This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Mark 9:14-29
Sermon prepared by Rev. Harry A. VanderWindt, Pastor Emeritus, Stoney Creek, Ont.
Dear congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ:
When Jesus and His three disciples descended from the mountain on which He had been transfigured, He came to a very dramatic scene. All night long He had been in conversation with Moses and Elijah about what was going to happen to Him in Jerusalem. Yes, it had been about His own death. Three of His disciples had been privileged to be on the mountain with Him — perhaps they had seen much of the “transfiguration” and they might even have overheard some of the discussion as well.
Meanwhile, the other nine disciples faced an entirely different situation. A poor and distressed father had brought his child to them. The boy suffered greatly from being possessed by a demon. The physical condition of the boy, as described by the gospel writers Mark and Luke, are these: severe convulsions, foaming at the mouth, grinding of the teeth and a stiffening of the body. Attacks came so unexpectedly that the boy often fell into the water or fire. All that was complicated with the fact that the boy was also deaf and dumb/mute.
The suffering was very traumatic and caring for the boy by the parents was extremely difficult. Apparently the boy, from childhood on, had also been possessed by an evil spirit, a servant of Satan.
But the nine disciples were not asked to explain the cause of the boy’s affliction — the father asked them if they would cure him. But when the disciples tried, they couldn’t. It was a whole new experience for them. And when it didn’t work, they were perplexed, humiliated and embarrassed, right in front of a crowd of people which had quickly gathered, eager to see what would happen.
Some of the scribes began to ridicule the disciples for their failure. They might have suggested that they were deceivers, just like their Master. The only difference might be that Jesus, their Master, was more skillful in covering up — just like a good magician. In any case, it was a very uncomfortable situation for the disciples to be in.
Just at that moment Jesus appears and He turns the attack of the crowd on His followers to Himself, saying, “What are you arguing with them about?” In other words, if you have anything to say, say it to Me and I will answer. Immediately He relieves His disciples from their anxiety. His sharp question may also have stifled the attacking people in the crowd.
Already before He had spoken, the Bible tells us in verse 15 that the crowd was overwhelmed with wonder and ran to meet Him. Some theologians are of the opinion that there may have been some glory from the transfiguration still lingering on His face — just like Moses’ face shone when he came back from being in the presence of God on Mount Sinai.
But this is not likely the case because Jesus had instructed the tree disciples who had been with Him on the mountain, Peter, John and James, (verse 9) not to tell what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. Jesus Himself must not have had any traces of that mountain glory on His face which would have stimulated the other nine disciples to ask what had happened to Him while He was gone.
There is another reason why the people were overwhelmed. It was the sudden arrival of Jesus. He came at the most critical time. It was almost similar to what had happened to King Ahab who had killed Naboth so that he could have his garden — and while he was touring that new vineyard... there was the prophet Elijah standing most unexpectedly in front of him.
Here, in the nick of time, just when the disciples needed Jesus the most and the scribes wanted Him the least, there is Jesus. And they were overwhelmed. The appearance of the Lord must have silenced everyone — the crowds as well as the disciples. Only the father spoke. He told Jesus in very plain language all the facts about his boy. “Teacher, I brought You my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech” — and then he goes on to describe all the symptoms of the disease and the demon. He had asked the disciples to cast out that evil spirit... but they were not able.
Jesus responds with, “0 unbelieving generation, how long shall I stay with you? Bring the boy to Me.” The first question — how long shall I stay with you? — may have been directed to everyone: the crowds, the father as well as the disciples. But when Jesus says, “Bring the boy to Me,” there is new hope and promise.
What follows next, gives us the impression that things were only getting worse. The demon, realizing that he was about to be driven out, did all the damage he could to the boy. The Bible tells us in verse 20 that the boy convulsed, fell to the ground foaming at the mouth. The enemy is always most destructive when he is at the point of being defeated. Soldiers, after losing the battle, have been known to bum cities, kill innocent people, put oil-wells on fire and ravage the country side. It is often during those times that violent vandalism takes place. So the demon made the boy go into terrible convulsions.
It must have been a very painful and pitiful sight, especially for the father to see this happen to his son. It is always profoundly painful for parents to see their children suffer.
Jesus speaks to the father and asks him how long the boy has been suffering from this dreadful disease. How touching it must have been for the father to tell about it and to identify himself with the boy when he says, “if You can do anything, take pity on US and help US.”
And the Saviour, being most interested in the physical well-being of His children as much as in their soul, was moved with compassion and answers, “If YOU can?” “All things are possible for him who believes.” Jesus goes back to the man's words. The “if” does not lie with Me, but it lies with yourself. It is not a question whether or not I am able, but whether or not YOU believe.
