Title: (In)Sufficient Faith
Text: Matthew 17:14-23
FCF: We often struggle to gain victory over things that are opposed to God.
Prop: Because nothing is impossible for those with genuine faith, we must have genuine faith.
[Slide 1] Turn in your bible to Matthew chapter 17. Last week we saw this huge experience on Mount Hermon with Peter, James and John watching. Jesus’s humanity is displaced to reveal Himself to be the King of Glory. He steps down from the mountain and reveals Himself to be the Prophet that God said He would send all the way back in Deuteronomy. From all of this we drew the conclusion that we needed to listen to this prophet King. And we went back and looked at all He has said thus far, and asked some challenging questions of ourselves. And in just a few verses we will be setting out on yet another opportunity to listen to Him, as we will begin the 4th discourse of Matthew. But as Matthew builds to that discourse, He has been showing us some absolutely abysmal failures of the disciples. Really this whole narrative has been one big failure after another. And there are bright spots, like when Peter walks on water, and with Peter’s confession – but there are very dark spots too, like when Peter sinks and is called Satan. These failures and downright embarrassing displays by the disciples of Christ will culminate in a pretty silly squabble they have in chapter 18. Don’t go there yet. We aren’t there yet J But today we will notice one of the lowest of the lows for disciples that are not named Peter. Peter was called Satan and rebuked by God when he suggested treating Jesus like everyone else in the Kingdom. But the other 9 disciples who did not go up the mountain, have a similar disgrace, as what was once a power and authority they wielded with proficiency, they now cannot duplicate. It is obvious that they are regressing. And that is alarming. Let’s start reading in verse 14. I am reading from the ESV but follow along in whatever version you have ready.
The last three episodes here in the narrative are difficult to lace together. I have put the first two together but with very loose threads. The last episode almost seems off topic, although when we get there next week, I’m sure you will see that it is very much on topic. But for today Let’s dive in to verse 14 and see what God has for us.
I.) Nothing is impossible for those with genuine faith, so we must depend on Christ alone. (14-18)
a. [Slide 2] 14-15 – And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to Him and, kneeling before Him, said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water.
i. So coming down off the mountain, back into the outskirts of Caesarea Philippi, a crowd has formed (as they do with Jesus) and perhaps the 9 disciples that remained below have been attending to them.
ii. A man approaches Him. We are given no information about this man. Is he a Jew? Gentile? We don’t know.
iii. He kneels before Jesus and calls him Lord. This is not necessarily a statement of faith per se, but it is a position of submission and humility. So we know that he has humbled himself before Jesus.
iv. He begs for mercy for his son. Only those who are desperate beg for mercy. But his son’s ailment has driven him to desperation. It is a sickness with a sinister cause.
v. He is epileptic. So he is having seizures, but the nature of these seizures is what is the clue that there is something more going on.
vi. Often times he suffers the seizures while around fire or water. Almost as if there is something in him pushing the button for a seizure at exactly the worst times. Times when he could die or be seriously hurt.
b. [Slide 3] 16 – And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.”
i. This confirms our guess previously that the 9 remaining disciples who did not go up Mount Hermon, were tending to the crowds that gathered.
ii. But Jesus being absent should have had no real effect on whether or not they could heal this young man, or even take care of the deeper problem causing his sickness. How do I know that?
iii. Back in chapter 10 Jesus was sending out his disciples throughout Galilee to preach the Kingdom’s coming. They were given authority at that time to cast out demons, heal the sick, and raise the dead. And although we don’t get confirmation that they were able to do these things in the book of Matthew, Mark 6:13 tells us very bluntly that they did. “They cast out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.“
iv. This wasn’t beyond them – or at least it shouldn’t have been. And clearly they thought it wasn’t beyond them either.
v. Why then did they fail?
vi. What a haunting and embarrassing event for the disciples. Not only were they not chosen to go up with Jesus on the mountain, but here they were being tattled on by a man with a sick boy who they could not help.
c. [Slide 4] 17 – And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.”
i. Who is Jesus answering?
ii. The most obvious option is the man with the sick boy. He is the one talking to Jesus. But these words seem a bit harsh for a man begging for mercy.
