1 And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! 2 It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. 3 Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, 4 and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”
5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
7 “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? 8 Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? 9 Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
You heard Him. Jesus guaranteed it. They are coming. Our translation says, “Temptations to sin,” but that is very weak. Scandals, snares are sure to come. The image is something that causes your faith to fall flat on its face. This is eternally serious. Jesus is talking about things that trip up your faith.
Jesus tells us about three scandals to our faith.
The first is your forgiveness. Not the forgiveness you receive from God, that is perfect, complete, as-far-as-the-east-is-from-the-west forgiveness. No, your problem is your lack of forgiveness toward others. Your unforgiveness can cause you to doubt the forgiveness you receive from God. When someone sins against you, how do you respond?
Jesus says, “If your brother sins, rebuke him. If he repents, forgive him.” You’re fine with that. “Hey, man, you stepped on my toe.” “Oops. Sorry, dude.” “Ah. It’s alright. I forgive you.” No problems there. But what happens when he steps on your toe again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again – seven times? You start to wonder if he’s doing it intentionally. It doesn’t matter if it is intentional. Jesus says, “If he sins against you seven times in a day and says, ‘I repent.’ You must forgive him.” It isn’t an option. Forgiveness is never an option.
Your lack of forgiveness is one of the greatest stumbling blocks to faith. Don’t fall for the trap. Don’t get tripped up. Don’t scandalize yourself. You can always find reasons to not forgive someone. You can always find ways to justify yourself for not forgiving others. But then you pray the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive me as I forgive others.” And you are caught.
If you can’t forgive others, you can’t be forgiven. When you don’t forgive others you perpetuate a lie. You are, in fact, trying to redefine forgiveness. You believe that forgiveness has limits. When you don’t forgive others you only hurt yourself because you call into question the fact that forgiveness is never earned or deserved. Forgiveness is always about grace.
God forgives you knowing that you will turn around and do the same thing again. God forgives you because of Jesus’ blood, Jesus’ death, and Jesus’ perfect life. Forgiveness does not and cannot originate with you. Instead, it flows from the fountain of God’s forgiveness. Jesus reconciles you first to the Father and then to the one who sins against you. Unforgiveness is the first stumbling block to faith.
We’re going to skip over the second scandal for now. So the third scandal to our faith is the idea of merit and worthiness.
Jesus warns us about this scandal by asking a question with a little parable. “If you have a servant who works in your fields or tends your sheep, when he comes in, do you make supper for him? No! Instead, a master tells his servant, ‘Ok, Frank. Now that you’re done in the field, clean up and make me some supper.’ And a master doesn’t need to thank the servant because that is what a servant is supposed to do. So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”
Don’t pat yourself on the back for doing what God commands. Don’t compare your obedience to others’ obedience. Whenever you do what God commands, you are simply doing your duty. God isn’t going to reward you. And remember the kind of Master you serve – the one who came not to be served but to serve you. On the Last Day, when Jesus says to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” you don’t say, “Finally, You notice all the work I have done for You.” No! Instead, you say, “I am an unworthy servant. I have only done what was my duty.”
Now, back to the second scandal, which is likely the most common scandal you and I face. It is in v. 5-6. The disciples ask Jesus, “Lord, increase our faith.”
Now, it is important here to understand what the disciples are doing right and what they are doing wrong. They are asking Jesus for faith, and that is right. Faith is a gift that comes only from God. But they are asking Jesus for more faith, and that is wrong. Here’s why:
First of all, faith isn’t something that can be measured. And secondly, if you ask God for more faith, what you are saying is that the gift of faith that God has given you isn’t enough. You are saying that God needs do something more for you. When you ask for more faith, you aren’t looking at what God has done; you are looking at yourself, at your belly button.
Be careful here. Do you remember the story (Mk. 9:14-29) of the father who had a son with a demon that made the boy mute and threw the boy into terrible seizures? The father had asked the disciples for help, they couldn’t. The father brings the boy to Jesus, and says, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus responds, “’If I can,’ all things are possible for the one who believes.” The father says, “I believe; help my unbelief,” which is very similar to the disciples’ request, “Increase our faith.” But there is a massive difference.
When the father says, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief,” he is asking Jesus for forgiveness – even if he doesn’t know it. Romans 14:23 says, “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” But when the disciples asked Jesus to increase their faith, they were looking in the wrong direction. They were looking at themselves, their own faith, instead of looking at Jesus.
Faith always believes in something. Today, many people sound like the disciples. “I just wish I had more faith.” “I just need to trust God more.” Do you see how that puts the comfort, the assurance, back on yourself? Repent. Turn away from thinking that your faith is insufficient. Don’t fall over that stumbling block, that scandal.
Faith is God’s gift to you. God grants you faith that you might be full of faith. When you look at your own faith, you won’t find much because there isn’t anything to look at. But if you look to Jesus, you see the author and perfector of your faith (Heb. 12:2).
When the disciples asked Jesus to increase their faith, Jesus didn’t say, “Yes,” or, “No.” Instead, Jesus says, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could tell trees to jump into the ocean and they would.” But God isn’t interested in you being a horticulturalist. Christians would have the best yards. “Hey, tree, you are really nice. I like you. Come over here to my yard.” Instead, God is interested in justifying you.
Jesus puts the kibosh on you looking at your faith. Jesus wants you to see that He is always faithful. Don’t ask yourself, “Do I have enough faith?” That is the wrong question. The only answer to that question is, “Do I have enough Jesus?” Because you can never have a little Jesus.
And Jesus is here today to give Himself, Body and Blood, to you once again. Jesus is always faithful to you. Look to Him and His faithfulness today and always. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.