Abstract: How could Jesus have been so “unreasonable” as to rebuke his disciples harshly for FAILING TO PERFORM A MIRACLE? Does He have the same expectation of us present-day disciples? 

In Matthew 17, a father brought to the disciples his son who suffered from epilepsy asking them to heal the boy. But they were unable to drive out the demon causing the epilepsy. In great disappointment the father went to look for Jesus, and essentially complained to the Lord.

Matthew 17:14 When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. 15 “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. 16 I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.”

While this incident is recorded in the gospels, in the Church today such a scenario would not take place. Parents do not at all expect disciples to be able to heal their sick children or loved ones miraculously.  If their child is not healed, they do not go to Jesus in prayer to complain and express their disappointment. Why not? Is it really because we have progressed in our thinking and attitudes?

Let’s see what our Lord Jesus felt about the failure of his disciples to heal the boy.

Matthew 17:17 “You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? 

Jesus was clearly disappointed in their failure to drive out the demon and heal the boy, and rebukes the disciples severely.

Today in the Church do we teach believers that the Lord is disappointed with us and rebukes us when we fail to drive out a demon upon the request of a family member? No. Such an outrageous teaching would minister “condemnation” to believers and would be unacceptable in today’s Church. A church which dares to teach it would be in danger of losing people and their offerings on which the Church depends to stay in operation.

How could Jesus justify his anger and disappointment at the failure of his disciples to perform the miracle? In today’s Church climate we might think that Jesus was being unreasonable in his expectation. Certainly the Church today does not expect disciples to be able to perform miracles. (“After all, only God can perform miracles.”) But Jesus did expect it.

Jesus could have reasonably expected his disciples to heal the boy because:

  1. He had trained his disciples to do what they saw him doing as he took them from place to place preaching the gospel, healing the sick, casting out demons, and teaching the Word.
  2. He had already given them actual authority and power to cast out all demons and to heal the sick. (Luke 9:1)
  3. He had sent them out and commanded them to heal the sick. (Luke 9:2; Luke 10:9)

Luke 9:1 When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.

Luke 10:1 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. …9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 

Based on the three reasons above, Jesus was in fact justified in his expectation for his disciples to heal the boy. Even though he had given his disciples power and authority to heal the sick miraculously, for some reason they nevertheless failed to carry out the Lord’s command to heal the sick—in this case a boy with epilepsy. 

As our commander-in-chief, Jesus Christ is rightly displeased when we disciples fail to obey his commands—even those involving the miraculous like saving the lost through the preaching of the gospel and healing the sick as compelling evidence of the gospel. (Those who adhere to cessationism of course must be “exempt.”)

So why did the disciples fail? Since the Lord had already given them supernatural power and authority over demons and diseases, clearly something else was missing.

Matthew 17:19 Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

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

The disciples failed to drive out the demon because they lacked faith as a mustard seed, or faith that moves mountains—mountain-moving faith.

Some English translations render verse 20 “if you have faith as small as a mustard seed….” That translation is incorrect. The Greek text does not say “faith as small as a mustard seed.” The focus is not the size of the mustard seed, but rather on its nature. Jesus had just rebuked his disciples for having “little faith,” so how could he in the very next breath be encouraging them to have faith as small as a tiny mustard seed?

Matthew 17:21 “But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”

The traditional interpretation of this verse holds that the demon of epilepsy was too powerful for the disciples to drive out, and that they could only fast and pray to God to drive it out for them. This interpretation makes no sense within the immediate context of the passage. Jesus had displayed deep disappointment toward his disciples when he heard that they had failed to drive out the demon, and rebuked them severely.  It makes absolutely no sense therefore for him then to say he already knew that the demon was too powerful for them to handle.

Therefore Jesus must have meant that because they lacked sufficient prayer and fasting, their mountain-moving faith was weak and insufficient to drive out the demon. When disciples pray and fast, their faith increases and becomes strong. Following praying and fasting, their mountain-moving faith is then sufficient to drive out the demon.

Three components are therefore necessary for healing the sick and casting out demons effectively when sharing the gospel with the lost:

  1. authority,
  2. power, and
  3. mountain-moving faith.

More on mountain-moving faith