What Does Faith Look Like? (3/13/16)

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There’s a well-known story about a tightrope walker who came to Niagara Falls and stretched his rope across the thunderous currents from Canada to the United States. Before the breathless crowds, he walked and then ran across the falls. He did the same blindfolded, with drums rolling. Then, still blindfolded, he pushed a wheelbarrow across the falls.

            The crowds went wild, and he shouted to them, “Who believes I can push a man in this wheelbarrow across the falls?”

            A gentleman in the front waved his hands, shouting, “I do! I believe!”

            “Then,” said the walker, “come and get in the wheelbarrow.”

            To no one’s surprise, the man’s faith wasn’t strong enough for him to do it.

When Jesus calls us to do difficult things that are scary, is our faith in him any stronger than this man’s faith was in the tightrope walker? It’s easy to talk about living by faith and trusting God but it can be very difficult to actually do it. This is, however, exactly what Jesus calls us to do.

Beginning in Mark 11, we see the crowds treated Jesus like a hero when he rode into Jerusalem on the Sunday before his crucifixion. They lined the road with palm branches and shouted praised to him. On Monday, Jesus cursed a fig tree, which was a national symbol of Israel and then he made a scene in the temple. This bothered the religious leaders so they decided to get rid of Jesus. The teachers of the law tried to trap Jesus with difficult questions based on the Old Testament law. Jesus responded to every one of their questions with an answer which in turn questioned their understanding of the law they so proudly defended.

Mark 12:35-44, Jesus goes on the offensive: 35 While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he asked, “Why do the teachers of the law say that the Messiah is the son of David? 36 David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared: “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”’  37 David himself calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?” The large crowd listened to him with delight.

38 As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 40 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”

41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. 43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

Jesus understood the times in which he lived. The rabbis taught the Messiah would come from the line of David. In Verse 36, he quoted Psalm 110:1, which King David wrote. If the Messiah is supposed to be a descendant of David, then why did David call him “Lord?” After all, a king typically doesn’t call any of his children, grandchildren or later descendants “Lord.” Can a person be the father of his Lord?

What’s Jesus’ point? Once again Jesus is showing the Jewish leaders don’t really understand the Old Testament scriptures. The Messiah is bigger than their understanding of him. He will be David’s Lord as well as David’s son. The Messiah will be a descendant of David because he is human but he will exceed David because he is also from God. Ironically, the Messiah is right in front of them and they can’t see it. He is going to be revealed through his death and resurrection instead of through overthrowing the Roman Empire and leading his people to freedom.

Jesus also lived in a time when most people believed in God or in many gods. They thought their gods controlled everything that happened to them. As a result, the priests and teachers of their faith held great respect. This included the priests and teachers of YHWH. This is the name God gives himself in the book of Exodus when he talks to Moses at the burning bush. Jesus said God’s priests and teachers paraded around in long robes, expected others to show them respect and took positions of honor in both synagogue events and temple feasts. Even though the Old Testament law required protection for widows, the teachers of the law were taking advantage of them. While their prayers to God were to be on behalf of the people they served, the teachers of the law were doing it to make a good impression on others. We see that not only did their faulty interpretation of the law affect their teachings, it also affected their actions.

Jesus then watched people put money into the temple treasury. The rich people are putting in a lot of coins. This would be impressive to anyone who saw what they were doing. After all, large amounts of money were needed to keep the temple operating. However, their offerings didn’t greatly affect their lifestyle. Then a poor woman came by and put in two small coins which weren’t very valuable. To people walking by, it might have been heartwarming but not very impressive. But it impressed Jesus. 43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

If we look closely, we see that Verse 44 has a double meaning. Not only has this widow given God all of her money, she’s also given him her life. It appears she didn’t have a family to support her. She’s a widow and this passage doesn’t indicate she has children. She can’t wait for government assistance to help her because there was none. The Romans could have cared less if she lived or if she died. By giving away her last coins, her faith in God wasn’t just words. Her faith came out in her actions.

She got into the wheelbarrow.

