Sermon on Luke 17:1-10
Text: Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. So watch yourselves.
“If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”
The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.
“Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Would he not rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”
We like to see increases in certain things. We enjoy it when there is an increase in our paycheck. Joy is expressed when the size of the family is increased through the birth of a child. We are pleased when precious things are increased. If you collect something, you are happy when you can add to your set, especially if it is a rare piece that you have been looking all over for. Jesus’ disciples also asked for an increase. They wanted more of a most precious gift. They said to Jesus: “INCREASE OUR FAITH!” We will see 1. Why The Disciples Made This Request and 2. How Jesus Responded To Their Request.
Jesus began by saying to his disciples, “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.” Because human beings are sinful, they will, at times, disturb the faith of others or cause them to sin. We are still sinful. At times, we will do sinful things or tempt others to sin. Jesus tells us that these things are bound to happen.
Yet, we are not to become careless in our Christian living, as if to say, ‘I can’t help myself.’ We are to be careful about the things that we say and do. We cannot say, ‘They’ll just have to take me as I am.’ Jesus is serious about our conduct toward one another. He tells us that he will bring very serious judgment on those who cause others to sin.
To help us get an idea of how serious Jesus is, he tells us that it would be better to have a millstone tied around our necks and be hurled into the sea. A millstone was a large stone that was used to grind grain. Imagine having a stone that was a foot to a foot and a half wide and three to five inches thick tied around your neck and being thrown into a deep lake. What a horrible death!
However, Jesus tells us that this would be preferable to causing “one of these little ones to sin.” Here we parents, grandparents, and other adults need to take a long hard look at ourselves. Children, as a rule, trust their elders and expect them to be wiser than they are. If they confess their faith, and an adult belittles them, they may be confused. If they see an adult sin, they will be tempted to copy, thinking that must be all right. If they hear an adult continually using filthy language, they will be tempted to use the same kind of language. If they hear us constantly running people down, what do you think they will do? We, adults, need to be very careful about the kind of example we set before our children. We dare not cause them to sin.
Jesus continues with another portion of a Christian’s life. He says, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” Jesus points to another area of our lives that sometimes have difficulty with. Not only is it difficult to not give offense, it is also difficult for us to forgive others as we should.
It is difficult for us to forgive because of our human nature. Our sinful selves would like to get even with someone when they sin against us. We would like to respond angrily to a harsh word spoken against us. If someone wrongs us, we keep track and hope that one day they will get theirs.
However, Jesus tells us that we are to forgive them. We are to say, ‘You are forgiven.’ Even if that person continues to sin against us, we still do not have the right to get even. We are to forgive every time our brother asks for our forgiveness. It doesn’t matter if it was one time, seven times, or seven hundred times. We are still to forgive. This includes even those times when it isn’t easy to forgive. The reason we forgive others is the fact that we have been forgiven by God. It wasn’t easy for God to forgive us. It cost him dearly. It cost the death of his Son. Yet, he was willing to do this so that we would be forgiven. Another duty of a Christian is to always be forgiving.
If you are like me, you can see that it isn’t easy to carry out these two duties. We cause others to fall into sin. We are stingy with our forgiveness. The disciples realized this, too. That is why they said to Jesus, “Increase our faith.” ‘Lord, make our faith strong enough so that we carry out your will for our lives.’ We echo their request, “Lord, increase our faith. Make our hold on you every stronger. Help us to confess our sins and come to you for forgiveness. Strengthen our faith so that we might serve you as good and faithful servants.” May that be our prayer as we begin each new day. May we look for ways to increase our faith by studying God’s Word and regular reception of the Lord’s Supper. Lord, increase our faith.
The disciples may have been a little surprised when they heard Jesus’ response to their request. He told them, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.” What is Jesus saying here? He is not commanding us to transplant a large tree. Rather, he is emphasizing that we are to use the faith that we have. We are not to look for faith; we are to act on faith, looking to the Lord, listening to his commands, promises, and teachings and then doing them.
Jesus tells us, ‘You have faith. Now use it.’ If we have any faith at all, we can cause something to happen that does not seem possible to human reason. Just as it does not seem possible for a large tree to transplant itself into the heart of the sea, it may not seem to be possible to human reason to be forgiving. However, if you have faith, you will do it. According to human reason, we are to make sure that we are happy and if others get hurt in our quest for that happiness, so be it. Faith teaches us to be concerned about others. Jesus reminds his disciples (and us, too) that this is how a believer will act, even if he only has a small faith.
Some of Jesus’ hearers might have been feeling quite proud of themselves for the way that they had lived their lives. Maybe, we fall into that trap, as well. Jesus reminds us of a very important truth by means of a parable. He said, “Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Would he not rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do?” Jesus uses an example from everyday life. Suppose a servant is out in the field. At the end of the day, he comes home. Will his master be sitting there, waiting to thank that servant and offer to make him supper? The answer, of course, is No. Instead, the master now gives orders to prepare his meal. Why didn’t the master praise the servant and offer to make the meal? It is because the servant was merely doing what he was supposed to be doing. As long as there was work to do, it was up to the servant to do it. His master owed him nothing, no even a thank you.
So, also, when we do what God wants us to do, we are not to be proud of ourselves or even think for a moment that God owes us anything. Rather, Jesus tells us, “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” We were created by God. We are his. He has every right to expect us to obey him and carry out his commands. Even if we were able to do everything that God expects of us, we could never say that God owes us anything.
Because of this fact, it makes God’s love all the more amazing. Although he owes us nothing, he has given us everything. He sent his Son to die for our sins. He raised him from the dead so that we might be sure our sins have been forgiven. He sent the Holy Spirit into our hearts to create faith. He gives us the faith to accept the free gift of forgiveness. He has promised to take care of all of our needs. He promises to hear our prayers. He has promised to take us to be with him forever in heaven. He even accepts our feeble attempts to serve him here on this earth, because they are done out of love for him. All of these are gifts that Father has given us. We confess in the explanation of the First Article of the Apostles Creed, “All this God does only because he is my good and merciful Father in heaven, and not because I have earned or deserved it.” We thank our God by doing those things that are pleasing to him. Serving God is not drudgery, but joy. It is living the faith that God has put into our hearts.
If you were to ask the average person on the street what their most valuable possession was, I am sure you would get many different answers, depending on the age of the person you ask. Some might say their gaming system or television. Some might say it is their vehicle or their property. While the world may put a great value on things like this, we have a different answer. The most valuable thing that we have been given is our faith. Because of the faith created in our hearts, our sins are forgiven and eternal life is ours. We join the disciples this morning and pray, “Lord, increase our faith. May our trust in you grow ever deeper and deeper.” We also pray that the Lord would help us to continually put that faith into action. Amen.
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