DUNCAN/Faith as a mustard seed

DUNCAN/Faith as a mustard seed

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Please turn in your Bibles to Matthew 17:14-21. It is very clear in this passage that Matthew wants to highlight the danger of unbelief. At every turn, he sets before us the peril involved in refusing to believe Christ and in refusing to believe God’s Word.  We will see three things from this passage. First, sin brings misery and self-destruction.  Second, Christ hates unbelief and perversity. And third, unbelief and littleness of faith cripples our ability to minister.

I. Sin Brings Misery and Self-Destruction 

In these verses we see Christ coming down from the mountain into this fallen situation, a tragic situation involving a demon possessed epileptic boy.  In those verses we see that sin brings misery and self-destruction. Matthew has painted us a picture there of what sin does to a person.  We are not claiming that this boy did something and was being punished by these particular activities, but we are seeing, that this young man’s misery is a picture of what sin does.  Jesus, Peter, James, and John are returning to rejoin the other disciples. The other disciples have been carrying on their ministry while Jesus and these disciples have been on the Mount of Transfiguration.  As Jesus and these three disciples descend from the summit, they come into a great multitude of people. There is already a crowd gathered and there is arguing going on and there is great discussion going on and a great deal of turmoil.

As Jesus and His three disciples come to meet this large crowd in which the other disciples are found, a man presents himself to Jesus and prostrates himself before Jesus, begging Him for help.  Jesus is met by a grieving father. Notice that the father says to the Lord Jesus when he comes to speak to him that his son is a lunatic, and his son is ill.  He says in verse 15, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is a lunatic and is very ill; for he often falls into the fire and often into the water.” This father comes to the Lord Jesus Christ appealing to His pity, to His mercy, to His compassion. The man is uncertain. We don’t know exactly why he’s uncertain. Even though he believes in Jesus’ compassion and pity and mercy, he is not really sure that Jesus can do anything about it.  

The picture of this boy, described here, is the picture of what sin does to you. Sin always brings misery. We have here a vivid, tangible picture of sin. Friends, if you are living a life of rebellion, this is a picture of you. This is a picture of anyone apart from the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.  This is a picture of a person who has not cast their hope and their trust on the Lord Jesus Christ. There might not be the physical symptoms.  You may not know until it’s too late that you’re that sick.  It’s one of the sad things about sin. It brings about self-deception as well as self-destruction, and even while people are destroying themselves, they don’t realize that they themselves are deceived about their true condition. 

II. Christ Hates Unbelief and Perversity

Look then at verses 17-18.  Jesus gives a rather surprising response in these verses to this grieving father’s plea. We learn in verses 17-18 that Christ hates unbelief and perversity. When this father asks Jesus to help him, Jesus explodes in verse 17 with indignation. You must got to ask yourself, “Why did Christ respond like this?” Why did He say in verse 17, “You perverse and foolish generation, how long am I going to have to be among you?” We are told that as Jesus came up to meet this multitude that the scribes at that very moment were arguing with the disciples.  What were the scribes doing?  They were taunting the disciples about the disciples’ incapability to help this man.  Instead of having compassion upon this young man and upon his father, the scribes were delighting in the fact that Jesus’ disciples had failed in their ministry.  

Everybody in this passage, except Jesus, shows a lack of faith. The father of the son wasn’t really sure whether Jesus could do what He was asking him to do, and the disciples themselves had failed to persevere in prayer. Their unbelief had defeated their efforts to minister to this particular man and his son.  Jesus’ rebuke against unbelief falls upon everyone, if indirectly. It is not that faith is something in itself. It is not that victory over sin comes within us. It is that faith is the link which God has appointed between us and His divine favor. Faith is the instrument whereby we receive the grace and the blessing and the favor and the benefits of God. And so the whole passage is a reminder to us of how Jesus thinks about unbelief and how dangerous it is.  

III. Unbelief and Littleness of Faith Cripples our Ability to Minister 

Verse 20 is basically a ministerial debriefing. Jesus said to his disciples, “For truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.” Mark tells us that they went into a house together after these events and they sat down to reflect. And as they reflected, Jesus made it clear to the disciples one last thing. Unbelief and faithlessness cripples our ability to minister. Matthew highlights the faithlessness of the disciples. What we learn here is that mustard seed type faith does not  give up simply because it encounters obstacles. Mustard seed faith, though it is tiny, grows to be a great tree. And yet, the disciples’ lack of faith, their lack of belief, has led them to fail in ministry. We need the full armor of God if we are going to be able to engage in spiritual warfare.  

That kind of fighting begins first with the prayer of faith; that prayer which recognizes our total dependence upon God and the power of His grace in the lives of those to whom we are ministering.  This whole passage calls us to faith in Christ. Have you trusted in Christ? Have you put your faith in Him? Have you embraced His claims acknowledging him to be the divine Messiah, the Son of the living God? Or, are you still attempting to live by your own efforts – on your own – in isolation from Him? This passage, if there is any passage that does so, calls you to trust in the Messiah. Apart from the Messiah what are you like?  You are like that boy caught in the hands of the bands of Satan. With Christ, what are you like? You are like that boy transformed – transformed by the prayer and the power of the Lord Jesus Christ. Let’s trust in Him and pray to Him. 

The Rev. Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III is Chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary.  He can be reached at 601-923-1600 or by email at jhyde@rts.edu.





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