2019-7-14 Coming Down from the Mountain

Coming Down from the Mountain
Mark 9:14-32
July 14, 2019

And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. 15 And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him. 16 And he asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” 17 And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. 18 And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” 19 And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” 20 And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. 21 And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” 23 And Jesus said to him, “ ‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” 25 And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” 26 And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. 28 And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” 29 And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”

30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.[1]

Prayer of Illumination:

O Lord, we are naturally deadened to your word, unable to hear it and believe it. May you give us eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts that can understand. In Christ Jesus, amen.

Last week, we saw a glimpse of Jesus’ eternal glory. He went up on the mountain with Peter, James, and John and he was transfigured before their very eyes. They saw his glory. It is a glory concealed and hidden in the incarnation. The three disciples got a glimpse of that eternal glory, just as Moses got a glimpse of it on Mt. Sinai.

When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai after receiving the Ten Commandments from God, he found a mess. The people had taken all of their gold and bronze, melted it down, and made an idol. The people had sinned in making a golden calf.

As Jesus comes down, his glory is hidden again. It’s hidden because the people had a misunderstanding about the Christ. We’ve seen that the last two week. The disciples have misunderstood and struggled with Jesus’ statement that he must suffer many things at the hands of the leaders, be killed, but on the third day rise from the dead. They expected that the Christ would overthrow Rome and restore Israel.

But Jesus has said that he has come to be an atoning sacrifice for our sin. That was his purpose. He came to defeat Satan and sin. When Jesus comes down the mountain, he finds a mess. What he finds is Satan and sin.

Satanic Attack

As Jesus reaches the nine disciples that he left, he finds a crowd surrounding them. The crowd, which has scribes in it, is arguing with the disciples. This is not a little disagreement. They are not arguing over whether Burger King is better than McDonalds. They’re having a knock-down drag-out argument. This is combative. They might have been yelling.

Jesus comes and sees the crowd arguing with his disciples and he asks, “What are you arguing about with them? And someone from the crowd answered him, ‘Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid.’”

This sounds like the boy has epilepsy. But a few verses later we read, “And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth”.

This is more than just epilepsy. This is a satanic attack. Satan is attacking this boy through one of his legion of demons. We know it’s not epilepsy because when the boy sees Jesus, he convulsed, fell to the ground, rolled about, and foamed at the mouth. This is not something new. This is has been going on for the boy’s entire life. We read in verses 21 and 22 that this has been happening “from childhood. And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him”. This is a satanic attack.

Satan’s ultimate goal is to destroy what God has made. That is what he does. This is what he has done since Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. He continues to seek to destroy God’s creation. In particular, he seeks to destroy the image of God.

Satan is very subtle in his attack. He often attacks us by tempting us to sin. When he tempts us to sin, he isn’t saying, “Do this and you’ll die.” He is so much more subtle. He tempts us to sin and says, “Hey, it feels good. Give in. You can quit anytime you like”.

J.R.R. Tolkien understood this. He understood that Satan is subtle in how he tempts people. In his book The Two Towers, he writes a scene that shows just how subtle Satan’s craft is. The Two Towers is the second book in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. At this point in the story, some of the main characters have captured the fortress of Sauruman, one of the antagonists, and they have him locked up in the very top. Sauruman is a wizard and very crafty.

The characters go up and begin to interrogate Sauruman. As they are interrogating Sauruman, he begins to speak. And he speaks it has a powerful effect on one of the characters. Tolkien writes that “[t]hose who listened unwarily to that voice could seldom report the words they heard; and if they did, they wondered, for little power remained in them. Mostly they remembered only that it was a delight to hear the voice speaking, all that it said seemed wise and reasonable, and desire awoke in them by swift agreement to seem wise themselves …For many the sound of the voice alone was enough to hold them enthralled; but for those whom it conquered the spell endured when they were far away, and they heard that soft voice whispering and urging them. But none were unmoved.”[2]

Isn’t that the most apt description of how Satan subtly speaks and spins his lies? He says, “It’s ok if you lie. It would help your case.” He says, “It’s ok to look at that person and desire them in your heart. It’s ok to save their faces and fantasize about them later.” He says, “It’s ok to hold back some of that money you’re supposed to pay to the IRS.” He says, “It’s ok to spew nasty, terrible, filthy comments online about someone.”

That’s what he did to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. He spoke with subtly and spun his lies. He said, “Did God actually say that?” As he spoke, it sounded reasonable. As he spoke, his words awoke a desire in Adam and Eve’s hearts; a desire to sin.

He is subtle in his craft to get us to sin. He tempts us and in that moment it sounds delightful; it sounds wise. But it isn’t. Satan knows that if he can convince us it is wise and delightful and ok to do it, he can convince us to do it over and over again. And in getting us to sin over and over again, Satan is trying to destroy the image of God. He seeks to mar it beyond recognition. This is his normal way of attack.

So when you hear his voice, be prepared. It will sound as though what he is saying is wise. It will sound delightful. And in the moment, it will be hard not to listen. Satan might even use words of Scripture and twist their meaning. That is what he did to Jesus in the wilderness. He tempted Jesus to sin with the words with Scripture. He attacked Jesus by twisting the words of Scripture. But know that he is and will attack you. And he will seek to destroy the image of God by causing you to become addicted to sin.

The Sin of Unbelief

It’s not just an attack from Satan that Jesus finds, it’s also unbelief. After describing the Satanic attack on his son, the man says “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” If you can do anything. This man doesn’t believe Jesus can do anything for his son.

His unbelief stems from the disciples and their lack of ability to cast out the demon. He had taken his boy to the disciples and they were unable to cast out the demon. He saw the disciples as Jesus’ representatives. And when they failed to cast the demon out, the man’s faith in Jesus was shaken.

