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Hi my name is Dean Smith and in this podcast, I want to talk about the first recorded case of whiplash in the Bible and how it affects your faith.
Several years ago, I was preaching at a church where I had spoken several times previous. Because of that, many were aware of the tricks I pulled in the past and had their guard up.
So I started off this particular sermon with a simple question:
How many wanted to have more faith to heal the sick?
Can you imagine having enough faith to pull a person out of a wheel chair, similar to what Peter did at the temple gate when he saw the lame man begging for alms?
What believer in their right mind wouldn’t want this kind of faith?
Yet after I asked the question, I could see the look of consternation on the faces of people who had heard me preach before. The answer was obvious, too obvious, I could see them mulling it over in their mind, there was obviously some trickery afoot.
But the people who hadn’t heard me preach before eagerly stuck up their hands.
Meanwhile, the veterans who had suffered through my previous sermons, wisely kept their hands down. They had been down this road before too many times.
After seeing a few hands fluttering in the congregation, I then simply said if you believe you need more faith to heal the sick, that may be one of the reasons you aren’t seeing miracles, because I believe needing more faith is little more than a form of unbelief.
Of course, many would immediately point out didn’t Jesus’s disciples ask the Lord for the secrets behind having more faith?
In fact, they did. Luke records that the apostles said to Jesus increase our faith (Luke 17:5).
The disciples had been following Jesus for several months and watched Him perform an endless array of incredible miracles and deliverances.
In comparison, they looked at their own meager exploits and concluded that Jesus must be a man with great quantities of faith to perform such tremendous miracles.
To the disciples it was a very simple formula: “More Faith = More Miracles.”
And if you Google such things as how to have more faith you will find dozens of articles that address this issue with titles such as:
- Three ways to increase your faith
- How to have more faith this year
- Five ways to grow your faith
- How to increase your faith
- Eight practical ways to build your faith
There was even an article entitled “Levels of faith”
I could have listed dozens of more articles on this subject, and many of them would undoubtedly help you spiritually, but I don’t believe any of them could give you “more” faith.
Now of course needing more faith has been the rallying cry of the faith and prosperity preachers. They claim that the reason people don’t have wealth is because they don’t have enough faith. People need to have more faith to get that pink Cadillac.
Of course, their main proof text for much of this teaching is found in the Gospel of Mark, who wrote:
According to the prosperity teachers, we can accomplish incredible things with faith, which is true, and to accomplish that, all we need is to increase our faith, which I believe is wrong.
I am convinced that much of this type of faith teaching has done more damage to the concept of faith than it has helped.
So what is my basis for this?
Well, it is based on one thing, Jesus’ response to the disciples’ question. When the disciples asked this question, Jesus provided this very succinct answer, the Lord said:
Now for the record, a Mulberry tree, depending on the variety, is a huge tree. It can grow up to 80 feet (ca. 24 m) high and have massive trunks ranging 10 feet (ca. 3 m) to 15 feet (4.57 m) in diameter.
So if you have faith the size of a Mulberry tree, you would literally have tons of faith and tossing a mustard seed into the ocean would be a piece of cake.
But undoubtedly many you are sticking up your hand saying but, but that is not exactly what Jesus said.
Yes that’s true.
But this is why I entitled this podcast the first case of whiplash in the Bible, because that is what the disciples were expecting Jesus to say. When they asked Christ to increase their faith they were anticipating an answer about how much they could do with great gobs of faith.
Instead the disciples got the exact opposite. The disciples were heading down the road in one direction and suddenly Jesus yanked them in the opposite direction.
It was a case of spiritual whiplash, because Jesus actually said:
Now in contrast to a giant Mulberry tree, the mustard seed was the smallest of Israel’s crop seeds. There are different varieties of mustard seed and the one used in Jesus’ day was the black mustard and its seed was tiny, like a speck of dust.
The disciples only needed mustard-seed sized faith to perform incredible, mind-boggling miracles.
