Great Series of Books

The Gospel According to the Old Testament Series is a great series for preachers to have.

The newest title on David, Elijah and Elisha, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Jonah, Daniel, Worship, Job

What is so great about this series is that they deliberately and unashamedly take us to see Christ in the Old Testament, whereas few of the grammatical commentaries ever do that. So, for preachers (lay-people can read these quite easily) who want to show Christ in the pages of the Old Testament, the series is a gold-mine. Highly recommended.

Jesus and Weak Faith

Matthew 9:18-26

Audio Version

“If only I had had enough faith, God would have done what I asked.” These words haunt many people. They think that God’s faithfulness depends on our faith. They think that they should have the faith that is even as small as a mustard seed. After all, that doesn’t sound very difficult. How hard can it be to have faith the size of a mustard seed? So, when their faith doesn’t accomplish what they think it should, then they paralyze themselves with questions like the one above. They think that God will not answer unless their faith is strong. We are actually going to see something quite different from this passage. What we will see is that Jesus, far from cutting down someone for having a small faith, commends them for having any faith at all. Furthermore, He does what they ask them, despite the fact that their faith was small, and sometimes wrong-headed.

First, a ruler comes to Jesus. We learn from Mark that he was a ruler of the synagogue. He was a very well-respected man. His name, as we also learn from Mark and Luke, was Jairos. He came to Jesus in an obviously desperate state. He must have desperate indeed to come to Jesus at all, since he was one of the rulers of the synagogue. The rulers of the synagogue were not exactly sympathetic to what Jesus was doing. I’m sure that this was Jairos’ last resort. He had exhausted all the other possibilities, and Jesus was the only one left.

Now, we have a difficulty here in the text. In Matthew, Jairos simply tells Jesus that his daughter was dead. In Mark and Luke, however, the girl is not dead when Jairos first comes to Jesus. Rather, it is after the miracle of healing the woman that someone comes to Jairos and tells him that his daughter is dead. Do we have a contradiction here? Not at all. Matthew is merely abbreviating the story, so that the power of Jesus is front and center in everyone’s attention. He wants us to keep Jesus in the center of the picture here. By abbreviating the conversation, he simply has Jairos tell Jesus that his girl is dead. This has the effect of making Jesus’ power over death the central issue.

Now, it is plain from this that Jairos’ faith, though not huge, is still a belief in Jesus’ power over death. He plainly thinks that Jesus can raise his little girl from the dead. The weakness of his faith can be seen from the fact that he wants Jesus to come and touch his daughter. As we saw from the story of the centurion, that is not necessary for Jairos to believe. If his faith was indeed strong, then he would have believed that Jesus didn’t have to come and lay His hand on her. He should have known that Jesus could heal with a word, even from a distance. And the fact that he viewed Jesus as a sort of last resort is also proof of the weakness of his faith.

However, note carefully here that Jesus does not reproach him one bit for his weak faith. Instead, He rises instantly to go to this man’s house. He is there to help. He and his disciples rise to go help this man.

However, before they can get there, they are interrupted by this woman, who had a flow of blood. She also had a true, but weak faith. She also thought it was necessary for physical contact to be made with Jesus in order for healing to take place. In this respect, she is just like Jairos. Her faith is true in that she believed that Jesus had the power to heal her. It was weak, however, in believing that it had to happen by touch. In the other accounts, we learn that she had spent all her money on doctors. None of them had been able to heal her. Luke implies that this was because no human could actually heal her.

Notice again, however, that Jesus, despite her weak faith, did not turn her away. Quite the contrary, He tells her to take courage. She was obviously afraid of approaching Jesus directly. Instead, she comes up behind Jesus to touch Him. This was probably because her condition made her ceremonially unclean. She was not supposed to touch anyone, because anyone she touched would also be ceremonially unclean. So, this woman, in addition to her faith being weak, was also selfish in deciding to take this course of action, rather than talking to Jesus face to face. But Jesus doesn’t let her weak faith be an obstacle to His saving grace. Instead, He encourages her faith by telling her that her faith is true. That is the point that Jesus emphasizes here, not the weakness of her faith.

