The Cure for Our Littleness of Faith
Reading: Matthew 17:1-21
While Peter, James, and John are up on a mountain seeing Jesus in all his glory, the other nine disciples are back in the valley experiencing ministry failure. And when Jesus shows up, he apparently rebukes them. What is that all about?
Jesus had just told the disciples, “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (Matt. 16:28). In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, that statement is followed by the account of the vision on the Mount of Transfiguration. And the Transfiguration account is followed by the story of the man with a son who has epileptic seizures and a demon which regularly throws the boy into fire and water. A very troubling situation and one that the nine disciples left in the valley were not able to overcome.
It was not for a lack of effort that the disciples were unable to change this difficult situation. And it was not because they didn’t think they should. But nothing they did could bring about a change. What a contrast to the glorious vision of Christ up on a high mountain, with his face shining like the sun (Matt. 17:1).
No wonder Peter wanted to stay up on the mountain. We might agree, “It is good for us to be here” (Matt. 17:4). In the previous scene, when Jesus told him that he was headed to Jerusalem and must be rejected, suffer and die, Peter didn’t think that was good (16:21-22). Jesus rebuked him with a reference to Satan! At least he does not get that here, though Jesus doesn’t take him up on the offer to make some tents.
Peter doesn’t need to do something (make tents). He needs to fall on his face in awe. Peter needs to be transformed in the presence of Christ before He can follow Jesus bearing His cross. It is important that we all focus on who Jesus is and what He is saying so that we too might “listen to Him” (Matt. 17:5). “Listening” meant obedience, not just hearing. And listening grows out of our dwelling in the presence of Jesus in His glory! It is there that His Spirit opens our eyes to understand how we put His teaching into practice. But how do we dwell in Jesus’ presence since we aren’t on the Mount with Jesus? Hold that question a moment.
Why were the disciples left in the valley unable to drive out the demon? Mark has Jesus pointing to the necessity of prayer (Mark 9:29). Matthew has Jesus indicating that the problem was with the smallness of their faith, though evidently not because of its size (Matt. 17:20). However, that is not a difference in substance. What is faith if it is not the vision of Christ in His glorious kingdom? What is prayer but the language of faith that comes to Christ on His throne in our time of need (Heb. 4:16)?
The solution to the disciples’ dilemma is clear: “Bring the boy here to me!” (Matt. 17:17). They had failed to cast the demon out because they were trying to do it and had not brought the boy to Jesus. One might ask how they could have brought the boy to Jesus when he was up on the mountain, out of sight. We might wonder the same thing today as we minister to those who are suffering. (We are back to our question.) We must ascend the mountain in prayer where we capture the vision of Christ in His glory! He is the One needed by the “boy” (and all who are suffering). That is the cure for the littleness of our faith.
Join us this evening for a night of worship and prayer (we call it “5th Wednesday”) at 7:30. As we cease our own doing and approach the throne of Christ in His kingdom for grace, we will be transformed. And as we are, the world of suffering might be impacted through us.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,