If Jesus Can Do That, We Can Trust Him: Matthew 17:14-27 (Sermon)
Thank you, worship team. We need those musical reminders. Music can help me remember where my hope comes from. What about you? What enables you to remember? The Bible is God’s Word. He speaks to us today. He offers us hope and help when things seem impossible, disappointing, and exhausting.
If you have your Bible, open to Matthew chapter 17, starting at verse 14. We will be reading from the New American Standard Version of the Bible. I am switching versions only this Sunday to make a point. As we read, note two differences. That said, we have many translations. [Interactive] What versions of the Bible do you all have? There are several reasons we have different translations.
First, language evolves. It changes. For example, my kids would say something was “sick,” and I had to get some clarification that didn’t mean ill to them. It is cool. When I was a kid, we used the phrase “Da Bomb,” not referring to an explosive device but something that is “sick.” I was cool once, but not really. Although our translations don’t use slang, they do modernize. For example, Exodus 4:11 in the NASB, which came out in 1971, translated it then, “And the LORD said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him dumb or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?”
Notice the difference from 1971 to 2020. They updated the version several times over the years. In 1995, they dropped the conjunction and changed the word dumb. Why? We don’t think of dumb as being mute, but more like not bright. Language evolves. Then, note what they did in 2020. They changed the word “Man” to “human,” and they changed the word “mute” to “unable to speak” and “seeing” to “able to see.” Society, culture, and language change. And with those changes, new versions of the Bible hit the market. The KJV has gone through three major updates, and the ESV and the NLT have gone through four updates. Language evolves.
Second, we have various translations because the translators have different translation philosophies. The NASB and ESV seek a word-for-word translation, and the NIV, as well as the NLT, seek a dynamic equivalence, idea for idea. And the Message and Taylor’s Living Bible are not translations but paraphrases.
The NLT translates Exodus 4:11 this way:
Then the LORD asked Moses, “Who makes a person’s mouth? Who decides whether people speak or do not speak, hear or do not hear, see or do not see? Is it not I, the LORD? Exodus 4:11 (NLT)
The message paraphrases Exodus 4:11 and 12 this way:
GOD said, “And who do you think made the human mouth? And who makes some mute, some deaf, some sighted, some blind? Isn’t it I, GOD? So, get going. I’ll be right there with you—with your mouth! I’ll be right there to teach you what to say.” Exodus 4:11–12 (MSG)
There are many translations because of different philosophies of translating one language to another.
Third, translators are interpreters. They help us understand the language, culture, and time. There are roughly 140,000 words in the Greek New Testament manuscript. However, to get those words to compute to English, it takes translators many more words. For example,
ESV - 175,037
KJV - 180,565
NASB - 182,446
As interpreters, it takes more words to communicate.
Fourth, we have so many translations, at least 100 in the English language to date, because we have found more and more ancient manuscripts, helping us fine-tune our understanding of what the original manuscripts were.
We don’t have the original manuscripts of the 66 books in the Bible. But that is not a problem. We don’t have copies of the original works of Plato, Aristotle, or Homer. No one sits around and debates if the Iliad is accurate or if Aristotle existed. Compared to the ancient authors, we have way more evidence and accuracy of the Bible.
Let me keep going on this track. One person wrote,
“Plato lived between the years 427 and 347 B.C…. The oldest copied manuscript we have in our hands today was copied in 900 A.D.[sic] So we have a 1,200-year gap between the original work of Plato ….
Aristotle lived between 384 and 322 B.C. The oldest copied manuscripts … were copied in 1100 A.D [sic]. A 1,400-hundred year gap between the original work and the oldest copies we have….
Homer, who was clearly the most widely read author in antiquity, wrote The Iliad …around 900 B.C. The oldest copy we have in our possession today was copied in 400 B.C… a 500-year time gap.”
We have thousands of copies from various parts of the world in multiple languages compared to only a handful of documents for the classic works. The gaps between when the authors wrote the manuscripts and when we have copies are much shorter than the classic works. We are talking decades in some cases. When we aren't, the changes are minuscule, demonstrating the precision of the process. The accuracy and consistency of the copies of the Bible are incredible. And more have been discovered.
https://www.thecollegechurch.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/HANDOUTS-Is-Scripture-Reliable.pdf (Great handout)
In fact, in the last 100 years, we found the Dead Sea Scrolls. How many of you have heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls? Raise your hands. Here is a picture of the famous Isaiah scroll. It was one of the first seven documents found.
