Let’s go back to last week’s lesson before moving on. While the Lord Jesus was at the top of Mt. Hermon being transfigured before Peter, James and John, the rest of the disciples were down below in the valley struggling to help some people in need. This is described in all three of the Synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke. A man had brought his demon-possessed son to the disciples seeking their help, but they couldn’t. When Christ, freshly off the mount, was approached with the problem, He mildly rebuked everyone, and then STERNLY rebuked the demon. That evil spirit instantly left the child, and the boy was back in his right mind. “Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out? And Jesus said unto them, Because of your UNBELIEF: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.”
There are several important lessons here. One involves the relationship between the disciples and the glorified Saviour. Christ’s transfiguration was a temporary metamorphosis into the glory which was His from before creation. It is also the glory which He enjoys today – the glory to which He returned after His ascension. Today, He is on the holy mount, while we are here in the Spokane valley trying to do His will and to represent His name. And like the those early disciples, we are impotent without the blessing and power of God. We want to free lost sinners from the chains of their spiritual bondage, but we have no power. If the Lord doesn’t deliver them there is nothing we can do.
But how can a lowly disciple access the power of the omnipotent? The Lord tells us – “Through faith you can cast out demons, remove mountains and do the seemingly impossible.” But then He included an addendum – “Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.” What has prayer and fasting got to do with faith and the service of God? Apparently it has a great deal to do with it.
Mark adds a short conversation between the father of this demon-possessed child and Christ, which I hope was overheard by some of the disciples. “Jesus said unto him, If thou canst BELIEVE, all things are possible to him that believeth. And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” There is faith and there is faith. This is true even in disciples. Christ said, “Disciples, with faith you can cast out demons, but it must be a higher degree of faith than you ordinarily possess.” There is the superficial, intellectual, doctrinal variety of faith, like“I believe in the sovereignty of God.” And there Is the faith which comes about through the struggles of self-sacrifice and earnest prayer – “I am depending and risking everything on the sovereignty of God in this difficult situation.” “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.”
Still with the purpose of introduction to this message we go back to our opening scripture. The Lord Jesus returned home to Galilee and began to teach the Word of God in the local synagogue. He surprised everyone by speaking with an authority of which the rabbis could only dream. He used parables, stories and illustrations to express and expound eternal truth, but it was with characteristics of God Himself. The people were astonished – “When hath this man this wisdom and these mighty works?” “This is Jesus, the son of Joseph. His mother is called Mary and we know his brothers and sisters.” Matthew 13 closes with the words, “And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief.” It sounds as if the Lord would have been willing to do MORE mighty works in Galilee, but He didn’t. He apparently did SOME mighty works, but not many. And the reason He didn’t do more is explained in the unbelief of the people. What could He have done? The sky is the limit so to speak.
Unbelief is a malady – a plague – which hinders saints, enslaves sinners and urges God hold back His blessings. It is a particularly ugly sin, which can be found in the otherwise most beautiful, saintly faces.
I’ve jotted down a few random thoughts about unbelief that I’d like to share with you this morning. These aren’t in any particular order and they don’t proceed upward to any sort of climax. But they need to be said, because this sin needs to be expunged from our hearts.
Would it surprise you to learn that the words “unbelief” and “unbeliever” cannot be found in the Old Testament? It’s not that this kind of people aren’t in the first section of the Bible, but these particular words aren’t. And there are two different words translated “unbelief” and “unbeliever” in the New Testament. “Apisitia” and “apistos” come from the negative of “pistos” which is usually translated “faith.” This variety of unbelief is what we would expect it to be – a lack of faith. But there is a similar sounding word “apeitheia” and “apeitheo” which are negatives of “obedience.” Mankind is expected and commanded to believe in the reality of God the Creator and to trust Him. We are to believe and trust all that God has told us. When the gospel is preached, people are commanded to put their trust in the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. When people refuse – they are not only unbelievers, but they are willingly disobedient.
This word is used most often in describing the unbelieving Jews – the people disobedient to the revelation God had given to them since the days of Abraham and Jacob. And I suppose that to most of those listening to me this morning who refuse to believe on Christ, they are just as much disobedient as they are unbelievers.