1. Perhaps if he was a Gentile and the fact that Jesus has time and again emphasized that it was not His mission to help the Gentiles.
2. Perhaps if this man’s true motivation was simply to get a miracle and his faith was fake.
3. But all this is based on information we don’t have. That coupled with Jesus talking about the entire generation, would certainly include this man, but probably this is not a direct answer to him.
iii. The second option is the disciples. This is also a valid option since the disciples obviously failed to heal this young man. Again though, the use of the word generation seems to include but not limit to the disciples.
iv. The third option is the crowd. This fits the generational comment, but again we are left to wonder why Jesus would say something like this, since Matthew is silent on the crowds inner thoughts and feelings.
v. Even though it seems like a politician’s answer, probably the best answer is that Jesus is talking, generally, about the entire generation of people that He had been ministering to for the last 2 plus years. So, pretty much everyone in this passage and then some.
vi. Jesus is triggered by the disciples inability to perform a miracle that He had given them authority to do already. But His statements go beyond the present situation and speak to His whole ministry on earth. He speaks to everyone, when He says…
1. That they are faithless. What does this word mean?
a. They are untrusting
d. They recognize no need at all for God.
2. That they are twisted. What does this word mean?
a. Perverse or warped
b. This is probably, most likely in reference to their moral behavior
c. They are law breakers.
d. Not only do they break the law, but invent justifications for why it is ok that they broke it.
vii. Then Jesus asks two questions. And these are questions that must counter balance our perception of the wimpy and soft Jesus that we seem to always have in view.
1. How long am I to be with you? - How much longer do I have to dwell among you? How much longer do I need to be here on earth with you? When can I leave?
2. How long am I to bear with you? How long do I have to put up with you? When can I stop enduring all the stuff you are putting me through?
3. Jesus saying these words is kinda shocking. We expect Him to be patient all the time. Longsuffering all the time. Loving all the time. These words don’t seem so lovely. Why is He saying all this?
4. Rather than me try to explain it, I’ll leave it to much smarter men…
a. [Slide 5]These words “… express not only personal disappointment but also Jesus’ consciousness of His heavenly origin and destiny. His disciples’ perverse unbelief is actually painful to Him. He must endure it…” – D.A. Carson
b. [Slide 6]“…which gives us a little glimpse of how trying it must have been for such a one as Jesus to be set in the middle of such spiritual pygmies… the two questions bring out something of the trial it was for Jesus to be constantly confronted by people who were not fully sympathetic to what He was doing.” - Leon Morris
c. [Slide 7] “No doubt He was becoming increasingly anxious to return to His heavenly Father, with whom He had just experienced a unique time of fellowship on the mountain. In His humanness, He must have been tempted to doubt whether His soon-coming suffering and death would be worthwhile.” – John MacAruthur Jr.
5. [Slide 8] As the culmination of His mission looms ever closer where He will bear the full-measure of the wrath of God, His frustration at the ones for whom He is about to bear it, is evident and expected. All you people care about is Israeli dominance. All you people care about is having all your boo-boos fixed. All you people care about is making sure you look good on the outside.
6. I can’t wait to go home. Where all things are as My Father wants them – as they should be.
viii. But Jesus’ frustration does not prevent His compassion. He commands His disciples “You bring him to me”
d. [Slide 9] 18 – And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly.
i. Despite His frustration with humanity, He still shows compassion on the boy. He grants this father’s request for mercy.
ii. His Human frustration does not prevent His divine Longsuffering. What a beautiful picture of the God-Man in action.
iii. And what an amazing example of how our flesh may fail – but His Spirit is strong.
[Slide 10 (blank)] If this was a test for the 9 disciples that remained behind, they failed miserably. They, like all their generation, showed a faithless and twisted heart that was unable to do what Jesus had already given them authority and power to do. What they had already done, they could no longer do. WHY? Why were they unable to do it? Well that is what they wanted to know. So they came and asked.
