When they came to the crowd…

When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. “Lord, have mercy on my son,” he said. “He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.”

“You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed at that moment.

Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Matthew 17:14-21

There are many parallels between Matthew’s account of the transfiguration and Moses’ account of his encounter with God on Mt. Sinai, and this scene following the return of Jesus and the three disciples from their mountaintop experience is one of them that may remind us of what Moses found after his return to the camp when he came down from Sinai in Exodus 32. Moses found a rebellious and idolatrous people; Jesus found an “unbelieving and perverse generation”.

He was approached by a man who was begging for deliverance for his poor son who as it turns out, was possessed by a demon. The disciples had attempted to deal with the demon, possibly the nine who did not accompany Jesus up the mountain, Matthew doesn’t make this clear, but in any case, they had been unable to deal with it.

Jesus drove out the demon immediately.

Yesterday I pointed out that in this section, the disciples are the ones who Jesus is teaching, certainly they are His principle focus, and we see that clearly in this passage. In verse 11 He addressed the people around Him in general terms, maybe even showing a slight amount of frustration, but the real lesson isn’t His rebuke of the demon or of His generalized remarks in verse 11, but what follows in private with His disciples beginning in verse 20. That scene is set by the disciples’ question in 17:19: Why couldn’t they drive that demon out?

Fair question, they’ve been handling demons for some time now.

Jesus responds in very simple terms: “because you have so little faith.”

He goes on to add that if they have faith as small as a mustard seed, they can order a mountain to move, and it will move, for with a little faith, nothing will be impossible. You know what everyone says at this point: Mustard seeds are the smallest of seeds and they produce the largest of plants, so if you only have a little faith, you can do great things; Jesus has made that point earlier in Matthew’s narrative, and yet, here we are again; can the disciples be so dull, or is there something we have missed?

This is the point where we must make a shift in our focus, a shift from systematic theology into applied theology (if you like the academic terms). Are you ready?

First, here’s a question: Are you a follower of Jesus Christ?

If your answer is “yes” then here’s the next question: Are you His disciple?

(Hint: if you answered “yes” to the first question, then your answer to the second needs to be “yes” as well.)

So, if you are His follower, then you are His disciple, and like the original 12, you (and I) are in training, “at the feet of the Master” so to speak. Take verse 20 out of the abstract and historical (i.e. Jesus once said this to the Twelve) and think of it as Jesus sitting there with you saying this same thing to YOU. So, let’s look at the verse again: Here we are you, me and Jesus sitting around the kitchen table. We ask the question (verse 19) and He says:

“Don and (your name), it’s because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Does it look different now?

Have you ever prayed for someone’s healing, for example, and had a little voice in the back of your mind saying something like “he’s not going to be healed”? If so, may I be the one to point that that isn’t “little faith”, that is NO faith at all.

You, and I right along with you, may well wonder how we get past that little voice of doubt in the back of our minds….

Well, stay tuned, because we are now in school with Matthew, Andrew, Thomas and the whole gang, as Jesus teaches us how to follow Him and truly become His disciple, and from this point on, we are in the crucial part of that instruction.

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About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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4 Responses to When they came to the crowd…

  1. I see your point but would not agree with the term “disciples “. Jesus had disciples also called apostles. Disciples followed Jesus but Jesus is no longer here to follow. Jesus is in heaven and he sent the Holy Spirit to believers now and we are ambassadors for Christ as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:20. Unlike a disciples or apostle who is following Christ physically on earth, we as ambassadors are representatives of a sovereign, the King of all kings. There is a difference in the terminology and I do not mean to split hairs, just noting.

    • Don Merritt says:

      You raise a very interesting point; thank you for bringing it up!

      What is a “disciple”? What is an “Apostle”?

      They are not the same thing, that’s for sure. The disciples in Matt. 17 were not yet apostles; that came later, and we are not apostles, for they were given authority and gifts we do not have. Yet we are most certainly “disciples” if we are His followers… and that also applies to Paul’s metaphor of being “ambassadors”. Here’s why:

      Back in ancient times, teachers, both Jew and Gentile, had “disciples” who literally were taught at the Master’s (teacher’s, Rabbi’s) feet. They lived together, ate together and spent a great deal of time in relationship together, and in the end, the disciples came to be known as people who “knew what the Master knew, and did what the Master did.” In short, they in their turn would take on their own “disciples” and teach the lessons of their “Master”; they made more disciples, who in their turn, would make more disciples, and in this way, the teachings of the master would be taught far and wide. The disciples of Jesus became apostles, yes, but don’t be confused by that; they still made disciples, who in turn made more disciples, and that is how the Gospel was spread throughout the known world.

      We, as His disciples, are taught to make more disciples through having relationships with others. This is how we teach the Gospel to those who haven’t received it before, and how we nurture new believers into maturity in the faith; just like we are doing here right now. At a certain point, the “student” becomes the teacher; disciples who make disciples. We do not have apostles to teach us now, but we have His Word in the New Testament (that they did not yet have), and that is what we teach as His disciples.

      In short then where “apostle” is an “office (if I might use that term), “disciple” is not, for it is the Christian way of life, not an “office”, and that is the sense in which I used the terms. Thank you again for bringing that up as there may well be others with the same confusion!

  2. Don, what you’ve written here is so important. I’d like to take this one step further, if I may.

    When Jesus told his apostles to “make disciples of all nations…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20), I think some confuse this with making converts. The two are vastly different.

    I agree with your definition of disciples. Unfortunately, many only wish to convert; that is to increase the number of bodies in their church seats, never bothering to teach new converts the Gospel, never instructing them about the Bible, never introducing them to the heart of God. Those “converted” are left to flounder, wondering what happened.

    If we truly are to make disciples, our priority must be as you said; love and relationships first; then “nurture new believers into maturity in the faith.”

    • Don Merritt says:

      Thank you Susan, I think you’re quite right, for all too often we forget that coming to believe in Jesus isn’t the end of the story, but the beginning. For the most part, it is easier to bring a person to belief than it is to bring them to maturity… and most never seem to get there

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