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The Matthew Series - Matthew 43. Faith to move mountains

Matthew 17:14-23 English Standard Version (ESV)

Jesus Heals a Boy with a Demon

14 And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him, 15 said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he has seizures and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. 16 And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.” 17 And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.” 18 And Jesus rebuked the demon,[a] and it[b]came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly.[c] 19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” 20 He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”[d]

Jesus Again Foretells Death, Resurrection

22 As they were gathering[e] in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, 23 and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And they were greatly distressed.

We often think that the opposite of faith is unbelief, however, Biblically the opposite of faith is works of the flesh, or self-reliance. This makes sense because no one is truly faithless, even the most ardent rationalist, will have to admit that most of his rationality is unprovable and so therefore a leap of faith. And the most strictest of fundamentalist believers will doubt at some time. Both of these people however, fail on the same thing; self-reliance.

Tim Keller in one of his sermon, states that we can build our lives on one of two narratives (or life stories), we can build our lives on a “moral-performance” narrative, where our self-worth and life is built on seeing ourselves as good people because of what we do. Or we can build our lives on a “grace” narrative.

So, a moral-performance narrative says, I am OK, I’m a good person because I am achieving something. This applies to most people out there no matter your political persuasion or ideology. For example, if you are a more open minded/liberal person and you feel you are good person because you care about the needs of the poor and the needs of the marginalised around you. You cannot help but feel superior to people who do not have your concerns. Because of your moral-performance narrative you have to look down on bigots and people who don’t share your concerns for the marginalised around you.

On the other side of the equation, if you are a more religiously moral person and so you are a good person because you read your bible and go to church, or you go to some religious institution and follow your religious text. You are working really hard to be good in the light of your religion. Well, you can’t help but feel superior to people who don’t.

The reality is that everyone builds their life on what they can achieve and therefore, they can’t help but feel superior to others around them who don’t follow what they can achieve.

You don’t believe me, see how morally superior people get when they start a new diet. It’s a diet (literally eating or not eating) and yet they will look at you with moral disgust because you don’t have the will power that they have.

The problem, church, it is this self-reliant morality that is the cause of much of what is wrong in the world today. And it is because we were never made to be self-reliant beings, we were designed to be reliant on God.

This passage shows us this beautifully tonight so let’s dive in, firstly this passage exposes;

1. The root of unbelief

Matthew gives us a story of a young boy tormented by demons, brought to the disciples. However, they were unable to help him. Now, we must remember that the disciples had gone out and had performed miracles and cast out demons before, in Matthew 10:1 Jesus sends out His disciples with power and in Luke 10 we see how even the demons submit to them.

Yet here they are unable. What is going on. Well like most things but more specifically ministry things; the first few times you do something your expertise are very now, your ability is low, and, therefore, your dependency is very high!

I remember my first sermon that I ever prepared, every aspect was soaked in prayer like I had never prayed before, why, because I had never done it before and so my capacity was very low so my dependence was very high.

The danger in all ministry and life, is that the more we do something the better we naturally get at it and therefore, naturally our ability goes up and so our dependency goes down.

The disciples had lost faith, not that they had doubted (as we understand doubt) or they had become ignorant of Christ, rather they had become self-reliant. That is why Jesus’ rebuke his disciples and we are given greater insight in Mark 9 where he says that this demon comes out with;

Prayer and fasting – both spiritual exercises that express our dependency on God.

The powerless in our life comes from our disconnection from God and that is related to our self-reliance. In fact, I would argue that the bible sets up the root of all sin as self-desire and reliance.

Go back to Genesis 3, to the fall of man, Satan tempts eve with being her own god not being reliant on God, rather becoming like God. In Gen 3:4 it says;

“Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

The root of sin is a self-reliance, a desire to be like God or not need Him at all.

This is where the disciples went wrong and where we go wrong; we think we can do it on our own in our own way.

So what is the answer to overcome this? Well Jesus points us to…

2. Faith and the cross

When the disciples asked why they failed, Jesus responds stating;

“Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”[d]

And in saying this he directs them to the cross saying;

22 As they were gathering[e] in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, 23 and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And they were greatly distressed.

So, Jesus rebukes them, then tells them that their problem is their lack of faith and then directs them to the cross. And church, this is the answer to overcoming that which is fundamentally wrong in this world.