II.) Nothing is impossible for those with genuine faith, so our dependence and surrender must be growing. (19-20/21)
a. [Slide 11] 19 – Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?”
i. They came privately. Could this be to spare themselves more embarrassment? Perhaps. Or perhaps they don’t want to publically put their master on the spot. In any case, this was a conversation that would be best in private.
ii. The “we” here is emphasized in the Greek. Why could WE not cast it out?
iii. The disciples already suppose the answer to the question. In their minds, they did nothing different than Christ did. Therefore since the method was the same, they had to assume that there was something deficient within themselves.
iv. Perhaps they asked the question hoping for a method answer. It is because you didn’t hold your mouth right, or because you didn’t pray enough.
v. But to their horror, Christ reveals that there was something wrong with them, but it isn’t something new.
b. [Slide 12] 20 – He said to them, “Because of your little faith.
i. Perhaps you are thinking that you have heard Jesus say this to His disciples before. In Matthew, this word “little faith” (one word in Greek) is only used when talking about the disciples.
ii. 6:30, 8:26, 14:31, 16:8
iii. When we read little – we get the impression that it is small, tiny, pint sized, or puny.
iv. In reality, this word is speaking less to quantity and more to quality.
v. Little faith is faith that is lacking something, it is deficient, it is faith but of a kind and nature that is insufficient or less than what it could have been or should have been. Just as James describes a faith that does is not saving since it lacks righteous works that follow it – so this is a kind of faith that does not meet the criteria to be classified as acceptable. It is poor faith.
vi. To which the natural question would be – well if our faith is insufficient, then what faith would be sufficient?
vii. Jesus continues…
c. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed,
i. Whenever Jesus says truly I say to you, or verily, verily I say unto you – you can go ahead and translate that “Brace yourself kids – I’m about to drop some knowledge on ya!”
ii. Jesus is saying – what I am about to teach you is a lesson that you cannot misunderstand and you cannot afford to miss.
iii. So what is that lesson?
iv. If you have faith like a grain of mustard seed. Now how many of your bible translations that you are reading from right now have something to the effect of “if you have faith as small as a mustard seed?”
v. That translation is interpreting scripture for you. Doesn’t mean it is bad or that you should throw it out. And while I agree with the premise that says small dependence on a big God produces big results, I think there is something deeper here.
vi. Before when Jesus spoke of a mustard seed, He did mention its size, but He also mentioned something else about the mustard seed. That although it was the smallest seed planted in a garden in the Middle East, it grew to be the largest herb in the garden. So large that birds could make nests in the branches.
vii. The Greek text does not say faith as big as or as little as or the size of a mustard seed. It says faith like a mustard seed. So what is true about a mustard seed? And how could faith be like it?
viii. Could I submit to you that this, like Jesus’ comment on their little faith, is not talking about the quantity of faith required, but instead the quality of the faith that is required. This is talking about a faith that begins small but grows to something huge over time. That Jesus is saying, if your dependence on me started with your eternal soul but is growing and increasing so that your dependence and surrender to me is deepened and expanded every day – if that is the faith you have… then what?
d. you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move,
i. This is a proverbial statement prevalent in Jewish Rabbinic teaching to describe something that is practically impossible.
ii. We could probably relate since moving a mountain is still not a task that we could do easily. We can blow them up maybe – but the time and resources necessary is no easy task.
iii. And logically this flows that if we are depending on God for all things – even for breath, yet there stands a mountain in the way of accomplishing what God has called us to accomplish, that all we must do is command it to move. For God’s power and God’s will is what we are depending on and therefore – no mountain can stand up to that.
iv. In fact…
e. and nothing will be impossible for you.
i. So with faith that has a growing and permeating nature about it – faith that grows and takes us over – that kind of faith produces a person for which nothing is unachievable.
ii. Now this is not some positive thinking, put your mind to it, reach for the stars, you can be whoever you dream load of gobbilty gook.