Now consider how either form of unbelief affects God.
I know that Jehovah doesn’t have the same emotions that you and I have, but we are confined to what we know, when we try to think of the Lord or to explain Him. So put yourselves in God’s shoes for a moment – How do you feel when you tell someone the truth, but he shouts into your face that he doesn’t believe you? Doesn’t it hurt? God doesn’t have the same kind of feelings, but….. Doesn’t it make you angry when that other person treats your testimony with such disdain? Aren’t you vexed when someone questions your veracity? Perhaps you have made a promise to someone, but he says he thinks you have no intention of keeping your word. You remind him that you have kept all your past promises, and still he says you are lying to him now. Now how do you feel? Doesn’t it seem as if he has poked a stick in your eye? How do you respond?
Let’s change the example slightly – you have told your neighbor that he’s about to make a big mistake. He laughs at you, letting you know he thinks you are stupid, and he forges ahead. You may feel slightly sorry when he gets hurt, but isn’t there also a sort of satisfaction? Hasn’t the Lord blessed and blessed and blessed us all in so many different ways for so very long? Now He comes to us through His Word with another promise – or with a warning – or with a clear statement of doctrine. When we refuse to believe Him, it must be like a stick plunged deep into the divine eye. How can we expect NOT to be rebuked or punished for our unbelief?
Remember Who is it that we have not believed. It is not your pastor, who simply read the word of God to you, or who explained its meaning. And it’s not your wife or your husband. There are fewer sharper pains than the one which comes when our spouse doesn’t believe us. But the Lord is more to be trusted and loved than our spouse or pastor, and the Lord loves His people more supremely. Jehovah is the God who cannot lie. He is not simply SINCERE in what He has told us, He is the omniscient, sovereign and holy God. After years of His constant grace – blessing after blessing – why do we now distrust Him? This is not simple “unbelief” – it is blatant “disobedience.” It is an ugly, ugly sin.
In Mark 16 after Jesus’ resurrection – after John and Peter found the tomb empty… After those Christian ladies had talked with the angels and were told to report back to the disciples… After Mary Magdalene told the eleven that she had been with the risen Saviour, they believed her not. After the two from Emmaus returned telling everyone they had seen the Christ, “neither believed they them.” “Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen” – Mark 16:14. Christ “upbraided” them – He reproached, He reviled them – not only FOR their distrust, but WITH their distrust.
Unbelief is an ugly sin in the sight of God – If I might put it this way – “It HURTS the Lord.”
Think of some of the characteristics of unbelief particularly in the heart of a Christian.
Unbelief is a fungus of the heart which with a little light and damp cloth can be kept from growing. It arises from a lack of meditation and thought; a lack of contemplation and consideration of the Word. The two disciples, who were returning to Emmaus after the crucifixion of Christ, were met by the Lord. He chatted with them and questioned them. They confessed that they had heard of the ladies’ testimony, and they knew that Jesus’ tomb was empty. “Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.” Unbelief is a fungus which feasts on the denial of what the Holy Spirit has taught us.
This lack of consideration runs hand in hand with an inconsistency with our profession – our profession of faith. Don’t you think those disciples would have been quick to say that they believed the Bible? We are fundamental Baptists. We take the Bible to be the inspired word of God; we take the Bible literally. God said it and that settles it, so quite naturally I believe it. But do we believe it – do we REALLY believe all that God says? Do we believe the promises which the Lord has given to us, and peacefully live our lives in them? Jesus had repeatedly told the disciples about His upcoming death and the resulting resurrection. Christ had told them that Jonah in the belly of the fish was an illustration of His stay in the tomb. But those disciples – all those disciples – were so opposed to the thought, they refused to adhere to their general profession of faith, which declared, “We believe what God has said.” If God said it, then we must believe it or we become unbelievers.
In Hebrews Paul urges the people of Israel to put their faith in Jesus – the Christ, the Messiah. He points out that their forefathers in the generation of Moses failed to enter the promised land because of their unbelief. He says in 3:12 – “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end; While it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation. For some, when they had heard, did provoke: howbeit not all that came out of Egypt by Moses. But with whom was he grieved forty years? was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcases fell in the wilderness? And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.”
