Text: Luke 17:5-6
5The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.
The disciples when confronted with the necessity to forgive in a way that would transform their lives, said to Jesus, “Lord, Increase our faith.” When God challenges us to do a new thing we often find ourselves believing that the faith we have is incapable of achieving the goals God has set for us. Nonetheless, God continuously challenges us to reach higher, dig deeper, and go further than we think we can. It would be unfair of God to ask, if God did not know that we could achieve what God calls us to do. [Let me interject right here that when God asks you to accomplish a goal, he has already calculated his involvement in its completion.] Lord, have mercy!
Mustard seeds are the small round seeds of various mustard plants. The seeds are typically about 1 or 2 mm in diameter, larger than many plants such as poppy, columbine, potulaca and dandelion while relatively small compared to many others such as pumpkin, watermelon, apples, pine-cone or coconuts. Mustard seeds may be colored from yellowish white to black.
Mulberry trees are famous fruit treats tracing back to ancient civilizations. The most impressive aspect of the mulberry tree is that is can grow up to ten feet each year. White mulberries can reach 80 feet, and can also be pyramidal or weeping in form. Red mulberry trees may reach up to 70 feet. The black mulberry is much shorter, reaching only 30 feet, and unless trained tends to grow as a multi-stemmed shrub. The three species differ greatly in longevity. It is unusual for a red mulberry tree to survive more than 75 years, while a black mulberry may produce fruit for hundreds of years. In other words, a mulberry tree has deep roots and is not easily moved by humans or destroyed by disaster.
When outwardly compared to a mustard seed, the mulberry tree is much more formidable and awe inspiring. The mulberry tree relies on its vast network of roots for survival whereas the mustard seed relies on God’s grace to grow. One is not germinated while the other is fully grown and producing fruit.
Jesus insists that “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.” What an awesome depiction of faith. If you start where you are, doing the will of God, before you know it, the faith you have will develop in such a way that you will be able to do things you thought impossible. Jesus says develop your faith by using your faith. You don’t get more faith by asking; you get more faith by doing. Lord, have mercy!
One day the great Michelangelo attracted a crowd of spectators as he worked. One child in particular was fascinated by the sight of chips flying and the sound of mallet on chisel. The master was shaping a large block of white marble. Unable to contain her curiosity, the little girl inquired, “What are you making?” He replied, “There is an angel in there and I must set it free.”
Every Christian begins his/her relationship with Christ with a measure of faith. This passage introduces us to a clear path to setting this measure of faith free. The faith God put in you is enough for you to enjoy all that God has in store for your life. Faith does not move your mountains, the God behind your faith moves the mountains. Faith does not set you free; the God behind your faith sets you free!
Jesus outlined three simple ways to release your faith. Three small steps to develop your faith.
First, forgiving those who repent. Christians live knowing that people will offend us. It is inevitable that somebody is going to offend you. Saints, you do not prepare to retaliate, Jesus says you prepare to forgive. Only through forgiveness can those who offend us receive God’s grace. Jesus says in Luke 17:3-4, “3Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. 4And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.”
Dr. F.B. Meyer tells of a meeting of a church which was seeking a revival. During the meeting an elder got up and said to the minister, “I don’t think there is going to be a revival here as long as Brother Jones and I don’t speak to each other.” He went across to Jones and said, “Brother, you and I haven’t spoken to each other in five years. Let’s bury the hatchet. Here’s my hand.” Shortly afterwards another elder got up and said, “Minister, I think there will be no revival here while I say nice things about you to your face and am disloyal to you behind your back. I want you to forgive me.” Soon others were on their feet settling old scores. Then says Meyer, God began to visit them. The meeting was crowded and a revival broke out that swept over the whole district. There was time for confession and an offer of forgiveness and healing. There could be no forgiveness without repentance and confession; no healing without recognizing the disease.
Second, believing God can change those who repent. Faith is acting on what we believe about God. Jesus does not ask us to look to our faith to forgive others. Jesus reminds us that how big or small our faith is does not determine the outcome. God is able to take those whose offense was huge and transform that person into a servant of his. God has a way of turning people around when you do what he commands you to do. In other words, God develops your faith as you exercise your faith.
In Luke 17:5-6 the disciples look at their limitations rather than God’s abilities. It reads, “5And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith. 6And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you.”
