Matthew 17:14 – And when they came to the crowd a man came up to him and, kneeling before him,
The narrative found in Matthew 17:14-21 is also found in Mark 9:14-29 and Luke 9:37-43. Again, the other gospel writers give us additional details, so we will use all three accounts in our study of this passage.
According to Luke, this event took place on the day following the transfiguration. The crowd/multitude met them as they came down from the mountain.
According to Mark, When Jesus and the three disciples (Peter, James and John) came down from the mountain they not only saw the crowd, but they found the scribes questioning and debating with the remaining disciples.
Mark 9:14 – And when he came to his disciples, he saw a great multitude about them, and the scribes questioning with them.
What a turn-around! Jesus went from the mount of transfiguration to the work of the devil; from a manifestation of glory to conflict with satanic possession. He left the comforting company of Moses and Elijah to find conflict with the unbelieving scribes.
Once more he sees the pain, misery and agony of the human race. He again comes face to face with the very reason that he came into the world – to set us free from the bondages of Satan, and restore us back into relationship with God.
It was probably a scene of mass confusion: the 9 remaining apostles are being confronted by a party of malicious scribes, whose intent was probably to confound or perplex them. No doubt, the scribes were raking the disciples over the coals for not being able to heal this boy, and they probably insinuated that Jesus couldn’t heal him either. Their ‘questions’ were not true inquiries for truth as much as they were an attempt to discredit the disciples and turn the multitudes away from following Jesus.
In the midst of this debate, a man from the crowd pushes his way up front and kneels before Jesus.
Matthew 17:15 – 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.”
Satan has done the most despicable thing imaginable – he has torn apart an entire household by attacking the child.
This man’s only son is an epileptic. This disorder comes upon him and causes seizures which make him fall – sometimes into fire and sometimes into water, leaving him in constant physical danger. Mark and Luke reveal that during these attacks he foamed at the mouth and gnashed his teeth. The boy was slowly but surely wasting away.
Can you imagine the utter hopelessness and despair of this boy’s parents? Can you see them consulting every physician they could afford and hearing that nothing could be done? Can you imagine the sleepless nights they endured – either waking up as he has a seizure, or lying awake at night wondering how they could help him get cured?
Yet, for all their worry they are completely unable to help him. This disease is not just robbing their household of peace and joy, it is causing them terrible grief and anguish.
Soon we will find that the disease of epilepsy is being aggravated by a demonic spirit.
Matthew 17:16 – “And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.”
The disciples, who had recently done miracles and cast out devils in their missionary journey, have met with a case that they cannot handle. Jesus will soon reveal that they were unable to help due to a lack of faith and prayer (and fasting). While their failure is probably embarrassing and hard to accept, it is going to teach them two very important lessons – humility and dependence on God.
These lessons have not diminished in importance. In this age, we still need to learn humility and dependence on our Heavenly Father for all that we do in his kingdom. The minute we try to do something in our own power, we will fail (just like the disciples). Jesus reminds us:
John 15:5 – I [Jesus] am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
Covering something in prayer is much better than the best of planning! This is not to say that we should not plan for our kingdom activities, but sometimes we are all about the planning and we neglect to pray. When we do, we are relying on our own power, instead of depending on God.
For example, perhaps your church wants to resume a children’s program after the COVID virus. You can (and should) make plans to bring this about. However, it is equally important to cover the reopening of the program in prayer. If God is involved, it will be successful.
Humility is also a key. You and I both know that God tells us over and over that he hates an attitude of pride. He will bring it down every time. But if we stay humble and seek him in prayer, he will bless our plans or better yet, he will reveal HIS plans to us.
Matthew 17:16-17 – “And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.” 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.”
Who exactly is Jesus addressing here? Who are the faithless?
Some scholars believe he is referring to the disciples. They believe Jesus is chastising the disciples for not using the power and authority he had already given them. Where was the faith they had exhibited on their missionary journey?
Some think he is referring to the scribes, especially due to the phrase ‘twisted generation’. The religious leaders are maliciously happy at the failure of the disciples to cure this young man, and are trying to use this incident to discredit the disciples (and Jesus) in front of the crowds.
