This sermon is part of the sermon series "Standing Your Ground". See series.
How do you win the World Series? A few decades ago, when the New York Mets were the underdog darlings of the National League, two young pitchers told the world the secret. Tom Seaver and Tug McGraw borrowed a line from a Walt Disney character and said, "Ya gotta believe."
Some clever advertising agency picked up the phrase and has used it to sell peanut butter. The ad says that you can make Peter Pan Peanut Butter "with a whole lot of peanuts and a little bit of magic" and—one more thing—"Ya gotta believe."
There appears to be a consensus in the popular culture that good things come if someone just has enough confidence in the outcome. In order to win a game, make peanut butter, get a job, a good looking boyfriend, or a trip to Hollywood on American Idol, you just really, really need to believe in the results you want. Unfortunately, the idea that we can make really good things happen by the adequacy of our faith gets so much play in our culture that people really begin to believe in such an idea. The idea that adequate faith can trigger God into giving us the best things in life right now gets transferred to the most serious matters of health, career, family, and faith. Even Bible-believing Christians may begin to assume that they can make good things happen through exercising exceptional faith. They may even have been taught this in church.
I have experienced the consequence of equating exceptional faith with getting exactly what you want. I had a job working as an assistant to a commercial photographer. For an outdoor project with a local pool manufacturer we needed two days of good weather to take all the photos necessary. My boss, a Christian, encouraged me to pray with him for clear skies. We prayed, and the first day of picture shooting was beautiful.
The next day was wet and ugly. Through the morning we sat in my boss' car, waiting for the rain to pass. But the rain did not pass. The longer the deluge continued, the more my boss' mood became evident on his face. His countenance transitioned from sadness to dejection and then to anger that spilled into words. "Yesterday," he snarled, "God gave us a good day because we prayed in faith. Today it's raining even though we need it to be sunny. That means somebody isn't doing his job." I don't know for sure which "somebody" he had in mind, but there were only two alternatives. Assuming the reason we had the first good day was because of our exceptional faith, then the reason the second day was rainy was either because our faith was inferior or our God had failed.
Assuming that life's difficulties indicate that either our faith is inadequate or our God is inadequate is a sure recipe for despair. If bad things happen because our faith is inadequate, then no one has sufficient faith, because everyone faces problems in this broken world. But if bad things happen because our God is inadequate, then we have no one to turn to in this troubled world. Jesus told us difficulty invades every life, including that of the faithful. We cannot gauge the adequacy of faith by the absence of trials. We need to define faith by standards beyond the popular consensus.
At first glance, many of the miracles of the Bible may make us think God's Word teaches that our faith can determine particular outcomes that we desire. We may point to holy men and women of biblical accounts and say, "Just look at the wonderful things that happened because of their confidence in what they wanted to occur." But if this kind of special confidence really defined biblical faith, then we would have to skip the third chapter of Daniel.
This chapter of Daniel's history tells us of three faith giants: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Because of their faith, these three young men are unquestionably biblical heroes. Citing such, the writer of Hebrews says, "through faith … [they] quenched the power of fire" (Hebrews 11:34). With great courage they expressed their faith by refusing to bow to the image of gold. Yet, when Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego's obedience put them on the brink of the king's fiery furnace, they did not pretend to know what was going to happen to them. They did not claim to know what their circumstances would hold or what their God would do. Even though they affirmed that God was able to deliver them, they added, "But if not, be it known to you, O King, that we will not serve your gods" (3:18).
We may want to correct these heroes of faith by saying, "Oh no, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Don't say if. You should believe without doubting." But Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did not operate on the popular notion that faith is exceptional confidence in particular outcomes. By their words and actions, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego tell us of a more biblical faith. Biblical faith is not confidence in particular outcomes; it is confidence in a sovereign God. We trust that he knows what we cannot discern, plans what we cannot anticipate, and secures eternity in ways beyond our fathoming. Our trust is not in the quantity or quality of our belief. Faith is not confidence in our belief, but confidence in our God. Any other perspective will ultimately harm our faith.
