Matthew 9:27-34 – How To Use Your Faith

Jesus healing two blind men, 11th century mosaic, Sicily

As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!”

When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?”

“Yes, Lord,” they replied.

Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith let it be done to you”; and their sight was restored. Jesus warned them sternly, “See that no one knows about this.” But they went out and spread the news about him all over that region.

While they were going out, a man who was demon-possessed and could not talk was brought to Jesus. And when the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute spoke. The crowd was amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.”

But the Pharisees said, “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.” (New International Version)

Every day the news is a steady stream of disease, death, war, and outright human suffering. It’s as if the phrase, “slow news cycle,” is a thing of the past.

As we stare into the face of trouble, I find myself uttering the ancient prayer of the Church: “Lord have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.  Lord have mercy and grant us your peace.” 

We collectively feel the weight of the world’s suffering, experience the heaviness of concern for family and friends, and perhaps wonder how much more people can take.

It’s in the topsy-turvy times that I come back again and again to the deep spiritual convictions which inform what I do each day. One of those underlying creeds and affirmations is this:

Jesus is trustworthy, no matter whether my faith or the faith of others is small or great.

In our Gospel lesson for today, two blind men were healed according to their faith in Jesus. The diverse healing accounts of Jesus in the New Testament, whether the faith was large or small in those healed, leads me to the conclusion that:

It isn’t faith itself that heals, saves, or transforms – it is Jesus.

All the healing accounts in the New Testament Gospels have something in common: They all directly point to Jesus as the object of faith. 

It isn’t about the level or amount of faith, but about where the faith is placed. 

For the Christian, faith itself doesn’t mean much if it isn’t in Jesus.

If I place a large and sincere faith in an inanimate object such as money; in a position of power; or, even in my own independence, my faith isn’t worth much. 

If I have a huge faith in a doctor or a psychiatrist to heal my body or my mind, I will quickly discover there are limits to their abilities. 

If I have a confident faith that my family will meet all my needs, my faith will eventually run into failure when they let me down. That’s because the ultimate object of faith is Jesus. 

If all my faith eggs are in the church basket, my faith will eventually face a crisis because it is a misplaced faith.  Furthermore, the answer I provide for others is not simply getting them to attend church or to adopt my moral code.

There should be a consistency that runs through us all. For Jesus doesn’t change—yesterday, today, tomorrow, he’s always totally himself.

Hebrews 13:8, MSG

We know with certainty that circumstances change, as everyday seems to bring new levels and permutations of unprecedented alterations to our lives – and through it all, Jesus remains as the ever-present Savior, seated at the right hand of God ceaselessly interceding on behalf of those who offer even the slightest mustard seed of faith.

“For truly I tell 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 for you.”

Jesus (Matthew 17:20-21, NRSV)

It says something about our modern Western society that whenever we hear the words of Jesus on faith that we interpret the mountain moving as an immediate event that happens almost instantaneous, like a snap of the finger. Yet, there is nothing in those words that says that. There is also nothing that says an individual necessarily does it.

The fact of the matter is this: Jesus heals, transforms, and delivers people from sickness, sin, trouble, and overwhelming circumstances in his own good time, not ours.

Just because we pray without ceasing for days, weeks, months, and even years for something doesn’t mean we lack faith if the prayer isn’t answered immediately. It could be that God wants others involved, maybe even across generations, for the impossible mountain to be moved.

It is misplaced faith which expects microwave results. Faith placed appropriately in Jesus as the object of belief discerns that faithful prayer is consistently prayed until there is an answer.

Healing and restoration will happen – just maybe not always how or when we think it will.

Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep me both outwardly in my body and inwardly in my soul, that I may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Acts 1:1-11 – Ascension of the Lord

In my first book I told you, Theophilus, about everything Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up to heaven after giving his chosen apostles further instructions through the Holy Spirit. During the forty days after he suffered and died, he appeared to the apostles from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive. And he talked to them about the Kingdom of God.

Once when he was eating with them, he commanded them, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

So, when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”

He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!” (New Living Translation)

“At his Ascension, our Lord entered Heaven, and he keeps the door open for humanity to enter.”

