Tuesday, May 20, 2014

When "Nothing" Doesn't Mean "Nothing"

I am a big proponent of verse by verse preaching through a book of the Bible. The main reason why I believe this is the most effective means of preaching is that it allows you to see the text of Scripture in the context in which it was written. This past Sunday, I came face to face with a passage that can only be understood in the context in which it was written. But unfortunately, it has often been ripped out of the context and applied wrongly in many different ways!

But before I illustrate how it has been wrongly understood, let me help paint the context for you. I am preaching through the book of Matthew and last week came to Jesus' interaction with a father who desired to have his boy healed of his epilepsy (Matthew 17:14-20). We are later told that the boy's problems are rooted in demon possession. As Jesus normally does, He extends grace on this man and heals they young boy. 

But to me, the most interesting part of this interaction is Jesus' conversation with the disciples after the healing. Matthew 17:19-20 says . . .
"Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, 'Why could we not cast it out?' He said to them, 'Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.'"
When the man approached Jesus seeking healing for his son, he tells Jesus that he first brought the boy to the disciples and they failed in healing him. And so now the disciples get Jesus alone and ask him why they couldn't do it. They know they have been given authority to heal and cast out demons. Jesus  told them to do it. When Jesus sent out the twelve, He gave them "authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction" (Matthew 10:1). He told them specifically to "heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons" (Matthew 10:8).

But now they tried to do what God told them to do and they couldn't do it. Why? Why were they not able to do what Jesus had told them to do. Jesus' answer to them is that they have little faith. He isn't saying they have a little quantity of faith. After all, just a few words after this He will use the illustration of faith that is like a mustard seed. That's little faith. It's little faith, but powerful enough to move mountains (to move mountains was proverbial for overcoming great difficulties . . . another textual faux pas, but we don't have time to deal with that here).

 Jesus isn't talking about their quantity of faith, but their quality of faith. Quality of faith seemingly is a faith that is dependent upon Jesus. It seems to me that they were not relying on Jesus when they tried to heal this boy. If I were to guess, they simply were going through the motions of healing, instead of relying on the One who commanded them to do it.

Okay Thad, this is a good story, but what's the point of this blog post? Well, glad you asked. At the end of the passage, Jesus says . . .

"Nothing will be impossible for you."


As in NOTHING without any exceptions. Is Jesus saying that we do possess the ability to literally move mountains if we have enough faith? Is He saying that I can do anything I want if I have faith in Jesus? I am convinced after studying this passage that nothing cannot mean nothing without any qualifiers. Let me explain.

  • The reason why I cannot break a 4-minute (or 5-minute or 6-minute) mile has nothing to do with me not having enough faith in Jesus Christ. 
  • The only explanation as to why I cannot fly has nothing to do with not trusting Jesus enough.
  • The reason why I am not on the PGA Tour is not connected to how much faith or dependence in Jesus I have had in my life.

I use these as crazy examples because I want to prove a point. Nothing cannot mean nothing without any exception. There is not a person I know that would literally say the reason why they cannot fly is because they do not have enough faith in Jesus. That's ridiculous!

But I have heard things like . . . "The reason why your child is sick is because you do not have enough faith. The reason why you are poor and do not live in a nice neighborhood is because of your lack of faith. The only explanation for why you are driving a 2001 Saturn instead of a 2014 BMW is because you do not trust Jesus enough."

Ever heard anything like that? It's just as ridiculous as my illustrations, but people tend to buy into them. I hear this all the time from those who preach a health / wealth gospel. The reason why your are not rich; the only explanation for your sickness; the reason you are not happy all the time is because of your lack of faith in Jesus. Ridiculous! Nothing doesn't mean Nothing without any exception. It Can't! 

So What Does NOTHING Mean?

Well, put it in the context. The disciples were not able to do what Jesus commanded them to do. He told them to cast out demons and now they found themselves not being able to do it. But then He explains to them that if they have a faith that stays attached to Him, a faith that is connected to Him, then nothing will be impossible for them. 

Doesn't it seem reasonable that what Jesus is saying is that NOTHING He commands us to do will be impossible if we stay attached to Him? We will be able to accomplish everything He has told us to do if we trust in Him. If we live a life of dependence upon Jesus Christ, then we can do what He has told us to do.

Makes sense, doesn't it?

Tomorrow, I'm going to share some further thoughts on how to know what God has called us to do.

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