Dearly Beloved By Christ:
John was Christmas shopping at the Mall. The lots were packed. He kept circling, and circling and circling for a spot. Suddenly he saw tail lights up ahead and gave a sigh of relief. The white car backed out. But before John could nose in another unseen car beat him to it! He fumed. He went back to circling and finally exclaimed: “Lord, if you give me a parking spot, I’ll donate an extra $1000 to church.” Boom. Just like that another car pulled out right ahead of him. Rejoicing, he pulled his Honda into the spot. Then he sighed, “Forget it, God, I just found a spot.”
Maybe we haven’t done that at the Mall, and we laugh as we hear it. But it’s no laughing matter, is it. John’s situation sheds light on how we pray and how we use or misuse prayer. Prayer can be a last resort when all else seems to fail. Then, too, we often fail to tap prayer’s power or trust in its effectiveness. Or, maybe something happens in our lives and we caulk it up to coincidence instead of God’s answer to our prayer. As shallow and underutilized as prayer may become in our lives, how important to hear these words of Christ spoken a few days before He died: “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt…you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”
Wow! What a promise! If you believe, you will receive. If you don’t doubt, it will be done. Really? How could Jesus make such an outlandish statement? Let’s consider the context. It was early in Holy Week. After spending the night in rural Bethany, Jesus was heading west into the city of Jerusalem with His disciples. Along the path they came across a fig tree in full bloom. Normally, if a fig tree has leaves, it also has fruit as the fruit and foliage appear simultaneously. But as Jesus went to pick breakfast off of it, voila! No fruit. It was barren. It was a hypocrite tree—nice on the outside and worthless on the inside. So, Jesus said: “May you never bear fruit again!” Boom. Immediately the tree withered.
If you were Peter or Philip and saw this happen, what would be your reaction? Whoa….Back on the boat in that awful storm, He calmed it by one word: “Silence!” Back when I walked the shoreline of Galilee and picked out baskets of leftovers from the lunch of a small boy that fed thousands—and now this? Those newly blackened leaves testify that this man I’m following—I don’t know if words can truly describe Him, He takes a backseat to no one, not even nature. His power is wondrous and amazing.
Then, as you’re looking at that withered tree and contemplating what you’ve just seen, this powerful Jesus redirects your eyes, “You think that’s amazing. Look at those mountains. As tall as they are, as solid as they are, if you have faith, if you don’t doubt, at your command they can fall into the sea 4000 feet below and behind you!” If you’re Peter of Philip, do you believe Him? Absolutely. You don’t doubt for a second. Why? Because you’ve already seen it happen, you’ve seen his power at work.
That is the key when it comes to unlocking the beauty and comfort of Jesus words: “I tell you the truth” before us tonight. All too often when we hear those words we focus on the word “you.” But what makes Jesus’ statement true is knowing the One Who stands behind it. It’s knowing His power. God’s Son makes the promise. He says: “I tell you the truth…faith can move mountains.” His promise and power make prayer effective. His promise and power make your faith powerful. In other words, moving mountains isn’t dependent on you, but on the One in Whom you believe.
That fact is vital for us to remember, especially during Lent. During this season, our hymn tunes are often in minor keys, our “Alleluias” are temporarily missing, we are led to contemplate the seriousness of our sins. Words like “repentance” and “confession” dominate our services and devotionals. While this season of Lent is valuable in magnifying our love for the Lord, there’s also a danger. As we see our hands pound in those nails, hear our voice amid the mocking crowd, it’s easy to despair. “What kind of a believer am I? What kind of faith do I really have?” Satan wants nothing less than for us to rest the validity of our faith on our words and actions. Satan wants us to base the of our faith on how we’ve seen our prayers answered in the past. “I prayed that Mom wouldn’t die of that stroke, but she did. I prayed for a better marriage, but it got worse. I must be doubting God.” Then with our faith shaken, we start to wonder: “Do I really believe?” Or, “Do I believe enough in Jesus?” Or worse, we question: “Is Jesus worth believing in? Can I really trust Him when He says the mountain will fall into the sea?” I’ve never seen a mountain do so, have you?
Of course, Jesus’ Lenten pathway is not about making mountains fall. His point is that He can. He’s that powerful. And through prayer the disciples, us, can tap into that power. What a loving truth to teach His disciples right before He dies! In a few days they would see Jesus captured, beaten, crucified and killed at the hands of ungodly men. Their faith would be shaken. Yet, they could go back to this tree and replay this conversation. And in doing so, they would be reminded that Christ did not die in weakness because Satan outsmarted Him. No, He died of His own accord. As a result, they could have faith, mountain-moving faith. Would they always remember this truth? No. Think of them cowering in that locked upper room. But no matter how they acted, this truth still stood and still stands today: “I tell you the truth, you tell this mountain to fall into the sea and it will be done!”
The same goes for us. Never mistake Jesus’ suffering for weakness. Through the eyes of Scripture we’ve seen Jesus do more than collapse mountains or wither fig trees. We’ve seen Him tempted by Satan and stand up to it. That’s power. We will see Him pick up Malchus’ severed ear and heal it all with a touch. That’s power. We will see Him take bread and wine and turn it into His true Body and Blood. That’s power. We will see Him die on Calvary’s cross thereby destroying Satan’s power over us forever. That’s power. We’ll see His lifeless body resurrected. That’s power. We’ll see Thomas placing his finger into that wound of Christ and then hear those words: “Stop doubting and believe.” And we’ll also see God’s Son rise into heaven to prepare in power, a place just for us. Right now He invites us tap His power through prayer. Do it, not as a last resort or a desperate plea, but as a primary blessing reserved just for you and me.
Will we forget this at times? Of course. We’re sinners. Will we question His wisdom and cower in our fears? Obviously. But fears don’t change facts. And this fact remains: “I tell you the truth…your faith can move mountains.” All this because it relies and rests upon the One who has tree-withering, death-defying, sin-erasing, Satan-squelching power. Like the disciples, may that lead us to be amazed and to pray…..Amen