O faithless and perverse generation

Matthew 17:17
Then Jesus answered and said, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him here to Me.”

After an early-morning appointment today, I stopped by to visit my wife’s grave. Every time I go there, I look at the short time we had together, and I think about all the might-have-beens. I can’t help but feel some regret for the things I didn’t do or might have done better, and I wonder how different I might have acted if I had known she would be gone so soon. The time we had was good, and I am truly blessed to have had two years to know her–and to be changed by knowing her. But I still ask myself: Could I have made any difference in her life that last week, that last month? I don’t know. But I do know this: if I had known she was leaving us so soon, I surely would have done things differently.

Jesus warned His disciples that He would be leaving them soon, even slain by those He came to save. It’s not like Jesus was subtle about telling them He was to die.

Matthew 16:21-23
21 From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.
22 Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!”
23 But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”

He was pretty straightforward, and as we see here, He rebuked them when they denied that He would die. And on that final walk toward Jerusalem, He said it plainly again:

Matthew 20:17-19
17 Now Jesus, going up to Jerusalem, took the twelve disciples aside on the road and said to them,
18 “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death,
19 “and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify. And the third day He will rise again.”

Nonetheless, the disciples did not avail themselves of their Master’s teachings as much as they might. They denied that He would die, they argued over who would be next to Him in heaven, they blundered along as if there would always be a tomorrow. And yet, there was not another tomorrow, not another day to sit at the Teacher’s feet and learn the Word of God. There was not another chance to see Him heal another blind man or a leper or an invalid. There was not another day to break bread with Jesus and share wine and conversation with the One who spoke with such authority and grace.

John 12:35-36
35 Then Jesus said to them, “A little while longer the light is with you. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you; he who walks in darkness does not know where he is going.
36 “While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” These things Jesus spoke, and departed, and was hidden from them.

And so, in today’s verse, Jesus rebukes them once again, reminding them that He will not be with them for much longer. He is essentially telling them they will soon have to stand on their own two feet. They will have to go out just as He sent them before, but this time they will not be able to simply bring their problems back to Him to solve, because He will have gone home to the Father.

John 14:25-26
25 “These things I have spoken to you while being present with you.
26 “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.”

The Holy Spirit came to help them remember all that Jesus taught them, and all that He did, and all that they were to do. The Holy Spirit came to bring them the faith they needed to overcome all obstacles. The Holy Spirit came to remind them of the hope, to confirm for them the things that Jesus had promised while He was still with them.

Matthew 26:75
And Peter remembered the word of Jesus who had said to him, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” So he went out and wept bitterly.

That night that Peter denied his Lord three times, do we not think he wept in bitter regret? Wasn’t he filled with remorse for not having listened better, not having learned more? Even though Jesus had rebuked him for denying He was to die, didn’t Peter wish he could have done something to save his Master? Even as they hid from Jesus’ persecutors, weren’t all the disciples wondering if they might have done something differently? It is entirely human for us to regret, to look back at a bad situation and wish we’d done something different. You can be sure that in those three days between Jesus’ arrest and His resurrection, the disciples were wallowing in regret and doubt and fear and uncertainty. Despite having seen people raised from the dead, they still wondered how Jesus Himself would, as He had promised, be raised on the third day.

We can look back now and give thanks to God that He raised Jesus to new life and glory. We can look back and shake our heads at those disciples for being of “little faith.” But we are no better.

We are among a “faithless and perverse generation” right now. Even within the church of Jesus Christ, we have people who do not avail themselves of the salvation and healing Christ offers. Even among those who lay claim to the label “Christian,” there are those who are of little faith and little hope, who simply are along for the ride. Christianity has its own generation of “fellow travelers,” people who tag along but don’t participate, who don’t seek the deeper things of God.

John 6:61-66
61 When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, “Does this offend you?
62 “What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before?
63 “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.
64 “But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him.
65 And He said, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.”
66 From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.

Many turn back even today, because the hard teachings of sin and salvation aren’t as appealing to them as teachings about love and forgiveness. For what are we forgiven if not for sin? For what do we seek mercy if not to be saved from the judgment for our sin? The salvation that was paid for on the Cross was salvation from the death we deserve for our sinfulness and rebellion against God, for our lack of faith and love for Him, for being a “faithless and perverse generation.” But Jesus offers a better way, a way toward life, and it is a way that started with His death and resurrection.

John 6:67-69
67 Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?”
68 But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.
69 “Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

It is time for people to stop simply tagging along with Jesus as followers and become His true disciples. It is time to stop waiting for Him and start doing what He set for us to do. We have the very Word of God before us, the true “words of life,” and yet we do not avail ourselves of the Bible as we should. We skim through our Bibles as if looking only for the stuff that makes sense, instead of digging deeper to learn the harder lessons. We skip over the parts about judgment and righteousness to get to the words about love and grace, never thinking for a moment that the love of God makes no difference if we do not love Him in return–loving not only who He is but also all that He loves: righteousness, goodness, and, yes, faithfulness. We have got to stop being such a faithless and perverse generation and raise up a faithful and righteous generation. We have got to avail ourselves of the mercy of God while we still can–not just for ourselves but for all those we can reach with the gospel.

I look back at the times I had with my wife, and I do wonder what I might have done differently. I have the luxury to do that right now. But when Jesus returns on clouds of glory to call us all to judgment, we won’t be able to look back and wonder. Jesus will not ask us, “What would you have done differently?” The bare facts of our lives will be on display before the Righteous Judge, and He will look at our faith and the fruit thereof, and He will judge us not on what we MIGHT have done but on what we actually DID. We cannot afford to continue to be part of a faithless and perverse generation until it is too late to regret. My prayer is that we would instead avail ourselves of faith in Christ, the mercy of God, and the power of the Holy Spirit to bring revival and grace to our world.

Lord God, we thank You for Your forgiveness and mercy–not only for our sins that were paid for on the Cross, but also for Your forbearance at our faithlessness and doubt. Help my unbelief, Lord, and help me learn integrity and not perversion, learn single-minded faith and not doubt and uncertainty. Teach me, O Lord, while I still have You in this life, and help me to teach others, too, so that all in this generation should come to repentance. Amen.

About Glenn Pettit

I am a deacon at The Well of Iowa, and a father and grandfather. Called to teach and to preach, I write fresh messages about the Bible every now and then.
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