Scripture makes clear that God does not take unbelief lightly. The New Testament gives an example of this in the story of Zacharias. In Luke 1, God promised the aging priest a miracle child, a son who would be a forerunner to the Messiah.
The angel Gabriel appeared to him, saying, “Your prayer has been heard, Zacharias. You will have a son, and you will call him John.” Zacharias, a godly, faithful servant who had prayed his whole life for the coming of the Messiah, was burning incense in the temple when he received this news.
A PROMISE TOO WONDERFUL TO BELIEVE
Zacharias knew that since he and his wife were well past the age of conceiving a child, this was a heavy promise. He had to wonder, “How can this be? Elisabeth and I are both advanced in years.” He was stricken with unbelief.
Yet God did not excuse Zacharias’ lack of faith. He had no pity for his age or his service of devotion in the past. The fact is, God was not about to overlook unbelief even in such a dedicated servant. Instead, the angel told Zacharias:
“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 1:20).
This was a grievous punishment for Zacharias. His own son was going to herald the coming of the Messiah, but the priest himself would not be able to celebrate the news for the duration of his wife’s pregnancy.
From the very beginning, God sought a people who would live before Him without fear. He wanted His children to be at rest in body, soul and spirit by fully trusting in His promises. God called this “entering My rest.” So He led His people into a barren wilderness, without water, food or any source of sustenance. Giving Israel only His promise to keep them, His message to them was simply, “Have faith in Me.” He called them to place all their trust in Him to do the impossible for them.
According to the author of Hebrews, God’s people at that time never entered into His rest, because they didn’t trust in His promises (Hebrews 3:11).
In the passage about the fig tree, Jesus refers to an unnamed mountain:
“Whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith” (Mark 11:23).
Jesus was saying to His disciples, as well as to us today: “Unbelief in your heart is like a hindering mountain that cannot be moved. If it is not cast out, I cannot work with you.”
The fact is, Jesus was unable to perform miracles in a certain town because of the people’s unbelief:
“He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief” (Matthew 13:58).
The same holds true for Christ’s church today: wherever there is unbelief, He is unable to work. Unbelief is always the mountain that hinders the fullness of God’s revelation and blessing in His children.
Jesus was in His last days of ministry. He had just cleansed the temple, driving out the moneychangers, and now He was spending time with His disciples to prepare them as the pillars of His future church. Yet at this point they were still faithless, “slow to believe.” Jesus had chided them for their unbelief at various times, asking, “Can you not see?” He saw in their hearts a hindrance that had to be removed or they would never come into the revelation necessary to lead the church.
One day as Jesus and the disciples passed by a barren fig tree, Jesus cursed it:
“[He] said to it, ‘Let no one eat fruit from you ever again.’ And His disciples heard it” (Mark 11:14).
Later, as the group came by the fig tree again, Peter pointed out, “Lord, the fig tree You cursed has dried up.”
Without giving Peter an actual answer, Jesus said simply, “Have faith in God.” We know from Jesus’ amazing response that the message to follow was all about faith.
The withered fig tree was another of Christ’s illustrated sermons. This dried-up plant represented God’s rejection of the old religious system of works in Israel. That system was all about trying to earn salvation and God’s favor by human effort and self-will.
Something new was about to be birthed in Israel: a church in which God’s people would live totally by faith. Salvation and eternal life would come only by faith.
To this point, God’s people knew nothing of living by faith. Their religion had been all about performance: appearing for worship services, reading the Torah, keeping extensive sets of rules. Now Jesus was saying, “That old system is over, headed for judgment.” A new day was dawning: the church of faith was being birthed.
Whenever Christians speak of the Upper Room, they usually are referring to Pentecost. But the Bible mentions an upper room incident that occurred several weeks earlier, where the disciples had a different type of experience. This upper room was the setting for the Last Supper on the night before Christ’s death on the cross. On that evening He talked about difficult subjects:
My father used to call this first upper room experience “being taken to the woodshed.” It’s about addressing things in our lives that aren’t honoring to God. At those times, He tells us, “You’re drifting from Me. You’ve placed your affections on earthly things and lost your first love for Me. I cannot allow you to go any further without addressing this.”
At the first upper room, Jesus wanted to deal with the mixture in His disciples’ hearts. The clearest example is Peter, who told Jesus he would follow Him to the death. The Lord challenged him on that:
“Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times” (Matthew 26:34).
Are you experiencing a first upper room right now? Are there things in your life you know aren’t pleasing to God? He wants to deal with them and He will not pull any punches. His response to Peter was harsh, but we know from the outcome that it was an act of love. Jesus was saying, in essence, “I know you love me, Peter, but there’s an agenda in your heart that isn’t God’s. I’m confronting it now because I don’t want it to become palatable to you. I have greater things in mind for you.”
At the height of all his trials and difficulties, Martin Luther testified: “Lord, now that You have forgiven me all, do with me as you please.” Luther was convinced that a God who could wipe away all his sins and save his soul could certainly care for his physical body and material needs.
In essence, Luther was saying:
“Why should I fear what man can do to me? I serve a God who can cleanse me of my iniquity and bring peace to my soul. It doesn’t matter if everything around me collapses. If my God is able to save and keep my soul for eternity, why wouldn’t He be able to care for my physical body while I’m on this earth? Oh, Lord, now that I’m pardoned, forgiven, and able to stand before You on Judgment Day with exceeding great joy, do with me as You please.”
I have brought this word to you so that your soul might be anchored in Him and to prepare you for any unseen calamity in the dark days that are coming.
Dear saint, rejoice. This present life is not the ultimate reality. Our reality is eternal life in the presence of our blessed Lord. So keep the faith. Things are winding down — but we are going up!
“And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh” (Luke 21:28).