You of Little Faith

I think many believers are familiar with the account of Jesus calling Peter to walk on water with him. It is found in Matthew 14. Jesus had walked on the sea to cross the lake and catch up with his disciples whom he had sent on ahead. The disciples were at first terrified when they saw Jesus, but then Jesus assured them all was fine.

Peter, when he heard Jesus’ words, calls out to Jesus, and Jesus tells Peter to come out onto the water to join him. Peter gets out of the boat, walks on the water, but then is frightened and begins to sink.

Matthew 14:30-31 — 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?”

Peter walked. Peter doubted, Peter began to sink. Peter cried out to Jesus. Jesus saved Peter. Jesus rebuked Peter for his doubt. That is the story.

The funny thing is, if you listen to people teach this passage, so much weight is placed on Peter’s faith or lack thereof that an important key is missed. Some of our more charismatic friends will make this passage out to say that the solidity of one’s faith is directly connected to whether or not God can perform a particular kind of miracle in your life. So, they will use this text to say to you that Peter’s doubt led to his sinking, and your doubt will lead to your inability to experience the miraculous.

But, look more closely at the story. Yes, Peter’s doubt led to his sinking. That is true. But, Peter’s desperate cry to Jesus led to his being saved. Jesus was plenty powerful to reach out, catch Peter, and pull him back to the surface of the lake. Peter’s doubt did not limit Jesus.

Friends, in our Christian lives, we may have seasons of stronger faith and seasons of greater doubt. Without question, doubting God and his goodness and power is sinful. But such doubt is also a normal part of the human condition. It is a thing for us to confess to God and ask him to help us overcome. It is a thing for us to battle with time in the word, with worship, with fellowship, and with prayer.

What I want us to recognize from this story is that Peter’s doubt did not prevent Jesus from accomplishing his will. Jesus showed himself to be glorious. Jesus was easily able to rescue Peter and put him back on the surface of the lake. And Jesus was able to walk Peter back to the boat. Jesus did not say to Peter, “I wish I could help you, but your doubt prevents me.” Jesus just told Peter that his doubt showed how much more is faith needed to grow.

Is doubt natural? You bet. Is doubt a problem. Yes. Is doubt a thing that will keep God from accomplishing his will. No. Your imperfect faith is not tying the hands of God. Doubt is a thing for us to battle, to confess and repent of. And, God may choose to let us experience some sinking as Peter did because of our doubt. But God is God, and I do not add to his abilities with my faith or take from his abilities in my doubt.

Exactly as I Show You

AT Mount Sinai, the Lord spoke to his people and gave them his commands. After God gave an initial summary of the law—more would come—the Lord also instructed Moses on the building of the tabernacle. This structure would be a portable place of worship, a traveling temple, where the Lord would allow his presence to dwell in the midst of the people.

When God gave this instruction, he was clear that the people were to build in exact accord with his specification.

Exodus 25:9 – Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it.

There is nothing confusing here. God said to the people that they are to fashion and erect the tabernacle exactly as he said. This is no surprise to us. If we have read Exodus before, we expect it and we keep on reading.

But wait a moment. Let’s use this to challenge a modern kind of thinking. How do you feel about God telling the people exactly how to build the tabernacle? Are you OK with that? Do you feel like God has the right to tell the people what to build? How dare he do so?

Why does God not just say to Moses to build a tabernacle, if he wants, to whatever specifications he wants and to offer worship however he wants? I think we know. God is the one who tells the people how to worship him. God is the one who tells the people how they may approach him. God is the one who makes provision so that the people’s sin may be covered and their lives spared from his fiery judgment. God is God, and he will deliver his standards. HE will not be told by sinful man how he must be followed or worshipped.

The funny thing is, when it comes to the Old Testament, when it comes to the tabernacle, I do not hear people saying that this is unfair of God. I do not hear people demanding that God explain himself. People, in general, are not accusing God of wronging people by demanding that the tabernacle be built to a particular design. We tend to suggest that God has every right to tell the people of Israel what pleases him instead of him shifting his pleasure to match their creative whim.

Where do people find themselves offended when God makes his standards known? I’ll offer two examples. One is in modern worship. Another is in salvation itself.