Jesus tells her that her faith has healed her. We must be careful in interpreting this statement. Otherwise, we will be tempted to go the route of faith-healing. Faith-healers misunderstand this passage entirely. They ignore how weak the faith of these people were, and instead tell you that if your faith is only large enough, then you can be healed of your physical disease. The reason that this idea is so dangerous is not only that it misinterprets the Bible, which is dangerous enough. But furthermore, their teaching has the effect of nullifying people’s faith. Think about it. If you are going up to be healed by someone, and they tell you only to have enough faith, and you strive with all your might to have faith, but you don’t get healed, then what? Your faith is absolutely devastated. You doubt your salvation, you doubt that God loves you, all of this. It is ironic, isn’t it? Faith healers, in trying to be faithful to this passage, wind up doing the exact opposite of what Jesus does. Faith healers destroy faith; Jesus builds up faith.

Now, to interpret the statement positively, we must first appreciate what faith is. Faith, as Hebrews tells us, is the hope of what is not seen. It is trust in God. As such, it always has an object. You trust IN someone. Faith is not some kind of trust in nothing. In order to have faith, you must trust in something or someone. Proper faith, therefore, is trust in God, specifically, trust in the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is the belief and the trust that Jesus Christ came to save sinners, and that you are one of that number that Jesus came to save. That is faith. Faith is not really anything in and of itself. It only has cash value in relationship to the object of faith. So when Jesus says to this woman, “Your faith has saved you,” he is not saying that she can thereby take glory to herself for her great faith. What He is saying is that the object of her faith, to whom she is connected by her faith, has made her well. That is, Jesus made her well. Faith is not the cause by which we are saved. Rather, it is the instrument by which we lay hold of Christ, who does save us.

The last part of our story goes back to the ruler’s house, where there are the professional mourners and flute-players there. There would have been quite a large number of them, since Jairos was a well-respected and probably well-off synagogue ruler. Jesus tells the crowd that the girl is not dead, but rather asleep. It is vital to understand that Jesus does not mean this literally. The girl is actually dead. Jesus is not telling us here that the girl is merely in a natural sleep. Jesus uses very similar language in the passage about Lazarus in John 11. There He says to His disciples that Lazarus is sleeping. His disciples are confused there, as well. They thought Jesus meant natural sleep, whereas Jesus meant that Lazarus was dead. The same thing is true here. Jesus means that the girl is dead. However, what He is saying is that, in relationship to His resurrection power, she is only asleep. In other words, death is not final. What Jesus is getting at here is much more clearly seen after His resurrection from the dead. Since Christ came to conquer death, He demonstrates here that He has power over death.

So, have you placed your faith in Christ Jesus as the object of your faith? It doesn’t really matter how strong your faith is in this respect, as long as it is true faith. Jesus is gentle when it comes to people with weak faith. He does not snuff out a smoldering wick, or break a bruised reed. Instead, He heals people. Of course, Jesus’ physical healing of people points more importantly to their spiritual healing. This is clear from the language used here, where the normal word for “save” is used of the physical healing. I think Matthew means to point us to the spiritual realities to which these physical healings point. Now, Jesus never wants your faith to remain weak. He wants your faith to grow. That is why He gives you the means of grace. In this passage, He wants your faith to grow because you can realize that Christ is gentle, loving, willing to help, and not overly critical.

Of course, in those respects, we can imitate Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. We also should be gentle, loving, willing to help, and not overly critical. We might have a stronger faith than our neighbor does. But are you going to help that person’s faith along, or are you going to stand in judgment over him by telling him that he didn’t get what he wanted because his faith wasn’t strong enough. That is not the way to deal with another person’s weak faith. The way to deal with it is to imitate Christ, who loved weak, faithless sinners like you and like me, and healed us.