Faith, the distinguishing mark of God’s people

When Jesus said, “According to your faith be it unto you,” he was talking to his fellow Jews, who understood that faith was the distinguishing mark of God’s people. Faith was the only right response of God’s people to the great God who had chosen them and promised in his Covenant with Abraham and his descendants to bless them as a nation.

But here they were, still under the thumb of pagan overlords many years after their return from exile in Babylon, and the deliverance they’d expected from God hadn’t happened. Their faith was being sorely tested. Surely Israel’s God would send his Messiah soon, but some couldn’t wait any longer and exploded in violent rebellion.

They failed the test of faith, in other words, because it was clear in the Old Testament that when God’s people were in crisis they should remember who they were: They were God’s Covenant people, so they should trust God to sort things out for them his way, not theirs. He’d delivered them successfully in the Exodus from Egypt, and he would do it again, so trust him.

But when Jesus arrived to begin the second Exodus, the reaction he got was much the same as Moses got. Despite obvious and clear miracles that Moses and Jesus had been chosen by God to deliver the nation, the leadership resisted, resulting in dire warnings from Jesus that their entire system would come crumbling down at the hands of the Romans. Those who did believe he was the Messiah, however, and heeded his warnings, would escape the horrors to come. And from them would grow the seeds of a new Israel, exactly as God had promised.

It was a huge test of their faith, then, when Jesus arrived as the One whom God had sent to fulfill his Covenant with Israel. Did they really believe Jesus was the Messiah? – because if they did believe, then “according to their faith” the blessings promised through the Messiah would come to them, the proof of which was the miracles Jesus was already doing for those who trusted him.

It all came down to faith. The Israel of the future would evolve through those who believed that Israel’s God was fulfilling his Covenant promise through Jesus. Faith in Jesus, therefore, was now the distinguishing mark of God’s people. It was no longer the Law, the Temple, the priesthood, or strict obedience to the extra rituals added by the religious zealots like the Pharisees. A true Israelite was the one who believed the actions and teaching of Jesus were the proof that God’s long-awaited Kingdom had begun.

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