Our passage of Scripture starts today by saying. “At the foot of the mountain, a large crowd was waiting for them.”
It is impossible to say for sure what mountain this was. A likely candidate is Mt. Hermon, which is near Caesarea Philippi and is the tallest mountain (2,814 meters) in the area. The previous chapter of Matthew tells us that Jesus was in the region of Caesarea Philippi. These days Mt. Hermon is home to Israel’s only ski resort.
Matthew tells us that Jesus had just been up this mountain with Peter and the two brothers, James and John. While they were up the mountain, whichever mountain it was in fact, they had the most amazing experience.
There are two people in the Old Testament who met God at the top of a mountain. The first is Moses, who met God on top of Mount Sinai and was given the ten commandments. The other is Elijah, who met God on top of Mount Horeb. Elijah experienced a mighty storm of wind and an earthquake and a fire. 1 Kings 19:12 says, “the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper.” Mount Sinai and Mount Horeb are the same mountain. You can look this up in Deuteronomy 5:2 and compare different translations.
These two amazing men of faith meet God on top of a mountain once more when together they meet with Jesus on top of this mountain. There is huge significance in this meeting.
First it can be compared with the two talking to God on top of Mount Sinai, because of course Jesus is God. It also shows Jesus as being the new Moses and the saviour of the people. Just as with Moses, his face shines like the sun and a voice speaks from a cloud.
Another image we can see in this is Jesus exalted in glory with two religious giants of the past at his side. They also are shining and bathed in light. Jesus is lifted up and proclaimed as the son of God. Those who are with him are also lifted up and glorious. That is the promise of God for us. We shall be lifted up with him and share in his glory.
There is another thing. What we know, and what Jesus also knew, is that another lifting up almost exactly like this will soon to occur on another mountain. The three disciples did not understand this, although only six days earlier Jesus had told them. At that time Peter loudly protested. “Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to you!”
It did happen though, and Jesus was lifted up on the top of a mountain. This time it was on a Roman cross. The two men with him, one on either side, were desperate criminals.
His clothes had been removed and all was darkness. This time also Jesus is confessed as the son of God, by the Roman Centurion. There is no glory on this mountain, only humiliation.
There are two liftings up for Jesus – glorious and humiliating, light and dark, doom and vindication, surrounded by saints and surrounded by sinners, clothed in light and wrapped in darkness.
Coming down from the mountain after the glorious, victorious experience of light and joy with the three disciples, Jesus meets a crowd waiting for him. Peter, James and John had amazing experiences on the mountaintop, but now they have to return to the valley with Jesus.
There is among the waiting crowd a man whose son is possessed by a demon.
“I brought him to your disciples, but they couldn’t heal him,” the man says as he kneels in front of Jesus. And now starting in verse 17 Jesus speaks strongly and directly, and a little angrily.
Jesus said, “You faithless and corrupt people! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” Then Jesus rebuked the demon in the boy, and it left him. From that moment the boy was well.
Afterward the disciples asked Jesus privately, “Why couldn’t we cast out that demon?”
“You don’t have enough faith,” Jesus told them. “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.”
Jesus says they were unable to cast out the demon because they didn’t have enough faith.
When Moses came down from the mountain he found the people had lost their faith and built a golden idol. Jesus wasn’t up the mountain for long before his disciples had also lost their faith.
He tells them directly and bluntly what their problem is. They lack faith. Here’s the thing, the faith that Jesus speaks of is not complex theological knowledge. The problem is that they haven’t been listening to him. Romans 10:17 says, “Faith comes from hearing … the Good News about Christ.”
You can move this mountain, says Jesus. Perhaps they look at towering Mount Hermon. All you need is faith as small as a mustard seed. Jesus uses the standard Jewish allusions for the smallest and largest things they could imagine – an immovable mountain and a minuscule seed.
If today I were confronted by a similar situation to this. If like the disciples I had just come down from the mountain, I hope that my faith would tell me that God wants the demon out of the little boy – however strong the demon might be.
In Matthew 7:11 for example Jesus says, “If you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.”
But that was not the disciples’ faith. Like me on so many occasions, they only had a faith to try but not a faith to succeed.
They had seen it happen. They had seen people getting delivered. In Matthew 10 we read how Jesus had already sent out the 12 with “authority to drive out impure spirits”.
So now they thought it might happen again. That’s not mountain-moving faith. That’s more like faint hope than faith. You think it might happen. If you say ‘I suppose theoretically it is possible that God could answer my prayer’, is that faith? No! Faith is saying that God wants to answer your prayers.
Of course, when the disciples failed Jesus stepped in. The demon was chased out of the boy, just as many times in my life when I’ve prayed more in hope than faith Jesus has still acted. But like you, I want to grow in the naturally supernatural life and have faith.
If we do not have the humility to keep on asking God to give us faith, we will tend to approach these areas with excuses rather than solutions. As Romans said, we need to keep on hearing the Good News about Christ. Keep on listening to the truth about Jesus and God’s love for his children.
Nothing that God asks you to do is bigger than a mountain. Jesus is telling his disciples and us that nothing he asks us to do is impossible if we have even the smallest trust in him. It isn’t really a question of how small your faith is, but of how big is the God in whom you have faith.
Do you really believe he wants you succeed at what he has called you to do. Do you really believe he can move that mountain.
Have you noticed how sometimes we come up with ‘theological reasons’ that excuse our inabilities. If someone doesn’t get healed we will say ‘God doesn’t heal today’ or ‘it must be God’s will that you’re sick’. No, Jesus never made people sick. Maybe we say that healing is ‘not my gift’. Perhaps we’ll just ignore the problem and hope it goes away.
We should be careful though, these alternative solutions tend to mean that when it comes to living a life modelled on the life of Jesus we live more like agnostics than anything else. We believe a supernatural life could be possible, we’re just not sure that it is possible for us.
Jesus doesn’t say we have to be amazing saints before God hears our prayers. When we come down from the mountain experience into the valley where demons possess people, do we have faith. We need only the smallest amount of faith in the biggest God, for whom nothing is impossible.