Growing in Faith (Part II)

“How did the fig tree wither at once?” Jesus responded, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith”
(Mt. 21:20-22; cf. 17:20; Mk. 11:20-24).


Two Applications
    
D. E. Nineham points out an important insight to both Matthew and Mark account commenting on Mark’s account of the cursing of the fig tree. “St. Mark appears to have seen two meanings in it....the fate of the fig tree symbolizing the fate that awaited Jerusalem and the Jewish people and religion. Like the fig tree with its leaves, the Jewish people made a fine show with their numerous ceremonies and outward observances, but when the Messiah came looking for the fruit of righteousness he found none, and the result was condemnation and destruction for Judaism, as it was for the tree.” Secondly, Mark “apparently understood it as an example of faith and prayer.” We need to take a closer look at these.

Application to Faith and Prayer
      The second application is to the disciples’ growth in faith and boldness in prayer. Jesus’ first response is to the disciples’ question, “how did the fig tree wither at once?” (Mt. 21:20) and specifically addresses faith. His second saying takes faith to its obvious progressive expression and addresses prayer (v. 22).

Jesus’ Faith Saying
     “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen” (Mt. 21:21).

“Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you whoever says to this mountain, Be taken up and thrown into the sea, and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him" (Mk. 11:23).

Jesus the Model of Faith
     Jesus’ response is compressed by Matthew by not including Mark’s, Have faith in God. But we do not want to miss Mark’s lesson. Jesus’ first words frame how we are to see Jesus. He is the Paradigm of Faith. He is the Man of Faith. He is the founder and perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:2). The disciples have just seen Him curse and wither the fig tree, so they ask, how did you do that? Jesus’ first response is that you have to have faith in God, just like Me. If you want to do the things which Jesus does, then you have to have the faith that Jesus has. Much as Jesus used the Father’s providential love for both the wicked and the righteous as the model of love to be emulated, You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Mt. 5:48), here, Jesus is the model of faith to be emulated. Martin makes this observation, “Mark’s teaching on faith centres on the example of Jesus who was supremely aware and confident of God’s purpose in his life. He acted with authority as one who was conscious that divine power flowed through him to heal the sick, expel the demons and to change the course of history. He exemplified faith in the whole range of his dealings with men and the disciples and in his attitude to his Father.”[1] What did Jesus mean by have faith in God? Schweizer explains, “It refers simply to the existence of a faith to which everything has been promised just because it expects everything from God and nothing from itself.”[2] Jesus’ confident and unwavering reliance in His every circumstance upon God, the Father, becomes the goal to which His disciples must aspire. This insight is critical to understand what follows.

      How did Jesus have faith in God? We can see several features of His faith by what Jesus demonstrated and taught. First was His absolute devotion to doing the will of God. This was the devotion of faith. One does what he utterly believes because that which he forsakes he does not utterly and truly believe in. You know what one believes by what they do. I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father (Jn. 14:31; cf. 4:34). In fulfillment of Psalm 40:8 Jesus could say, Behold, I have come to do your will, O God (Heb. 10:7). He was consumed with the will of God.

       Second, His faith reflected an intimate dialogue with His Abba, Father (Mk. 14:36). This is demonstrated in His protracted periods of prayer (e.g. Mk. 1:35; Lk. 4:42; 5:16; Mt. 14:23; 26:36-45; Jn. 17). This was obvious to His disciples as they asked Him to teach them to pray (Lk. 11:1-4).

      Third, Jesus absorbed the Scriptures which framed His faith and was reflected in His teaching (e.g. Mt. 4:1-11; 12:3, 5; 19:4; 21:16; 22:31). Certainly Jesus’ faith was fed by filling His heart with the Scriptures fulfilling Deuteronomy 8:3, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Mt. 4:4).

      Fourth, Jesus rested in the providential provision of His Father in heaven. He was not anxious about His material needs. He modeled Matthew 6:33, But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. His freedom from anxiety, His resting in His Father’s sovereign care, characterized His faith in God. Martin beautifully illustrates this feature of Jesus’ faith. “Also its [faith’s] opposite is often described as fear, since Jesus’ encouragements to faith are occasionally prefaced by the admonition, ‘Fear not’ (5:36 cf. 4:40). In this latter case, Mark’s intention in showing how Jesus slept amid the raging storm on the lake clearly indicates that his trust in God was his secret. In the biblical tradition, the mark of the trusting man whose confidence reposes in God is that he sleeps in the midst of peril because he is sure of the sustaining and protecting care of God (Ps. 4:8; Prov. 3:23-24; Job 11:18-19; Lev. 26:6). So he whose heart is unafraid in the storm both dispels fear and calls for faith. And it is faith such as he exemplifies (v. 40)”[3]

