The Teaching of the King Matthew 16:13-20:34, cont’d.
Matthew 17:1-8-Six days later, Jesus took Peter, James and John (the inner circle among the disciples) to the top of a high mountain. There, He was “transfigured before them.” Matthew explains this in part by adding that “His face shone and His garments became white as light.” Christ’s appearance was changed and became brilliant with a brightness that revealed His divine nature. As someone has said, “The form of God momentarily shined through the form of man.” (cf. Phil. 2:6-7).
“to change into another form” (meta, implying change, and morphe, “form:” see FORM, No. 1), is used in the Passive Voice
(a) of Christ’s “transfiguration,” Mat 17:2; Mar 9:2; Luke (in Luk 9:29) avoids this term, which might have suggested to gentile readers the metamorphoses of heathen gods, and uses the phrase egeneto heteron, “was altered,” lit., “became (ginomai) different (heteros);”
(Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G3339&t=NASB)
The word “shone” comes from the Greek word “lampo”…sounds like our English word, “lamp” (cf. Matthew 5:15,16; 17:2,24). The word “light” means “brilliant from whiteness, dazzling white”. His clothing was so white that it seemed to have a dazzling glow, or brilliance. Some have suggested that there is a connection and significance of “His face shone like the sun”…to Moses and his appearance (representative of the Law) when he came down off the mountain (Exod. 34:29), and “His garments became as white as light”…to Elijah (being representative of the prophets)…since they are the very ones who now make an appearance. Peter is overwhelmed when he sees them. But the Father speaks and elevates Jesus over Moses and Elijah. His brightness (both person and revelation) is superior to theirs. This is further emphasized after the disciples opened their eyes and the only one left standing is Jesus. Moses and Elijah are gone…the time and purpose of their ministry is over…having served their function.
Matthew 17:10-13-The disciples are uncertain about the familiar teaching that Elijah must come before the Messiah arrives. Jesus explained that Elijah was representative of several different prophetic matters…(1) he was the foreshadowing of the ministry of John the Baptist heralding in the coming of the Messiah (Mal. 4:5); (2) he was the voice that would proclaim the beginning of the end times, when all things will be restored to the state that God had originally intended; (3) he was the declaration of the fact that even as John the Baptist was not accepted for who he was, Jesus would not be accepted. The disciples seemed to understand the first two concepts and how the ministry of John the Baptist related to Jesus…but they still struggled with the idea of Jesus not being accepted as the Messiah. They could not figure out how He could be the Messiah, and yet be rejected by the Jews and not rule over Israel on Earth.
Matthew 17:14-21-A man brings his son to Jesus and tells him that he is a “lunatic” (the Greek word is “selanoeazomi”…from “selana” which means “moon”).
lit., “to be moon struck” (from selene, “the moon”), is used in the Passive Voice with Active significance, RV, “epileptic,” for AV, “lunatick,” Mat 4:24; 17:15; the corresponding English word is “lunatic.” Epilepsy was supposed to be influenced by the moon.
((Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?strongs=G4582&t=NASB)
A simple explanation could be that while the moon had no actual influence over the sickness…it was at night, when the family was together, that it appeared to be most active and prominent. The sickness of this child and his resulting behavior are attributed to demonic possession. The disciples had tried, but not been able to cure the demon-possessed boy. Jesus says this generation (the people there at that time) was “unbelieving” (the Greek word is “apistos”…the “a” means “no, or not” and “pistos” is “faith”; so it literally means “having no faith”) and “perverted” (from the Greek “deastrepho”…meaning to go in another direction; i.e.-trying to do something in a manner other than by faith in God…and means that because they do not believe, do not trust in His power adequately, they have tried to accomplish it another way and are useless, they can not perform the miracle).
Do we ever try to do God’s work, ourselves. Is it because we begin to think that the spiritual things that have transpired previously were actually due to do our own ability…and now, we can manage on our own? “It’s okay God, I’ve got this one. I’ve got it covered.” Or, is it more subtle? Slowly, without making a conscious decision, we begin to slip away from having faith in Him…and perhaps without even noticing it, to operate on our own. Then one day it doesn’t work. And because we are human and never want to accept the blame…we assume that the failure must be on God’s part.
However it happened, this seems to have been the problem the disciples were experiencing. They said, and notice the word “we”…”Why could we not cast it out?” This suggests that they were trying to do the work of God in their own power, they were trying to make it happen. Jesus reminds them of what we have found before, it is “because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed…nothing shall be impossible to you.” Confused? On one hand He says that their faith is too little…then turns right around and says that they only needed faith as little as a mustard seed. The words “littleness of your faith” come from the Greek “olegopestea” (from the root words: “oligos” which means “little, small”, and “pistis” which means “faith”). Here Jesus is referring to the fact that they were depending on their faith to make it happen, to cast out the demon. But faith in faith itself, in and of itself, is too little, too inadequate to accomplish spiritual works. On the other hand…don’t assume that what you need is greater faith, larger faith, more faith…and then try to increase your faith, to have more faith in faith, or to have faith in your ability to be faithful. Why? Because you would still be trusting in your own faith in order to accomplish it. Neither little faith, nor great faith, is able to do this. Jesus says you only need a little faith…faith as small as a mustard seed.
mustard, the name of a plant which in oriental countries grows from a very small seed and attains to the height of a tree, 10 feet (3 m) and more; hence a very small quantity of a thing is likened to a mustard seed, and also a thing which grows to a remarkable size.