“The Dead Sea Scrolls are ancient manuscripts discovered between 1947 and 1956. Archeologists found about 950 different manuscripts of various lengths, mostly in fragments, though some were intact.”
In 1947, a young shepherd boy was throwing rocks into a cave, and he heard a crash. Upon investigating, he discovered some containers with these ancient documents in them.
Justin Taylor wrote, “The Great Isaiah Scroll is…. one of the largest (24 feet long) and best preserved of all the biblical scrolls, and the only one that contains the entire text. The scroll is written on 17 sheets of parchment and includes all 66 chapters of the Hebrew version of Isaiah. Dating from ca. 125 BC, it is 1,000 years older than the previously oldest manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible found in modern times. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/9-things-dead-sea-scrolls/.” This scroll is virtually the same one we have in our Bibles. It is a demonstration of the scribes’ precision and accuracy.
The scribes took their job seriously. They rarely made mistakes. The standard procedure for a mistake was to destroy the scroll or page and start over. The Isaiah scroll demonstrates an accuracy of the copying to 99.5 percent.
However, every once in a while, a scribe would make a note on the margin. The next scribe would come along and incorporate that note into the text. Sometimes, a copier missed a slight variation or omitted a word, or spelled something differently. Thus, .5 percent of the time, we don’t have a word here or there that doesn’t impact the theology.
This is a long on-ramp for our text explaining why I have us reading the NASB for verse 21. The oldest, most reliable resources don’t have it in there. Yet, it is something Jesus said because Mark records it. It is biblical, but it may not be in the original Matthew. The NASB has it. The version of the Bible I use for my devotions doesn’t. Why would Matthew leave it out? The Apostle John talked about his biography of Jesus. He shared this in chapter 21,
“And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25, NASB).
John didn’t include every word, miracle, or interaction with Jesus. Matthew did the same. He chose his words carefully. God inspired him, and we are the beneficiaries. Your translation is adequate and accurate. It is God’s word to you. He speaks today through it. We may have slightly different ways of saying the same thing, but they have said it for centuries.
“The Bible is the most accurately transmitted book from the ancient world. No other ancient book has as many, as early, or more accurately copied manuscripts.” Bible Scholar - Normal Giesler.
The Bible is God’s Word. You can trust it. It is true.
Let’s listen to God speak to us through his Word. I am going to have K.S. read for us. Would you stand with me, if you are able?
When they came to the crowd, a man came up to Jesus, falling on his knees before Him and saying, Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is a lunatic and is very ill; for he often falls into the fire and often into the water. I brought him to Your disciples, and they could not cure him. And Jesus answered and said, “You unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him here to Me. And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him, and the boy was cured at once. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not drive it out? And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you. [“But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”]
And while they were gathering together in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men; and they will kill Him, and He will be raised on the third day.” And they were deeply grieved. When they came to Capernaum, those who collected the two-drachma tax came to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?” He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers? When Peter said, “From strangers,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are exempt. However, so that we do not offend them, go to the sea and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for you and Me (Matthew 17:14–27, NASB)
Let’s pray. Dear Father, we need you. Please help us to hear you speak. Some of us are tired, others are hungry, and some are weak. Some of us come to you now distracted. Please talk to us. Open our eyes to see you, our ears to hear you, and our hearts to love you. You are our King; in Jesus’s name we pray, amen. You may be seated.
What has happened in the book of Matthew up to this point? We just experienced, through the eyes of Peter, James, and John, the transfiguration. It was a metamorphosis where we got a glimpse of Jesus in a particular state. Elijah and Moses came back from the dead. A cloud filled the air. And God the Father declared, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” (Matthew 17:5, NASB95). Jesus was the Messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. We should listen to him. Matthew wants us, his readers, to “follow the promised king into his kingdom.” Jesus is that King.
There are three sections in these fourteen verses:
The Disciples’ Faith
The Disciples’ Grief
The Disciples’ Wealth
17:14–21 Jesus did what the disciples found impossible. He cast out a demon from a father’s son.
