Matthew 17:14-27, From the Mountain to the Valley!
General Idea: From a mount of jubilation to a valley of humiliation is "where we live." After seeing God's glory, the Disciples had to learn trust and reliance. Jesus brought the Disciples from their incredible emotional mountain top experience directly into the valley of daily life where they were met with opposition and failure. The valley was filled with unbelief, Jesus' coming suffering, and taxes. The Disciples put into practice what they saw and learned, and quickly hit a wall of opposition. They saw that taking both what they had learned and their experiences, then applying all of it takes more than merely an attitude of, "Just do it." Jesus had already given the Disciples the power to exorcise demons; they were perplexed that for some reason they were unable to follow though (Matthew 10). They sought to do it under their own power, neglecting God's power as well as prayer. This caused Jesus' humanity to be frustrated and even a little angry. After trying to do the work of God without prayer or trust, they had to learn to take their knowledge and make it real and impacting in their life. Then, the Disciples were faced with the mediocrity of taxes, the scourge we all hate, yet necessary to build our country and support our infrastructure. Jesus models for us civil responsibility, servant hood, and obedience.
1. When they have come. Jesus takes His Disciples back down to the realities of daily life.
a. Just as Moses faced unbelief and frustration when he came down from the mountain, so did the Lord of the Universe (Ex. 24:14; 32:1-8; 15-21).
i. Jesus dealt with the failure of His Disciples-their inability to put into practice what He had taught them. Just as Moses own brother, Aaron, failed him by making false idols, both groups of disciple(s) did not have the prayer or patience to make their faith work.
ii. Say to this mountain move. This was a Jewish colloquialism meaning, "to do something that was very difficult." Mountains were considered the safest and most stable of all created things (Psalm 46:2; Isa. 54:10).
b. Epileptic refers to a demonic encounter, one which took control of the host, not necessarily the medical condition of epilepsy we have today (Mark 7:31-37).
c. Oh faithless. Jesus shows His frustration. In Judaism, if a disciple could not mimic his teacher, his, and even the teacher's credibility was in question. Jesus shows remarkable patience with His perverse (meaning obstinate) disciples!
d. Because of your unbelief. The disciples had confidence, and seemed to be surprised that their exorcism did not work. They could have also taken for granted their position and not exercised trust. Confidence cannot precede faith; confidence must come from faith and one's growth in Him. Confidence without faith is pride-a heinous sin!
e. Mustard seed was the smallest seed in the Palestine area, which produced a very large tree-like shrub. It was one of the main spices and also a colloquialism meaning "the smallest."
i. This means things may look impossible to us, but with God, they are possible.
ii. Submissiveness to God shows faith more than any deed (Mark 9:29).
iii. We have to be on guard that we do not overlook how God is working.
iv. We can be so busy serving and trying to please Him that we do not bother ourselves to know Him through prayer.
v. Nothing God calls us to do is impossible when we are focused on Him with our faith, trust, obedience, and mindsets.
f. Except by prayer and fasting could mean there are different types of demons and different levels of exorcising them. The power to exorcise demons can only come from God (Mark 3:15; 6:7, 13). Perhaps the Disciples were also relying on their own power and not Christ's! Also, a person's personal prayer life is key to being used by God and to using God's power (Mark 9:29).
2. Is about to be betrayed. We know what is about to come, but the Disciples did not fully understand Isaiah's prophecy (Isa. 53). Possibly this was because "resurrection" to a contemporary Jew meant the "End of Ages," as in the end of the world and time (Matt. 17: 9-10).
a. This probably did not make sense to the Disciples until Jesus spoke more on it and overturned the moneychangers in the Temple (Matt. 18: 31; 19:22; 26:22).
b. Most Jews did not make the connection that the Messiah was to be the Redeemer of sin as a suffering servant, not as a military, conquering hero to redeem a nation from oppression.
c. The Disciples did not initially believe what He said about the resurrection because their assumptions were in the way of what Jesus was teaching (Luke 24:25, 37-38).
d. Psychologists tell us that betrayal is the most severe and disturbing emotion a person can suffer, even greater than the death of a close relative.
3. Pay the Temple tax was the yearly assessment that each Jewish male was obligated to pay (Ex. 30:11-16). This money was used to support the Temple and/or the local synagogue, and not for other government use. (There were other taxes for that!)
a. The tax was a half of a shekel in the OT, and two drachmas (Luke 15:8; Acts 19:19), which amounted to two days of a typical wage.
i. In Jesus' day, since they were occupied by Rome, the Jews were not obligated to pay; therefore, only the devoted and those striving to please the religious leaders did so.
ii. After the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD, the Romans kept collecting this tax to pay the pagan temples by using force, further humiliating the Jews.
b. Does your teacher? The people who asked if Jesus paid the tax were trying to entrap Him by asking about His opinion on its value, or seeing if He paid it to His home synagogue (Matt. 21:12-14; 23:38-24:15; Luke 8:3).
