Faith that Moves Mountains: What Jesus didn’t mean…

The following article is from Thomas R. Schreiner, one of my favorite theologians.
It is worth the read. Enjoy
Peter tells us Paul wrote some things that are hard to understand (2 Pet. 3:16).
Jesus said some difficult things, too.
Twice the Lord told his disciples that if they had faith like a mustard seed they could do jaw-dropping things. In Matthew, mustard seed faith is tied to expelling a demon, and Jesus says those who have such faith can move mountains (Matt. 17:20). In Luke, those with mustard seed faith will be able to forgive those who sin against them since such faith can pluck up mulberry trees and cast them into the sea (Luke 17:6). All kinds of questions enter our minds.
What is faith like a mustard seed?
Why doesn’t our faith move mountains?
Are we failing to see great things from God because of our lack of faith?

ENCOURAGING FAITH

In the stories recounted in both Matthew and Luke, the disciples long for more faith. Then they could do great things for God. Then they could cast out demons and forgive a brother or sister who’s especially annoying. Jesus tells them they don’t need great faith; they need just a little faith. He clearly speaks of a small amount of faith since the mustard seed was the smallest seed known in his day. Jesus also informs his disciples that the kingdom of heaven is as small as a mustard seed (Matt. 13:31).
We’re prone to think if we just had more faith, then God could do amazing things through us. But Jesus tells us something quite astonishing. The issue isn’t whether we are full of faith but whether we have any faith. If we have the smallest amount of faith, God works on our behalf. Jesus stops his disciples short and asks them: Do you believe in me at all? Do you trust God at all?
Why is Jesus’s answer encouraging? Because we don’t get caught in the morass of thinking about whether we have enough faith. When facing a given situation, we call out to God to give us faith—no matter how small. A small amount of faith is sufficient because the focus is not on our faith but its object.
Why is it true that mustard seed faith can move mountains and uproot mulberry trees? Jesus plainly tells us. It isn’t because of the quantity of our faith but the object of our faith. If our faith is in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, then it has a great effect. Our faith makes a difference not because it is so great but because God is so great because he is the sovereign one who rules over all things. Our faith doesn’t thrive when we think about how much faith we have; it springs up when we behold our God—when we see Jesus as the One crucified and risen for us.

STANDING ON THE PROMISES

Still, we have questions about this verse. Does our mustard seed faith move mountains and uproot mulberry trees? Do we see this happen today? Are prosperity preachers right in saying that if we had more faith, we wouldn’t get sick and would enjoy the riches of this world?
First, it’s critical to note Jesus is using an illustration. He’s not literally talking about moving mountains and uprooting trees. There’s no example in Scripture of mountains disappearing because someone had faith. Jesus is teaching that stunning things happen if we have faith. The question is, what kind of stunning things should we expect?
Here we must take into account the entire Bible. The old saying is correct: a verse without a context is a pretext. And the context is the whole Bible, which includes reading it in its covenantal and redemptive-historical timeline. We can’t just pluck any verse in the Bible and apply to our lives without considering how it relates to the sweep of Scripture as a whole.
Faith isn’t abstract; we put our faith in the promises of God, in the truth he has revealed. Scripture never promises believers they will be healthy or wealthy. Paul’s thorn in the flesh (2 Cor. 12:7–10) was probably a physical disease, and though he prayed three times for deliverance, God said “no.” Similarly, it wasn’t God’s will to heal Paul’s ministry partner Trophimus (2 Tim. 4:20), and it wasn’t because Paul lacked mustard seed faith! Additionally, Timothy wasn’t healed miraculously and instantaneously of stomach ailments but was told to take wine to settle his indigestion (1 Tim. 5:23). Certainly, Paul believed God could heal Timothy, but God had determined he would not be healed. Moreover, Romans 8:35–39 clearly teaches some believers are persecuted, and some suffer from lack of food and clothing. God never promised us a comfortable life.
Mountain-moving faith, then, must be based on God’s promises—on what is revealed in his Word—not on what we wish will happen or even fervently believe will happen.
Misguided faith can lead to disaster. In the 1520s, Thomas Muntzer believed he was led by the Holy Spirit to bring in the golden age, and warred alongside the peasants to overturn political power. But Muntzer was inspired by fantasies and died in the revolt he led. He trusted in “spiritual revelations” rather than the written words of Scripture.
We must ask first, then, whether one’s faith is truly based on the Word of God. Otherwise, it rests on the vain imaginations of man.

THEN WHAT IS MOUNTAIN-MOVING FAITH?

