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A Faith that can move mountains


1 April 2008 – Martin Hughes - Watford

Reading : Hebrews 11 verses 1 – 19

The quality of faith is central to the lives of Bible characters. We see this in our reading from the letter to the Hebrews, where we are told that without faith it is impossible to please God. We also have a dramatic account in these verses of the importance of faith in the lives of well-known Bible characters such as Noah, Abraham, Moses and many other men and women. It is important, then, that we answer some obvious questions about faith. What exactly is involved in having faith? How can we develop a faith that powerfully impacts upon our lives?

In the Bible, we find that the quality of faith is often high-lighted in miracles and other notable deeds. However, faith should not be specifically associated with such activities. Indeed faith is a quality that underlines many of our day–to–day activities. We show faith in the everyday circumstances of our lives. For example, we demonstrate faith when we travel on a bus: faith in its construction and its driver's skill. If we do not show faith, we would be afraid to travel on a bus in case there was an accident due to faulty vehicle maintenance or to dangerous driving. But the real point is that we never stop to consider whether it is safe to use a bus. No – because we know it is safe. This confidence is based upon reason and knowledge. A bus is only used if it is in a road–worthy condition. The driver will have passed a test. So our faith in the safety of bus travel is a rational one, based on our own experience. There are many situations like this where practical faith is based upon knowledge and reason.

This is also true of Bible faith. The faith shown by Bible characters is a rational belief based upon experience. Unfortunately people do not think about Bible faith in this way. They almost seem to think that Biblical faith allows us to believe something that we do not expect to be true. Such a view is completely incorrect. The expression "blind faith" is a contradiction in terms.

We read in the Bible about men and women who believed in the existence of God. On rational evidence they believed that God had spoken to them. They showed their faith because their actions then were based upon what God had told them. This is the common feature in all the examples given in Hebrews chapter 11. A remarkable example of such a faith, was shown by Abraham, the father of the Jewish people. His faith was outstanding. We read about him in Genesis 12.

Genesis 12 verses 1 – 3

These verses tell us how God called Abraham to leave his settled existence in Ur of the Chaldees and to go out into the unknown. Abraham believed that God had spoken to him. He trusted God and, in faith, did what God required him to do. In response to his faith, God made promises to Abraham, including one that a great nation should come from him. As Abraham continued to show his faith in God so these promises were repeated to him, and each time more of God's purpose was revealed to him. Abraham wandered for many years in the land of Canaan, and in his old age Isaac his son was born. Abraham was told that a great nation would come from Isaac. So, in his old age Abraham must have been content. And then his faith was tested to the uttermost. For God commanded Abraham to kill Isaac, the child of promise. Abraham must have been shocked but he was prepared to obey God. So, Abraham made his preparations; he took two of his young men and Isaac, together with the wood for the fire, and journeyed for three days to the special place that God had appointed. Then Abraham and Isaac went on alone to the mountain where Isaac was to be sacrificed. But by this time Abraham's doubts were gone – the matter was fully resolved in this mind. So he told the young men: "I and the lad will come again." What a remarkable statement. Abraham was going to sacrifice his son and yet he expected to return with him. Eventually they come to the chosen place. Abraham built the altar, laid the wood on the altar and then placed Isaac upon it. Abraham raised the knife fully intending to complete the stroke and to slay Isaac. But an angel intervened and the life of Isaac was saved. All this is explained in Hebrews 11 verses 17 - 19.

In these words, we are told that Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac because he believed that God must then raise him from the dead. For God had promised Abraham "My covenant will I establish with Isaac and his seed after him." This meant that Isaac had to live to have children for God's promises to be fulfilled. If Abraham killed Isaac then God must raise Isaac from the dead. And so, in a marvellous exhibition of faith, Abraham went to the mountain to sacrifice Isaac and yet confidently expected to return with him. Abraham believed this, because he had faith in God's promises about Isaac's role in God's purpose. All through his life Abraham had received evidence that God was at work in his life, he knew God would keep His promise about Isaac, so he was willing to do what God asked.

Abraham's faith is described in Hebrews chapter 11 along with other examples of faith. This chapter shows us that the faith of these men and women was not a mystical, self–contemplating faith. No! These people all believed that God had spoken. They based their way of life, their actions on what God had promised. These promises were real to them. They affected their motives and their actions. We can see why such an outward–looking faith as this is the condition for salvation. When we show this sort of faith, we must forget the advancement and rewards of this life. For we are conscious only of God and His promises. We are admitting that we cannot save ourselves by our own achievements. We are dependant upon God performing what He has promised. Paul tells us "Boasting is excluded by the law of faith."

