Increase our Faith
That great sign in rising from the dead is still the thing that increases faith.
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The disciples once asked Jesus, “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5) We all feel that way sometimes, don’t we?
What do we think would do the job, to increase our faith? I think a lot of people feel like they would believe, if there was just some physical evidence. Some kind of sign—not something obscure, something tangible and unmistakable.
There were people who felt that way in Jesus’s day. They asked for a sign. His reply? “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign.” (Matthew 12:38-39) They did it again later, and he gave the same answer. (Matthew 16:1-4)
Does it seem evil to ask for a sign? And how in the world is it adulterous?
The rest of Jesus’s answer is: “No sign will be given except the sign of Jonah.” The first time he expands and says he’s talking about his resurrection. I think most of us would say, “All right, now there’s a tangible sign.” And yet, these very people who wanted a sign refused to be convinced by even that. Evil. But adulterous?
In the Old Testament prophets, the waywardness of the people of Israel is often described as “adultery”, spiritually. God uses the figure of having “married” Israel, but she is unfaithful to Him. I think Jesus is using the same figure.
So we see that even with someone rising from the dead, the response is not necessarily faith. Some people, as we know, did believe. A fact that continues to this day. Jesus was raised from the dead by the power of God, which is the whole point of Peter’s Pentecost speech in Acts 2, as well as many other passages. This the core foundation of Christian faith. Faith that is not blind, that relies on evidence—nowadays, the eyewitness testimony of those who were there.
Those who didn’t accept the apostles’ testimony then are part of a long line. The Israelites saw the signs Moses did in Egypt and had miracles done right in front of them, and yet they still rebelled again and again. Those who encountered Jesus in person saw many miraculous healings, and yet some of them still came asking for a sign!
No (further) sign given, says Jesus, except the one great sign of rising from the dead. His answer to us today would be exactly the same. That great sign is still the thing that increases faith.
You may have noticed that when the disciples ask for Jesus to increase their faith, they aren’t talking about believing that he is the Messiah, that he will rule over the Kingdom of God forever. They have complete faith in that, even when faced with very challenging words from Jesus. (John 6:67-69)
What prompts the disciples to ask for increased faith is Jesus saying this:
They aren’t asking for a sign. They just don’t think they can live up to the high standard Jesus demands of them. Forgive over and over and over and over? They are admitting, in effect, “That’s too much for me. I don’t have big enough faith to do that.”
There is a difference. Asking (or demanding) a sign as a condition of believing, might put us in the “evil and adulterous” category. In that case Jesus directs us to the sign of his resurrection. On the other hand, asking the Lord to increase our faith, so that we can come closer to what he wants us to be, is a different matter.
If you looked up that Luke 17 passage, you may have noticed the following verse. Jesus is harsh with those demanding a sign. Replying to the disciples, he also has a rebuke, but it’s not nearly as strong. He says (in a parable of course) that if they had just a tiny bit of faith, they could do amazing things.
Amazing things, such as being so forgiving. Or being like him in any of the other ways he calls us to.