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Mustard Seeds

27th July 2008

Luke 17v5-6
5 The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!"
6 He replied, "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you”.

That was a good prayer, wouldn’t you think? I expect you’ve asked God the same thing: “Lord, please increase my faith”.

But Jesus didn’t say “Yes”. Instead, He told them that with faith “like a mustard seed”, they could move trees around. What Jesus meant by this, I believe, is that what’s important is not how much faith you’ve been given, it’s whether you’ve been given any faith at all.

Faith is a gift from God. We need faith to become Christians:

Hebrews 11v6
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

If we believe this, and if we seek God earnestly, then we discover that Jesus Christ is His Son, and that Jesus died to pay for your sins. And the day comes when we can choose to put that God-given faith to work. We come to Jesus in prayer, and ask Him to be our Lord and Saviour. At that momnet, we are born again:

John 3v3
… Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no-one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again."

1 Peter 1v23
For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.

At that moment, we're saved by God's grace, through faith. And our faith at that moment is as small as a mustard seed.

And according to the words of Jesus, whether we can perform miracles or not is dependant on whether we have this faith, or whether we don’t.

But we think that this doesn't accord with our experience. So what’s right: our understandng of our experience or Jesus’s words? That, of course, is a rhetorical question. Jesus always speaks the truth. So let’s allow ourselves to ask some questions about the discrepancy between our experience and the truth.

Firstly, does the miraculous still happen?

There are churches in many countries who claim to see the miraculous. Are they really all lying or deceived? Couldn’t at least some of them be merely speaking the truth?

And it’s funny, really. Many Christians express doubts that the miraculous is still with us. But every Christian surely believes that God changes things, God helps us, God speaks to us (in some way or other). That is, God uses His divine power to affect our lives. How is that not miraculous? For example, 2 Corinthians 5v17 says:

If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

How is that not miraculous?

John 3v5-7 says:

Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no-one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’

How is that not miraculous?

I think it was D. L. Moody who once asked a new Christian if she believed the Jesus turned water into wine. She answered “I don’t know, but I’ve already seen Him turn betting slips into food and whisky into furniture”. Many of us have similar experience. We don’t think of it as miraculous. But it is an example of God changing things, of God's divine power at work in the world. It's just working inside a person, instead of outside. Really, what's the difference between that and the miraculous?

And if God can and does do these things, then He can heal the sick, raise the dead, provide food for the hungry and help those in need, through His own divine resources.

God is omnipotent and He is loving. He is just as powerful, and just as loving, today as He was 2000 years ago.

Why do we pray if we think God’s not going to do anything? And when He answers our prayers, how is that not miraculous?

Secondly: Do any of us REALLY perform miracles? Isn’t it always God who performs miracles?

The answer is “Yes and no”. Read Matthew 17v14-20:

When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. "Lord, have mercy on my son," he said. "He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him."
"O unbelieving and perverse generation," Jesus replied, "how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me." Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed from that moment.
Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, "Why couldn’t we drive it out?"
He replied, "Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith (as small) as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."

Jesus was answering the disciples’ question “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”. His answer was “because you have so little faith”. It wasn't “You don’t perform miracles; I do”. Nevertheless, it’s obvious that God has divine power, and we don’t. In another passage, Paul wrote:

2 Corinthians 10v4
The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.

If we put these two ideas together, we can see that we do perform miracles, but only by using God’s power.

On the other hand, we are careful to give God all the glory, so we always (I hope) acknowledge that the ability to perform miracles is all His – not ours.

The trouble is, if we say that only God performs miracles (which is, of course, true in a very important sense) then we can lose our sense of responsibility to get involved in the miraculous.

Thirdly, If I’ve never performed a miracle in my life, does that mean I don’t have any faith?

No it doesn’t.

The question the disciples asked in Matthew 17v19 was “why couldn’t we drive it out”, not “why didn’t we drive it out”. Often, the reason we don’t see more of the miraculous, is that we don’t try. Indeed, many of us have been taught that the miraculous doesn’t happen in the church any more. If you believe that, you won’t go looking for it. You won’t pray for it. And you may not see it – even if it happens.

As I’ve tried to explain above, if you’ve ever asked God to do anything, you do actually believe that, at least, He might answer you. That is, you accept the principle that God might intervene in human life. The power of God might be brought to bear on yourself or those you love. That is, God might do something miraculous in response to your prayers. So, dear brother or sister in Christ, it’s extremely likely that you have performed miracles, although you may not have seen them in that way.

Fourthly, why do I see easy-to-believe miracles but not the dramatic stuff?

Well, not everyone considers what you think of as easy-to-believe miracles to be possible. They’re easy for you to believe, but not for others.

Perhaps you believe that if a person genuinely prays a “believer’s prayer” (a prayer of asking God to forgive him and be His Lord) then that person will be born again – will be a new creation – will be destined for Heaven instead of Hell. But a lot of people don’t believe that.

Perhaps you believe that when a Christian is genuinely sorry for what he’s done, and repents, and asks God for forgiveness, then he is forgiven. A lot of people don’t believe that (although that isn’t actually a miracle).

Perhaps you believe that God raised Jesus Christ from the dead (perhaps the most important miracle of all). A lot of people don’t believe it.

But also think about this: Jesus’s reply in Luke 17v5-6 was not actually what the NIV records. The words “as small” are not in the original Greek text. It should actually read:

The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!"
He replied, "If you have faith like a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you”.

And, as Jesus explains, the two most significant attributes of a mustard seed are its smallness and its capacity for growth:

Matthew 13v31-32
He told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches."

This parable can be interpreted in two ways. Both of them are valid.

The first way is that Jesus planted the word of God in the disciples and in a few thousand people in Judea and Galilee, and it’s been growing ever since, so that now there are Christians in every country in the world (although many are in persecuted minorities in their own countries) so that, over time, Habakkuk 2v14 will be fulfilled:

For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.

The second way to understand Matthew 13v31-32 is that, when we are converted, we receive faith from God. Over time, if nurtured, that faith will grow to be the most powerful force in our lives, in our thinking, and in our experience.

We need to exercise the faith we are given, so that it becomes stronger. We need to read the Bible, believe what it says, and pray it into being. We need to pray continually, and with every answered prayer, we should allow our faith to grow stronger. If we keep up this exercise regime, we will be able to pray with faith for more and more and more miracles, and bigger and bigger miracles.

Since God is omnipotent, one miracle is no harder for Him than any other. The problem with “big” miracles, lies with us; “big” miracles seem harder to us. As our faith grows, they can become easy-to believe miracles or, at least, easier-to-believe miracles.

Hebrews 12v12
Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees!

This is not talking about our physical heath, but about our spiritual health. That is, the fitness and growth of our faith in our redeemer to continue to do the miraculous.

Nothing is impossible with God:

Matthew 19v26
Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."

Luke 1v35-37
The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God."

And the more we pray, the more we exercise our faith muscles, the more we will prove in our own lives that this is true. Nothing is impossible with God!