The truth is that someone’s faith in Jesus can be shaken by the Church. People recognize that the Church is supposed to be the representative of Jesus here on the earth. And when the Church fails to represent Jesus as we are supposed to, it causes people to fall into unbelief about Jesus.

Growing up, one of my best friends experienced something similar. He grew up in the Church and his parents sent him to one of the Christian schools in town. He wasn’t an only child. He had an older sister, who is seven or eight years older than us. When we were in third grade, his sister got pregnant. She wasn’t married.

A few weeks after she told her family she was pregnant, he overheard a few of the teachers talking. The teachers were talking about her pregnancy. And what he heard was the teachers saying that they weren’t surprised that a girl like her got pregnant. They were talking about how a girl like her from a family hers would almost certainly get pregnant at 18. These teachers were Christians. And when my friend heard these comments, he heard people who are supposed to represent the Church to the world. And those words caused him to doubt Jesus. Those words caused him to fall into unbelief.

This man has fallen into the sin of unbelief because the disciples didn’t fully represent Jesus.

And Jesus responds, “ ‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” He responds by calling the man to believe. Now this verse is often taken out of context by prosperity preachers. They use this verse to support their claim that if you have enough faith, God will give you whatever you ask.  They claim that if you have enough faith, whatever sickness and illness you have God will take away if you ask. They claim that if you have enough faith, God will add to your bank account. They claim that if you have enough faith, you will not suffer. And they use this verse to support their false claims.

That is not what Jesus is teaching with these words. He is not teaching that if you have enough faith, you will get whatever you ask. Jesus is not saying that his ability to heal is conditional upon faith. Rather, Jesus is calling the man to have faith that God is bigger than he has imagined. The man has just had an experience that has caused him to doubt whether or not God is big enough to save his son. And Jesus calls the man to have faith that God is bigger than he imagines. This is the same call that Jesus gave to the hemorrhaging woman and the synagogue chief back in chapter 5.

And the man responds, “I believe; help my unbelief!” He recognizes that his faith is inadequate. The man believes that Jesus is able to do something but just barely. His faith is mixed with doubt; his belief mixed with unbelief.

J.C. Ryle writes, “We see in these words a vivid picture of the heart of many a true Christian. Among believers we find few indeed in whom trust and doubt, hope and fear, do not exist side by side. Nothing is perfect in the children of God so long as they live in the body. Their knowledge, love and humility are all more or less defective, and mingled with corruption. And as it is with their other graces, so it is with their faith. They believe, and yet have about them a remainder of unbelief.”[3]

Many of us have an element of unbelief in our faith. There are moments we doubt and question whether or not God will be faithful to his promises. There are moments we doubt and question whether or not all things will work out for our good like Paul says in Romans 8:28. We doubt and we often are afraid to say anything about it because if we say we have doubts, if we say our belief is mixed with unbelief, then maybe someone will tell us we’re not real Christians.

But this is true of Christians throughout the ages. Christians throughout the ages have had their faith mixed with doubt, their belief mixed with unbelief. Abraham doubted. He is the fountain from which Jesus was born. And his faith was mixed with doubt, belief mixed with unbelief. David doubted. Read the psalms and you’ll see a man whose faith was mixed with doubt, a man whose belief was mixed with unbelief.

But each of them did just as this man does. They cried out to God to help them in their unbelief. Maybe this morning you’re feeling some doubts, maybe some unbelief has started to mix with your belief. If it has, do as this man did. Ask Jesus to help strengthen your faith. In moments of doubt, practice your faith. Remind yourself of how God has been faithful before and that he will be faithful to his word tomorrow.

Jesus heals the boy. The spirit put up a bit of a fight but in the end was no match for Jesus, the Son of God. And when the disciples and Jesus reached the house they were staying in, the disciples ask, “ ‘Why could we not cast it out?’ And he said to them, ‘This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.’” It wasn’t just the father who had unbelief mixed with belief. The disciples were struggling with unbelief.

See, the reason that the disciples couldn’t cast the demon out of the boy was because they had “been tempted to believe that the gift they had received from Jesus (Ch. 6:7) was in their control and could be exercised at their disposal. This was a subtle form of unbelief, for it encouraged them to trust in themselves rather than in God.”[4]

When we take the gifts God has given us and think they are for us and to be used at our disposal, we engage in unbelief. It is unbelief in God to think that the gifts given to us by God are to be used at our disposal.

So Jesus rebukes his disciples. He rebukes us. He encourages us to pray. Prayer is putting faith into practice. “Prayer is faith turned to God.”[5]

Satanic attacks and sin are serious issues. What is Jesus going to do about them?

How Jesus will Defeat Satan and Sin

They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.

Jesus defeats Satan and sin by going to the cross. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus the Christ defeats Satan and sin. Satan no longer has any power over those whom Jesus Christ has redeemed. He can tempt all he wants. He can attack us. But those attacks ultimately come up toothless. Jesus has taken his Church from Satan’s realm into his. And that comes through his death and resurrection.

Sin no longer has power over us because Jesus has defeated sin by dying to it. Paul tells us that the sting of death is sin. But for those in Christ Jesus, sin cannot sting us. Yes we win and we will continue to sin. But in Christ sin cannot hurt us. In him, our sins are not held against us. Our sins, including our moments of unbelief, have been nailed to the cross.

Jesus is the atoning sacrifice to redeem his Church from the power of Satan and sin. Let us pray.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mk 9:14–32). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] Tolkien, J.R.R. (1954). The Two Towers (p.201-202) New York, NY: Random House

[3] Ryle, J. C. (1993). Mark (p. 133). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[4] Lane, Edwards (1974) The Gospel of Mark (p. 335). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans

[5] Edwards, J. R. (2002). The Gospel according to Mark (p. 281). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos.

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