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“IF YOU HAVE FAITH AS SMALL AS A MUSTARD SEED…”

Matthew 17:14-17:23
Key Verse: 17:20

In the previous passage Jesus was transfigured before his disciples with his face shining like the sun and his clothes made as white as the light. This was the preview of his glorious resurrection from the dead and his coming again, and his exaltation. Through the appearing of Moses and Elijah in glorious splendour we could think about our own glory reflected in the shining eternal glory of Jesus. This is our true glorious hope. The disciples must have felt that they were in the kingdom of heaven on the transfiguration mount. Today’s passage is about the real inglorious world and what Jesus did in it. Through this study we want to learn how to live in this suffering and problem-filled world. We especially want to learn the secret of faith anew.

First, Jesus heals a boy with a demon (14-18). Look at verses 14 and 15. “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.’” When Jesus and the three disciples came down the mountain, they came to the crowd. It was as if after seeing the glory of heaven on the mountain they were willing to confront the suffering world. Right away a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. He was a father of a son who had seizures due to a demon in him. According to Luke the boy was the only child to the father (Lk 9:38). As the only child the boy must have been the object of love and joy to his father and mother. How happy the parents would have been if the child had grown up as normal just like other kids! But the son was not even himself; he was controlled by a demon inside of him. He often fell into the fire or into the water. Whenever the father and mother saw this happening, their hearts sank. It was too painful for them to see their boy suffering like that. They did not know what to do but only had to keep their eyes on him always. Their sorrow and agony was more than one could imagine. This life story is one undeniable reality of the world.

The father had brought the son to Jesus’ disciples in the hope that they would heal him. But they could not heal the son to his great disappointment. Yet, the father did not accept this as the end. He could not go home without his son being healed. He was unyielding and unbending because of his love for his son. He waited until Jesus came down. When he saw Jesus, he approached Jesus and knelt before him, and begged for his mercy, “Lord, have mercy on my son.” Jesus always hears such a cry. He blesses those who come to him with unyielding faith.

What does Jesus do? Look at verse 17. “O unbelieving and perverse generation.” Before healing the boy, Jesus lamented over the generation. Jesus saw beyond the ill suffering boy. To Jesus the generation problem was the primary problem. Nonetheless to say a generation influences the life of people in that generation. About 30 years ago it is hardly seen for women to smoke and drink. Now in this generation women smoking and drinking is prevailing. Here Jesus said, “O unbelieving and perverse generation.” Jesus was not sorry for the poor medical facility or any other poor social systems. He was sorry that the generation was unbelieving and perverse. Notice that Jesus used the words, “unbelieving” and “perverse” together to describe the generation. Perverse means “obstinate in opposing what is right or reasonable,” so “inexplicably irrational” and “stubbornly unreasonable.” Many intellectuals think that belief and reason cannot go together, and they are opposite. But according to Jesus, “unbelieving” and “perverse” go together. It means when people become unbelieving rejecting God, they become stubbornly unreasonable and strangely irrational, rejecting what is right or reasonable. They do not want to even think about what is right in life. In our generation people seemed to have rejected the right concept of marriage and family. The moral fiber of our nation is shaking. We worry a lot about what will come in the next generation. We must know that “unbelieving” and “perverse” go side by side.

Then what was Jesus going to do with the unbelieving and perverse generation? Jesus said continually, “…How long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” Jesus did not give up the generation. Jesus still had hope for that unbelieving and perverse generation. Yet, he did not attempt to fix the unbelieving and preserve generation with his miraculous power right away. No. What did he do? While lamenting over the generation, he did not forget or ignore the heartfelt plea of the father, “Lord, have mercy on my son.” Subsequently he said, “Bring the boy here to me.” Jesus was concerned about both the sick generation and a sick boy. Jesus challenged the unbelieving generation by healing this sick boy with a demon. Jesus loved this boy and the world of that generation. To Jesus one represents the totality. Jesus wants one person to be made whole and truly happy. He wants a generation to be sound and sane.

Then what happened to the boy brought to Jesus? Look at verse 18. “Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed from that moment.” Compared to other synoptic gospel descriptions on this event, Matthew straightened out the story. He focuses on Jesus’ power over demons and healing the boy with seizures in demon-controlling. The description of how Jesus healed the boy is amazingly simple with one sentence, yet it contains a most beautiful thing: “Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy and the boy was healed.” This is the hope of unbelieving and perverse generation.

Here we newly learn the meaning of serving one person in the name of Jesus. We don’t know what to do with our unbelieving generation. From time to time we are overwhelmed with the unbelieving generation. But we pray that we may not be overcome by the unbelieving atmosphere of our society but keep our life of faith and all the more strive to care for one soul in the name of Jesus, in Jesus’ love and power.

Second, Jesus teaches a secret of faith (19-21). Look at verse 19. “Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, ‘Why couldn’t we drive it out?’” When Jesus said, “How long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?” these words must have been poignant to the disciples. Now after seeing Jesus driving out the demon from the boy and healing him, they came to Jesus privately. They made sure that the father and the healed son and all others were gone. In the private atmosphere they asked Jesus, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” It was a shame for them to ask such a question after staying a long time with Jesus. It was a shameful yet necessary question to them. What others thought of them did not matter. They had to know the reason of their incapability and consequently know the secret of power over demons. It is good to have a sense of question. Those who have personal questions can have personal answers. This builds up our personal faith in Jesus.

