In the neighborhood where I live children come around to sell thingsGirl Scout cookies, candy or peanuts to have the band take a trip or to earn some summer camp. I want you to imagine with me a scene where two boys are out on my sidewalk and they have a box. And in that box there is something that they're going to come up, ring my doorbell, and they want me to buy. Now I have seen them out my front room window. Okay? And I already know what I'm going to do when they ring that doorbell. I have a policy. I always act consistent with the policy. Everybody in my family knows the policy. They always act consistent. So I already know what my answer is going to be. Now they don't know that. They don't know my policy. So imagine the conversation that they're having.
One of them turns to him and says, "Do you think he can afford it?"
"Are you kidding? Look at that house. Look at this neighborhood. T? Of course he can afford it." And so they quickly establish that price is not a problem, that I can do it. The question is Will I do it? It's not a question of ability; it's a question of intention.
And finally one of them says to the other one, "Let's tell ourselves he's going to buy. And if we just believe he's going to buy, he will. If we have any doubts, he won't. But if we just tell ourselves, he's going to buy, I know he's going to buy, and we really believe it, he'll buy."
The other one says, "Hey, wait a minute. Maybe he spots me through the window and sees me moving toward the door." And he says, "I bet he already knows what he's going to do. And whatever we believe when we walk up there, it's not going to make any difference. We can psyche ourselves up all we want, but if he's already made up his mind what he's going to do, what we tell ourselves isn't going to make any difference at all. In fact, if we get up there and he doesn't buy, you can tell me it's my fault I didn't believe enough."
Somewhere in there we hear the echoes of conversations that sometimes come up about prayer. That if we will simply believe God enough he will do it. That if we will ask in faith, believing, he'll do it.
If the company where our wife or husband works is having layoffs and there are some questions as to whether our family will be affected by the layoffs, somebody at church says, "Do you believe God can prevent them from being laid off?"
And we say, "Yes, I believe he can."
And then the encouragement is, "Well, let's pray and let's trust him for it. And if we believe, God will prevent them from being laid off." But maybe they get fired.
Or somebody close to us is sick. Maybe somebody very dear is dying and somebody says, "Do you believe God can heal them?"
"Yes, I believe he can."
"Well, then let's ask in faith believing and trust him for a healing, and he will." But then maybe they die.
And the implication is there was something wrong with our faith. And so we're inclined to just kind of step back and say, "What I believe or trust, God probably already knows and whatever he's going to do I'll just watch and wait and accept." But then we encounter verses which tell us you can ask God and he'll do anything you ask him. Listen to them. What do we make of these kinds of verses?
"I tell you the truth," Jesus says. "Anyone who has faith in me will do what I've been doing. In fact, he will do even greater things than me because I'm going to the Father and I'll do whatever you ask in my name so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. If you abide in me, my words abide in you; ask whatever you wish. It will be done to you."
One of the men around him who heard him say this later wrote, "We receive whatever we ask because we obey his commands and we do the things that please him."
Or how about the statement that says, "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed you can say to this mountain, 'Be moved from here to there to the middle of the sea,' and it will move. And nothing will be impossible to you."
What are we to make of that? These verses are not here to mock us. These verses are not here to be explained away 99 percent of the time. These verses are here to beckon us. They're here to draw us. They're here to woo us. They're here to say, "My friend, this is what it can be. Come get it."
But how do we bring these together? How do we bring together that God probably already knows in his mind what he intends to do and yet he says, "Ask and I will do it"? How do we bring together that God already knows his intentions and yet he says, "If you will ask, I will do the exceedingly impossible for you"? How do we bring these together?
Prayers for the miraculous are ineffective because our intimacy with God has not yet grown to where he works his power through us.
This morning I would like to look at a passage that helps us, the passage where Jesus talks about mustard seed and moving mountains. It's in Matthew 17. Would you turn there? Matthew 17. Matthew 17 about the middle of the chapter Jesus is coming down from the Mountain of Transfiguration. He has taken three of the disciplesPeter, James and Johnand on the top of that hill he had shown them the glory. And now as he and those three are kind of switching back, coming down that hill to join the rest of the disciples at the base where they had left them, they see a large crowd. They see the disciples vigorously engaged in conversation with people. Somebody in the crowd sees them coming down the hill and says, "There they are," and all of a sudden a man out of that crowd breaks out, comes running up to where Jesus is, falls down. And he asked Jesus to do something for him. And in response to his asking Jesus does something seemingly impossible.