We have to believe in God’s ability to respond to the faith he has given us and act on that faith. Years ago, two young men with a long history of delinquency and crime robbed a YMCA on the lower east side of Manhattan. On their way out of the building, they saw a young man at a telephone switchboard. They were frightened and assumed that he was calling the police. They seized him and beat him savagely with brass knuckles and a black jack. Thinking him to be dead, they hid him behind a radiator near the swimming pool and escaped.
Later that evening Gertrude Ederle, the first woman to swim the English Channel, was walking by the pool. She slipped in the young man’s blood, screamed and then found Donald Tippet’s body. He was rushed to the hospital where he lingered for days between life and death. Eventually he lived but one eye was so badly damaged it could not be saved.
Meanwhile the two young men were apprehended and brought to trial. Their past records assured that they would both get long sentences. However Donald Tippet did an amazing thing. He requested that the judge allow the two young men to be paroled to his charge. He wanted to give the boys a chance to change.
One of the boys blew his opportunity. He committed another crime, was caught and sent to jail. The other boy, however, was responsive to Tippet’s kindness. He went to college and eventually to medical school. He became one of our nation’s leading surgeons – an eye surgeon.
When Everett Palmer wrote of Donald Tippet’s amazing story of forgiveness and this surgeon’s accomplishments, he added, “I wonder if he ever performed one of those delicate eye operations without thinking of that night in the YMCA.”
Third and finally, Seeing forgiveness as our Christian duty. Listen to verses 7-10 again. “7But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat? 8And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink? 9Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not. 10So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.”
This parable gives us two types of responses to offense. The first one appears when the disciples come to Jesus and ask him to increase their faith. They give evidence of a church that believes it is their faith that makes the difference in someone’s life. They value church membership and fellowship more than evangelism and outreach. This church is a little bit like the tavern called “Cheers” where everybody’s knows your name, and everybody’s glad you came, and everyone’s problems are all the same.
And this church likes it that way! There is a sense of community, a sense of belonging and caring, and we value it deeply. The prayer in this church is “God, give us greater faith, and greater blessings, and greater fellowship with our friends.” But God don’t ask us to forgive others as you have forgiven us! Don’t move us out of our comfort zone. If you want us to do this, God you have to provide us something that we don’t have because we’re not prepared to do this. Lord, have mercy!
The second response is dutiful forgiveness. What Jesus tells the disciples is that forgiveness is hard work. He uses the imagery of a slave serving his master. The servant has no right to demand anything of the master nor to expect to do anything but serve the master.
It’s not a comfortable image for Christian people, and perhaps that’s why this is not one of our most loved parables. We don’t like to think of ourselves as “worthless slaves;” we prefer to see ourselves as “special lambs.” But we cannot ignore the obvious expectation of Jesus in this parable; Jesus calls Christians to pack a lunch pail, put on a hardhat, and spend themselves by serving others.
Not just exhaust themselves in service, but do so without any recognition. It is amazing that in the church today, people have to be recognized in order to serve the Lord. Either pay me, applaud me, give me an award, or make me important. Servant leadership has taken a back seat to selfless service.
Jesus admonishes us not to look for better treatment from those we forgive, nor to look for God to shout our names from his throne. Jesus admonishes us to consider the act of forgiveness routine and to do so habitually simply because of what God has done for us. How many do you know that want forgive someone unless that person caters to their every whim or demand? How many people do you know that put requirements on their forgiveness?
I’m glad that God says if you forgive, I can use you to move mountains in people’s lives. People want somebody to forgive them and to understand them. People want someone who will offer them the unconditional love of God. People have made so many mistakes, done so many wrong things in their lives, that when they come to church, they need somebody who will forgive them and offer them God’s grace and mercy to start again.
God wants somebody who will forgive the person who offends them. God wants somebody who will allow him to change that person, and God wants somebody who will do so without any thought to compensation or reward. Forgiveness given in this fashion can be the one avenue that God can use to transform a sinner’s life. Forgiveness offered as a pardon for sins and offenses paves the way for “the goodness of God to cause a sinner to repent.
If you are here this morning and you stand in need of forgiveness, be bid you come. If you have offense against someone and would like to repent before God, we bid you come. If you want God to forgive you and to allow you his grace to begin again, we bid you come. Jesus died for your sins and he stands ready to forgive you! Will you come today?