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Sermon Message


"Bring Him Here to Me"

Matthew 17:14-21
Theme: We are unable to do anything for Jesus apart from an utterly dependent faith in Jesus.

(Delivered Sunday, August 19, 2007 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)

This morning, we come to a very remarkable passage. It's one of those rare passages in which we find the Son of God—if I may say this with all reverence—frustrated with His followers!

I suspect that many of us provide our Lord with sufficient opportunities to express frustration if He wished to. And speaking for myself, I am particularly grateful that He is abundantly patient. But here, in this morning's passage, we are shown an occasion in which Jesus clearly let some of His followers know that He had run out of patience with them. He let's them know that He's "had it" with them.

And that ought to cause us to pause and take notice. I suggest that, if the Holy Spirit has seen fit to include a story in the Bible of the Lord Jesus getting frustrated at some of His followers, it would be wise for us to pay careful attention to that story—and learn the reasons why.

* * * * * * * * * *

This particular story occurred in the context of another remarkable event. Jesus had taken three of His closest apostles—Peter, James and John—and led them up a high mountain. And it was there that “the Transfiguration" occurred. Jesus gave those three apostles a glimpse of His divine glory; and allowed them to, as it were, have a 'preview' of the majesty with which He would one day return to this earth and reign as King of kings and Lord of lords.

We're told that "His face shown like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light" (Matthew 17:2). We're told that the two great representative figures of the Old Testament appeared and spoke with Him about the death He would soon accomplish on the cross—Moses, representing the Law; and Elisha, representing the prophets (v. 3). We're told that a cloud of glory covered the three trembling disciples; and that the voice of the heavenly Father spoke to them, saying, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!" (v. 5). And then, when it was all over—after the cloud had lifted away—we're told that He came to them and touched them, and told them "Arise, and do not be afraid" (v. 6). When they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only (v. 7).

As I pointed out to you a few weeks ago, this story isn't meant to be received by us as a mere "legend". It's meant to be accepted by us as a real historic event—something that truly happened on earth in actual time/space human experience. That's how the apostle Peter treated it. He was an eyewitness to it; and he urged us to believe it whole-heartedly. Near the end of his life, just before he was put to death for his faith in Jesus, he wrote to other persecuted believers and encouraged them by saying;

For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts . . . (2 Peter 1:16-19).

Peter, James and John were descending from the mountain with our Lord after having experienced this amazing, life-changing event. Jesus' divine glory had been revealed to them. It was the original 'mountain-top experience'!

But as is so often true with 'mountain-top' experiences, you eventually have to come down to the world below. And so they did; only to find a large crowd in bewilderment—and the other nine disciples in the situation that caused the Lord to express His profound frustration with them.

The story is found in Matthew 17:14-21; where we read,

And when they had come to the multitude, a man came to Him, kneeling down to Him and saying, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and suffers severely; for he often falls into the fire and often into the water. So I brought him to Your disciples, but they could not cure him.” Then Jesus answered and said, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him here to Me.” And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him; and the child was cured from that very hour. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” So Jesus said to them, “Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting" (Matthew 17:14-21).

* * * * * * * * * *

To truly appreciate this passage and the lesson it has for us, I need to let you know that—in the original language—a particular word is repeated in it three times in it.

You see the first occurrence of it when the father brought his need to Jesus—complaining that the disciples "could not cure" his son. He used a Greek word that some of you may be familiar with—dunamai. We get our English word 'dynamic' from the noun form of this word word (dunamis). We also derive the word "dynamite" from it. The word dunamai means 'to be able' in the sense of possessing the ability to do or accomplish something. In verse 15, the man uses this word, and literally says that the disciples "were not able" to heal his son.

The second occurrence of this word is found after Jesus healed the boy. The disciples had come to Him privately in verse 19, and asked why they could not cast the demon out. And they used a form of that same word dunamai— literally saying, "Why were we not able to cast it out?"

And after the Lord explained to them that it was because of their lack of faith; and after He urged them that they could accomplish a great deal if they only had but a small faith in Him, He told them in verse 20 that "nothing will be impossible for you". He used that very same word; and literally told them, "nothing would be 'not able to be done' by you."

There is a theme in this passage, then, of "ability"—the ability to do something, or the lack of it. And the thing that made the difference in this story—the turning-point in "ability, if you will—was when they obeyed the command of Jesus when He said, "Bring Him to Me."

