It is time to reveal the top 10 acts of extreme faith in the Bible. My thanks go out to the many people who submitted their ideas for this list. I am sorry I could not include them all, but what would a top 10 list be without controversy over who got left off the list. After a brief description of the event I will comment on how each act qualifies based on our four criteria discussed in my previous article, which you can scroll down to read. Each act must display at least three of the four characteristics. As a refresher I will list the four criteria for you here:
1. Faith is not expected from this person.
2. An opposition to faith exists.
3. The individual has a lot to lose by stepping out in faith.
4. There is something unprecedented or unique about the act of faith.
As you will notice, I actually have 11 acts of faith, because there was a tie for 10th place. Okay, I admit it. it is a little like cheating to have a tie for 10th place, but there were more than 10 acts of faith that deserved making the list and this is one way I could get an extra one in. Now let’s see who made it on the list of the top 10 acts of extreme faith recorded in the Bible. I hope that reading these will spark something in your faith as you endeavor to fulfill God’s will in your life.
T-10. A Gentile dog begs for scraps from a Jewish table. In Mark 7:24-30 a Gentile woman from Syrian Phoenicia asks Jesus to cast a demon out of her daughter. A Gentile is not expected to have faith in the Jewish messiah. In fact, Jesus tries to shoe her away, basically calling her a dog. It was a rare moment in the ministry of Jesus indeed, that he would say no to someone asking for help. Clearly, this serves as an opposition to faith. This gentile woman had every reason to just walk away, but she didn’t. Instead she responded that even dogs get the scraps from the table. Jesus delivered her daughter because of this reply. Both the initial rejection by Jesus and his statement that the woman’s reply is the reason she got her miracle make this event unique. The one characteristic this woman did not have is that she really had nothing to lose by stepping out in faith. This is not her fault, of course; it is just the product of being truly desperate. For this, she comes in at #10 for extreme faith.
T-10. A centurion’s faith stuns Jesus (Mat 8:5-13). The story of the centurion who asks Jesus to heal his servant (Mat 8:5-13) is one of my personal favorites. It is unusual in that the centurion actually prevents Jesus from going to his home. Would you turn down an opportunity to entertain Jesus at your house? But when this man did, it became one of the great faith stories in the Bible.
As a centurion, this man was a Gentile and not someone anybody would expect to have faith. As we learn from the story of the Syrophoenician woman, it is questionable whether we should even expect Jesus to help this man. The story is unique, and it is its uniqueness that underscores the centurion’s faith. There are only a few instances in the Gospels where Jesus healed from a distance, and in none of them does the recipient of the miracle express faith in long distance healing. But this centurion stopped Jesus from entering the presence of his sick servant, declaring that he believed Jesus had enough authority to heal from a distance just by saying the word. Jesus responds with great praise, saying, “I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith” (v. 10). Of course, the servant was healed.
This story lacks extremeness in that the centurion had nothing to lose, and the opposition to his faith was limited; only his being a Gentile can be cited as a form of opposition, though some Jewish sneers, though not mentioned, were probably present. But when Jesus marvels at a man’s faith, it behooves us to put it in our top 10 list.
9. Jesus believes he can raise himself from the dead, and bets his life on it. When a man is the sinless Son of God and knows he came from the Father in heaven, when everyone he touches is healed and every demon he faces obeys his word, it can safely be said that we expect faith from him. Because we all expect faith from Jesus, it is difficult to call any of his acts extreme, at least according to our definition. But even the man with perfect faith had to go to extremes to offer himself in death, believing God would raise him from the dead. In fact, his faith went so far as to believe he would raise himself from the dead (Jn 2:19; 10:17-18).
It is not entirely unique to be raised from the dead; Jesus raised others, and so did Elijah and Elisha. But several factors make this act unprecedented. First, Jesus predicted his resurrection before he died. That had never been done before, at least not successfully. Second, his resurrection is unprecedented. Everyone else who was raised from the dead died again. But Jesus remains alive 2,000 years after his resurrection, and he is never to die again. Third, no one else ever raised himself from the dead, and I think we can safely say it will never be done in the future.
Jesus faced tremendous opposition to his mission of death. All his disciples tried to prevent him, and Satan himself was apparently behind it. Jesus agonized on the night of his arrest, struggling in the decision he had made. Then after being condemned he was taunted by people telling him to prove who he was by coming off the cross. This was genuine opposition because Jesus could have come off the cross. He could have called on legions of angels to help him. He could have stopped it at any time, but he did not. He stood in faith, believing that his death would do more for humanity than his life could, and trusting that his death would only be temporary. Nothing needs to be said about what Jesus had to lose. Without a resurrection Jesus is dead and humanity is lost. We all are most miserable. Jesus ended his life in its prime in faith that it was best for everyone, least of all himself.
8. Elijah does his Thor impersonation. In 1 Kings 18 Elijah stands up to the priests of Baal and wins in supernatural fashion. The uniqueness of this event speaks for itself. Elijah calls fire down from heaven and it consumes the sacrifice, proving the Yahweh is the God of thunder…and lightning. Elijah had a lot to gain by this act because he anticipated a national revival with Israel returning to serve Yahweh again. But he had a lot to lose, too. It does not matter that the priests of Baal failed; if Elijah’s God does not consume the sacrifice, Elijah will be dead by nightfall and the priests of Baal will be further entrenched in their spiritual control of Israel’s people.