      Fifth, we must realize that Jesus’ faith was exceptional. He appropriately exemplifies the fullest gift of faith. The fullness of the Holy Spirit had come upon Him (Mt. 3:16-17). He was the Man of the Spirit (Mt. 4:1; Lk. 4:18, 21). He had prophetic sight; as the prophet saw in visions his prophecies, so Jesus saw the will and works of the Father before Him. Truly, truly,…the son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise (Jn. 5:19; cf. Lk. 2:49). Jesus, like a son apprenticing under his father, sees what His Father does and does it. Jesus sees what the Father is doing so He delays four days before responding to the call to Lazarus’ sick bed. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it. …Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe (Jn. 11:4, 14-15). Jesus could see Lazarus’ death and His raising of Lazarus. Jesus had no doubts because He could see what the Father was doing. Such is the uniqueness of Jesus’ faith. This is simply to take one extraordinary feature of Jesus’ faith to illustrate that Jesus’ faith was in a class by itself. This leads us to an important point. One not to be missed!

      To completely emulate Jesus’ faith is beyond His disciples’ capacity, even as it is to emulate the perfect love of the Father (Mt. 5:48). Yet, nonetheless we are called to follow Jesus. We are called not to follow the complacent or the indolent but to follow the perfect. Could God ask any less? Could a perfect God say, all I want is 10%?, 50%?, even 90%? Rather, Jesus does what we would expect. He models a perfect faith in God for us. Yet, He condescends to us when we cry, Lord increase our faith! And He would say to us, if you just had a mustard seed of this perfect faith, you would be amazed at what you could do, even say to a giant tree go jump in a lake; and it would be done to it (Lk. 17:5-6). John Calvin points to the real lesson in our text, “The use of the miracle [the cursing of the fig tree] is…in order to excite his disciples to faith and confidence.”[4]

      This is the final week of Jesus’ ministry. Time is short to prepare His disciples for Friday. His lesson is simple and singular. He will reiterate it again as pointedly as He has done here on Thursday night. Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me (Jn. 14:1). This is the task of every disciple. It is simple and singular, and it applies to everything. Believe in God; believe also in me. Have faith in God. He is trustworthy and worthy of your trust!

Defining the Core Issues of Jesus’ Faith
     Matthew’s account directs us to Jesus’ main faith insight, if you have faith and do not doubt, while Mark ends Jesus’ saying with the similar insight, does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass. Matthew’s record emphasizes that faith is disqualified as Jesus-like faith by doubt, thus Jesus warns that doubt is the great enemy of faith. Thus, Matthew defines faith as an unassailable confidence which is fortified against all doubt. Mark’s account says more emphasizing that faith’s battle against this disqualifying doubt is internal, at the center of one’s veracity, the heart, where one truly believes or doubts. Here, faith is not qualified as Jesus-like faith by what one says or what he or she does, but it is qualified and begins by what is believed in one’s heart, does not doubt in his heart. Mark records still more. This internal faith is then confessed with the mouth, what he says; it must be acted upon. Then, faith is defined as the opposite of doubt. Like in Matthew, faith is a certitude, he believes, but Mark goes beyond Matthew adding that faith is a certitude about what will be, that what is confessed will become a reality, will come to pass. Mark’s definition echoes the Hebrews writer’s definition, faith is…the conviction of things not seen (Heb. 11:1) and Paul’s statement that we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7; cf. Rom. 8:24-25). These lessons about faith are itemized below:

  1. Matthew – the enemy of Jesus-like faith is doubt – if you have faith and do not doubt.
  2. Matthew – defines faith as an unassailable confidence which is fortified against all doubt – if you have faith and do not doubt.
  3. Mark – doubting and faith begin in the heart – does not doubt in his heart.
  4. Mark – such undoubting-faith cannot stay in the heart, but it must be spoken, confessed, acted upon – that what he says.
  5. Mark – faith is defined as a certitude about what will be – but believes that what he says will come to pass.


      Having identified doubt as the great enemy of faith, in our next segment we will turn to three segments which address Faith in the Gospels, and then we look more specifically how we must combat doubt and its related cohorts. We will find that this is an exercise of a growing faith. We will find the old adage “no pain, no gain” aptly applies to growing our faith. But first we will look at Faith in the Gospels.

 

Endnotes

[1] D.E. Nineham, The Gospel of St. Mark (Baltimore: Penguin Books Inc., 1969), 298-299.

[2] Ralph Martin, Mark Evangelist and Theologian (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973), 110. Cf. Robert Gundry, Matthew A Commentary on His Literary and Theological Art (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982), 417.

[3] Eduard Schweizer, The Good News According to Mark (Richmond, VA: John Knox Press, 1970), 234.

[4] Martin, Mark Evangelist and Theologian, 111.

[5] John Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1993), 19.

 

Faith in the Gospels (Part 1)
Growing in Faith (Part I)
 

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Thursday, 20 July 2017

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