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We Need to Go Deeper

Date: Jun. 12, 2016

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Matthew 17:14-27

Key Verse: Matthew 17:20

“He replied, ‘Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have 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.’”

Anybody here seen the movie Inception? Well, it is a movie that came out in July 8, 2010 or nearly six years ago. It stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Dom Cobb a man who steals secrets out of people’s minds in a shared dream state. In the movie, it is possible to share dreams with other  people and even have people control that shared dream. Dom is hired this one time not to steal information but to plant an idea. In order to do this, Dom realizes that his team would have to create a dream within a dream within a dream in some sort of multilevel dream sequence. Dom says to his cohort Arthur, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, “We need to go deeper.” In order for the idea to be planted, the person they are planting it in needs to think that the idea is their own and Dom realizes that they need to go many levels deep to do that. They need to go deeper. Since that movie, “We need to go deeper” has become a widely used meme. It is a very simple concept, the level where something is is not enough. In today’s passage, Jesus shows us that our faith, our understanding and our perception are not enough; we need to go deeper.

Today’s passage picks up immediately after the one from last week. If you remember last week, Jesus took Peter, James and John up a high mountain. While at the top of the mountain, Jesus is transfigured…he is transformed into a being brighter than the sun with clothes as white as light. Jesus shows his true form to those three men, and, while up there, Moses and Elijah come down for a visit and talk to Jesus! it was a mind-blowing moment for Peter, James and John. They were witnesses to something amazing, while the other nine were at the bottom of the mountain. Think about these nine guys. Jesus had just taken three of their group by themselves up a mountain. They had no idea what Jesus was up to, but I could imagine that they might have felt a little left out. Their thoughts might have been filled with, “Where was Jesus going? What about us? What is so special about them?” I’m pretty sure that most of us have felt a sense of being left out. There are a few responses to that feeling. You can mope and feel sorry for yourself. That’s one way. Another way is to not let it bother you and be mature about it. Then, there is a third way. That way is to take your hurt, harden up and think that you don’t need them and you can prove that too.

While Jesus was gone, the perfect opportunity arose for them to do so. “When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. ‘Lord, have mercy on my son,’ he said. ‘He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.’” (14-16) A man came to the disciples for help. Actually, the man probably came looking for Jesus, but since he was up the mountain, his disciples wanted to step up and try to heal the boy themselves. After all, they didn’t need Jesus. They’ve healed before; so, they could do it again. But, boy, were they wrong! Nothing that they tried worked. Not a single thing. That must have been embarrassing. So, when Jesus finally came down the mountain, the man immediately came to Jesus, knelt before him and explained what was going on. He asked Jesus to have mercy on his boy. He was having seizures. Some translations say it was epilepsy. The man tells Jesus that his disciples were unable to heal the boy. It was a heart wrenching sight. The nine must have felt so horrible for their failure. They tried to heal the boy without Jesus and failed miserably.

When Jesus hears the man’s request, his response is not what you would expect. Jesus replied, “You unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” (17) Jesus was disgusted with what was going on, and lumped his disciples in with the unbelieving and perverse generation. His disciples tried to heal the boy all on their own and failed. However, Jesus’ disgust isn’t because his disciples failed, it was because of why they failed. You can see Jesus’ human frustration in his words, “How long shall I put up with you?”

Jesus has the boy brought to him, and, at this time, the passage reveals that the boy isn’t just sick, but is possessed by a demon. Jesus drives out the demon and the boy is immediately healed. It is a sharp contrast to the disciples’ attempts to heal the boy. Everything that they tried failed to work. They repeatedly tried things, but each time they failed to heal the boy and drive out the demon. Jesus, on the other hand, was able to heal the boy instantly. There was no delay. There were no problems. It was just done.

So, what was the difference between Jesus and his disciples? Why was he able to heal the boy and they were not? His disciples had the same question. They wanted to know the difference and Jesus told them, “Because you have so little faith.” (20) The disciples didn’t have the faith to do so. They were trying to heal the boy on their own. They wanted to rely on their own ability and not on the power from God. They didn’t trust God to heal the boy. In other gospels, Jesus mentions that this type of demon can only come out with fasting and prayer. Obviously, Jesus didn’t fast immediately prior to driving out the demon nor did he pray about it, but fasting and prayer were a constant part of Jesus’ lifestyle that enabled him to deepen his faith. Although Jesus is God, he is still human and needed the very human methods of trusting in God and relying on him which is fasting and prayer. The disciples didn’t have that connection with God. Without fasting and prayer in their life, they didn’t have the relationship with God that they needed to know his will and share in his power. Jesus gave his disciples the authority to heal and drive out demons, but now they assumed that the authority and power was their own, where it, in fact, came from God. Without faith, they had no connection to God or his power to heal.