Oswald Chambers

Jesus was taken up to heaven in what Christians celebrate as the “Ascension of the Lord.” This is a hugely important event for followers of Jesus.

The Ascension means that Christ is now presently sitting at God’s right hand, offering continual prayers on our behalf to the Father. We have an advocate, a champion, who has gone before us and secured deliverance from sin, death, and hell.

On top of it all, Christ’s ascension means that Jesus is the universal ruler; he commands a kingdom that will never end. Yes, the Ascension of the Lord is a big deal.

So, why does a day set aside on the Christian Calendar celebrating the Lord’s mighty and redemptive ascension over all creation garner such scant attention from many churches?

Maybe the church has A.D.D. (Ascension Deficit Disorder).

Our clue to the inability to focus on such a grand redemptive event is the disciples’ response when Jesus ascended.

The picture St. Luke paints for us in the account of our Lord’s ascension, is a group of guys looking up into the sky slack-jawed and shoulders hunched.

It took a couple of angels to come along and ask them what in the world they were doing just standing there. Now is not the time to stand and gawk at the clouds, the angels insisted. Jesus will come back when he comes back. You aren’t going to know when. So, now is the time to get busy with what Jesus just told you to do two minutes ago: Tell everyone about me.

Christ’s ascension to heaven is a deeply theological event. It’s freighted with major implications for our prayer lives. And it means Christ is the King to whom we must obey.

Jesus is coming again. In the meantime, there’s to be no cloud-gawking. Instead, there is to be a well-developed and well-cultivated connection with Jesus which proclaims the good news that Christ died, rose from death, and ascended to heaven for mine and your forgiveness of sins and a new clean slate on life.

Trying to peer into the future about how the end of history will shake-out is, frankly, not the job we are called to do. Believers in Jesus aren’t supposed to stand and gawk at the clouds waiting for the Lord’s return, as if we are in some earthly holding tank until heaven. 

Rather, we are to bear witness about the person and work of Jesus. The Ascension of the Lord means we are God’s people blessed with deliverance from the realm of sin, and the hope of Christ’s coming again. The Church everywhere recognizes together the rule and reign of the Lord Jesus.

The world, as we know it, shall eventually come to an end. Until that time, Christians since the time of the ascension have been proclaiming Christ crucified, died, risen, ascended, and coming again.

This is a day of joy and celebration for us. Jesus is our ascended and glorified king! The fate of the earth is with the benevolent and mighty Ruler of all. Jesus is Lord, and no other human leader is. Thank you, Jesus.

The great Reformed Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, question and answer 49, states:

Q: How does Christ’s ascension to heaven benefit us?

A: First, he is our advocate

            in heaven

            in the presence of his Father.

Second, we have our own flesh in heaven

            as a sure pledge that Christ our head

            will also take us, his members,

            up to himself.

Third, he sends his Spirit to us on earth

            as a corresponding pledge.

            By the Spirit’s power

                        we seek not earthly things

                        but the things above, where Christ is,

                                    sitting at God’s right hand.

Amen.

Psalm 93 – Ultimate Power Belongs to the Lord

Psalm 93 by Bernard C. Winter

Our Lord, you are King!
Majesty and power
    are your royal robes.
You put the world in place,
    and it will never be moved.
You have always ruled,
    and you are eternal.

The ocean is roaring, Lord!
    The sea is pounding hard.
Its mighty waves are majestic,
but you are even more majestic,
    and you rule over all.
Your decisions are firm,
and your temple will always
    be beautiful and holy. (Contemporary English Version)

God is bigger than any threat of chaos or destruction. That’s because the Lord is sovereign over all things. The Lord is King. From a Christian perspective, today’s psalm finds its ultimate fulfillment in the ascension of Jesus Christ.

When we talk about kings, there are a few things a ruler needs: a realm (a kingdom); and the ruled (the subjects) of the realm. In reflecting on Christ’s ascension, the three elements which make up a rule are: King Jesus as Ruler; God’s people as the ruled; and the entire world as the realm of Christ’s lordship.

