Sunday, September 30, 2012

Jesus Heals A Lunatic


TEXT: MATTHEW 17:14-20
THEME: The Object of faith
THESIS: The smallest of faith is effective when it is placed in the right object.
TEST: What is the object that makes faith effective?
TRANS: Our text describes three insights that define the object of effective faith.

A man was hiking along a fantastically high mountain side. On his left the mountain seemed to grow straight up into the sky. On his right was a cliff with a drop of several hundred feet. This man lost his footing and began to fall. Just as he began to fall he saw a branch sticking out of the edge of the cliff.

This man’s only hope of preventing his fall some hundreds of feet to the rocks below was to grab onto this branch. Now this branch was the man’s only hope and it was strong enough to support his entire weight.

Can this branch save him? Let’s say this man’s mind is filled with intellectual certainty that the branch will support him. If the man does not reach out and actually grab that branch he will fall to his death.

If this man’s mind is filled with doubts and uncertainty that the branch will hold him. If he is afraid that the branch will snap off or be pulled right out the mountainside, but he grabs it anyway and he is saved.

Why? Because it was not the strength of this man’s faith that saved him from falling. It was the object of his faith. The object of his faith was the branch.

Listen, strong, vibrant, exciting, and even zealous faith in a weak or dead branch is fatal. Weak faith, tiny faith in a strong branch can be salvation.

This means you don’t have to wait until you think your faith is large enough before you can begin attempting to serve God or belief God. That would be trusting in yourself at worst or trusting in faith at best. Working on the size of your faith before believing or trusting God would cause you to miss out on blessings, privileges, and opportunities given by God.

It is not the size of your faith, it is the object of your faith that works on your behalf to accomplish things.

The writer to the Hebrews stated, “…without faith it is impossible to please him…” (Hebrews 11:6, ESV.) There is no doubt that faith is essential to our Christian experience and life. In our human frailty influenced by sin we are prone to place our faith in wrong sources or objects. We are prone to place faith in ourselves, our abilities, our past accomplishments, or even in “faith” itself.

As a result, there are many times we attempt to serve God or do ministry with little or no “success.” We may mean well, we may even work very hard, while all the time we are simply spinning our wheels. It is important to remember that it is not the size or amount of our faith that is important. We must be clear on the source or the object of our faith.

Our THEME today is The Object of effective faith.

I propose to you today, that the smallest of faith is effective when it is placed in the right object.

What is the object that makes faith effective?

Our text describes three insights that define the object of effective faith.

Today’s passage is good for those who worry about the size or amount of their faith

[So, let’s begin by taking a look at the first insight in our passage –


[This father’s desperation is depicted by three elements. The first element that depicts his desperation is…]

1B The Father’s Realization 

– I want you to see two aspects to his realization. Look at the first aspect:

1C He Required Jesus (14a-b)

“And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him…”

First of all, who are the “they?” They are Jesus, Peter, James, and John. These men had been up on the mountain that we call the Mt. of Transfiguration. We are not sure what mountain this was. However, there are three candidates for this mountain which have been suggested:

[The first suggested candidate is:]

Mount Hermon, for two reasons: It is the highest in the area (and the Transfiguration took place on "an high mountain" (Matthew 17:1)), and it is located near Caesarea Philippi (Matthew 16:13), where the previous events reportedly took place.

(Note* – However, it is important to note that this location was extremely far from Jerusalem, and Jesus & his Disciples would have been in Jerusalem for the Feast of Sukkot (Tabernacles), as it is one of three Pilgrimage feasts set forth in Leviticus 23, thereby making Mt. Hermon an unlikely reality for the place of Transfiguration)

[The second suggested candidate is:]

Mount Tabor. This is a traditional location, but is not as high as Mount Hermon. The Church of the Transfiguration is located atop Mount Tabor. The earliest identification of the Mount of Transfiguration as Tabor is by Origen in the 3rd century. It is also mentioned by Cyril of Jerusalem and Jerome in the 4th century.

[The third suggested candidate is;]

Mount Sinai. This has been suggested by Benjamin Urrutia on the basis of the presence of Moses and Elijah (two prophets traditionally associated with Mount Sinai). This is, however, unlikely since Sinai is rather geographically remote.

We are not sure which mountain it is, but the best guess is Mt Tabor which is about 12 miles from the Sea of Galilee. However, many scholars opt for Mt Hermon. AS that may be…

…Jesus, Peter, James and John have experienced the transfiguration of Jesus from his incarnate form to his glorified form. Peter has made his “infamous” blunder about building booths or tents for Elijah and Moses. They have seen Christ in his glorified person. They have heard the Father say, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”

Now they are on the way down the mountain and they encounter a crowd of people coming to find Jesus and his disciples. The father heads straight to Jesus. He came up to him. He required Jesus. Why? Well, we will see later that he had come to the remaining 9 disciples for help and they failed him. They couldn’t help him. He required Jesus.

