Lessons Learned in Failure

Reading Time: 7 Minutes

When Jesus returned from the mountain where he was transfigured (Matthew 17.1-8), he was confronted with the failure of nine of his close followers. The scene is as follows:

When they came to the crowd, a man came to him, knelt before him, and said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly; he often falls into the fire and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, but they could not cure him.”

Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him here to me.” And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was cured instantly.

Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?”

He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17.14-20)

Success and Failure

Earlier in their walk with Jesus, the disciples were sent out on their own with authority and power over demons. They were successful and reported the success of their mission saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” (Luke 10.17).

This time, however, they were not successful. The father was not willing to give up the hope of healing for his child and he appealed to Jesus for help. Jesus healed the child, and at the same time helped his followers learn a valuable lesson.

Let’s go to school today and use this passage learn more of how to live our lives like Jesus taught his disciples.

Ignore the Lesson

(1) The worst thing we can do with this lesson is to believe that what we have read can only happen within the pages of the Bible. I wonder how many people have not been healed or delivered from evil, because Christians didn’t believe that this kind of ministry could be done by them?

We have every opportunity to do great good in the area of promoting health and setting people free from evil. As we live out our faith, we can and should expect God to work through us for the health and well-being of others.

I am still captured by the story of Mark Baker, who has befriended some people in a homeless camp. Mark gave one man a Bible and he is now leading a Bible study in that camp. How many people will receive healing and freedom because of Mark and this man only God knows. However, we can rejoice in what God has done so far.

Please don’t let the stories of healing and deliverance stay closed in the pages of your Bible. Ask God to show you how they can direct your service today.

Grief Over Unbelief

(2) When people react to God’s loving action in their lives with unbelief and unresponsiveness, it grieves the Lord. Jesus’s words are painful to hear, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you?” (verse 17).

Moses had a similar reaction to the people of his day. His words expand on what it means for people to be faithless and perverse. He said,

“The Rock, his work is perfect,
and all his ways are just.
A faithful God, without deceit,
just and upright is he;
yet his degenerate children have dealt falsely with him,
a perverse and crooked generation.
For they are a perverse generation,
children in whom there is no faithfulness.
They made me jealous with what is no god,
provoked me with their idols.”
(Deuteronomy 32.4-5, 20-21)

The words of Jesus and Moses reveal why our society is so plagued with illness, violence and evil. We have substituted our Rock (God), who is completely faithful, just and upright, for idols. We give our allegiance to a political party, to money, to sports and entertainment stars, and especially to our own self-will.

Jesus has every right to declare about us, “faithless and crooked generation!”

We can’t change the generation in which we live, but we can change our own lives. We can turn to Jesus and live in a faithful relationship with him. We can be people who put God first in all things and serve him in a manner worthy of his character. Like the mustard seed in another parable (Matthew 14.31-32), our commitment will grow and will have an influence.

Faith is Needed

(3) The disciples wanted to adjust their lives to join Jesus in his healing ministry. They asked him show them the nature of their failure.

He said, “Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” (verse 20).

Let’s not get confused with Jesus’ words. “Little faith” implies that we need more faith. However, “faith the size of a mustard seed” is about as small a size of faith that a person can have. What is Jesus saying to us?

I think Jesus is saying that we either have faith in God or we don’t. Sometimes, we have faith in our own faith, but that is not faith in God.

We don’t know the whole story, but it is possible that since the disciples had previously freed people from demons they believed they could do it again without drawing on God’s power. Their faith in their own faith or abilities left the child still oppressed by a demon. Their faith needed to be placed in the only place worthy of trust, God.

Faith is always developed in a relationship. We don’t give our car keys to a stranger, but we will freely give them to a trusted friend. Our relationship with one and lack of it with the other is the foundation of our ability to trust that person.

The generation that has multitudes of idols more important to them than God demonstrates both lack of relationship and of faith. When we get to know God through prayer, worship, Bible reading and obedience, we will deepen our level of trust. This will revolutionize our lives and give us the ability to heal and deliver our troubled society.

Today’s Prayer

Dear Jesus, we must first ask your forgiveness for the many ways that we resemble the faithless and perverse generation that Moses and you spoke about. We are guilty of giving our allegiance to lesser people and things. Please open our eyes to our idols and draw deeper in a relationship with you.


  1. Our Wednesday ladies group has been dealing with idols the past few weeks in our daily reading time. We’ve been focusing on making room for more of God’s power by releasing our selfish anxieties, doubts, fears, and self-centered guilt, as well as the more commonly discussed idols rooted in greed, coveting and pride.

    As I read this passage about the disciples being unable to heal, I know there are many possibilities for their faithlessness. Perhaps, as you say, they had experienced some success so thought they could go it alone and failed. Perhaps they began to take their ability for granted and stopped thanking God for His provision. Or, maybe healing and casting out demons became more of a “side show” – in the name of spreading the Gospel the disciples tried to make it an entertainment venue rather than an act of worship. We don’t really know the details, but we can imagine based on how we often respond to a bit of spiritual success.

    Whatever the reason, these words of our Lord sting. To be called faithless and perverse by the Man they had previously given up everything to follow? Can you imagine the indignation of some? Or the absolute devastation of others? To suffer that kind of verbal rejection must have resulted in many conflicting emotions. Don’t you think some must have “gotten in their feelings” about this rebuke? And yet, we don’t read of a mass exodus from the group. As Scripture continues, it appears these men continued to follow Christ and become more like Him. We would do well today to rid ourselves of the need to be right, to be applauded, to be extolled – all of those idolic emotions placed before our relationship with our Father. As we come under conviction by Him, our response should be of contrition and repentance, not debilitating guilt. As we give up our rights to hold on to any of these emotions, we can experience more of the wonders God has. We can see our prayers work in mighty ways. We can see the seeds we plant grow and produce other seeds.

    Today, Jesus, I take Your words in verse 20 and say “Here is my faith – small in comparison to Your power – use my prayers to affect Your will in the lives of our church, in my neighborhood, in my family. Heal broken spirits, cast out wickedness and selfish ambition. May I live my words, Jesus…more of You, less of me.” Amen

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