In other words, so long as the disciples sought to do something of the work of Jesus apart from a dependent faith in Jesus, they were "unable" to accomplish anything. But as soon as they brought the matter to Jesus Himself, things happened!

* * * * * * * * * *

This is a tremendously important spiritual principle; and there's a story in the Book of Acts that illustrates it to us. After Jesus had ascended to the Father in heaven; and after He had called Paul into the apostolic ministry, we're told that "God worked unusual miracles by the hands of Paul" (Acts 19:11). We're told that "even handkerchiefs or aprons were brought from his body to the sick, and diseases left them and the evil spirits went out from them" (v. 12).

Apparently, the dramatic miracles that God performed through His servant Paul drew the attention of some others who wanted to get into the action. But the problem is that they sought to do so apart from a relationship with Jesus Christ by faith—with disastrous results. We read;

Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists took it upon themselves to call the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “We exorcise you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.” Also there were seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, who did so. And the evil spirit answered and said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?” Then the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, overpowered them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded (Acts 19:13-16).

If I may put it this way, these Jewish exorcists sought to "use" Jesus' name and authority. They sought to make use of Jesus, in order to do the work of Jesus, without any dependent relationship by faith with Jesus. And that is something that simply cannot be done! It always leads to frustration and helplessness. And worse; in their particular case, it lead to them running away overpowered, naked and wounded.

But, dear brothers and sisters in Christ; how often do we do the very same thing? How often do we try to "use" Jesus' authority and power on our own initiative? How often do we act as if the power and authority of Jesus is ours to use apart from Him? How often do we try to do the work for Jesus without a personal, dependent faith in Jesus?

Jesus once gave us some very specific instructions concerning this. He said, in John 15:4-5,

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing" (John 15:4-5).

Think of what Jesus said. Can you accomplish something for Jesus apart from abiding in Him? Of course you can. Jesus even had a name for it: "Nothing"! Many of us try to serve Jesus without a dependent faith in Jesus; and we succeed in accomplishing just that—"nothing". But by contrast, the apostle Paul once testified, "Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us" (Eph. 3:20). He once affirmed that, in his own experience, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Phil. 4:13).

I believe that this is the great lesson that this passage is meant to teach us. Just as these disciples discovered, we, as followers of Jesus, are unable to do anything for Jesus apart from an utterly dependent faith in Jesus.

Let's look a little closer at this passage; and see how this crucial spiritual principle is taught to us.

* * * * * * * * * *

First, let's notice . . .


The situation they faced was, clearly, beyond human capacity. A man had a boy who was—as it says in the New King James translation—"an epileptic".

In the original language, the boy is said to be "lunatic". Have you ever thought of what that word means? You've probably heard of the word "luna", haven't you? That's the Latin word for 'the moon'. And so, in the original language of this text, the boy is literally called "moon-struck". That doesn't mean, by the way, that he was in love. It means that he was a stricken with something that had driven him to madness. And what's more, as we can clearly see from this passage, the boy's madness was because of a demon who was afflicting him.

When we read from some of the other Gospel accounts of this story, we see the dreadful condition that this evil spirit had put the boy into. Mark, in his Gospel lets us know that the boy was afflicted with deafness and the inability to speak (Mark 9:25). He reports that this evil spirit would seize the boy and throw him to the ground. It would cause him to foam at the mouth, gnash his teeth, and become rigid (Mark 9:17). Luke tells us that the spirit would only depart from the boy with great difficulty; and even then, would cause him great physical harm in the process (Luke 9:39).

Luke, in his Gospel, let's us know that this was this man's only son (Luke 9:38); and Mark, in his Gospel, let's us know that these things were happening to the boy "from childhood" (Mark 9:22). And of course, in our passage this morning, the man says that the boy would suffer greatly; and that he "often falls into the fire or into the water" (Matthew 17:15). Clearly, not only was the boy suffering; but the father was also himself suffering unspeakably in anxiety over his precious son. He must have been a very good father; because in spite of all the times the boy fell into the fire or into the water, he was still alive. But you can imagine this poor man's sense of helplessness as he tells Jesus, "I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him" (v. 16).