The question remains: What is mountain-moving faith? Notice what Jesus says in Luke: Those who have faith like a mustard seed do great things. They have the faith to forgive brothers and sisters who sin against them repeatedly.
The illustration Jesus provides, then, is enormously helpful. We know it’s God’s will that we forgive those who sin against us. Yet when we’re faced with actually forgiving them, we often struggle because the pain is so severe.
Mustard seed faith, then, is faith that kills works of the flesh (Gal. 5:19–21) and produces the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23). Love, joy, peace, and patience are mountains that can only be climbed by faith; faith, after all, expresses itself in love (Gal. 5:6). Mustard seed faith believes the gospel will go the ends of the earth and triumph over the gates of hell. And the clearest evidence of mustard seed faith is whether you love God and your neighbor.
Our greatest enemies are not outside of us but within. Our greatest foe is the hate and rebellion that overtakes us, and mustard seed faith—because it is placed in Jesus Christ—gives us the victory over our sin.
Yet we are freed from the sin that enslaves when we rely on Christ and not our own strength and works. Mustard seed faith is enormously powerful—not because of our faith, but because it unites us to the God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published at TGC.

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The Preachers Series: Alexander MacLaren

Alexander MacLaren was born in Glasgow Scotland on February 11, 1826. His father, David, was a lay Baptist preacher who no doubt had an influence on his young son. When his father left for Australia on a three year business trip, he returned home to find that Alexander had given his life to Christ and had received baptism. Although records are sketchy as to the actual date of his conversion and baptism, we do know that he baptized at Hope Street Baptist Church in Glasgow. Alexander would have been around the age of 12 years old when he trusted in Christ. At the age of 16, Alexander entered Stepney College, a Baptist College in London. He was influenced by Dr. David Davies and became a serious student of Greek and Hebrew. Alexander’s sermons reflect his in-depth understanding of the language. After receiving numerous awards in biblical languages and graduating with a B.A. degree from the college, he was called to his first church at 21 years old. During his first pastorate at Portland Chapel in Southampton, he quickly established himself as a polished and powerful preacher.  He stayed at Portland Chapel for 12 years, then was called to pastor Union Chapel in Fallowfield in Manchester England. Alexander remained at Union Chapel until he retired in 1903.
As to the sermons of Alexander MacLaren, he is known in preaching circles today as the “Prince of Expositors.” Alexander believed that preaching was the sole task of the minister. It has been said that when Alexander entered his study, he removed his shoes and put on work boots to remind him that studying the text and writing the sermon was real work. Because of his intense study, he delegated other ministry duties to lay people. Scholars acknowledge that Alexander was a much better preacher than a writer. He had pinned-up nervous energy when he preached but it served him well in the pulpit. His sermon titles were bland but biblical, always encompassing the text. His sermons had three points (I, II, III) and they were clearly organized for effectiveness. His written sermons averaged about 4,000 words and would have taken between 30 and 40 minutes to preach. Alexander shied away from discussing current events or local news, which he has been criticized for by some scholars. However, I believe the criticism is unwarranted and many preachers today stretch biblical truths to connect to contemporary issues. Furthermore, he was a master illustrator and employed metaphors to strengthen his main points. On a whole, MacLaren is one the greatest preachers in history. As a young pastor, I studied his sermon methodology in bible college and have come to appreciate his dedication to the task of preaching. Alexander died May 5, 1910 in Edinburgh. The “Prince of Expositors” remains the gold standard for preaching.

in Christ,
Pastor Mike

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The Preachers Series: George Whitefield

George Whitefield was born on December 27, 1714, in Gloucestershire, England. According to many scholars and historians, he was one of the greatest preachers of all time. Whitefield was instrumental during the Great Awakenings which took place among the American and British colonies during the 1730s and 1740s. Newspaper articles during his lifetime dubbed him as the “Marvel of the Age.” Historians note that George Whitefield preached over 18,000 sermons to nearly 10 million listeners. As a young boy, he loved studying theatrical plays and would often skip school to read them. At Pembroke College in Oxford England, he paid his way through college by waiting on wealthier students. During his college days, he joined the pious Methodist group called “the Holy Club.” It was during those meetings under the tutelage of John Wesley that Whitefield received Christ. After his conversion, he wanted to go to the Georgian colony in America to be a missionary. However, the journey to America was delayed and so he began preaching in and around London. Whitefield soon realized that he was a gifted preacher as people hung on his every word and the crowd sizes began to grow with each passing sermon. His early love for theatrical performances helped shape his presence in the pulpit. Whitfield did not read his sermons but preached extemporaneously without notes. People had never heard this type of sermon before and thus the big attraction. He was not a doctrinal preacher but preached more on biblical characters. Whitefield eventually did make it to the Georgian colonies in America but stayed only three months. During his time in Georgia, he established an orphanage which left him in debt the rest of his life. After his three months stay in America, he returned to England, but the congregations were not receptive to his style of preaching. Then, in 1739 George Whitefield returned to America and preached a revival in Philadelphia which was one of the largest colonies at the time. Since 8,000 people attended the revival, Whitefield was forced to move out into the fields. In most places that he preached, the attendance outnumbered the size of the city. His revival meetings would start in the evening and sometimes go until two or three o’clock in the morning. It was during this time that the Great Awakenings were happening and it was not uncommon for him to preach to more than 20,000 people at one time. Whitfield made the trip back and forth between the American colonies, England and Scotland on numerous occasions. The crowds were huge everywhere Whitefield preached and was the most recognizable person in America. It has been said that when Whitfield opened his mouth to preach, you could’ve heard a pin drop. Even in his later years, Whitefield refused to slow down his preaching schedule. He once said, “I would rather wear out than rust out.” His last sermon took place in the fields while preaching on top of a barrel. The next morning on September 30, 1790, the great orator George Whitefield died.

