Matthew 17:14-20 – 1968 Jets, Janet Kennedy and Faith Against All Odds

Posted: January 26, 2016 in Gospel of Matthew

Matthew 17:14-20
Jesus Heals a Demon-Possessed Boy

As we approach Super Bowl 50 in less than 2 weeks now, we must drift back to the one Super Bowl that ensured its continued existence. You have to go back to the Super Bowl that followed the 1968 pro football season, Super Bowl III. In the previous two Super Bowls, the mighty Green Bay Packers from the National Football League (NFL) had embarrassed the best the upstart American Football League (AFL) had to offer, the 1966 Kansas City Chiefs and the 1967 Oakland Raiders. After those two Super Bowls, there was talk of Super Bowl III being the last one. The first two games were not competitive and the NFL hierarchy saw no benefit for its teams playing in this game. Along come the 1968 New York Jets and there brash, young, good looking, single, debonair quarterback, Joe Namath. He was the symbol of the AFL, young, brash and a lot of talk. He was cocky and confident. He went as far as “guaranteeing” a win against the mighty Baltimore Colts (now Indianapolis). The 1968 Colts, coached by Don Shula, was a bruising football team. They were a complete team. They had a great offense led by aging by still effective Johnny Unitas (although he was injured in the middle of the season and Earl Morrall led the team through the second of the season, the playoffs and started most of the Super Bowl) and were averaging 28.75 points per game coming into the Super Bowl and were giving up only 9.88 points per game. The offensive production was very good even by today’s less defensive football. But can you imagine a team today only giving up less than 10 points a game in the NFL. No one gave the Jets a chance. Everyone thought that Joe Namath was just giving himself false hope and using the occasion to make headlines for himself. The disbelief in the Jets was major. They were 18 point underdogs coming into the game. In betting circles, that’s a huge differential. It was truly considered a David & Goliath game. The Jets reaching the Super Bowl was even considered a major coup for them in their own league. The Oakland Raiders were the class of the league and the Jets upset them in the AFL championship game the week before. No one outside the Jets locker room gave the Jets a chance.

How did that game turn out? It was the biggest upset in sports history up to that point. It saved the Super Bowl. The Jets won 16-7. The thing that Joe Namath knew and counted on was the team speed of the Jets compared to that of the Colts. The Jets held the vaunted Colts offense to one late touchdown after the game was virtually out of reach. The Jets did not beat the Colts with Joe’s arm but with amazingly their running game and their defense. It was strength and speed. Many of the Jets players have since said that they did not mind Joe’s brash prediction because they all felt that way. The Colts were slow and they were predictable. Without that victory, the Super Bowl would have died. The NFL and AFL would not have merged. And pro football would not be the behometh money making enterprise that it is now with enough money to pay players huge salaries and make team owners even richer. Several of the most valuable sports enterprises in all of sports worldwide are NFL football teams. It changed things for players too. Bench warmers make more in the NFL in 2016 than some of the superstars of the 1968 Jets and Colts. One game. It changed everything. The faith of one football team in themselves saved an upstart league from being the minor leagues of pro football and propelled the NFL into the dominating pro sport in the United States and maybe even the world. The faith of one team changed everything.

Faith is the subject of today’s passage, we are talking about faith in God and not faith in the 1968 Jets but the idea is the same. We must trust God even when we think we cannot do something and it seems highly impossible. Sometimes, sports teaches us life lessons about our relationship with God that we need to know. Let’s read the passage, Matthew 17:14-20 together. Here goes…

14 When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. 15 “Lord, have mercy on my son,” he said. “He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. 16 I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.” 17 “You 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.” 18 Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed at that moment. 19 Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” 20 He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, 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.”

Why is it that we lack faith in God? We know that He is the Creator. We know that He made this intricate and interrelated and interdependent earth that we live in. We see evidence of His greatness each day even in the simplest things. I was just noting that yesterday at lunch with my wife. She has a flower that she is trying to nurture into a full fledged plant in a cup of dirt on the dining area window sill. I don’t know what the process is called that makes plants turn themselves toward the sun but it is there and it is evident as you check on the plant during the course of the day. Is that not evidence of our Creator’s grand design. Plants have no mind. No cogent thoughts. But their Creator gave their cells this imprint that causes them to move toward the sun to maximize the life and the processes of the plant itself. It blows your mind when you think about it. But yet we have little faith when it comes to God doing the miraculous in this day and age. I am not different.

