************ Sermon on Matthew 17:20 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on October 12, 1997
"The Power of Faith"
Topic: PrayerIsn't this absolutely pathetic!? We smile at this story, but it suggests how faithless we sometimes are, how lacking our faith can be. In today's Scripture reading we see the same lack of faith on the part of the disciples.
Subtopic: Conditions of Successful
Title: Who Believes?
The story is told of a small town in which there were no liquor stores. Eventually, however, a nightclub was built right on Main Street. Members of one of the churches in the area were so disturbed that they conducted several all night prayer meetings, and asked the Lord to burn down that den of iniquity. Lightning struck the tavern a short time later, and it was completely destroyed by fire. The owner, knowing how the church people had prayed, sued them for the damages. His attorney claimed that their prayers had caused the loss. The congregation, on the other hand, hired a lawyer and fought the charges. After much deliberation the judge declared, "It's the opinion of the court that wherever the guilt may lie, the tavern keeper is the one who really believes in prayer while the church members do not!"
I Unbelief Leads to Weakness
A Just prior to the events in front of us we see that Peter, James, and John are on a mountain with Jesus. There Jesus is transfigured before His three disciples. We are told that "His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light" (Mt 17:2). Moses and Elijah appear and talk with Jesus. Then,
(Mat 17:5) ... a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!"
On the mountain the faith of Peter, James, and John in Jesus is greatly strengthened. There they are shown that Jesus is God's Son, that He is the Christ or Messiah, that He is a prophet they must listen to.
B At the same time as the faith of these three disciples is being strengthened the faith of the other nine disciples is being tested and is found to be lacking. In fact, it is found to be nonexistent.
We read that a father brought his son to the nine disciples for healing. The boy appeared to suffer from some kind of epileptic seizures. Because of drop seizures he often fell into water or fire.
Why did the father bring his son to the disciples for healing? Why didn't he wait for Jesus to come down from the mountain? And, why did the disciples attempt to heal the boy? Why didn't they also wait for Jesus to come down from the mountain? We find the answer earlier in the Gospel:
(Mat 10:1) (Jesus) called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness. And, when Jesus sent them out "to the lost sheep of Israel" He gave them this command:
(Mat 10:7-8) As you go, preach this message: 'The kingdom of heaven is near.' (8) Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. What happened?
(Luke 9:6) So they set out and went from village to village, preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere. The disciples, it is obvious, had the power to heal the boy. That's why the father brought his boy to them. That's why neither the father nor the disciples waited for Jesus to come down from the mountain.
C The disciples had the power to heal the boy, yet in this instance they could not heal him. Why not? What happened?
Compare the disciples to Jesus. Jesus is on the scene for only a few moments and, says Scripture,
(Mat 17:18) Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed from that moment. How come the disciples couldn't do this?
The disciples asked Jesus about their inability to drive out the evil spirit. "Why couldn't we drive it out?" "Because you have so little faith," says Jesus.
Does this mean the disciples' problem is "little faith"? Does this mean that if their faith is bigger, stronger, and better they would then be able to heal the boy? That's what it sounds like but that is not what Jesus means.
Notice what Jesus calls His disciples when He first comes on the scene. Jesus calls them an "unbelieving and perverse generation" (Mt 17:17). And He says,
(Mat 17:20) 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. To heal the boy all that they need is faith "as small as a mustard seed." In that day and age the mustard seed was the smallest thing the human eye could see; there was nothing smaller. We can only conclude, then, that the disciples' faith was even smaller than the mustard seed — which was the smallest known thing. Jesus is saying that their faith was so small that it was nonexistent. Jesus is saying they had no faith. Jesus is saying they didn't believe the power of Jesus.
The Bible tells us about their unbelief or lack of faith a number of times. For instance, they do not believe the five loaves and two fish will feed the five thousand (Mt 14:16ff); nor do they believe the seven loaves and a few small fish will feed the four thousand (Mt 15:29ff). They do not believe it is Jesus walking towards them on the water (Mt 14:26ff) and Peter lacked the faith to walk to Jesus on the water (Mat 14:28ff).
Time after time the disciples are confronted with the awesome power of Jesus. And, Jesus gave them His power when He sent them out. Yet, they do not believe! Their unbelief made them unable to cast out the evil spirit within the boy. All they have to do is believe in Jesus and His power. But they do not.
Unbelief made the disciples weak and ineffective.
D Unbelief makes Christians weak and ineffective too. If we don't believe in Jesus — His power, His might — we are as impotent and helpless as the nine disciples.
Consider this. For 25 years now we have been praying about the abortion issue. For 25 years we have been fighting this great evil in our land. For 25 years we have really gotten nowhere. We know we are praying the Lord's will when we pray for abortions to end; and, we know we are praying the Lord's will when we ask for life to be respected. What's the problem? Is it that we are not really praying out of faith? Is it that we pray but don't really expect the Lord to end abortions?
Or, consider what happens with church discipline. We are asked to pray for someone to repent. We are to pray out of a faith that believes the awesome power of God can soften the hardest of hearts, and the harshest of wills. Yet, we often doubt that anything good will happen.
Unbelief made the disciples weak and ineffective. Unbelief can also make us weak and ineffective.
