We would have to acknowledge that faith doesn’t come easily. In one sense we are unconsciously making decisions to believe in faith about all kinds of things on a day to day basis. But in another sense, we are consciously take steps to believe in something or someone in particular. In the context of our Breaking the Mould series, we have been looking at Jesus who made all sorts of radical claims about Himself. In these early chapters of Matthew’s gospel people have been beginning to wrestle with the question of who Jesus was. Matthew 8-9 are familiar chapters and so it’s easy to miss some of the reality of what is there. But there is still much for us to learn if we are able to put in the hard graft. Getting into the detail brings rich reward!
So in Matthew 8:1 we read that Jesus is on His way back down the mountain and large crowds were following Him. In chapters 5-7 Jesus has been preaching what we call the Sermon on the Mount and at the end of it we hear the reaction of the crowds:
28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.Matthew 7:28-29
Note the phrase “when Jesus had finished saying these things” which marks the end of a block of teaching. This phrase appears five times in Matthew’s gospel (7:28, 11:1, 13:53, 19:2 & 26:1). We should also note the two very similar verses in Matthew 4:23 & 9:35. They function as bookends for this section of the Gospel. Matthew is telling us here what Jesus is doing.
23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and illness among the people.
35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and illness.Matthew 4:23, 9:35
In between these bookends we have the Sermon on the Mount, followed by these chapters of narrative in which we find Jesus doing these things. They are very much focused on the encounters Jesus had as He travelled around Galilee.
1. Taking Steps of Faith (8:1-17, 20-21 & 9:1-13, 27-28):
In these chapters we read about a wide variety of people who come to Jesus. We find that He is very much responding to others, rather than taking much initiative Himself. Though faith is not explicitly mentioned in each case, it is right at the forefront of many of these encounters. Many of these people step out in faith through the way that they approach Jesus.
For instance the first encounter is with the leper who boldly comes to Jesus. Against all convention, he comes and kneels at Jesus’ feet and says “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus responds by touching the man which was a total no-no in that culture. Then he tells the man “I am willing…Be Clean.”
The second encounter is with the Roman Centurion who comes to Jesus asking for help for his servant who was lying at home paralysed and suffering terribly. Jesus singles the Centurion out as having more faith than anybody else He had encountered in Israel! Jesus offered to go with him to heal his servant, but the man ask Jesus to simply say the word and his servant would be healed. He said that just as he was a man under authority, so he believed in faith that Jesus had authority over this illness.
Another great example of faith is in the story of the Paralytic man who was taken to Jesus by his friends. Strangely, Matthew doesn’t mention the fact that the man’s friends lower him through the roof of the house in order to meet Jesus (9:1-8). In this case we read the words …when Jesus saw their faith. I think we can assume that there was faith on the part of the man, but it is very interesting that it is the faith of his friends that is primarily and explicitly commended by Jesus.
There are also many other examples. In 8:18-21 the synagogue ruler comes to Jesus after his daughter had died to ask Jesus to put his hand on her and she would live. On the way Jesus met a woman who had struggled with bleeding for 12 years. She came to Jesus and touched the edge of his cloak because she really believed that if she did so, she would be healed. Amidst all that was happening Jesus turned and looked at her and told her to take heart for her faith had healed her.
In 9:9-13 Jesus does take the initiative to call Matthew to come and follow Him. We are only told that Matthew got up and followed Him – quite an extraordinary decision after such a brief encounter! In 9:27-28 Jesus encountered two blind men who called on Him to “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” Jesus asked them whether they believed that He was able to heal them and in faith they declared that they did.
2. Struggling with Fear and Doubt (8:18-27, 9:32-34):
In 8:18-22 Jesus encounters a teacher who says he wants to follow Jesus wherever He goes. Note that Jesus doesn’t tell him no, but instead paints a realistic picture of what this is going to mean for him. He thought he could step out in faith, but Jesus helped him see that he also needed to count the cost! In contrast another disciple said that he wanted to first go and bury his Father. Jesus calls on him to come and follow Him. Is Jesus saying that he shouldn’t attend his father’s funeral? I don’t think so and in actual fact it’s likely that his Father hadn’t died at all. It seems that he wanted to go and care of him until such a day, however long that might take. He wanted to follow but only on his terms and in his timeframe.
Another key encounter of faith, or rather the lack of faith, is in 8:23-27. Jesus got into a boat to cross to the other side of the lake and the disciples followed Him. Among the disciples were a number of experienced fisherman who knew the lake of Galilee. They all knew Jesus and should have known that Jesus would not let them drown. And yet when a furious storm comes up on the lake they are suddenly fearing for their lives. Jesus was sleeping and so they wake Him up saying: “Lord Save us We’re going to drown.” Where do such fears and doubts come from? The first doubts in the Bible come in Genesis 3 when the reality of spiritual attack first comes to the fore. Satan wants us to doubt God, doubt that He is good and doubt that He will be true to His Word. Fear and doubt are natural human reactions. The question is what are we going to do with those feelings. The creator of the Universe was in the boat with them and in reality they were not in any danger. Yet it was hard for them to believe and Jesus says “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” It was not that they had no faith, but rather that they had little faith. Jesus was then able to stand up, rebuke the wind and the waves and the water became completely calm.
Again, there are many other examples also. For example in 8:23-26 the noisy crowd laughs at Jesus when He claims that the girl was not dead but asleep. Then in 9:32-34 Jesus heals the demon-possessed man who was mute. The crowds were amazed when the man began to speak, but the Pharisees claimed that “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.” Despite the evidence to the contrary they simply refused to believe.
3. How do these things encourage our faith?
It is very encouraging to see that even the disciples struggled to believe. It is also encouraging to realise that across this wide selection of encounters, Jesus came through for people time after time. There is nothing that we can or will face that Jesus cannot deal with. At the end of the day, the object of our faith is Jesus. We might only have a little faith, but Jesus says we can move mountains with faith as small as a mustard seed. Nothing is impossible for Him.
He replied, ‘Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.’Matthew 17:20
We know that God is the same yesterday, today and forever. If He came through for His people in the past, so He will also continue to do so for us in the present. Of course we would have to say that He is working out His purposes which do not always correspond to our purposes. Nevertheless He is still the rightful object of our faith. He is completely faithful and trustworthy.
A few very challenging questions to finish:
- Would we have been bold enough to approach Jesus in the way that people did in these chapters?
- Do we believe that as we come to Jesus in prayer that He can come through for us?
- What miracles are we looking for Jesus to do in and through our lives?
See other posts in this series: Breaking the Mould
- Brave Enough to Follow
- A life of Abundance
- Living Distinctively
- Renovation of the Heart
- Above All Else
- Why Worry
- Building with Wisdom
- Faith, Fear and Doubt
- The Need of the Hour