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.

Previously I’ve 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.

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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10 Responses to When they came to the crowd…

  1. Powerful words…words I have been brought to a few times recently. I look forward to seeing what the Spirit brings me into using your thoughts.

  2. I’m sorry, Don, but this is a very sore subject with me. My son had Cerebral Palsy, and I would run into more than one Christian who would tell me, ‘You know, if you had more faith you could ask God to cure him and it would be done.” It is only God’s Grace that would keep me from pounding them into the dirt.

  3. Steve B says:

    Don said “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.)”

    Not necessarily true Don. Hundreds followed Jesus and only 12 were His disciples. The order of Christian growth is saved, follower, disciple, servant, friend, sonship/heir. When Jesus walked the earth there were only followers and disciples but the disciples (except one) were future heirs.
    During some of the heavy persecution of Christians in Rome many of the saved didn’t have a chance to even be followers let alone disciples etc. As a clear example the thief on the cross was saved but didn’t have any time to be a disciple.

    • Don Merritt says:

      Interesting. I’m not sure we should mince the words quite so finely, for being a disciple is the whole point of being a follower, for a disciple is a follower who knows what the Mater knows and who does what the Master does, and we are called to bring a believer along the process of becoming mature. From the time of becoming ‘saved’ we are His co-heirs just as it was with the 12 who were His disciples from the moment they were called in spite of their immaturity and lack of understanding- or so it seems to me anyway.

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