The Frustration Of Jesus


Life with Jesus’ disciples was not all perfume and roses. The one thing that frustrated Him above everything else was their persistent unbelief. There were times when His patience ran out; like the time when He came down from the Mount of Transfiguration to find them battling to get a demon out of an epileptic boy. I wonder if they eventually reverted to the tactics of the prophets of Baal when the stubborn demon would just not come out!

When Jesus arrived on the scene, He was met by an equally frustrated father. He expressed His impatience with His disciples in no uncertain terms!

‘O 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.’ (Matt. 17: 17)

Eugene Peterson captured the sense of Jesus’s words beautifully in his paraphrase:

‘What a generation! No sense of God! No focus to your lives! How many times do I have to go over these things? How much longer do I have to put up with this? Bring the boy here.’ (Matt 17: 17, The Message)

When the disciples questioned Him later about their powerlessness to drive out the demon, His reply was blunt and to-the-point.

‘Because you have so little faith.’ (Matt. 17: 20a)

Their faith must have been non-existent at that point because He went on to tell them,

I tell you the truth, 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.’ (Matt. 17: 20b)

Some manuscripts add:

‘But this kind does not come out but by prayer and fasting.’ (Matt. 17: 20 – margin)

The amount of faith was not the issue. In the end it was the object of their faith that counted. What did Jesus mean by “prayer and fasting”? Was this a particularly nasty and tenacious demon that needed more than mustard-seed-sized faith? Did prayer and fasting have to do with the authority that comes from submission? Jesus spent forty days in prayer and fasting while the devil tested His submission to the Father. The authority He exercised after that episode startled the people. Whatever He meant, the disciples were still in kindergarten as far as authority was concerned.

Another time they were on their way across the lake when a massive storm hit. Where was Jesus? Amazingly enough, asleep in the back of the boat! The disciples battled to keep the boat from capsizing but, in the end they panicked. What was wrong with Jesus? Didn’t He realise the danger they were in? They woke Him with a sharp rebuke. Nonchalantly Jesus got up and spoke to the wind. As suddenly as the storm blew in, it blew away. Silence! Calm!

The disciples were stunned. How did He do that? His retort? “Not, ‘what’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with you? Where is your faith? Don’t you trust me?” They were supposed to be His disciples – people who trusted their rabbi implicitly. It was going to be a long journey for them – to learn to trust what He said even when things appeared to go wrong especially as they began to realise that He was no ordinary man.

What was the goal of His relationship with His disciples? Unlike any other rabbi, He craved to be one with them and that they be one with Him. Without the union of His Spirit with theirs, and the intimacy that this union would produce, His mission on earth was doomed to fail. Union and unity was the hallmark of the Godhead. For Jesus, His goal for Himself and His disciples was no less.

He used a beautiful image to describe the intimacy of that union.

I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15: 5)

The fruitfulness of their lives was to be much more that preaching, teaching and doing the works of Jesus. Their fruit was to be the evidence of their union with Him, like the fruit of a tree is evidence of the nature of the tree.

If you love me, you will obey what I command. (John 14: 15)

Their love for Jesus, evidenced by their obedience and submission to Him, would be the glue that bound each one to Him. The surprising question Jesus asked Peter after Peter’s lamentable denial was not, “Peter, are you sorry for what you did?” or “Peter, do you promise never to do it again?” but “Peter, do you love me?” Jesus knew that only true love, the love that valued Jesus and what He stood for enough to lose everything for His sake, was what would keep the bond intact.

To be one with Jesus meant that they would allow Him to be their source – under His authority, submitted to His will and obedient to His instructions. Like the branches in the vine, the life of the vine flowing into the branches would sustain the branches and provide the nourishment to produce an abundance of fruit.

Scripture is taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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