One way to get a better picture of biblical faith—the kind of faith that helps rather than harms—is to examine the kind of faith Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shared. Their faith will first give us a clear understanding of what biblical faith is not.
Faith is not trust in the quantity of our belief.
We may be tempted to measure our faith by how much confidence we can pump into our minds (and how much doubt we can bleed from our hearts), so that what we want to happen will occur. We go through intricate rituals to convince ourselves that we have created enough faith in our brains to eliminate doubt and to commit God to honoring our desires. We may sing a spiritual song, pray long, read Scripture, and scold ourselves for any questioning thoughts in order to fill our minds with as much belief as is necessary to get God to do what we think is best. In one sense we are like athletes psyching up for the big event, convincing ourselves that we really, really believe. In another sense, we resemble witches, throwing a pinch of song, an ounce of prayer, and a ton of belief into a cauldron of human desires so that God must do what we determine he should do. Our faith is not so much in God as it is in the amount of belief we have conjured to control him.
I once heard a sweet mom express out of puzzled and honest pain what happens to faith when we trust its amount rather than trust in God. This young mother was running errands with a tribe of preschoolers in the car. The next stop on the errand list was the neighborhood grocery. She began to calculate what that meant: getting all the children out of their car seats, into their coats, into the store, into the shopping cart—and the reverse of it all on the way out. This would be a 20-minute stop for just a couple of needed items. Then came some inspiration, a way to get back on schedule. If there were a parking space right by the front door, then she could leave the kids in the car and watch them through the storefront glass. She could zip in, zip out, never lose sight of the kids, and be right back on schedule. "Lord, please give me a parking space by the door," the young mother prayed. "I know that you can provide a parking space, and I believe you will."
Recounting the experience later, she said, "I was praying with all kinds of faith." And she tried to build her more faith by saying again and again in her mind, "I believe. I believe. I believe." She thought that if she just had enough faith, God would do what she wanted him to do. Then she arrived at the store, turned in the parking lot, and saw immediately there was no parking space anywhere near the front door. You may smile at this young mother's naiveté, but when she told us what had happened, she spoke through tears. "What's wrong with me?" she asked. "I prayed with all kinds of faith, but God didn't answer. There must be something wrong with my faith."
She had caught herself in the old trap of defining faith as confidence in our quantity of belief, rather than confidence in God. Thus, when something unwanted occurred, she could only assume that her faith was inadequate or that her God was. This Christian mother was too well schooled (and too full of true faith) to believe that God was inadequate, so she assumed her faith was at fault. But she had not lost her faith; she had only misplaced it.
Faith is not trusting in how much confidence we have about things we would like to happen. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego confessed that they didn't know what would happen. They were not sure if they would be thrown in to the fiery furnace, and if that was their future, they were not sure if they would live or die. Yet, they were great men of faith.
These three faithful men understood that real faith locks onto God. We pray to him for what we think is right, but trust him to do what is ultimately best. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego said that even if God did not deliver them from death, that they would only serve him. Their words tell us faith is not measured by the strength of our expectations but by the strength of the conviction that "whatever my God ordains is right" (Samuel Rodigast, 1676).
Biblical faith calls for each of us to acknowledge that God's provision is sufficient, loving, and good, even if it falls short of, or contradicts, immediate desires that cannot fully anticipate his plans or fathom his wisdom. Believers whose faith will withstand the trials of this world must be able to affirm, "I may not understand God's provision. I may not expect it or, in this life, know enough even to like it, but I trust my God whatever comes. This does not mean I always know what will come. But my faith is what my God knows is best—not what I think is best."
This insight into faith relieves those who worry that there is something obviously deficient with their faith because what they want to happen does not always occur. The fact is we are not lesser Christians because we believe God is wiser than we. We are not inferior Christians because we trust God's wisdom more than our own.
