Based on: Luke 17:1-10
You have probably heard this statement before; "if you’ve had faith size of a mustard seed." Perhaps you’ve also thought, "If only I had a faith that could move mountains." The first thing that comes to mind is that our faith has to be stronger or that I have to work harder at believing. Some even try to connect good health or wealth to the size of one’s faith, but this isn’t what Jesus is saying. Jesus says if you have faith as “small” as a mustard seed, then you can move a mulberry tree. Jesus is certainly telling us that we have power through our faith, but this power doesn’t come from our faith. This power comes from God. Jesus describes one of the things we can do with his power – forgive. We have power from God to forgive.
When we look at the 10 verses we have here in Luke chapter 17, they seem to be a collection of almost random thoughts. First, Jesus talks about the fact that sin will come into the world but be careful that you are not the one through whom temptation to sin comes. Then he says that if your brother sins and repents then forgive him, even if he sins seven times in a day. Next Jesus talks about our faith and the great things faith can do. Last, Jesus says if we only do what God expects of us we shouldn’t expect praise or a reward in return. We have only done our duty.
At first glance these four topics may not seem to fit very well together. Some have said that these things were said by Jesus at different times. But the Holy Spirit, when he inspired Luke to write these words, put these four topics together. Even though we could say much about each one of these topics separately we will look at them together and consider how they fit together.
Let’s start with the statement Jesus makes about faith and what faith can do. We all want a faith like that – to be able to tell a mulberry tree to plant itself in the ocean or a faith that can move mountains as it says in other parts of scripture.
Be careful that you do not think the your faith has to be strong enough in order to do these things, that you have to build this up in yourselves and make your faith grow so that it has that power to move mountains or mulberry trees. Perhaps the disciples were thinking this way when they asked Jesus, "Lord, increase our faith."
Jesus tells them that even faith as small as a mustard seed has power. The disciples already had this faith and so do we. After all where does faith’s power come from? Faith by itself is nothing. Faith is always trust in something. For the Christian, faith is trust in the promises of God. So where does the power of faith come from? It comes from God himself, because it is in God’s promises that we trust.
That is why the Muslim, the Jehovah’s Witness, the evolutionist and anyone else who does not believe God’s promises, has a faith that is misplaced and has no power. Or at best we could say their faith is based on the promises of Satan or of human beings and that is where they draw their power. But we have God’s power.
The power of faith is that God keeps his promises. Faith – whether it is small or great – uses God’s power. It simply trusts God to keep his promises and acts accordingly. Without faith you wouldn’t trust God to keep his promises and so you wouldn’t use God’s power to do tremendous things.
Let me say it this way. You believe that the pew will hold you up and so when you came in this morning you sat down on it. You had faith in the fact that the pew was strong enough to support your weight. If you didn’t believe in the pews ability to hold you up you wouldn’t sit on it.
What if God promised you that one of those bushes outside the church would pull itself up and plant itself in Sleepy Eye Lake if you told it to? If you trusted in God’s promise, if you had faith, you would act in such a way that showed you trusted God’s promise. You would go outside and tell that bush to pull itself up and plant itself in Sleepy Eye Lake and it would do it.
Now when I leave the church this morning I don’t want to go outside and find all of the shrubs and trees missing from the front of the church and the parsonage only to find them in Sleepy Eye Lake. Actually, I am not worried. Remember that faith is trust in God’s promises. God has not promised you that any trees are going to move just by you talking to them, but if you want to try I will not stop you. Just let me go get my video camera first.
In fact, God has promised you greater things than that. God has promised you that you are safe from real harm and faith uses that power to calm fear and dispel worry – much more useful than transplanting a tree into the middle of a lake.
God has also promised forgiveness for all of our sin because of Jesus and his life, death, and resurrection for us. Faith uses that power to tell Satan to leave when he accuses us. Faith uses that power to quiet our own guilty conscience. Faith uses that power to forgive others when they sin. These are truly miracles that God gives us the power to perform. Using this power is what Jesus is talking about when he tells is to forgive.
Since we trust that God gives us this power, what else would be our reaction? How else would we act toward others if this is the truth? Don’t we use this power and forgive others when they come to us and tell us they are sorry for what they’ve done. Don’t we in turn forgive them because God has forgiven us for so much? As with Jesus says in verses 3 and 4, "If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him." Even seven times in one day.
If we fail to use this power then we need to hear the words Jesus spoke to his disciples once, “Where is your faith?” We have this power and yet we fail to use it whenever we hold a grudge or think a sin is too big to forgive. When we withhold forgiveness from someone who repents then we are one of those people Jesus talks about in the first verse. We are sinning and causing others to sin as well by leading them to doubt or even despair of God’s forgiveness.
There is a need to forgive others. Jesus also promises in that first verse that there will be opportunities to forgive because the things that cause people to sin are “bound to come.” Sin is in the world. Even among Christians there is sin and temptation to sin.
As Christians we forgive because we have been forgiven. This is not only our duty but because we trust in God’s promise of forgiveness for us, we want to use God’s power to forgive others. This is simply what we as Christians do. We don’t expect a reward or recognition. We don’t say, “Look at me! Look at how I forgave that person.” No, it is simply our duty as Jesus explains.
Now we see how all four of these topics fit together. Jesus starts by saying that sin is inevitable in this world and that people will bring sin or cause others to sin. We forgive them when they repent of that sin. The disciples understood that this was not easy and they said “Lord, increase our faith.” Jesus tells them “No, you don’t understand it’s not that you need a large faith to do what I’m asking.” The power to do this comes from God. Even if you have a small faith it is still trust in God and in God’s power. Finally this is simply your duty as one of God’s servants. When you forgive others, it is not something you should flaunt or share openly expecting praise or congratulations.
This is the power of God. It comes through faith and gives us the strength to share with others the forgiveness God has given us.