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Matthew

Down From The Mountain

Matthew 17:14-27

Lesson audio

It happens to every Christian: the mountain top experience is followed by a trip down in the valley. The three disciples now follow Jesus down the mountain, and find the crowds waiting for them.

When they came to the crowd, a man came up to Jesus, falling on his knees before Him and saying, "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. "I brought him to Your disciples, and they could not cure him." And Jesus answered and said, "You unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him here to Me." And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him, and the boy was cured at once.

(Mat 17:14-18 NASB)[1]

Remember, please, that in our last lesson Christ was transfigured before Peter, James and John. They are now returning to the valley below. The first thing that greets them is – the crowd. Please notice what the three disciples do next: nothing. Is this in obedience to command, or fear of public speaking? No matter; it’s back to reality – leaving the real reality behind for a while.

Perhaps it is just as well. Christ has told them to shout from the housetops that which He reveals in secret.[2] Most of us would tell Him we’d like to, but we are afraid of public speaking. Which may explain why He tells us so little in secret these days.

Difficult? Yes it is. But the time of secrecy has long since passed, and we need to heed our Lord’s command.

The faithless generation

Some assume that Jesus’ words are directed towards the disciples for their lack of faith. The words are actually directed at the crowd, and speak to their faith.

The point is of some importance. The boy is said to be a “lunatic” – literally “moon struck”. The name is evidence of a culture that considered sun, moon and stars to have influence on the mentally ill or demon possession – a form of animism crossed with astrology. Such people are still with us today.

Christ then points out the barriers to faith – for that is what it will take, faith on the part of the father – found in that generation. See if either seems familiar:

  • Unbelief. This is not so much a failure to believe as it is a failure to commit. Oh, we’re Christians, sure, but we have good luck charms, medals, candles and mysticism to help us along too. As Ray Bolger ( the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz) put it, “Some people do go both ways.”
  • Perverted. The word in the Greek originally meant, “distorted.” It’s not that we don’t believe marriage, we’ve just distorted the word to include homosexual marriage as well.
Bring him to Me

After such a rebuke, you might think that Christ would have nothing to do with the man or his son. It is not so, and in this there are two lessons:

·         As Remig put it, this is “an example to preachers to attack sins but to assist men.” A perverted generation, but still the lost children of God.

·         It servers as a reminder to us that we are to take all our cares and troubles to the Lord.[3]

Little faith

Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, "Why could we not drive it out?" And He *said to them, "Because of the littleness of your faith; 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. ["But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting."] And while they were gathering together in Galilee, Jesus said to them, "The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men; and they will kill Him, and He will be raised on the third day." And they were deeply grieved.

(Mat 17:19-23 NASB)

(It should be noted that verse 21, the section in brackets, is not found in the most ancient of manuscripts, and may be a later addition.)

Faith suffers without the presence of Christ.

The nine disciples below have been without the presence of Christ for some time now – and their faith suffers from this. Perhaps as much as a week has gone by without Jesus. Without clear touch with the Master, faith fades.

So how do we as Christians handle such a situation: By prayer, for one way. Look at the habit of Daniel:

Now when Daniel knew that the document was signed, he entered his house (now in his roof chamber he had windows open toward Jerusalem); and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously.

(Dan 6:10 NASB)

Remember: He will not exclude us from life; we are the ones who exclude ourselves from Him.

Mustard Seed Faith

This is a much debated passage. May we take this one simply and cleanly?

  • If your faith is inadequate, whose fault is that? Have we even asked Him to help our unbelief?
  • Why is this so common? Perhaps it is our habit “hedging our bets” that is at fault. Christianity in moderation – don’t let it run your life. That’s halfway faith. Better no faith at all.
  • Why don’t we ask for faith? Perhaps we are not willing to wait for the mustard seed to grow.
Why the disciples are going to need such faith

From the mountain top He showed them His glory; in the valley He tells them of His coming death. They’re going to need the mustard seed faith to get through that. Note what kind of faith is the minimum requirement:

  • It is a faith in God Himself. They need to know that no matter how black things look, God will work His plan.
  • It may be a small faith – but it needs to be a living faith, like the mustard seed.

Sovereignty of Christ

When they came to Capernaum, those who collected the two-drachma tax came to Peter and said, "Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?" He *said, "Yes." And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, "What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?" When Peter said, "From strangers," Jesus said to him, "Then the sons are exempt. "However, so that we do not offend them, go to the sea and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for you and Me."

(Mat 17:24-27 NASB)

Taxes, taxes

The tax spoken of here has its roots in the Old Testament[4]. At this time the tax was voluntary, so the men who are coming to Peter have no real authority. But Peter takes it as a challenge, and announces that his Master does indeed pay the “temple tax” as it had become. This tax had a curious history:

  • In the original, all were required to bring this tribute – there was no favoritism. Everybody paid the same thing.
  • The tax was an atonement tax – a tax which all men paid, because they are all sinners.
The Sovereignty of Christ

Jesus has a problem here. On the one hand, He has been instructing His disciples on just who He is. How can you tax the King of Kings and Lord of Lords? He has no need of atonement; He is sinless. No one on earth has jurisdiction over Him, for all authority is given to Him[5]. But He has also set an admirable record for complying with the Law of Moses – not the one as distorted by the Pharisees, but the one given to Moses. Since He was the Giver, it is gracious on His part to condescend to do so.

“Who do you say I am,” He asks His disciples. The very Son of God, in the flesh; indeed, in the form of a servant. He must show His disciples that He remains the Son of God even though He pays this temple tax.

The power of Christ – in the details

The incident that happens next is not quite a miracle. No natural laws were violated by this procedure – but the laws of probability have been well stretched. This is called a “providence” of God, after the God who provides. May I point out a few little things here?

  • The amount is exactly that which is required. When God provides, He sometimes provides exactly – so that you and I will think about it.
  • The amount was for “you and I.”
  • In effect, that makes it a ransom shared.

The ransom is for all of us.

Epilog

The Crucifixion is coming, and Jesus is preparing his disciples for it. To this end He shows them the glory His death will bring. To this end He strengthened their faith in valleys as well. We may well ask, for what is He preparing me?


[1] For those with such curiosity, Duke University has a collection of ancient papyri, one of which is of this passage. See http://odyssey.lib.duke.edu/papyrus/records/241.html.

[2] Matthew 10:27

[3] Matthew 11:28-30

[4] Exodus 30:11-16

[5] Matthew 28:18

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