Still others feel that his comments have some application to all who were present – the disciples, the scribes and the Jewish people in general.
We may be unsure exactly who Jesus is addressing, but we can be sure of his message – there was a lack of faith.
Mark 9:20-22 – And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood…..But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”
It is easy to see and feel the desperation of this father. He is discouraged because reaching out to God by way of the disciples seems like just another dead end. He is already beaten down by the traumatic effects this disease has taken on his son and his family. He recalls that this has been going on since his son was very small – in other words, a very long time. In fact, it seems like it will never end; it seems like there is no cure. As he focuses on his circumstances, he sinks deeper into a pit of despair. It is from this place of hopelessness that he cries out “IF you can do anything”.
Mark 9:23-24 – And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
The response of Jesus clearly shows that there is no lack on his part – he has inexhaustible supplies of power and authority to heal this boy. The problem lies with the father (and previously the disciples). He does not have the faith needed to grasp and hold onto (claim) the miracle of healing. True, he has some faith/belief, but as Jesus points out, there is still a well of unbelief in his life.
Jesus does not point this out so he can belittle this man. He does not point it out and use it as an excuse not to heal the boy. He points it out so that the man can come to terms with it and rise above it – so that his faith can grow to the point where he can receive the miracle he is seeking from God.
As the man hears Jesus, his spirit is quickened. He recognizes that he does have faith, but he is still struggling with unbelief. He cries out to Jesus (aka prayer) and in that minute his faith grows to a point where he can receive the miracle he needs.
Matthew 17:18 – And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly.
We find that Jesus had drawn out or stretched the faith of this father to a point where he was able to receive the miracle he needed. And as soon as that happened, Jesus healed his son.
What lesson can we take away from this biblical example?
I think that many Christians can identify with this earthly father. Sometimes our loved ones decide to abandon the paths of God in order to experience the things of the world. As a result, they sometimes get into a place of bondage. For example, they may become addicted to drugs, or alcohol or find themselves trusting in a false god/religion. They may wind up in bad or abusive relationships. They may lose everything they had financially.
Also like the father in this narrative, we will try everything we can to assist our loved one when they are bound by the enemy. We will have sleepless nights as we worry and we will spend whatever amount of money we have to assist them. We may try to reason with them. We may share scripture with them. But also like the father in this story, our efforts do not always resolve the situation. Sometimes, they seem to make it worse.
If that is the case, we need to follow the example of this father, and cry out to God for deliverance.
There may be times of discouragement. There may be times where we feel the situation is hopeless. There may be times where we see no change and are tempted to give up, thinking that our loved one has been in bondage so long, that things will never change.
If that is where you are today, then take heart! Jesus assures us that nothing is impossible to the one who believes!
Resist your unbelief! Ask Jesus to help you with it. Speak (out loud) to that situation and declare victory over it. Speak deliverance over it. Speak the scriptures over it. Tell that bondage that it must fall under the authority of Jesus. By exercising the faith you have, you will cause it to grow and strengthen. Dwell on the scriptures:
Romans 10:17 – So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
Spend time with God in prayer; his presence will also increase your faith.
We can leave this part of the narrative with feelings of confidence. Greater is he that is in us, than he that is in the world! Satan is strong, active and malicious. But Jesus is able to save to the uttermost all those who come to him. He can break the bondage of Satan and the bondages of sin and set us free. And he whom the Son sets free, is free indeed!
So let us not be weary in well doing. In due season we shall reap, if we faint not!
Matthew 17:19 – Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it our?”
Once the disciples and Jesus retired to a more private place, the disciples ask the obvious question – why couldn’t they heal the boy/cast out the demon?
Remember, Jesus had given them power to cast out devils when they went out in pairs to proclaim the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 10:8). I imagine there was great concern that God had taken away their power to work miracles and their authority over demons. This probably gave rise to all kinds of fears, doubts and questions.
But in reality God had not changed his mind at all. Like the father of the demon possessed boy, they simply lacked faith. They had some faith, but not enough. They believed, but not fully.
