The change of the year has become a time to make special resolutions for the better. It is in this atmosphere that we point your attention to Matthew 17:14-23.
Just before this passage is the record of the transfiguration of Jesus. Before the eyes of three of His disciples His divine glory shined in and through His humanity. He was manifested before them as an all-powerful divine being, the second person of the Godhead. He was displayed as truly man and truly God.
When we enter our text we find Jesus confronted by a desperate man (14-16). He was at the end of his rope and without hope. His son was stricken with a terrible malady, epilepsy. No doubt, he had turned to every resource available in that day, but no one was able to help him. Now he appears before Jesus. Indeed, he kneels before Him in submission. He reports that he had sought help from the disciples of Jesus and that they were unable to help him.
Today there are countless people who have come to the end of their rope. They are without any hope. Only Jesus can help. They, too, need to come before Him and bow before Him seeking His help.
In the next section, 17-18, we find Jesus’ powerful response to this man’s request to heal his son. What was impossible for others to do is possible with Jesus.
What is so surprising here is that Jesus, the all compassionate Son of God, appears to disregard the man’s request, saying, "O faithless and perverse genera-tion, how long shall I be with you?” How long shall I bear with you?” (vs. 17) But, unlike mere men, Jesus does not see things only from the outside. He sees the hearts of men. He sees the heart of this man and addresses his deeper needs. In doing so He addresses the deeper needs of all of us. Indeed, He addresses them as God.
Although Jesus immediately speaks to the people of His own day, He, as God, also addresses all mankind from the fall to the end of time. Unless changed by God, we are faithless and perverse. We are faithless because we do not believe in Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Therefore, we are not properly related to God. We do not believe, perhaps, what the Bible teaches (what God teaches). We do not set our hope on the triune God. We are perverse or twisted in the way we live. We do not pattern our lives according to what God commands.
Perhaps because of His compassion on this man who is so desperate, Jesus does not add here what He teaches elsewhere. Mankind is locked into this fallen state. His situation is totally impossible. He is totally depraved. Before the flood, God “saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). Moreover, the flood did not change mankind’s heart, for after the flood it is said, “the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth” (Gen. 8:21). Mankind is like Lazarus who lay in the tomb dead (see John 11), except their state is spiritual. They await the call of God that would awake them from the dead. What is impossible with man (Lazarus) is possible with God. “When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, ‘Who then can be saved?’ But Jesus looked at them and said to them, ‘With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible’” (Matthew 19:25-26).
Therefore, in spite of our condition, God instructs all men to come to Him. “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29).
Then, in a display of compassion on this man’s situation and on his son, Jesus heals the boy. He casts out the demon that was causing the epilepsy.
In verses 19-21, Jesus lays before His listeners the need for and the power of faith. First, the disciples ask Him why they were not able to help this man by healing his son. Jesus pointedly responds, ”be-cause of your unbelief.” Then He tells them about the tremendous power of true faith (20). True faith would enable them to move mountains. Of course, He did not intend them or us to understand that He was speaking about physical mountains. In this context He is specifically speaking of healing the boy – moving a mountain. This was a mountainous problem. Beyond this, however, looms all the diffi-cult problems men face in life. Especially, this refers not merely to the physical problems but especially to the relational, emotional, and spiritual problems. There is hope ultimately only in the Lord Jesus Christ.
It also refers to the most serious of all problems. How can a man be raised from the dead? How can a man be born from above and restored to a right relationship with God? Jesus calls all to faith and repentance, even though they are dead in trespasses and sins (Mark 1:5). “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:25-26).
Then Jesus adds that this kind of a problem (the boy’s demon) is not an easy problem and requires special prayer and fasting. Faith is powerful and is the path to a right relationship to God, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). Faith is powerful and enables to live for the Christ we love. So a more mature faith (that comes through fasting or self discipline, and prayer or a proper use of the means God has provided us) is a faith that enables us to face the difficulties of life. Such a faith is required if we are to face and overcome life’s “mountains.”
The final section (17:22-23) is added by God to teach all those listening to Jesus’ discourse. “Now while they were staying in Galilee, Jesus said to them, "The Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him, and the third day He will be raised up." And they were exceedingly sorrowful’” It sets before them, and us, the certainty of His death and resurrection. It declares to all the ultimate and necessary truth they need grasp in order to be restored to a right relationship to God. Jesus gives up His life to that the hearts of men may be restored. He dies that those who believe do not remain in their state of spiritual death, and so that the tomb of spiritual death may be opened and the corpse within brought to life. He rose from the dead that we might have life (Rom. 6:4-6).
Jesus has the power to meet all our difficulties, but receiving the help from Him depends on His grace. He invites us to approach Him and ask Him. He tells us just how serious, how impossible, our condition really is. Indeed, the Bible teaches us that we cannot even truly understand just how bad off we are without His opening our eyes. Thus in John 6:44, Jesus said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.” Yet we are summoned to come. ‘With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible’ (Matthew 19:25-26).
Moreover, the Lord makes it clear that today is the day when we should come (2 Corinthians 6:2). Now is the day to con-fess Christ before men and, especially, before the church Christ started and has continued until today (Matthew 10:32, “whoever confesses Me before men, him I will confess before My Father who is in heaven”).
Therefore, this passage, Matthew 17:14-23, presents us with the imperative to believe in Christ and with two applica-tions.
We see here a message to the one who does not believe. This is a divine sum-mons to profess Christ as your Savior and to do it right now.
We see here also a message to the believer who has not yet joined a church. Publicly profess your faith in Christ before His church and do it as soon as you can.
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