If we insist, as some Christians teach, that true faith untangles problems and removes affliction, we become trapped by a standard of a perpetual emotional high. But we should never imply that anyone not on an emotional high lacks faith. Faith in Jesus Christ is not a feeling. Feelings change; faith should not. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did not bubble with giddy enthusiasm as they faced the fiery furnace. But they were filled with faith in their God. They believed in his presence and in his care, despite the likelihood that Nebuchadnezzar would burn them alive. If they lived, they knew their God was near. If they died, they knew their God was still near.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego trusted their God because time after time he had delivered their forefathers from enemies, despite Israel's sin and rebellion (2:23). God had been faithful even when his people had not. God even had promised that he would save his people from their captivity in Babylon (2:44). Although things looked awfully grim in the immediate, the faith of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego was not shattered, because it was not rooted in present circumstances but in the nature of their God—a God whose purposes are loving and eternal can be trusted (3:17).
This can be our great confidence, too, when we express faith that tragedy does not mean God has vanished; danger does not indicate that he has failed; difficulty does not imply that he is weak. God is in control. Difficulties may still arise, but he enables us to surmount them. Grief may still come, but he gives strength to bear it. His hand is never capricious or clumsy. True faith simply acknowledges that God knows and does what is right.
In a rural community near my home, a family grew dissatisfied with their church, so they started a church in their home. In this new church, the family taught that God would bring wealth and health to those with enough faith. The family felt it had proof for such teaching. For several years this farming family had contracted with a large feed company to supply large quantities of grain at a guaranteed price. When other farmers suffered from vacillating farm markets, this family continued to prosper. And any who attended their home church were told the reason for this wealth: great faith.
Some of the family members so believed in the power of sufficient faith to gain earthly desires that they began to promise healing to sick persons in our town. The family members would tell those suffering from illness that they didn't have enough faith. Since they believed that sufficient faith makes problems vanish, they assumed illness was an automatic sign of insufficient faith.
The family members from the new church meant well, but the consequences of their actions were horrible. People who were terminally ill and who desperately needed the Lord's comfort were told their weak faith was causing God's absence from their lives. The evidence was their illness. They were told that if their faith were genuine and strong, then God's power would come and their illness would depart.
Occasionally, I found faithful Christians in our church distraught after they had been visited by members of the family church. At a time when these weak and suffering saints most needed the comfort of the Lord's presence, they had been terrified by this warped expression of faith. But my concern was not limited to the sick individuals the family visited. Eventually the heartache hit home.
A child with a birth defect was born to one of the family members. The rest of the family believed that this sadness came because the parents did not have enough faith. They began a process of discipline and shunning the parents for their sin of insufficient faith. Those parents eventually left the family church because their child's suffering caused the constant questioning of their faith. More problems followed.
Farming communities all over the country sank into a economic crisis. Suddenly the big feed company's set price no longer covered the expenses for the grain the farm family was contracted to produce. The same contract that had provided security for years now became a financial noose around the family's neck. In two years the family went bankrupt, the farm (which had been in the family for generations) was sold, and family members scattered. Today they do not visit hurting families and say, "Look at the health and wealth that will come if you only have enough faith."
We should take no joy in the pain this family experienced. We should grieve for them even as we learn from them. Faith in the quantity of our faith scatters families and shatters lives. We live in a fallen world where illness, difficulty, and tragedy will thrive until Christ returns. Christians are not immune from the consequences of living in this broken world. Teaching that some heroic degree of faith will inoculate us from trial or tragedy destroys the faith that we actually need in the midst of some afflictions. Of course, God can remove disease and difficulty from our lives if he knows that is best, but he may also desire to use our testimonies in the midst of trial and tragedy for purposes more grand and eternal than we can imagine. The choice is his. Our job is to trust him. Real faith is not faith in the quantity of our confidence; it is faith in our God.
Faith is not trust in the quality of our belief.
