Matthew 17:14-27 Part 3

Last Lord’s Day I promised that today we would deal with the issue of faith in some depth.  It has arisen in the text of the words of our Lord, and, as always, we must approach the inspired Word with fear and trembling – knowing that the Spirit and the Word is the very source of life for us.  To exist outside of His Word is separation and death; and to mishandle His Word (as the Pharisees did) is an abomination.

Now, in preparation for setting the context and examining the text of our Lord’s words, (and since “faith” is this morning’s primary emphasis from that text) I want to address, just for a few minutes, the subject of the “Reformed Faith”.  And, hopefully, everyone will see the connection with verses nineteen and twenty when we get through.

But this Church, with a possible new location and some advertising and some evangelizing from its members, will maybe be able to address the community once again and make its presence known.  And our tendency is (with the prospect of some visitors and maybe even new members) is to think about ways in which we might accommodate them.  We don’t have a graded Sunday School in which we separate children, by age, from their parents (families); we don’t have buses or a young people’s building with a kitchen and a skating rink; and we don’t have a band and a choir and single’s program!  What we do have (by today’s societal – cultural – standards) is some “divisive” peculiarities!  And the general opinion of the predominant culture is that we remain small and ineffective because we concentrate on those divisive peculiarities!  We even teach (they say) by emphasizing the errors of others!

But let me say two quick things about that, and then we’ll go on.  Last Lord’s Day it was brought out that the great sin of the leadership of Israel was the fact that they did not shepherd and protect the sheep and they didn’t sound the alarm of danger!  And, as a result, the nation had disintegrated and was about to be destroyed!  It’s very clear in Scripture that if the people aren’t warned about apostasy and idolatry from the Truth, then God becomes very angry!  After all, they are His sheep!  So it is a necessity that aberrations from the Truth – all the “isms” and movements generated by human wisdom – be brought to the surface and exposed so that all can see the deviation from the Truth of God’s Word!  Not only are we not enjoined from doing that, but God requires us to do that!  Being critical of Theological error is not abusive and brutal; the brutality occurs when the Lord’s people are not warned about it!

The second thing that needs to be said about this is that it smacks of hypocrisy when we’re criticized about being critical!  It seems a bit strange to me that those who would promote tolerance and a positive non-critical approach would be the very ones with the critical attitude!  Isn’t that “hypo-critical”?

Now.  As we move into this area of the “divisive peculiarities” of the Reformed Faith, here’s something for you to consider.  Because of our human condition, our thinking and our service and our worship tend toward “heterodoxy” rather than “orthodoxy”.  Heterodoxy simply means “other ideas” from that which is “orthodox” or established.  In the Church, God has established, by His Word, that which is pleasing and glorifying to Him.  But men aren’t content with that.  By pragmatic thinking, men introduce “other ideas’ which suit them better!  They become “heterodox” in their opinions about life and service and worship.

Now, a good example of that out of the Old Testament concerns the Command of God that all of Israel come up to Jerusalem to worship at His temple – which was where the ceremonies and sacrifices prophetically, foreshadowed, or imaged, the coming Savior of the World.  Well, the kingdom split in two.  And the king of the northern kingdom said that it wasn’t convenient or proper or appropriate, for his people to go to Jerusalem to worship, so he would establish two “other” worship places in the north!  Which he did.  And Bible history tells us that that resulted in idolatry and God’s wrath upon the northern kingdom of Israel.  And they were destroyed by Sennacharib’s Syrian armies in 722 BC; and the people were incorporated into pagan, Gentile culture.

Heterodoxy wishes to establish other ideas (worship, innovations) under the banner of success, or convenience, or unity, or growth; whereas orthodoxy (although tending, itself, toward tradition rather than theological purity) wishes to remain true to that which was established.

But for us to distinguish the marks of the Reformed Faith, we must point out to the predominant religious community that it has truly become heterodox in this age!  That which was established by God in His Word, and which was forcefully reiterated in the great Reformation, has been (in large part) abandoned.  The Church, (the whole of which is the beneficiary of the Reformation) has favored “other ideas” than those established by God in His Word; and the unsuspecting religious community doesn’t see what’s under the costume of the masquerade!

The Reformed Faith involves first the exegetical and expositional preaching of the whole counsel of God.  It appeals to the Written Word of God for its authority, and it is proclamational and Theological.  At the heralding of the “good news” of the grace of God in Christ Jesus, people are to turn from themselves to live in Him by faith!  If not, they will suffer the judgment of God eternally!

