Categories
encouragement theology

What Kind of Faith Do You Have?

Thoughts from Matthew 17…

Matthew 17:20
“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.”

Some promises in God’s Word seem too good to be true. Jesus promises that we can ask Him for anything, and my mind immediately goes to my Christmas list. There are lots of things I want in life. I want to be healthy. I want more money. I want to be “successful” at work. I want to be famous or popular. I want to run fast.

We all have our own wish lists of things that we want. Some are small and insignificant, while others can consume our entire lives in their pursuit. God has given us some wonderful promises in His Word that seem to show that He is ready to give us whatever we want.a And in Matthew 17, Jesus promised His disciples that if they had as much faith as the tiniest of seeds, they would be able to move a mountain! Furthermore, Jesus repeats this same promise two more times (see Matthew 21:21, Luke 17:6)!

So how can we have this kind of faith? Is God ready to give us everything we want? How do we move a mountain?

To answer these questions, we need to look more closely at what true faith looks like.

Matthew 17:14-27
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. 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.” And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” 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.”

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.

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?” 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. However, not to give offense 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.”

What is True Faith?

There is a lot of talk about tolerance and respect for different beliefs today. We hear of men and women from different religions who are applauded for their depth of faith. After all, shouldn’t we respect the devout Muslim or Hindu or Christian worshipper when they demonstrate their faith and commitment to their beliefs?

While it is commendable to be devoted to a cause, our faith is meaningless when it is on the wrong object. We can illustrate this by the story of a large man who needed to cross a frozen lake. The man had prayed, fasted, and was fully convinced that God wanted him to walk out on the fresh ice. He trusted in his prayers and rituals as he stepped out onto the thin ice and broke through.

Two months later, the same man set out to cross the ice again. His faith was broken after his earlier disaster and he didn’t pray nor follow any rituals this time. He wouldn’t even take his first hesitant steps until he measured the ice and confirmed that it was several feet thick. But this time the ice held him, and he crossed with no problems.

This story illustrates what is the most important about faith: it is not the amount of your faith, but the object of your faith that counts. The man’s rituals and faith in himself only served to leave him cold and wet, yet the thick ice allowed him to cross the frozen lake. He needed to have faith in the ice — not himself!

Jesus promised that you could move mountains “if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed”. Only a very insignificant amount of faith is needed when it is placed in the right object.b

The best example of faith in this passage was from the father of the boy. Jesus tells him “All things are possible for one who believes”, and the father immediately responds with, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:23-24).

The father realized his own failures and his lack of faith, yet he put what little trust he had on Jesus Christ, and He healed the boy.

Examples of Faith

This passage in Matthew 17 shows several examples of faith in the presence of the King. Some trusted Him, while others failed.

The boy’s father had no formal training, nor did he know much about Jesus Christ. Yet he was willing to believe in Him, confessing his own failures. He trusted the Lord with the little bit of faith that he had.

The nine disciples on the mountainside had weak faith. They had some faith in Jesus Christ, but they failed to drive out this demon. Notice that Jesus didn’t coddle or encourage them, but rather rebuked them for having little faith. This was the same failure of “little faith” that He warned against in the Sermon on the Mount, lest we fail to trust Him for basic needs (Matthew 6:30, see here). This was also the same failure to trust Him that the disciples showed in the storm on the sea while Jesus slept (Matthew 8:26, see here). Based on Jesus’ recorded comment in Mark 9:29, we see that the disciples were missing prayer in their lives. They had broken their relationship with God and should not have been surprised when they were powerless against the evil spirit.

The entire group of (twelve) disciples were challenged again when Jesus announced His upcoming betrayal, death, and resurrection. Their faith in Him was growing, but it was still weak. They didn’t understand the Master’s prediction and were afraid to ask Him. Instead, they left the scene in sorrowful ignorance. They grieved over the thought of His death, but they didn’t have enough trust in Him to understand that this was God’s plan.

And finally, Peter’s faith was put to the test over the mundane task of paying taxes. Picture the fact that the people were asking God to pay the Temple Tax! It’s His temple! But so as not to give offense, Jesus miraculously provided the tax money through a fish’s mouth. We see here that we can trust God for the great things as well as the small things.

“…the critical truth is that the nine who had not made the effort to draw aside and spend time in private prayer with Jesus on the mountain had no power to help others in the valley.” – Anne Graham Lotz15

Praying With Faith

We can easily talk about putting our faith in Jesus Christ, and it can even become natural to call out to Him when things are out of control. But where we often fail is when we don’t put our complete trust in His plan, failing to recognize that He knows what is best. We want Him to come and endorse our own agenda!

But can we trust Him when our lives fall apart? Can we trust that He knows best, even when our heart is crying out for something different? How can we pray?

Pray in faith. We start by going back to His Word and claiming His promises. He said “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). Nothing will keep us from His love (Romans 8:38-39)! He will protect us from the Evil One (John 17:15)! He is preparing a place for us (John 14:1-4). Our troubles in this world are nothing compared to the Eternal Glory with Him (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). Remind yourself of His promises and remember that He will keep them. That is what it means to pray with faith!

