“Because of Your Unbelief”

Matthew 17:14-23

We are working our way through the Gospel According to Matthew and we are at a pivotal point in the story. Jesus has been traveling around for almost three years with a group of disciples, mind you, there are more than twelve men in Jesus’ following, but Jesus has chosen twelve to be part of His inner group. The religious leaders of Israel have not been pleased with Jesus and His followers and for the past three years their animosity has grown. After each encounter Jesus had with the Pharisees and Sadducees Jesus would take His group away to pray. During their last encounter it became clear to Jesus that it was time for Him to return to Jerusalem and complete what He had come to do. He revealed His plan to His disciples, explaining in detail what would happen, that He would be killed, but rise from the dead three days later. 

Last week we read that after breaking the news to the disciples of His upcoming demise, Jesus took three of His disciples up to a mountain to pray. Basically to get ready for what would happen in Jerusalem. Jesus needed to talk it out with two of His friends, Moses and Elijah. They helped Him wrap His head around the plan. The three disciples with Him still hadn’t comprehended that Jesus is the Messiah because on the way down the mountain they questioned Jesus on the timing of Elijah’s coming before the Messiah. Jesus explained that John the Baptist was the Elijah that was prophesied and not to be alarmed, things were going just as God had planned them. 

Today’s Scripture has Jesus and the three disciples  meeting up with the rest of His followers. While the men were away on the mountain, the remainder of the disciples had been busy. We read that a man with an epileptic son had been with them seeking help. 

The father sees Jesus and immediately kneels before Him asking for healing. The son was demon possessed and was being thrown into fires and water. We read in the gospel of Mark that the boy was also deaf and dumb. The father had brought the boy to see if Jesus would heal him but Jesus wasn’t there so the disciples tried to help them out, but were unable. The father saw Jesus arrive and must have thought, “Thank God Jesus is here,” and he  was begging Jesus to heal him. 

This is an excellent reminder of who really has the power. Jesus’ disciples were humans, 

we are humans. 

Although those of us who follow Jesus have been given His Holy Spirit we will fail, 

but Jesus never fails. 

We should remember this and like this man go straight to Jesus when His followers fail. 

Regardless, the question does arise, 

Why did the disciples fail? 

Back in chapter 10 of Matthew, the disciples had been given the power to cast out demons. What was it about this demon that wouldn’t allow the disciples to cure the son? 

It is because there are ranks of demonic powers, Ephesians 6:12,

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Basically, there are some demons who are more stubborn than others. This demon was an example of this. 

I suspect the disciples themselves were confused. However, failure isn’t always a bad thing, 

in fact, 

it is often a very good thing. 

In this case their failure taught the disciples a few things:

  • It taught them not to get into a rut of mechanical ministry. The power of the Holy Spirit is not like a magic wand that works whenever you pray. 
  • It taught them the superiority of Jesus. It’s the power of Jesus, through us that heals. 
  • It taught them to come to Jesus with the problem.

By coming to Jesus they discover the crux of the issue. The failure helped them take their eyes off whether they succeeded or not and put their eyes on their faith. 

Did you notice Jesus’ response? 

How human is that?! 

Or maybe God gets frustrated too. 

Here Jesus was, walking to the end of His ministry and the disciples still did not understand the need for faith. 

Can’t you see Jesus throwing His hands in the air and saying, “Oye! When will you ever learn? Bring me the boy.” 

Jesus rebukes the demon. Remember, demons recognize Jesus and Jesus recognizes them. It’s like Jesus looks at the demon, rolls His eyes, says, “Be gone with you.” and the boy is healed. 

Matthew doesn’t say another thing regarding the father or the boy. 

What Matthew does address is the response of the disciples. 

This had to be a bit depressing. 

These men had been traveling with Jesus for years now. They had memorized everything He had said. They had taken it to heart. 

They thought they were part of the “in” group, what happened? 

They as much say so to Jesus, privately of course. 

“Why couldn’t we cast out that demon?” 

Can’t you hear their disappointment? 

It’s like, what just happened? 

What haven’t we learned? 

Jesus’ response had to have hurt a little bit. Jesus tells them it is because of their unbelief. 

Wait a minute! 


Who focuses on unbelief? 

Jesus does. 

Doing battle with demons is a strategic endeavor. 

When what you are doing doesn’t seem to be working, why keep doing it? 

When we keep praying for healing, more fervently or more diligently or more anything, Jesus was reminding the disciples that’s not the point. 

How much faith you have, is of little significance. In fact, Jesus points out again, even if your faith is the size of a mustard seed, the smallest of seeds at His time, it’s enough. 

It’s not the amount of faith you have that matters. 

It is who you have the faith in that makes the difference. It’s not our prayers that do the work, 

it is the great and mighty God in which our faith is placed that does. 

Think about it, it is because of our unbelief that we recognize we need Jesus. It was because of their unbelief that the father, the son, and the disciples had to admit they were unable, 

repent and 

allow God His place in the story. 

Then what does Jesus mean that we can tell mountains what to do? 

To understand what Jesus meant here, we again need to go back to the first century rabbinical society. 

This phrase was used in the Jewish schools for a Rabbi who was distinguished by legal lore or personal experience. Those listening would have immediately recognized the connection and not have taken it literally. 

Jesus’ next comment we should take to heart. When Jesus suggests that prayer and fasting was needed in order to take out one of these demons 

He was letting us know that 

the simple, 

“Please heal them,” 

prayer was not enough. 

We often pray dispassionately, asking God to care about things we care little or nothing about. Prayer and fasting means God wants us to be persistent in our prayer


  • a willingness to identify with the afflicted person
  • an appreciation of the strength of the demonic world
  • a dependence on God
  • a desire to fight and sacrifice for the sake of deliverance.

Lesson over, Jesus and disciples make it to Galilee and Jesus again tells them what will happen when they get to Jerusalem. He puts it out there, clear as day, and this time their response was exceeding sorrow. 

Exceeding sorrow? 

Was that all they could muster up? 

Talk about cluelessness. 

Talk about unbelief! 

Yet, if we were to take a look around this room today I think we would all have to admit we too have our share of unbelief. 

Oh, yes, we have faith in God, that is what brought us here today. 

Oh yes, we pray and if you are like me there are times I feel just like the disciples in this story. I keep praying and praying and that demon doesn’t move an inch. 

Unfortunately, our human response is often to raise our hands and give up. We get frustrated or sometimes downright angry with God for not doing whatever it is we’ve been praying for. After reading this story it sounds like God can handle it. He also has given us some ways to get around our unbelief. 

First, take your eyes off your faith. It doesn’t matter how big or small it is. 

Second, put your eyes on Jesus. 

Didn’t God just tell Peter, James and John to 

“Listen to Him?” 

In order to listen to Him, we must be focused on Him. 

Third – Remember, God is greater than our doubts and much greater than any demon in our way. 

Fourth – Discipleship is a lifelong process. 

Hey, the disciples in Jesus’ inner circle failed, 

faith can be a struggle. 

When it becomes a struggle, 

tell Jesus. 

Because, lastly – Jesus tells us to pray. 

Aggressive prayer moves mountains, at least the kind of prayer that brings our struggles to Jesus, 

to the foot of the cross, 

where they have been paid for 

and can be taken care of.  

Humans are not perfect, and neither is our faith. But God loves us anyway. 

Take heart 

that when we reveal our unbelief, 

we allow ourselves to pray for God’s power to take over, 

and God will. 

He always does. 

Let’s pray.