[The second aspect of his realization is that…]

1C He reverenced Jesus (14c)

“…kneeling before him…”

Our word “kneeling” is used just four times in the NT. 

It means “to fall on the knees”

It is the act of imploring aid or help, assistance

It expresses reverence and honor

This father is desperate. He had gone to the remaining nine of Jesus disciples who did not help him or his son. As the crowd started up the mountain to find Jesus he went along with them and when he spotted Jesus, this desperate Father went straight to him and fell on his knees before Jesus, humbled and begging for help. So, the first element that depicts this father’s desperation is the father’s realization that he requires Jesus and that Jesus is worthy of his reverence.

[The second element that depicts his desperation is…]

2B His Request (15a-b)

[What did he say? He…]

“…said, Lord, have mercy on my son…”

Notice two things about his request. First,

1C His request was for mercy

Do you really understand what this father’s request entailed? In other words, do you really understand the concept of mercy?

The root of our word conveys the emotion that is aroused by contact with an affliction which comes in normal opinion undeservedly on someone else.

What is interesting about this word is that is used for the divinely required attitude of man to man. It denotes the showing of love and the act of mercy by men to fellow mankind.

The meaning and usage of this word includes the act and attitude of “loving-kindness.” When we talk about mercy it references the kindness that is to be shown in cases of human need. This is the kindness that shows concern for the welfare of other people.

Illustration: The Good Samaritan. He had mercy or pity on the man who had been beaten. Emotions were aroused inside of him because of the “affliction” or the beating and robbery of the man who had been left for dead. These emotions that were aroused caused him to demonstrate kindness or mercy toward that man.

How did he demonstrate kindness or mercy? He gave him first aid, placed him in an inn to recover, and paid the bill. He promised to come back through the area and pay any remaining portion of the bill.

This desperate father is pleading with Jesus in order to arouse emotions within Jesus because of the “affliction” that affected his son. He wants Jesus to show kindness to his boy by helping him. In this case the help he is trying to arouse is the boy’s healing.

Why did he request mercy?

Because his boy was a lunatic. (Some of you can relate to that can’t you? You know just what he means! More than one parent has had a lunatic for a child)

Look at the text – “for he is lunatic” (KJV, NASB) However, the NLT, NEB read “he has seizures,” and the ESV, NIV, NKJV reads “for he is an epileptic” or that “he has epilepsy.”

The Word is used twice in the NT and both times by Matthew. Matthew uses it in Matt 4:25 and again here in 17:14.

What does this father mean? First of all, the Greek word actually means “to be moon struck.” In other words, “To be struck, affected by, or controlled by the moon.”

This “name” was given to this malady and other “diseases” because of the bizarre symptoms due to the belief at this time that such an individual was affected by the increase or the decrease of the moon.

Albert Barnes, among others, states: “It was probably the falling-sickness or epilepsy.” My question, is Why? Why was obvious to Barnes and to others that it was epilepsy? I don’t get it.

The other translations automatically change the word to epilepsy or epileptic – even though the Greek Word is lunatic.

There is a Greek Word for epilepsy. That Greek word is not used in this text.

Let’s take some time here for a sidebar:

People have known about epilepsy for thousands of years but have not understood it until recently. The ancient Babylonians wrote about the symptoms and causes of epilepsy 3000 years ago. They thought that seizures were caused by demons attacking the person. Different spirits were thought to cause the different kinds of seizures.

Ancient Greeks thought you got epilepsy by offending the moon goddess Selene. One cure was eating mistletoe that was picked without using a sickle or blade during the time the moon is smallest in the sky. The mistletoe could not touch the ground, because then it would not be effective against the "falling sickness", because it had fallen itself. In 400 BC, Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, wrote a book saying that people do not get epilepsy from the gods, because that would be thinking badly of the gods. His cure for epilepsy was medicine and diet based on his own unscientific theories of the balance between hot and cold. The religious cure of the time was to sleep in the temple overnight and hope that the god Asclepius would appear in a dream and cure you or tell you how to get cured.

Ancient Romans believed that epilepsy came from demons, and was contagious by touching or being breathed on by a person with epilepsy. If this would occur, people would spit to get rid of the demon. Since they thought epilepsy was contagious, people with epilepsy would have to live alone.

