Said “Ouch!” Lately?
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 17:20b (Holman) “For I assure you: If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will tell this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move.”
Since small faith can achieve big results, the ultimate issue in life is not the size of our faith, but how tight its connection is to the power source. A very thin wire, correctly connected to a strong battery, can convey much power.
We succeed spiritually the same way a mustard seed succeeds naturally. A seed, by maintaining uninterrupted contact with its source of nourishment, gains nutrients from the soil. As we stay in constant contact with the Source that nourishes us, we are enabled to thrive and grow into stronger, better people.
The goal is to stay in as close a contact as possible with the Holy Spirit, our spiritual power source. Seek primarily not the traits of faith—confidence, belief, obedience, peace—but the root of faith. We are not to be overly anxious about obtaining the symptoms of faith, but must focus on the source of faith.
Maintain close contact, whatever disappointments happen. Successful believers have no quit in them. True faith “does not immediately give up in despair when its efforts do not meet with immediate success” (Hendricksen). Maintain vital contact, knowing God will do right, and act at the correct time.
Matt. 17:20c “Nothing will be impossible for you.”
“To ask how much a little faith can accomplish is like asking how large a fire could a small match kindle” (Glover). We should expect to see great and mighty results come from our prayers, but let’s keep our text in its context.
Jesus’ promise here is limited by faith, by what the Power Source wants to give power to. God’s strength is released only within the framework of His will. He provides power only to causes He chooses. For instance, we know for sure we’re praying in God’s will if mission is our focus. This is why “therefore” (MT 28:19) praying in the context of the Great Commission has so much power.
When one with God, doing His will by faith, we are unstoppable, feared as much by the devil as God Himself. When one with God by faith, He answers our prayers mightily. He changes the circumstance or gives us power not only to endure it, but to rise above it victoriously. If God does not do a miracle in the circumstance, He’ll do a miracle in us. Thus we ourselves become the miracle.
Matt. 17:21 “However, this kind does not come out except by prayer and fasting.”
Fasting is a vital discipline encouraged in the New Testament (MT 6:16; 9:15; AC 14:23). Fasting has no merit in itself. God wants the heart, not the stomach, empty. An empty stomach has value only if it leads to an empty heart.
The purpose of fasting is to abstain from food for a while in order to sharpen concentration in prayer. If fasting intensifies our praying, it is successful, enabling us to starve out the devil by starving ourselves (Spurgeon).
To Satan, a heart empty of self-centeredness is untenable as a lodging place. In a clean Godly heart, he has no handle to grip, no place to plant his feet.
Our text assumes some occasions for prayer can be more trying than other times. Prayer sometimes seems unstoppable, at other times unstartable. The two belong together. God gives us enough successes for us to know we have power, and enough failures for us to remember we are at best only jars of clay.
Whatever we think of fasting per se—many of us cannot do it for health reasons—we should all agree devotion is best maintained by rigid self-denial. True faith and self-indulgence cannot co-exist. Physical desires must be curtailed, held in check. The self-indulgent never become spiritual leaders.
Have we recently made a conscious determination to limit our wants? Have we proactively denied ourselves anything lately for the cause of Christ?
These questions are especially pertinent for the seasoned church member. Many deeds, like tithing and church attendance, begin as a vital act of worship, but eventually regress into being perfunctory. We occasionally need to ask, when did we last consciously sacrifice? Have we said “Ouch!” for Jesus lately?
Matt. 17:22-23 As they were meeting in Galilee, Jesus told them, “The Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill Him, and on the third day He will be raised up.” And they were deeply distressed.
This is the second of three predictions Jesus made about His pending violent death. The three break into Matthew like the tolling of a funeral bell.
Experts at denial, we often have to hear news more than once in order to process it, especially when it is painful. Jesus was trying to wean the disciples one step at a time away from any thoughts of a political kingdom.
He “is about to be betrayed into the hands of men.” He would be handed from person to person as if He were nothing more than furniture, a commodity.
“They will kill Him.” His enemies wanted His blood, the most precious ever. Jesus knew what was coming, yet stayed the course because He loves us.
Don’t miss Jesus’ final words. “He will be raised up.” He ended with good news, but they couldn’t grasp that either. We have the advantage of being able to look retroactively, and celebrate the fact we are a resurrection people.
Matt. 17:24-25a When they came to Capernaum, those who collected the double-drachma tax approached Peter and said, “Doesn’t your Teacher pay the double-drachma tax?” “Yes,” he said.
This may have been Jesus’ last trip home. Capernaum was “His own city,” a town dear to His heart, headquarters. It is a must-see on trips to Israel.
A temple tax collector, maybe trying to trap Jesus, asked if He paid the temple tax. The revenuer approached Peter with the question, probably because Peter owned a house in Capernaum, and was the head of his household.
The temple tax was not a Roman levy, but a religious tax imposed on the Jews by their religious leaders to support the ongoing work of the temple. The Jerusalem temple was expensive to operate. Sacrifices were costly. Robes and curtains needed constant repair and replacement. Salaries had to be paid.
The temple leaders were corrupt, but if Jesus had refused to pay the tax, His opponents would have had powerful ammunition to use against Him. They could have accused Him of being at best unpatriotic, at worst blasphemous. The temple leadership was a den of thieves, but Christ paid the tribute anyway.
Let me hit the pause button here, and put our story in a larger setting. We are, in all situations, to do what Jesus did. “What would Jesus do?” has become a phrase we use so much that it may have worn thin, and lost its cutting edge.
To regain the thought’s sharpness, maybe instead of considering “What would Jesus do?” we should for a while ask the question, “What did Jesus do?”
The “would” question is best answered through the filter of the “did” question. He prayed before meals, regularly attended worship, told us to tithe, befriended riff-raff, cared for the poor, and gave money to support worship.
Our task is to follow Jesus’ example, to do what He did. Thus, based on our text, we should tithe despite the glaring failures of church leaders. We may say it is unfair to give money when much is corrupt, but God settles the score.
Better to be a lifelong thief and compulsive liar than a minister handling the things of God with dirty hands. Nadab and Abihu, plus Eli’s sons, were struck dead. King Uzziah violated the Temple, and was smitten with leprosy.
Even in sleazy times, Jesus financially supported the house of public worship. Would any of us dare to claim exemption from a duty He espoused? Too often we use the hypocrisy of others as a smokescreen to hide our greed.
It is not unreasonable for a church to expect its members to give piddling material things in exchange for the everlasting spiritual benefits they receive. Our problem is, we over-value the material, and under-value the spiritual.