Today, Christians are often taken aback when people dare suggest that what mankind may do in a service of worship is in any way limited. How dare we say that only a man can preach the sermon? Why would we assume that things like sermons, sacraments, prayer, giving, Scripture reading, and song are what worship should include? How can we be so old-fashioned and limiting? The answer should be that we look to the command of God and attempt to build our services of worship in accord with the design shown us in Scripture. Yes, some churches will feel more ceremonial and formal than others. Some churches will use different instrumentation and musical style. But, if we are to honor the Lord in accord with his word, we need to do the things that he commands. And we would be wise to be very careful about bringing into the services things that are not commanded in his word.

How about the issue of salvation? Some folks are deeply offended that God is so restrictive about how people approach him for life and forgiveness. Many of these same people are not offended in the least that God commanded the tabernacle look a particular way. Ask yourself why this is. I would suggest that the reason they are offended by the exclusivity of Christ but are not offended by the exclusivity of the tabernacle design is because they think that human salvation is far more important than the tabernacle.

For sure, the salvation of our souls is important. But we would be incorrect if we assumed that our souls are more important than God’s glory. God is the Almighty. He is the Creator. HE is the Lord over all the universe. Everything that exists in the universe exists for the honor of the Lord. Our salvation, if we are saved, is to the glory of God as it depicts God’s wonderful love and mercy. The judgment of God poured out on those who reject him is to the glory of God as it depicts his perfect and holy justice.

If we say that it is fine for God to tell people how to shape the tabernacle, but it is not fine for God to tell people that there is one way and only one way of salvation, we have very much missed who God is in comparison to who we are. God is the Lord. HE will do all that he pleases. He has every right to tell us how he must be approached. HE has every right to tell us what is acceptable worship. He had every right to tell Israel what the tabernacle should look like. He has every right to tell you, no matter who you think you are, what your life should look like. Like the people of old, approach God in accord with his commands. If you seek to worship, do so in accord with the commands of holy Scripture. IF you seek salvation, come seeking God’s grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone for the glory of God alone.

God is Different Than People Think

You know why Scripture is such a gift? You could never know God without his revealing himself in his word. If God does not tell us what he is like, if we do not pay attention, we will totally have the wrong image in our minds as to who god is, what he does, and what he requires.

I Thought of this in a read through Exodus 19-20. In that passage, the text around the original giving of the Ten Commandments, God makes some restrictions on the people that do not sound like what many around you think God is like.

Why do I say this? In our world, most people think that God is open to any sincere attempt to worship him. People assume that God is open to all expressions of human religion so long as those expressions do not attack other humans. But look at God’s words and God’s standards for the people near the mountain. In two places, we will see something important.

Exodus 19:21-22 – 21 And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down and warn the people, lest they break through to the Lord to look and many of them perish. 22 Also let the priests who come near to the Lord consecrate themselves, lest the Lord break out against them.”

As God prepared to speak to Moses from the Mountain, he gave two significant restrictions. The people could not approach or touch the mountain while God’s presence was upon it. And the priests could not experience this day without a holy consecration. Either group who disobeyed the commands of God here would die. God himself would kill people for disobedience.

But that does not sound like the modern understanding of God put forth by so many people. And at this point we have to ask, is our picture of god from God’s revelation or from our own minds? God is holy. God may not be approached by sinful man. And God will destroy those who violate his holy standards and remain without his forgiveness.

Exodus 20:25 – If you make me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stones, for if you wield your tool on it you profane it.

Here God points out that the people of Israel were not free to make just any kind of altar for worship. If they were to fashion a stone altar with their tools, their touching of the altar would defile it. God was clear that his worship was to be holy. God is clear that he sets the standards as to what is acceptable and unacceptable worship.

The simple thought that I want us to take away from these passages is that God is holy. God is not what the modern American believes. God will judge people. God will judge based on his own standards. God will not bend to our will and our standards. God is not OK with just any old action we want to take. God will tell us how he is to be worshipped.

And in both passages, we see that God is clear that sinful mankind cannot approach him. If we wish to avoid God’s judgment, we must find ourselves under his grace. We are sinners who need to be forgiven. We need to have God apply to us the perfect righteousness of Christ. If we do not have God’s forgiving grace and the imputed righteousness of Jesus, anything we would do that could be considered worship will only serve to bring us under God’s judgment.

