The Mastering of Faith

Our gospel reading can be seen as a picture of how the risen Christ turned the ‘dead faith’ of his disciples into the living. But before going into the details of Christ’s masterpiece, let’s bring into the light the definition of faith as it was formulated by the apostle Paul. Bearing on his own life, he perceived faith, in Greek (pis’-tis), as his assurance of things he hoped for, the evidence of things he had not seen, (Heb. 11:1). The apostle didn’t mention the source of all goodness who has never failed in doing the promised things. As it appears from the context, the source of all goodness is God Himself who spoke to us in Christ Jesus, said the apostle.

The study of the Book of Acts and the Epistles shows that the faith of the apostles was most likely based on observation the reality of Jesus’ resurrection in their lives. In reference to the life of the apostle Paul the manifestation of the risen Lord must have been obvious to all. In (Rom 15:18,19) we read his summary record, For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, said the apostle,… by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God–so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ. Christians make a deal with ever living God in Christ Jesus to whom they need trust and believe unconditionally. On the other hand, God in Christ Jesus deals with us; by his mighty deeds He masters faith, hope and love in and through us.

However, when some Christians found themselves under the threat of losing the all-important – job, homes, loved ones and even their own lives – then their assurance of the Loving Lord may have been shaken. In this connection I’ll tell you a story. It is about a boy who was an eyewitness to a super show that was arranged for the public at Niagara Falls. It was announced that a tightrope walker would walk on a suspended wire from the American to the Canadian side. Great crowds gathered to watch the life- threatening show. At the start, a walker performed the awesome stunt slipping forward and back. The spectators cheered wildly. Next, the man did an even more daring trick. He began to push a wheelbarrow with a grooved wheel across the suspended wire. At the conclusion of the breathtaking performance, a thunderous applause went up. The performer observed the boy whose wonderment was clearly obvious and asked him. “My boy, do you believe that I could push you over the falls in this wheelbarrow?” “Oh, yes,” said the boy quickly. “Then, jump in the wheelbarrow,” said the man. On hearing the possibility of being ‘taken up and going,’ the boy dashed away instantly. Then, here is the question, why did the boy loose his faith in the tightrope walker so quickly? Perhaps it is because his faith rested upon the human faculties that affect the faith with doubt, fear, and reason. Surely, none of us would credit sufficient reliability of that man because of the “What IF?” On the contrary, we shouldn’t allow our faith to doubt the ability of our Lord, for he is God in the flesh.

The next story is rendered in the memory of the Evangelist Mark whose name will be commemorated by our Church in two days from now. Before writing his gospel, he participated in the missionary works of the apostle Paul and Barnabas. It seems that he had been converted by Peter, (1Pet 5:13). His mother’s home in Jerusalem was a place for Christians. He was approved to be a “minister” to Barnabas and Paul during the first missionary journey. On that journey when the missionaries came to Perga, Mark (John) left the apostles and returned to Jerusalem, (Act 13:13). Trying to find a reason why Mark behaved in such a way, the scholars agree that the reason was in Mark’s objection to Paul’s teaching of salvation apart of circumcision rather than his homesickness, or anxiety, or duties, or desire to rejoin Peter.

The result of that disagreement was Paul’s unwillingness to take Mark as a companion on the next missionary journey, (Act 15:37,38). But later Mark’s beliefs were changed about Paul as an authorized apostle of Jesus Christ, and he trusted him as to the Lord. Now Mark is one of the faithful few among Jewish Christians who stand by Paul, (2Ti 4:11). He is Paul’s honored “fellow worker” and a great “comfort” to him.

We are not told how Mark’s unbelief turned into belief in Paul’s apostleship. However, it is obvious that his faith and trust in the apostle came to him through recognizing the risen Christ in Paul’s missionary journeys and Paul’s trials. From now on, Paul wrote to the Galatians, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus, (6:17). Actually those marks were not tattoos but scars and disfigures made by the mad men against Christ’s body, (2Co 11:24, 25). But unlike the Christians of Galatia, Mark had many more opportunities to learn from the apostle and to observe his ministry to the Gentiles. He saw the great things accomplished by the apostle, the evidence of the invisible Christ. Afterwards, being assured of the living Christ in Paul’s life, he changed his mind toward Paul and the teaching of the Gospel. The tradition says, in AD 68 Mark returned to Alexandria where before he founded the local church. There he was murdered by the Hellenists for the teaching of the Gospel. The hostile opposition placed a rope around his neck and dragged him through the streets until he was dead.

After hearing two stories, we can confront two kinds of faith – the boy’s and the evangelist’s. Accordingly, the boy gave up shortly his belief in the master’s skill by being frightened of the possible misadventure. In the other instance, the Evangelist’s faith, after being empowered by the divine presence of the risen Lord, kept him from leaving the missionary field even to death by his ascending the martyr’s throne. With regard to the boy’s faith, it can be seen as an example of faith that is still feeble and unreliable. On the contrary, Mark’s faith is a model of all the faithful who prefer to remain in one battlefield with the Lord trusting him to the end.

Now, let’s see by Luke the picture drawing of the Easter account. In the foreground of the picture is a group of frightened disciples summoned in a room, afraid for their lives, with no confidence or assurance. They were confused, perplexed, and wondered without limit on hearing women report about what they had seen and heard. But in the evening of that memorable day, Jesus appeared in their midst, and they were terrified because they thought he was a ghost. To make those people believe in his physical resurrection, Jesus showed them his hands and feet with the marks of nails on them. Then he asked his disciples to eat something, and they brought to him boiled fish and he ate. After that confirmation the disciples believed in the risen Jesus, and were joyful as never before.

So, when the disciples had no more doubts, Jesus told them what the Scripture taught about him and they understood God’s plan of mankind salvation through Christ Jesus. But their faith was still not good enough for them to be witnesses of his resurrection to the hostile opposition and to the wild world. It says that the messengers must be clothed with power from on high, (Luk 24:49) so that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate them from the love of God in Christ Jesus, (Rom 8:38,39).

Sometimes we are like the first disciples who refused to believe the real presence of the risen Christ in their midst until they received new evidences. The Lord knows that unconditional belief in him comes hard; therefore, the evidence must be strong. As we look thoughtfully at the things around us, we always try to discern the great Performer. Meantime the Spirit reveals God’s will so that we believe and follow the way of life together with Christ. The Holy Spirit gets rid of our anxiety, doubts, and forbid us to follow the rational mind where the world speaks contrary to the sound doctrine or our experiences of the loving God in Christ Jesus. It is by the Lord, not by chance, that we have been driven safely over the “lake of fire.” All what we need is to keep the eyes of our faith on the great Performer of our salvation and trust him. For Christ has never failed to save his people in this life and that is to come. “My child, have you still doubt of me?” “Oh Lord we believe, help our unbelief!”

 

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