Is Jesus Only as Powerful as You Believe?
A couple of questions could be raised by this text. How could amazement at the words of Jesus and recognition of His miracles lead to being offended at Him? How come the disciples arent amazed at either Jesus teaching or the townspeoples unbelief? But one question demands an answer: Is Jesus only as powerful as you believe He is?
Yes, He is. Dont believe me? Try these Bible passages all spoken by Jesus on for size. Matthew 8:13, As you have believed so let it be to you. Matthew 9:22, "Your faith has made you whole. Matthew 9:29, According to your faith may it be to you. And finally, Matthew 15:28, Let it be to you according as you will.
The events here answer yes as well. Mark reports that Jesus could not do any miracles there [in Nazareth], except lay His hands on a few sick people and heal them. This is linked to their lack of faith by the very next sentence, And He was amazed at their lack of faith.
Only faith can receive the gifts, the promises, the miracles of the Lord. Luther used the image of trying to pour water into a cup that is held by a shaking hand to illustrate doubtful faith. You can pour very little into a cup that is shaking, so doubting faith grasps very little of the promises and power of God. Well you cant pour anything at all into a cup that is upside down. Thats unbelief. The people of Nazareth were unbelievers; they didnt bring their sick to Him for healing as so many did at Capernaum.
Yes, Jesus is only as powerful as you believe Him to me. That statement makes you nervous. Yet, it is a truism. Unbelief is like pulling the plug on a lamp. None of the power in the outlet can be conveyed to the light. The power is still there in the outlet; it just isnt any good to the lamp. The cord which stands for faith must be plugged into the outlet.
Maybe a couple of illustrations will help. On March 9, 1974 a Japanese solider finally surrendered on a remote island in the Philippines 29 years after World War II officially ended. Numerous attempts had been made to convince him the war was really over. The solider didnt believe any of the messages (March 2009, Good News). Now was the war really over? Could that soldier have left his post? Could he have gone home to family and friends anytime over the last 29 years? Yes, yes, and yes, but because of his unbelief the war was still going on for him.
Heres an illustration from our Supreme Court. In 1829 two men, Wilson and Porter, were convicted of murder while robbing the United States mail. They were both sentenced to hang. Three weeks before the execution date Wilson was pardoned by President Andrew Jackson. To the surprise of all and anger of some, Wilson refused to be pardoned. He didnt believe he should be. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court. The Courts decision read in part: A pardon is a deed to the validity of which delivery is essential, and delivery is not complete without acceptance. It may be rejected by the person to whom it is tendered; and if it is rejected, we have discovered no power in this court to force it upon him (That I May Know Him, Teachers Edition, 49). Wilson was really pardoned, but unbelief kept him in his cell and led him to the gallows.
Now youre really starting to squirm. If Jesus is only as powerful as I believe, then do I believe enough? Do I believe rightly? Looking in at your faith is the equivalent of looking down when standing on a high ledge. Dont do it; it will surely make your head spin and your heart pound. Then why even ask the question is Jesus only as powerful as you believe? So we can rebuke our old adam who thinks going through the motions is enough: sitting in church fulfills the 3rd Commandment, receiving the Sacrament as ordinary food is oaky, being forgiven doesnt call me to reject, break with, and leave my sins.
Rebuke the old adam that says it surely doesnt matter what or if you believe only that you act the part. No, thats hypocrisy which can fool me and everyone else, but doesnt fool for a moment the God who sees into the heart. However, once your sinful nature is slapped down by answering, Yes, Jesus is only as powerful as I believe leave that answer. While Jesus is only a powerful as you believe, faith doesnt come from pondering that answer but this one. No, Jesus isnt only as powerful as I believe.
Last week we were there when Jesus raised Jairus daughter. There was no indication that the 12 year old girl believed anything at all. While her father knew who Jesus was and sent for Him in a last ditch effort to save her, she might have known nothing of Jesus power. When Jesus casts out demons, there is no indication that the one possessed believes in Jesus as Savior or Lord.
