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Faith and Unbelief

by Pastor Cornelius R. Stam

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“Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing….” Rom. 15:13

It is most interesting to observe the effects of faith and unbelief upon the lives of God’s children.  We see this especially in connection with the incarnation and the resurrection of Christ.

The Incarnation

Aged Zacharias doubts the divine promise as to the birth of our Lord’s forerunner (Luke 1:18) and is rebuked by the angelic messenger.

“And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God, and am sent to speak unto thee, and to show thee these glad tidings. And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season” (Luke 1:19,20).

As a further result, it was impossible for the chastened priest to pronounce the usual blessing upon the waiting multitude after the offering of the evening sacrifice.  We are told (Ver. 10) that “the whole multitude of the people were praying without” at the time.  But Zacharias, now stricken dumb, could give them no word of blessing.  Rather we read:

“And the people waited for Zach-arias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple. And when he came out, he could not speak unto them…” (Luke 1:21,22).

Symbolically this demonstrates the inevitable effect of unbelief upon the lives of God’s people.  Where unbelief enters, the testimony is silenced.

In contrast to the doubts of a seasoned man of God, we find sweet, young Mary accepting in simple faith a message which would be considered much more difficult to believe: that she, a virgin, should bring forth a child.

“And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to Thy word…” (Luke 1:38).

Result: a song!  From Mary’s heart and lips have come to us the glad Magnificat, which begins with those inspired and inspiring words:

“…My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46,47).

An interesting sidelight to the whole story is found in the words of Elisabeth, Zacharias’ wife, to Mary: “Blessed is she that believed” (Ver. 45).  Elisabeth had personally suffered the results of her husband’s unbelief.

When our Lord had been born, the shepherds, like Mary, accepted the heavenly announcement in simple faith.  When the angel had departed, they did not say: “Let us go and see whether this has indeed come to pass.”  Rather, their words indicate that they were perfectly certain that it had come to pass.

“…the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us” (Luke 2:15).

Result: When the shepherds had seen the Babe:

“…they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child” (Luke 2:17).

What, exactly, had been told them concerning this Child?  That He was “a Savior…Christ the Lord” (Ver. 11).

Further result: Having “made known abroad” this glad message:

“…the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was [had been] told unto them” (Luke 2:20).

Old Simeon likewise believed, took the Babe in his arms, and said:

“Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation” (Luke 2:29,30).

The crowning blessing of Sim-eon’s life was to see with his own eyes, to hold in his own arms, that blessed One in Whom the salvation of Israel was vested.

The aged and devout Anna also believed and the results were what we should expect.  Not only did she “give thanks likewise unto the Lord,” but she:

“…spake of Him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38).

The Resurrection

A superficial reading of the synoptic records might leave one with the impression that Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James, went to the tomb where the Lord had been buried, believed the angel’s declaration that He had risen, and went immediately to convey the glad news to the disciples.

The 20th chapter of John, however, supplies other details which illustrate again the sad results of unbelief.

See Mary Magdalene weeping at the sepulcher! (John 20:11).  And why does she weep?  Because the tomb is empty!

There she stands overwhelmed with grief.  “And as she wept, she stooped down and looked into the sepulcher.”  But those tear-dimmed eyes did not notice there the evidences of our Lord’s resurrection.

When the angels asked: “Woman, why weepest thou?” she replied:

“Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him” (John 20:13).

Poor woman!  She would have preferred to have found His body there!

But here are two disciples on their way to Emmaus, no less broken-hearted.  They are talking sadly about all that has transpired in the past few days.

“And it came to pass that while they communed together and reasoned, Jesus Himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were holden that they should not know Him. And He said unto them, What manner of communications are these that ye have one to another, as ye walk, and are sad?” (Luke 24:15-17).

A glance at Young’s Analytical Concordance will indicate that the word “walk” here does not mean to walk on, but to walk about.  These disciples had started out to go to Emmaus but here, in their deep sorrow and disappointment, they were wandering about aimlessly.  Some translations render the words “and are sad”: “And they stood still, looking sad.”

Poor, broken-hearted souls!  And what was it that had overwhelmed them with grief?  Listen to their own explanation:

“But we trusted that it had been He which should have redeemed Israel: and beside all this, today is the third day since these things were done” (Luke 24:21).

The third day!  Should not this fact have reminded them of our Lord’s oft-repeated promise that He would arise on the third day?

“Oh, what peace we often forfeit!  Oh, what needless pain we bear!”

And all because we do not take God at His Word!

Mary weeps because the tomb is empty!  The two disciples despair because it is now “the third day” since their Lord was crucified!  Such is the irony of unbelief.

The Resurrection and Us

Shall we not now apply these lessons to ourselves?  If unbelief brings sorrow and defeat, and closes our mouths; if faith brings joy and victory, and opens our mouths in praise and testimony, how, specifically, does this apply to God’s people today?

To find the answer, listen to Paul’s impassioned prayer that we might know, among other things:

“…what is the exceeding greatness of His [God’s] power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of His mighty power, which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world [age], but also in that which is to come” (Eph. 1:19-21).

The resurrection and exaltation of our Lord Jesus Christ was the greatest demonstration of power in all history.  He did not die the death of a sinner; He died the death that would have sunk us all to hell.  And it was from that death that He was raised and exalted to the Father’s right hand in the epouranios, “far above all.”

But the amazing fact which God holds out to our faith is that this limitless power is now offered to us!  He calls it “the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe”!

Why, then, are so many of us defeated and weak in our Christian experience?  Is it not because like Zacharias and Mary Magdalene and the two on the way to Emmaus, we have failed to accept in faith His Word to us?

God says that He would have us understand “what is the hope of His calling, and what the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward” (Eph. 1:17-20), and many of us scarcely show an interest in these riches of grace.

God says that He would have His saints know “what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles” (Col. 1:27), and many of us do not care enough to search the Scriptures to learn about “the riches of the glory of this mystery.”

God declares that believers in Christ have been crucified, buried, raised and exalted with Him (Rom. 6:3; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 2:4-7) to be “blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ” (Eph. 1:3), and the vast majority do not even bother to look into these glorious truths, committed by the ascended Lord to Paul for us (Eph. 3:1-3).

Is it strange in the light of these facts that God’s people as a whole are confused and divided, and that their witness for Christ evidences so little of the power of the Spirit?

Let us, then, be the exceptions to this rule, the “remnant,” who do care about what God has to say to us and who take Him at His word.  Thus alone can we be “well adjusted” and enjoy the power of the Spirit in our witness for Christ.

“Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing…” (Rom. 15:13).