Rule, glory, and kingship were given to him;
    all peoples, nations, and languages will serve him.
His rule is an everlasting one—
    it will never pass away!—
        his kingship is indestructible. (Daniel 7:14, CEB)

Now, as soon as I state that all the world is Christ’s realm, it is quite understandable to at least be curious about this, as well as perhaps be outright doubtful of it.

After all, this old fallen world is filled with all kinds of catastrophes like pandemics and natural disasters; myriad human vices; and potent spiritual foes. Sometimes, it appears that if Jesus were King, he is either sleeping on the job or just indifferent to our plight.

I’ll reframe this by putting it in military terms. The battle and the war has been won – there are, however, some clean-up or mop-up operations still taking place. Pockets of resistance to God’s rule and reign still very much exist. And they unfortunately lead to casualties.

Every Memorial Day weekend in the USA, Americans remember and pay homage to our fallen men and women in uniform. Many of those soldiers were lost from mopping up resistance after a battle achieved and a war won.

For example, the Battle for Okinawa in the Pacific theatre toward the end of World War II resulted in an American victory. However, in securing the island after the Japanese defeat, small groups of Japanese soldiers still mounted resistance resulting in hundreds of American deaths.

In a 1944 article from the Stars and Stripes, an interview of one patrol leader from the battle said, “It’s a tough, methodical grind, this mop-up operation. Here, the Japanese have gotten together, organized, and are carrying out a planned guerilla warfare, even though the battle is won…. I wish a mop-up was as easy as people think it is.”

We live between the two advents of Christ, his ascension to heaven and his coming again. That means we live in the already/not yet kingdom and realm of God. Deliverance from sin, death, and hell has been achieved through the cross of Christ – yet that achieved salvation will not be here in its complete fulfillment until Jesus comes again to judge the living and the dead.

Meanwhile, Christians everywhere continue to pray that God’s kingdom spreads and is realized in the hearts of humanity – the true place where war begins and ends.

There is no power in heaven or on earth which can circumvent or overcome the plans and purposes of an almighty God.

Ocean waves are a powerful force. The United States Energy Information Administration Ocean states that ocean waves contain one-thousand times more kinetic energy than wind. They estimate that the annual energy potential of waves off the east and west coasts of the United States to be as much as 2.64 trillion kilowatt hours. That’s about two-thirds of all American needs for electricity in a year. 

And yet, the incredible strength of ocean waves are no match for the might of God.

“Your rule is eternal, and you are king forever. The Lord is faithful to his promises; he is merciful in all his acts.”

Psalm 145:13, GNT

Even though we might worry about the power and influence of human governments, systems, and institutions, the actual weight they carry is infinitesimal compared to the glory of God. Since God has fixed the earth in place, there is no conglomeration of people who can move this planet off its axis, even a millionth of a degree.

The Most High God is firmly in control, even when it seems otherwise. The Christian tradition is consistent in proclaiming that the throne of Jesus Christ has been established forever. It shall not be moved. Love has won the day and will have the eternal day forevermore.

“Entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you.” (2 Peter 1:11, NRSV)

Sovereign God, you reign over all things! Robed in majesty and armed with strength, you hold our world and our lives securely. Your throne has been established. From everlasting to everlasting, you are God.

Even when waves of grief, disease, and hardship rise-up—when surging seas threaten to overwhelm me, and a pounding storm crashes around me—I know that you are mightier and more powerful than any threat. Wash over me with your own cleansing flood. Grace me with your mighty presence. Refresh me with the water of life, for I know, Holy God, that your decrees are firm and unshakeable and will last forever. Amen.

Revelation 21:1-6 – Making Everything New

Make All Things New by James Janknegt, 2005

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. (New International Version)

The world as we now know it will someday pass away. For the Christian, there is a future hope – there is a time coming when it will literally be heaven on earth, a renewed earth. God will descend to dwell with us.

This will bring us full circle to the original design God had in the garden with Adam and Eve –an unhindered relationship between God and humanity in which we are no longer dogged by our sinful nature, a sinful world system, and all the sinful temptations that the devil uses to exploit for his own purposes. 