So, an act of faith is a demonstration that we are looking to God, acknowledging that salvation only comes through Him. An act of faith is an act of worship because all the glory is given to God. And so an act of faith is counted as righteousness by God in His mercy. The only condition is that we, like Abraham, believe and act upon what God has promised. We do this when we publically declare our faith in God's salvation by being baptised, by joining ourselves to the Lord Jesus Christ, and showing that we want to follow him.

So how can we develop the faith shown so clearly in the men and women listed in Hebrews 11? We find the answer in Romans 10 verse 17: "faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." So here we learn that our search for faith must begin with the Bible. Faith is not something that comes to us in any other way, except that we see the evidence for the existence of God in the natural world around. The Psalmist tells us that the heavens declare the glory of God. So the Apostle Paul in Romans 1 warns us that we have no excuse for failing to believe in the existence of God. The evidence is all around us.

So we must read the Bible to learn about faith. We find that this book claims positively and clearly to come from God and to speak with God's authority.

II Timothy 3 verses 15, 16

Here, the Bible claims to come from God. It tells us that men wrote the Bible at the command of God. Our first step to faith is to find out if these claims are true. Does the Bible come from God? To answer this question we have to examine the evidence. We have to read the Bible with an open mind. We have to read it carefully. We will find something quite remarkable about the Bible almost immediately. The Bible was written over a period of about 1500 years by many authors, but throughout the Bible there is a unity of theme and purpose: there is no change of view point to accommodate the philosophy of a particular age. There is only one theme: a plan for human redemption through the provision of a saviour who would put away sin and death and open the way to a new life for men and women. From Genesis to Revelation this plan is there. It is there because although the Bible has many writiers there is only one author: God Himself.

As we read the Bible we will discover the essential cohesion and unity of its message. But we need to discover positive and telling evidence that it is true. In fact, the Bible gives us the test of inspiration. It tells us that the Bible can do something that man cannot do. Isaiah (chapter 45 verse 11) says "Ask of me of things to come, concerning my sons and concerning the works of my hand command ye me." So this is how the Bible demonstrates that its origin is from God, by telling us what will happen in the future. The accuracy of the Bible's prophecy confirms the Bible to come from God.

The prophets in the Bible make many predictions about nations and individuals. Some of these prophecies covered a short period while others looked ahead to the far distant future, even up to our own time period. There are so many examples of prophecies that have been fulfilled. Once the fact of prophecy has been established then we recognise that the Bible comes from God. We then have to read the book for ourselves to understand what God requires of us, to come to believe its teaching, to develop our faith in the book as the word of God. But faith has to be complete to be faith. We cannot just accept part of the Bible. We have to make a personal decision about the whole Bible. You make the decision that you believe this book and have faith in the word of God. It is you alone who can make the final commitment in faith that leads you to the waters of baptism.

Jesus used the words about "a faith that moves mountains" (Matthew 17 verse 20). These words were addressed to his disciples, who had failed to heal a child described as a lunatic. Jesus healed the child then explained to his disciples that they had failed to do this because of their lack of faith. He said "If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say to this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible to you." What did Jesus mean? Certainly he is rebuking his disciples for their lack of faith. But he is talking to a specific mountain � he says "this mountain" – we can imagine him pointing to it: It must be the mountain Jesus had just descended, the mount of transfiguration. The term "yonder place" must be Jerusalem, which was very near. So Jesus is not talking about literally moving the mountain. Rather, he is emphasising to the disciples what can be accomplished through faith. He is telling them that if they had faith, they could bring the principles of the kingdom of God (revealed in the Transfiguration) to Jerusalem, that city whose rulers had so fully departed from the true understanding of God's purpose. That is the greatest work of all that the disciples could accomplish and for this they needed faith in the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. We see this fulfilled in the early chapters of the Acts of the Apostles in the preaching of Peter to the inhabitants of Jerusalem about the resurrection of Jesus, when on the basis of Old Testament scriptures he convinced his audience that Jesus had been raised from the dead, when 3000 were baptised in response to his words. The followers of Jesus today also have the responsibility of proclaiming the Gospel message to those around them. They do so in faith.

Copyright © 2009, Belgian Christadelphians.







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