17:22–23 Jesus predicted his betrayal, death, and resurrection for a second or third time, which the disciples found disturbing.
17:24–27 Finally, Jesus demonstrated his power to provide for himself and Peter miraculously with a fish.
In our text, Matthew reminded his readers of Jesus’s power to cast out demons, defeat death, and pay debts. If Jesus can do all that, we can trust him. Let’s walk through the text verse by verse.
If you have a Bible, turn to Matthew 17, verse 14. What does it say?
“When they came to the crowd, a man came up to Jesus, falling on his knees before Him and saying, ‘Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is a lunatic and is very ill; for he often falls into the fire and often into the water’” (Matthew 17:14–15, NASB).
Let’s stop there. Verse 15 is one reason why I like the NASB. In verse 15, most translations interpret the word “lunatic” as what? Epilepsy or seizures. Lunatic is the Greek word for moonstruck. What was that? We don’t know exactly. But we do know the symptoms and cause. A demon controlled the child. That demon made him fall in water and fire. And for a parent, that would be terrifying. This son could drown or burn to death or go to hell. The NASB helps us not impose our Western medical understanding on this ancient one. The word “lunatic” or “moonstruck” is only used twice in the Bible. One commentator warned about imposing our framework on this word :
I should declare a personal interest in careful definition at this point, in that I have witnessed the deep pastoral damage [Based on the misinterpretation of the word moonstruck]… however similar the symptoms may have been in this case, a simplistic equation of epilepsy with demon-possession is as invalid as is the equally simplistic assumption of many commentators that this was merely a case of epilepsy. (R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publication Co., 2007))
We have people in our congregation who have had seizures. The symptoms may parallel this boy’s, but they don’t equate to demon possession. Matthew was talking about demon possession, not epilepsy or seizures. This father wanted mercy.
Let’s go back to our text. Look at verse 16.,
“I brought him to Your disciples, and they could not cure him” (Matthew 17:16, NASB).
You may recall in chapter 10 that Jesus gave the disciples the power to heal and cast out demons. In this particular case, they couldn’t cast out the demon. They could not help the father or boy. So, the father did what any of us would do: he went up the chain of command to help his son. He wanted Jesus’s help. How did Jesus respond?
Look at verse 17.
“And Jesus answered and said, ‘You unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him here to Me’”(Matthew 17:17, NASB).
Why did Jesus react this way? He wasn’t talking to the father. The word for “You” is in the plural. He was talking to the generation. He was in a crowd. This blanket statement of judgment was pointed at people who did not believe in him. It echoed Deuteronomy and Numbers where Moses left the mountain and presence of God and spoke against the people who were turning their backs on God. He is heading to Jerusalem, the capital, where this generation would crucify their Messiah.
In verse 18, Jesus healed the boy.
“And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him, and the boy was cured at once” (Matthew 17:18, NASB).
Later, Jesus’s disciples, in private, asked him why they couldn’t cast out the demon. Look at verse 19.
“Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, ‘Why could we not drive it out?’” (Matthew 17:19, NASB).
LACK OF FAITH
What did Jesus say? Look at verse 20.
And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you. [“But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”] (Matthew 17:20–21, NASB)
As I explored this verse 21, the evidence seems strong that this is a carry-over from Mark 9:29. In the parallel account, Jesus said,
“And He said to them, ‘This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer’” (Mark 9:29, NASB).
Likely, a scribe made a cross-reference or was copying Matthew 17 and was thinking of Mark and accidentally inserted it. Then, when it came time to make the next copy, it stuck—leaving it out. It fits better the context and purpose of Matthew to not read verse 21. Matthew highlights Jesus’s concern about the disciples’ faith. Everyone agrees on verse 20 being in the original. “Truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you” (Matthew 17:20). The disciples had hit a wall. They could not do what they thought they could do. Their ministry wasn’t working. Why, they asked? Jesus said they needed to have a mustard seed faith.
It seems he was addressing a degree of self-reliance and neglect of faith in God.
What seems impossible to you? When do we struggle to believe in God or rely on our efforts? Jesus cast out this demon.
