Story 108: The Cry of Unbelief

Matt. 17:14-27; Mark 9:14-32; Luke 9:37-45

Vitrail

As Jesus returned from the Mount of Transfiguration with Peter, James, and John, there was a large crowd surrounding the rest of His disciples. Some scribes, who were religious leaders, were standing there arguing with them. When the multitudes saw Jesus coming, they were amazed and went running towards Him. The Lord asked His disciples what they were discussing with the scribes. Just then, a man came out from the crowd, fell on his knees at Jesus’ feet, and cried out, “‘Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. A spirit seizes him and he suddenly screams; it throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It scarcely ever leaves him and is destroying him.’”

Can you imagine the agony and sorrow in this man’s voice? How painful it must have been to watch his beloved son in such misery, day after day. Imagine the frightening moments for his family, the social rejection, the loss of normalcy.

The father had other choices he could have made. He could have hidden his child and the shame attached to his condition. In Jewish culture at the time when a child had a problem, they often assumed it was because of some kind of sin in the parents. He could have rejected his son and put distance between them by sending him away. He could have accepted their situation and ignored the hope being offered by the amazing stories about Jesus as He journeyed around the Galilean countryside healing people.

Instead of all these options, this father sought out Christ and His disciples, and boldly declared his great need for their help. He told Jesus, “‘I begged Your disciples to drive it out, but they could not.’”

Jesus broke out, “‘O unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I stay with you and put up with you? Bring your son here.’” Wow. This is the only time in the Gospels that we see Jesus show impatience with what is happening around Him. He had just walked down the mountain from a conversation with Moses and Elijah, both of whom had the faith to perform breathtaking miracles in their own generation. Yet His own disciples weren’t quite there yet.

They brought the man’s son to Jesus, and the minute he saw the Lord, the evil spirit in him threw the boy to the ground in twisted, tortured convulsions. The young man was foaming at the mouth and rolling around on the ground in front of the whole crowd. What a dreadful experience. Jesus asked the father how long these things had been happening to his son. “‘From childhood,’ he answered. “‘It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.’” Can you hear the anguish in this father’s voice?
“‘If I can?’ said Jesus.   “ ‘Everything is possible for him who believes.’”

When the boy’s father heard that, he jumped on it. He exclaimed, “‘I believe! Help my unbelief!’”

You can almost sense the father’s desperation as he realized that though he believed in Jesus on some levels, his unbelief might be a hindrance to the work of God in his son’s life. Would this raw and honest prayer expressing faith and need be enough?

By now, news had spread about what was going on, and people were coming, running from every direction. Jesus rebuked the demon, saying, “‘You deaf and mute spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.’”

With the words of the Lord, the evil spirit came shrieking out of the boy, shaking him violently with great convulsions. When it was gone, the boy lay so still that the people thought he was dead. But the Lord Jesus took his hand and helped the young man to his feet, and the boy was able to stand. Jesus gave the son back to his father. Everyone was stunned and in awe of God’s greatness.

When the disciples went into the house and had Jesus in private, they asked Him why they couldn’t cast this demon out. In other situations, they had the power cast out evil spirits. What had happened this time?

Luke tells us that Jesus said, “‘Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, If you have the 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.’” In the book of Mark, Jesus explained to them further, saying “‘This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.’” Apparently, faith coupled with prayer is a powerful combination for bringing people freedom from spiritual bondage.

From there, Jesus and His disciples began to go through Galilee again. Although everyone was marveling at all He had done, He didn’t tell anyone where He was going. Jesus was making His way from the north of Galilee down south through Perea on His way to Judea. Jesus was traveling to Jerusalem for the last time. He was heading for the cross, and He had important things to teach His disciples along the way. There was a new urgency to His message that His disciples would only come to understand later.

He said, “‘Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: the Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill Him, and after three days, He will rise.’”  This was the reason He had come…the great Messianic secret that no one had guessed.

The disciples heard what He said, but they could not understand Him, and they were too afraid to ask Him what He meant. The Lord knew that His coming trials would be terrible for His friends, but if they learned now that He knew what was coming, then later on when they tried to understand what had happened, they would realize that it was all on purpose. The future of the Messiah was not a tragedy that happened because God lost control. In fact, that is what makes it so heartbreakingly beautiful. God the Father chose this for His Son on our behalf. Jesus knew exactly what He had to do, and as He bravely faced the will of His Father, He worked to strengthen the faith of His disciples as well.

On their way south, Jesus and the disciples went through Capernaum. Some tax collectors came to Peter to collect a tax of two drachma. This was the tax for the upkeep of the Temple in Jerusalem. Every male over twenty had to pay it every year, and it was worth about two days worth of wages. They asked Peter if Jesus paid His taxes as well. Peter said, “‘Yes.’” and went into his house where Jesus was. Before Peter could say anything, the Lord Jesus asked him, “‘What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes, from their own sons, or from others?’”

Peter said they collected taxes from others. Jesus said, “‘Then the sons are exempt. But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.’”

Wow. It is interesting to watch Jesus navigate this situation. The Temple in Jerusalem belonged to His Father, the King of Creation. Technically, Jesus shouldn’t have had to pay anything at all. He was the Son, and He let His disciple know it. But He also knew He didn’t need to ruffle any feathers, and so Jesus produced the money with a remarkable miracle.

It is interesting that before he followed Jesus, Peter made his living as a fisherman. Four drachmas would have taken him four days to earn, but Jesus produced it through one fish on his first catch. There is almost a wild joy to this miracle, a delightful carelessness about the things of this world in light of faith in what God can do. Jesus was the Son of the Most High God. His heritage was not from the corrupt religious leaders at the Temple. It was natural that they would tax those who were outside their family, and Jesus was happy to pay a tax that showed the difference.

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