So, what do we take away? First, you need Jesus. Ask him to forgive you and cleanse you before the Lord. Surrender to him and be saved by his grace through faith. Then, realize that God has a high and holy standard that is far more dangerous than anything you have ever imagined. Submit to his holy word in order to live and worship in a way that pleases the Lord.

Believe in Jesus Because of His Resurrection

Matthew 12:38-40 — 38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” 39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Prove it! Have you ever been challenged to prove something to somebody? That kind of challenge can be terribly frustrating. A wife gives her all to love and partner with her husband. He comes home one day, she’s had a rough afternoon, and he foolishly asks if she really cares about how she makes him feel or how the house looks. Parents care for, provide for, feed, entertain, and reshape their lives for their kids. Suddenly, when the kids want something they do not get, they challenge their parents to prove they love them. They are nuts. A pastor prays for the church, visits members, preaches the word, and spends himself for the good of the congregation. Then, when a church member has something happen they do not like, they want the pastor to prove that he is really committed to God, His word, and the people. Prove it can be very hard.

Right here, Jesus is challenged by the religious scholars to prove who he is. The Pharisees and scribes approach Jesus and demand to see from him a sign that will convince them that he really is the Messiah, the promised one from God.

Now, stop and think with me for a moment. What is wrong with the religious leaders’ question? They want Jesus to impress them with a miracle. What are they missing?

How about the fact that Jesus has already performed multiple miracles in public that should be enough. Let’s just consider the miracles that we have seen from chapters 8-12 of Matthew:

  • Healed a leper (8:3)
  • Healed a centurion’s servant (8:13)
  • Healed Peter’s mother-in-law (8:15)
  • Healed and drove out demons from many brought to him (8:16)
  • Calmed a storm (8:26)
  • Drove demons out of the demoniac and into the pigs (8:32)
  • Healed a paralytic carried to him. (9:6)
  • Healed a woman with a discharge of blood (9:22)
  • Brought a girl back from the dead (9:25)
  • Gave sight to 2 blind men (9:29)
  • Drove a demon out of a demon-possessed and mute man. (9:33)
  • Healed a man with a withered hand (12:13)
  • Healed a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute (12:22)

That, my friends, is a list of 13 miracles if my count is correct. None of those are things that an ordinary person has the power to do. Jesus had already done enough to prove himself. The problem is, the religious leaders just do not want to believe.

So they are still demanding a sign. I wonder what they thought would be enough to really prove who Jesus is. Perhaps they wanted him to make the sun go backward, or make the moon turn red, or write his name in the stars, or cause the walls of Jerusalem to fall down, or cause the city of Rome to collapse. What would have been enough?

Take note, by the way, that people love to say that they would believe in Jesus if he just proved it to them. However, people seldom establish what it would really take to prove it. They never say what kind of proof would suffice. Why? Most people are not failing to believe because of a lack of evidence. Instead, most people who do not believe refuse to believe because they do not want to be required to submit to the Lordship of Christ.

Jesus responds to the demand of the teachers by telling them that their demand for a sign is an evil and adulterous thing. They are evil, sinning against the Lord in their desire to disprove who Jesus is. They are also adulterous, a strange-sounding way to talk about their lack of faith. But, remember, the teachers of the law of God were supposed to be faithful to God. Jesus, God the Son, was fulfilling the prophecies about the Messiah that these teachers should have recognized. But, instead of being faithful to Christ like a bride being faithful to her husband, the religious teachers were turning away from God to give themselves to another lover, their own power and authority in the nation.

Then Jesus told them that their generation would receive only one sign to prove the identity of Jesus. They would receive the sign of the prophet Jonah. AS many of us learned as children in Sunday School, Jonah was swallowed by a giant fish and lived for 3 days in its belly. Jesus says that, in just the same way, he would be 3 days in the heart of the earth. That would be the ultimate sign for this generation.

