Stumbling Blocks to Faith
© 2017 Philip M Spence
In the light of current events, there is a greater need than ever for the people of God to demonstrate great faith. The world is not ending. The Kingdom of God is not failing. We will always have the King’s mandate to advance His Kingdom purposes in the earth regardless of the circumstances. Jesus dealt with the following things in His disciples’ lives before sending them out, knowing they wouldn’t have faith for the future unless these things were resolved.
When Jesus appeared to His apostles after His resurrection, they worshipped Him because they knew Him to be the Messiah, but some of them harboured doubts in the midst of it (Matthew 28:17-20).
Their minds were having difficulty grappling with what had happened and what was happening. Even though Jesus had prepared them for what would happen, including His crucifixion and resurrection, some of them would have been struggling emotionally with everything they had experienced through the process (John 20:24-29).
Jesus’ response to their doubt was in two parts. He didn’t try to rationalise or explain in order to convince them; instead, He anointed them with the same authority that the Father had given Him. Then He commissioned them to fulfil the mission with that authority. The antidote for doubt is to know our authority and to function in it (Matthew 28:17-20).
Once He had authorised them and commissioned them, He simply encouraged them to believe. Non-believers come to believe because they hear the message we carry and see the demonstrations of God’s power. However, once they become believers, their faith must be in God, not in what they see and hear. As we manifest faith, so others will rise up in faith (John 20:24-29).
The disciples’ fear of the future would have been related to, and generated by, their world view and the issues of the day. The immediate generator of fear would have been the Jewish religious elitism that existed. This was going to be a source of persecution for the early church.
In addition to this they were dealing with Roman occupation in Israel and throughout the empire. The opposition to fulfilling their mission would be intense and it could have created great fear.
In that time, the globe had been only partly explored so there were many unknowns about expanding the Kingdom around the world. Along with this there were stories of strange and horrifying things from far away that travellers coming through would speak about. These things combined to form a picture of dangers and hazards of long journeys. There was a lot to fear if they were to fulfil their commission.
Jesus’ response to all of this was to tell His apostles that His presence would give them faith for the future. He would always be with them (Matthew 28:20). Jesus also said that the Holy Spirit would empower and embolden them to fulfil their mission (Acts 1:8). He countered their fear by showing them they would not be alone, and that they would have the ability to rise above all these issues and more.
Jesus knew that His apostles would need great faith if they were to establish the Kingdom of God across the world. However, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the eleven remaining apostles had allowed unbelief to come into their hearts.
Jesus knew how much unbelief would sabotage the mission, so He confronted them about their holding on to a faithless perspective (Mark 16:14). Jesus responded in an encouraging way to their doubts and fears, but He rebuked their disobedience in not believing. Because unbelief is the opposite to faith, it cannot be part of a believer’s life. Jesus rebuked His apostles regarding unbelief so they would always remember to reject it from their lives. Dealing with unbelief releases faith for the future.
 Hardness of Heart
Unbelief produces hardness of heart which means to be dried out, tough, and leathery in heart feelings, or our spiritual response. Faith needs a sensitive heart and a spiritual responsiveness to God, despite how our experiences might want to cloud the future. Unbelief and hardness of heart rob us of being led by the Holy Spirit, but faith rises as the Holy Spirit leads and guides us.
Because hardness of heart is a by-product of unbelief, Jesus also rebuked His apostles for the state of their hearts (Mark 16:14). He challenged them about what they allowed to happen in their hearts through the challenges and difficulties of His death and resurrection. He challenged them to go forward by faith, and not on the basis of what they felt because of what was surrounding them (2 Corinthians 5:7).
 A Sense of Inadequacy
The disciples had many reasons to feel inadequate for the task of going into all the world, preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God to everyone everywhere, making disciples, establishing churches, and making sure the world was changed by the advent of the Kingdom of Heaven on Planet Earth.
They had failed when Jesus asked them to pray for Him in Gethsemane. They all failed when they disappeared into the darkness when Jesus was taken away by the soldiers. Peter failed when he cut of the soldier’s ear, then denied Jesus three times, as Jesus prophesied that he would.
The disciples walking on the road to Emmaus felt inadequate to face the future (Luke 24:27 and 31), but fresh revelation changed that. Jesus acted and spoke to them in a way that produced a light bulb moment (Luke 24:45). Then He taught them what they needed to understand in order to go forward with confidence and effectiveness (Acts 1:2-3).
Jesus let His disciples in on some of God’s plan and purpose (Luke 24:44-49). This fresh insight and understanding gave them confidence and courage, which formed the basis for their faith for the future.
 A Confused Perspective
Even though Jesus spent His last forty days teaching His apostles about His Kingdom, they still had a confused perspective about why He had come to earth, and how things would play out in the future. Jesus was about to ascend to heaven and was giving His final instructions to His team. However, their mindset was locked on the overthrow of the Roman Empire and the re-establishment of a free Israel with Jesus as their king (Acts 1:6-8).
Jesus knew that His apostles would need to have clarity about the fact that the Kingdom of God is not a physical kingdom, but a spiritual one. They would have to let go of their natural perspective and replace it with a spiritual vision. They would need to replace their desire for freedom from Rome with a conviction about offering freedom in Christ to the whole world. It would require a renewed perspective for them to go forward by faith.
 Past failure
Peter was specifically singled out by Jesus in the area of past failure. While all the apostles had failed, Jesus made a point of dealing with Peter’s failure. Guilt, shame, condemnation and other things that estrange us in our relationship with God will rob us of faith and inhibit our progress into the future.
Jesus did three things in His process of restoring Peter from his past failure:
Firstly, He drew him close. He didn’t allow Peter to isolate himself and be destroyed by his feelings.
Secondly, Jesus did not compare him to others. He focussed on helping Peter overcome his own shortcomings.
Thirdly, Jesus re-established relationship with Peter and restored his confidence (John 21:15-22). As a result of how Jesus handled him, Peter became a great apostle of faith.
This is our time to overcome these obstacles and eroders of faith!