Though we may avoid the misconception that our faith will accomplish what we want if we generate a sufficient quantity of belief, other errors can creep into our expectations. One such error is the idea that God will do as we desire if our desire is spiritually good enough. We trust that God will fulfill our desires because of the quality of our belief. We expect God to do as we want because we have determined that it is in God's best interests to make this happen. Because the results are "for God's sake," we become convinced that what we would love to happen must occur.
In my brother's early Air Force experience, he got in a time crunch and was in danger of being AWOL. He needed to get back to his base quickly, but he faced a number of obstacles: he was traveling late at night, on a holiday weekend, in a pickup truck that was almost out of gas. An unbelieving friend was riding with him. When the friend saw the needle on the gas gauge hit empty, he threw up his hands in resignation and said, "We're never going to make it. We are in trouble for sure." But my brother, concerned not only for getting back to base but for the spiritual welfare of his buddy, replied, "No, we are going to make it. I have prayed to God in faith. He will get us there."
You can guess what happened. A few miles further, the engine sputtered, coughed, and died. Now the story seems funny, but at that time the humor was lost on my brother. The events of that evening triggered a spiritual crisis in his life. "Bryan," he said later, "why didn't God answer my prayer? I prayed in faith, believing God. Nothing better could have happened for my friend than for him to see God at work. I wasn't asking for my sake. My friend would have believed in God's power and probably trusted in him for salvation, if only God had answered. Why didn't God act?"
I do not know. But I do know that biblical faith should keep us from being so attached to what we think is right—even if we are convinced that what we want is for God's good—that we think God has failed because he didn't follow our directions. Faith is trust in God and his plan. Faith does not require God to fulfill wishes as though our desires were his command and our human plans his divine ordinance. God knows what is necessary to bring others to himself, and when it is necessary, and how to do it. We do not. Faith does not require God to do what we would love to happen even for the right reasons.
Learning to trust God's wisdom above our own is not an easy lesson. In times of trouble, relying on God's wisdom can try the faith of the most spiritually astute. Christian counselor and author Jim Conway wrote of his struggle to trust God's wisdom when his daughter Becki was stricken with cancer. The doctors said they would need to amputate Becki's leg to save her life. So the family began to pray, asking God to heal Becki. They knew God could heal, so they prayed that he would save the leg as a testimony of his love. Because they desired glory for God, they also prayed that God would entirely heal Becki.
So strongly did the family believe that God would heal Becki that on the day of the surgery, Jim insisted the doctors test Becki's leg again. The surgeon agreed, and the family went to a waiting room, eagerly anticipating the results they were sure would bring great glory to God. Jim later wrote what happened:
A crowd of friends from the church had come to wait with us. So many came, in fact, that they made us leave the waiting room. When the surgeon came out, I knew (from the look on his face) what he was going to say, and I couldn't face it. I couldn't face all those people. So I ran.
I ran to the hospital basement where no one would find me. And I cried. I yelled. I pounded my fists against the wall. I felt like the God whom I had served had abandoned me at the hour of my deepest need. Was he so busy answering prayers for parking places that he couldn't see Becki?
The experience devastated Jim, but it also drove him back to Scripture. There he discovered the problem with a faith that blindly insists on what we would love to happen, even if what we want would seem to honor God. Such a faith is foreign to the Bible. We must not let an aching desire for something that seems so right make us lose sight of what God's Word so plainly teaches. We must never forget the faithful men and women of the Bible who did not have everything go as their desires dictated. If we forget them, then we will define faith in such a way that we and others get hurt.
We should remember, for example, the difficulties of the Apostle Paul. No one doubts the faith of Paul. He took the gospel to the Gentiles, wrote inspired Scripture, and performed miraculous healings. Yet, the Bible records at least four examples of sickness or disaster in his life that God did not prevent. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul says that he prayed three times for God to remove his "thorn in the flesh." We do not know precisely the ailment. We do know that God did not grant Paul's request, but replied, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9). Perhaps an example of this occurred in Galatia where an illness prevented Paul's travels long enough for his preaching to produce spiritual fruit there (Galatians 4:13-14).
