.  While we suffer.  While we struggle.  While we are persecuted.  While things go badly.

He will come to take away suffering!  He is coming back, and when He comes the second time, it will be to free us from disease, sin, sickness, and pain.  But that was not His intention in His first appearance, and it is not His intention for us now.  Our faith in God is unto salvation, not unto pleasure or health.  This is why Paul consistently talks about his personal suffering and why he encourages the early church as they persevere through tribulations and trials.

Thus we cannot simply have blind faith in a mountain moving, or a sickness being healed, or a physical need being met.  Jesus promises acts of God when we have faith in God, and faith that aligns with His will.  We cannot have faith in God that we will be healed if the sickness we currently have is that sickness which will lead unto our death – because God has appointed a time for each of us to die.  We cannot thwart His will or decree by believing the opposite.  What we believe must be grounded in the promises of Scripture and consequently the will of God.  Jesus left many people unhealed, hungry and desolate.  Why?  Because His purpose was to bring salvation, not comfort.  Therefore if we believe that God will do mighty works to bring about salvation and Spiritual growth, then and only then are we guaranteed the mighty works of God.  Faith the size of a mustard seed in the promises and provision of God will save our souls eternally and move unimaginable mountains for the furthering of the Gospel.

So let us believe great things from God.  Let us attempt great things for God.  Let us continually allow God to grow, mold and strengthen our faith.  But let us remember that God’s primary concern in our faith is not our health, not our success, not our happines, but our holiness.  That one man Jesus healed at the pool of Bethesda was sternly warned by Jesus,

“Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you.”

– John 5.14

Jesus did heal him physically – and He will heal us physically, most times, but He was primarily concerned about the man’s holiness.  This man had been paralyzed for 38 years, and Jesus warned him that if he continued sinning something worse would become of him, namely, eternal damnation.

So know the promises of God.  Claim the promises of God.  Enjoy Him and trust Him for eternal salvation.  And trust Him through the trials which He is currently allowing in your life which you do not particularly enjoy.  Because He is working those things together for your good and for His glory (Rom 8.28).

Are you alert?

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Are you aware of the work of the Spirit around you?  Do you watch and listen to see what He is doing and where He is leading, so that you can join Him in what He is doing?  Or do you still ask God just to bless your activities and efforts?

Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer.  And a man who had been lame from his mother’s womb was being carried along, whom they used to set down every day at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, in order to beg alms of those who were entering the temple.  When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he began asking to receive alms.  But Peter, along with John, fixed his gaze on him and said, “Look at us!”  And he began to give them his attention, expecting to receive something from them.  But Peter said, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!”  And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened.  With a leap he stood upright and began to walk; and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.

Acts 3.1-8

This story is extremely interesting in many ways.  The first thing that stands out to me is the fact that the man who was healed was neither seeking healing nor had part in the faith that brought the healing.  Often when Jesus was healing people, he interacted with them specifically in regards to their faith.  Sometimes He would ask them what they wanted Him to do for them, sometimes He would simply ask if they wanted to be made well.  Sometimes He would test them and not go, or refuse help and their faith would shine through for all to see.  But this man was unable to walk and he sat at the gate of the temple begging.  Every. Single. Day.  Jesus had to have passed by him countless times.  But Jesus never healed him.

But one day, after having received the indwelling Holy Spirit, Peter and John went to the temple to pray and on their way in the gate they saw this man begging.  Peter looked at the man.  Scripture says he “fixed his gaze on him”, and understood what the Spirit intended to do.  When they called his attention, the lame man thought nothing more than that Peter and John were going to give him money.  He did not think that they would heal him.  He did not expect anything from them, other than a few pennies, perhaps.  Peter and John had walked past this man before.  Jesus has walked past him.  But this day was the day that the Spirit intended to heal Him.  And Peter was listening.

Sometimes we think our healing or success in a situation is based on our faith.  We lie to ourselves, saying that if we believe enough whatever we want will happen.  But in this situation, the faith is completely outside of the one who was healed.  What exactly does that mean?  Peter explains it briefly:

“And on the basis of faith in His name, it is the name of Jesus which has strengthened this man whom you see and know; and the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect health in the presence of you all.”

– Acts 3.16

The beginning of this verse is a bit wordy and difficult.  But careful examination shows us that it is the name of Jesus which has power, and faith in the name of Jesus which brought the power for healing.  There is power in the name of Jesus.  This is not some mystic teaching that uttering the name of Jesus will make miracles happen, the power is in the person.  And faith in Him does not mean that you can manipulate Him to do what you want, simply by praying hard enough or believing strongly enough.  It means knowing Him intimately, recognizing His voice, seeing what He is doing and intending to do, and being ready and willing to join Him in His work.

The Holy Spirit chose that day to heal that man.  The lame man was merely the recipient of the blessing, and Peter was the willing mouthpiece – the one who had faith, but Jesus was the healer.

What then was the intention?  If the man did not have faith, and was not seeking to be healed?  The intention was to get to the Gospel.  The man lept and praised God.  Peter got an opportunity to preach the Gospel.  Peter preached it in the presence of everyone who gathered because of the healing and 5,000 men (plus women and children) believed!  The healing is not the end goal, it points to the end goal.  Miracles are not the pinnacle, they point to the pinnacle.  Our purpose should always be to preach the Gospel.  Sometimes God will give us extraordinary opportunities to do so, and if we are alert to the moving of the Spirit, He may show us a man He intends to heal, so as to take the Gospel to many.

Are you listening?  We should never ask God to “be in the center of our plans” or to “bless us as we do [x, y and z]”.  Instead we should stop, ask God what He wants us to do, listen to the Holy Spirit for guidance, make the most of every opportunity to share about Jesus, and watch in amazement as He pours out His power on those who do not yet believe.

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.”

– John 10.27

Do you know His voice?