What is faith (Mark 1:1-11)

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the Prophets: “Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You.” “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight.’ ” John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose. I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. Then a voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:1-11)

The scripture we read today is the Gospel of Mark, which is the first book written about the works of Jesus. We have read the very first chapter of this book. I want to talk to you about this today as it contains what is central to our faith.

Since you’ve been coming to church, you’ve probably heard a lot about faith, haven’t you? Perhaps you’ve determined yourself, ‘I should really start having faith since I am going to church!’ You might have even thought, ‘With faith and courage, I will overcome the challenges of this difficult world!’ However, there may be a difference between the faith that you’re thinking of and the faith that we need to understand in church.

The faith that God speaks of does not exist in this world. It is something you have never heard of before. Many people who don’t even attend church often stand back and evaluate the church as such and such. However, they are only looking at the surface of things. In reality, those outside the church can never truly understand it. They have no way of knowing the faith of those who attend church. Until now, what you might have known has only been your own subjective understanding.

Faith which the world speaks about is somewhat like this: For example, when I was in university, there was a sport session where you had to score as many basketballs as possible into the hoop within one minute. Since I had not played much basketball, I couldn’t score many baskets. Therefore, I needed to practice by shooting the ball from under the hoop. Since I needed to get as many goals in the hoop in the short time, I couldn’t throw from afar. But the outcome would really depend on how much I practiced, right?

I didn’t have much time to practice, and my turn was quickly approaching. What I decided to do was practice in my mind. I remembered a book I read about that. It suggested that if you practice in your mind and believe in your mind and picture it in your mind concretely, it would lead to such results. Although I didn’t get a chance to practice in the court, I kept imagining it. I pictured myself shooting the ball into the hoop and believed that it will happen. ‘I will surely get the ball in! I will put shoot more than 20 goals in that one minute!’ I believed that and practiced in my mind. Then something remarkable happened. I doubled my score compared to when I didn’t practice in my mind. So, I believe that it works. If you really believe that something will happen, repeatedly think about it, imagine and picture it specifically, it really is effective and helpful.

Now, is this faith? Is this the faith that the church speaks about? Not at all. This practice has nothing to do with church, Jesus Christ, or God. This is something that has been available to any culture or era long before us, accessible to any human being. Therefore, there’s no need to come to church for this. It’ll be better off to lie down and imagine rather than coming to church.

The church, however, is where you come to receive something that the world cannot give. It is still faith, but not the kind that originates from human hearts or minds; – it is about believing in what God has revealed. This is God’s faith. It wasn’t conceived or deduced by humans; it is believing in what God has revealed.

Though we say believe, it can also be expressed differently – we acknowledge what God has taught us. That is our faith; having the faith that comes from God. That is our faith. It is about having God’s faith. In the scripture we read today, it refers to this faith as “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” What we believe in has an object, which is believing in what God has taught, namely the gospel. Please repeat after me:

“Believe in the Gospel!”

What do we believe? The Gospel. We believe in the Gospel. And what is the Gospel? It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. We have never heard about “the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” in this world. Although the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God might sound simple, made up of only a few words, the meaning embedded within it is far more than you might think.

Thus, if you think to yourself, ‘oh I know what faith is,’ then it will take a long time for you to have faith. It will take a long time for you to have faith. Therefore, you must discard any preconceived notions you have about faith. If you think, ‘What’s so special about going to church? What’s special about people who believe in Jesus?’ you are mistaken.

Indeed, Christians bear a significant responsibility for such misunderstandings among people. They were supposed to introduce the gospel precisely, but have failed to do wo. Many preachers, instead of conveying the gospel, fail to preach the gospel, inadvertently preaching faith that originated from man as though it came from God. As a result, people around the world often misunderstand that as the gospel.

Let me give you an example. I once heard a sermon from a Christian channel. The preacher was a famous American pastor. I listened from halfway into his sermon. But for a long time, he was talking about the topic of “don’t eat too much sugar”. He spent a lot of time emphasizing the harmfulness of sugar on your health and that you shouldn’t eat too much of it. Of course, such a topic could be used as an analogy to explain something. Curious about what he was trying to explain by talking so extensively about the harmful effects of sugar, I watched until the end. However, his conclusion was “Do not eat too much sugar!” That was his advice. Those were the words coming from the pastor of a large church during worship time.