Jesus realized what was going on and he wanted his disciples to go deeper in their faith. He continued, “Truly I tell you, if you have 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.” (20) With even just a little bit of faith mountains could be moved. No obstacle is to mighty for the power of God. The issue isn’t how much faith that you have, it is where your faith is placed. If you have faith in God, you are connected to the power source. With even the smallest amount of faith, nothing is impossible. Even a mountain could be moved if it is God’s will. Think about that for a minute. Mountains are huge and are among to most immovable things on the planet, but Jesus said that with even the smallest amount of faith, that mountain can be moved. For that to happen, Jesus’ disciples needed to deepen their relationship with God. They had to trust in God and know his will.

From there, Jesus and his disciples returned to Galilee. When they got there, Jesus told them again, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.” (22-23) When the disciples heard that, they were filled with grief. They thought that Jesus was being pessimistic, but this was another opportunity for the disciples to deepen their faith. Jesus was preparing them to know what was about to happen. He wanted them to know that although it would seem dark, it was all a part of God’s plan. He would die, but death would not be the end. Their grief would turn to joy. By knowing this, by getting a greater picture of what is about to happen, the disciple could have greater faith in God and his goodness and power. Jesus’ death is not some random act of violence. It is the very plan for the salvation of humanity. Without such knowledge, the disciples would be all over the place emotionally. They would be filled with grief and fear, but deeper faith in God brings peace in all circumstances. Paul, a man who would know much grief, wrote, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7) Again, you can see that a deepening of faith through prayer and thanksgiving will provide a person with the peace of God that transcends all understanding. It will not make sense for you to have peace. The world will look like it is crumbling around you, and yet, with mature faith, you will still have peace.

In our humanity, we are very much a product of our emotions. They drive us and lead us. It’s like we are on a roller coaster sometimes. We’re happy, we’re sad, we’re afraid, we worry, we laugh, we cry, we’re burdened, and we are like leaf being blown in the wind. We don’t have control. We go wherever our emotions carry us. That is a fact of life for quite a few of us, and I don’t know about you, but it is exhausting. I’ve seen my kids just flip flop in emotions and I know that we are no different, but as our faith deepens in God. We are able to handle more and more. We are no longer at the whim of how we feel, but God’s peace will lead us to know what to do. It doesn’t change our situation. It changes us. We might be in a burning building, but we are no longer cowering in a corner or running in circles, with God’s peace, we can clearly see the escape route that had always been there, but our fear kept us from seeing. Deeper faith brings more peace.

The passage continues, “After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax came to Peter and asked, ‘Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?’” (24) When they reached Capernaum, Peter was asked a question, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” The temple tax was collected for the upkeep of the temple. Every male 20 years or older were required to give two days wages a year to maintain the temple in Jerusalem. This tax had its foundation in the Bible in the book of Exodus in 30:13. The question came up for a variety of reasons. Rabbis were exempt from the tax, and Jesus being a teacher might claim the exemption. However, only ordained rabbis were exempt and Jesus was not ordained by the authorities. Peter answered the question, “Yes, he does,” and went back to the house.

When Peter gets back to the house, Jesus is the first to talk. Peter didn’t have an opportunity to tell him what had happened. Jesus already knew and he talked to Peter first. “What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own children or from others?” (25) The rulers of the the earth need to collect taxes in order to live. They don’t have jobs besides being king, but Jesus asks Peter, “Who do kings charge taxes? Do they charge their children taxes or other people?” It seems like a simple question. Kings wouldn’t charge their children taxes. Their children are themselves supported by the taxes. If they paid taxes from the money they received from the taxes, then it would be circular and ever diminishing. It doesn’t make much sense. In the same way, the temple is God’s house. Why would God the Father charge his son tax for the upkeep of the temple? It’s his house too.

