Matthew 17: 14-20

And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him, said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he has seizures and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.” And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.” And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

Understanding And Applying the Text

People have abused this text in so many ways. They use it to condemn people who have had tragedies fall on them. They use it to question the salvation of many. The “name it and claim it” theology uses it to claim you only need to believe. And of course, if it doesn’t happen, you did not believe strong enough. They are nothing less than instruments of Satan. Satan uses scripture to distort the truth.

Let’s review the situation. Jesus, Peter, James, and John are literally coming down from a mountain top experience. Peter, James, and John had seen Jesus transfigured. They beheld His glory. When they arrive off the mountain, there is a crowd. From the crowd comes a desperate man. He came to Jesus. He knelt in front of Him. He begs Jesus to have mercy for his son.

The man’s son was demon-possessed. Many have come to the conclusion the boy had epilepsy. In fact, the ASV even translates it that way. But that is not what scripture says. Epilepsy is not the result of demon possession. The boy experienced what appears to be a seizure. And not all seizures are the result of epilepsy. These were the result of demon possession.

It is sad how many make a medical diagnosis of epilepsy. They can make it without medical training. They don’t even need to examine the patent. And they can do it at a distance of over 2100 years. Their skill is uncanny. (That is not a note of sarcasm, that is a whole symphony). As a result, they have accused many who suffer from epilepsy of having a demon. That is demonic.

The Greek says the boy was “moonstruck.” That is another way of saying he was a lunatic. That is he was crazy. I am not making a diagnosis. I know little about mental illness. And I am not saying all who have a mental illness are demon possessed. The scripture talks in phenomenological language. That is, as things appear. The boy was acting like a lunatic.

The boy would fall into water and fire. As a result of falling into the fire, he was likely disfigured.

In my mind’s eye, I see this as the sequence of events. The father had heard Jesus was in the area. He heard Jesus could heal. So he went looking for Jesus. He found Jesus’ disciples but no Jesus. Since these were Jesus’ disciples or students maybe they had learned enough to heal his son. So he asks the disciples to heal his son.

The disciples believe they can. They had watched Jesus do it. They know the words. They knew what to do. They had seen Jesus do it before. But when they tried nothing happened. They did not understand. They did exactly what Jesus had done before.

They turn to the father apologized and told him there is nothing they could do. The father was in despair. He was without hope. Then he turns and sees Jesus coming. Hope returns. He runs and falls to his knees at Jesus’ feet. The father begs Jesus to heal his son.

Of course, these details are extra-biblical. They come from my imagination. But they allow me to put everything in a context where all the pieces fit together.

Christ’s response was “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?” John Calvin commented Jesus directed this comment to the scribes. I would disagree. The scribes are not mentioned anywhere in this account. John Wesley writes Jesus was speaking to His disciples. That makes more sense. They were the ones who exercised a false faith.

Jesus had come down from the mountain. There He was in His glory. He comes from the mountain top both literally and figuratively. As soon as He comes down He is face to face with a sinful world. For pure righteousness to exist in this sinful world was suffering. It was a burden to bear. But praise be to Christ He did.

Jesus rebuked the demon. The boy was healed.

The disciples later came to him in private and said they did not understand. Why they could not cast out the demon? Jesus told them it was because they had little faith. He did not say it was because they had no faith. Jesus went on to say they did need a lot of faith. It only takes a little faith to move mountains. But even so, they did not have enough.

But that begs the question, “What is faith?” So much of the evangelical world today treats faith as simple belief. We are saved through faith, not through belief. Belief is a component of faith but it is not faith,

The reformers had to develop a careful definition of faith to answer Rome. The reformers defined faith as containing three elements, notitia, assensus, and fiducia.

Notitia refers to the content of faith. That is what we believe. A lot of people believe a lot of things but they are false things. You can believe with all your heart in something false and you would not have faith. As Christians, we place our faith in someone. We must know something about Christ. Without knowledge of Christ, there can be no faith.

Assensus is our conviction that the content of our faith. I know many atheists who have a knowledge of Jesus. But they have no conviction the Bible is true. They know about the Christian faith and believe that it is not true. Genuine faith says that the content (notitia) of Holy Scripture is true.

Fiducia is a personal trust and reliance in the object or person of faith. Often an example of a chair is used to illustrate this point You can know all about chairs (Notitia). You can believe a chair is will support you. (Assensus) Not until trust it by sitting on it do you have Fiducia. Knowing and believing the content of the Christian faith is not enough, even demons do that (James 1:9). Faith is knowing, assenting, and trusting Jesus.

Trusting by itself is not faith. That is credulity. Faith starts with knowledge. Increasing faith must start with increasing knowledge. Study your bible. Don’t read it, Study it. Increase your knowledge. Then you can believe it. You cannot believe something you do not know. Once you believe then you can trust. You cannot trust something you do not believe. You cannot believe something you know nothing about.

That is the chain of faith. Knowledge leads to belief. Belief leads to trust. Starting at the end is like building a roof before you build the house.

The disciples’ trust and belief was in magic words and incantations. They did all the right things. But their trust was in something other than Christ.

We too must have faith in Christ for our salvation. We can do all the right things. We can say the right words. But they will not save us. We are saved by the grace of God alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

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