In Europe in the Middle Ages, epilepsy was called the falling sickness, and people looked to saints and relics for cures. The three wise men and St. Valentine were particularly important patrons of people with epilepsy. If you had epilepsy you could wear a special blessed ring that would help control your seizures. This idea was still around in colonial America when George Washington's daughter Patsy had seizures and was given an iron ring by her doctor.

During the Renaissance, people started to read ancient writings again, and the ideas of long ago came back into fashion. Some people thought that people with epilepsy were prophets, because they could see the past, present, and future when they were unconscious during a seizure. People with epilepsy were thought to be very smart because some very great people in the Roman empire had epilepsy, including Julius Cesar and Petrarch. Epilepsy was still believed to be a terrible disease by the common people.

During the Enlightenment, from the late 1600's on, belief that demons caused epilepsy faded. People thought that epilepsy was contagious because of some famous cases where orphans all started acting like they were having seizures. Because epilepsy was thought to be contagious, people with the disorder were locked up in mental hospitals. They were kept separate from the mentally ill, so the insane would not get epilepsy!

Quite frankly this boy might have had epilepsy. However, Jesus did not diagnosis this malady as a disease. In verse 18 Jesus rebuked a demon, not a disease or disorder. Even though for thousands of years people have been “seeing demons behind every nook and cranny,” this particular boy was demon possessed and Jesus cast out the demon.

It bothers me that these translations skip over the reality of this boy being possessed or that the demon caused the disease and mistranslated the word.

So, the first thing we notice about the father’s request was that it was for mercy, or that Jesus would be emotionally aroused to show kindness to the boy by curing or healing him.

[The second thing to note about his request was that…]

2C His Request was because of misery (15)

“…and he suffers terribly.

This has been going on all his life. He is in a sad and bad way.

Well, the first element that depicts his desperation is the father’s realization that he requires Jesus and that Jesus is worthy of his reverence. The second element that depicts his desperation is his request.

[The third element that depicts his desperation is…]

3B His Report

[This father’s report included two things. He reported the destructive features of this malady and he reported the disciple’s failure.]

[First, let’s look at his report of the…]

1C The Destructive Features

“For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water.”

There is no doubt that if you have a violent seizure or an epileptic seizure you are prone to falling down. However, I find it patently absurd that he would have his seizures only when he was around fire or water.

I find it more than plausible that the demon who is wicked beyond imagination took great pleasure in attempting to destroy the boy by causing him to fall in a fire or water any time the boy was around either element.

Parents, grandparents, even those of you who have no children, can you imagine the horror, the grief, the heart-ache that existed every time you watched your boy throw himself in burning fire or water that could drown him?

This desperate father didn’t just report the destructive features of this demon possession. He also reported …
2C The Disciples Failure (16)

“And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.”

Does this strike you odd? They had been given power to cast out demons. They had been sent out to do just that.

(Matt 10:1, ESV)

“And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction.”

While Jesus, Peter, James and John were up on the mountain experiencing the glorious transfiguration of Jesus into his glorified form and while they visited with Moses and Elijah, this father had brought his son to the nine disciples who had not gone up on the mountain, asking them to heal his boy, and they could not.

(For the record there is a run-on sentence that Paul could be proud of!)

And so, he was desperate. And as a result Jesus encounters a desperate father. This father’s desperation was seen in the fact that he required Jesus, he reverenced Jesus and by his report.

Our theme is effective faith. The smallest of faith is effective when it is placed in the right place. Remember, this passage is good for those who worry about the size or the amount of their faith.

So, let’s look at the second insight of effective faith described by this passage. That second insight is…

2A Jesus Expresses A Divine Frustration (VSS 17-18)

How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.’ And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly.”

Jesus was frustrated. Granted, it was a divine and a sinless frustration. Nevertheless, he was frustrated. His frustration is depicted by three exclamations:

[Jesus first exclamation is with…

1B Israel’s Condition (VS 17a)

“And Jesus answered, ‘O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you?

[We need to note three things about this first exclamation. First…]

1C The Target

The disciple’s faithlessness frustrated Jesus. Jesus is talking to the disciples and the crowd who has gathered together.

What we are getting is a rare glimpse into the heart and soul of Jesus. Jesus is grieved or frustrated at the blindness and the lack of faith of His chosen people, the Israelites and especially his own disciples.

He uses the word 1074 γενεα (ghen-eh-ah’ ) The entire generation of Israel was faithless. Israel was represented by the crowd, the disciples, and the scribes who had come to entrap and discredit Jesus.

2C The Trouble

1D Faithless – Jesus calls them faithless.

