Living by faith (John 14:1-14). An elderly couple were sitting at home one evening, after a hard day’s work. He was a farmer, and had done rather well, with many flocks and herds. They had a familiar intimacy born out of many years of being together. Only one thing saddened the married couple - they had no children. And now with him being 75 and she 66 it was, of course, much too late for all that. Some 24 years later, God gave them a son. The laughter born out of the pain of disbelief has been changed into sheer delight as the son was given the name “he laughs”. I am speaking, naturally, about Abraham and Sarah. I love how Peterson paraphrases Romans 4:19ff: “Abraham doesn't focus on his own impotence and say, ‘it’s hopeless: this 100 year old body could never father a child’. Nor did he survey Sarah’s decades of infertility and give up. He didn’t tiptoe around God’s promise asking cautiously sceptical questions. He PLUNGED INTO THE PROMISE AND CAME UP STRONG, READY FOR GOD, SURE THAT GOD WOULD MAKE GOOD ON WHAT HE HAD SAID.” I want to say a few introductory remarks about faith: • Even on a human level, it is impossible to live without faith. For example, conversations are based ion the assumption that the person you are talking to can be trusted, that what is said is meant. Or, when we are travelling that what is written on the front of the bus is accurate - so we get on in faith and trust the driver will take us where the bus indicates. There are hundreds of other examples that prove that much of life is lived in faith: swimming, sitting down, turning a light on. I emphasise all these because sometimes the way faith is talked about you’d think faith was spooky and mysterious - but it isn’t at all.
Faith in God comes through revelation as Romans 10:17 has it, “SO faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ.”
None of us can please God without faith. Thus Hebrews 11:6, “And without faith it is impossible to please [God]. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists [that he is] and that he rewards those who seek him.”
We receive according to our faith. Consider Jesus saying to the blind men, “According to your faith be it done to you.” (Matthew 9:29)
Faith can increase - the more we hear the word of God and take it to heart the more our faith grows.
Real faith is getting in line before hand with what God wants. As Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith gives substance to our hopes and convinces us of realities we do not see.” And there’s this passage form Mark 11:22-24, “And Jesus answered them, ‘Have faith in God. 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. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.’”
There are three kinds of faith mentioned in the Bible: 1) saving faith, by which we are reconciled to God and continue to live by his Spirit; 2) creedal faith, which is the apostolic deposit we are to pass on to others; and 3) the gift of faith, which is a sudden surge of confidence that what God has promised will come about..
Jesus always lived at the level of faith which is why he was able to say before he raised Lazarus from the dead, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me.” (John 11:41)
Now John 14:12 is a verse that makes us gulp: “Truly, truly I say to you: whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do, and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.” Surely it can’t apply to us! But let’s see how it is constructed - it’s a very careful statement of our Lord’s”
“Truly, truly” - these are Jesus’ words to allay our disbelief and fears. They are like traffic signals in our reading and hearing - what is about to follow might beggar belief, but they are really, totally true is the force of what Jesus means us to hear.
“Anyone who has faith in me”. This promise is not for the superheroes of the faith (whoever they may be!), but for anyone who believes. Let me ask you... are you an ‘anyone’?
“Will also do the works that I do”. In Greek “the works” is erga, and the word always means works of power.
“And greater works than these he will do” - let’s come back to that...
“Because I am going to the Father”. This might be the most important thing about this verse. He is about to ascend, and from the Father’s right hand he is going to pour out the Holy Spirit (long promised), who will subsequently live in us and be with us for ever. It is he who will enable us to fulfil all that God asks of us. And without him we can do nothing.
Back to the greater... this must mean on a geographical scale which is merely stating the truth - though I note that Jesus never healed by the passing of his shadow or the applying of a handkerchief - both of which are mentioned in the book of Acts.
Belief is a funny thing. Doubt has two arguments it likes to floor us with: • Will God do this? • Can God do this?
But faith replies: God will do it because he has promised in his word; and God can do it because he is all-powerful. You know that our English word ‘believe’ comes from an Anglo-Saxon word and means to accept something as if it were already done, to accept this on your life. That sounds very much like what Jesus said in Mark 11, doesn’t it? There are roughy 17,000 promises of God in the Bible. Knowing these promises and praising God for them will enable us to live by faith - just as Mary exemplified for us when, promised a son, she immediately, without any knowledge that such a thing had come about, began to praise God that it had indeed come true: “My soul tells out the greatness of the Lord, my spirit HAS rejoiced in God my Saviour.” (Luke 1:46,47) It is through knowing the promises of God that we know his will. In Peterson’s memorable phrase, we are “to plunge” into God’s word, diving deep, bringing up treasures to live by. So how can we all learn to live more by faith?
We must make sure we are looking in the right direction. In other words, do we look at the problems, and only get filled with yet more anxiety and fear OR do we look at God and (as it were) speak to ourselves to focus on his power and his love and his greatness and his faithfulness and his love and his wisdom and his understanding? As we look at him full in the face like this we gain the right perspective and faith WILL grow.
The example of Abraham helps us. We are told in Romans 4 that he hoped against hope, and that “ he did not waver regarding the promise of God”. He did this through glorying in God, through worship. The times we feel we are swimming in the deep end we need to remind ourselves of this - and the deeps will become nothing other than the ocean of his love.
His love is all around us, under us, above us, beside us and always working for our good. He simply wants us to trust him. And we express that by our praise.
In the Christian realm, faith is based upon us doing something before we know that the thing is going to work. In other words, we laugh ourselves out on the fact of God’s faithfulness. That’s how we entered the Christian life in the first place. Richard Wurmbrand who was in solitary confinement for 14 years because of his faith said this: “faith can be put into two words: ‘though’ and ‘yet’.” I like that - it’s what Job said after all, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.” (13:15) Setting out on the promises of God, putting out faith into action, trusting that what God says WILL happen is the way to live - even if like Abraham the fulfilment of God’s promises takes 24 years.
We must realise that our minds are finite. And the finite creature cannot begin to understand the infinite Creator. Sometimes our minds will hinder us - and perhaps those of a more scientific mind are particularly prone to saying what can and what cannot happen. But the truth is, none of us are in a position to say, “not so!” to Almighty God. Our minds need transforming no less than our hearts.
So it follows that our hearts are also areas which limits faith. Unbelief resides is our hearts. Why? Because it is in them that sorrow and bitterness and jealousy and anger reside. And all these rob us of hearing God clearly.
Faith grows stronger under trial - like a muscle grows in opposition to the force exerted on it. We should pray for more faith. Faith can grow. And it grows in direct proportion to the depth of our knowledge of the Lord in whom we are trusting. The better we get to know him, the more reason we will have to trust him and love him.
Let em end by saying... I am sure a number of you have been waiting patiently for the Lord to act. You have longed for him to reveal himself to you in some new way, to guide you, to answer your prayers, to heal, to disclose his plans for you. Again, to use the words of a Batman movie, “Never doubt in the dark what you learned in the light.”
I am sure that the Lord would say to each of us, “My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.”