A Wanting world - a Weakened Church
A Wanting World—A Weakened Church (Matthew 17:14-20)
What happens when the church cannot produce? A church can have words without works, promises without performance, a reputation for power without a demonstration of power. Matthew, Mark, and Luke each record a failure in faith immediately following the transfiguration of Jesus. While their Master was gloriously changed on Mount Hermon above, the disciples disastrously failed in the valley below. Representing an absentee Lord, they failed.
We too represent in our church an absentee Lord. The world brings its desperate needs to us and asks, "Can you help?" The church fails to help human hurts because faith fails.
Failures in Faith Embarrass the Cause of Christ
Hurting humanity expects the church to help. The father of an epileptic boy represents all who come to Christ's church desperate for help. The nine failing disciples remind us of the church which does not have the faith to make a difference.
The adversaries of Christ's church criticize failures in faith. Mark 9:14 notes the presence of cynical scribes who ridiculed the disciples before the mob because of their failure in faith. When our faith fails we give cause to the critics of Christ.
Disciples are embarrassed by failures in faith. In the face of critics and the watching crowd the nine disciples could not produce. By implication the failure of the disciples was the failure of their Master. We stand today embarrassed by the inability to make a dent in the hurts of helpless humanity.
The helpless remain unhelped when faith fails. There is hardly a sadder picture in the New Testament than this frantic father whose last hope for help was Jesus Christ. His only son was seized by evil and thrown into places of danger and threat. Our world is seized by life-destroying forces that only Christ can change. Christ Himself is doubted when our faith fails and we cannot heal the hurt.
The Fault for Failure in Faith Rests with the Disciples
A failure in faith is the fundamental failure in discipleship. When Christ cried out "O unbelieving and perverse generation" (v. 17), He did not exclude the disciples from that cry. Unbelief twists, warps, and contorts the world in which we live. The nine disciples had embodied the very perverse unbelief that characterized the world at large. Rather than change the unbelief of the world, they had joined the world in unbelief.
Failure in faith gives personal pain to Jesus Christ. His words reveal that the disciple's failure to connect with His power in simple trust pained Him as much as a personal insult. Christ was pained by the absence of trust more than all else.
Merely mechanical ministry results in failed faith. Christ had earlier commissioned the twelve to do the very thing they here failed to do (10:8). They could not simply go through the motions, repeat the ritual, and make any difference. Life-changing service must continually call down the resources of Christ if it makes any difference at all.
Restoration of Faith Requires a Recognition of Failure and a Request for Instruction
The disciples wisely approached Jesus in private to ask why their ministry failed. We would do well to take our failures in faith to Christ for His correction.
A minute faith can work a great miracle. The mustard seed grew from the smallest seed to the largest garden shrub. Evidently the faith of the disciples had grown small indeed if it was not even the size of a mustard seed! We fail not because of the strength of the opposition but because of the smallness of faith.
Small faith can move the immovable. "To move a mountain" was proverbial for overcoming great difficulty. Elsewhere Jesus stated that faith could uproot what appeared to be permanently rooted.