Let's read it in Matthew 17:14: "When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus. He knelt before him. 'Lord, have mercy on my son. He has seizures. He suffers greatly. He often falls into the fire, into the water. I brought him to your disciples. They could not heal him.'"
The father describes a son who apparently is subject to epileptic seizures. All of a sudden without warning the seizure will start coming on the child. His jaw will become clenched. He will start to breath, and the saliva will churn through his mouth. And as the seizure progresses, all of a sudden his entire body becomes rigid with a spasm and then in unconsciousness he falls. And the father says, "Sometimes my child is standing around the stones inside our house where there's a ring of fire that we cook on in the middle of the room, and within a matter of seconds he will suddenly fall into the fire and we have to pull him out. And he has the scars of the burn all over his body. Have mercy on us. Sometimes he falls into the water. My wife takes him down to the river and while she's washing the clothes maybe he just within a few inches of water chases a little fish, but all of a sudden a seizure comes over him, and we if don't watch it he falls just into a few inches of water and we have to pull him out before he drowns."
Mark tells us that the situation is aggravated because the boy is a deaf mute. He cannot hear the parents' cries of warning. We cannot hear his calls for help. "Have mercy on my son. I brought him to your disciples. They couldn't heal him. Help."
Jesus says, "Bring the boy to me." And Jesus does the impossible. He cures him.
Verse 17: "'O unbelieving, perverse generation, 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. It came out of the boy, and he was healed from that moment."
Later on his disciples asked Jesus privately, "Why couldn't we do it?" Verse 19: "The disciples came to Jesus in private and they asked, 'Why couldn't we drive it out?'"
And, my friend, that's our question. Why can't we do it? Why can't we ask God for the seemingly impossible and have it occur? Why can't we pray and ask God to do something and to have it take place? Why couldn't they do it? Was it because they didn't believe enough? No. They fully believed it was going to happen when they had done it. They were surprised it didn't happen. That's their problem. We expected it to happen. Why didn't it? We fully thought it would. My friend, they had done it before. This was not something unusual. This was not something spectacular. As far as they were concerned, they were asking God for a grade B miracle. They had done it lots of times, and they couldn't understand why it didn't happen.
I want you to see that they had done it lots of times. Turn back just a few pages to Matthew 10. This was nothing special to them. Matthew 10. In the beginning of Matthew 10 Jesus gives them the power to do this, and they go out and do it. Matthew 10, he calls his twelve disciples, verse 1, and he gives them authority to drive out evil spirits, to heal every disease, every kind of sickness. Then we are given their names in verses 24. And in verse 5 we read, "These twelve he sent out with the instruction, 'Don't go to Gentiles. Don't go to towns of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel and as you go here's what you do. You preach this message: the kingdom is near. And then you do these things. You heal the sick, you raise the dead, you cleanse those who have leprosy, you drive out demons. I have freely given you this power. Freely you have received this power, now you use it freely as you go out.'"
They will come back to Jesus a little later and they will say, "Lord, the demons were subject to us in your name."
My friend, they thought it would happen. They had done it lots of times. Why didn't it happen? Is it because they didn't believe? No, that's not the issue. It's not a question of our psyching ourselves up. Why doesn't it happen? Is it because, well, it's just not God's will? It was God's will. Jesus did it. Is it, Well, God doesn't do those kind of things today; this is an age in which he doesn't do that? Jesus says, "Whatever I do you will do also. In fact, greater things you will do because I go to my Father."
Paul wrote to the Ephesians and he says, "I want you to know the power that is available to your life. It is the power you see in the resurrection." Whatever power God used to raise Jesus from the dead, that power he says is available to you. Why doesn't it happen? My friends, it's not because we haven't psyched ourselves up. It's not because it isn't God's will. It's not because God doesn't do that kind of thing today. Why is it?
