Matthew 17

Matthew 17: Help My Unbelief

We will study two events in this chapter: the Transfiguration and the healing of the boy with a demon. Both of these events have parallel passages in Mark and Luke which we will also study.

The Transfiguration occurs six days after the events in  Caesarea Philippi recorded in Matthew 16. Many believe this mountain is Mount Hermon for it is located in that area.   The three accounts are very similar with a couple of noticeable differences:  Luke records they went up on the mountain to pray and the Transfiguration occurred while the Lord was praying.  Luke also records what Moses and Elijah were talking about with the Lord- about his departure  which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.    Mark also records – ‘he( Peter) did not know what to say, they were frightened.’  Peter never let not knowing what to say- keep him from speaking up anyway.

First observation- the three disciples recognized Moses and Elijah.  This implies to me, we will know one another as well as the other saints in heaven.

The fact that Luke records this event occurs while they were praying confirms  prayer changes things. When we consider the series of events we can also begin to see how the Lord works. First of all- the disciples have been with the Lord for 2 ½ years approximately before Jesus asks them ‘ who do you say I am?’  Having now come to believe He is the Christ the Son of the Living God, he begins to explain what is about to unfold.   This tells us the revelation of Jesus is progressive as we begin our walk with Him that begins at Salvation.  He also prepares us for what lies ahead so we will not be afraid. But even when we are afraid- he touches us and tells us to not be afraid. His touch which can heal, can also encourage and comfort during the times in our life when we are afraid or discouraged or both.

The description of the Transfiguration is recorded by the three gospels:  Matthew records: His face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as the light.  Mark tells us: ‘ his clothes became a dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.’ Luke records: “ ..the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.”  These description vary slightly in the adjectives used, but we can conclude the light that was shining- was shining out from Jesus, not on Him , like a spotlight. He is light- the light of the world. When we fellowship with Him, we are told we walk in the light as he is in the light. Many believe this glory which had shone in the tabernacle and the temple, may have been the same light of glory of sinless perfection that clothed or was transmitted from Adam and Eve. When they sinned, it said they discovered they were naked, leading to conclude- something which covered their nakedness before was now not present. The glory of God had departed from them for a Holy God cannot abide in the presence of sin.

The Incarnation of the Son of God tells us the Son of God clothed himself in flesh. Paul tells us in Philippians 2:  “ Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death- even death on a cross!” Here these three disciples are given a glimpse of his power and glory. So the Son of God disguised Himself in the flesh of an ordinary human being. The Son of God came as a  baby born in Bethlehem,  lived as a boy growing up in Nazareth, a carpenter who walked on this earth for 30 years in obscurity. Now the disciples are given a glimpse of the  power and glory that has been clothed in flesh.

Peter wants to build three shelters or tabernacles on the spot – one each for Jesus, Moses and Elijah.  The Feasts of the Tabernacles was a celebration of the harvest, where the Jews spent a week in booths and offering sacrifices.  It memorialized the journey from Egypt to Canaan.

Notice the two saints who have appeared with him- Moses and Elijah.  They represent the law and the prophets.  Just as Jesus has three disciples accompany him- for three is a good number of witnesses. There are also three witnesses who testify to the disciples:  Moses, Elijah and the voice of God the Father from a cloud.

Then the disciples heard the voice of God from heaven declaring:  “ This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him.”   It is interesting to me- God’s simple instructions to us are to listen to His Son. His words are life. He is the Word of God  who became flesh and dwelt among us. Jesus’ mother gives some simple instructions also that occurred in John 2, at a wedding in Cana, where He performed his first miracles.  Mary, the mother of Jesus told the servants: “Do whatever He tells you.”

God the Father confirms- this is my son- listen to Him. His mother tells us- do whatever he tells you .

We need to get away and apart from others to commune with the Lord. To study His word – listening to Him with the intention of obeying whatever He tells you to do.   One must come to believe He is who He says He is and can do what He says he can do.   If you  believe this- then you can do what He says you can do- by faith.

By faith, Abel made a more excellent sacrifice; by faith Abraham went out, not knowing where he was going; by faith, Noah built an ark… And so it goes through the Faith Hall of Fame recorded in Hebrews 11. We read this and we know it is how it is done- by faith.

So when it comes our turn and the Lord asks us to do something by faith – how do we respond?  Will we stay in the wilderness or take possession of the Promised Land the Lord has told us to take?

