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  • Writer's picturekeithburwell

The Object of Our Faith

In our Westernized, post-Enlightenment Christianity, we can often lose focus of critical details. Towards the end of Jesus’ ministry, there are several examples where He reinforced to His disciples that He was EXACTLY who He said He was. Unfortunately, just like us, they failed the tests. However, those situations were recorded in the Gospels as guideposts for those of us who were to follow.

There is a picture of faith that is often confused within the stories below. In fact, I think that once we see the stories in their proper context, they will serve to help us remember where our faith really belongs.

Do You Even Have Faith, Bro?

There are two key places where Jesus calls someone faithless. One place is Luke 9:41. He is speaking to a group of people surrounding the man whose son had a deaf and dumb spirit and Jesus had just cast it out. I believe Jesus was speaking to several of his 12 disciples only. But why would He call them faithless?

At that time, there was a well known rabbinic tradition which laid out their belief that the Messiah was the only one who could perform the following three miracles-

1. Heal a leper

2. Cast out a deaf and mute spirit

3. Heal a man born blind

In the case of casting out a dumb spirit, this was a messianic miracle due to the manner in which demons were cast out during this time prior to Jesus ministry. It was not uncommon for demons to be cast out, however, according to rabbinic methods, you must first establish communication with the demon, then find out its name, and then it can be cast out. Because a dumb or mute spirit caused the person to be unable to speak, communication could not be established, thereby not being able to find out the name. The only one, therefore, that could be seen as able to cast these kind out would be the Messiah.

ALL The Power Is Still Not the Point

In Luke 9, Jesus sent the 12 out and according to Luke, He gave them power over ALL manner of demons. And as we have heard often- ALL means ALL. So through the passing of time, we get to the point where Jesus has to cast out the mute spirit. He then calls them faithless, but the father of the afflicted boy admittedly has faith that it could be done, and indeed Jesus did it. So, then, who did Jesus call faithless? It was His own disciples- some of the 12 who were the closest to Him.

Here is why it had to be them. Jesus had just given power to the 12 (not the 72 yet) to cast out ALL demons, which would include a deaf and mute spirit! There should have been no reason why they couldn’t cast this demon out. Jesus gave them the power.

So why couldn’t they cast it out? They knew that other rabbis had been able to cast out demons, and even people not in faith were able to cast them out as Jesus talks about in Mark ch. 9- [Mar 9:38-41 ESV] 38 John said to him, "Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us." 39 But Jesus said, "Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 For the one who is not against us is for us. 41 For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.

But as they (some of the 12 Apostles) came upon this man who begged them to heal his son, the man must have known who they belonged to from a “teacher” standpoint. He knew that Jesus was their Teacher. He asked them because he believed they were under a Teacher that had the power to do what was necessary to heal the boy. The problem was, these several future Apostles didn’t believe it was possible!

Who Do YOU Say That I Am?

In order for them to believe they could cast out the demon, they needed to believe in the reality that Jesus was who He said He was. This is where the rubber met the road. Everything up to this point could potentially be done by others, or by prophets. Understanding what they were facing- the performance of a miracle capable of being done only in the power of the Messiah according to the traditions of the time, they now had a decision to deal with. “Do we believe, truly believe, Jesus is the Messiah?” The answer showed in their inability to cast out the demon.

Imagine Jesus’ emotion at that moment. These were men He had poured into for three years. Men who had shared almost every meal, every miracle, every lesson, and every triumph. These were His closest friends, yet even they were now showing signs of doubt. Jesus knew the time was quickly coming for Him to do that which He came to do and these men needed to be ready to carry the gospel of the Kingdom of God! Yet, here they were- unable to perform due to their doubt in who Jesus was.

If It Is You, Lord...

A similar situation arose when Jesus walked on water. Jesus wanted to exit the location where the multitudes had been fed. They were going across the sea but He sent the disciples ahead in the boat. Why? He could have got in with them. His sole reason for staying behind was so that He could, in a short time, walk across the water past the boat. Which He then did. Most likely there were two reasons for this. 1)- this action fulfilled the prophecy in Job- [Job 9:8 ESV] 8 who alone stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the sea; And #2- was to instill in His disciples a deep unshakable belief in the reality of his Messiahship.

As He approached the boat, the men thought it to be a ghost, but finally realized it was Jesus. Matthew’s account speaks to how Peter chose to test if it was Jesus or not. [Mat 14:28-31 ESV] 28 And Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." 29 He said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, "Lord, save me." 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?"

