Resisting Faith in Jesus: Matthew 13:54-17:27
The narrative portion of this section runs from 13:54–17:27 and includes thirteen episodes that report different ways in which all but one woman resisted putting their full faith in Jesus.
The first two episodes focus on two times when faith in Jesus was entirely rejected. First, when Jesus came to his hometown in Nazareth, in 13:54-58, his former neighbors did not dispute his ability to do miracles. But they still took offense and rejected him. In 13:58 we read that the people of Nazareth did not receive many miracles because they lacked faith.
Next, 14:1-12 is about Herod and the death of John the Baptist. Herod deserved the judgment of God for what he did to John. But more than this, verse 1 explains that Herod did not dispute the reports of Jesus’ miracles. Instead, his advisors believed that Jesus was John the Baptist come back from the dead to trouble Herod.
The next three episodes focus on Jesus’ disciples and how they needed to grow in faith. Matthew 14:13-21 is the story of Jesus feeding five thousand. Jesus told the disciples to feed the crowd that followed him, but in verse 15 his disciples doubted and complained that he had too little food. So, Jesus proved his power by multiplying their food and feeding five thousand with plenty to spare.
In 14:22-36, Jesus walked on water. At first, Peter showed confidence in Jesus by stepping out of the boat, but Peter doubted when he saw the danger and began to sink into the sea. After rescuing him, Jesus commented in verse 31, “You of little faith… why did you doubt?”
Chapter 15:1-20 reports a conflict between Jesus and some Pharisees. Peter asked Jesus for an explanation of something simple that Jesus had said. So, in verse 16, Jesus replied disapprovingly, “Are you still so dull?”
In 15:21-28, we have the only time in these episodes when someone firmly believed in Jesus — a Canaanite woman with a demon-possessed daughter. Unlike others, she begged Jesus to help her. And in verse 28 Jesus responded approvingly by saying, “Woman, you have great faith!”
Matthew then returned to the weak faith of Jesus’ disciples. In 15:29-39, he wrote about the feeding of four thousand. In verse 33, the disciples asked where they could find enough food, even though they had seen Jesus feed five thousand earlier.
In 16:1-12, Jesus debated with the Pharisees and Sadducees. At one point, he turned to his disciples and warned them of “the yeast of the Pharisees,” and they thought he was angry because they had not brought bread with them. But Jesus reminded them of the times when he had made bread for thousands, and in verse 8 he called his disciples, “you of little faith.”
Following this, we find two closely related episodes. On the one hand, Peter’s well-known confession of faith in 16:13-20. In 16:16, Peter declared of Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus praised and blessed Peter for his faith.
But on the other hand, in 16:21-27, Jesus rebuked Peter just as strongly. Jesus began to tell the disciples that he was going to Jerusalem to suffer and die. When Peter objected, Jesus replied harshly in verse 23: “Get behind me, Satan.” Jesus explained that Peter was thinking like men and not like God.
Following this rebuke, we come to Jesus’ transfiguration in 17:1-13. When the disciples saw Jesus in his glory, they wanted to build a shrine at the place. But in verse 12, Jesus reminded them that his true glory would be seen only after he died and was resurrected.
In 17:14-23, we read of a young demoniac. Jesus’ disciples had tried but failed to cast out the demon. After doing it himself Jesus said in verse 20, “You have too little faith.”
Finally, in 17:24-27, collectors came to Jesus’ disciples and asked if Jesus paid the temple tax. Peter replied quickly, and probably out of fear, that Jesus did pay. Then later Peter came to Jesus for the money, and Jesus provided by performing a miracle and explained that Peter had no reason to be concerned.
Matthew mentioned those who rejected Jesus and the believing Canaanite woman, but his main focus was on the need for his disciples to grow in their faith in him.