Faith overcomes evil



Pray for someone damaged and in need of deliverance before you read today.

Bible passage

Matthew 17:14–21

Jesus heals a demon-possessed boy

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.’

17 ‘You unbelieving and perverse generation,’ Jesus replied, ‘how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.’ 18 Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed at that moment.

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 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.’ 

Pink sea and sky


The transfiguration would have been mind-blowing to Peter. What must it have been like for Jesus himself after thirty years embedded in our dusty, broken world? In a single day, he passes from sublime fellowship with his holy father into direct confrontation with evil. It cannot help that the friends who are supposed to be on his side seemed to be so useless (v 17). 

The disciples have failed – so far – to come to terms with several key ideas. First, Jesus reigns. He can stand atop a mountain, co-equal with God the Father. Second, this gives him absolute power over evil. He can deliver anyone with faith, in the way he delivers the boy here (v 18). Third, as Jesus’ disciples, we can claim his power for ourselves. But fourth – and it’s a sobering reality – if we continue in perversity and disbelief, we can expect nothing. ‘Perverse’ is from a Greek word meaning ‘twisted about’. Often, as we struggle with faith, we can get ourselves in quite a twist. In truth, all he expects from us is the simple trust of this father in verse 14. What then happens is not our problem. 

Mike Hawthorne


Thank the Lord that he is merciful. He will let us try again. The father of the sick boy does not overcomplicate things. You might want to repeat his words from verse 15 a few times: ‘Lord, have mercy.’

Deeper Bible study

How strong would you say your faith in God is?

Many Christians have found that after a great spiritual experience there comes an anti-climax. Jesus here had come from a wonderful time of affirming communion with God his Father and immediately faced the problem of the ineffectiveness of his followers. It seems that he expected his disciples to have sufficient faith to repeat his miracles (vs 16,17,20). After all, they had ministered effectively before.1 Had they not seen enough to believe?2

The placing of this story after the transfiguration shows that Jesus can do many things if only people trust him – including giving relevant help during the pandemic. We can imagine some embarrassment as well as encouragement as this incident was read out in Matthew’s church. By that time, Jesus had ascended and left the disciples to carry on his ministry. Perhaps as their knowledge of God had grown, their dependence on him had diminished. Jesus wanted to underline to them that a lack of faith would leave them unable to minister effectively. 

The reason for the disciples’ inability is their minuscule faith. Jesus uses the smallness of a mustard seed to illustrate their problem, but he balances his reproach with some optimism that even just a little more faith could be effective. It is God’s capability that is all-important, however: ‘It is important to observe here that it is not the “amount” of faith that brings the impossible within reach, but the power of God, which is available to even the “smallest” faith.’3 Perhaps we should interpret ‘Nothing will be impossible for you’ (v 20) as ‘you can do everything Jesus has given authority for’. We always ought to submit to God’s will. Yet verse 20 gives a precious promise we should not ignore as we learn of our constant dependence on God for everything. 

‘My faith looks up to thee, / thou Lamb of Calvary’.4 Grow my faith, Lord. Help me to undertake your work in your strength, not mine.

1 See Matt 10:8  2 Eg Matt 8:26 3 RT France, The Gospel according to St Matthew, IVP, 1985, p266 4 Ray Palmer, 1830

Paul Woodbridge

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