Unfortunately, we do not have the audio version this week, but attached is the written version from our Ironman Sunday's message by Charles Halton.
Luke 17: 1-10
Are there times when you feel like the Christian life is too difficult and you either need God to give you more faith or you won’t be able to keep going? This happens to me from time to time.
I’d like to look at Luke 17 with you. In this chapter Jesus teaches us something very important about our faith that will help us through both the difficult times as well as the good ones.
Let’s start at the top, at verse one.
Jesus begins with a warning against leading someone else into sin:
Jesus said to his disciples, “Things that cause people to trip and fall into sin must happen, but how terrible it is for the person through whom they happen. 2It would be better for them to be thrown into a lake with a large stone hung around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to trip and fall into sin. 3Watch yourselves! If your brother or sister sins, warn them to stop. If they change their hearts and lives, forgive them. 4Even if someone sins against you seven times in one day and returns to you seven times and says, ‘I am changing my ways,’ you must forgive that person.”
Jesus tells his disciples that they should be forces of healing in this world. They should lead the way in forgiveness and restoration. They should encourage the people around them in this task and not be the kind of people that lead others further into destruction, into sin.
Jesus says that his disciples should be so committed to this way of life that even if someone sins against them seven times in one day, that his disciples should forgive them each time.
Forgiveness is difficult. Often times it’s hard for me to forgive someone when they sin against me once. Seven times in one day! That’s almost impossible.
The disciples had a similar response. They heard Jesus’ teaching and said: Increase our faith!!
The disciples seem to think that they don’t have the capacity for the kind of life Jesus outlined, for a life of helping people move away from sin and toward reconciliation and restoration. Forgiveness, they believed, was too hard.
So they asked Jesus for help. They told him to increase their faith. We might be tempted to see this as a pious request, that it was good for the disciples to ask Jesus for this. Jesus’ didn’t think that. This is how he responded:
6 The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
Jesus reframes the disciples’ understanding of faith. They asked Jesus for more faith and Jesus tells them that the quantity of their faith isn’t the issue. Even a teeny-tiny amount of faith, faith the size of a seed, can do miraculous things.
Keep in mind that Jesus’ disciples were people who left their homes, left their families and left their businesses to follow him. They had literally given Jesus their lives. I don’t think Jesus is telling the disciples that they do not have faith. The disciples have already shown that they do. I think Jesus is telling them that they already have what they need to live out his calling of a life of radical forgiveness. The solution here is not for them to receive more faith but to act out in obedience from the faith they already have.
Jesus gives them one more example as he encourages his disciples to change the way they view their faith:
7 “Would any of you say to your servant, who had just come in from the field after plowing or tending sheep, ‘Come! Sit down for dinner’? 8Wouldn’t you say instead, ‘Fix my dinner. Put on the clothes of a table servant and wait on me while I eat and drink. After that, you can eat and drink’? 9You won’t thank the servant because the servant did what you asked, will you? 10In the same way, when you have done everything required of you, you should say, ‘We servants deserve no special praise. We have only done our duty.’”
Jesus tells his disciples that in asking for more faith they want a quick fix, they want to skip the line. The disciples interpreted Jesus’ vision of a life of radical forgiveness as a super-human calling, something they could only fulfill if Jesus gave them extra faith.
Jesus tells them that this kind of thinking is all wrong. In this example Jesus says that servants have particular roles. They set the table and they serve food and drink. These are the normal things servants do. They do not need extra instructions or extra motivation to do their jobs. Nor do they need special praise when they do what they are expected to do.
Think of it this way: You don’t give your accountant a bonus when she adds two numbers together and gets the correct total.
Jesus says that his disciples, and by extension you and me, are people who are engaged in the act of radical, continual forgiveness and restoration. We help those around us come out of sin, we don’t lead them into it. This is merely the normal thing we do as followers of Christ. We do not need extra faith to do it. When God calls us to himself he gives us all we need.
This passage reminds me of a statement in the book of Deuteronomy. In Deuteronomy God gives the Israelites a big list of laws that they are to live by when they enter the promised land. At the end of the list is this encouragement from 30:11-14:
11 This commandment that I’m giving you right now is definitely not too difficult for you. It isn’t unreachable. 12 It isn’t up in heaven somewhere so that you have to ask, “Who will go up for us to heaven and get it for us that we can hear it and do it?” 13 Nor is it across the ocean somewhere so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the ocean for us and get it for us that we can hear it and do it?” 14 Not at all! The word is very close to you. It’s in your mouth and in your heart, waiting for you to do it.
I think one of the reasons why Jesus equates faith with a seed is because a seed has all it needs to grow and flourish and become what it is intended to be. You put a seed in the context in which it naturally occurs: if it’s planted in soil, gets sun and rain, it will become a full grown tree.
It’s like that with us in our Christian life. If we engage in Christian practices—regularly gathering together for common worship and the table, spending time in prayer, encouraging one another, living out obedient lives of radical forgiveness and working for justice and mercy—then our faith will grow and we will become the people God wants us to be.
The disciples wanted to short circuit that process. They wanted Jesus to give them a quick fix, a download of more faith. But that’s not the path that God has for us.
Jesus tells us to take up our crosses and follow him in the daily act of being Christlike.
Friends, if your faith is waning today and you are filled with doubt, if you wonder if God is even real, if Jesus really rose from the dead, embrace Jesus’ call to interact with the world in radical forgiveness. If you feel like your life has plateaued and stagnated, decide today to show Christlike mercy to those in your life. If you feel like you don’t have the strength to forgive people in your life—your husband or wife who is making you mad, your children who won’t mind you, your boss who is oppressive, a friend who taxes your patience—remember that what you need is not more faith but to risk stepping out in obedience.
Friends, life in the kingdom of God is not easy but it’s good. And God is there with us, inside of us, in the Holy Spirit. God has given us what we need for this journey.
Will you persevere in obedience, trusting that God will grow you, like a seed, into the person he wants you to be? Will you recommit this very day to the Christian practice of radical forgiveness?
If you are a follower of Christ you have everything you need. If you are not a Christian but you want your life to be different, if you desire a pattern of living that is more satisfying than what you experience now, embrace the forgiveness offered by Jesus. Join with us gathered here and enter a lifestyle of taking the forgiveness God gives us and dispensing it out to everyone we meet.