Looking at this microscopic seed, the disciples rightly concluded if their faith was any smaller than this, it wouldn’t exist at all. In fact, “grain of mustard seed” was a commonly used metaphor of that day to describe the smallest amount.
It was our modern equivalent of an iota — meaning anything less and there would be nothing at all.
This is exactly the point Jesus wanted to drive home to His disciples.
The disciples had the wrong concept of faith because they likened faith to a thermostat, the more you turn up your faith, the hotter it gets, and the more miracles you perform.
The disciples believed that the key to performing more miracles was simply finding more faith or increasing their faith.
But by using the analogy of a mustard seed, Jesus switched them from a thermostat view of faith to a light switch mode — like a typical light switch where you can turn the light on or off. You either believe or you don’t believe.
There are no degrees of faith.
Jesus’ mustard seed analogy destroyed any sense of quantity.
It wasn’t the quantity of one’s faith that was critical for miracles, but rather the quality — was it pure faith or was it polluted with unbelief.
And when you look at the prosperity preachers favorite passage in Mark, we need to ask ourselves if it is really talking about needing more faith, because in that very passage Jesus adds this critical point:
Notice how Jesus adds this very critical qualifier that a person can not doubt in his heart.
Even in this passage, Jesus was not talking about the need for more faith, rather the Lord was talking about removing the doubt or unbelief that erodes our faith.
But undoubtedly some of you are thinking about passages in the Bible, where Jesus described the disciples as having “little faith” and that definitely leaves the impression we can have different quantities of faith.
But let’s take a closer look at one of the classic accounts where Jesus uses the compound Greek word oligospistos, oligos means small and pistis faith, that is commonly translated “little faith.”
In Matthew 14, the disciples were crossing the Sea of Galilee, and they saw Jesus walking on water. The impetuous Peter quickly asked permission to join the Lord on the sea.
After Jesus invited Peter to step out of the boat, the Bible says that the apostle actually walked on water. But then Peter focussed on the storm and waves, and he became afraid, started to sink, and immediately cried out to Jesus for help.
Jesus grabbed Peter by the hand and pulled him up saying “You of little faith” verse 31.
Now the Greek word oligos, which is the first half of the Greek compound word, is used to describe small in James 3:5 to describe a small fire. But the same word can also be used to describe a period of time, such as a brief or short time as it is used in Revelation 12:12.
So remembering that Peter briefly walked on water was Jesus saying that Peter had little faith, i.e. not enough faith or was Jesus saying Peter had brief faith and when fear gripped his heart, he simply quit believing.
Well to understand what Jesus meant we only have to finish off the statement Jesus made to Peter:
By adding the phrase “why did you doubt?,” it revealed that Peter’s failure was not based on the fact he had little faith because he had actually walked on water, but this phrase reveals the apostle allowed doubt or unbelief erode his faith.
I think this verse should more accurately translated:
As I mentioned earlier, I believe faith is like a light switch. You either believe or you don’t believe. And in this passage, Peter had turned on his faith and walked on water and then quickly shut it off when he became fearful of the waves.
We shouldn’t be looking for ways to increase our faith, instead we should be looking out for those things that erode our faith.
Has something punctured a hole in your faith, allowing it to drain away?
Do you worry, because I believe worry is one of the puncture holes that drain our faith on a daily basis? Small worries leave small holes that silently deplete our faith.
Bigger holes are created by fear that can quickly drain away our faith, such as what happened to Peter when he looked at the waves. Fearful circumstances that are out of our control, such as the Coronavirus, can quickly empty our faith.
Fear and worry are peas from the same pod. They are intricately connected.
Even the father with the demon-possessed boy, driven by fear of what was happening to his son, understood that his problem was not about needing more faith as he cried out to Jesus for help with these words:
Unbelief and doubt are what hinder miracles. If you want faith to heal the sick patch up the holes of worry and fear.