Mark 11: “Have Faith in God”
Sunday morning worship, June 3, 2018
I was reading an article last week which talked about how difficult it is for experts in the mechanics of how a cell phone works to predict how difficult it is for someone to learn to use a new or updated phone. Those with a knack for catching on quickly rarely understand how much some people struggle to deal with the changes the new technology brings. Reading the article reminded me of listening to our son, Joshua, present his research before earning his PhD in chemistry. I remember being impressed with his presentation skills and his obvious knowledge of what he was presenting. But I had no way of knowing whether or not anything he said was rational or all lies. In so many ways what we have or have not been taught, how we have been taught and by whom colors the way we process our world. Our surrounding culture is another huge factor.
The Apostle Paul presented this truth this way: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God…Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18, 22-24). The same gospel message was heard with three different sets of ears and interpreted in three different ways. The philosopher (v20) looks at the world and interprets what he or she sees, hears, and experiences against his or her own present philosophic construct. The Jew who was schooled by the teachers of the law (v20) knew anyone who died on a tree was cursed so Jesus could not be the Messiah. But the person who was willing to just watch Jesus and see the wonders He performed, who listened to His teachings, and who watched how Jesus lived, treated various people, died, and accepted His resurrection, that person heard the Apostolic explanation as it was proclaimed, accepted that message, and was saved. Jesus was the same to all three groups, but the way they interpreted their worlds led them to different conclusions.
This morning’s text, Mark 11:22-25, has troubled me for many years. Please listen closely as I read it: “‘Have faith in God,’ Jesus answered. ‘Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, “Go, throw yourself into the sea,” and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.’”
Growing up I was taught and held to a very simplistic reading of that text. If you can remember: “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it for me.” I gave myself many spiritual hemorrhoids trying to make things happen. I would try to will the Cleveland Indians and Browns to victories. I believed in my heart without doubting that God wanted and would heal various people I met along the way. I prayed and prayed and prayed for certain things to happen that never came about. I asked, I begged, I pleaded, and it seemed as if all my prayers were a rubber super ball bouncing off heavens clouds with super human strength headed right back at me. As I got a little older I started reading whatever commentaries on these verses I could find. But it seemed to me they all copped out. The plain reading of the text I had been taught caused me to hold onto a simple interpretation: I was asking and it wasn’t happening. I believed and my belief was getting me nowhere. After many years of studying these verses, I now look at them differently. But I’ve never forgotten that simplistic, child-like faith I was taught as a child. I wonder how many of you struggle in similar ways when you read the Bible on your own, just like I did.
I’ve come to understand, after many years of struggling that what we have faith in is key. When we take one verse or one section of Scripture out of context or understand it incompletely, we take ourselves to places we ought not to go. But how are we to know that when we are young in the faith? Our leaders, the experts, seem to make up the rules as they go along, interpreting one text literally and another figuratively. They pound their fists over one verse and skip over one just before it or just after it. Sitting in the pews listening to someone else talk and basing our faith on what they are teaching us may or may not be helpful. I remind myself of that fact as I write this message. “Have faith in God.” The object of our faith is important. If the object of our faith is the mountain, it isn’t going to move. If the object of our faith is our own abilities or even our own faith, the mountain isn’t going to move. The only way we can move the mountain in our own abilities is one shovel full at a time. I’ve done that more than once in my life, too. If the object of our faith is our ability to understand the Bible, the mountain isn’t going to move. But if the object of our faith is the living, omnipotent, omniscient God and He speaks a living, specific, and time-sensitive word into our hearts and asks us to stand firm in our faith and act upon what has originated in the heart and mind and will of the living God, then we had better have faith that that mountain is indeed in need of moving.
What I’ve come to understand is that the Bible is our tool, our guidebook to take us to the living God. God won’t act in contradiction to an accurate understanding of the Bible, but our faith isn’t built on the Bible, it’s built on our relationship with the God whose story it tells. We aren’t to learn the rules and live by the rules. We are to let the rules take us to the God whose holiness is expressed in the rules. Matthew 6:33 says, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.” It doesn’t say seek first to understand the Bible and have all of the rules down correctly. If God’s righteousness will be displayed in the moving of a mountain and God calls upon us to act in a way that glorifies His righteousness, then we need to stand firm in our faith. If the advancement of God’s kingdom depends on a mountain being moved, then it is a privilege to be a part of moving the mountain.
Following Jesus doesn’t start with us or what we want or what we can do for God. It starts with following. That means God leads, God decides, God speaks to us, we learn to hear His voice through studying and through trial and error, success and failure, and we act. Sometimes we react. Sometimes we get it right. Sometimes we don’t. But if God wants the mountain moved and He wants us to be a part of it and we keep seeking Him, His will, His kingdom, and His righteousness, we will eventually get that mountain moved unless we fail to stand firm and persevere. That’s what I’ve learned. I haven’t forgotten my mistakes. We are all allowed to make them. God is bigger than our mistakes. He is able if we are willing.