Paul did not respond to his physical afflictions by doubting his faith or his God. The apostle understood that biblical faith does not remove all hardship and suffering from life. He believed that God knew what was best for him and for the ministry of the gospel. Thus, if God's strength was made more evident by Paul's testimony in a weakened condition, Paul readily accepted the "thorn" and even rejoiced in his weakness that made his commitment to Christ more convincing (2 Corinthians 12:9). Paul's attitude reminds us that God knows far better than we what will bring men and women to a saving knowledge of him. The most powerful testimony Christians have at times is not the fact that they live on "easy street," but that their relationship with God sustains them even when their worlds collapse.
If genuine faith were to bring an end to all of life's hardships, then Paul's comments in the chapter preceding his reference to "the thorn in the flesh" also makes no sense. There Paul recites a litany of his sufferings. He says, I have been imprisoned, flogged, stoned, shipwrecked, sea-logged; endangered by bandits, countrymen, and circumstances of all sorts; sleepless, hungry, thirsty, cold, unclothed, and pressured by church concerns (2 Corinthians 11:23-28).
How should we respond to such hardships in the life of an apostle? Do we say, "Now, Paul, if you had just a little more faith, life wouldn't be so hard." Of course not. We know the apostle's faith carried him through his hard times. He did not expect his efforts to spread the gospel to be without trial or push back. He knew that Satan would oppose spiritual progress, that afflictions often accompany spiritual gains, and that life will not be without pain until we are in heaven. Paul did not expect for his faith to erase troubles but to strengthen him for and through them. Good things do not always happen according to our plans, wisdom, or desires—and that doesn't mean our faith is at fault.
Paul was not the only faithful believer in Scripture who faced trials in the midst of spiritual pursuits. The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is often called the "Faith Chapter" because it cites believers from many periods of biblical history who are famous for their faith. Added to the list of those well known for faith that resulted in great spiritual victories are descriptions of believers who suffered great hardships. Those who have been tortured, flogged, imprisoned, stoned, pierced with swords, sawed in two, made destitute, deprived and homeless—all are commended for their faith (Hebrews 11:35-40). The writer of Hebrews makes it clear that those who are the most spiritual and faithful may not have their earthly desires fulfilled. No New Testament writer contends that the presence of difficulty indicates an absence of faith.
Even the greatest of Old Testament saints did not have a faith that removed every human trial. Elisha performed amazing miracles, routed armies, healed the sick, and raised the dead. But unlike his predecessor, Elijah, he was not taken to heaven in a fiery chariot. Instead, without a word of criticism of his faith, the Scriptures simply record Elisha got sick and died (2 Kings 13:14). So faithful was Elisha to the Lord's work that even after he died, his bones had healing powers (2 Kings 13:21). The Bible simply refuses to make illness an automatic sign of faithlessness. Our difficulties do not prove diminished spiritual integrity, and spiritual priorities do not eliminate real trials.
Lest we begin to look for flaws in the faith of Paul, Elisha, or other biblical believers to explain their difficulties, we should remember the example of Jesus himself. He prayed before his crucifixion that God would take "this cup" from him. Still, the trial came. Of course there was no lack of faith on the Savior's part. His faith was in his God's plans, not in the absence of pain. He prayed not only that the cup would be taken away, but also "not my will, but yours, be done" (Luke 22:42). Christ wanted the trial to be taken away, but his deepest desire was that God would do his perfect will, even if that meant humiliation and torture.
Real faith trusts God's plan and purpose. We do not trust in what we decide is right, but trust that God knows and will do what is right—in his time and according to his wisdom—to accomplish his gracious purposes for eternity.
By their example, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego lay out a simple plan of action to help us faithfully confront the trials we face: 1) We acknowledge our needs without stipulating how God will respond; 2) We humbly acknowledge the ability of God either to meet our needs in the way we desire or in a way that he knows is better; 3) We commit ourselves to uncompromising obedience whatever comes. We simply obey God and trust him to take care of the circumstances. "He is the rewarder of those who diligently seek him" (Hebrews 11:6). The rewards may not be what we expect nor come as we anticipate, but faith understands the perfection of God's plan and trusts the love that prepares it so carefully. We need not read the results to trust and rest in him.
