Matthew 17 {an interpretation}

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What does God want us to do? It’s a common question in life, my life included. Sometimes it’s focusing on a specific decision: “does God think I should go now or later?” Other times it’s about the bigger picture: “why are we even here?” Regardless, it’s asked pretty often. And the Bible is full of people who were also trying to figure it out. A wise man (or possibly multiple wise men? I can’t remember) once said the Bible isn’t a book of answers but a book that teaches you to ask the right questions. So asking, “what does God want me to do?” isn’t necessarily a bad thing – because at least your looking in the right direction. There’s lots of variations on this question, here is my answer from today’s Bible reading: Matthew 17. 

This is what happens:

So Jesus tells his disciples basically like, “hey, all this bad stuff is about to happen to me.” Which means he knows he’s running out of earthly time to impart his heavenly wisdom. And, you know, he might even be freaking out a little bit. (Does Jesus work better under pressure? Was he sad to be leaving earth? Did time affect him at all? All questions for another blog…) So after he drops this news on his friends he takes three of them – Peter, James, John – up on this mountain to hang out with Moses, Elijah and a special guest. Naturally, Peter is all like, “Jesus, I would LOVE to build some sweet houses for you guys to live up here. You’d get a great view, nobody would climb up here to bother you.” And Jesus is like, “Peter, you’re missing the point once again.” Enter special guest: GOD. (Previously starring in “Exodus 3: Moses Gets Burned, The Bush Doesn’t) The boys are all freaked out but the Big Man only has one piece of advice for them,

“Listen to my son” (Matt 17:5)

We all go through these times in our lives when we go to God and say, “I’ll do this for you, or that. Just let me know how I can help. I’ll build you a tent if that’s what you want from me.” And God says back gently, “You want to do all of these things but you aren’t taking the time to listen.” All too often we need to be seeking his voice before we start building. We don’t always need to hear him in order to move but we must be open to listening and not just jumping into every possibility.

Before the boys can even compose themselves (hopefully they had their listening ears on) Jesus reassures them,

“Rise and have no fear” (Matt 17:6)

Aka: Get up because you won’t get anything done laying there. And being afraid is a paralyzing waste of time.

And then comes the really important part. Yeah, it’s important when God or Voice of God (Jesus) speaks in the Bible but all the other in between stuff is there for a reason too. Here’s hoping we can catch why.

“And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.”

-Matthew 17:8

This is something I find I need to remind myself every day. Jesus is standing in front of these 3 men and telling them not to be afraid meanwhile the only thing they have is Jesus. How often do we feel like our lives aren’t going as planned? Or we don’t have enough to be considered successful, or beautiful, or maybe even middle class? How many times do we find ourselves searching for worth in the world and realizing the only thing we truly have is Jesus? We want cars, clothes, relationships, status, and at the end of the day only have Jesus. When did this become a bad thing?

If you talk to a woman in Africa who has lost most of her family, been abused in every way possible, is living on one bag of white rice a month and ask her how her life is going chances are she’ll tell you about her friend Jesus. (Blessed are the poor.) If you met a man named Paul who went from fighting Christians to becoming one (and being put in jail for it) and asked him what he loves about his situation I know he’d tell you about his jail-mate Jesus.

Him and me for the rest of my life.

That’s the only guarantee.

We need to be at a point in our relationships with Jesus that we could be sitting in a jail cell with nothing and still be completely FULL and without fear.

“And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.”

So Jesus and his friends come down from the mountain and he explains to them that Elijah has, in fact, already came. And he reminds them of his up and coming suffering which is about to occur*. (*on the cross)

A man comes up to Jesus and asks him to heal his epileptic son.

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

-Matthew 17:16

Now Jesus is pretty mad. He’s not mad at the man for asking for healing. He’s not annoyed he was bombarded as soon as he left the mountain top. He’s not even unwilling to help.

Jesus is upset because his disciples couldn’t follow through.

Here is my paraphrasing guess of what’s going on in Jesus’ mind: “Are you kidding me? Did they really say that? I’ve been telling them for three years now what is expected of them! They said they couldn’t do it? Do they not believe at all?! Do I have to do everything around here?”

I remind you, that was me rendering. I’m sure Jesus handled it with much more grace than I depicted here but I wanted to paint the picture for you.

“Oh faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to bear with you?”

-Matthew 17:17

How long do you need me to do your work for you? Jesus knows he is leaving them soon. He also knows they should have more confidence; in themselves and in the Holy Spirt. Imagine the man asking the disciples for healing and the boys all looking at each other with perplexed faces, “uhh, you wanna do it?” “No! You do it.” “Nah, they’ll think we’re weird.” “Sorry man, maybe next time.” Now imagine the same man walking up to you and asking for healing. What would you tell him?

Jesus’ ministry and teachings was to show us how to live our lives. And maybe his biggest lesson of all was how we are to treat people. When the disciples lived based on fear (whatever their fear was: fear of rejection, fear of failure, unbelief – fear of being wrong) they were unable to live out their true calling. Jesus promised we can do all that he can do. In fact, he says we can do more than he can.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these he will do.”

-John 14:12

Jesus wanted the disciples to try.

Take a step. Make a move.

Do something.

It’s not enough for us to go through life expecting Jesus to make all the calls and do all the work – dirty work or not. We need to rise up and believe. Believe that God wants to partner with us and our dreams. Believe that we can do more than those who went before us. Believe that there is actual power inside of us waiting to be released.

You can’t steer a parked car. You can’t fly an unfinished kite – (so just a string really?) And other clichés about moving.

If the disciples believed Jesus’ words the man wouldn’t have had to go to Jesus for the healing. But he did, and Jesus lovingly told the man of his son,

“Bring him here to me.”

Do you know what happened next?

The boy was healed instantly.

When Jesus was talking with the disciples later he told them their lack of faith kept them from being able to cast out the demon (causing the seizures) in the man’s son. Do you think this “faithless and twisted generation” Jesus refers to has carried on into the present? Are you keeping that generation alive? Do you expect Jesus to do everything for you? Jesus will do it because his is good but he longs for you to realize the power within you. So much more can be done if we work with God and not just wait for God.

Then Jesus tells the disciples, “if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move…” an example of the power within you as well as an encouragement.

“Nothing will be impossible for you.”

(Matthew 17:20)

That’s right, nothing.

Do you believe him?

Rise, and have no fear.

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