When the disciples said, "Lord, why could we not do it?" his answer back is, "Because your walk with God has not yet gotten to the level where God does the impossible through you." Because your spiritual life has not yet advanced to the point where God will work impossible things through you. It's because your intimacy with God has not yet grown to the level where God works his power through you.
Look at his answer to them in verse 20. When they asked him in verse 19 "Why couldn't we drive it out?" he says, "Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth. If you have faith as small as a mustard seed you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move and nothing will be impossible to you."
Now in his answer in verse 20 we need to look at three things. We need to look at, first of all, what does he mean when he talks about a mustard seed. He says, "If you have something as small as a mustard seed" If you could have it just to the point where it gets as large as a mustard seed. We need to ask, Why did he talk about a mustard seed?
The second thing we need to look at is, What does he mean when he says you can move this mountain? What does he have in mind? What is he referring to you? You can say to this mountain move from here to there. That's the second thing.
And then the third thing. What does he mean when he says, "Because you have so little faith"? That's a troublesome word. Three thingsmustard seed, move mountains, faith.
First of all, mustard seed. Why does he talk about a mustard seed? Because in his culture when you went to plant something in your garden and you went down to the nursery and you asked for a packet of seeds of this and a packet of seeds for that and a few of those, when you got home and opened the packets if you were to pour them out on the counter, the smallest seed that you possibly could have bought would have been mustard seed. In his culture that was an , size. And Jesus is saying if you have something that will just develop to the size of that, let alone something bigger, then you will be able to move mountains. And so that brings us to the second thing we need to understand.
What does he mean when he says, "You will say to this mountain, 'Move'"? He is quoting a very common kind of proverb that circulated in their society. When somebody could do what seemed to be impossible people would say, "He can move mountains." When somebody was not fazed by any obstacles or any barriers but they set a goal and they managed to accomplish it no matter what stood in the way, they would say, "She can move mountains." She's a mover of mountains. He's a mover of mountains. So Jesus is saying if you and I have something that only develops to the teensy size of a mustard seed we will find that God does the impossible. The seemingly impossible God will do through us. Now that brings us to our third thing.
If you have faith What does he mean by that? He cannot mean if you just believe God enough because they believed God and it didn't happen. So what does he mean when he says, "If you have faith"? What he means is if you have faithfulness. If you have a walk with God, if you have an intimacy with God, if you have a spiritual life that is developed to the point of a mustard seed, if your intimacy with God has grown to the level of that small of a thing, you'll be able to do the impossible. He's talking about our walk with God. He's not talking about what we believe in our mind; he's talking about the attitude of our heart.
The word that he uses in the language of the Greeks is pistos. The word pistos shows up in our literature in English either was faith or faithfulness. You see it show up as faithfulness in Matthew when Jesus says, "Woe, you scribes. Woe, you Pharisees. You tie the garden herbs but you neglect the weightier matters, the most important matters of all. Those you neglect, you neglect justice, mercy, (pistos) faithfulness."
It shows up in Romans when Paul talks about the pistos of God, the faithfulness of God. He says, "God chose the Jews. God gave them the law." But somebody says, "But what if some of them don't believe? Will God leave them?" And Paul says, "No, their lack of belief will not nullify the pistos, the faithfulness of God." You see it in the list of the fruits of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, patience, goodness, kindness, (pistos) faithfulness, gentleness.
Here in Matthew 17 Jesus is using the word pistos in the sense of faithfulness. There's a parallel passage in Luke, which makes it abundantly clear that that's his intention. There's kind of a similar conversation in Luke where the disciples will say, "Lord, increase our pistos." And it will become clear by his answer to them that he is answering a questionincrease our faithfulness; increase our walk with God. And he will say in his answer, "If your faithfulness, I will tell you how to increase your pistos, and if it gets to the level of a mustard seed you'll do the impossible. Here's how to increase your faithfulness."
To see that he's talking about faithfulness and not a head belief, let's look at that parallel passage briefly. Keep your finger in Matthew 17 but just turn quickly to Luke 17. Luke 17:5 the apostles say to the Lord, "Increase our pistos." And it will become apparent they're talking about their faithfulness, their relationship with God, their walk with God, their spiritual life. They're not asking, "Increase our ability to trust God or believe God;" they're asking, "Increase our walk with God."
