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Discouraged Disciples
by Gordon Lang
Not For Sale
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“It happened again this morning, Tobias.” Mary’s soft voice greeted him as he closed the door to their small house. Tobias grimaced in emotional pain, as he hung his cloak on the peg by the door.

“Is he alright?” Tobias asked hesitantly, dreading the answer.

“He has a bruise, just under his left eye, where he hit the table as he fell,” Mary replied quietly. “Oh, Tobias, what are we going to do! He is still so young – is this how he will have to live his life? We can’t leave him by himself – how will he ever survive?” Her voice was filled with a mother’s apprehension as she expressed the questions that had plagued Tobias countless times before.

“At least he wasn’t tending the fire this time,” the relief was evident in his voice. They both remembered the incident a few weeks prior when Mary had entered the room just in time to see their son stumble, and pitch headlong toward the flames of the open hearth. He had managed to catch himself, even as he fell, but the incident had caused him to collapse in a heap – just inches from the fire. Although he had recovered in a few days, his hair had been badly singed, and his arm had been scraped on the rough stones,. Even now, the memory caused them both to shudder, considering what might have happened.

As he approached the cot, Tobias saw his son lying in a dazed stupor, where his mother had left him. Taking the cloth from the basin beside the cot, he gingerly squeezed a few drops of cool water on the swollen bruise. The boy’s eyelids flickered, then once again assumed that fixed, vacant stare of the unconscious.

“Matthias,” he agonized, “what is to be done for you?” If only he had more wisdom, he would know how to handle the situation. If they had more money, they could take him to a physician, but neither possibility could be viewed as a viable option. The eyelids of his son blinked once more, as if in acknowledgment of his question, the pupils dilated, and the look of recognition returned to his young face.

“Papa?” the weak voice trembled, “where am I? what happened?” His trembling hand reached up to wipe away a trickle of water from his cheek. The child winced as his hand brushed the swollen bruise, and a look of recognition crossed his face. “Oh Papa, not again!” he groaned, then dissolved into tears of shame. The memory of prior incidents flooded his mind – when some of his friends had mimicked his ordeal, and when some of the neighborhood parents had forbidden their children to play with him any more. The agony of embarrassment was too much to take just now, so he closed his eyes tightly in an effort to shut out the cruelty of the world.

“It’s alright, Matthias,” Tobias tried to soothe his son, “you are at home now – try to get some rest”. The child settled back on the cot, drifting into a deep sleep. As he kept a troubled vigil over his son, Tobias became aware that Mary was standing in the doorway, watching the painful inter-action between father and son. He turned to recognize her, as she laid a trembling hand on his shoulder, and they both took a few moments to silently grieve over the plight of their son. He was too young to have to bear such a burden, but no one seemed to be able to help them. After a moment of stillness, Tobias nodded silently to her, and they both slipped out of the room, leaving Matthias to sleep off the emotional and physical let-down of the morning’s events.

“What shall we do?” Mary agonized for their son, as the door closed behind them.

“What can we do?” Tobias finished the unanswered question that had plagued them so often.

“They say He’s in town again…” Mary offered, referring to the Nazarene that everyone had been talking of lately. “Some people say he is a prophet, like Elijah!”

“We will need an Elijah to help us”, Tobias agreed, “I will take Matthias to see him in the morning, but first he will need to have much rest.” As they quietly closed the door, both parents were aware that they were not likely to see their son awake before tomorrow’s dawn.

“There is someone that I want you to meet today, Matthias, so hurry with your breakfast, and we will go into town this morning” The lad did not need a second urging, and, with a sense of expectation, he was soon ready to accompany his father. He kissed his mother and turned to follow his father to the shops in the center of town.

Approaching the town square, Tobias recognized the broad-shouldered trio of fishermen that were always associated with the Nazarene, but where was the One he was seeking? No matter, he would approach them, and simply ask directions. Taking his son by the elbow, they came upon the tall one who seemed to be doing all the talking.

“Excuse me,” Tobias started, “are you the disciples of Jesus of Nazareth?”

“We are,” came the reply, “but He is not here right now. We don’t know when he will be back – we thought He would have returned by now.”

“Could you help me then?” Tobias agonized, as he felt the hope that had fuelled his expectations now begin to waver. “I brought my son to see him,” he continued, “he often stiffens out, and falls, hurting himself. Sometimes he foams at the mouth and grinds his teeth, then he just collapses, and goes into convulsions. Can you help me – please?”

“It sounds like an evil spirit,” the vocal one mused, “remember the time that happened in Nazareth? Jesus cast it out with a simple word – and then he said that we could do the same thing!” His voice was excited now, anticipating the opportunity to duplicate what he had seen his master do.

“Please, try!” Tobias implored, “I don’t want to take him back to his mother in this condition!”

Placing his hands on the boy’s head, as he had seen his Master do, the talkative one spoke with authority – “Evil spirit – come out of him!”

Matthias collapsed stiffly into Tobias’ arms, and his body began to convulse violently. Saliva dribbled down his left cheek, as the father buckled under the weight of his son, and they both tumbled onto the rough pavement. A crowd began to assemble as Tobias gathered his son in his arms and wept bitter tears of disappointment.

“Why did I dare to believe?” Tobias chided himself silently, “these men are not Elijah!” His son’s body was still now, but the tears continued to stream down Matthias’ face.

“What is the matter, Son?” he heard a calm voice ask. Raising his head, Tobias realized that he was looking into the compassionate face of the Nazarene.

“Teacher, I brought my son to your disciples,” he began, explaining the cause of the aching disappointment that now enveloped him, “but they could not help us!”

