When Jesus doesn’t fix it.

question-mark

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).

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What is worse than being paralyzed for 38 years?

lame man

There are many people in the world who “believe” in Jesus for the sake of eternity.  He is our safety net and He is in charge of everything after we die.  No one wants to go to Hell and spend an eternity suffering!  So yes!  We are Christians, we believe in Jesus, we have asked Him to save us and when we die He will take us to Heaven.  There are also many people in the world who have a genuine relationship with Jesus.  They know Him, they love Him, they are being transformed by Him, and cannot wait to spend eternity with Him.  To these people, knowing Jesus while alive on Earth is a benefit and getting to spend eternity with Him is the goal – not simply avoiding Hell.

Both of these types of people have a sense of security about the afterlife – some founded, others unfounded.  When addressing the fear of death people regularly say “I am not afraid of what comes after death, but the process”.  My boss’s wife has a fear of bears in the woods.  He one time asked her, “What’s the worst that could happen?” hoping to assuage her fear by comforting her that should she die she would spend eternity with Jesus.  Her witty and honest response was, “the bear could maul me and I could be forced to live my life mangled”.

It’s true, isn’t it.  If our eternity is secure, then most of us fear losing what we have:  our security, our comfort, and/or our health.

Do you remember the story of the man by the pool?  He was paralyzed, “invalid” and lying by the pool of Bethesda waiting for an angel to come and touch the waters of the pool because the first one to enter into the waters after they were stirred would be healed.  Scripture teaches us that there was a multitude of sick, blind, lame and withered people waiting for their chance to be healed (John 5.3).  This man, because he was paralyzed, could never get to the pool fast enough.  Thus he had been waiting for his chance for 38 years.

Thirty-eight years.

We do not know if he was born paralyzed or hurt as a child was was now a middle-aged man, or if he was hurt later in life and was thus an old man having remembered and lost his mobility.  Either way, he had been sitting there, by the pool, amongst a multitude of other hurt and sick people for more than half of the normal life expectancy for a person at the time.

Just waiting, wallowing in his terrible condition.

Jesus approached him and asked him if he wanted to be healed.  It is pretty obvious that the man was seeking to be healed – he was waiting by the pool of miracles for a miracle, and his answer to Jesus was not even a simple yes, but an explanation for why he had missed the opportunity so many times:  he had no one to help him into the pool and he could never be the first one!  Others always beat him in (John 5.7).

What does Jesus do?  He immediately heals the man.  Strangely, however, Jesus disappears into the crowd.  This man had exemplified no faith.  He had not sought out Jesus.  In fact, we learn in the next few verses that the man did not even know who it was that had healed him (John 5.13)!  All he knew was he had been paralyzed for 38 years and suddenly he had been healed.  All is right in the world, right?

Wrong.

Jesus sought the man out later and found him in the temple – a great place to be – and gave him this solemn warning:

“Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you’.”

– John 5.14

Wow.  So often our Gospel presentation is full of promises and pleasantries, how often do we consider the threats of Jesus?  Jesus came in power, but His intention in coming to the Earth was not to heal everyone or bring about the New Earth where sin and suffering cease.  No, He came to “seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19.10).  This is why Jesus did not stand and heal everyone at the pool.  There was a multitude of sick and lame people at the pool.  That means a huge crowd.  And Jesus sought out one man to heal physically, but then He warned him:  “do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you”.

What is worse than 38 years of paralysis in a society that does not care for the broken?  Years of waiting for a miracle and begging for food?  The answer is simply, an eternity in Hell.  Jesus came to save sinners from Hell.  When He comes the second time, He will do away with all suffering, pain, sorrow and sin.  But His first entrance onto the scene was to save sinners from their sin.  Thus He commanded this man “do not sin anymore”, and gave a solemn warning that if this man did not repent from his sins, he would go to Hell.

An eternity in Hell is by far the worst thing that could happen to us.

But yet we live our lives as though Hell does not exist.  Scripture and natural law teaches us that everyone will die (Heb 9.27).  We know that we will all die because the punishment for sin is death (Rom 6.23).  But if we confess our sins and repent from them, we can be saved eternally (Rom 10.9, 1 John 1.9).

We also live our lives constantly praying for health, success, pleasure and comfort – and rarely pray for our hearts, attitudes and Spiritual maturity.  But yet Jesus left the multitude in their sicknesses and ailments, with the expressed intention to save the world from their sins.  Not their calamities.

So let us stop and consider our hearts.  Is Jesus your “get out of jail free” card?  Or is He your Lord and Savior?  Is He taking care of everything after death?  Or is He impacting how you live your life every day?  Do you come to Him for help about your health, your job, your money and pleasure?  Or do you come to Him for help dying to your sin and flesh?  There are times that Jesus will bless us and heal us, give us success, and allow our situations to be made more comfortable.  But there are also times when we will get sick and not recover, we will fail, and we will be made uncomfortable – even for the sake of the Gospel!  This is neither His judgment nor because we have too little faith.  This is because we have not yet entered into the New Earth where these things will pass.  But He will always help us confess, repent and move on from our wickedness and sin.  He came to save the lost, not to make our lives more comfortable.  We are still looking forward to that!

His law is love and His Gospel is peace.

o holy night

Many hymns are packed with great theology and doctrine, many Christmas carols are marked by the same.  One of my favorites – musically and doctrinally – is O Holy Night:

O holy night!
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary soul rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

Fall on your knees, Oh hear the angel voices
Oh night divine!  Oh night when Christ was born
Oh night divine, Oh night divine

Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here come the wise men from the Orient land.
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friend.

He knows our need, to our weaknesses no stranger,
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King, Before Him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name

Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,
His power and glory evermore proclaim.
His power and glory evermore proclaim.

Before Jesus came to walk this Earth, he world lay long in sin and error pining.  God had written His perfect Law and explained to the nation of Israel exactly how He desired to be obeyed and honored.  For centuries the people tried and failed to keep the Law, revealing to them and to us that it is impossible to live up to God’s standards.  In sin they were pining away at life, needing hope and a savior.  But with the birth of Jesus came a thrill of hope.  He was here as the king of kings and the savior of souls, to conquer sin and to set the prisoner free.  And yet, as sovereign king, He was born amidst our trials and struggles to be our friend.

Thus our appropriate response to is fall on our knees in worship, in respect, and in love.

What did He teach us?  To love one another:  His law is love and His Gospel is peace.  He fulfilled the Mosaic Law and wrote an amendment:  to love our neighbors and our enemies as we love ourselves.  God will execute justice and judgement through the authorities and eternally, we are to express the love and forgiveness we have been offered to others freely.  His Gospel has freed us from the guilt and weight of sin by paying our debt of punishment and giving us the Holy Spirit who enables us to obey.  Thus we have peace with God.

Chains He shall break for the slave is our brother:  physically and Spiritually.  He has broken the social and hierarchical casts that separate us, as well as the spiritual bondage of sin.  One might still work in service to another, one might still be a slave to a master in life, but our eternal state is free and before God we are on equal playing grounds, and when He returns all oppression shall cease.

What shall we do in response?  Sing praises and hymns, proclaiming his power and glory forever.

Sing His praises today.  Engage your mind as your Christmas Pandora station continues to blast those carols.  Sometimes the melodies have become so familiar that the words pass our lips without engaging our minds and hearts, but let their deep and rich truths remind you again of the beauty of the Gospel and your eternal forgiveness.  All which started by Jesus’ birth as a baby, laid in a manger.