Truth Taught- True faith believes enough to act and will accomplish great things
Jesus, Peter, James, and John have made it off the mountain where the three disciples witnessed the transfiguration of Christ. Now, they are back to the present and times of trial, back to the real world.
What’s been going on down at the bottom of the mountain while Jesus has been gone? Not much different than when Moses was coming down Mount Sinai. The other disciples have been struggling. They were engaged in an attempted exorcism which has gone terribly wrong. What was the problem?
There is something strangely similar here to the account of Moses descending Mount Sinai and finding unbelief at the bottom. So, too Jesus finds a lack of faith when He descends the mountain. The disciples should be carrying on His ministry with authority but cannot due to a lack of faith.
Exodus 32:15–20 (ESV)
15 Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand, tablets that were written on both sides; on the front and on the back they were written. 16 The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets. 17 When Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “There is a noise of war in the camp.” 18 But he said, “It is not the sound of shouting for victory, or the sound of the cry of defeat, but the sound of singing that I hear.” 19 And as soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. 20 He took the calf that they had made and burned it with fire and ground it to powder and scattered it on the water and made the people of Israel drink it.
The people were not exercising faith at all but were caught up in unbelief. Likewise, the disciples were not exercising faith but were helpless in unbelief.
Jesus had already instilled within them the authority to cast out demons but here they were helpless to do so.
Matthew 10:1 (ESV)
10 And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction.
So why can’t the disciples cast out this demon? What is the issue here?
This passage is found in the section where Jesus’ main focus is not on the crowds any longer but on His disciples. He has much to teach them in a short time. So, this passage falls within this emphasis. So, what does Jesus, through this healing event, teach His disciples?
He has already taught them that He is the King, the Messiah. In fact, even before the Transfiguration they understood clearly that Jesus is the Messiah King. Then, He showed them a glimpse of the King in His Kingdom at the mountain top event of the transfiguration. Now, and for the next few chapters, Jesus teaches His disciples about how it is they are to live while on earth with their focus being on this coming Kingdom. Our Lord’s foundational teaching is on their faith and how they are to live by faith.
Let’s look together at how Jesus takes this botched exorcism and teaches His disciples about true faith.
Matthew 17:14–20 (ESV)
14 And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him, 15 said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he has seizures and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. 16 And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.” 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.” 18 And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly. 19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” 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.”
1. A Father, His Son and the Disciples
14 And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him, 15 said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he has seizures and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. 16 And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.”
Here is a father who is desperate to help his son. Notice the father’s humility as he kneels down before Jesus the great Healer and Teacher. The text tells us that the father approaches Jesus in a mode of worship. He is believing as he calls Him Lord. The man approaches Jesus in reverence and great respect. The man believes that Jesus has the divine power to heal his son so in bringing his son to Jesus the man is showing his faith to be genuine. In this short segment it’s difficult to be sure what sort of faith the man has. He asks Jesus to show mercy to his son. This is important. He asks Jesus to take His compassion which the man believes Jesus to possess and extend that tangibly to his son in the form of mercy and healing.
So many times, in healing miracles faith plays a central role. The faith of the friends who lowered down the crippled man through the roof to Jesus is an example. They were exercising their faith by their actions and Jesus saw it and made mention of it.
Matthew 9:2–7 (ESV)
2 And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” 3 And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” 4 But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? 5 For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? 6 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” 7 And he rose and went home.
We see the father approaching Jesus the right way. He shows reverence, humility, faith and worships Him. So, we conclude there’s nothing wrong with the father. In other words, the lack of healing was not on his part.
Now we see the son. He was demon possessed which produced seizures and he suffers terribly. The son was unable to approach Jesus on his own. The demon had made him literally a danger to himself and to others… For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. Imagine, needing to stay with this young man all the time because the demon was either trying to burn him to death or drown him. The son has been rendered helpless. Another reason the father had to come with his son is because his son could not speak clearly.
Mark adds, at this point, most interestingly, in Mark 9:17, that the man was also dumb; that is he couldn’t speak – or rather the child couldn’t speak. And Mark also adds, in chapter 9, verse 25, that he couldn’t hear either. He was deaf and dumb. So, he was as it were, an epileptic at a severe level; he was deaf and dumb.