[So, Jesus calls them faithless, now he calls them…]

2D Twisted

This word means bending out of shape. It was used to describe a piece of pottery that a careless pottery maker had misshaped or had somehow become misshaped before being fired in an oven.

Jesus was saying that Israel’s condition, represented by the crowd, scribes, and even disciples was that of spiritual perverted, twisted, or misshaped as a result of their unbelief. He accused them of having a distorted view of Him.

[So, we see the condition of Israel – they are faithless/unbelieving and they have twisted or perverted the person of Jesus Christ.]

The second thing we see as Jesus Expresses Divine Frustration is that of…]

2B Immanuel’s Concern (VS 17b)

“How long am I to bear with you?”

How long shall I put up with you. Jesus was probably anxious to return to His father in heaven. How long do I have to deal with unbelievers? That is a serious question by Jesus. Unbelievably revealing isn’t it?

We know Jesus as being patient and longsuffering. Here we get a picture of divine and perfect frustration – how long do I have to deal with you?

[First, we see Jesus Express Divine frustration with Israel’s condition, and we see him express divine frustration with his concern, we see his frustration in…

3B Immanuel’s Command (VS 17c)

“…Bring him here to me.”

Even in his frustration, decisively denouncing Israel as unbelievers and those who have perverted or distorted his person and purpose, Jesus will not be swerved from his divine mission. He was here to do the will of His Father. Nothing would deter him.

[Jesus Expressed Divine Frustration. We saw that in his evaluation of Israel’s condition, in his concern, and in his command.]

We are examining the object of effective faith. We have stated that the smallest of faith is effective when it is placed in the right object.

Today’s passage is good for those who worry about the size or amount of their faith.

[The third insight into this passage that defines the object of effective faith is seen as…]


[Jesus explains deficient faith three ways. The first way is occasioned by…]

1B The Disciples Request

“Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, ‘Why could we not cast it out?’”

[Let’s examine this request. First take a look at the…]

1C The Setting

Mark 9:28 says, “And when he entered the house…”

This could have been a house of one of the disciples. It was not in front of the father, the crowd, or the scribes.

[Now, let’s examine the…]

2C The Scenario

You aren’t surprised that the disciples waited and found a time that was private to question Jesus are you? I am not. They were ashamed that they could not heal this boy and probably very taken back by Jesus expression of divine frustration. They were perplexed. Why?

They could not figure out why he was able to cast out this demon with a word when they had not been able to do so with all their efforts.

Remember, they had been commissioned by Jesus to do this very thing. They had been very successful before. They probably invoked Jesus name, commanded the demon to leave the boy, and they probably waited for the demon to leave. But, what happened? Nothing! The demon did not leave. They could not help this boy.

[So, we see the disciple’s request. Now let’s see what occasioned Jesus explanation of a deficient faith by the…]

1B The Divine Response

“He said to them, because of your little faith…”

We had an interpretative challenge right here. The Greek word that Matthew used is απιστος s( ap’-is-tos).

It is a combination of the word pistos, which means confidence or trust. It came to be used for faith. This word is preceded by the alpha privative making it a negative, meaning “No confidence or nor trust,” or “faithless.”

It is used twelve times in the NT and all twelve times it is translated as unbelief. It is not translated as “little faith.”

Some translations have decided that a scribe or copyist must have exchanged this word for a different Greek word which does means “little faith.”

This becomes the problem of non-literal translations of the Greek Words. You are the translator. You must observe all that goes on in a passage. You must then interpret the passage. Many times translating committees take this responsibility away from you and they do it for you. Sometimes they are right and sometimes they are wrong.

The context won’t allow, little faith – it demands unbelief. Look at Jesus next sentence as he continues his explanation of their deficient faith.

“For truly I say to you, if you have faith like a mustard seed…”

Stop there for a minute. Faith of a mustard seed?

The smallness of a mustard seed is mentioned in:

(Matt 13:3, ESV) “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds…” [and in…]

(Mark 4:31, ESV) “It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth.”

Did you get that? The smallest of all the seeds on earth.

It is used twice more in Luke in the same parables or setting of Matthew and Mark.

Now it would be a gross contradiction for Jesus to say, you couldn’t cast out this demon because your faith was to small and then to turn around and say if you only had the littlest of faith you could move a mountain.

There are a lot of people in the body of Christ who are crushed and stopped the thinking there faith is too small to do anything for God or to accomplish anything. You might even be one of those people.

We know and heard of the perverse falseness and lies of the prosperity preachers who say that you are not healed or do not have wealth or do not have the blessing of God because your faith is too small. They are perverted liars!