If Jesus can do that, we can trust him.
Are there ways God wants to challenge you to depend on him? Here is where prayer does fit in. Prayer can sometimes be an afterthought. But it expresses our faith and trust in God. We need each other. We can remind ourselves of our dependence on God. They didn’t go to God. The good news is that greater is he that is in you than in the world. Our God can do what we cannot; he controls the devil and his dark forces with a word. We can trust him.
SECTION 2: THE DISCIPLES’ Grief
Let’s go to the next section. Look at verse 22.
And while they were gathering together in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men; and they will kill Him, and He will be raised on the third day.” And they were deeply grieved. (Matthew 17:22–23, NASB)
Other versions say they were distressed or disheartened. Why? They learned something new. They had heard these words before. But only some of these words. What was unique about what Jesus had said? He would be handed over to the enemy. This is the same type of language we read in chapter 10 to refer to what they would do to his disciples.
Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues; and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say. For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. (Matthew 10:16–21, NASB)
They were likely grieving about his future betrayal as well as his suffering and death. Who would dare to do such a thing? How could they not be grieved or dismayed?
But they were missing something. It was a word of comfort. Jesus would rise from the dead. He gave this little band of men with little faith a prediction that they could help them have hope one day. He would suffer and die, but he would not be dead for long. He would rise from the grave.
Do you ever get depressed or down and miss the sun that shines on your path? These disciples were not fully listening to the Father’s Son. Sometimes, we have little joy because, in the difficulty of life, we are not seeing the blessings. If Jesus conquers death, we can trust him. If he casts out demons, we can trust him.
LACK OF RESOURCES
That brings us to the final section, The disciples’ wealth. Look at verse 24.
“When they came to Capernaum, those who collected the two-drachma tax came to Peter and said, ‘Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ (Matthew 17:24, NASB)
Capernaum is on the west side of the Sea of Galilee. The tax was a tradition of the Pharisees, likely based on Exodus. Pastor Mike told me this week, “Maybe Peter was gun shy after pipping up so much.” He answered the inquisitors, “Yes.” What did he mean by his yes? “Yes, Jesus pays the tax,” or “Yes, he doesn’t.”
This interaction reminds me of an exchange with someone from Converge about our Marriage Seminar. She asked me if we could have the Sunday School room for childcare or the marriage seminar. I wasn’t thinking when I replied to her text. “Yes.” She had no idea what my yes meant. Yes, we can use it for childcare, or yes, we can use it for the marriage seminar. I wonder what Peter meant. It seems like Jesus wouldn’t have to pay, and Peter was saying that. I don’t know, but I do know he ran home to talk this over with Jesus. What did Jesus say in response? Look at verse 25.
And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?” When Peter said, “From strangers,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are exempt. “However, so that we do not offend them, go to the sea and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for you and Me.” (Matthew 17:25–27, NASB)
Jesus argued to Peter that sons are free. He was saying yes, they don’t have to pay the tax. Jesus didn’t need to pay the tax; neither did Peter, for that matter. They both are sons of God. I find that interesting. However, they did pay. How? Miraculously, extraordinarily, outrageously. There is no worry in Jesus’s mind about this question of taxation or payment. He wasn’t wringing his hands, saying, “Where will we come up with the money? What are we going to do?” There was freedom.
These things didn’t burden him like they do us. He didn’t worry about money. He humbly went with this unnecessary tax. What do you worry about? Where are things hard? We can trust in God. He can make a way for us. He can do the impossible: moving mountains, casting out demons, raising the dead, and finding money in the mouth of fish.
The reality is that God has ways of accomplishing his purposes that we have no idea about. He is good, and he is wise and generous. He is humble, loving, and trustworthy.
Who do you trust? Are you trusting in the one who can cast our demons, raise the dead, and pay our debts? If Jesus can do that, we can trust him.
Jesus came to take away our sins and give us life everlasting. That is what we remember in communion. When we face what looks impossible, remember who our God is. He has preserved his Bible for us to remember where our hope rests. It rests in him and him alone.
Will you listen to Jesus through his Word? He is waiting. If you haven’t believed, you can. Today can be the day of your salvation. If you have strayed, you can wander no longer. Turn to Jesus. He is worthy.
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