Then how did Jesus answer to their question? Look at verse 20. “He replied, ‘Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, 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…’” According to Jesus the disciples’ problem was not a human ability problem. It was their faith problem. At first Jesus said, “Because you have so little faith.” Until now, in several occasions Jesus gently rebuked for their little faith such as “O you of little faith? So do not worry…” (Mt 6:30-31), “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” (Mt 8:26), “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Mt 14:31), and “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread?” (Mt 15:8). Now Jesus said, “Because you have so little faith.” Because of their so little faith, they could not cast a demon out of the boy. They became powerless over the power of a demon. One thing is clear that their powerlessness was due to their “so little faith”. Then the solution should be “more faith”. Jesus should have said, “You need more faith. Try hard to have more faith.”

But what did Jesus say? Look at verse 20 again, “…I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain...” Here Jesus did not say about having more or a great amount of faith. He said about having faith as small as a mustard seed. How come! What does this mean? We should also notice that Jesus did not just say about having small faith. He did not say, “…if you have faith as small as a dot or particle.” No. He said, “…if you have faith as small as a mustard seed...” What does this exactly mean? At that time a mustard seed was the smallest among all seeds. When Jesus related faith to a mustard seed, there is an emphasis on “small.” We pay attention to the word “small..”, but at the same time we should not ignore the word “seed.” “Little faith” is invisible and seems to be abstract, but “faith as small as a mustard seed” is concrete and life-containing. As we learned, the word of God is the word of life. It is the seed of the spiritual life and the kingdom of God (Mt 13:23; Lk 8:11). When one hears the word of God, faith can be produced in the heart (Ro 10:17). In other words one can have faith through the word of God. How people accept God’s word vary, through big means or small means: Bible conference, Sunday worship, weekly testimony writing, personal daily devotion, Bible reading, etc. When one word of God is planted in one’s heart anyway, faith, big or small, is produced in the heart. Faith based on the word of God is a living and enduring faith. The disciples could not drive out the demon because they depended on themselves not on Jesus. Their faith was based on their past experiences not on the basis of Jesus and his words. One’s faith must be rooted in the word of God. When we talk about faith, the object of faith is most important. We must have faith in God through his word.

When faith is obtained through the word of God, the next step is to put the faith into practice. It is to challenge a certain thing with that faith. Jesus said, “…If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain…” This mountain is the clear object of our challenging. This mountain is something impossible to do and this mountain can be different according to each one’s life situation. But one who has faith can say to this specific mountain, “Move from here to there.” Jesus promises, “and it will move.”

When Abraham heard the words of God’s promise, “I will make you into a great nation…and you will be a blessing,” the seed of faith as small as a mustard seed germinated in him. He believed that God would give him a son, although his wife was barren. Then a fierce battle of faith began in his life. It was not an easy battle. He had to confront the reality that all his human hope was gone. Yet he still believed in hope, holding to God’s words of promise, “You will be a father of many nations…So shall your offspring be.” In Romans 5 Paul described his faith battle this way: “Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised” (Ro 5:19-21). When Abraham’s son was finally born, Genesis 21:1,2 says, “Now the LORD was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him.” God keeps his promises. So when we act according to our faith in his words of promise, it will work out. In Matthew’s gospel a centurion who son was terribly ill came to Jesus and believed that Jesus’ word had power to heal, even if Jesus would not come to see the ill servant. Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! It will be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that very hour. (Mt 8:13-14) We must know that faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what do not see (Heb 11:1), and without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” With faith we can have hope for the future. God will not ignore our faith battle but reward abundantly. And with faith we can please God and glorify him, which is the chief end of our life (Ge 1:31; Westminster shorter catechism 1).

One clear characteristic of those who have faith is that they pray, holding to the words of promise. So far God has blessed our Matthew’s gospel study and gave us abundant words of God. God wants us to take his words as our own. We must especially claim Jesus’ famous words as our own: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” Jesus says of who God is. He said, “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Mt 8:7-12) If we do not believe that God will answer our prayers and give us good gifts, we are regarding him as evil God. God seems to speak to us, “Don’t think I am evil. Though you are evil, I am not the God who is evil, but good.” Our good and generous God wants us to ask, seek and knock until each of us receives, finds and sees the open door. 1 John 5:14,15 says, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God; that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.”

Look at verse 20 again, “…and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” What a great promise! Who can give us such a promise? We are living in this impossible world and we are surrounded by many impossible things. But our faithful Lord tells the truth, promising, “Nothing will be impossible for you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed.” Our Lord Jesus wants us to hold on to the word of God we received firmly and exercise our faith, a mustard seed like faith, though our situations look too big. He wants us to challenge our own mountain consistently and persistently with faith, believing that it will move. As we move one mountain after another, nothing will be impossible for us to fulfill God’s purpose upon us. May we especially take care of one soul with a mustard seed like faith and challenge our unbelieving generation, believing that God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine (Eph 3:20).

Look at verse 22. “When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, ‘The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.’ And the disciples were filled with grief.” This time Jesus foretold that he was going to be betrayed into the hands of men before being killed. Betrayal is one the hardest things to bear in life. Jesus would be betrayed even by one of his beloved twelve disciples. Yet, he believed that God would heal the sin-sick world through his death and resurrection. He had God’s hope and vision for the salvation of mankind through his faith.

Let’s read the key verse. “He replied, ‘Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, 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.’”

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