If the disciple’s faith had only been as big as the tiniest seed on earth, they could have cast out that demon.

Don’t forget we are talking about effective faith. We said that for faith to be effective it must be in the right object.
R. T. France wrote: “It is important to observe here that it is not the ‘amount’ of faith which brings the impossible into reach, but the power of God, which is available to even the ‘smallest’ faith.”

This passage is good for those who are worried about the size or amount of their faith. So, it is not “little faith” but no faith, or because of their unbelief.

Or really, because they had no confidence or trust.

[Let’s move to the…]

3B The Definitive Reason

“…you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there, and it will move…” [First of all…]

It must be clearly understood that Jesus was not talking about a literal mountain. Jesus nor any disciple or apostle ever moved a literal mountain. No one in the 2,000 year history of the church has ever moved a mountain.

The expression “be able to move mountains” was a common figure of speech in this period. It was used to represent the ability to overcome huge obstacles.

William Barclay wrote:

“A great teacher, who could really expound and interpret Scripture and who could explain and resolve difficulties, was regularly know as an uprooter or even a pulverizer of mountains. To tear up, to uproot, and to pulverize mountains were all regular phrases for removing difficulties. Jesus never meant this to be taken physically and literally. After all, the ordinary man seldom finds nay necessity to remove a mountain. What He meant was: ‘…all difficulties can be solved and even the hardest of task can be accomplished. Faith in God is the instrument that allows men to remove the hills of difficulty which block their path.”

4B The Daring Reassurance

“…and nothing will be impossible for you.”

[Notice two things about this reassurance. First…]

1C It is conditional

It is only valid within the framework of the will of God. This faith, even the smallest faith – like the smallest seed one earth, this faith will can “move mountains” must be in God. It is not faith in self, past accomplishments, or even in faith itself. Faith is effective when it is placed in the right object. Of course the right object is God.

2C It is [not only conditional] conditioned

Nothing shall be impossible to you when you prayerfully and persistently trust in Jesus.

The disciples could not cure the demon-possessed boy because they did not persist in trust and prayer.

Thousands of believers have failed to receive God’s promised joy, freedom, protection, forgiveness, guidance fruitfulness, wisdom, and a myriad of other blessings because they did not persist in prayer.

In Mark 9:29, when the disciples asked Jesus why they could not cast out the demon, Jesus, “…said to them, ‘This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” (ESV)

James picked this up and wrote: “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”

Illustration: George Mueller

George Mueller one day began to pray for five personal friends to be saved. The first friend was not saved for five years after he began praying. Five more years later, two friends on his list were saved. A fourth friend was saved twenty five years after he started praying. He continued to pray for the fifth friend. A few months after George Mueller died this friend was saved. It had been fifty years since Mueller had begun praying for him.

Persistent prayer and the smallest faith in the right object can accomplish the seemingly impossible.

Listen it is not great flashes of huge or spectacular faith that gets things done. It is God who does them through you – through those with even the smallest of faith which is bathed in persistent prayer.

[What do you say we wrap this up?]


Our theme today has been “the object of faith.”

I strenuously state that the smallest of faith is effective when it is placed in the right object. What is the object that makes faith effective? God!

Our text described three insights that defined the object of effective faith.

First, Jesus Experienced a Desperate Father

Second, Jesus Expressed a Divine Frustration

Third, Jesus Explained a Deficient Faith

So, what do we do?


1. Don’t deny your own doubts or fears.

These are natural. They stem from the weakness of our flesh. Don’t listen to Satan or even well-meaning Christians who would rebuke you for doubt or fear. Acknowledge them and then give them over to the Lord in prayer.

Admit them to God

Ask for forgiveness

Appropriate His strength by request

2. Become like a little child with child-like faith

Submit yourself to God completely

Abandon thoughts of sufficiency apart from God

Place your confidence in God

3. Establish a consistent or persistent prayer life

Talk to God about your faith

Ask him to increase and strengthen it

Pray according to Scripture

4. Develop a steady intake of God’s Word

Study the character and nature of God

Study the promises of God to His children in the bible

Study the Hebrews Hall of Heroes – Chapter 11

5. Start exercising.

Belief God for little things

Search the Word for those things that are in God’s word

Ask God for things that are a little bigger yet in accordance with his word

1 comment:


This struck a raw nerve with me Gregg, you see I am an EPILEPTIC.
since being diagnose 25 years ago I always said that EPILEPSY LIVES WITH ME AND NOT ME WITH IT.
It is not a lunatic illness as some would believe many years ago. It can happen to anyone at anytime without warning.

Most thought provoking post .