Faith must be placed in something that is capable of accomplishing what is needed. It isn’t a matter of the size of your faith. But, it is a matter of the size of the object of your faith. You must have faith in God. Faith must be placed in God, and God alone. Only God is adequate to accomplish spiritual matters.
Here is the key: Faith is like a mustard seed…because while it is very small, it has the potential for great productivity. The potential of the mustard seed is not in itself. But, it is dependent on what it is planted in. Faith is like the mustard seed…in that, it has great potential for productivity. But, it is only as productive as that in which it is placed. Plant your faith in God and it will be applicable and productive in every circumstance of life.
Faith is a prominent theme in Matthew. It is referred to in 15 different instances…sometimes in a positive way, and sometimes negative. The disciples ask Jesus why they could not heal the boy and He responds that it was because of the “littleness” of their faith…they only needed faith the size of a mustard seed and they could move “this mountain” (He was telling them that nothing, not even a mountain-sized problem, was too big). The word “little” is applied to faith in several passages in Matthew (6:30; 8:26; 14:31; 16:8; 17:20). Could the parallel between the mustard seed and faith be that while the seed itself is small…it grows and spreads to great length…the vine starts from just a small seed…but it spreads over a large area. And faith operates in a similar manner. Though it is only small, it is all that is necessary to cover every aspect of life. The faith that a person has in Jesus in one area is the same faith that is necessary in all other areas…it doesn’t require anything new, or different, or more. The faith that the disciples had developed in Jesus when He fed the 4,000, and the 5,000, and when He stilled the storm is applicable in all other areas, as well. It is not the circumstance that determines His ability, but His ability that determines the circumstance. We tend to look at the circumstance and it determines our thinking, our faith in Him. Instead, we should look at Jesus and He should determine our thinking, our faith about the circumstance. It is all about knowing and trusting Jesus…understanding and remembering Him (16:9). The point here is that it is not the size of the faith that matters…but, the object (Jesus) in which that faith is placed; and then, the extent of the application of the faith that we already possess into other areas of life. The sun, water, and the quantity and quality of nutrients in the soil activate and determine the productivity of the mustard seed. How do we activate our faith in God? What determines the productivity of our faith? Obedience. When we are obedient to God…our faith spreads from one area of life, to another. We recall God’s faithfulness to us and to others…and apply that same faith into other areas of our life…and our faith becomes productive.
An important truth: the opposite of faith is not doubt…it is disobedience. I can have questions, and concerns, and even doubts about something…and yet, if I am obedient, I have acted in faith in God. In fact, it is indeed a marvelous act of faith when I am obedient to God…even when I don’t have answers that satisfy all of my intellectual inquiry (2 Cor. 5:6-8; Heb. 11:1-3). I may not always have all the answers…and yet, I can always act in obedience. It is not doubt that hinders the productivity of faith…it is disobedience. As the old song says, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”
Matthew 17:21-Many of the ancient manuscripts from which our modern Bibles are translated do not contain this verse. That is the reason why it is in [brackets], as shown here. However, the fact is that prayer and fasting are both indispensible disciplines of the spiritual life that God uses to help us know and understand Him better. And our knowledge of God is the basis for our trust and faith in Him.
Matthew 17:22-23-Jesus once again addresses the topic of His death. He wants them to be aware that this was all a part of God’s plan and to not become so distraught that when it happens they stop believing in Him.
Matthew 17:24-27-Jesus had been teaching the disciples that He was the Son of God. Now, an incident occurs that could possibly cause confusion, and questions. So, Jesus uses it as a teachable moment. When they arrive in Capernaum, the tax collector approaches them and asks if Jesus intended to pay the annual Temple tax collected from every adult to support the expenses of the Temple…it was a half-stater, or half-shekel (the Hebrew currency)…this is equal to 2 drachmas (the Greek currency). Jesus agreed to pay the tax. They then went into a home. The possible confusion can be worded this way: Jesus said that He was the Son of God. God is the King. The children of the King don’t pay taxes. Why then, is Jesus paying a tax? Jesus tells Peter that He is going to pay the tax, “lest we give them offense”. There are two reasons why the Jews would be offended if Jesus did not pay the tax: 1.-all Jews did so, and if He didn’t, it would be an offense not only to the Jews, but to God, Himself since the Temple belonged to God; 2.-had Jesus said that the reason He was not going to pay the tax was because He was God’s Son, it would have stirred up a greater level and intensity of offense towards Him. In either circumstance, there was still much that He had to do before it would be time for their offense to reach its climax and send Him to the cross. Jesus directs Peter to go down to the seashore and throw in a fishing line and hook. When he catches the first fish he is to look inside its mouth…inside will be a stater to pay for both of their taxes. Two things to be aware of: First, we have an amazing miracle (not that a fisherman actually caught a fish!)…inside the fish (the specific fish which Jesus had identified) there would be a coin worth the exact amount of the tax that would be required for Jesus and Peter, together. Second, Jesus had previously made Peter aware that the Son of the King did not pay taxes on the Temple…and now, though Peter had the money to do so, it had not come from Jesus. The Father had provided for the work of His Temple through the Kingdom that He ruled (His creation)…because the Son did not have to pay taxes on His Father’s house. This vividly demonstrates the unique relationship between Jesus and the Father.
Prayer: Lord, please extend my faith in You to every single area of life. While I pray for more faith, please help me to apply the faith in You that I already have to the areas of my life that I have not yet done so.