The people of Moses’ generation refused the blessing of God through their unbelief. There was absolutely nothing which kept them out of the land of promise, except their unbelief. It wasn’t through any false doctrine they had heard. It wasn’t because of other sins they were committing. The reason they died in the wilderness rather than entering the Promised Land was their unbelief. And again I point out it wasn’t merely a lack of faith, but an actual rebellion against the revealed will of God. Paul was saying, don’t be like them – believe the promise.
With a slight play on words, those who were slow of heart to believe, were in a hurry not to believe. “Then (Jesus) said unto (the two brethren on the road to Emmaus), O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.” They said to the Lord, “Beside all this, this is the third day.” But the third day apparently had not yet ended. What if they had remained with or close to the others? At nearly the setting of the sun – before the fourth day – Christ Jesus met with the eleven in a closed upper room. “Thomas, you old unbeliever, put your finger or hand into my wounds, and prove to yourself that I am the Christ, the Son of God.” Maybe these two on the highway were in too much of a hurry to keep themselves from falling into unbelief. They were like people running from some imaginary fear and falling into a pit in their blind haste. What if they had waited a full month and half, and seen the risen Saviour several times? In Isaiah the Lord GOD said, “Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.” He that believes the Lord can afford to move as slowly as He wills. And He who moves slowly, contemplating all that the Lord has revealed will be a person of faith.
How much of God’s Word must we reject before we should be labeled an “unbeliever”? Intellectually we know that “all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen unto the glory of God by us,” but what of the many individual promises? There is faith and there is faith There is unbelief which is a lack of faith and there is unbelief which is rebellion against God’s truth. “Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the LORD delivereth him out of them all.” “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.” “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.” There are hundreds of divine promises to the child of God; but how many are we fully trusting?
The results of our ugly unbelief can be disastrous.
It is a guaranteed source of suffering. Consider again those two on the road to Emmaus. What was the state of their hearts? Were they joyful? Expectant? Hopeful? They were hurting. And why? Unbelief. I’m sure they might have attributed their grief to other things, if the Lord hadn’t been there to rebuke it. They might have blamed disappointment – “But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel.” They might have tried to blame the Lord Himself for their down-cast hearts. But their sorrow was kept ablaze by their unbelief.
It destroys our ability to serve the Lord. What could those two saints have done to glorify God’s name, back in Emmaus without the Saviour? Could they preach the gospel? Not with a dead and buried Saviour. Could they teach the second coming? Not if the first coming ended in disaster. How much of Isaiah could they teach, when they denied the very heart of that book? And what about the Messianic Psalms? Could they expound the Davidic Covenant or the Abrahamic Covenant? Not with a dead and buried Saviour. Did they have any joy in the Lord to share with the people of their community? They couldn’t talk about the love of God any more than they could about the hope of the saint. They were in the middle of the lake without a paddle, oar or sail.
Taking that point one small step to the side, unbelief in the believer fuels the unbelief in the unbeliever. Unbelief is a virus that can spread with great speed. It is worse than the black death. That newly converted babe watches other saints as much as he listens to sermons and reads the Bible. When a long-lived, immature saint shows signs of distrust and confusion, that new believer, without the immune system which comes with time and experience, can be thrown into consternation.
And when we are speaking of the person with no faith at all, our unbelief can be eternally disastrous. Without suggesting that Christians are mere salesmen, think about the car salesman for a moment. If he wants to sell that car, he needs to display confidence in that car – it is the best vehicle for the money. When we lack confidence – that is – faith in the Lord and His promises – how can we convince someone else to trust Him? We represent our Saviour here on earth; we are the Lord’s ambassadors. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians – “Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, that ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled…” How can we beseech others to trust in Christ if we are shaken in mind and troubled?
I believe in the imminent return of the Lord Jesus Christ, because that is what the Bible tells me. I also believe that anyone without Christ at His return will be for ever lost. If you have not been born again you will spend eternity in the Lake of Fire. I believe – I know – that if you put your trust in the sacrifice of the Christ on the cross, you will be delivered from the punishment of your sins – you will be made a child of God. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.”