Faith Starts and Ends with Jesus.
The Second Sunday in Lent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 15:21-28
In Christ Jesus, to whom we look as the founder and perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:2), dear fellow redeemed:
When dinner comes to a close at the parsonage, the head of the household slides out of his chair and heads to the cupboard or refrigerator to find something for dessert. This activity may go unnoticed by the older children, but not by the youngest. The youngest one, he knows all. He watches his daddy get up, walk over, and swing open the door. This triggers him to do two things: he sticks out his hand, palm up, and he says as sweet as can be, “Peeese!”
Now what do you think? Do you think that little boy expects to receive something because of how nicely he asks? Or is it because he trusts that his father will be gracious and generous? I suppose it could be a little bit of both. Except that if his request is denied, he does not blame himself, as though his asking were insufficient or unclear. Instead he protests, and begs his dad to reconsider. He is totally focused on his father, and the good things that he has the power to give.
It is tempting for us to focus especially on the Canaanite woman in today’s text. We marvel at her great faith. She would not stop petitioning Jesus until she received a definite answer to her prayer. We wish we had a faith like this that expressed itself with such boldness and confidence. But this woman did not go looking for Jesus because she thought her faith was strong enough to get what she wanted. She went looking for Jesus because her daughter had a demon, and she heard that Jesus had the power to help. She fixed her eyes on Him.
If this woman were focused on the power of her own faith, she would have been greatly disheartened when Jesus seemed to ignore what she was saying. “He did not answer her a word.” How many times did she cry out for His mercy? Enough so that Jesus’ disciples became annoyed by her. If she relied on her faith, she would have given up by then. She would have concluded that her faith was not strong enough to get Jesus to help her, and she would have returned home dejected.
That is what happens to any who try to comfort themselves by measuring their faith. What they are really measuring is their level of happiness and how they feel about God. If life is going well and they feel close to God, they imagine their faith is strong. But if their life is full of troubles and God seems very distant, they assume their faith is weak. Because if it were stronger, they probably wouldn’t have all this trouble—at least according to those multimillionaire preachers on TV….
But I cannot recall anywhere in the Bible where Jesus tells us that we can or should try to measure our own faith. This would be an utterly worthless pursuit. One way we might attempt to do this is by measuring Bible knowledge. But a person could have thorough knowledge of the Bible and not believe what it says. The devil knows the Bible, but he certainly doesn’t have faith. Another way we try to measure faith is when we observe a fellow Christian endure trials that we cannot imagine. We might even remark to them what a strong faith they have. But how could we know where their faith is? Their hearts and minds may be full of turmoil and doubt, and their faith may be hanging only by a thread.
It could very well be that the times I feel the strongest in my faith, I am actually weakest. At these times, my trust may be in my own power or ability, which cannot for a second withstand the temptations of the devil, the world, and my own flesh. Think of Peter who said to Jesus, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away…. Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” (Mt. 26:33,35). How confident Peter was! And yet just a matter of hours later, he repeatedly denied Jesus.
But the times I feel weakest, may actually be when faith is strong, because I know that I cannot make things better. Only God can. This is like the woman who had spent everything she had and tried every remedy to solve a twelve-year-long malady. She couldn’t make it better, but she told herself that “If I touch even [Jesus’] garments, I will be made well” (Mk. 5:28). She meekly reached out her hand, touched His clothes, and immediately she was healed. Or like the woman in today’s text. She had nowhere else to turn. Neither she nor anyone else could cast the demon out of her daughter. So in desperation she sought out Jesus, and He heard her plea.
Jesus told her she had great faith. She would have said she had a great Savior. That is what faith does. It does not look upon itself and try to take its own pulse. We hear well-meaning people say it all the time, but it is not our faith that gets us through anything. It is Jesus. Faith Starts and Ends with Jesus. He is the object of faith. Faith is simply trust, trust in something. That is why we say, “I believe in God the Father Almighty… And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord…. I believe in the Holy Spirit.” Faith is God’s gift to us that allows us to see Him and His grace, like a good pair of glasses does for someone with blurry vision, or like a telescope that reveals stars and galaxies that the naked human eye cannot see.
When Jesus told His disciples they had “little faith,” it was precisely when they overlooked His powerful presence. They thought they were going to die in a storm on the sea when Jesus was in the boat with them (Mk. 8:23-27). They also worried that they had forgotten to bring a supply of bread after Jesus had just provided bread for groups of 5,000 and 4,000 men (Mt. 16:8-11). Searching for help apart from Jesus caused them to have doubts and to be filled with fears.
As surely as He was with His disciples, Jesus is with you through the means of grace. The more you avail yourself of these gifts—hearing the Word and receiving the Sacraments with a repentant heart—the stronger your faith will be. But if you take these things for granted and fail to hear the Word regularly, or if you don’t take it seriously when you hear it, then your faith will surely weaken and eventually die. Jesus and His Word should not be considered just a part of your life, the church part, which you may or may not exercise once a week. Rather, Jesus is your life. There is no life apart from Him. Without Him you are lost, hopeless, dead. That is the message of God’s holy Word.
The Word works faith in your heart, so that you believe in Jesus. And the Word renews and sharpens that focus, so that you remain in Him. This anchor of the Word is crucial for you as you are tossed around on the sea of your doubts, troubles, and sins. These things lead you away from Jesus, but the Word points you back to Him. If God ever seems to be ignoring you, or if you get the impression that He is punishing you for something, go to His Word. Don’t go by how things seem to be, or how you feel. Like the desperate woman who trusted the Word, hold tightly to what you have been taught. She had been told Jesus was merciful, and she was going to believe it unless He informed her otherwise.
You can be just as bold and brazen as she. You can bring your honest petitions before God, both the big ones and the small ones. Whether or not God gives you what you ask is not a question of the quality of your faith. It is a question of His mercy and His will for your life. For the things He has promised, like your daily bread, forgiveness, and salvation, you can ask with full confidence that He will supply them. For everything else, you can ask with the same confidence, but always as it pleases Him, according to His will. For example if you pray for healing, He may heal, or else He will give you strength and peace to bear the affliction. You can pray continuously like the Canaanite woman did, fully confident that your prayers will be answered.
If the answer seems a long time in coming, that does not mean God loves you any less. He loves you from Eden to Golgotha. He loves you from the empty tomb to the baptismal font. He loves you from your table to His. He loves you through every year, every sin, every doubt, every trial. The Lord loves you all the way to heaven. That is where you are going through faith in Jesus. He has been merciful to you. He has redeemed you, a lost and condemned creature. He has forgiven you all your sin.
Do not worry about the measure of your faith. Leave that to God. Concern yourself instead with His Word and promises. Focus on the One who saved you, and who has good gifts for you. A little boy may be disappointed in his daddy come dessert time. But your hope in Jesus will not be disappointed. He will not refuse you His good gifts, because He has already promised to give them. These gifts are so great, that even their crumbs would be enough to satisfy and fill you. But the Master wants you at His table with all His children, for whom He has prepared a rich feast of salvation in Christ Jesus.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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