But what Jesus says next is important. “But so that we may not cause offense…” Jesus recognized how absurd it was for him to pay the tax, but he didn’t want to cause offense. To me, this seems a little strange. Jesus offended the religious leaders often. Every time he healed someone on the Sabbath, Jesus offended the Pharisees. What is different this time? Well, this tax was being carried out in accordance to the law. It was being carried out as the law intended and breaking that law was unnecessary. The Sabbath restrictions that Jesus broke were misinterpretations of keeping the Sabbath. The Pharisees created the rules, but lost the meaning of keeping the Sabbath. When Jesus broke the Sabbath restrictions, he was trying to bring people back in line with the law, but here there is no reason to break it. It is better to no cause offense. I find this interesting. We Christians offend in many ways. Some of those ways are necessary and others are not. The gospel is offensive. It tells people that they are sinners in need of salvation. So when we preach the gospel, we will offend. Other times, we single out a single sin like it is the worst one in the world and it happens to be a sin that we do not have. This also offends people, but needlessly so. We are viewed as hypocrites and bigots because we nitpick about a handful of sins, but the fact of the matter is that we are all sinners. Just because our sins do not fall on a curated list, does not mean that we are not sinless. It just means that we made our list too small. We need to be mindful of which offense will advance God’s kingdom. The offenses that don’t, we shouldn’t do. It again, takes another measure of maturity in faith to be so mindful. Those with greater faith should be flexible enough so that they do not hinder other from coming to God.

In order to not offend, Jesus directs Peter, “…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.” This sounds a little fanciful. “Go fishing and your will find one with a coin in its mouth for two people’s tax.” It is amazing and kind of a weird miracle. I also find is strange that all we have is Jesus’ direction, but there is no follow up explicitly saying that Peter did as Jesus said. We can only assume that he did. One thing that we can take from this that Jesus wanted Peter to deepen his faith again by putting it in to action. Peter had to trust what Jesus said would happen, even though it sounded pretty absurd.

On Friday, some of us in the ministry saw a movie Do You Believe?. It is a Christian movie, which you could probably tell by the title, but before the movie starts it popped up a verse: James 2:17, “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” Faith has to work hand in hand with action. If faith is not put into practice, then it is not faith. In the movie, a pastor is convicted by putting faith in to action when he is asked if he believes in the cross of Jesus. Many times, we come to church on Sunday, listen to the sermon, sing the songs and give an offering. But it stops there. We have Sunday faith, but for the rest of the week, we look no different than anyone else. We don’t share Jesus with anyone. We don’t help anyone. We don’t give generously. We live for ourselves. Acting on faith is trusting God. We trust that God will take care of things. In the movie, there was a firefighter that was trying to help a man stuck under a piece of fallen debris. He was going to die and the firefighter did everything he could to help the man, but he also helped the man find Jesus before he died. The man’s wife was livid and sued because she thought the firefighter withheld help until the man converted. He was going to be sued, but the firefighter trusted that God would take care of him and his family. That level of trust required deep faith. We have to act on what we believe or otherwise we don’t actually believe it.

Now, I keep talking about going deeper in our faith. But why is it so important to deepen our faith? Why should we go deeper? It might be quite nice where you currently are in your faith. If you are young in faith, you just absorb the love, but if you mature, you have to give a lot and be flexible. We like being selfish and receiving. But having deep faith, enables us to endure what this world has to offer. In the back of our building, we planted sod a few weeks ago, and for the first week, it looked like it was going to die. Its roots were very shallow and we had to water it often to keep it alive. As it grew, it roots became deeper and it didn’t need to be watered as often. We’ve been watering it four times a day for 40 minutes at a time. Now, we could probably do once or twice a day without a problem. As the roots go deeper, we might need to only water it once or twice a week, because it can endure even longer and find nourishment deeper in the soil. In the same way, our faith needs to deepen so that the worries of the world and the sun will not scorch us. We won’t go on that roller coaster of emotion anymore.

In today’s passage, we see that we need to deepen our faith by getting closer to God. We can do this through prayer, fasting and reading the Bible. These enable us to strengthen our relationship with God. We communicate with him, trust in him to provide, and come to know more about who God is. We see that when we deepen our faith, we are no longer tossed about by the waves and wind, but when we broaden our knowledge and understanding, it gives us perspective on life and we can glimpse God’s purpose. When we put our faith into action, we grow deeper because we have to trust that God will take care of the situation. It shows that we understand his word and we are growing to be like Jesus. It is imperative that we deepen our faith in God. Our roots need to go deep in order for us to live. I want for you to look at your life and see how deep your roots are, because no matter how deep those roots are, you will find that you will need to go deeper.

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