The father, on hearing this, immediately cries out, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” The father got a glimpse of the ability of Christ to help him and he also realizes how little his own faith was. Help my unbelief!
Then the Lord commands the evil spirit to come out of the boy and never to enter him again. After convulsing terribly, the spirit came out and left the boy on the ground, looking as if he were dead. But the great Reviver was there. He took him by the hand and raised him up, permanently healed, and He gave him back to his grateful father.
Then, when it was all over, the nine disciples asked Jesus in private, “Why couldn’t we drive him out?”' Jesus replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.” 'This kind of demon had an unusual element of difficulty. Jesus wanted them to understand that there are even varieties/degrees of powers with the dominion of Satan. Some are conquered by faith — others by prayer.
It makes us realize that many of the powers of evil attacking the church, church members, marriages and individuals can only be conquered with true faith or with prayer.
You see, the soul of the sinner, by nature, is in bondage to Satan. It is deaf to the truth. It is unable to give praise to God or to Jesus the Saviour. No human power can deliver a sinful soul from that terrible condition. Impossible! One sinner cannot save another sinner. But what is impossible with us, is possible with God. Deliverance from Satan, from demons, from sin may be received from Christ Jesus through faith in Him. And to receive this faith, a person must pray to God for help. Help to believe, as the father did. Even today, we cry to God and say, “Please, dear God, help our unbelief!”
There are several lessons in this miraculous narrative and we shall lift three out of it.
Notice the difference between the two scenes near the mountain. The artist Raphael has painted a picture portraying the conflict cf the nine disciples at the foot of the mountain with the demon-possessed boy and the argumentative scribes — and the glorious experience of the three disciples on the mountain top with the Lord in bright glory. All in one picture.
Obviously, this could not have been physically possible, but in the painting he brings out the contrast between the two. And what a striking contrast it was.
On the mountain top were the highest harmonies of earth joining the harmonies of heaven. In the valley were the wildest discords of earth touched by the terror of hell.
On the mountain top the three disciples were sharing in the gladness of Christ's victory over sin and His enemies — in the valley below the nine disciples were suffering the shame and defeat of sin and enemies.
On the mountain top three people were enjoying exalted privileges — in the valley were nine people struggling with the sinful forces.
Dearest people of God... these contrasts are still very much present in our Christian life. The life of the Christian is neither all enjoyment nor all suffering. It is usually a combination, an alternation between these two. The happy times in life strengthen the soul for the coming conflicts — and the conflicts/sufferings in life draw the soul closer to the Saviour.
How foolish it was of Peter to suggest the making of three tents on the mountain top for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. It wouldn't have been the reality of life. Life is made up of both mountain tops and valleys down below. It wouldn't be good for us to be always at the communion table/in church or on the mountain top. We must leave such high places of devotion and spiritual refreshments and descend into the valleys to meet fathers and their sons and demons.
There may be people in the sanctuary here today who feel as if they are on a mountain top. Everything seems good to them: You are filled with the joy and spirit of God. You experience the warmth and love of God deep within you. And you feel like singing and you wish that you could stay at this level of joy in the presence of the Lord. And you can't understand that there are people who seem so depressed and they don't have a happy look on their faces — not even on a beautiful Sunday like today.Or, there may be fine Christian brothers and sisters, young people and boys and girls in church today who are in the valley at the foot of the mountain today: You had a hard week. You are struggling with serious problems, with sin, a bad habit and God hasn't answered your prayers. He seems so far away. There is sickness in your body, in your family, and there are worries in your heart. The future looks bleak and you can't understand that there are people who seem so carefree as if there isn't a worry in the world. Everything seems sunny-side up for them, but not for you. You're having a hard time.
But... congregation, life goes on. Those on the mountain top will have to come down one of these days and face the reality of life and the struggles of a sinful world — and those who are bowed down today at the foot of the mountain will also experience mountain tops again in their lives. Life is checkered. And in both situations, it is good to know that the Lord is always near. He was with the three disciples as well as with the nine disciples.
In the second place let us also learn that in fife/in our work and especially in our struggles against sin, we must have Christ within us. We cannot do anything good in His service without Him. He is not physically or “in person” on earth anymore. We do not have Jesus in visible form at our side as the disciples did.
But when Jesus withdrew from the earth on the day of His ascension, He sent the Holy Spirit to be present with His church/with us. Never doubt that, congregation. And we should never try to do anything ordinary or extra-ordinary without that Spirit of God. Without the power of the Holy Spirit we shall certainly fail; he who works FOR Christ, must work IN Christ.