Can you tell what Jesus was saying to these men? He was actually being very subtle. The Jews at that point had no idea of the cross and resurrection to come. Only after Jesus did his work would those who heard this prophecy about the sign of Jonah be able to realize that Jesus was talking about dying, being buried over 3 days, and then rising from the grave to live both physically and eternally. As Jonah was 3 days in the fish and lived, Jesus would be 3 days in the grave and live. This would be the only sign that Jesus would actually give to that skeptical generation to prove that he is exactly who he claims to be.

So, what is the proof of Jesus’ identity? The Savior tells us that the ultimate proof is his resurrection from the dead. The Son of god went to a cross to die as a perfect sacrifice for every sin that God would ever forgive. The Son of God was buried on Friday, day 1, through Saturday, day 2, and rose on Sunday, day 3 as the Jews would have counted it in their culture. And then the Son of God would live again, defeating death and offering the ultimate proof of every one of his claims about himself. Jesus claimed to be God. He claimed to be Lord of the Sabbath. He claimed the authority to forgive sins. He claimed that he would one day return to earth as king. And his resurrection is the proof of it all.

Throughout the New Testament, it is always the resurrection of Jesus that stands as the perfect and final proof to every claim of the Lord. It is the resurrection of Jesus that proves he is God in flesh. It is the resurrection that proves that his sacrifice was enough to cover our sins. It is his resurrection that proves that those who trust in him and surrender to his lordship will have life everlasting. It is his resurrection that proves to us that we will live again after we die. It is his resurrection that proves that Jesus is not just another religious teacher like the prophets of the Old Testament or the false prophets of later years. It is the resurrection upon which all our confidence in Christianity rests.

The point that the Savior is making in his words to the teachers in this passage is simple: Believe in Jesus because of his resurrection. He will not bow to the wishes of the skeptics by giving them extra signs to suit their fancy. He will not dance whenever they play a tune. He will not offer them a circus performance to see if he might win their approval. No, all Jesus will do is the work that he came to do. But, when he rises from the dead, he will have done enough to prove it all.

A Problem with Modern Church Strategy

WE want our churches to grow. We want to se people saved. We want to see the world around us love our Savior too. We want our communities better to reflect the character of the Lord.

Few people would disagree with those thoughts. But many would find themselves at odds as to how to make it happen. In many a case, the theory for how a church can impact its world follows the lines of just being extra nice. It seems that many a pastor believes that, if the local church is just super-nice to the community, the people of the community will embrace the church and lots of people will be saved.

Of course, I have no opposition to Christian kindness. Nor do I have any problem with the church living peacefully with their neighbors and looking for the opportunity to share the gospel. But I wonder if we realize how the world reacts to Jesus. I wonder if we remember that, when Jesus was doing the greatest kindness, and when some believed, the world around him reacted with hate when the Savior challenged their sovereignty.

Matthew 12:22-24 – 22 Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. 23 And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.”

A man needed healing. Jesus, by his mighty power, cast out a demon and restored a man. Some people thought this was great. But others who saw blasphemed the Savior, accusing him of doing the very work of the devil.

Christians, I want us to understand that this is not an uncommon pattern in the world. The church can do wonderfully loving things for people. And people in fact will appreciate it. The Lord may use that opportunity, when the world is paying attention to us, when people are happy about what we have done, to make the people open to hearing the gospel. And so we should not neglect kindness and honest witness.

At the same time, the watching world that was challenged by Jesus had a different reaction. Those who felt their political position threatened by Jesus were not at all thrilled with the kindness of the Savior. They spoke out against Jesus. They accused him of being the hand of the devil. And with every step of influence the Savior gained, they plotted more and more against him.

Dear Christian friends, the church will not win the world by being extra nice. Now, as we live as Christians, we will naturally be kind and helpful, even in our communities. And it may be that the Lord uses that kindness to give us the opportunity to share the gospel with the lost. The kindness is worth it for two reasons: first, because it is honoring to the Lord, and second, because we do love those to whom we are kind and who we hope to have hear and respond to the gospel. So do not hear me suggesting that the church not live out kindness.

But, and this is what I think challenges the thinking of many churches today, the expressed kindness of God and the increasing influence of the church will also bring the church greater persecution and greater hatred from those who oppose the Lord. Many out there will accept our kindness quite well when we give them free food or throw a nice block party. But, the moment the church’s preaching challenges their freedom to live in rebellion against the Lord, the world will denounce that kindness as if it were a demonic attack.

