posted on Apr, 22 2016 @ 05:00 PM
“Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea’, and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what
he says will come to pass, it will be done for him” (Mark ch11 v23).
This assurance is prompted by the episode of the cursing of the fig-tree.
Jesus was walking into Jerusalem, looked for fruit in the tree and failed to find it, and said to the tree “May no-one ever eat fruit from you
The next time they passed, the fig-tree had withered away.
In Matthew, the story is improved. The withering takes place instantly.
Either way, the disciples are impressed.
So Jesus takes the opportunity to spell out the moral of the event; “Have faith in God”.
Followed by the words quoted above.
We learn from other Gospel stories that faith has power in attracting the work of God, acting through Jesus.
Thus faith is almost a precondition for his works in Galilee.
He looks for it, and remarks upon it when he finds it.
Two blind men were following him and crying aloud “Have mercy on us, Son of David.
When they caught up with him, he asked “Do you believe I am able to do this?”
They confirmed that they did believe, and he said it should be done to them “according to your faith”;
KATA TEN PISTIN HUMON- that is, to the same extent and measure as their faith (Matthew ch9 vv27-30)
The same principle works through many other stories.
The centurion at Capernaum was anxious about his servant, but he was confident that Jesus could heal him just by a word, even at a distance.
Therefore Jesus marvelled and said “Not even in Israel have I found such faith”.
And he said to the centurion “Be it done to you AS you have believed.
That is, the power of the event should match his faith (Matthew ch8 vv5-13)
And he mentions the “great faith” of the Syro-Phoenician woman as the reason for granting her request (Matthew ch15 v28).
We see the power of faith, at its height, in the story of Jairus’ daughter.
Jesus went to the house in response to the father’s urgent appeal.
While he was travelling through the crowd on the way there, the woman with a haemorrhage touched his garment. She was looking for healing, and she
What is most remarkable about that incident is that Jesus “perceived that power had gone forth from him”; it had happened almost without the
involvement of his conscious will. Such was the power of her faith in what God could do in the person of Jesus.
As they were approaching, the news came that the daughter had already died.
Jesus responded by telling the father “Do not fear, only believe”.
When he got to the house, he evicted the distracting mourners, leaving only the immediate family, and the raising of the daughter was accomplished.
(Mark ch5 vv21-43)
The other side of the coin is that these works of God would not happen at all when faith was completely absent, as it was when Jesus returned to his
“And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands upon a few sick people and healed them” (Mark ch6 v5).
This might have been his reason for removing the (unbelieving) mourners from the scene in the house of Jairus.
When the disciples were waiting for Jesus to return from the Transfiguration, they tried and failed to heal a boy who was “convulsed by a dumb
The father asked Jesus to help them “if you can”.
To the words “If you can”, Jesus gave the response “All things are possible to him who believes”.
This drew out the cry “I believe; help my unbelief!”
The faith evident In that appeal was enough, and Jesus carried out the task quickly, for a crowd was gathering. (Mark ch9 vv14-27)
All these are examples of people trusting what Jesus could do at their request.
But the promise quoted at the beginning takes things much further.
The disciples are encouraged to make their own direct prayers, with an assurance that their prayer will be effective even to the extent of moving
“this mountain” (the Mount of Olives).
This “moving mountains” image quickly became proverbial; “If I have all faith, so as to remove mountains…” (1 Corinthians ch13 v2).
There is also a saying in the tradition about the effectiveness of the smallest amount of faith, faith “as a grain of mustard-seed”.
Matthew attaches it to another version of the saying about the mountain, and includes it in the story of the epileptic child;
“If you have faith as a grain of mustard-seed, you will say to this mountain ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move” (Matthew ch17
While Luke condenses the whole fig-tree episode together with the mustard-seed tradition into the detached observation;
“If you had faith as a grain of mustard-seed, you could say to this sycamine tree ‘Be rooted up and be planted in the sea’, and it would obey
you” (Luke ch17 v6).
Thus Faith is encouraged by promise.
In fact the promise is made absolute;
“Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark ch11 v24)
“Nothing will be impossible to you” (Matthew ch17 v20).
The absolute version of the promise has the obvious purpose of boosting our confidence in prayer, counteracting our natural tendency to relapse into
But this absolute claim, when taken to extremes, can cause problems of its own.
When believers have been earnestly praying for an event which does not happen, they may be prone to blame their own feeble faith. There may be
fellow-believers, like Job’s comforters, telling them the same thing.
So it’s worth considering just how literally the absolute promise needs to be taken.
Common sense will tell us, in the first place, that God will not lend himself to prayers which are alien to his character, no matter how much faith
appears to back them up.
So that in itself would limit their effectiveness.
Also they may be in conflict with his own intentions for the future
Examples of “prayer refused” can be found in the New Testament itself.
Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane that “this cup” might be allowed to pass from him, “if it be possible… if thou art willing”. He was
“heard”, according to Hebrews, but a purpose was in motion which could not be changed.
Paul tells us that he earnestly prayed, three times, for a “thorn in the flesh” to be removed from him, but this request was denied (2 Corinthians
James tells his readers that “You do not have because you do not ask”.
But he then supplements this with “You ask and you do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James ch4 vv2-3).
Insufficient faith is only part of the story.
Perhaps the two explanations need to be combined.
Before the event, we do need to be allowing our faith to motivate our prayer, approaching God in confidence as though the promise were literally
But the habit of “claiming” the promise of God, treating it almost as a legal right, runs the risk of becoming presumptuous.
Maybe there is a difference between the genuine faith that is possible when God is willing to act, and a worked-up expectation that is being used as a
lever to twist his arm.
After the event, therefore, if we have not received what we wanted, we ought to consider that possibility that the second explanation of James might
be more applicable.
That is, we did not receive because we were asking for the wrong thing.
Believing the full promise before the event, accepting God’s will after the event;
They are both aspects of placing trust in God, which is what “faith” means.