Therefore, each day we begin in prayer for the guidance of the Holy Spirit for the day, so that in His power we may work in the Kingdom. It is not by our own deeds, but through the grace and power of the Spirit that others may be blessed and God’s name may be honoured.
There are many evil forces/demons and spirits at work in the world , in others and perhaps, possibly in ourselves. These are forces and spirits which we cannot overcome in and by ourselves. But, as the Scriptures says, only through prayer.
Dear people of God, remember what Jesus said about the spirit in the young boy. “This kind can come out only by prayer.” There may very well be this kind of demon in someone's life. (perhaps, even in yours) Yes, we need to take time to be holy — we need to speak oft with the Lord — that He may have mercy upon us.
In the third place we learn that at the beginning of' being delivered “there is also the greatest struggle/aggravation. When Moses said to the Pharaoh of Egypt, “Let my people go,” the results were that the people of Israel had their burdens doubled and were worse off than before. When Jesus called the spirit to leave the boy, the evil spirit made the boy go into frightening convulsions, foaming at the mouth as if it would kill him.
When people try to give up a bad habit, they go through a period of feeling worse than ever before. When a sinner is regenerated by the power of Christ he or she may face serious problems in life.
But let us not be discouraged by that. Satan does not bother or torture those who are his willing subjects. But when a person begins to rebel against sin, then Satan makes the bondage to slavery even more bitter. The strength of a (bad) habit is not felt when you give in to it. The struggle comes only, when you try to break with it. It is easy to start the smoking or drinking habit or to enjoy the pleasures of a sinful world. There are people who will tell you how easy it is to put on weight, but how hard it is to take it off, to break with a habit, it's very difficult.
Not until a person realizes this and comes to his or her senses that help is needed, that he wants to return to an obedient life in Christ, that she wants to break with that harmful habit, does one feel the power of the evil grip on him. There are several people — possibly a number in church today as well — who wish that they could give up on a bad habit, who wish that they could break with that craving desire for alcohol, who wish that they didn't have that passion for fashion or that love-drive for money and material goods, the envy of others or the lust for the flesh — as the Bible would say.
The evil spirit tortured the boy in a most painful way. After all, the battle of the Christian is not against flesh and blood, but against the evil spirit and principalities and powers of this world, the Bible tells us.
In ourselves we cannot fight these or expect to overcome them. “All these things are only possible through Christ who strengthens me,” the apostle Paul writes.
Therefore, dear Christian friends, do not become depressed about it, because Christ has overcome. Christ is stronger than any evil spirit. He can cast them out. He will readily help anyone who calls on Him. He has crushed the power of the devil.
Put your hand in the hand of the Man who stilled the waters. Put your heart close to the heart of Christ Who can give you peace within. Keep your life in the keeping of the risen Lord to Whom all power on earth and in heaven has been given. Entrust your future, your eternal destiny to Christ Jesus Who has conquered all evil. And the faithful covenant God will surely grant His children His divine strength and comfort on their journey through life on earth.
Father in heaven, we realize that we also are in need of Your help. Deliver Your people from the bondage to sin. Free us from the intravenous of the sinful needles which Satan has injected into our lives.
Help us, O God, to clean up our lives and break bad habits. Purify our hearts and keep us from temptations.
Strengthen us with Your healing power, for we are weak by ourselves. Restore us all, dear Lord, into the image of God. Above all, forgive us our sins, our impure thoughts and our wrong deeds that could leave life-long scars.
Hear our payer in the name of our dear Lord, the Great Physician, Jesus.
Proposed Order of Service
Preparation for Worship:
Welcome and announcements
The Call to Worship:
Hymn #237, “We Praise You, O God”
Silent prayer concluded with hymn #424, “Spirit of the Living God”
Hymn #138, “With All My Heart I Thank You Lord”
The Confession and Assurance:
God's Will for our Lives: selected Scripture verses
Prayer of confession
Assurance of forgiveness/the Law of God
Hymn #231, “How Great is the Love of the Father”
The Prayers and Offerings:
Congregational joys and concerns:
The offerings to be received (and prayer)
Offertory Hymn #89:l,8, “Forever I Will Sing of Your Great Love, O Lord”
Scripture reading(s): Mark 9:14 - 29
Text for the sermon: Mark 9: 23
Sermon: "Jesus' healing ministry"
Hymn #363, “Your Hands, O Lord, in Days of Old”
The Benediction (concluded with a 3-fold Amen)
Moments of meditation