Most religions and mysticism around the world recognise the destructive nature of ego and self-obsession. Buddhism does this through detachment, Hinduism does this through the acceptance of your Karma, Islam does this through submission to Sharia. The mystic Eastern religions have self-forgetfulness as a practice.

Where we go wrong generally, and everyone kind of knows this, is that we obsess about self. Think about it; when are you most socially awkward, when you are self-forgetful or self-mindful? When do you mess up the most? When do you cause chaos the most? When you are obsessing about your needs and wants and how you are coming across. This all leads to a self-reliance and self-obsession.

Jesus points to the problem of the disciples as “little faith” the Greek “Apistia” which is commonly used in the New Testament as a want of trust in the God of Promise. They essentially replaced the trusting in God with a trusting in self.

This is why Jesus links the faith to move mountains with a prediction of the cross. Because, we think move mountains awesome, I must well up faith, I must tape into this power of faith then I will be able to do awesome things like move mountains; “Imagine how people would see me if I could move a mountain”.

But faith has nothing to do with making you awesome, it is about connecting you with Him who is awesome. And it is the cross that brings us to Him – or more correctly Him to us. It is only in the cross that God seeks man and not the other way around.

You see if you cling even with the tiniest hope to Him who is ultimate, well the mountain is nothing, in fact moving the mountain is nothing, because He who made the mountain can move it, and if He doesn’t well then there is a reason for not moving it, after all He made it!

Faith is not about how much you have of it, it is about who it is in. The mountain of your sin and self-reliance, is nothing if God Himself became a man to die for you.

Going back to Tim Keller’s statement that I quoted at the beginning the “moral-performance” narrative that we build our lives upon always leads to destructive behaviours of looking down on others, of making ourselves better in our own eyes than others. And that leads down a slippery slope of making an enemy of those who don’t hold to what I am achieving, which then dehumanises them and which ultimately leads to chaos, hatred and even violence.

But if we build our lives on a different narrative a grace narrative, a narrative that says, I am not good, in fact Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Then I can’t see myself as better than anyone. Which makes me better to those better than me and less than me.

It is only the grace narrative that breaks that natural self-reliance that we all tend to. Because grace calls us to see ourselves honestly, we are sinners (which means we are deeply flawed), but we are saved because of the death of the Messiah (which means that we are seen as infinitely valuable).

To go back to Jesus illustration; Faith shows us that the mountain (our sin) is movable, the cross shows us that it is not up to us to move it.

Now, how do we apply this in our daily lives?

3. Applyng belief

The way we apply this is by getting our story right; by abandoning our “self-reliant” ways and embrace the way of the cross.

I’ll give you the following examples;

A. Seeking God

Many of us, wake up in the morning and then have our quiet time in order to “earn” God’s good rewards in the day. I must read my Bible and pray so that I can have a good day. We go through the motions to earn our morality.

This is where we fail, rather than reading our bibles and praying to get God we should read and pray because we have Him. What do I mean by this? Well rather reading to earn God (and His goodness) why not read because you have His goodness.

Surely Christ has paid it all, and therefore you are His, therefore you can go to scripture to discover what He has already done for you, not what you need to earn.

This will change the way you engage life, for rather than seeing misfortune as a result of your inactivity, and then beating yourself up for that. You will see it as an opportunity to trust, to see how God is going to work this out for good.

This will change your quite time from a loveless ritual to a life filled discovery! Like discovering something new of the one you love.

Next in

B. Seeking good

Many of us try to be good to prove to other and even ourselves that we are actually good people. This creates a frantic striving and survivalism that makes us nasty and unhappy. But if what we have is grace, well then the good we do doesn’t go to our head, because it is Christ who makes us good. But our failure doesn’t go to our heart, because we are sinners, so yes we will fail. But we are also loved by the King of creation!

Our failures will be lessons and not destruction and our successes will be a reward and not a weapon to yielded against others.

This all is expressed in a sabbath attitude to life. If everything is a gift of grace, nothing can truly be taken away. We are no longer frantically trying to survive this thing called life, rather we are experiencing the adventure of this gift called grace.

May the cross break your destructive self-reliance and show you that life is meant to be lived in dependence of the one who gave it all!

Let’s pray

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