iii. This is The Messiah cluing His disciples in to the nature of the New Covenant.
iv. That with the Spirit of God dwelling in the hearts of genuine believers, there is LITERALLY nothing in the will of God, with the power of God, that we cannot do.
v. Again – just in case you still heard the wrong thing. This is not the life verse to go to, to prove that you can get a college degree, or that you can overcome cancer, or that you can overcome some adversity, or trial. Don’t use this verse for that. That isn’t what Jesus is talking about here.
vi. He is saying – that when God reveals His will to you, and gives you the power and authority to do something, there is no can’t. The question of ability has been answered. The only wild card – is your continued dependence and surrender.
f. [Slide 13] 21 – But this kind never comes out except by prayer and fasting
i. Perhaps you noticed that when we were reading that I skipped over verse 21.
ii. Or, perhaps you are noticing for the first time, that your bible does not have a verse 21, but that it goes from verse 20 to verse 22.
iii. In Mark, Jesus tells the disciples that the reason they failed was because this kind, of demon presumably, requires prayer to cast out.
iv. Let me start by commenting on Mark. The point he is making there is probably the same kind of point that Jesus just made here in Matthew about the little faith, which is omitted in Mark. That there was something wrong with their level of dependence on God. That rather than pray and seek the Lord to do this work through them, they instead underestimated the demon and overestimated their own power to cast him out. Instead, they should have prayed and sought the Lord.
v. So why does the ESV and other modern translations omit this verse, while older translations like the KJV have it in? Do we have corrupted new versions that are subtracting from scripture?
1. The simple answer is that the quantity and quality of manuscripts available to the KJV translators when they translated their text, is not equal to the quantity and quality of the manuscripts we have today.
2. Since the translation of the KJV several older and more reliable manuscripts have been discovered.
3. Interestingly enough, many of the oldest and most reliable manuscripts that we have do not have verse 21 in them.
4. What probably happened is in the margins of the text a copyist or possessor of a copy wrote this phrase to remind them of what Mark had said in his gospel.
5. Over time that margin note slowly inserted itself into the text and became the 21st verse of Matthew 17.
vi. But since Mark’s message and Matthew’s message line up anyway- regardless of whether you include this verse or not, the meaning is essentially the same. Genuine Dependence on God means that the Power of God is with you to do the Will of God and in that, there is nothing that is impossible.
[Slide 14 (blank)] I’d like to be able to tell you that the disciples learned their lesson from this. I’d like to be able to say that they depended on and trusted Jesus from then on. But in the next two verses, they quickly prove that is not the case.
[Slide 15] As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And they were greatly distressed. (22-23)
In what will be the last trip back to Galilee, and back to His home town of Capernaum, He gives the second explicit prediction of his death and resurrection. But rather than faith, the disciples’ response was despair. Did they not hear what He just said? Had they forgotten what He said to them in Caesarea Philippi? That with genuine dependence on the power and will of God that nothing is beyond their grasp?
Let’s not be like the disciples here. Let’s listen to the what the Lord is teaching us this morning.
[Slide 16 (blank)(end)] The basic teaching in this text is that to those who possess genuine faith, nothing is impossible. Their faith, their dependence is on the will and power of almighty God. They do not draw success from within, but from His faithfulness. Genuine faith is a faith that starts with simple repentance and belief and grows to a life dominating relationship where He transforms us to be more and more like His Son.
This really presents for us two basic applications that go hand in hand.
