In today’s Bible reading from Matthew 17, we come across a passage that is easy to misunderstand. Admittedly, I only came to see a nuance of this about a week or so ago. I was in our Adult Bible Study class at church and a friend brought out this issue of the “faith like a mustard seed”. (Matthew 17:20 ) He pointed out that the verse doesn’t refer to faith the size of a mustard seed. The verse refers to faith like a mustard seed.
Seriously? Am I really straining at the meaning of one little word? Actually, yes! Now, before I go any further, let me reiterate that I said that I came to see a nuance of this recently. I didn’t say that I didn’t understand it until recently. That’s one of the things about God’s Word that’s so interesting. I have no idea how many times I have read this passage, yet a brief comment in a Sunday School class revealed a new facet of faith that I had never seen before.
Words have meaning. But words only have meaning in relationship with other words. That’s why it can be dangerous to do “word study” Bible studies. A word in one language may be translated into ten different words in another language. It’s probably an urban legend, but I have heard that Inuit (aka “Eskimos”) have sixteen different words for “snow”. Assuming that’s true, it’s quite understandable; their knowledge of snow and their need to communicate about snow is much deeper than a simple “cold, white, powdery stuff that sometimes falls from the sky in winter”. The same can be true when translating words from the Biblical languages to English. And that’s why it is very helpful to use a couple of different modern Bible translations. It’s not just words, but how they’re used together that brings out meaning.
So what’s the difference between “faith the size of a mustard seed” and “faith like a mustard seed”? Your Bible may use either of these translations.
A mustard seed is small. It’s a little smaller than a sesame seed on your hamburger bun, but it’s larger than the poppy seed on your bagel. That tiny mustard seed — the smallest of the seeds known to First Century Palestine — grows into a large bush, large enough for birds to nest in it. (Mark 4:31-32) So, inside that small seed is a large bush. Inside an acorn is a strong towering oak.
When Jesus mentions mustard seed faith, he isn’t talking about the initial size of the seed, but rather the potential that’s in the seed. But unless that seed is buried and allowed to grow, it will never be more than a small seed. But once it’s planted, it can grow into full maturity. (John 12:24)
Perhaps the disciples weren’t exercising their faith when they were unsuccessful in trying to deliver the demonized seizure-ridden young man. The problem wasn’t that they didn’t have faith, but they had small faith, (Matthew 17:20a) and it sounds like maybe they weren’t exercising and growing it.
In the grand scheme, it doesn’t matter how much or how little faith you have. What matters is what you’re doing with your faith. Are you letting it grow? Are you feeding it with God’s Word? Are you exercising it?
Believer, you are indwelt with the same Holy Spirit Who raised Jesus from the dead! (Romans 8:11) Let Him empower you to strengthen your faith.
This devotional was originally published on April 27, 2019.
In today’s Bible reading, as Jesus and His Disciples entered Caesarea Philippi, He asked them who people thought He was. They replied that some people thought He was John the Baptizer, Jeremiah, or Elijah.
Next, He asks, “Who do you think I am?” Simon immediately responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus praises Simon’s response and says that he couldn’t have come up with this on his own. The truth of that response was imparted by God. Jesus doesn’t tell us how God told Simon this awesome truth, only that He did. (Matthew 16:17)
Next, Jesus says that He’s changing Simon’s name to Peter (rock) and that He would build His church on this rock. Now, it’s important to note the different Greek words used in Jesus’ statement, otherwise, we’ll make the error that the Roman Catholic Church has made in attributing to Peter the title of the First Pope.
Actually, Jesus says, “You are a rock. And on this boulder, I will build my church.” What was the boulder? The boulder was Simon’s confession of Jesus’ Divinity. Jesus says that He would build His church on the confession that Jesus is God’s Anointed Messiah, the Son of the living God.
Jesus never said He would build His church on Peter — any other person, for that matter! Instead, Jesus promised that His church — built on the confession Simon made — would prevail against the gates of hell.
And just seconds later, when Jesus told the Disciples that He would suffer and die, Simon said that Jesus shouldn’t have to go to the cross. Jesus responds, “Get behind me, Satan for you are not setting your eyes on God, but man.” (Matthew 16:23) Within a few seconds, Peter goes from being the toast of the party to being cursed like the devil. And the only thing that changed was his mindset.
All of the Disciples may have thought the same thing, but Simon is the only one who spoke up. They were ready to reign with Jesus in Jerusalem as He overthrew the Roman occupiers. They were willing to fight to keep Jesus from going to the cross and dying. Or so they thought. They thought that Jesus’ ascent to Kingship over Israel would come easy. They rejected the suggestion that Jesus would have to suffer. And die.
How true is that for Jesus’ Disciples today? How many of us follow Jesus, thinking that He’ll just bless us with everything we could ever want. And the first time we hear anything about suffering?! What’s up with that?
But suffering and persecution is part of following Jesus. Along the way, we have to give up a lot of idols — some of which we don’t know we even have — in order to follow Him more closely and walk into the destiny He is calling us.
But every idol we reject and every point of suffering and persecution is worth the all-surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ. (Philippians 3:8) Not His blessings that come from His hand, but Himself, Who He is.