On the other hand, heterodoxy says that churches and sermons are either boring or offensive.  So proclamation (which is God’s established means of hearing) is discarded in favor of “other ideas”.  Churches are now organizations led by entrepreneurs whose success is limited only by their own talent.  If any doctrine is taught at all, it certainly cannot be done on Sunday morning – it might offend and turn people away!  In other words, what God says in His Word about His sovereignty and our condition isn’t suitable for the public!  The success of the enterprise would be negatively affected by Biblical Preaching!

Secondly, the Lord’s Supper is a negative issue in heterodoxy.  The Reformed Faith openly declares the ubiquity of the Lord’s body – that man must live in union with Him in Whom we live and breathe and have our very being!  But successful enterprises have to hide the sacrament in a Sunday evening or mid-week service in order to avoid offending unbelievers!  Non-Christians are sheltered from the declaration of the grace of God in Christ in order that the Savior of mankind might not be a stumbling-block to the world!

And, thirdly, heterodoxy (other opinions, other innovations) has avoided Church discipline like a plague, because it impacts the success of the organization.  So repentance, obedience to God’s Law, and piety in the Body of Christ are rarely ever heard; and unlawful living is never confronted!  As a results, these successful enterprises are filled with unrepentant and unconverted people who are teaching and leading other unrepentant and unconverted people.  No matter the impiety – the entertainment is wonderful!  And Jesus is “in love” with them!

But the Reformed Faith sets its sights on the glory of Christ and His Kingdom which is the complete antithesis of the world-order.  The Church is the visible Body of Christ – a new Creation which grows up into the mature man in union with the Risen Savior.  And there must be discipline within for the sake of the purity of His Body!  An unconverted and unrepentant and undisciplined Church is nothing but a crass display of hypocritical commerce and world-order politics – filled with people schooled in “practical theology”!  I’ve never really known exactly what “practical Theology” is.  Theology is the study of God, so practical Theology must be the study of the practical, or pragmatic, god!  The Reformed Faith doesn’t know the god who makes people happy and feel good about themselves.  The God of the Reformed Faith glorifies His Son and His Kingdom!  And the Glory of Christ is His Church – men and women and children who are baptized into the death and resurrection of the second Adam; who destroy the sin of the first Adam; who live by faithing in the perfections of Christ!

Now, if we receive criticism because we criticize heterodoxy, then so be it!  The sins of the officers and leaders (in the Churches, the homes and the government) results in judgment upon the people!  And the trumpeting of the Voice of Christ must sound a warning before the brutal judgment occurs!  We’re not going to accused by God of turning our heads away and allowing the sheep to be slaughtered; and we’re not going to fall asleep on the wall and not sound the alarm of heterodox apostasy simply to avoid criticism!

But these things we’ve mentioned are those “so-called” divisive peculiarities of the Reformed Faith.  They are, more commonly, called “The Gospel of Jesus Christ”.  We must say, with Paul,


“For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one who is believing (faithing); to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.  For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘the Just shall live by faith!’  For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; Whom God has set forth a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time, His righteousness:  that He might be just, and the justifier of him who faiths in Jesus!”  (Romans three twenty-one through twenty-six)


Paul quotes directly from Habakkuk, chapter two, where God foretells His judgment upon Israel.  He says,


“Behold (the end) will surely come; it will not tarry.  Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him; but the just shall live by faith.”


All such men, Just, New Creations in Christ – not members of Adam, but of Christ, are no longer members of a fallen humanity, but members of a new humanity in Christ Jesus!  We are justified – the just, the redeemed – who are called to live by faith.  Our faith does not justify – our belief does not justify.  We are justified by grace through the righteousness of Christ.  Faith does not justify; belief does not justify; surrendering does not justify; sorrow does not justify.  We are given justification by the Grace of God through the righteousness of Christ; and we are saved from wrath through Him; and we’re called then, to live by Faith!

Now, a number of people have spoken eloquently concerning this faith.  Rudolph Bultmann, in a display of Biblical insight, says that faithing is radical desecularization in which a man passes from death unto life; the worldly is transcended, and the eschaton has become the present.

Robert L. Dabney says that faith is an exercise of a regenerate heart which embraces Christ in all His offices.

James Thornwell says that faith is the exercise of a renewed soul; and it includes the renunciation of the flesh and the reception of the Savior – in order that it might be freed from the dominion and guilt of sin.

One of the later, and very great, theologians of the Reformed Faith is Herman Ridderbos who says that faith is a new “mode of existence” in which there is a mystical depersonalization of the human “I” into the pneumatic “I” of Christ.  Now, what he means by that is clearly seen in Galatians chapter two at verse twenty:


“I have been co-crucified in Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me; and what I now live in the flesh, I live in faith of the Son of God Who loved me and gave Himself up on my behalf….”