1.) Our faith, our dependence, our hope, our mercy, our grace, flows from Christ alone. There is no other name in which we can draw hope. So it is in conversion, sanctification, and glorification, Christ is the foundation on which our hope rests. His substitution for us is complete. In His incarnation he bore the same struggles and temptations Adam did. In His life he bore for us the weight of holiness and perfection, a weight that Israel could not bear, but he lived obedient to God, even to the point of the cross. In His death he bore for us the penalty of our sin as He bore the full cup of the Father’s wrath on sin. Your sin. My sin. The great defamation of the Father’s name as He continued to be a bad judge allowing men and women to violate His law over and over again and only the blood of lambs and goats to cover it up so its stench did not pollute everything – now in Christ’s crushing on the cross, God’s name is cleared. The debt is paid. He is Holy and Just. And finally in Christ’s victorious resurrection He conquered sin and death and substitutes for us life, life in righteousness for our King. A new body, a new creation, a new life. We are made new through His substitute, not just for our penalty – but for our existence. We disappear into His existence because that is our only hope. This… is faith friends. Not a set of beliefs you cling to. Not a religion you adhere to. It is losing your life – disappearing into the identity of Christ – because that is the only way to be pleasing to God. God is only pleased… with His Son. That is what we mean when we say that our faith is in Christ alone. Our faith is in His faithfulness.
2.) But the second application today is really a result of the first. If this is true. If we disappear into the identity of Christ. If we are in Him and He in us, then that union will not render us marginally changed. That union will not slightly modify our behaviors. That union will not slightly modify our weekend plans forever. That union will not slightly tweak what we say, what we wear, what we watch and what we do.
That union with Christ, will have constant, deliberate, and devastating effects on who we are. From the inside out, Christ will systematically take us over. We will be invaded by the grace of God.
All too often we see grace as this soft and cushy thing that it isn’t. This favor, this special love, this willful act of kindness toward one who does not deserve it, is a power play, it is checkmate, it is an “I sunk your battleship” type of grace. The grace that saves you is a grace that declares with all authority that All your base are belong to us. God bellows - You Lose! I Win! YOU ARE MINE!
That will put some teeth on your view of God’s grace I think.
But after we have admitted defeat and surrendered to that grace to overwhelm us, then He smiles and says – and I’m never letting you go!
And the newness we feel at conversion, keeps going. Keeps growing.
His mercies are made new everyday – as He continues to forgive, and to prune, and to purify, and to perfect.
Until we are grown into the full stature of His Son.
Do you want to know why the Organized church is steeped in sin?
Do you want to know why we allow people to have life dominating sin problems that we chalk up to made up words that a godless psychologist created 100 years ago?
Do you want to know why the Organized church of America represents 70% of the people in this nation but only 9% of them claim the bible as their final authority for life?
The answer is pretty simple.
The organized church is infested with these 9 disciples. The organized church is filled with people who have a form of godliness but deny its power. They are trying to cast out the demons but have deficient faith. They are fighting the right fight but are powerless against the forces of darkness because they lack the power of God. They stand for all the right things – but they are lost. They are blind leading the blind.
How can you say that Chris? How can you be so callous, so cold. How can you judge the condition of a person’s heart when you’ve never met them?
A person who has faith like a mustard seed, can do the impossible in the power and will of God. And God has given power and passion to His children to hate sin, to love His precepts, and to lose themselves in the identity of Christ.
So if you are here today and you can’t get victory over a sin. If you rarely or never look to scripture to guide how you make decisions. If you have claimed to be a follower of Christ, but aren’t hating sin, loving His word, Loving His followers
Then I want to ask you – are you sure that your faith is sufficient? Are you sure it is a saving kind of faith?
If it isn’t- you can’t go work on it. You can’t try harder. You can’t go home and engineer bible reading time and prayer time and expect that to cut it.
If your faith isn’t transforming you into someone who is more like Christ, if you are ALWAYS failing where God says He has given you victory – then the only recourse you have is to cry out to the Lord. To repent for your deficient faith and beg Him for a faith that can make you new. To cry out for a faith that is growing. For a faith that is saving. Not just from hell but from your sin.
Countless testimonies of genuine believers describe this process where they see changes starting from within. Not that they read the Word more but that they craved it more. Not that they prayed more but that they couldn’t not pray. Not that they worked hard to love others more, but that they couldn’t stop the compassion from oozing out of them.
This is the testimony of God’s work in us. This is the gift of Faith from God. It is the faith of Christ. Only He can do it in you. Cry out to Him and ask Him for that kind of faith.
And continue to do so. Continue to depend on and surrender to Him.