A beautiful river divided two small villages in a remote country. The villagers on each side of the river lived primatively. The village on the east bank of the river was only ten miles south of the village on the west bank of the river. The two villages were not enemies, but they believed the gods had separated them by the river for a reason, so they had no contact with one another. Both villages had a common problem. They had no knowledge of what they could not see -- including germs. The occasional swim in the river was the closest they ever came to bathing. They certainly never washed their hands or food.
Life in each village was quite fragile. Though they had developed an amazing immune system to some diseases, their bodies could not withstand all that they ingested. Rarely did anyone live past fifty years of age.
An American missionary made his way up the river and was welcomed by the village on the east side of the river. The villagers listened to and observed this forty-year-old man with curious enthusiasm. They heard him speak of God. They were surprised to know that God had a Son who came to the earth. All that they learned from this visitor, they embraced. He taught them how to wash their food and their hands before eating so that the invisible sicknesses could not enter their bodies. They were astonished at such news, but readily accepted this new practice.
The missionary showed the villagers a picture of his family. They all wanted to see it at the same time. This strange paper in his hand that reflected his image and the images of others like him was fascinating to their eyes. They enjoyed the picture so much that he pulled every picture he had out of his wallet, including a picture of his own mother and father. The villagers pointed and gasped and wanted to know who they were and why their hair was white and their skin was creased. They had never seen a seventy-year-old human.
The missionary was happy to inform them that their new practice of washing and hygiene might enable them to live longer. They rejoiced and celebrated the news. Seeing the visual evidence in the picture encouraged them to continue the practice and the results proved true to the missionary's words. The greater news was that their newfound faith in God's Son, Jesus Christ, would allow the soul inside them to live forever, even after the body died.
That village was never the same. Over time, the average life expectancy of the villagers increased. They continually welcomed additional medical missionaries into their village and gladly accepted immunizations and learned how to better take care of themselves. They grew and prospered in both health and spirit.
As the knowledge of the villagers on the east side of the river grew, so did their compassion. They told their missionary friend, the one who first visited them and brought them such great news, about another village ten miles up the river that needed to learn all that he had taught them.
The missionary quickly made his way up the river. He found the village on the west side of the river. It was an exact replication of the first village he had visited. The west side villagers welcomed the missionary. He enthusiastically shared the same good news with the second village that he had shared with the first.
Yet, their response was not the same. They began to shake their heads. They did more than doubt his words. They became upset at his intrusion into their lives. He tried to show them the same pictures, but they screamed at the sight of them and forced him to get back into his boat and leave.
No outsiders were ever welcomed into that village again. All things remained the same in that village, just as they wished.
Jesus went from village to village teaching, healing, and performing mighty miracles that only God could do. He brought good news and great healing to town after town. Yet, when He taught in Nazareth, His words were not welcomed. His ways were not followed. He was met with intense rejection. Matthew wrote the following post script when this occurred: "Now He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief" (Matthew 13:58).
I wonder if the same principle is true in our own lives...in our own churches. Many churches today continue to be the same villages they were twenty, sixty, and a hundred years ago. What part does faith play in our personal and church growth...or lack thereof? It is a painful, yet necessary question to ask.
This can be taken to an extreme and an extremely wrong conclusion - that no one is ever healed or no church will ever grow without a perfect faith (Luke 17:11-17, for example). But wouldn't it also be foolish to deny that faith is a great help to our spiritual health and ecclesiastical vitality and stubborn unbelief can be a tremendous hindrance?
You and I can never go wrong trusting the voice and venue of God. His word and His way is tried and true.