Do you know Him?
This video showed up in my Facebook Newsfeed this evening. Is this true?
Regardless, let’s use this time to pray that God will use our current crisis to turn hearts to Himself.
God, will You do it again? Will You send a Third Great Awakening to our country to spread around the world?
In reading through today’s Bible reading and looking back on the past four weeks of “stay at home” to flatten the curve of the coronavirus, I must say, I’m very much in a reflective mood.
As you look at what Jesus said in Matthew 10:5-15, you see a lot about what the Disciples were commissioned to do, but Jesus didn’t tell them how to go about it. One obvious point is that not once did He say anything about setting up a building as a center for ministry.
In one YouTube video I saw today, the speaker said that some church leaders (of large churches) in Canada suggested that they may not be able to return to “normal” church services until August or September. August or September!
In light of Jesus’ commissions for His Disciples in today’s reading and our recent inability to do church like we’re used to, we really need to ask some serious questions about how we are supposed to do church as we move forward.
As we begin to talk about going back to church — at least at first — we won’t be able to go back to what we’re used to. We will have to do some things differently. The mission remains, but the methods must change.
Perhaps God is giving us a chance to press the “Reset” Button. Perhaps what we’ve been doing for the past five hundred years needs to look different as we move forward. Maybe we need to stop doing some things we’ve been doing because the methods have served their purposes for a time and it’s time now to move on to more relevant things.
In some ways, we have already done this. Compared to fifty years ago, how many churches still conduct “Bible Drills” and Vacation Bible School? How many churches have an active “bus ministry”? How many churches have “Revival Services” twice a year anymore? How many churches still have a choir that wears choir robes for Sunday Morning church and present two cantatas per year? How many preachers still wear three-piece suits on Sunday Mornings? How many churches still have weekly door-to-door cold-call visitation?
Things have changed. We have already laid aside many things that may have run their course for our specific context. Note: I’m not saying that churches shouldn’t do any of these things anymore. I’m just saying that in many contexts, these methods aren’t as effective as they used to be. As a result, we have retooled our methods, as retail stores have abandoned brick-and-mortar-only approaches to selling products to customers. The market changes and our methods of delivering on our mission should also change to reflect those changes.
Just before we began to talk about merging churches, I preached about our need to do whatever it takes to reach different types of people: The lost, the traditional church-goers, and the former traditional church-goers.
I have a few quick questions for our church specifically, and to other church-goers in general. When you look forward to getting back to meeting together as a church, what are you looking forward to? What do you miss? Finally, what needs to change when we go back?
On Wednesday afternoon, I attended a webinar about finishing well as a believer and church leader. Someone commented that preachers oftentimes say that they are “called into the ministry”. He followed this by saying, “No. You aren’t called into ministry. You’re called to intimacy. Ministry will flow out of intimacy.” As I reflected on this profound quote, I wondered if the intimacy he referred to was limited to (vertical) intimacy with God or if it includes (horizontal) intimacy with others.
Especially in light of today’s reading and my comments above, I believe it includes both types of intimacy. Having said that, I have to ask how much of my ministry has not been focused on vertical (with God) and horizontal (with others) intimacy (ie, the mission), but rather on the methods.
I have a lot to learn.
Nothing is more relevant to the world right now than the message of the Gospel. People are reaching out, looking for hope. Looking for answers. Record numbers of people have downloaded the YouVersion Bible App. And I have been shocked at how many people are viewing our Sunday Morning Messages on Facebook Live.
May we be true to our mission and flexible in our methods, seeking God’s leading all the time.
In today’s Bible reading, James warns his readers against being an arsonist by not controlling their tongues. He argues that although it’s very small, the tongue can create a great deal of damage. Perhaps James has Proverbs 18:21 in mind.
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. Proverbs 18:21 (ESV)
James spends a great deal of time talking about the tongue. It’s a good thing. The can easily create havoc in a church setting. Perhaps it’s “sharing a prayer request”. Actually, it’s slander, gossip, or backbiting. Perhaps it’s “speaking the truth in love”. Actually, it’s demeaning or berating. Perhaps, it’s “stretching the truth” or — a preacher’s favorite — “ministerially speaking”. Actually, it’s lying. There are other ways Believers sin with our tongue, but these may be the most “innocent”. Either way, it’s not using our tongue to edify and bless.
The tongue can get you in a lot of trouble. The wise person who wrote the proverb was correct. Words can heal or words can kill. You get to choose how you use your tongue.
Before you say something, before you “share” something, before you post something on Social Media ask yourself a few questions:
- Is it true? Have you personally verified it?
- Is it helpful? Is it encouraging?
- Is it the right time to say it?
- Is it said in the right tone? Is this the best way to say it?
- Does it involve the person(s) talked about? The person you’re telling, are they part of the problem/solution? (If not, don’t share it; it’s gossip, plain and simple)
- If it’s a corrective word, have you confirmed with someone else (in confidence) if it needs to be said? Have you confirmed with them that now is the time to share it? Do you need to bring that person along to be present when you deliver the word?