And Jesus will say, "I will give you that answer. And if you can develop it," verse 6, he says, "if you will develop this pistos, this faithfulness, as small as a mustard seed you'll do the seemingly impossible. You'll say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted. Be planted in the sea.' It will obey you." Okay, I'll tell you how. And if it gets to the point it will increase even a little bit, you'll do the impossible.
And notice now how the answer he gives them is an answer that focuses on their walk with God, on their heart attitude not on their head belief. In verse 7 he says, "Suppose one of you, (suppose somebody in our culture, a master) suppose somebody that you know has a servant who is plowing or looking after sheep. Now does that owner or that master say to the servant when the servant comes in from the field, 'Oh, my good man, you look like you're just bushed from working so hard, come along now, sit down and eat'?" Is that how it works in our culture? No. What kind of things does a master say to a servant when a servant's been out there plowing or taking care of the sheep? Verse 8, "Would he not rather say to him" Is this not what we expect to hear? "'Prepare my supper. Get yourself ready'?" Man, you smell. Change clothes. Wait on me while I eat and drink. Now at the end of the meal does he say, "Thank you, my good man, I appreciate your loyalty"? Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do?
And they're all sitting there shaking their head, No, Lord, it doesn't work that way in our culture. And Jesus says, "That's right." Now whatever attitude you would expect to see in that servant if you will develop that attitude, you will have increased your faithfulness. Verse 10, "You also when you have done everything that God has asked you to do, you say I am an unworthy servant, I have only done my duty."
My friend, when you have done everything that God's Word has asked, when you have obeyed God in every way, when you have given God every part of your life, your spirit is God, what else do you deserve? I've only done what I ought to have done. Jesus says if you can develop that attitude you will increase your faithfulness.
So when we go back to Matthew 17 Jesus saying to the disciples "Why could we not do it?" he says, "Because your faithfulness, your walk with God, you don't have it yet. How long before it comes? How long do I have to be here with you? How long do I have to work with you?" They don't have it.
You see that they don't have it by just watching how chapter eighteen opens. Are they concerned about their walk with God? Chapter eighteen opens, "Lord, who's going to be the greatest in the kingdom?" You see it in chapter sixteen before this. Jesus says, "We're going to Jerusalem. We're going to die. "No, Lord! Never!" "Get behind me, Satan. You do not understand to pursue the things of God." And he has to discuss with them you can gain the world, you can save your life, that's not where it is. It's taking up a cross. It's denying yourself. My friend, they're not there.
In fact, Mark tells us that when Jesus came to find the disciples vigorously engaged in conversation at the base of the mountain Mark says they were arguing. The disciples were arguing with the religious leaders. What were they arguing about? Jesus says to them in Mark, "Why were you arguing?" And the father says, "They were arguing over my son." And I can imagine what happened. The religious leaders come up to the disciples and say, "Where's Jesus?"
"Well, he's up on the mountain."
"Did he go up by himself?"
"Well, no, he took Peter, James and John up there."
"Oh, he took the inner circle up."
"No, no, no. No inner circle."
"Well, that's the A list. You guys are the B list."
"No, no, no, no. No, no. We're all. We're all the same."
"Well, obviously there's some"
"No, no, no, no. No, we're, we're as good."
"You with the epilepsy, bring them here. Watch this."
"All right, kid. Out of him! Demons, get out! Get out!"
Jesus comes back to them and he says, "Oh," verse 17, "faithless." There's the apistos. "O faithless, O perverse," perverse, inward turning, twisted, somehow not seeing. He said it's a walk with God and a concern for God, not your , not gaining the world, not wondering who's going to be the greatest. Oh, it's God.
My friend, that's our problem. It's because our walk with God has not gotten to the mustard seed. We're still concerned about ourselves. We're still focused on our , the impression we make.
Man, I want to be a pastor like Swindoll or MacArthur or Rick Warren or Bill Hybels. I want to have a young ministry like Josh McDowell. I want to be noticed by some of these guys around here that I'm a woman who not only has a heart for God, I kind of look pretty good, too. I want to be a professor who writes the book that makes a contribution to my field and is cited and have a national reputation. I want a reputation on campuses. Man, I want to take classes from that professor.