The opposition Elijah faced is difficult to overstate. Everyone in Israel seemed to have turned to Baal worship. The prophets of Yahweh had been killed by Jezebel, and the priests of Baal were leading the nation in idolatry. Elijah had to go into hiding to escape the hand of the king after proclaiming a drought that lasted over three years. As far as Elijah was concerned, he was the only faithful follower of Yahweh in the world. It was not until after this event that God told him there were 7,000 who had not bowed the knee to Baal. The opposition he felt as he approached Mount Carmel must have been overwhelming.
But Elijah is just the man you would expect to have faith. In fact, he is the only man in the world we expect faith from, except maybe Obadiah. Plus, Elijah had a direct word from God that he would send the fire (v. 36), further helping him in his faith. Because of this, Elijah comes in at #8 on our list.
7. Peter decides it is time to rock the boat. I almost did not include this event from Mat 14:27-33 because Peter had a lot going for him to perform this act of faith. He had seen Jesus work many miracles and was actually watching Jesus walking on the water as he launched out. He had a command from Jesus to “come,” and at the end of the story Jesus comments not on Peter’s faith, but on his doubt.
Nevertheless, this act makes the list for several reasons. It is a unique act despite Jesus beating him to it. No other follower of Jesus had ever done this before. I have heard stories of it happening in modern times, such as during the 1971 revival in Indonesia, recorded in Mel Tari’s book, Like A Mighty Wind, but this still stands today as a unique type of miracle, one of only a few that no apostle ever tried, at least that the New Testament tells us. Peter also had a lot to lose and little to gain by doing this. It was quite a bold move to ask Jesus to bid him come out of the boat, and he ran the risk of drowning if it did not work. Outside of a cool newsletter story and impressing the other disciples, Peter had little to gain by stepping out of the boat.
However, there was not much opposition to faith, unless the raging of the waves served as one. I’ll accept that as a form of opposition. The one thing lacking in making this extreme is that we expect faith from one of the disciples. One might argue that with their track record at this time, we should not expect them to have faith, but Jesus’ comment, “You of little faith…why did you doubt” (v. 31) indicates the he expected Peter to believe, and if Jesus expects faith from him, so should we. The bottom line is, walking on water is pretty extreme, and I am struck by the fact that peter initiated it, asking Jesus to bid him to come out. It would be difficult for an act like this to not make this list, so it comes in at #7.
6. If she dies, she dies. During the exile, when King Xerxes needed a wife to replace the divorced Vashti, he found Esther, who hid her Jewishness to become queen of Persia. But the powerful Haman hated the Jews, especially Esther’s uncle Mordecai, and he devised a devious plan for their destruction. Mordecai had to convince Esther to go before the king and plead for the lives of the Jews. The only problem was, to do so she had to enter the king’s chambers without permission, and according to Persian law this is a crime punishable by death, unless the king extends his royal scepter.
Modern readers do not easily understand the danger Esther faced when she entered the king’s presence uninvited. Sure, we know he had the authority to put her to death, but we think, “Hey, she’s his wife. He’s not going to kill her just for entering his room without permission.” But we should remember that his previous wife got banished for not entering his presence when he called on her. When he married Esther, he probably barely knew her, so an emotional tie should not be assumed. Further, the king was not allowed to marry any but a Persian, and since Esther was a Jew, she knew she could get into serious trouble if her identity were discovered, something likely to happen in her attempt to rescue her people from destruction. The threat to lose her life by entering the king’s presence was very real and she knew it. Esther’s reluctance to go to the king despite the portent of a pogrom makes it clear that Esther felt her life was in danger.
Despite this threat it could be argued that Esther had nothing to lose by this step of faith. Mordecai told her that if she did not go to the king the Jews would be spared some other way, but Esther would not (4:14). But this only affects the extremeness of Esther’s faith if she believes Mordecai’s words are true, in which case, believing Mordecai is extreme, because it will result in her risking her life, while not believing him allows her to live on in the hopes that he is wrong. Apparently she believed Mordecai, for she agreed to go to the king. For sure, if she is not successful at first, her last resort would be to identify herself as a Jew, hoping the king would not be willing to kill his own wife. But that is a dangerous tactic that can result in her banishment. Esther had a lot to lose by remaining silent, but she also had plenty to lose by taking this step of faith.
A Jewish queen of a pagan empire single-handedly saving the Jews from extinction? That sounds pretty unique to me. There is no other story like this in the Bible, and partly for that reason Esther is one of the most cherished Bible stories for Jews and Christians alike. The opposition she felt came from none other than Haman. His intimidating presence and his high position as the king’s right hand man made it much more difficult for Esther to speak to the king because in doing so she had to implicate Haman as the perpetrator of the evil. The only drawback to extremeness is that Esther is a person we might expect to express faith, since she is one of only a few Jews surrounded by unbelieving Gentiles. For this, her bravery is the 6th most extreme act of faith in the Bible.
So far, two out of five acts of extreme faith have come from the Old Testament. In general, we are more expectant of faith from a New Testament character than from one who lived before Jesus came. We also expect faith far more from someone after the Day of Pentecost than we do during the earthly ministry of Jesus. Being filled with the spirit has its advantages. Later this week I will post the top 5 acts of extreme faith, and all but one of them will come from the Old Testament, but what will be #1. Find out when we release the results later this week.