And of course they couldn't. In and of themselves, merely in their own power and authority, they could do "nothing". Jesus once sent them out, having given them authority and power to—among other things—"cast out demons" (Matthew 10:8); but the power and authority was not theirs to use on their own initiative. It was His power and authority delegated to them. They could only do what He had given them the power and authority to do; and they could never do anything apart from Him having first giving them the power and authority to do it.

And yet, as Jesus was away from them on the mountain, there they were—trying to do the work of Jesus apart from the enablement of Jesus Himself. They were trying to act as Jesus' independent 'free-agents' . . . and were, of course, accomplishing "nothing" in the process.

* * * * * * * * * *

Before we depart from this particular point, I need to share something with you that we find in Mark's account of this story. After Jesus and His three disciples descended from the mountain, we're told that, "when He came to the disciples, He saw a great multitude around them, and scribes disputing with them" (Mark 9:14). Up to this point in the Gospel story, the scribes—that is, the religious professionals and scholars of that day—had been continually contesting with Jesus and opposing His ministry. And now, when He comes, He finds them "disputing" with the nine disciples.

And it should be obvious why they were doing so. It was because the disciples were accomplishing nothing. Their helplessness, and inability to do anything to advance the ministry of Jesus in their own power, was becoming a cause of mockery for the unbelievers. They were, I suspect, saying, "We thought your Master was all-powerful! We thought He had authority over devils! Well; where is His power now? You certainly don't seem to be accomplishing anything!"

And this makes me wonder, dear brothers and sisters, if we aren't sometimes a cause for unbelievers to mock us in the same way—and for the same reason. Do they ever watch us trying to do the work of Jesus in this world apart from an absolute dependency upon—and submission to—Jesus Himself? Do they ever see us running ahead of our Lord—without regard to His authority or will—trying to do things in His power as if that power were under our own initiative? Do they ever see us trying to "use" Jesus—as if He were our own personal "tool"—instead of submitting to Him so that He can use us? Do the people of this world ever look at us and say, "Get a load of that bunch! They're accomplishing nothing! Why should I even bother with the 'Jesus' they talk about? Why should I even listen to them? Jesus doesn't seem to be doing anything through them!"

I'm afraid they often do say such things, because they often see us trying to do the work of Jesus apart from a reliance upon Jesus. And we shouldn't be surprised when they mock us. Jesus has already warned us, "Without Me you can do nothing"; and the world can clearly see that.

May God rebuke us for trying to do the work of Jesus apart from an absolute dependency upon Him! We bring disrepute to His cause whenever we do so!

* * * * * * * * * * *

I can imagine that the disciples, along with the boy's father, were very frustrated by all of this. And they're not the only ones who were frustrated. It's here that we also see . . .


Jesus' frustration is expressed in shocking words! Notice what He says. First, He says, "O faithless and perverse generation . . .!" (v. 17). The word "generation"—which is the general term for the people living in a specific time and in a specific situation—probably refers to the Jewish people as a whole who could actually see Jesus' demonstrations of power and authority. But I believe it also had specific reference to the disciples, since they were the ones that Jesus later rebukes for a lack of faith.

It may be that the disciples, in Jesus' absence, had gotten swept up in the attitude of unbelief that prevailed in the hearts of the multitude around them. It wasn't, of course, that they doubted that Jesus was the Son of God. Rather, their unbelief was demonstrated in the fact that they thought they didn't need to rely on Jesus Himself in order to do His work in His name.

What's more, He scolded them for being "perverse"; that is, "twisted" and "turned out of the way". Someone might have looked upon their situation and thought that they actually had "great faith". After all, they really expected that they could heal the boy. But what they had was a 'misplaced' faith—a 'perverted' faith. They had embraced a spiritual monstrosity that many people today embrace—that is, a faith in “faith”. And if you do not operate on the basis of a personal, active, dependent faith in the divine Person of Jesus Christ Himself, it doesn't matter how much "faith" you have; you still can do "nothing".

Second, I notice that Jesus expresses His frustration to them in saying, ". . . [H]ow long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you?" This suggests to me that they were acting in a way that was contrary to what they had already been taught. They were trying to do the work of Jesus apart from Him . . . and they should have known better. After all; hadn't the repeated lesson taught to them from the feeding of the multitudes been enough to show them that, apart from Him, they could do nothing (Matthew 14:15-21; 15:32-39; 16:8-10)?