Sermon: “A Penitent Heart”

Scripture: Luke 13:3

I. Show you what the nature of repentance is.

II. Consider the several parts and causes of repentance.

III. I shall give you some reasons, why repentance is necessary to salvation.

IV. Exhort all of you, high and low, rich and poor, one with another, to endeavor after repentance.

 

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The Preacher’s Series

I am excited to begin a new preaching series entitled: The Preacher’s Series. During the five-week series, we will examine five of the greatest pastor’s who ever preached. The series is designed to give a broad stroke over the past five hundred years. Although it is impossible to identify all the great preachers, I have focused on five men who contributed in a significant way to the Kingdom of God and reflects the sermon methodology of the era. I will give a brief biography of each preacher, provide the actual outline used during the sermon and illustrate by using selected quotes from the preacher during the sermon. My hope and prayer is that the congregation will grow deeper in the faith and that God will speak through voices from the past.

John Bunyan (1628-1688) Christ A Complete Savior

The first preacher on the list is John Bunyan. He was born in November 1628 in the town of Elstow about one mile south of Bedfordshire England. His family knew the sting of poverty. However, his parents were able to send their young son to school. He once said, “It pleased God to put it into their hearts to put me to school, to learn me both to read and write.” Even at a young age, he understood the divine intervention of God. The majority of historians note that John Bunyan was an exceptional student who excelled in his studies. When his mother died in 1644, his father remarried again within two months. Unfortunately, this caused a division with his father. John spent the next three years as a soldier. After separating from the military, John married. However, there are no records of the marriage on file. From the Practice of Piety, he writes, “This woman and I, though we came together as poor as poor might be (not having so much household stuff as a dish or a spoon betwixt us both), yet this she had for her part.” After his marriage, the next four years were an intense spiritual struggle. Hence, the writing of Abounding Grace.  It was years before he found peace with God. One of the most influential people in his life was John Gifford who was the pastor of an independent religious congregation. In 1653, Bunyan joined the congregation and in a short period of time became a deacon. Then in 1658 at the age of 30, John Bunyan received his call to preach. His most famous work The Pilgrim’s Progress was published in 1678. In my estimation, the work is a reflection of Bunyan’s own spiritual journey. Bunyan began writing the book while in prison at Bedfordshire County prison for violating the Conventicle Act which prohibited holding services outside of the Church of England. The writing is a Christian allegory of the progression of the Christian faith. Since its publication, the work has been translated into 200 different languages. The book has never been out of print. He died August 31, 1688, in London, and is buried in Bunhill Fields in Finsbury. Like so many preachers, his life and experiences shaped his preaching and understanding of the Scriptures.

Sunday, March 4, 2018
Sermon Title: Christ A Complete Savior
Sermon Text: Hebrews 7:25
Outline:
I. OF THE INTERSESSION OF CHRIST
II. OF THE BENEFITS OF CHRIST’S INTERCESSION
III. THE PERSONS INTERESTED IN THE INTERCESSION OF CHRIST
IV. EVERY SINCERE COMER CERTAIN OF SALVATION
V. THE USE

 

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Choose Wisely

Yesterday, Billy Graham went home to be with Jesus. There have been many great evangelists throughout history, George Whitefield, Charles Finney and Billy Sunday just to name a few. However, none of these great men can match the evangelistic outreach ministry of Rev. Graham.
The Billy Graham crusades have reached millions of people with the life-changing message of the gospel. Graham’s messages were simple and direct – turn to Christ!
The main focus of his message was John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” This is the gospel message in its purest form. First, the word πιστεύω (believes) means to have complete trust in Christ as the Son of God. The word excludes any other name by which a person can be saved. As the Son of God, he and he alone holds exclusive rights to salvation. Second, the life Christ gives us is eternal. When a person trusts in Christ, He gives them life without end. Although a person dies physically; the person lives spiritually. John 11:25, “Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” The good news is that salvation promises life after death. And those who trust in Christ go immediately to heaven and are ushered into the presence of Christ. Third, those who reject the message of Christ will perish. The word ἀπόλλυμι (perish) conveys the idea of being spiritually brought to ruin. Rather than spending eternity in heaven, the person will be banished to the fires of eternal damnation. Like heaven, Hell is a real place of torment and pain. The lost person will be thrown into “the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 13:50). Hell is a place of torment and separation from the presence of God. Not for a short period of time, but for all eternity. The prospect is not good for the unbeliever. Today, Billy Graham would say “turn to Christ and live with Him forever!” The choice is yours. Choose wisely!

In Christ,
Pastor Michael J. Frazier

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