On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal. 18 And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, 19 but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. 20 And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” 21 And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 22 When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? 23 Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? 24 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” 25 And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. 26 And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today.” – Luke 5:17-16 [ESV]
She was 87 years old. Not confined to a wheel chair, but definitely not very mobile. She lived in a skilled care facility, and I would visit her there regularly. She delighted in receiving the Lord’s Supper and expressed joy in our conversations. She had a wonderful spirit and exhibited a strong faith. One day I received a call that she had died. She had lived a good life. Taught Sunday School. Served in the women’s group. Faithfuly worshiped until she could no longer get out. She had not suffered unduly in her last days. Hers was a peaceful death. I felt it was a true answer to the Lord’s Prayer, “Deliver us from evil.” God indeed gave her a blessed end, and graciously took her from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven. (cf. Luther’s Small Catechism, The Lord’s Prayer, The Seventh Petition)
He abandoned his wife and children, and left them in a lurch. He was unrepentant. He made his choice known and followed his own dream. There was little evidence of his faith; in fact more evidence of abandoning his faith.
Yet another young man took his own life. He had suffered gravely because of his drug addiction. Having suffered a stroke, he was recovering at home, mostly confined to bed. I visited him in the days immediately before he died. He asked for prayer, and seemed genuinely repentant. But he took his own life.
Yes. No. Maybe. Would you say that pretty well captures the range of answers about these people’s faith? She did have faith; it showed in her life and end of her days. He showed every sign of abandoning the faith in his choice to leave his family. The other young man showed a mixed-bag of faith and despair.
Thankfully we don’t have to make any of those calls – at least not in terms of their eternal destiny. That is God’s determination. I’m thankful for that on two levels. I don’t have the weight of that judgement on my heart. And God alone knows the heart, and is gracious and good. I thankfully put all things into his hands.
Jesus saw the faith of the men who brought their friend to him for healing. I’m guessing that while faith is a matter of the heart and soul, it is also something that can be seen. It’s not merely conceptual. It’s more than a theological bent. It lives in the soil of a faith-filled heart, but buds in the light of a faithful life.
And here’s the delightful truth: God receives even the faint of faith. We may cry out, as the anxious dad, “I believe. Help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24) And God helps us in our unbelief. Want further evidence?
“He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle.” – Isaiah 42:3
The man who prayed in the temple, not even lifting his eyes to heaven, “God be merciful to me a sinner,” went to his home justified. (Luke 18:13)
The doubters (!) on the day of Jesus’ ascension were still commissioned for God’s Great Mission. (cf. Matthew 28:16-17)
We cannot actually see faith, but we can see evidence of it. God knows our hearts. And Jesus promises, “Whoever comes to me I will not turn away.” – John 6:37