JESUS HEALS A BOY WITH AN EVIL SPIRIT
Key Verse: 9:42
"Even while the boy was coming, the demon threw him to the ground in a convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the evil spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father."
In today’s passage, we learn about a demon possessed boy. We also find the failure of the disciples, but the power of Jesus. Have you ever felt powerless? We also learn about an unbelieving and perverse generation, and Jesus’ mercy to put up with them. What kind of generation do you live in? Is this passage relevant to us? What do you think? In the final verses, Jesus tells us to listen carefully to what he is about to tell us, but the disciples don’t listen, because they don’t like what he has to say. So how are you going to listen? Let’s listen carefully.
Part 1. Jesus came down from the mountain (37-40)
Look at verse 37. “The next day, when they came down from the mountain, a large crowd met him.” Jesus came down from the mountain. What was he doing on the mountain? In the last passage, Jesus took three of his disciples and went up a high mountain to pray. The other nine disciples were left below. While Jesus was praying o the mountain, his appearance was changed, and his face shone as bright as the sun. It was a glory beyond our imagination. Peter wanted to never come down, but to stay up on this mountain forever. Basking in the rays of divine glory, enjoying heavenly peace. Peter said this because he was not listening to Jesus, and because he resisted Jesus mission to be crucified for the sins of the world. So after one night, Jesus came down from the mountain. As Jesus down from the world of heavenly peace, he reentered the fallen world, and was immediately confronted by a scene of failure, accusations, unbelief, perversion, and demonic power. It is the contrast between the Kingdom of God and the demonic Kingdom of Satan. We cannot influence the world if we separate ourselves from it. You cannot influence the campus if you don’t step a foot on it. So let us learn from Jesus who refused to take an easy way to glory, but who came down from the mountain to complete his mission in a fallen world.
What did Jesus find below? Let’s read Lk 9:38-40. A man in the crowd called out, "Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. A spirit seizes him and he suddenly screams; it throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It scarcely ever leaves him and is destroying him. I begged your disciples to drive it out but they could not.
There was an evil spirit tormenting a boy. The boy’s father was also tormented, as he watched his only child suffering. We read that this demon threw the boy into convulsions so that he foamed at the mouth. It sounds like a medical condition, but it was a demon. Not all convulsions are caused by demons, but a demon can cause convulsions, as a way of inflicting suffering on its victim. Mt 17 adds that the boy would often fall into fire or water. These were not random convulsions. So the father had to constantly watch him, to make sure that the demon did not kill him with burning or drowning. Verse 39 says, “It scarcely ever leaves him and is destroying him.”
As we read these words, we can feel this father’s anguish. Like this father, Missionary Joshua has one son, his only child. I see how much he loves his son, John. He is so happy to see John growing and excelling, such as when he wins the Children’s Bible memorization contest. But the father in this passage had no such happy memories. We cannot imagine the suffering of this child and his father. When we see people suffering from such horrible conditions, we feel overcome with grief. Why is Satan so powerful? And why is he allowed to destroy people? When we see such suffering, some question God’s love, or his power. Satan seems to be in complete control.
The next verse only made Satan seem even stronger. Let’s read verse 40 again. “I begged your disciples to drive it out but they could not.” How is it that the disciples came to fail? We know that in the previous chapter, he sent them out 2 by 2 and they were powerful and drove out demons everywhere. But now there were 9 of them, and they could not drive out even one demon. What had happened?
We might imagine that it happened like this: Jesus went up on a mountain to pray with three disciples. The other nine disciples immediately developed a vacation mentality. Although they knew that Jesus went up on the mountain to pray, they were relaxing below. Then a man came, bringing his son to Jesus to be healed. He asked to see Jesus, but the disciples told him that Jesus had gone up on the mountain. Maybe Philip spoke up, “It’s OK. We don’t need Jesus, anyway, because we’ve done this many times before. I’m a professional. I can cast out the demon. Demon! In Jesus name, I cast you out.” But the child just yawned. Maybe Matthew then spoke up, “Philip! You didn’t do it right.” Then with a dramatic wave of the hands and a booming voice, he cried, “Evil spirit! Come out in the name of Jesus!” But instead of being healed, the demon threw to be into a terrible convulsion. The father begged, “Please help us!” So Simon the Zealot stepped forward, but he failed too. One by one, each disciple tried and each disciple failed. As each one failed, the father’s hope was shaken time and again. All of the people in the crowd watched too, and their faith was shaken also. It seemed like Jesus’ name had no power. Here was a demonstration of the demonic strength that knew no rival. Before this demon, even Jesus’ disciples were powerless. Even the disciples themselves became confused and felt weak. The first effect of the failure of God’s people is that it shakes everyone’s faith in Jesus. Mark’s account of this event shows how the father’s faith had been shaken. (Mk 9:22-23)
The second consequence of the powerlessness of God’s people is to strengthen the attack of their enemies. We learn from the other gospels that the religious scribes were accusing the disciples because of their failure. There are many people who oppose the work of God. When they see a weakness in God’s people, they pounce on it and exploit it. The disciples did not know how to respond to their attack, because even they did not understand what had gone so terribly wrong. It did not matter that they had succeeded in driving out demons many times before. When they failed just once, then the enemies of Jesus pounced and accused Jesus of being powerless. Just one failure made the Kingdom of Satan seem unbeatable.