These three men who were chief among the disciples when they heard the voice of God, fell on their faces terrified.  What terrifies you?  What has God asked you to do that has you cringing in fear?  The Lord did not rebuke them. He did not rail out to them- you bunch of wimps!  He came over to them as they lay in fear on the ground and touched them. The hand of the Lord Jesus- was the hand of a carpenter, he must have had callouses , perhaps had mashed a fingernail along the way as most carpenters do, pulled splinters out as anyone who works with wood would have occasion to do. It was this hand, the very hand of God that touched each one.  A reassuring pat on the back- a squeeze of his hand that encouraged and comforted with his words that accompanied his touch- “ Get up. Do not be afraid.”    Are you down today?  Get up, says the Lord.  Are you fearful, do not be afraid I am with you- always.

I like this next verse. “When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.” They saw no one but Jesus- for Jesus is all they needed and He is all we need.   Look up- listen and do what He tells you to do.

The disciples then asked the Lord about Elijah and his coming and his explanation makes it clear- he was talking about John the Baptist.

The Healing of a Boy with a Demon.

This account is also paralleled in  Mark and Luke and once again we will observe the three accounts. In Matthew, his father describes his son as lunatic; in Mark he says he has a dumb spirit( NIV say he has robbed the boy of speech) and in Luke, the spirit is called unclean. The results are episodes of convulsions where he foams  at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid.  Whereas the Bible refers to these as the result of the presence of evil spirit or spirits, medicine and psychology does not seem to recognize these  spirits as causing these conditions.

We are thankful for medicine and science ,but we must not lost sight of how sickness and conditions such as these came to be. The Bible attributes these conditions as a result of the fall of man into sin which started the whole of creation on a downward slide. Guess what?  It all began because Adam and Eve did not listen to God’s Son and do what he told them to do . And remember- we cannot be just hearers only – we must be doers as well as hearers.

To understand sickness we must first embrace as fully as we can the sovereignty of God. Sovereignty means that God is almighty over all. He is in complete control of all things- past , present and future. Nothing happens that is out of His jurisdiction. Either God directly causes it or He passively allows  everything that happens.  To be sovereign means God is above all others. He is the Great I AM. To be sovereign, God must also be all-knowing, all-powerful and absolutely free.

Now allowing something to happen and causing something to happen are two different things. God caused the creation of the perfect sinless Adam and Eve; then He allowed them to rebel against Him. He did not cause them to sin, and He certainly could have stopped them, but He chose not to for His own purposes and to bring about his perfect plan of salvation.

The rebellion of Adam and Eve, called the fall of mankind, brought about all manner of evil that was not caused by God, but which a Sovereign, All-Knowing, All-Powerful God allowed to exist.  This evil is manifest in two broad categories- moral and natural. Moral evil is man’s inhumanity against man. Natural evil is composed of things like natural disasters- floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, and physical sickness.  Evil is a perversion or corruption of something  originally good, but now is missing something. In the case of sickness, illness is a state where good health is missing.

At the fall – all of creation, including mankind and nature were to suffer the consequences of sin, one of which is sickness. Romans 8: 20-22 tell us- “ For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to this present time.”  God plans to liberate creation from its bondage of sin, just as He liberates us from that bondage through Christ.

Until that day in the future when the Lord Jesus returns- we will be subject to evil- both moral and natural. We see it every day in the news , in our communities and in our lives and the lives of loved ones.  God can use sickness and other evil to bring about His Sovereign purpose. The story of Joseph in the OT, is a testimony to this as Joseph was subjected to the evil of his brothers, Potiphar’s wife and others.  In the end, Joseph realized what his brothers had meant for evil- God had intended for good for the saving of many lives.

All we have to do to realize this truth is look to the cross and realize the lengths that God will go to in order to save us. A plan of salvation created by  an All-Knowing God, who foresaw the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden and had prepared the sacrifice of the God the Son before the foundation of the earth.

Sickness may be a result of God’s direct intervention in our lives or it may be the result of the fallen world, fallen bodies and poor health and lifestyle choices.

We do not understand all his ways- for they are higher than ours. However, we can observe Jesus healed many of sickness and diseases when he was here on earth; casting out demons, and raising the dead. We also know God caused Nebuchadnezzar to go mad and Herod to be struck down and eaten by worms. But we know God also allowed a  man to be born blind- not as punishment for sin- but to bring glory to God.

Here is my take on this mystery of God’s sovereignty and sickness and evil:  Sickness and evil are a result of the fall of man into sin. However God is in complete control. He determines how far evil can go- ( read the story of Job) and will not allow the devil to exceed those boundaries. He is able to work all things together for good for those who love Him and in doing so work out his perfect plan.

If I am sick, for whatever reason, poor diet, lack of exercise, stress, poor lifestyle choices, or sin- the knowledge God can use these to glorify Himself  can help me suffer for  His purposes, knowing we may never understand all of the mysteries of God until we stand in his presence.