To be honest, this has nothing to do with Christian faith. Such topics can be covered in a Buddhist temple or a community center. It is something we can talk about with friends. Because of such messages, many people become disappointed and leave the church, thinking, ‘Oh there’s nothing much in a church!’

But what you can hear in the church is something you have never encountered before and even if you do hear it, it may be difficult to understand. What Christians believe is not something that can be fully grasped after hearing it just once or twice. You were introduced to the church so that you could ultimately gain something incredibly good, something beyond your wildest imagination. This is why you were invited to the church and why you are being guided step by step. For this reason, we cannot reveal too much right from the start.

However, what we are trying to introduce to you is incredible. It is beyond anything you could imagine. You have not even thought about. With man’s ideas, even if you might think or imagine of something great, something good that people can give you, it doesn’t compare to even a fraction of what we can obtain at church. In other words, this means that there is a significant difference between the faith you might expect and the faith you will encounter at church. Unless you completely renew your heart, you might not be prepared to embrace this and could end up leaving the church after a few visits.

A while ago, a person I knew came to our church. That person’s child had cerebral palsy and they relied on the hospital for treatment for a long time but the child could not be cured. The child was about twelve years old. The parent had been to many places even a Buddhist temple. Finally, in a desperate attempt, they came to our church as a last resort.

When they came to church, the mother only expected her child’s sickness to be healed immediately. That was all she had anticipated. However, the church is not just a place for healing illnesses, nor does healing automatically occur simply because someone declares, “I want to be healed!” There are procedures and conditions. Therefore, there is a way to being healed. So, first faith needed to be planted in that child and he needed to be taught about faith. But as I mentioned earlier, faith is not what people commonly perceive it to be. I observed faith begin to take root in the child and a change taking place. I also provided help.

But the mother couldn’t accept the changes she saw in her child. While she hoped for his healing, she couldn’t accept the changes in him. She had resistance against faith. In her eyes, her child was suddenly saying things like “Jesus! Jesus!” and that he had received the Holy Spirit and speaking strangely. He was actually speaking in tongues. Since he was saying something that was incomprehensible, she thought her child had gone insane and even took him to a mental hospital.

He spent some time in the mental hospital before being discharged. He didn’t let go of his faith still and wanted to lead his faith life. He came to church and learned, but because he had such a strong encounter and experience with God, his mother just couldn’t accept it.  Eventually, she later locked him up so that he couldn’t go to church. And the child’s condition was worsened severely. I made considerable efforts to persuade his mother, but she resisted, insisting, ‘Just fix my child at once! Just make him normal so that he doesn’t suffer from cerebral palsy!’ That’s all she wanted. She rejected the faith God wanted of her. Consequently, even though God wanted to heal the child, He could not.

You came to church seeking what you want, and you might be exploring and making your own comparisons. However, God has His own situation. Faith involves listening to God’s word and acknowledging it. God has His interests, and true faith means taking an interest in His interests and aligning myself with them.

Think about it. Did you make God, or did God create you? Can you add or take away one strand of your hair? Can you turn it white or black? Sure, we could dye it, but our God even numbers every hair on our heads.

Who is God? There are many gods in the world. Some people misunderstand the word “You shall have no other gods before Me” and think there are no other gods except for that God. However, that’s definitely a misunderstanding. There are many gods in the world. There are many people in the world, aren’t there? But the gods outnumber people. People think that if they are good, blessings will follow, but that isn’t true. Why? Those gods will interfere. You think that if you work hard, you will achieve everything. But it doesn’t work like that. There are gods that hinder you, harass you, and cause you to fail.

Among the many gods, there is one God who is unlike any other. That God is THE GOD who created all things. He is the God who has the power to do anything, and nothing is impossible for Him. Unlike the other gods, this God has self-existed since eternity past and will exist forever. The movement of this world is all by the power of that God. That God created the earth, the universe, and even you and me. He is the One whom we now call God.

If we wish to contact and meet other gods, we can go elsewhere. We can turn to Buddhism or Lamaism or others. It is said that in India alone, there are millions of religions and names of gods. If we are seeking to be close to those gods and receive help from them, we simply need to call upon their names and worship them.

However, as I mentioned, the God whom we are serving now is the One who created heaven and earth, the Almighty, the Omniscient, and the One who will ultimately judge and govern all things. That is the God we believe in. How do we know that this God is so strong and powerful? It is because we know this that we believe in Him, and you need to gradually come to know this too.

That God has something to do with all of us. The very fact that our hearts are beating right now is due to this God’s power. The very purpose of our faith is to meet this God and share in all the glory and every good thing that this God has.

