Faith and Obedience.

“Be still and know that the God of Abraham, the God of Jacob, the God of Isaac, the God of Jesus, the great I AM is here with you in this room. Allow that to sink into your mind and your consciousness. This is where faith starts – it starts in Me, in your understanding of Me, the revelation I have made of Myself to you. It is inextricably tied to what I have revealed to you through my word and my Spirit. Faith cannot be seen, it is abstract concept. The perception of how you see Me and how you respond to Me. It is nevertheless as real and necessary as the universe. Now this unseen idea is dynamic, it does not remain there dormant – it is demonstrated in the change that takes place as you respond to it. Real faith is visible – it is visible in the fruit of your life. That is why I use that picture often –. No fruit equals no faith. It does not work the other way around i.e. be obedient and try and produce fruit and you will get faith. That is legalism and the antithesis of faith.“

As we continue now with Matthew 21, describing events and teaching that takes place over a concentrated few days, often called “Holy week”. (Friends, I hope you read that chapter first. Meditate on it and ask Jesus to speak to you. Then you can turn to what I have heard Jesus say to me and deepen your understanding from that). There is much information here, which we will not all go into. The main theme of course remains “Who is this Man?” Revealed here as the ‘Unusual King’, the ‘Prophet’, the ‘One with ultimate authority’, ‘the Vineyard Owner’ and the ‘Stone the builders rejected’. Maybe you will see more. Running concurrently is the rising anger of the Pharisees as they perceive what His is claiming for Himself and how that will affect them and their positions in the community and their planning to kill Jesus..

I have spent some time this week meditating on another theme which comes to the fore here. The theme of faith. It is at its basic level a simple concept, yet as we study how the concept of faith is built out in a passage like this, one realizes that it is a dynamic concept and one which can and has often been misunderstood.

The story of the fig tree is clearly a picture of judgement. Judgement of the Old Israel’s disobedience, as demonstrated by what was happening in the temple and the attitude of the religious leaders. They were producing no fruit to show that they were following Yahweh. It is a prophetic word by Jesus about what is about to happen to Old Israel. So against that backdrop we have the little interchange at the end of that paragraph. vs 21 “If you have faith and do not doubt, you will be able ……”. vs 2 “If you believe, you will receive, whatever you ask in prayer”.

Now who would want to move a mountain? And in any case, why does Jesus use this example? What is going on here? Firstly the parable of moving a mountain must be understood in the light of Jesus’ general use of hyperbole to make a point. The point is, as I am sure you see, not about the mountain but about having faith. Having faith means you can accomplish the otherwise impossible and you can ask for anything, including the impossible and it will be done for you. Wow! No wonder some, who don’t understand this parable go overboard.

Key to understanding what Jesus is saying is: Faith, believing not doubting, is a feature of a relationship with God through Jesus. It is the way our relationship works. It starts with believing in the one Messiah and God His Father, for who He is and what He has come to do. Exactly what the main theme is here. When you are in that relationship, anything is possible. Anything, because God is omnipotent. Your requests, within that relationship, will be in direct line with what God’s plan is, for you and His kingdom. He will see that those requests are fulfilled. It is not about struggling with something and then suddenly remembering, “Oh why don’t I ask Jesus?” Or I think I need something, so I will trust God for it.

There is room for all that within the relationship situation, but our attitude needs to be growing in a continuing humble dependence on God, trusting He will work out His plan for you. He does care, deeply, but is not Father Christmas.

There is a second aspect to this teaching which is linked here to that on faith. Firstly in the parable of the two sons, who is commended? vs 31 He who did His father’s will. Notice Jesus links that with believing in the statement vv 31 and 32.

The next parable has a similar point. Who are the farmers that are commended? v 41, those that produced the fruit the Landowner had desired in the vineyard (true Israel). Teaching? Faith is invisible to the outsider, obedience is something you can see. Obedience which is linked to faith will always be demonstrated by fruit. Fruit is always the result of “doing the Father’s will”.

So this all relates back to the fig tree. The Old Israel, represented by all these religious dignitaries had no faith, they had no connection with God, therefore they were not doing His will and producing the fruit God required from His Nation. It is a teaching on the inextricable link that faith makes between us and God and how that is shown. The alternative results in God’s judgement. From the time of Adam, man has been wanting to do things his way and just giving a nod to God. The consequences of that attitude are dire. cf the fig tree dying, vs 41, “He will destroy those terrible men”. vs 43 “The kingdom of God will be taken away from them”.

As I meditated on all this, this week, I realized again that faith is a natural expression of the bond that ties us to Jesus. We don’t always feel the same amount of faith. We are human with emotional highs and lows. But God recognizes our desire and continued pursuing of a relationship with Him. He is busy building our faith all the time. This will undoubtedly be expressed in the fruit of our changed lives. No fruit = no faith. The only way to grow in faith is to continue working on our relationship with Jesus. Remember the simple words of the old hymn? “Trust and obey, there is no other way to be happy in Jesus , but to trust and obey.”

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