We believe God is able.
The first reason that we trust God is that we believe he is able "to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think" (Ephesians 3:20). Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego clearly echo this confidence: "[Our] God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace" ( 3:17). They had good reason for this affirmation. They had testimony of God's supernatural power in the past. They and their forefathers had been preserved by the power of their covenant-keeping God.
In the preceding history of Israel, God had miraculously delivered his people numerous times, and the three men knew the rescue stories of the past—how God had saved Noah from the flood, Israel from captivity, Gideon from the Midianites, David from Goliath, and many more. But they did not need only to rely on history lessons. They had witnessed God's saving hand in the previous chapters of their lives. They had been saved with Daniel when they ate vegetables rather than the king's table fare (Daniel 1). They had prayed with Daniel for the revelation and interpretation of the king's dream (Daniel 2), and we know of God's miraculous provision. Through all of these scriptural accounts we, too, have evidence of the power of our God to do whatever he knows is best. Thus, biblical faith affirms that our God is able to rescue. But that is not enough reason to trust him. If he can rescue but is undependable, unkind, or untrustworthy, then faith in him would be worthless.
We believe God is good.
To trust God as he desires, we must believe that we can entrust ourselves to his care. To do this we need to know that God is worthy of our trust. Biblical faith is not merely the confidence that our God is able; it also requires the confidence that our God is good.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego affirm God's goodness when they remove all doubt from their assertion of their ultimate rescue from Nebuchadnezzar. They affirm that God is able to deliver them from the fire, but they do not say that he will. Their famous "But if not …" is their clear refusal to predict what their circumstances hold or what God will do about those specific circumstances. But there is no doubt about their rescue from Nebuchadnezzar.
How can the three young men be so sure of their rescue from the evil king? Is this the kind of certainty about circumstances they have previously avoided? To answer that question we have to consider another: What are the possible ways that God can deliver Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from Nebuchadnezzar's attempts to control their hearts and minds with the worship of an idol? God certainly has the option of rescuing the three from the fiery furnace. But an eternal God can also rescue the three from compulsory idolatry by taking them to himself.
Our human response to such a radical rescue as an immediate heaven is to think, That doesn't really count as a miracle. But why doesn't heaven count as a rescue? The realities of heaven are more precious and eternal than anything here on earth—and just as real. The only reason that we don't value the provision of heaven as a glorious and good alternative to suffering on earth is that we don't conceive of it being as great, good, and real as the Bible says. But it is real, great, and good. In heaven all pain and suffering are banished. We are eternally present with loved ones, including our Lord, whose glory offers more beauty and joy than ten thousand years on this earth can provide. By embracing the potential of a heavenly reality as well as an earthly rescue, these three young men are declaring their confidence that God is good regardless of what happens to them. Their faith echoes that of Job, who said of God, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him" (Job 13:15).
Why would they trust that their God is good when their circumstances were so bad? First, they trusted God in their immediate, awful circumstances because God had rescued them before. They had experienced the caring hand of their God. By his hand, they also knew the threats of a fiery furnace were not their ultimate fate. Through their friend, Daniel, God had already revealed that their Messiah would come to establish an eternal kingdom that would displace all earthly kingdoms by establishing an eternal one. Nebuchadnezzar might make their earthly existence difficult, but he did not have the final word over their eternal destiny.
What Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego learned about God's heart from Daniel's prophecy, we also learn from their experience. They were cast into the furnace, but another appeared with them. Three men were cast in, but Nebuchadnezzar saw four in the fire, and the fourth looked divine (3:25). Nebuchadnezzar did not understand; we do. This was a biblical demonstration of the Immanuel principle. The angel who announced the coming of Jesus to his earthly family declared, "You shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us)" (Matthew 1:23). In so doing, the angel picked up a theme from Isaiah, the Old Testament prophet, who declared that God would save his people by coming to be with them (Isaiah 7:14). God consistently demonstrates his good character by his presence. He does not stand far off but keeps coming closer and closer to sinful, weak, and desperate people until he lives among them, dies for them, and, ultimately, indwells them in the person of Jesus.
The Immanuel principle appears at some of the most surprising places in Scripture, but the message is always the same: God with us. The very presence of God was with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in their desperate circumstances. God delivered the three, even though there were flames all about them. The same God who delivered these three delivers us. In the person of his Son, God came to be with us, endured the trials of this world, and suffered to deliver us from the flames of hell forever. Now we trust this God, knowing he always has our best interests at heart (Romans 8:32).
We trust God's provision not because our circumstances are always good, but because he has demonstrated that he is. He entered our lives in the dust of an animal stall. He gave his life on a cross made filthy by the guilt of our sin. Faith now rests in the love his presence has always demonstrated. When our religious optimism has dried up, we can still rest in his love. When we are not certain what the best turn of events might be, we can still rest in his love. When we are unable to predict how he will handle a situation, we can still rest in his love. Because the God who is all-powerful, and all-wise has shown how much he cares for us through the Cross of Jesus Christ, faith rests in his love even when the mind cannot search out his reasons. We trust him because, through his Son, God has shown how much he loves us. Faith rests in this love.
While I was pastoring a rural church in which farmers and coal miners—people accustomed to hard lives—predominated the congregation I heard a story that taught me much about the nature and foundation of true faith. There was once a miner—a stalwart believer—who was injured in the mines at a young age. He became an invalid. Over the years he watched through a window beside his bed as life passed him by. He watched men of his own age prosper, raise families, and have grandchildren. He watched, but he did not share the rewards or the joys of others with whom he had once worked. He watched as his body withered, his house crumbled, and his life wasted away.
Then, one day when the bedridden miner was quite old, a younger man came to visit him. "I hear that you believe in God and the claim that he loves you," said the young man. "How can you believe such things with what has happened to you? Don't you sometimes doubt God's love?"
The old man hesitated and then smiled. He said, "Yes, it is true. Sometimes Satan comes calling on me in this fallen down old house of mine. He sits right there by my bed where you are sitting now. He points out my window to the men I once worked with who are still strong and active, and Satan asks, 'Does Jesus love you?' Then Satan casts a jeering glance around my tattered room as he points to the fine homes of my friends across the street and asks again, 'Does Jesus love you?' And, then, at last Satan points to the grandchild of a friend of mine—a man who has everything I do not—and Satan waits for the tear in my eye, and then he whispers in my ear, 'Does Jesus really love you?'"
"And what do you say when Satan speaks to you that way?" asked the young man. The old miner said, "I take Satan by the hand, and I lead him in my mind to a hill far away called Calvary. There I point to the thorn-tortured brow, to the nail-pierced hands and feet, and to the spear-wounded side. Then I ask Satan, 'Doesn't Jesus love me?'"
The cross is the warrant for confidence in God, despite a life-long heartache. Had any of us stood at the foot of the cross and seen the horror, we might have cried out to God to stop the suffering. But God knew better. He did not stop it till the life of the One who hung there had bled away. The agony did not mean that God failed, nor that the faith of the One who died was weak. There was great suffering, but in the suffering there was a purpose so loving, so powerful, and so good that our eternity changed as a result—our sins were washed away. When our focus remains on the cross, our faith will not waver, though troubles come and human answers fail. Such faith does not depend on emotional intensity, on knowing what should happen, or on a certainty of what God will do. True, biblical faith acknowledges that God knows and is doing what is right, because he loves us.
For Your Reflection
Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? ___________________________________________
Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ____________________________________________________________________________
Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart?
Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? _____________________________________________________________________
Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it?
Bryan Chapell is the senior pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Peoria, Illinois.