II Faith Can Accomplish Anything
A Belief, on the other hand, makes us powerful and effective. By faith, in faith, we can do anything. In Matthew 21 we are told about the time Jesus cursed a tree and caused it to immediately wither. And then Christ says,
(Mat 21:21) ... "I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and it will be done. In another place Jesus says,
(Luke 17:6) "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it will obey you. The mulberry tree is a very deep-rooted tree and next to impossible to move. And, in our passage Jesus says
(Mat 17:20) ... "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." The mountain that Jesus is speaking of is the Mountain of Transfiguration. The disciples see that mountain standing right in front of them. Nothing in creation seems more solid and immovable than that mountain. Yet, Jesus says to the disciples that faith — truth faith — can command that mountain to move.
There are many mountains in life: problems, trials, difficulties, disabilities, disease, heart-aches, worries, money problems, fights and quarrels, and the like. Many of these can look so big. Many of these can look impossible and immovable. Jesus is telling us that true faith can move and overcome all such difficulties. Faith in the power of God can make the impossible possible. Faith in the power of God takes impossibilities in stride.
B Some of you might be tempted to say to me, "Pastor, my faith is not strong enough to do any of these things." My brothers and sisters, I want to tell you that it makes no difference at all how strong or weak your faith is. Listen to what Jesus says:
(Mat 17:20) "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." Notice, a faith as small as a mustard seed can move mountains. A faith the size of a mustard seed — that's not much faith, is it?! A tiny mustard seed grows into a towering bush of ten or twelve feet high. Likewise, a tiny faith can work great things. A big faith is not needed. God does not give big promises to those of big faith, medium promises to those of medium faith, small promises to those of small faith, and teensy promises to those of teensy faith. The biggest promise can be claimed by those with the teeniest faith. It is NOT a question of big or small faith; it is NOT a question of more or less faith; it is NOT a question of deep or shallow faith; it is a question of faith or unbelief. It is NOT a question of mature or immature faith; it is NOT a question of rock solid faith or a faith filled with doubts; it is a question of faith or unbelief. If only there is true faith its quantity or quality is irrelevant. True faith, however small, can wither trees, uproot trees, and move mountains. If you believe in Jesus, says our text, "Nothing will be impossible for you."
Topic: FaithThis is the kind of faith that we need in the church and kingdom — a faith that trusts in God for the impossible.
Subtopic: Honored by Christ
I read this past week that the early days of his company were tough for Walt Disney. But that remarkable, creative visionary refused to give up. Walt would occasionally present some unbelievable, extensive dream he was entertaining. Almost without exception, the members of his board would gulp, blink, and stare back at him in disbelief, resisting even the thought of such a thing. But unless every member resisted the idea, Disney usually didn't pursue it. Yes, you heard that correctly. The challenge wasn't big enough to merit his time and creative energy unless they were unanimously in disagreement! Is it any wonder that Disneyland, Disney World, the Epcot Center, and MGM Studio are now realities?
C How come the size of one's faith makes no difference? Because true faith — whether big or small — looks to the almighty God. We are not to look to ourselves and our faith — its strength, its weakness. We are to look to the God of our faith — His strength, His power, and His might. You see, true faith — whether big or small — puts us in possession of God's power.
Do you know what we need? What we need is not a great faith but a faith in a great God. Because once we have faith in a great God then "Nothing will be impossible for you."
I want you to think, for a moment, about Bible passages that talk about the great acts of our great God. Do you remember what the Lord said after Sarah laughed about the possibility of bearing a child after menopause? God said, "Is anything too hard for the Lord" (Gen 18:14)? After hearing all about God and His might do you remember what Job said? He said, "I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted" (Job 42:1-2). Do you remember what the angel of the Lord said to Mary when she asked how she, a virgin, can possibly conceive and bear a son? The angel told her about the conception by the Spirit and said "For nothing is impossible with God" (Luke 1:37).
Our God is a great, great God. He is so great that nothing is impossible for Him. When the boys were small Ruth and I used to play a Jelly Beans record for them. A favorite song was entitled "Anything." We would join hands in the living room and would dance to and sing along with this song. This is how the song goes:
Hey kids! We have a mighty great God, and you know, I believe God can do anything. Now I'm wondering, do you believe that too?We have a mighty great God. Now, we gotta believe He can do anything, anything He wants to do.
You gotta believe God can do anything,
Anything He wants to do.
He can paint the sky a bright, bright green
And turn all the trees to blue.
You gotta believe God can do anything,
For everything is in His hands.
For everything is in His hands.
Now did you know, once God made the world?
He formed it with His hands.
He breathed into a lump of clay,
And the clay became a man!
He made every single animal.
(Those yukky bugs and all!)
He made the mountains, the oceans, the Grand Canyon
And even Niagara Falls!
Let me repeat what I said before. What we need is not a great faith but a faith in a great God. Because once we have faith in a great God then "Nothing will be impossible for you." True faith, you see, looks to this great God and takes possession of His power. It is the Apostle Paul who put it best:
(Phil 4:13) I can do everything through him who gives me strength. By the strength of God there is nothing we can not do. By the strength of God I can transplant trees into the sea, I can wither trees, I can move mountains, and I can overcome all obstacles and problems.
Look at the heroes of faith listed in Hebrews 11. Included is Noah, who built the ark; Abraham, who left home and country; Moses' parents, who hid him from the Egyptians; Rahab, who welcomed the spies; and son on. There was nothing special about the faith of these men and women. It wasn't stronger or weaker than ours. There is, however, something special about the God of their faith: He is almighty, all powerful, able to do anything and everything.
(Mat 17:20) "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."
Do you have this faith? What you need is not a great faith but a faith in a great God. So come to Jesus. Believe in Him. And, you will have the power of faith! You will have a power that can move mountains. You will have a power than can move every obstacle. If you believe you will have the power of God.
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