Some may say this was actually a faith-filled act but according to Jesus, it was the opposite. Why would He view it this way? Once again, it has nothing to do with what Peter could do or not do. Notice what was actually said to Jesus- “If it is YOU, Lord, tell me to come out upon the water and I will.” Peter did not say, “Lord, if you give me the power to walk on water I will come out there.” There is a significant difference in these two statements. One says “prove to me who You ARE by having me walk on water.” The other says, “ Give me the ability to do that as well and I will control the power and walk on the water because of it.”

Tell Me vs. Give Me

You see the second statement is what most Christians inherently believe was what Peter was asking but what was really happening was Peter was telling Jesus to prove He was the Messiah. He was testing Jesus, for all intents and purposes. We know that Jesus will not allow His Word to fail. For Jesus this was an accommodation that should have been unnecessary. In fact, in the desert when Satan told Jesus to throw Himself down and angels would pick Him up, Jesus said “do not tempt the Lord your God.” This is somewhat a double entendre in that Jesus could have been saying “I (Jesus) will not tempt the Lord,” but it could be read this way, “Satan, do not tempt the Lord your God (Jesus).” In this view, Jesus could have said the same thing to Peter. “Peter- do not tempt the Lord your God by intentionally putting yourself in harm’s way just to prove my ability.” Yet- He did just that. Jesus condescended to Peter’s request. Peter said prove to me you are the Christ. So Jesus did. And what did Peter do with the proof? He waffled. When the winds blew fierce, Peter questioned in his mind, “Is this really the Christ?” And when he questioned who Jesus was, he sank. Which then prompted Jesus to call out Peter’s lack of faith. It was his lack of faith in who Jesus was, not in something that Peter was or was not able to do.

Faith is Faith, Isn't It? (No...No It Isn't)

I know that some reading this may say, “No, they knew who Jesus was. They were simply learning how to “activate” their faith, or “grow” their faith, or “stand” on their faith in their ability to do these things. But let me show how this is exactly NOT true.

The disciples in the boat say, alithos theou uios ei, or translated - “Truly you are a son of God.” They say it without the definite article o. the definite article would be translated “the”. If they would have said the above phrase with “o” included, it would be “Truly you are THE Son of God.” For example, when Peter answers the question posed to the disciples in Caeserea Philippi, “Who do YOU say that I am?”, Peter answers for the disciples the following- Su ei o Xristos o uios tou theou (“You are the Christ, the Son of God”)

Do you see the difference? You need to understand that these men were familiar with the writings which are called “intertestamental” or 2nd temple writings. They knew the story of Genesis 6 dealt with beings that would be termed “Sons of God” that were placed by God over the nations of the Earth. For a complete understanding of this concept, I encourage you check out the work of Dr. Michael Heiser in Unseen Realm or many other scholars that deal with the concept of the Divine Council.

Hi, My Name Is...

With that being said, what is clear is that even at this critical point in Jesus’ ministry his closest disciples are still trying to determine if He truly is The Messiah- The Christ. And clearly, they have not fully been sold on that fact. They indicate that He certainly must be A Son of God, putting Jesus on the level of a divine being but still lower than God Himself. They have elevated Him to beyond merely a man, but they have not committed themselves to the rarified air of saying He is The Almighty. To indicate this, Peter places a bet on Jesus being the Christ, but cannot maintain His belief through the storm and pays for his unbelief by beginning to sink. This is the reason Jesus says “O ye of little faith, why did you doubt?” Or, in other words, “you were believing in me, but you second guessed. When it counted, you de-throned Me in your mind and made me just another divine being.”

The lesson in both of these examples is that Faith as defined by Jesus is a Faith in Him and the works which He does. This is not a faith in the power given to us, or the faith that we might be able to press through for a breakthrough, or any other “self”-focused belief. Our Faith is in the risen Christ. Period. Full stop. When we believe in Him, we inherently believe in His goodness, His faithfulness, and His mercy. These, by definition, mean that He will heal, He will provide, He will protect, and He will bless those who hold fast to their confession.

What I Have, I Give to You...

Peter and John clearly figured this out by the middle of the book of Acts. As they approached the Gate called Beautiful, and saw the lame beggar, there was no “building up my faith” to see if Peter had the faith “enough” to heal the man. John wasn’t his spiritual spotter saying “come on Rock, you got this! Get pumped up!” He simply said the facts- he knew inherently that Jesus was good, Jesus was able to heal, and Jesus was willing to heal. All of this Peter had witnessed. So out of his belief in who Jesus is, He spoke truth and did what Jesus commanded- heal the sick in the name of Jesus. Which is what He did. All the while maintaining the Object of His Faith- Jesus as the Christ.

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