So, what am I suggesting here? Churches need to be first and foremost faithful to the Lord. Yes, we also live as good neighbors and kind citizens in our communities. Perhaps some will do events that gain them a greater hearing in their towns and help the community realize that Christians are present. But do not think that you win the world with such events. God wins people’s souls when a genuine gospel is proclaimed. And when that happens, some are drawn by God to salvation. Others will respond in hatred, because they oppose Jesus and his ways.

Could They Accuse You Like This?

When we see the way that the lost in the book of Acts accused the Christians, we see some true things about believers. I wonder if we could be thought guilty of the same things today.

Take a look at the words of the people of Thessalonica against the Christians there.

Acts 17:6-86 when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, 7 and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.”

The people of Thessalonica wanted to capture Paul, but they could not. So they took some of his friends in and accused them. And there are two things that grab my attention.

First, the accusers suggest that the Christians have turned the world upside down. The Christians have been so clear in their evangelism and in their changed lives that lost people say that they have changed the world. There is no doubt that, through history, the church has changed the world. But I wonder how much changing of the world we are doing today. So many churches are so worried about making their communities feel a liking for them that they begin to behave like the world around them. One wonders if the lost world even sees that these groups are actually different from them. Or, would the lost world today look at most of our churches and assume that we are just like them with the exception that we do a religious thing on Sunday mornings when our schedules permit?

The second thing that I see here is that the lost accuse the Christians of being bad citizens of the empire because they have a different king, Jesus. Again, I wonder if this is an accusation that would catch many Christians today. Do we live in such a way that the world around us, our neighbors, our bosses, our friends, see that we have a loyalty to our King so that the Lord and no other authority is indeed our master? Would people look at the average person claiming Christ and recognize that they are devoted to someone who is beyond any temporal authority?

Christians, take this to heart. Look at the two accusations against the Christians in Thessalonica. Would people say those things of you? Do you change your world? Are you so loyal to the Lord and his word that people would think you live under a fully different government? If not, what is missing?

Teach Me

Do you ever get demanding? Be honest. Sometimes, when you and I are at our weakest, we will tell God how things ought to be. We will let him know what he must do if he is going to meet our approval. And when we do this, we are clearly missing biblical truth.

In Psalm 25, we see the psalmist pray that God will help him to know his ways better. And in doing so, I think we are reminded of the perfection of God’s plan.

Psalm 25:4-5

4 Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths.
5 Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all the day long.

It is the line in verse 5 that got my attention as I read through this psalm. “You are the God of my salvation.” What a glorious truth. God, the only God, the one true God, is the God of my salvation. There is only one God. We have no other way of salvation.

O, I know, this is elementary stuff, but it really matters. When we think about the word of God and the truth of eternity, we need to remember that there is only one God. So often, the person put off by the claim of exclusive salvation in Christ has allowed himself or herself to reason as if there really are other ways out there. They assume that there are other gods we could follow. They assume that there are other ways that Christians just do not acknowledge. But, and this is vital, there are not.

Before David declared God to be the God of his salvation, he prayed that God would teach him. He wants God to show him his ways. HE wants God to teach him his truth. David knows that, apart from God’s teaching, he will miss it. If God does not reveal himself to us, we will assume that we know everything and can reason out how the world should run. We are wrong.

The big problem that many of us face is that, in our sinfulness, we think that we can tell God what God’s ways should be. We stop praying that God would teach us his ways. Instead, we tell God that we have concluded that this or that ought to be his ways. WE tell God how we think we would have done things were we the ones in charge.

But to tell God what God ought to do is foolish. You do not have all the knowledge God has. You are warped in your sin and cannot measure morality as God does in his holiness. And, the simple fact is, you are not the God who created the universe. You did not create the stars and planets, the people and the animals, to display your glory. You did not shape people for your purposes. So how in the world could you think that you have the ability to tell the Creator how things should be? This is hubris.

What is right is what we see the psalmist do. He prays, asking God to teach him his ways. He declares God to be the God of his salvation. And he waits on the Lord. The psalmist knows that he is not God. He knows that he does not know everything or understand everything. He instead relies on God for salvation, and he waits for God to take action and reveal truth in God’s own perfect timing.