Faith and forgiveness

Read: Deuteronomy 3-4, Mark 11:20-33

“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive your sins. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your sins.

Mark 11:22-26 (NIV)

In Mark 11, we can’t wait to get to the good part about telling a mountain to throw itself into the sea, and then we quickly skip over that uncomfortable part about forgiveness and move on to the next parable.

Who doesn’t want to see a miracle? We should long to see the miraculous. Signs and wonders should be following every believer. But what if the miracle God wants to perform has to do with you forgiving your brother? What if the sign He wants to show someone has you asking for forgiveness from your neighbour?

Not every miracle, sign or wonder has to do with healing or provision. Sometimes they seem so insignificant to us that we wouldn’t even deem to call the event worthwhile. But to the person who’s been forgiven, it can be life-changing.

If grace does not produce joyful obedience it has been abused. Forgiving is the very essence of grace.

The Weston Study Bible

Forgiveness isn’t something we should look at that we need to get out of the way so we can see the mountain move. Forgiveness may be the mountain itself.

When Jesus took the time to explain to his disciples how they should pray, he didn’t include the miraculous, but he did include forgiveness.

This, then, is how you should pray,

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name;
your kingdom come,
your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.'”

Matthew 6:9-13 (NIV)

Jesus then went on to say that when we forgive those who sin against us, God will forgive us, but if we withhold our forgiveness, God will not forgive us.

It would seem to me, then, that as much as it is impossible to please God without faith, it is also impossible to please him without forgiveness.

Through the eye

Read: Exodus 16-18, Matthew 19:16-30

Ask any Bible teacher or scholar, even a kid in Sunday school, and you’ll get an assortment of responses as to what Jesus meant when he spoke of a camel passing through the eye of a needle.

Matthew 19:24

Some may tell you that they eye of the needle was a reference to a smaller gate within a large gate. The main gate broad and high enough to admit a fully loaded camel, while the smaller gate was easier to open to permit men and women to pass through. Another may tell you that the gate was large enough for a loaded camel to pass through, but only on its knees. Yet another may speak of a customs gate of sorts. The gate being large enough to admit a camel, but not with its load. The purpose being that the load could be inspected before being allowed into the city.

All of these explanations can be tied with Jesus’ words. A man cannot bring earthly possessions through the gates of heaven. A man must humble himself in order to gain entry into eternity. All that we bring must first be inspected and judged by God before being permitted.

But what if no explanation is really needed? What if Jesus was speaking literally? Some scholars believe that the stories of a gate called The Eye of the Needle surfaced only after Jesus made the connection. The camel was the largest animal in the area at the time. The eye of a needle was the smallest commonly known passage. There was no way a camel would fit through.

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Matthew 19:26 (NIV)

Of course it is impossible for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle! That was the whole point of what Jesus was trying to say. He left no room for questioning. Salvation is impossible without God. Entry into heaven can only be gained when we leave our stuff behind. God will only take us as we are without the extras we have a habit of making so important.

Our treasures are not stored up when we hoard them on earth, but rather when we do the opposite and give it all away.

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.

Matthew 19:21 (NIV)

Instead of looking for the academic explanation, let’s look at this literally. As Jesus said it.

Leave the stuff. Give to the poor. Follow him.

Pondering

There was a man who asked Jesus how he may obtain salvation. Jesus told him to obey the commandments. The man claimed to have kept them from his youth. Then Jesus told him to take all he had, give it to the poor, and come follow Him. The man walked away dejected because he was very wealthy.

Jesus then had a conversation about it with his disciples, explaining that it is difficult for the rich to enter into heaven because it is hard to let go of earthly belongings when you have much. I believe that the disciples had a hard time with this because, after all, they had all left everything behind to follow Jesus.

He replied, “What is impossible from a human perspective is possible with God.”

Luke 18: 27 (NLT)

We usually take this verse to mean that anything is possible with God and, while I believe that God is pretty much limitless, in context this verse is about salvation.

Take a moment to think about all the people who crossed Jesus path for the purpose of asking something of him. What did they ask for? Did people come barrelling down the street begging for salvation? No. They needed something tangible. They needed to be healed. They needed a loved one brought back from the dead. They believed that Jesus was able to provide for their physical needs. And in every case where the person believed that Jesus could heal them, Jesus said the same thing, “Your faith has made you well.” Once they were healed, they joined the rest of the followers.

Are you now pondering what I’m pondering? When we the Church go out to try to reach the masses, what are we offering? When we approach those who see no need for salvation, why is that the first thing we offer? To them, we’re on a life raft offering a ride to someone who’s on a yacht. We know that we all need salvation, but they don’t know that.

So how do we get an unbeliever to believe? We fulfil the need they know they have. Once they were healed, all those people who approached Jesus were much more willing and able to accept salvation. Jesus never set the stipulation that a person needed to accept him in order to be healed. All that was required was faith. I’ve personally seen Hindus credit the Bible for healing. The Word works for everyone.

Healing is the simple thing. Salvation is the impossible. But what is impossible from a human perspective is possible with God. Maybe if we offered the possible, we’d see more people accept the impossible.

Daily Bible reading: 2 Samuel 4-6, Luke 18:18-43

Context

Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God.

Mark 10:27 (NLT)

This is one of those verses we learn early on in our Christian careers. If you’re older than 30, you may have seen something illustrated on a flannelgraph. If you’re older than 20, it may have been Veggie Tales. If you’re younger than that, I have no idea what the current Sunday School fad is. The point is, we know this verse. We’ve heard it taught. We’ve sung songs about it. We claim it when things get rough.

I believe that we serve a God of the impossible. Parting the sea so that Israel could walk though on dry land was pretty impossible. Sending manna to nourish His people was pretty impossible. Coming into the fire with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego was pretty impossible. Coming to earth as a baby was more than pretty impossible, as was dying and coming back to life. But have you ever actually read this verse in context?

“Dear children, it is very hard to get into the Kingdom of God. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!” The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” They asked.

Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God.

Mark 10:24-27 (NLT)

The impossible in this context is salvation. God is able to save anyone—even the wealthy. God is able to take those who are unable to be saved and save them. He make the impossible possible.

While it is truly awesome that God really can do anything, should we not be celebrating the most over this revelation—that anyone can receive salvation?

Daily Bible reading: Numbers 32-33, Mark 10:1-31

Anchor

Many people are adrift. These are the ones who are tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine (Ephesians 4:14). The worst part of it is that they honestly, sincerely believe that they are on a set course. They have no course. They have no anchor to prevent them from drifting out to sea.

We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain…

Hebrews 6:19 (ESV)

Our hope, our anchor is in our covenant with God.

So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.

Hebrews 6:17-18 (ESV)

In this stormy sea we call life, remember to hold on to your hope, your anchor, Jesus.

hebrews-6-19

Daily Bible reading: Jeremiah 51-52, Hebrews 6