“This unbelieving generation,” he heard the Teacher mutter, “how long will I have to put up with this?! Let me see him!” he commanded audibly.

Once again Matthias began to convulse and drool. “How long has this been going on?” the Teacher asked quietly.

“Ever since he was a child,” Tobias replied, “often it’s much worse. He falls into the water sometimes, or skins his knees on the hard rocks. But if you can do anything, Sir, please help us!”

“ ‘If you can!’” the Teacher chided, “all things are possible to the one who believes.”

“Oh, Teacher, I do believe!” Tobias affirmed quickly, then, as an after-thought, he heard himself mutter, “please – help me with my unbelief!”

A crowd was gathering now, and, not wanting anyone to interrupt, Tobias found himself silently urging the Teacher to “please, hurry!”

"You deaf and mute spirit, I command you, come out of him and do not enter him again." That’s all He said – but it brought an immediate response. An inhuman howl escaped from the boy’s mouth, as his body was once again thrown into violent convulsions. Then, just as suddenly, he collapsed in silence.

“He’s dead!” someone muttered, echoing the thought of horror that raced through Tobias’ mind. Desperation threatened to overwhelm him – what would he tell Mary? How could he face her with the horrible truth? Without any further words, the Teacher simply took Matthias by the hand and raised him to his feet. The boy blinked against the brightness of the sunlight, then his eyes met those of his father. In a moment of mutual recognition, both father and son knew that the scenario would never again be repeated. There would be no more public embarrassment! No more painful cuts and bruises! No more parental fears and apprehensions! Tears of joy flowed freely down both of their faces, as they locked in an embrace of relief and ecstasy.

The Teacher and His disciples took one last look of pleasure at the jubilant pair just before they rounded the corner by the tanner’s shop.

“Lord, what did we do wrong? Why couldn’t we cast it out?” queried the talkative one – echoing the thoughts of the curious trio. They had done everything that they had seen the Master do – they had said the same words, they had used the same tone of voice, they had even dared to believe that they would witness the same results. They had tried so hard to prove themselves to be good disciples – but they had failed! What went wrong?!

“How much time have you spent in prayer lately?” the Teacher pondered, as a stab of remorse hit each questioning spirit. “It’s the only way to conquer this type of demon” He affirmed, as each of them resolved to make every effort in their busy day for extra time with their Heavenly Father.

It was not simply another day in the ministry of Jesus the Christ, it was the day that God the Father had chosen to glorify His Son. The disciples who had been chosen to witness the event were still reveling in the wonder of the moment, likely trying to determine how to appropriate the material for the three tabernacles that Peter had promised to erect on the mountaintop. Those who had experienced the glory probably spent the trip down from the summit in much contemplation, but, upon their return to the village, they were immediately confronted with the reality of the ministry. Such is the experience of many believers, making it easy to relate to the encounter that awaited the excited disciples. Surely we can all relate to the chain-of-events that seem to accompany many of our most glorious experiences in the Kingdom. No matter how exhilarating the encounter may have been, there is so often that jarring return to reality. Though it would be spiritually stimulating to remain on the mountaintop, the ministry to those who need the Master’s touch most often takes place back in the valley. This is where the majority of the people dwell, this is where they experience their trials and tribulations, and this is where they cry for help that can only be found in Jesus of Nazareth.

When Tobias could not actually locate the One that he was seeking, he approached His disciples. It was a logical move, recognizing that the disciple should, after a time of intense training, be as the Lord. Even in our experience, the concept of discipleship should bring us to a place of being like our Lord. Tobias’ expectation appears to have been that, bringing his son to the disciples, would achieve the same results as approaching the Master directly. Much to his chagrin, such was not the case. Rather than finding release and healing for his son, Tobias met only confusion and disappointment. His final analysis of the situation was summed up in the desperate statement – “I brought my son to Your disciples, but they were not able to help.” Before we inflict too harsh a judgement on the ineffectiveness of the disciples’ ministry, we need to examine our own success rate in ministering to those who approach us in the hope of finding a solution to their needs. First of all, do we have a reputation of being His disciples to the extent that people will approach us with their problems and expect that we will be able to minister to them? Then, have we spent enough time observing the ministry of Jesus that we know even where to begin ministering to the needs of others? Finally, in the face of apparent defeat, do we have the humility to seek the Lord’s counsel as to how we might have erred in our attempts?

How do we handle what appears to be failure in our ministry? We could easily become discouraged, simply refusing to try again for fear of repeated embarrassment, or rationalizing that perhaps God doesn’t want us to move in that area of ministry. The disciples, however, took the problem directly to the Lord, in the form of the straightforward question – Why could we not cast it out? Why didn’t it work for us – how could we have achieved better results? Such is a question of humility, but it brought a workable answer that they could apply to future situations. From the experience, they learned a lesson about the necessity of prayer and fasting in the life and ministry of a believer. We would all do well to learn that lesson for ourselves.

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Member Comments
Member Date
Joyce Poet 07 Jul 2004
You've taken that story and given it color... bringing it into today is such a creative fashion. When I first started reading, I didn't realize what you were doing... retelling the story. I immediately thought about my own son and his deliverance from seizures... but that's an entirely different lesson than that of the point you were making here. My son, Daniel's story is called 'A Beautiful Gift.' Either revelation from the story of Matthias all goes back to the same thing though... "help me with my unbelief" and "STAY in prayer." I'm sure I will not soon forget the new revelation you've given to me here about our ministries. Thank you, thank you, thank you for planting seeds! May you reap a most bountiful harvest.


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