Pray according to His will. Take time to understand His will and not your own. What does God want from this situation? Pray for what He wants, not what would be good for us. He desires that the lost come to Him (2 Peter 3:9). He desires that His children grow and are set apart in truth while they are in this world (John 17:17-18). Hear His voice!

Pray according to His agenda. We often have a plan for what we want and get frustrated when things don’t go our way. But take time to listen for God’s agenda. Pray that His will be done, even when it may be tough on us. The Apostle Paul prayed three times for the Lord to take away his “thorn in the flesh”, yet God said “No” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). The Lord Jesus Christ prayed for God’s will at His darkest time, right before He was crucified (Matthew 26:39, 42). Remember that God has plans that go way beyond what we see and hear!

Pray for His glory. This was the prayer and motivation of Jesus Christ on earth (John 11:4, John 12:27-28, John 13:31-32, John 17:1-2). We see that God is glorified when we obey Him and serve Him (John 15:8, 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12, 1 Peter 4:11). God’s glory needs to be the priority!

And finally, Pray with the knowledge that we don’t always get it right. I am so thankful that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us, because we don’t know how to properly pray (Romans 8:26-27). 

“Maybe the hour you spend in the prayer room is the time that you refocus on Jesus so that you can carry that knowledge through the other twenty-three hours.” – Tyler Staton

See also the post here for an additional study on prayer.

Previous post: The Mountain Top


Matthew 17:14-27
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. 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.” And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” 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.”

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.

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?” 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. However, not to give offense 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.”

Mark 9:14-32
And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him. And he asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” 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. And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” 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!” And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”

They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.

Luke 9:37-45
On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. And behold, a man from the crowd cried out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. And behold, a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly cries out. It convulses him so that he foams at the mouth, and shatters him, and will hardly leave him. And I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” While he was coming, the demon threw him to the ground and convulsed him. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit and healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astonished at the majesty of God.

But while they were all marveling at everything he was doing, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.” But they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, so that they might not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying.


Matthew 17:14-16
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. And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.” 

Mark 9:14-18
And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him. And he asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” 

Luke 9:37-40
On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. And behold, a man from the crowd cried out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. And behold, a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly cries out. It convulses him so that he foams at the mouth, and shatters him, and will hardly leave him. And I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” 

Jesus had spent the night in prayer on the slopes of Mount Hermon, with three of His disciples (Peter, James, and John). It was there on the mountain that He was transfigured before them and they were witnesses of His glory (see here).

Now it is morning, and they encounter a large crowd as they descend the mountain. A father emerges from the crowd and runs up to Him, begging that He heal his son from a demon. We don’t have a good indicator of the age of the son, but the father says that the boy has been afflicted since “childhood” (Mark 9:21). Therefore, the son was probably a teen or a young man at this time.

The demon is violent to his host. The son exhibits a range of symptoms, including great suffering, crying out, deafness, mutness, and violent seizures (foaming at the mouth, grinding teeth, throwing him down, becoming rigid). But both Mark and Luke’s account confirm that these symptoms are the work of a demon (an evil spirit).

The demon is also stubborn. The father has already begged the remaining nine disciples to cast out the demon but they were unable. Note that Jesus had empowered the apostles to cast out the demons (see Matthew 10:8 and the notes here), but their power had apparently failed in the presence of this demon.

Matthew 17:17
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.” 

Mark 9:19
And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” 

Luke 9:41
Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” 

Jesus answered in frustration — not to the father, but to the crowds for being part of the faithless and twisted generation. These were the same people who rejected Him as their Lord and Messiah, but they had traveled all the way to Caesarea Phillippi to see another healing! They want another show! See also His same charge against this evil and adulterous generation earlier in Matthew 16 here.

Mark 9:20-24
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. And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” 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!” 

Luke 9:42a
While he was coming, the demon threw him to the ground and convulsed him. 

At the presence of Jesus Christ, the demon threw the boy into another seizure. We also get another glimpse of the father’s desperation. The demon has been pushing the son to self-harm including burning and drowning, and this has been happening since early childhood.

The father’s act of desperate trust is a lesson for us all. He knows that He needs to believe, yet he also recognizes the weaknesses of his own faith. He simply replies, “I believe; help my unbelief!

Matthew 17:18
And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly. 

Mark 9:25-27
And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. 

Luke 9:42b-43a
But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit and healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astonished at the majesty of God.

Jesus rebuked the demon and in one last terrible convulsion, it came out of the boy. Not only did the Lord save the boy from the demon, but He also healed his damaged body so that he could revive after the trauma of the demon’s convulsions. 

I especially like how Luke’s account reflects the response of the people, “And all were astonished at the majesty of God.” The boy is healed and God is glorified!

Matthew 17:19-21
Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” 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.”