Matthew 17:20 – He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”
Jesus likens faith to a mustard seed. It starts out very small but quickly grows and expands until it is one of the greatest of all herbs. Likewise, if we have thriving and increasing faith, we will be able to remove even the biggest of obstacles out of our way (to remove mountains is a proverbial expression which signifies the doing of anything seemingly impossible; overcoming difficulties that seem insurmountable).
However, the phrase “nothing will be impossible for you” is not as absolute as it sounds. This promise does not mean that a Christian can acquire any random thing that pops into their mind (like a new truck), as long as they have enough faith. The thing asked for must be in the will of God and be for our good or the good of the church.
As a Christian matures in their walk with God, our will and our desires should become God’s will and desires for us. Once we reach that point, then we can receive anything we ask for.
Now is a good time to remind ourselves that even if we have great faith, but we do not have love for our fellow man, we are nothing:
1 Corinthians 13:2 – And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing.
The purpose of great faith is not to please our own selves or satisfy our own desires. It is to glorify God and do his work on earth.
Matthew 17:21 – But this kind never comes out except by prayer and fasting.
The text indicates that some demonic powers are stronger than others, and require a greater amount of faith to cast them out.
Jesus tells us that fasting and prayer are essential in these cases. Fasting helps you to gain control over your flesh. It produces an inward quietness and calm that makes the mind focus on the things of God. Prayer takes one into intimate communion with God. Anytime we are in communion with God, our faith will grow. So, fasting and prayer combine to assist one in increasing faith.
Matthew 17:22-23 – 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.
The closer his crucifixion became, the more often Jesus spoke to the disciples about his death. He was telling them these things so that they would not be caught off guard when it happened. By telling them in advance, Jesus showed them that his death was by his own will; they should not lose faith in him when he was crucified. Notice also, that Jesus does not speak of his death without giving the good news that he would also rise again.
In this particular passage, we notice that the disciples are greatly distressed about this announcement, yet they don’t question him any further on the topic. Why was that?
They did not want to face that truth, because it did not fit in with their expectations. They still believed that the time had come for Messiah to be revealed as the conquering king, who would free Israel and set up his reign on earth. They had been with Jesus and seen all his miracles. They knew he could easily set up his kingdom right then, and I am sure they hoped he would. As we know, their belief was certainly true, but they had the timing all wrong – that event is still in the future.
Perhaps some of their thoughts were selfish – they had left everything to follow Jesus. If he dies, where does that leave them? They certainly couldn’t go back to the way life was, but how could they move forward without their master?
For these reasons, they did not want to face the fact that Jesus would soon sacrifice himself on the cross.
Matthew 17:24 – When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?”
Matthew now records a very odd incident involving a fish and some tax money. What is the purpose of this strange event? What does it teach us?
First, let’s look at the history of the tax. Back in the book of Exodus, God instituted a tax on all males age 20 and above (Exodus 30:13-16). The tax was a half shekel, or about 12 ½ cents in US currency. The purpose of the tax was to help fund the expenses of the temple for things like animals, wood, incense, flour, salt, etc.
It was paid yearly, at one of the three great festivals of the Jews – Passover, Feast of tabernacles or Pentecost. It was even collected from Jews living in foreign countries.
[After the destruction of Jerusalem the Romans ordered the Jews to continue paying the tax, but put it in a fund to rebuild the temple of Jupiter.]
So the question put to Peter by the tax collector was this: Is your teacher a law abiding Jew? Will he pay the tax or does he consider himself above the law?
Matthew 17:25-26 – He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others? And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free.”
Peter, without hesitation, gives the tax man an affirmative answer; of course Jesus pays the tax. From this we infer that it had always been Jesus’ custom to conform to the regulations of the law. Peter’s answer was like a commitment to pay. As he left the tax collector and headed home, he was no doubt wondering how he could bring up this subject to Jesus.
But when he arrives, Jesus speaks to him first, about the very thing that was on Peter’s mind!
Jesus asks a question regarding the kings of this world. Do they collect taxes or finance their kingdoms by taking money from their own sons? Peter correctly answers ‘no’. Taxes are paid by everyone else, but the king’s own children do not pay.
So Jesus is actually exempt from the tax for two reasons.
First, God is the creator and owner of the entire universe. As his Son, Jesus is heir to the whole natural realm and exempt from any tax collected in this life.