In a sense, Jesus was saying, “If you want to see true faith and devotion to God, don’t follow the examples of the teachers of the law and the rich people. Follow this widow’s example.” The educated teachers of the law were proud of their understanding of the law but they were lacking in their relationship with God and with others. The poor widow was uneducated but she had great faith. It appears she also had a close relationship with God because she was depending on him to meet her needs.

Living by faith isn’t giving God our surplus, whether it’s our time, money or talents. It’s giving God everything. This widow gave everything she had to him. The Messiah was getting ready to give God everything he had in less than 3 days by dying on a cross for our sins.

The New International Dictionary of the Bible says “Faith is trust in the person of Jesus, the truth of his teaching, and the redemptive work he accomplished at Calvary, and, as a result, a total submission to him and his message, which are accepted as from God.” This all sounds good except for the “total submission” part. What if God asks me to do something that I don’t want to do? Well, unfortunately, God expects us to do it even if it’s hard.

But is our faith in God strong enough that we’re willing to give him our total submission? There’s one simple question we can ask ourselves to help determine the answer: Am I asking God what he wants me to do or am I telling him what I will and won’t do? In the areas where we ask God what he wants us to do, our faith is strong. In the areas where we’re telling God what we’re going to do, our faith is weak. Why is our faith weak in some areas? The answer is actually rather simple. It’s because we don’t trust God in those areas.

In Hebrews 11, we see examples of men and women who trusted God and God used them to do great things. Some of them did extra-ordinary feats through the power of God working in their lives. Others showed their great faith by giving up their possessions and even their lives. Hebrews 11:6 saysAnd without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” We too are seeing God do mighty things in our lives if our faith is strong. We’re also striving to allow God into every part of our lives. But if our faith is weak, we’re struggling in some areas and we’re only giving God our leftover time, money and energy. We’re also saying “no” a lot when God or others asks us to do things because we’re afraid of what might happen.

Walking with God through faith is a lot like taking small children to an amusement park. When both of our daughters were young, my wife, Stephanie, and I took them to Busch Garden’s in Williamsburg, Virginia. Before we left for the trip, they were bragging about all of the rides they were going to enjoy. Then we arrived at the park.  They saw how massive the rides were and how fast they went. All of a sudden they didn’t want to ride anything. I suspected what would happen once they actually rode something so I picked out a medium-sized ride and forced them to get in line. It was one of those boats that went up a ramp, circled through a scene or two that matched the theme of the ride and then splashed down into a pool of water.

Our youngest daughter, Rachel, did not want to ride this boat. I made her get on in line because I knew she would be OK once she rode it. We snaked our way through the maze of metal railings until, finally, it was our turn to get in the boat. Rachel snuggled up to me as close as she could get and put her arm around mine. She kept sharing her displeasure as our boat went up the ramp.

The theme of this ride was Pompeii, the Roman city that we destroyed by a volcanic eruption. When we entered the tunnel at the top of the ramp, flames were shooting out of the wall and they were producing intense heat. Rachel leaned into me as hard as she could. I  leaned down and whispered into her ear, “It’s OK Rachel. It’s supposed to do this.” Evidently she trusted me because she leaned back a little bit. Then the boat circled into an area where it was pitch black. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I saw a faint outline of light in the shape of a large “I.” Immediately, I knew what it was.

Before us was a set of large, double doors that were going to open suddenly and allow our boat to slide down into a large pool of water. I leaned over to Rachel and said, “We’re going to drop.” Her armed, which was still wrapped around mine, tightened like a boa constrictor. The doors opened, we dropped and Rachel screamed. After we splashed down into the water and were headed to the unloading area, Rachel looked up at me and said, “Can we ride it again?” I said, “No. There are other rides I want us to get on.”  We got out of the boat and headed for the roller coasters, which they thoroughly enjoyed.

Many times in life, God says “Get on the ride.” There might be fire, smoke, darkness and pitfalls but God is always there to hold onto us and talk us though the challenges we face. While this can be scary, we also get to enjoy times of refreshing like dropping into the big pool of water on a hot day. Then we get to go on even bigger rides.

The importance of our money, possessions and power will one-day fade away but the kingdom of God never will. So step out in faith and follow God into any new area he calls you to go. Give him everything. Get in the wheelbarrow and let God take you to places you never thought you would go and do things you never thought you would do.