And along that same line of thinking, the Scriptures describe faith by almost every imaginable active figure!  It is a “looking” (Isaiah forty-five, twenty-two); and a “receiving” (John one, verses twelve and thirteen), an “eating of Him” (John six, fifty-four), a “coming” (John five, forty), an “embracing” (Hebrews eleven, thirteen), a “fleeing unto”, and a “laying hold of” (Hebrews six, verse eighteen), and a number of others.  But it is clear, from all of these passages, that Ridderbos’ understanding of faith being a “new mode of existence” has a defining clarity that is very special.  Because we have been co-crucified, and co-buried, and co-raised in Christ, He lives in us and we live in Him; we no longer (the old man) live – but in Christ!  The old man in Adam is put to death; and there is a new humanity in Christ!  The human person – the “I” – becomes a new creation in Christ.  He becomes one with the Divine Person – the pneumatic “I” – and “behold, all things become new!”

Faith is the “new mode of existence” by which the Spirit of Christ unites us to His body – where we feed, and live, and breathe, and have our being.  God prophesied through Jeremiah that He would put His Spirit in our hearts – the very center of our being.  And, by regeneration, a new humanity is created which is called to live by faith.  The “radical desecularization” of the old humanity completely transcends the worldly, and that which is wholly “new” becomes the present.  The old is gone – the new becomes the present.  That’s why Paul can so freely interchange the term “life” with “the Faith” as he does so often.  “The Faith” is the same as “eternal life in Christ.”

So, in Him, the new creation faiths – has new existence – in His Person, and, as Dabney says, in the fullness of His work as Prophet, Priest and King.  And, as Thornwell says, “by the exercise of his renewed soul” the one responding in faith sees the “newness” of life created in Christ.

So the words of the prophet Daniel concerning the fiery conflagration of the mountain of Israel, and its being hurled into the sea, is the Gospel of God concerning His Son in which we faith!  And when Jesus says, verse twenty of our text, “should you possess faith as a grain of mustard you shall say to this mountain “depart from here – there...” then the connection to the Daniel prophecy is clear!  The Messiah is going to destroy the mountain of God – Mt. Zion, the house of Israel – and He is going to move it to the Gentile nations!  Nothing will resist Him in the establishing and completion of His Kingdom, since the Scriptures promise that all His enemies will be put under His feet.

Jesus tells His disciples that the reason that they can’t cast the demons out of the Gentile nations, and they can’t move the mountain of Israel to the nations, is their lack of faith (radical desecularization)!  The “size” of their faith or the “strength” of their belief is not the issue at all!  The disciples have not yet been united to the crucified and resurrected Lord; their “mode of existence” is not yet radically desecularized; they are not yet a “new humanity” in Christ the Second Adam; and they still anticipate His rule in the “old heaven and earth”, in the old temple, on the old mountain of Israel, in the old city of Jerusalem!  That’s clear in verses twenty-two and twenty-three, isn’t it?  Even though they’ve moved, now; and they’re gathering up again in Galilee – on their way to Capernaum, Matthew puts this together with the condemnation of their lack of faith.  By their sin and blindness as men, the disciples have rejected (you see that they’re very distressed that Jesus intends to be crucified in Jerusalem) they’ve rejected the fact that Christ is the fullness of the Prophets; they’ve rejected that He is the High Priest Who is the propitiation for the sin of the world; they’ve rejected that Christ is the Great King Who will bring the world into submission to His reign; they have rejected the destruction of Israel and establishment of the New Heavens and the New Earth  There is no faith in His disciples! Their wanting a personal king in Jerusalem negates the whole Person and Work of Christ!  But the just – the redeemed – shall live by faith!  In Christ the just will cast the demons out of the nations; and IN Christ the just shall move the mountain of Israel to the nations!  By the proclamation of the Gospel in Jerusalem, in Israel, in Samaria and in the nations of the world, the Voice of Jesus Christ will be heard from faith to faith.  And nothing will resist Him, so nothing will resist us!  This is “unseen” by the world order, because faith is a New Humanity in Christ!

The just shall live by faith; and the Reformed Faith is the Gospel of God.  Criticize it if you will, but the Gospel is the power of God into salvation for those who are faithing!  So repent from this faithless generation – this old world order, this old humanity – and put on the New Humanity of Christ.  Live in Him and obey Him, thereby making your election sure – and persevere in the Faith!  Heterodoxy is the road to apostasy, but the Faith is eternal life in Christ Jesus the Lord.