The same is true in the kingdom of heaven. Since Jesus is the Son of God, he is well within his rights not to pay the temple tax. However, he voluntarily refrains from exercising his rights in this case. Jesus came to earth as a servant, and he will accept that role until everything he came to do was fulfilled. His glory and the glory of his kingdom will be revealed at the proper time. Until then, Jesus submits to earthy authority.
Matthew 17:27 – “However, not to give offence to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.”
Since the vast majority of people do not yet understand that Jesus is the Son of God, it would seem to them that Jesus was breaking the law of God by not paying the temple tax. So even though Jesus (and Peter) knows that he is exempt from paying the tax, he will pay to fulfill all righteousness.
This serves as an example to us. We are to pay tribute and taxes as they are due:
Romans 13:7 – Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.
God’s children are freed by grace from the slavery of sin, but not from their subjection to magistrates in civil matters.
This passage shows that Christ supported the public worship of God with earthly money. Now consider this for a moment: during the time of Jesus, the temple was ‘a den of thieves’ or in other words, a very corrupt place. Jesus himself chased the money changers out of the temple because they were cheating people. The temple was also a bastion for the religious leaders (hypocrites) who actively opposed Jesus and his message of the kingdom of heaven.
In our minds, these would be good reasons NOT to support the temple. However, Christ paid his tribute anyway. If he supported the temple of his day, who are we not to support our local churches?
How about that coin in the fish’s mouth?
Arranging for a coin in the mouth of the fish and knowing that it was there, and knowing that it would be the first fish that Peter caught all demonstrate the divinity of Jesus. Even the fish of the sea are under God’s ultimate control.
Miracles require something on our part – Naamen had to dip in the river 7 times, the blind man had to wash the mud off of his eyes, the lame man had to stand, the workers at the wedding had to fill the water pots, and Peter had to go out and catch the fish. Are you believing for a miracle? Ask Jesus what part you need to play.
God could just have easily provided an entire bag of money in that fish, but he didn’t. He provided the exact amount needed. When we have a lot extra, we begin to trust in ourselves, but when we have just enough, it encourages us to trust God for the next step. Sometimes God uses our circumstances to keep us close to him. So if that is you, rejoice! It’s far, far better to have Jesus as your source than earthly money!
So let me offer you some encouragement: As we look at the life of Jesus, there can be no doubt that he was concerned about people who were suffering. That has not changed. God is still concerned about the souls and needs of hurting people.
The COVID crisis has caused a lot of pain, suffering and uncertainty for many people. What are we doing to display the love of Christ to them? Could you and I do with a little bit less, so we can assist someone else who may really be struggling? Jesus often met the physical needs of people as he shared the gospel message. Can’t we do the same thing? As we minister to the material needs we see around us, I encourage you to also share the love of Christ and the peace he brings to your life.
Let me offer you some relief: The disciples were very distressed when Jesus spoke of his upcoming death and resurrection, because it did not fit into their expectations. What expectations do you have about the way God should work things out in your life? Do you worry and fret when things don’t go the way you expected? If so, let me give you some relief – God has your best interest in mind when he answers your prayers. Only God knows the beginning from the end, so only he knows what is best for you. So stop worrying and complaining. Trust in him and his love for you. Rejoice in the Lord always, knowing that he works all things out for your good!
Let me offer you some strength: The 9 disciples found themselves in a situation that seemed to spiral out of control. They were unable to cast the demon from the boy, and they did not understand why. They scribes were right there, throwing failure into their faces, while the fickle crowds looked on. In the midst of all this, Jesus seemed very far away.
Today, as we are still dealing with the COVID19 virus, you too, may feel that things are spiraling out of control. But you do not need to fear. This virus was not a surprise to God. He knew when, what, where, why and how it would happen, before the world ever began. He knew that you would be alive during this crisis, and he knew how this would impact you and your family. Know that God is not far away; he is near to each one of us. God is your shelter in the time of the COVID storm. So do as the 9 disciples needed to do – have faith in God, and seek him in prayer and fasting. If your house is built on the solid rock Christ Jesus, no storm of life will be able to wash it away.