We can go elsewhere to see that Jesus does more than people believe. When Peter is imprisoned by Herod, the whole church is praying for his release. The Lord sends an angel to release him. He shows up on the doorstep of the praying church, but when a servant girl reports Peter is on the doorstep. They said she was out of her mind and made fun of her. The praying church didnt believe the Lord would do what they asked, yet the Lord did it anyway.
Or look at the life of Jacob in Haran. It was marvelously blessed despite the evil maneuvering of Laban his father-in-law. His life there began with the Lord appearing to him and giving him the Promised Seed and earthly protection. How did Jacob respond? Not in faith but in if-then unbelief. He vowed, If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my fathers house in peace, then the Lord will be my God. You understand, dont you, if you qualify any of Gods promises with an if, you dont believe them? Yet the Lord was more powerful and more gracious that Jacobs unbelief.
Lets get down to the nitty-gritty. Who believed at Calvary or on Easter morning? If Jesus is only as powerful as we believe, where was the faith necessary on Good Friday and Easter? They didnt stand at the foot of the cross adoring Gods sacrifice for their sins. They didnt rejoice to see all their sins being paid for by Jesus. The Marys didnt believe Jesus was suffering the eternal pangs of hell for their many sins of thought, word, and deed. John didnt gaze upon the bloody, beaten, dying Jesus and believe his sin of deserting Him in Gethsemane was paid for.
No one believed on Good Friday as Romans 4 says that Jesus was delivered up for our sins. And no one on Easter believed the second half of that verse either. Jesus was delivered up for our sins and raised again for our justification. God the Father raised Jesus as proof positive that all the sins of the world had been paid for once and for all. God the Father delivered Jesus to death for our sins and raised Him to show that He had accepted the payment in full. Did the women who went to the tomb on Easter morning to rebury a dead Jesus believe God would raise Him? Not hardly. Surely the apostles didnt either. They were hiding for their lives for fear of the Jews and they didnt believe the women when they told them Jesus had risen.
Good Friday and Easter were festivals of unbelief. Yet were sins still paid for? You know they were because God the Father did raise His Son. Jesus isnt only as powerful as you believe. In fact, Jesus is far more powerful than any of us has ever believed. A man with a demon possessed boy says to Jesus, If You can do anything, help us. Though this man was eaten up by unbelief, Jesus healed his boy.
Then theres the case of King Ahaz. The Lord sent the prophet Isaiah to him with the promise of victory over his enemies. The Lord invited Ahaz to ask for any sign and even if it be deep as hell or high as heaven the Lord would grant it. But Ahaz didnt believe he could ask for anything so grand and refused to ask at all. Yet, the Lord still gave this unbeliever the sign of the Virgin Birth.
Focus on the fact that Jesus is revealed by Scripture to me more powerful and more gracious than any dare believe. He gives more forgiveness, heals more diseases, and is more merciful than we believe. Isnt that truth? Doesnt the Scriptures say He has more forgiveness than we have sins? Doesnt the Psalmist praise Him for healing all His diseases? And dont you say in the Communion liturgy that His mercy endures forever?
Faith lives from the promises of God. Faith grows not by goading or by challenging it but by hearing and focusing on the largeness of Gods promises. In Baptism God doesnt promise you a better life but a completely new creation. In Absolution, God doesnt promise to send your sins away only as far as you can see them go but as far as east is from west. In Communion, the Body and Blood of Jesus arent present only if you believe they are. They are present because His Word of Promise puts them on our altar. So go to your Baptism when youre feeling like the same old sinner. Go to Absolution when you cant get any distance between you and your sins. Go to Communion when Jesus feels distant from you.
These are acts of faith and no one who ever approached Jesus in faith, even little faith, came away disappointed. People who came in unbelief left empty handed; not because Jesus didnt have the power to help them, but because they wouldnt use it. This is such an unnatural response to the God of power, grace, and promise being present to help and heal, that it even amazed Jesus. He is present today for these same reasons. May we be the ones who go away amazed by what He does for us today. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (20090719); Mark 6: 1-6