Mark 9:17–18 (ESV)
17 And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. 18 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.”
This man’s son was literally, slowly being killed by the demon. So, we conclude the son is the helpless victim in this account. The lack of healing wasn’t his fault.
Now we come to the disciples. The father, no doubt, had originally come to see Jesus and to bring his son to our Lord for healing. Jesus was up on the mountain with some of His disciples. So, the father took his son to the remaining disciples. These 9 remaining had been healing people and casting out demons already. They were authorized by Jesus to do these very things and yet something went wrong in this case.
In Mark chapter 6, it tells us that He sent the Twelve forth to preach and to heal. And it says in verse 13, “They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them.” They had done it before. They knew Jesus gave them the power, and they knew they had accomplished it in times past. And now, all of a sudden, they can’t do it. What’s gone wrong? Have they lost this power?
They were unable to heal the man’s son. Why did they fail in this case? Jesus is about to tell us very loudly and with some righteous anger.
2. Jesus Rebukes Them and Takes Action
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.” 18 And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly.
Now, this is a rare event when we can see into the heart of Jesus and discover frustration and divine anger with His followers. When Jesus exclaims, O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? He’s speaking to everyone present including His disciples. He’s not insinuating that His disciples have no faith at all but their faith has become twisted into other things. It’s a faith that believes, perhaps but because of certain external forces refuses to believe strongly and to act with confidence. No demon will be exercised from a half-hearted disciple. With Jesus out of the picture for just a few days, they had allowed the world to pervert their faith. Much like Aaron allowed the perverse generation to pervert his faith. The result in Exodus was to produce the golden calf, a great perversion. The result with the disciples was a worldly perversion of their faith. They were helpless through unbelief.
Jesus, gives words of frustration, rebuke, and utter anger.
We cannot allow the world to influence our faith. We too live among a faithless and perverse generation. We must stand strong by faith and do what God has called us to do by faith. Faith is belief that acts. To sit around just believing is not true faith. I’m afraid there are many in our churches that think their faith is genuine because they feel they believe. You give them a truth from Scripture and they agree with it so they think they have faith. Genuine faith believes enough to act on that belief.
James 1:22–25 (ESV)
22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
If you say you believe but do not act on that belief you are deceiving yourself because your faith is not true faith because true faith not only believes but also believes enough to act.
James 2:14–17 (ESV)
14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
James is not telling us that a faith without works is in some way deficient. He’s telling us that kind of faith is no faith at all.
What does true faith look like?
Numbers 13:30 (ESV)
30 But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.”
Job 13:15 (ESV)
15 Though he slay me, I will hope in him;
yet I will argue my ways to his face.
Daniel 3:17–18 (ESV)
17 If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
Hebrews 11:7 (ESV)
7 By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.
Do you believe God enough to act on that belief? When we read certain commands in Scripture do you seek to obey and do them? Do you say with Caleb what are we waiting for! Or do you just sit in your seat/pew thinking that hearing is enough obedience for one day? That’s not real faith. Your actions or lack of action shows whether your faith is genuine of not.
18 And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly.
3. True Faith Will Do Amazing Things
19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” 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.”
Here, Jesus explains to the disciples what the problem was. They had a little faith. Here is where we may be confused because up a few verses Jesus has included them in the faithless generation. What His point is, is this…they had faith but were not acting on it. They had allowed the world to influence them and they were not acting on their faith.
Notice, our Lord’s point here is not the amount of faith but acting on it.
You can have a small amount of real faith and when you act on it you can do many things, even things you thought were impossible.
It’s important for us to realize that we cannot literally move mountains. There’s never been any examples of someone changing the geography of the earth through faith. Our Lord is using hyperbole. He’s exaggerating to make a point. Yet, true faith acted on can accomplish great things.
True faith believes enough to act and will accomplish great things
Are you exercising true faith in your life?
How are you showing others that your faith is real?
If you’re not, what does that indicate?