c. Jesus paid the tax, both to exercise His servant attitude and to avoid causing more trouble than He had to.
d. Our relationship with Christ is our ultimate freedom; our home is to come, so while we sojourn this world, we should conform to its policies as long as they do not contradict God's policies (Acts 16:3; 21:26; Rom. 14: 13-21)
4. What do you think? Jesus quickly responds to Peter before the matter of taxes is even brought up!
a. Many OT prophets gave the answers before the question (1 Sam. 9:20; 1 Kings 14:6; 2 Kings 5:26; 6:32).
b. From strangers. Jesus' argument is that the royal family does not tax itself; rather, strangers who are not royalty are the ones who are taxed. Jesus is the ultimate Royalty. This is God's house and Jesus is God; therefore, He would not need to pay the tax.
i. This was a logical argument and a cultural custom not to tax those who are exempt.
ii. The priests and attendants were exempt from the Temple tax by this argument (Mishnah: Shegalim 1:3-4).
c. Jesus shows His servant heart and that He is the hope for Israel. He did not need to pay, yet He did.
d. His miracle was using a fisherman to retrieve a random fish that happened to have a coin in its mouth. There were many "fish stories" in Jesus' time of fishermen, who had God's approval, finding jewels in fish. Imagine Peter's surprise when it happened to him!
e. Piece of money/stater refers to four drachmas or 4 denarii, enough for Jesus and Peter.
f. Christians should always focus on His truth and not our rights. Jesus proved that He was above and exempt from such a tax, but paid it anyway. He was exempt because He was God, and He was exempt because He was a rabbi living by charity. He overrides His exemption to prove His solidarity as a Jew, as a representative of humanity, as a servant, and as our Redeemer.
g. The early Christians and many disgruntled Jews did not want to pay the tax; Jesus shows that how we feel is irrelevant. It is how we are to be that matters.
We can never just stay in the glory of great experiences and insights, of worship and growth. There has to be a time when we take what we have learned and apply it. When the reality of Christ's power and purpose hits us, we must also realize that others will not have the same beliefs and experiences. We will face the daily trivialities of life that seem to take a toll on us. We will face people who will reject us. We will try to put into practice what we have learned and we may fail. We can become frustrated and give up unless we focus, learn, and do not give up. We can best get though by our prayer life, and by our trust and reliance on His work! Do not let your lack of willingness to grow in the faith rob you of His plan for you. We can enjoy the mountain top, but we also have to get busy in the valley where we live. When we do succeed, we need to be sure it is His success that is motivating us. Enjoying success and blessings is not a result of faith or what faith is about. Faith helps our relationship with God by bringing us closer to Him so He can use us more. Our experiences and ideas tend to get in the way, so God has to sometimes knock us off our stool of pride so we will look to Him (Job. 13:15; 2 Cor. 5:7).
1. What would you do if you faced such an opposing demon?
2. If you could do literally anything with your faith, what would you do? What stops you?
3. How have you learned trust and reliance? What do you still need to learn?
4. What happened that the Disciples were unable to do as Jesus modeled and taught?
5. What have been the realities of your daily life, such as, what troubles and tempts you?
6. What do you do when you face unbelief and frustration? What can you do? What should you do?
7. Why is it outside of God's will and plan to have confidence without faith?
8. How is a person's personal prayer life the key to being used by God and using God's power? Can you give an example?
9. Why did the Disciples not fully understand Isaiah's prophecy concerning the resurrection which was a passage most Jews would have memorized?
10. Do you think betrayal is the most severe and disturbing emotion a person can suffer? How so?
11. What do you think the real motivations were for Jews who refused to pay the temple tax? How does this correspond to today?
12. Why did Jesus pay the tax? How does this character apply today?
13. The priests and attendants were exempt from the Temple tax; this was a rule made up generations after Moses' Law. Was this a right thing to do? What about a pastor paying a tithe; how do these relate?
14. How would the Church and society benefit if Christians always focused on His truth and not our rights?
15. How would you react if you were Peter and you found a coin in a fish? Remember, he is a hardened fisherman, and this is normally an impossible fairy tale.
16. Has it hit you that with faith, nothing is impossible, that you can stretch beyond your own ideas and experiences? What would that mean to you? What would your life look like if you lived by this kind of faith? How has this happened to you? If not, what do you need to do to make this happen?
17. There has to be a time when we take what we have learned and apply it. Yet, most Christians will never really apply their faith. Why is that?
18. What can your church do to motivate and encourage its people who moan and object to a stretch in their faith?
19. What can you do to avoid becoming frustrated and giving up with your faith when faced with the realities of daily life and/or failure?
20. What are you going to do so you do not let your lack of willingness to grow in the faith rob you of His plan for you?
© 2004, Richard J. Krejcir, Ph.D. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership, www.churchleadership.org