We want to be picked out as comers, on the ball, sharp, somebody that's going to do a significant work for God. Our focus is on our self. Jesus says when our walk with God can get to the level of a mustard seed God will do the impossible through us.
We develop that kind of intimacy through prayer.
How do we get there? How do we develop that intimacy with God? How do we develop that spiritual life? How do we grow in our relationship with God to the point, the small infinitesimally tiny point where God will do the seemingly impossible through us? How do we get there?
Jesus gives the answer in verse 21. You look in your Bible and you say, "I don't have a verse 21." And you got some little letter or something that tells you if you look down at the bottom of the page and the tiny print way down at the bottom you'll read something like this: "Some manuscripts have verse 21, 'This kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.'"
And you say to yourself, What's going on here? What that little note is telling you is this. We're not sure when Matthew originally wrote his gospel whether he put verse 21 in or not. We have lots of manuscripts of Matthew where we find verse 21 in it. We have other manuscripts of Matthew where we don't find verse 21 in it. Now somewhere along the line something happened. Somewhere along the line early when Matthew's gospel was being copied and then copied and then copied again, somewhere along the line somebody either dropped out verse 21, and that's why we don't have it in some of our manuscripts but we do have it in others, or somewhere along the line somebody knew that in Mark it was there and they put it into Matthew just because they wanted to make sure that we knew this is what Jesus said, and that's why it shows up in some but the others don't have it. Now we don't know which one of those things happened. Okay? We do know Jesus said it. That's not the question. We just don't know whether Matthew recorded it in his gospel. We know Jesus said it because it's in Mark, and in Mark Jesus says the way to develop this walk with God is through prayer.
And by prayer Jesus means a lifestyle of prayer, a habit of prayer, a lingering on a daily basis in the presence of God with prayer. He's not saying this kind of stuff will happen if you just call a quick prayer meeting. That's not what he's talking about. I mean, Jesus doesn't say, "Bring the boy to me, now let's pause a minute. Father, I'm about ready to do something." No. He's not praying.
And Peter later will learn the lesson. Peter will walk into a temple in the book of Acts. He'll see a beggar, and the beggar will ask him for something. And Peter will not say, oh, my poor man. John, let's pray for this fellow. Peter will say to him, "I don't have silver and gold, but I've got something else. In the name of Jesus Christ, stand up and walk." No prayer meeting. So what Jesus is saying is the ability to have God work the impossible through you comes to the man or woman of prayer, to those who linger in God's presence.
It's what you see with the prophet Elijah. He walks on day into the court of Ahab and he says, "It's not going to rain until I say the word. I'm going to pray and I'm going to ask God. There's going to be no rain until I give the word and I'm out of here."
You try that at the La Marada weather bureau. They'll say to you, "Who was that kook?" What made Elijah feel he could pull that off? What made Elijah think he could walk into a king and commit the fact that there was going to be no rain until he said the word? My friend, it was that Elijah was a man of prayer. Elijah sat before that sorrowing over the condition of his land, seeing the consequences of Ahab and Jezebel and the idolatry that was pervading the land.
And as he sat in God's presence and he remained in the Lord and the Lord's words remained in him, the words of Deuteronomy came to his soul, and the words of Deuteronomy as they went through his mind, the words of Deuteronomy said if my people ever depart from me if they ever go after the pagan gods of the Canaanites, the heavens will cease to give water. They will become brass. They earth will become hard and baked. The vegetation will de. The cattle will starve. Famine will come over the lie. And as Elijah sat there and reflected and meditated on the words of the Lord and as he lingered in God's presence the Spirit of God said to him, "Elijah, this word through you today, now." And in that knowledge of what God's intention was born out of a life of prayer, he walked into the court of Ahab and he knew what God was going to do. And through him God did the seemingly impossible.
The ability to do the impossible comes to the one who through a lifestyle of prayer has such intimacy with God that God's thoughts, God's intentions, God's desires, God's will become known to that one and in that knowledge they do what seems to be impossible.
The first year that I was pastoring at Scottsdale, Arizona I was a young pastor. One day I was in my study and doing some work and the phone rang. I picked it up and it was Marta Weiss. Art and Marta Weiss were an elderly couple in the congregation, just a fine, godly couple, an elderly German couple. And I said, "Marta, what is it?"