And finally, I see His frustration in that He tells the disciples to do that which they should have done all along. He says, "Bring him here to Me.” That's what they should have done all along. The Bible tells us that, once they did, "Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him; and the child was cured from that very hour." Only Jesus could rightly analyze the boy's condition. Only Jesus could know what to do. Only Jesus had the authority and power to do it. Only when the boy was brought to Him did the helplessness end.

How many problems in life in life would be solved if we first brought them to Jesus? How frustrated must we make Him when we only bring our problems to Him as a last resort?—and, of course, long after we have succeeded in making a hopeless mess of things?

* * * * * * * * * *

That leads us finally to our Lord's analysis of . . .

3. THE CAUSE OF THE PROBLEM (vv. 19-21).

We're told that, when it was all over and they were able to come to Him privately, the disciples asked Him, "Why could we not cast it out?" Out of all the unwise things they did, this was a truly wise thing. When we find that we have failed, it would be wise to get alone, come to the Lord in prayer, and ask, "Lord, why did I fail? What did I do wrong?" When we do, He will show us.

They came to Him; and He showed them where they went wrong. He said, "Because of your unbelief"—or, literally, because of "little faith". And it was not just that their faith itself was small. It was because their faith was small and 'misplaced'. They had faith in their ability to use Jesus' authority and power apart from a utter dependency upon Him. They had faith that they could do it without Him.

Look carefully at what He goes on to say. He says, ". . . [F]or assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed"—which, by the way, was the smallest seed that the Jewish people of that culture could know about; truly a very "little" quantity of faith—"you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you" (v. 20). If their faith is in the right place—that is, if they have an utter confidence in the power and authority of Jesus; and if the operate in utter dependency upon Him—then the quantity of faith is not the issue. If He commands us to order a mountain to be moved, it will move! As 1 John 5:14-15 says,

Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we now that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him (1 John 5:14-15).

Now; before we depart from this final point, look carefully at verse 21. Your Bible may have a footnote that indicates that this verse is not a part of the original text of Matthew's Gospel. Apparently, it was something that was brought into Matthew's Gospel in later years—most likely borrowed from Mark 9:29. But what it says in Mark 9:29 is a legitimate part of Mark's telling of the story; so I take it that verse 21 represents something that Jesus truly said in reference to the demon that had just been cast out—"However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting."

And doesn't that simply emphasize the point? What is "prayer" but a matter of turning to God the Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, with utter dependency upon Him? What is "fasting" but a matter of turning away from a reliance upon ourselves? Doesn't that show us where the disciples failed? Doesn't that reaffirm to us that we are unable to do anything for Jesus apart from an utterly dependent faith in Jesus.

* * * * * * * * * *

Let me close with a story that was once told to me by one of my former professors in college.

I have always been deeply impressed and inspired by this beloved professor. He had been a missionary for many years in some of the toughest places in the world; and he was able to look back with a great sense of satisfaction in many years in the Lord's service. But he shared with me that he didn't always feel that way about his ministry.

He said that he used to be very frustrated in the Lord's work. He said that he used to feel he was working very hard, but was accomplishing nothing in all that he did. He remembered reading 1 Corinthians 15:58; where Paul says, "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord." And he remembered responding to that verse with bitterness—saying to himself, "Oh yeah? Well; I sure feel that my labor is in vain!"

He told me it was then that he truly realized what that verse says—that our labor is not in vain in the Lord. He said, "I had been doing my work for the Lord; but not in the Lord! I had doing the work, but apart in a relationship of utter dependency upon Him. I had been trying to do it all in my power—not in His power. I had been running ahead of Him, and had been working apart from Him. And as a result, I was always wondering why He was allowing me to be so frustrated all the time.

"Once I stopped trying to labor apart from the Lord," he said, " and I repented of my independent spirit, and sought from then on to do my work in the Lord, I no longer found it to be 'in vain'. I found it to be a joy." I have never forgotten his wise words to me.

Dear brother or sister in Christ; apart from Jesus, we can do "nothing". And He does not want us to do "nothing", but rather to "bear much fruit". And the secret to much fruitfulness in the work of the Lord is given to us in this passage. It all changes when we obey His call to "Bring it to Me!"

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