Tears, death, sorrow and pain will be a thing of the past. Eventually, our struggle with sin, guilt, and shame will be completely over.

The message of the Apostle John to the early Church was a very encouraging vision for them. The Church was facing all kinds of trouble and persecution due to their commitment to Christ. To know that contemporary problems would not last, but that Jesus would change everything, was a great comfort and help to the believers in their very real and present troubles.

One of the problems we experience in this present evil age is that we are an impatient people. We want good things to happen, now!  All of God’s people throughout history have been looking ahead for the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises. The Apostle John was not so much giving a brand new revelation to the Church but upholding and anticipating for Christians what had also been true for Israel: 

“See, I will create
    new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
    nor will they come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
    in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
    and its people a joy.
I will rejoice over Jerusalem
    and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
    will be heard in it no more. (Isaiah 65:17-19, NIV)

When Jesus came in his first Advent, God’s people thought for sure all these promises would be fully realized. But, like a young couple in their engagement period, the promises of God had been initiated and promised, but not yet realized or consummated. Some folks might wonder if those good promises are nothing more than a politician’s word.

Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” 

But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. (2 Peter 3:3-10, NIV)

Jesus had John write this statement down: “I am making everything new.” God is now in the process of moving history to its final stage. Can we be patient, as God is, in letting divine purposes do their work until that final day comes, or will we be impatient? 

“No step taken in faith is wasted, not by a God who makes all things new.”

Rachel Held Evans

We live in an amazing time in which we have instant communications and can travel anywhere in the world in a relatively short amount of time. The earth is a big place, but we can traverse it by plane in less than two days. It used to be that a ship going across the Atlantic Ocean took about three months from Europe to America. Now, we fly across the ocean in a matter of hours. Yet, we freak out that we have to be to the airport two hours before a flight and grump and complain about standing in a twenty minute line to board a plane.

It used to be that communication moved at the same pace as a ship. Knowing about a significant event that happened in Europe would take three months to reach America. Now we can know about what kind of bread some Frenchman ate for breakfast almost instantly after he eats it because he posted it on social media. And we complain if we have to wait a few extra seconds for something to load on our computers and phones, as if the world were about to end.

Well, actually, it is about to end.

Until that happens, we are not to twiddle our thumbs and simply wait for the end to come, spending our remaining time figuring out exactly the day and hour of Christ’s return. Instead, all things are being transformed. And it will culminate and climax in his Second Coming and the final passing away of the old order of things.

We properly anticipate Jesus coming again when we let God change our hearts and lives, our neighborhoods and workplaces, our families and churches, to be just like Jesus. God is now in the business of preparing for Christ’s return by doing away with the old order to make room for the new. 

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 

We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-21, NIV)

The book of Revelation helps us to break our fixation with the past and holding onto the ways we have always done things. It reminds us of God’s capacity and action for renewal.  We can walk now in newness of life. 

We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:4, NIV)

The work of God will ultimately destroy the old and bring in the new. God is now in the process of renewal, changing lives so that Christ can dwell in our hearts through faith as the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, as the One who has no room for any other god.

God knows the whole story. The Lord knows your story. The sovereign ruler of the universe knows how everything is going to turn out. When everything passes away, when all is stripped from our lives, when the world as we know it is done away with, what are we left with? 

We are left with God’s purposes, not ours. Then, our own hearts can beat in sync with God’s heart for all creation. Whenever we seek to do away with the evils and troubles of this world; to eradicate global poverty; to end the world of sex-trafficking; to help others come to grips with the evil of this world through changing old satanic ways of operating; to come alongside others in their trouble; then, God is using us to make everything new.

The end is coming, but it is not yet here. Meanwhile, God is presently working to make everything new by bringing salvation of both body and soul to all kinds of people.

Blessed God, the world seems to be spinning out of control. Keep me alert and disciplined in my prayers. More than anything, help me live in constant, redeeming love for everybody. Let my hospitality be endless, generous, and without complaint. Make my tongue, my hands, and my heart a conduit for the light of Jesus Christ, the source of all goodness. Amen.