Sunday, 21 June 2009

The Richmond Briefing

A weekly Bible reading for Bridge Builders

The Richmond Briefing has been a weekly feature of the Reachout web site for five years and is now available on the blog. To find out more and read earlier briefings go here

Reading – The Test of Faith (Mark 8:1-30)

Faith is a strange thing. Everyone thinks they know what it is yet many people you might expect to have it fail to exercise it. We are told that “Herod feared John [the Baptist]...knowing him to be a righteous and holy man” (Mk.6:20) Yet Herod had John beheaded at the whim of his wife. Knowing things to be true is not the same thing as having faith it seems.

When Jesus was moved by compassion for the people that had followed him for three days he shared his concern with his disciples (Mk.8:1-4) who began to wonder where on earth they were going to get food for so many in such a remote area. Jesus sat the crowd down and fed them. The disciples had seen Jesus do this and many other miracles before but were slow to realise what was really going on. Being around holiness is not the same thing as having faith either. You don’t ‘catch’ faith from others or absorb it by osmosis and you can’t live on borrowed light.

The Pharisees came to test Jesus and asked him for a sign from heaven (Mk.8:11). Of all the people who had followed Jesus the Pharisees seem to have been among the most consistent as they sought every opportunity to catch him out. They had probably seen and heard reports of more miracles than anyone, yet they were not convinced and demanded greater proof. Jesus’ answer is very interesting:

“Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given it”

Jesus had already given ample proof of his credentials and no further sign would be forthcoming not because he couldn’t perform more miracles but because the request for proof came from unbelief. They were not interested in signs and proof and even when Jesus gave the greatest sign of all in his resurrection they remained sceptical. Seeing wonderful things done in the name of God is not the same as faith. Having faith is not a spectator sport.

When Jesus warned them to “beware the yeast of the Pharisees” (Mk.8:15) they totally misunderstood him and thought he was angry that they had not brought bread with them. But Jesus was not talking about bread but about the sin of pride and unbelief that refused to see the clear evidence presented in Jesus’ teaching and miracles. Faith is not simply outward things evidenced in the religious observances of the Pharisees or the finery of the court of Herod and their lip service.

The miracle at Bethsaida (Mk.8:22-26) illustrated very well how faith comes gradually. Just as the man began to see people looking like trees walking around so the disciples and followers of Jesus, because of hardened hearts, did not see everything clearly immediately. But just as the man’s “eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly” so the disciples would eventually see everything clearly. Of course, Herod and many of the Pharisees were so hardened in their hearts that they would remain blind because they refused to see.

Finally, Jesus asked them directly “Who do people say I am?” There had been much speculation and people accepted he was one of the prophets but couldn’t agree on which one.

’But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’

Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ’

Here Peter identifies the focus of Christian faith. It is the most important question anyone will ever be asked – who is Jesus? When we come to see, like Peter, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and confess it then we enter into a living relationship with him (Ro.10:9-13) We may not see everything clearly at first but as we trust him (which is what Christian faith is) so our vision clears and we trust him more because he alone can save us from our sins, from the hardness of our hearts. Indeed, he alone can transform our hearts so that we come to trust him completely. Only transformed hearts and lives can live for him and only such hearts can issue in works of service that are acceptable to God (Eph.2:10)

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