"Oh, Don, Don, Art is in the hospital. He's got a stone that just won't move and it's causing him great pain. And he's in the hospital and they don't know what to do. They don't want to operate because he's an old man, and it's dangerous to operate at his age. And yet it isn't moving, and the pain is so great and they can't allow it. They don't know what to do."
"Oh, Marta, what hospital is he in? I'll come by." She told me what hospital it was. I said, "I'll come by. I'll come by later today." And I hung up.
Before I went back to what I was doing I just quickly said, "Lord, when I go by later today, how shall I minister to that couple? What do you want me to say? What do you want me to pray?" And I just quickly threw that prayer up without thinking anything other than what we would usually say. Lord, give me a little bit of guidance before I go.
And for some strange reason through my mind comes, "You go into that hospital and you tell Art there's not going to be any surgery because you're going to pray and he's going to pass the stone."
I don't want to say that, Lord. I don't want to say that. I'm going to go into a hospital and I'm going to say, "Art, I'm going to pray. God's going to pass the stone. You're not going to have any surgery." What if you don't do it? What if the stone doesn't get passed? I don't want to say that. I'm a new pastor around here. I need all the credibility I can get. What I don't need is circulating stories where I try a thing like that and bomb.
"You say it."
All right, I'll say it.
Dreading the hospital visit, finally a little after supper I go into the hospital and there is Art sitting uncomfortably. There is Marta sitting next to him. And there's Jim Risser sitting on a chair. Jim Risser is an architect in the church. He's a friend of Art and Marta, and he's doing a kind, compassionate Christian thing. He's visiting them in the hospital. I don't need another witness. So I'm thinking. I'm hemming and hawing. We're talking about yada yada, whatever it is. And I'm trying to think, How do I bring it into the conversation? All right. "I'm going to pray, and God's going to pass the stone and you're not going to have any surgery." How am I?
But before I bring it in, Art says to me, "Don, they scheduled surgery for six o'clock tomorrow morning. There is not movement at all, and they just can't wait any longer."
And I'm thinking, I thought I was going to pray and over the next several days God was going to
"Art, let me pray for you. Lord, guide the hand of the surgeon" , all that safe stuff. And I walked out thinking Lord, I don't know. I thought I was wrong. I
The next morning about nine o'clock in the morning the phone rings at the office. I pick up. It's Marta. "Marta, how's Art?"
"Don, you'll never guess what happened. Last night Art passed the stone."
"Yeah, that's good, Marta. Thank you for telling me." Ah ha, ah ha.
Sunukjian, you blew it. I gave you a chance to look good.
I know. Give me another chance.
My friend, to linger in God's presence, to develop that intimate relationship, to become a man or a woman of prayer is to gain the insider's knowledge and through that to do the seemingly impossible.
You know those two boys out on my sidewalk? One of them says to the other one, "He's going to buy. I know he's going to buy. Let's go. He's going to buy." How does he know I'm going to buy? He lives two doors down the street. He's over at my house all the time. He plays with my cat. He knows my policy. I always buy. Everybody in my house has already been told, "Any kid that rings the bell, you buy whatever they're selling." My friend, that's the cheapest public relations for Christ you can have in your neighborhood. All the kids say, "That's a nice house. They always buy." You invite them to Bible school. You invite them to a church activity. "Oh, yeah, sure. They're nice people." Cheapest public relations for Christ.
So they come walking up. He rings the doorbell. I open the door. He hands me a box and he says, "That will be $2.50, Mr. Sunukjian." And I say, "Okay, Billy." And the other one looks at him and says, "How did you do that? That's impossible." The insider's knowledge.
My friend, when our walk with God develops to just the smallest fuddle, we will know God's heart, we will know God's intentions, and God will seemingly work impossibly through us. The ability to do the impossible it waits for the man or woman of prayer. Let's pray.
Father, may this just woo us. May we be so excited, may we sense so much your love and your goodness. May we come into your presence and know you so intimately which in comparison to your Son will be like a mustard seed but to us it will seem monumental. And yet, out of that we will find ourselves led by you, useful to you, accomplishing your will in our world. In Jesus' name. Amen.