Mountains are difficult to climb. They were obstacles in one’s journey. Mountains on a journey are in contrast to walking across the plains. Nevertheless, when a mountain had to be climbed in order to finish one’s journey, it had to be overcome. This was the meaning of the metaphor that Jesus used in reference to the obstacles the apostles would personally encounter on their walk of faith. And since Jesus said that they needed only the faith the size of a mustard seed, then they could walk over the obstacles of mountains throughout their lives.
One of those apostles to whom Jesus made this statement was killed by Herod (At 12:1,2). Physical death, therefore was the final mountain that James had to overcome in order to be with His Lord. His faith allowed him to be the first martyr of the apostles. When stones started to be hurled at Stephen, his faith moved him to look unto heaven (At 7:59,60). Death was also his final mountain to climb. The angel to the church of Smyrna would remind all of us: “Do not fear those things [mountains] that you will suffer …. Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life” (Rv 2:10). In other words, have faith, for even with a faith as a mustard seed one can conquer the fear of death (See Hb 2:14,15).
Life is one mountain after another that we must overcome. Before Paul went to the water in obedience to the gospel, Jesus revealed to him all the mountains that he would have to climb throughout his life in order to be victorious (At 9:15). Paul later listed for the Corinthians some of the mountains that he overcame through faith (See 2 Co 11:23-28). He overcame so many mountains in living the gospel of Jesus that in one of his last letters to Timothy, he wrote, “Yes and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution [mountains]” (2 Tm 3:12).
Only through faith was Paul able to fight the good fight of the faith and stay the course in order to finish his final mountain of death in Rome (2 Tm 4:7). His last mountain to climb was at the hand of an executioner in Rome.
All of us have our mountains to climb. But we must be encouraged by the fact that it takes only the faith of a “mustard seed” to climb and over come these mountains. Therefore, we must not misunderstand what Jesus promised His apostles. We would not remove any physical mountains of dirt and rocks through our faith. The apostles’ faith was far beyond that of a mustard seed, but they still did not literally displace any mountains on this earth. The mountains to which Jesus referred would be those obstacles that hinder us in our gospel living. We can trust, however, that …
“… God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able to endure, but will with the temptation also make a way of escape so that you may be able to endure” (1 Co 10:13).
Think of the preceding statement in view of what Jesus promised the apostles. God will not allow any mountains to be set before us that we cannot climb. This is the first promise to remember when facing the challenge of a mountain. Second, we must remember that God will always give us a passage to walk either over, around, or just straight through any mountain that we may face. This is what James meant in James 1:3: “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the trying of your faith produces patience.”
We rejoice in our trials for two reasons: (1) We know that God will make a way up, over or around any mountain. For this reason, we can rejoice. (2) We also know that we must face the mountains in order to grow in faith. And then we must remember that Jesus said that even a “mustard seed” faith will empower us to conquer any mountain that may be in our way. Therefore, James concluded, “But someone may say, ‘You have faith and I have works. Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (Js 2:18). We could apply this to the reality of life by saying, “I will show you my faith by the mountains that I have overcome.”
The preceding is exactly what the heroes of faith did in former times. God gave both Abel and Cain the mountain of offering blood sacrifices. But by faith, Abel climbed this mountain by raising his own blood sacrifices. This was in contrast to Cain who simply collected the fruits of his field with which he had no personal connection (Hb 11:4). By faith Enoch overcame the mountain of wickedness of the generation in which he lived (Hb 11:5). By faith Noah built an ark in view of the impending mountain of destruction that was soon to come upon the face of the earth (Hb 12:7). By faith, Abraham overcame the mountain of having to leave his lifetime friends in the Ur of the Chaldeas (Hb 11:9,10). By faith Sarah overcame the mountain of childbirth in her old age (Hb 11:11,12). All these heroes of faith overcame great mountains, and yet reminded faithful (Hb 11:13). And if we would heed these and other examples of the faith of the ancients, we too can enjoy the victory of faith (See Hb 11:13-16). We can now understand why John wrote, “And this is the victory that overcomes the world [of mountains], our faith” (1 Jn 5:4).
We visit the sick at home or in the hospital who are mentally struggling to overcome some mountain of physical affliction. We pray for them that God may raise them up (Js 5:14,15). Their healing is God’s business, which thing He will do on His own time. But it is our business to call on the Holy Spirit to bring comfort and strength into the life of the afflicted.
Physical affliction is the mountain over which the afflicted must overcome. They need emotional strength. The afflicted, by faith, are strengthened and comforted by knowing that they will mentally overcome the mountain that has been placed before them. By faith they recall that God will not allow them to be tested with a mountain they cannot overcome. By faith we understand that God the Spirit will supply comfort in times of bereavement and strength in times of trial.
We will not, therefore, leave the afflicted on their sick bed with a false expectation that they will be instantaneously healed at the time we say “amen” to our prayer for them. We will not give them a vain promise that we will meet them immediately after the prayer at the hospital office in order check them out of the hospital because they have been instantly healed. In other words, we will not make the hospital visit in order to make the afflicted feel even worse about their own faith than before we arrived. We will not give them a false expectation that they should have been healed immediately because of our prayer for them. Or, we will not make them feel that their faith is smaller than a mustard seed, because, we have assumed, that if one had at least a mustard seed faith he or she would be immediately cured of his or her affliction. Some need to ask themselves if they feel worse after the visit of the preacher than before he came and prayed for them. Did the preacher bring down judgment on them because their faith was supposedly not strong enough to be healed immediately?
Those who are afflicted feel better when someone does not judge them for their lack of faith because they were not immediately cured because prayer has been uttered for them. When the sick are trying to climb emotionally a mountain of physical affliction, they need prayer for strength and comfort, not judgment that they do not have enough faith to be restored to health immediately.
In Jesus’ promise of “moving mountains,” He was not referring to physical things. He was referring to mental victories over obstacles (mountains) that stand in our way as we live the gospel in a world of suffering and evil. Sometimes the obstacles that stand in our way might be physical. However, there must be a mental victory over the physical before any mental mountain can be removed by faith. What Jesus was promising in reference to mountain moving was in reference to minds (faith), not moving literal dirt and rock mountains.
[Next in series: Nov. 23]