To put it simply, what is the most fundamental and greatest yet essential thing that this God can give us? It is eternal life. Everlasting life. Without eternal life everything else means nothing. What use is having money if you do not have life? Only with life can all things truly belong to us forever. Therefore, obtaining eternal life is our goal.

Yet even though humans were made by God, we neither know God nor have eternal life. Although we live by God, we remain unaware and ungrateful towards God. That is why humanity is destined to perish. We have long since turned away from God and betrayed Him, and thus are doomed to destruction. If God were to treat us the way we deserve, we should go to hell and perish forever. This unbelievable fate is waiting for us. However, God has not abandoned us to this fate; He desires to save us. He wants to rescue us from curses and punishment so that we might gain eternal life. This is what we are trying to gain right now.

In order to gain that, the pre-requirement is faith. Faith which I mentioned earlier. This faith is not just a vague belief that ‘if I do good, everything will go well for me’. Nor is it the type of faith where one thinks, ‘if I practice in my mind shooting the ball into the basketball net, I will definitely improve!’ We need to have the faith that God has given.

Thus, from now on in our church, you should strive to understand exactly: ‘what is the faith that God has given, that we might have eternal life and not be cursed, punished and go to hell?’ If I were to put that simply, it is “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the object of our faith.

God’s Son, whom He sent to accomplish His work as Christ, is Jesus. Jesus was baptized and came out of the water. Even at our church people are baptized. But 2000 years ago, Jesus came as a man and was baptized. At that moment, a voice came from heaven saying, “This is My Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased!” God Himself testified to two key truths – that Jesus is God’s Son and Christ. God made this declaration directly through His own lips. “This is My beloved Son! He is the One I am pleased with!” Because He said that, we believe.

So, when we hear how God said that, we are not going to say, “How come?” Instead, we should agree enthusiastically and acknowledge it. For example, if I say something to which another person responds, “Hey that’s a lie! You’re lying!” I wouldn’t want to have anything to do with that person anymore. God is the same. God opened His mouth and said, “That man is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased!” we should respond with a great deal of interest and respond, “Oh really? Why? What did He do that God is so pleaded with Him? How is that man the Son of God? How is He equal to God?” Yet, people are not even interested and they even deny it. Despite God saying He was pleased with Him, people instead accused Him as a sinner, crucified Him and didn’t accept Him. Such a person despises God.

However, when we hear God’s voice, we must be those who respond affirmatively. “Yes! That’s right!” We should clap our hands together in agreement. “Yes! You are right!” Since God said, “He is My beloved Son!” we should also agree and say, “Yes! Jesus is God’s Son!” Furthermore, since God said, “With Him I am well pleased”, how should we respond agreeably? “Yes! That’s right! He is Christ, sent by God, who perfectly fulfils everything God has commanded Him.”

There were a few people who acknowledged this. Out of them, the first disciple to realize this through inspiration was Peter. When the Lord asked, “Who do you say I am?” The disciple Peter answered, “Lord, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” In doing so, he was fully acknowledging what God had said. That was why Jesus was also very pleased.

In this way, our faith was not passed on to us by somebody else, nor did we come up with it. It wasn’t even Peter who first introduced us to this. Who was it that first revealed this to us? It was God who first revealed it to us, and responding in agreement to His revelation is what defines our faith. Those who do so become pleasing and beloved to God. That’s how they gain eternal life too.

As you start your church life, the attitude you need to have is this: ‘Since I came to church to know about God, I should agree enthusiastically with God from now on!’ You must be determined. Don’t try to tackle God. Don’t ignore what God said. Rather determine your heart that you will not ignore what God says, but will absolutely be in agreement with God. I bless you in Jesus’ name!

Then God will also help you. You must make an effort to meet God, and He will assist you in return. Only then will you be able to meet God. Otherwise, you can’t. If you aren’t properly prepared, no matter how hard you try, you will fail to meet God. As a result, you may conclude that there is nothing much in the church and leave. However, that’s not because there is something wrong with the church. It means you do not understand God. It means you haven’t met God. In Jesus’ name I bless you all to meet God without going through such failures. I’ll pray.

Father God, help us to be those who are grateful, interested in and attentive to the secret of God which He has spoken about before man, and be able to agree enthusiastically with Him. Help us to have the faith that God wants of us. In Jesus’ name! Amen.

Pastor Ki-Taek Lee
The Director of Sungrak Mission Center