Mark 9:28-29
And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”

These two phrases from the Lord are hyperbole: “faith like a grain of mustard seed”, and the ability to move this mountain. The mustard seed is a reference for its insignificant size (see Matthew 13:31 and here). Their faith was small — not because of quantity but because of object. They failed to trust in the Lord who empowered them.

Likewise, the term “mover of mountains” was a common idiom in that day for leaders who could do the impossible. Jesus was standing at the base of Mount Hermon, the tallest mountain in the region, at this time and He most likely referred to this very mountain to say that with faith in God, you can do the impossible! When we put our trust in Him, he can use even the tiniest faith to move the impossible.c

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.

Mark 9:30-32
They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.

Luke 9:43b-45
But while they were all marveling at everything he was doing, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.” But they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, so that they might not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying.

After all of the events in Caesarea Philippi, Jesus returned to Capernaum with His disciples. Upon entering Jewish territory, He announces once again that He will be killed and will rise again. This announcement left the disciples distressed and confused, but none of them dared to ask Him to explain. 

Matthew 17:24-27
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?” 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. However, not to give offense 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.”

Only Matthew records the following scene in Capernaum, where the tax collectors confront Peter. This was not the Roman tax but the annual voluntary temple payment (a half-shekel for every Jewish man over 20 years old, see Exodus 30:13) which was collected by the Jews for the temple in Jerusalem.1

Jesus was exempt from Temple duty because He was the Son of God, yet he willingly paid the tax in order to not give offense. 

There is an interesting debate about the fish with the coin in its mouth — was it a divine miracle that created the fish with the coin, or had God simply directed the fish to swallow a coin so that it could be caught by Peter? We can only speculate on the answer regarding this fish, but it is a wonderful indicator of God’s provision. Sometimes He may break natural laws and deliver us with a miracle, while other times He directs the hand of providence to order natural events toward His will. We cannot always distinguish the difference, but we can always be confident that He cares for us!

Unique aspects of this miracle (from Wiersbe4):

  • It is recorded only by Matthew (a former tax collector)
  • It is the only miracle He performed to meet His own needs.
  • It is the only miracle using money.
  • It is the only miracle using one fish.
  • It was performed for Peter.
  • It is the only miracle that does not have the results recorded.

References

[1] Stanley D. Toussaint, Behold The King, Kregel Publications, 1980, Matthew 17:14-27, pages 213-215

[2] H.A. Ironside, Ironside Expository Commentaries, Matthew 17, The Glory of the Kingdom

[3] H.A. Ironside, Ironside Expository Commentaries, Address 34, At the Foot of the Mount, Luke 9:37-50

[4] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament, David C. Cook, 2007, Matthew 17:14-27, pages 51-52

[5] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament, David C. Cook, 2007, Mark 9:14-29, page 115

[6] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament, David C. Cook, 2007, Luke 9:37-45, page 168

[7] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Book IV, CHAPTER II: ON THE MORROW OF THE TRANSFIGURATION (St. Matt. 17:9-21; St. Mark 9:9-29 St. Luke 9:37-43.), https://www.ccel.org/ccel/edersheim/lifetimes.ix.ii.html

[8] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Book IV, CHAPTER III: THE LAST EVENTS IN GALILEE, THE TRIBUTE-MONEY, THE DISPUTE BY THE WAY, THE FORBIDDING OF HIM WHO COULD NOT FOLLOW WITH THE DISCIPLES, AND THE CONSEQUENT TEACHING OF CHRIST (St. Matt. 17:22 xviii. 22; St. Mark 9:30-50; St. Luke 9:43-50.), https://www.ccel.org/ccel/edersheim/lifetimes.ix.iii.html

[9] Doug Bookman, Life of Christ, Audio Series, Lecture 9, https://www.christianity.com/jesus/life-of-jesus/harmony-of-the-gospels/20-the-transfiguration.html

[10] John MacArthur, The Power of Faith, Matthew 17:14-21, Nov 21, 1982

[11] John MacArthur, The Believer as a Citizen, Matthew 17:22-27, Dec 5, 1982

[12] John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary, Thomas Nelson, 2005, Matthew 17:14-27, pages 1156-1157

[13] John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary, Thomas Nelson, 2005, Mark 9:14-32, pages 1226-1227

[14] John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary, Thomas Nelson, 2005, Luke 9:37-42, pages 1295

[15] Anne Graham Lotz, The Daniel Prayer: Prayer that Moves Heaven and Changes Nations, Zondervan, 2016, page 70


Notes

[a] God repeatedly promises us that He will answer when we pray to Him:

Psalms 34:10
The young lions suffer want and hunger;
but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.

Psalms 37:4
Delight yourself in the LORD,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Matthew 7:7-8
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.

John 14:13-14
Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

John 15:7
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

[b] The mustard seed was a local idiom for a small, insignificant thing. See here.

[c] Many translations include Matthew 17:21, “But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” This verse has a footnote indicating that this phrase was not in the older translations and was omitted from the ESV. This phrase was likely carried over from Mark 9:29, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.

2 replies on “What Kind of Faith Do You Have?”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s