God was in control of Joseph’s history even when Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery to Potiphar and when he was put in an Egyptian prison.  God wants you and me to know – He is in control of our history also.

As we read this account in the three gospels we see the embarrassment of the disciples.  We see the Lord chastise the people and the disciples for their  lack of faith, especially since the disciples for they had been with Him almost daily for the last 2  ½ years.  That this father of this son with these debilitating health issues is desperate is obvious; but also, that** he has become what many of us have- he has become predisposed to unbelief.** Do we come to the prayer closet expecting answers?  Do we come to church to see God do something unexpected? Something that only God can do?   In the account in Mark, the man’s state of mind is revealed in his weariness of having dealt with this problem for so long—‘ if you can do anything- take pity on us and help us’.  Can you hear the defeat in his question?  Can you see the lines of grief and worry that come from having this son, he loved, never seeming to get better. And now having brought him to the disciples who could not do anything- he is all but hopeless.

‘If you can? Said Jesus. Everything is possible for him who believes.”**  The question is not can Jesus heal – the question is do you believe He is in control and knows what is best in each situation.

You cannot escape this truth- in dealing with Christ it must always be by faith. Believing He is who He says He is – which is that He is sovereign and does not make mistakes.

Here in the 21st century do we believe He is the same?   I do not want to miss what  God has for me and my loved ones, for my ministry, so I will cry out:  Lord I believe.  And I will also confess as this man did- Lord help my unbelief.  * Unbelief does not make one an unbeliever. However unbelief makes one’s faith weaker.

For the very reason we enter the throne room of grace is to find grace to help in time of need. Help Me Lord Jesus. Help Us. Have Pity on us!

Now the disciples had a problem with unbelief also- for obviously they could not cast out this spirit.  Their faith was weak and ineffectual- why? Because it obviously was mixed with unbelief.   But Jesus also told them – ‘ this kind can come forth by prayer and fasting   Fasting is necessary sometimes to add fervor to our prayer in a battle such as this.

Weak faith?  Yes we see it can happen even to the disciples. But what do we know about weakness?  The Lord said his grace is sufficient. And in weakness, his power is made perfect.

If you are like me- you wrestle with these attributes of God. Even though we say we believe them- our level of worry and anxiety tells us there is unbelief mixed with belief. This creates little or weak faith.

God is Sovereign. He is in control  of everything. He is ruler of everything. God is all-knowing- He has all wisdom. Tozer says:  ‘ All God’s acts are done in perfect wisdom, first for His own glory and then for the highest good of the greatest number of people for the longest period of time. All his acts are pure as they are wise, and as good as they are wise and pure. “ The wisdom of God tells us that God will bring about the best possible results, by the best possible means for the most possible people for the longest possible time.

‘This has to mean:  Nothing will enter your life that God does not decree or allow. And nothing will enter your life, that if you are willing to trust in Him, He cannot work out for your good.’ ( Chip Ingram,” God As He Longs For You to See Him.)

Let us end this study with a positive note.  “ If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own son, but gave him up for us all-  how will he not also along with him , graciously give us all things?”

When you realize God has already given you his most precious gift- His Own Son- why would He start being stingy with us now?   God has good plans for you and me. He is on our side. We can trust Him. His purpose is not to ignore our cries and pleas for help. He wants to bless us above anything we can imagine.   His blessings are King Sized- because He is king of kings.    God , our Heavenly Father, is not a hard-hearted tyrant. He is my loving , wise, all knowing, all wise, father. He loves me and you with an everlasting love.    I love to give good gifts to my  children and grandchildren and wife. If I love to give good gifts and it brings me pleasure- imagine how much God delights to give good gifts to us- even though we are not deserving.

Perhaps when it comes down to the basics- the heart of worship is seeing God as He really is and longs for you to see Him- as a loving Father who knows the plans He has for you- plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.( Jeremiah 29)

Here is what I conclude and believe- but also have to ask the Lord to help my unbelief: God is doing things that you and I do not understand, things that are deeper and better  and more wonderful than we can imagine, but we must believe He is who He says He is and can do what He says He can do. And He says He can work all things together for good those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. Can I figure it out myself? No.  I can only trust in His Sovereignty , His Goodness, His Wisdom and His Love which He has revealed in the fact He did not spare His Own Son. He is in control.

And because of this, His Son, the Lord Jesus tell you and me:  Refuse to worry.  Oh Lord , Help My Unbelief!

Listen to my Son, says God the Father.  Do what He tells you to do- says His mother Mary.

Copyright © 2010 Linda Benthal
Last modified: 08/12/14