October 6, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ And the Lord said, ‘If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,” and it would obey you.’”
“Increase our faith!” It’s quite the demand that the apostles make of Jesus. Why do they make this demand? What drives them to speak this way? The reason is seen in the statements that Jesus has been making of His disciples. For the past several weeks, you have heard these statements from Jesus. He mentions all sorts of demands that are placed upon those who would follow Him: “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple…. Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be My disciple…. Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings…. You cannot serve God and money…. It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.”
These demands are stated very plainly. And then Jesus adds some more, including solemn warnings and commands: “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through which they come!... If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.” Every single one of these statements requires devotion and obedience. Jesus spells out what is expected of those who would be His disciples.
Each of Jesus’ statements requires the hearts, minds, and souls of people to be set on Him. The apostles realize that. They recognize the seriousness of what Jesus has said. They also understand the challenges that face them when attempting to fulfill these demands. The apostles had experienced those challenges. Jesus had already sent them to cities, carrying the message of the kingdom of God. They had undergone the criticisms leveled against their Lord and them. The Twelve had felt want and the temptation to be drawn to placing fear, love, and trust in money and possessions. And so when Jesus finishes listing the series of demands placed on His people, the apostles respond with the only words that are fitting: “Increase our faith!”
The apostles’ demand identifies what they need and the source of it. They do not turn to someone else for aid. They do not look to their own selves for help. No, they ask it of Jesus, the same one who had put the demands on them. The apostles do this because of what they already believe concerning Jesus: they know that He is the promised Messiah; they recognize the authority that He carries; they want a share in the good things that He will bestow to them in the future life. So they ask Jesus for the assistance that only He can give.
So how does Jesus respond to them? “And the Lord said, ‘If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,” and it would obey you.’” Jesus does not say that the Twelve lack faith. He does not say that they have become unbelievers. No, He declares to them what even the smallest amount of fear, love, and trust in Him will bring about for them. Even the tiniest amount of faith found in the apostles will effect great things for them. But what Jesus will give them is not a mustard-grain amount of faith. No, He will grant them what He would give to Paul and Timothy and others who followed in their path: “a sincere faith…a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control…a good deposit entrusted to them.”
This is how Jesus answers the cries of His people. He does so in the same way that the Lord answered His prophet Habakkuk. The prophet knew the demands that the Lord had placed on him. He was to speak what was given to him, to recount the divine vision shown to him, to abide by the provisions of the Covenant. And this was to be done even when everything seemed in vain. The jarring nature of this was seen in Habakkuk’s laments to the Lord: “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and You will not hear? Or cry to You “Violence!” and You will not save? Why do You make me see iniquity, and why do You idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the Law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth.”
But even in the midst of this experience, Habakkuk still has his fear, love, and trust placed in the Lord and His statements. He does not chuck it all in. Instead, he perseveres in being a faithful member of the Lord’s people and living as a prophet: “I will take my stand at my watchpost and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what He will say to me, and what I will answer concerning my complaint.” And when the Lord gives the words to Habakkuk, he does write them on tablets and await their fulfillment, even if it seems like what the Lord says will take forever to come true.
These actions are driven by the faith that the apostles and prophets have in the Lord. They had taken the same position as the psalmist had, a position of dependence and reliance on the Lord’s identity and ability: “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God. Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.” Fear, love, and trust were seen, even when Habakkuk lamented or when the apostles demanded help or when Paul shared in suffering for the gospel.
This is so for you also. You are no different than Habakkuk, the psalmist, the Twelve, or Paul and Timothy. True, you haven’t been made spokesmen for the Lord or authors of the Scriptures. But you have been saved and called to a holy calling by God’s own purpose and grace. You have been given a sincere faith. You have received the deposit of the Gospel of Jesus, the One who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light. The Holy Spirit dwells within you.
And what do you hear from Jesus? You also hear the demands that He places on all who would be His disciples. And what do experience in the world? You see all the destruction and violence, the injustice and wickedness that makes it seem like the Lord is just sitting idly on the sideline benches. You see the people who take pleasure in falsehood, who bless with their mouths but inwardly curse.
So what do you do about it? Do you turn to your own souls and try to find help there? Do you look at the world and decide to join in the lives contrary to the Lord’s Will? Do you just chuck it all in? No, that is not what you do. If it were, then you would not be here. Instead, you make the same demand of Jesus: “Increase our faith!” You call for Him to increase your fear, love, and trust in Him. Even with the faith as small as a mustard seed, you believe in what Jesus has done and will do. You make the same statement as Paul wrote to Timothy: “I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that He is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.”
The life of discipleship has been entrusted to you. Jesus’ gospel has been entrusted to you. The inheritance of life everlasting has been entrusted to you. This is what the Lord has chosen to be so for you, even before the ages began. Power does belong to Him, as well as His steadfast love for you. And when you pour out your heart before Him, when you wait for His aid, the Lord answers your demand.
From your mouths, the words come forth: “Increase our faith!” And how does Jesus respond to your request? He does not ignore it. He does not dismiss you. He does not declare you unworthy to receive His aid. Instead, He turns and answers you: “I’ve already placed the mustard seed of faith in you. I’ve given you the deposit of the Holy Spirit. It’s been yours since you were called by the Gospel and enlightened with the Holy Spirit’s gifts. You have the salvation that My death and resurrection have earned. Each time you hear what I have done for you, that mustard seed of faith grows in you. You have been given a place in the Father’s household. Your sins are forgiven. You can tell the doors of Paradise to open for you, and they will. You have life everlasting through the sound words that you have heard about Me. The Holy Spirit who dwells in you will keep you in that true faith until life everlasting.”
This is the Lord’s response to you, as you come to this place. Here He answers your demand: “Increase our faith!” The spirit of power and love and self-control is invigorated by Jesus’ gospel and gifts bestowed to you. The patience and steadfastness needed to abide in the way that the Lord has established are given. It is not because you are worthy of it. It is not because you have deserved it. But the Lord’s own purpose and grace has made it so. He is able to guard what He has entrusted to you, even the salvation that comes through fear, love, and trust in Him. Faith as small as a mustard seed can bring about the miraculous uprooting of trees, but the even greater faith that the Lord has given and increases will bring you from death to everlasting life.
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.