I often times discount the worth of prayer. I know it makes me a Christian in need of maturity. My prayer life is weak because I have not matured enough in this area. I do pray frequently. I pray for others. I pray public prayers. But do I really have faith in its worth. I will often hedge my bets when I pray. Playing both sides of the street on prayed-for outcomes. If it is your will Lord…That is my prayer for healing. If it is your will Lord. Why do I not pray bold prayers? I am not recommending that we pray for a car to stop when we are standing like idiots in the middle of busy highway. God did give us a brain not to do such things and expect to live. He created our brain to be smart enough to not do stupid stuff to test Him. However, I do think many of us are like me. We don’t take prayer and faith seriously enough. We may say all the right things in prayers but do we really believe in the power of them. Do we really believe in miracles? Is our faith deep enough to pray for a young dad of three small children to be cured of the cancer that is going to take him away from his family too early. Do I really believe that God will respond? Or do I hedge my bets by saying that it’s God’s will that this dad will speak loudly through this dad as he shows his Christian faith as he deals with his cancer. Should I not be angry that we live in a sin-filled world that has brought disease and death into this world and beg for our Creator to demonstrate His mighty power in the healing of this dad. Not because I am selfish and want this but because I want God to be glorified for the victor over sin and death that He is. Do I have faith to pray to God in this way? Do I have faith to pray bold prayers of expectancy? Do I have that my God is bigger than anything that I encounter? Maybe it is His will that someone speak loudly of their faith through an illness that will ultimately take their life, but we pray for God’s great power to be demonstrated. There is a difference between selfish prayers to keep a loved on around and praying for and believing in God’s mighty power to be displayed in someone’s life who is dying of cancer. I think of Janet Kennedy. One dear friend she is to me. She has lost her husband and daughter to cancer and struggles with it herself. Her ordeal with her own cancer gives me strength through the grace and beauty with which she does not let it defeat and define her. How should I pray for her? I should pray bold prayers for this wonderful Christ follower. I should pray for God’s mighty power to be displayed through her and fully believe that God will do just that! Oh, Lord, give faith to trust what You say and leap into believing that my God can do anything for He is my Sovereign God!

Often times, we write-off following God’s call on our lives because we lack faith in His provision. I have ignored the call to ministry for many years and used many excuses. I am now part-time in ministry. But do I have the guts to make the full-time commitment to being a pastor? I say that I am following God’s calling on my life by serving as part-time administrative pastor at my church in a town we are comfortable in, in a church we are comfortable in, in group of friends that we are comfortable in, in a secular job that pays me well and allows me to contribute to my church and other causes well. Do I have the faith to go into full-time ministry? Am I just playing it safe at LifeSong and saying that I am learning under leadership? Do I really have the faith to step out and do the full-time ministry that God has called me to? Am I blinding myself to what He is calling me to because I lack the faith to trust in His provision. Am I blinding myself to see the opportunities when they come? Will I see the intersection where I need to turn into the unknown and completely trust that He will provide for me and my wife? I feel right now that He has not made it clear yet and I trust that He will when the time comes what my path should be. He is a God that will make our path clear and known. He will make me uncomfortable in my comfort zone. He will let me know when it is time to leave the filling station that I am at now presently. However, when that time comes (and trust and have faith that it has not come yet), will I have the faith to step out of what I know so well in my life at LifeSong and the people that I serve with and the people that I serve there and step out into the unknown where all Elena and I have is our faith in the provision of God? Will I have the faith to keep going when things seem bleakest? Will we have the faith to know that it is time to leave all the things that we love about where we are right now and make the jump! How big is my God. How much faith do I really have in Him. Do I trust Him enough to walk away from my comfort zone? How much faith do I really have? Jesus says that if we have just a little faith by His standards (a big faith by ours) that God will do mighty things through us and for us? Oh, Lord, give me faith to trust and leap into the unknown holding on only to your Hand.

Let me have that 1968 Jets’ team faith that they would defeat the Colts when NO ONE else believed them, not even their own fans. Give me that faith. Give me the faith to believe that anything is possible and nothing is impossible with my God. Give me the faith to really, really, really deep down in my soul believe in that God – the God of the impossible. That God that has my back in all situations. Help me to really, really, really believe that. Help me to see you as mighty regardless of the situation and circumstance. For You are God. You are mighty. Amen and amen.

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