I wonder if we can relate to these disciples. Have you ever felt powerless? Yes! We know even right now of some people who are demon possessed, but who we clearly are powerless to help. And when we fail, our faith is shaken, and God’s enemies gloat. There are no different than us! Among my own Bible students, I have sat and watched powerlessly by while Satan carried some of them off. There is only so much failure that someone can take, before you start to expect to fail. And I think many people here have no expectation that God will show up in power and change our hopeless situations. The disciple’s powerlessness was a strange and confusing thing to them. It is not meant to be the standard mode of operation of Christ’s Church.
But why did the disciples fail? Jesus response points us towards an answer.
Part 2. An unbelieving and perverse generation (41)
Lets read verse 41. “‘O unbelieving and perverse generation,’ Jesus replied, ‘how long shall I stay with you and put up with you? Bring your son here.’” We might have expected Jesus to offer words of encouragement or compassion. Or if Jesus was going to rebuke, we might suppose that he should rebuke the father for his lack of faith, or the disciples for their failure, or the scribes for arguing. But instead, Jesus’ first words were very unexpected. He rebuked the entire generation. It does not seem fair. Most of the people of that generation had never heard of this boy, why were they rebuked?
It was because Jesus saw this boy’s problem as indicative of the entire generation. Up on the mountain, Jesus had experienced heavenly glory. When he came down, he immediately was confronted with the fallen world. If it had not been this child’s demon possession, it would have been something else. Because all of these things are indicative of the fallen world, where demons destroy while people are powerless.
When we look at the gospels, we find that Jesus has much to say about his generation, none of it good. He compares them to people of Nineveh: “The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.” (Mt 12:41) He proclaims that on them would “come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth.” (Mt 23:35) And he called them a wicked and adulterous generation. (Mt 12:39)
The people of Jesus’ generation thought that they were loved by god, because of Jesus’ works among them, but look at Jesus words. “O unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I stay with you and put up with you?” Actually, they were testing the patience of God. Jesus was exerting great restraint in bearing with them, and he did not intend to do so for long. “How long shall I stay with you and put up with you?” It was mercy beyond our understanding for the Holy God to come to earth and bear with perverse and unbelieving people for even an instant. But even the patience of god can be exhausted, when it serves no purpose. It is like the situation of the Israelites, who were God’s chosen people. Though they had a great heritage, when they turned from God, he patiently bore with them and warned them through the prophets. When they did not listen, God’s judgment came, and they were exiled to Babylon. Eventually, God’s patience ran out. It was the same for the generation of Jesus day. He prophesied the destruction of the temple within that generation. (Mt 24:34)
Jesus labeled his generation as unbelief and perversity. If we look in a Greek lexicon, this word “perverse” (diastrefw) means “to distort, to turn aside from the right path” (Strong’s 1294). Someone is perverse when they twist God’s truth, or when they reject what is right and follow their own desires. In Romans 1, we can find a long list of perversions, such as “envy, murder, strife, deceit, and malice” (Ro 1:29) Generally people agree that perversity is evil. If you call someone a “pervert” they will be offended. What is interesting is that this passage in Romans makes a connection between all such perversions and unbelief. Romans 1 declares that the root cause of perversion is unbelief.
Jesus makes the same connection. He rebukes his generation for being “unbelieving and perverse.” Yet, while many people see the problem of perversion, not many have the same view of unbelief. Postmodern philosophy holds that all beliefs are equally valid, and that a person should only hold on to a particular belief system so long as it suits their interests. Unbelief then is not seen as wicked, but as the natural result of being enlightened: “I am too intellectual and sophisticated to subscribe to one particular belief system as being completely true.”
We also might consider unbelief as the natural consequence of ignorance: “How can I be expected to believe what I have not seen?” But, in fact, unbelief is a serious sin (Rev 21:8), because it is not the result of ignorance, but of intentional suppression of the truth (Ro 1:18). For instance, when I was young, I was an atheist. But when I was in trouble, you could find me praying, “O God, if you are there, please keep me from getting caught for what I did.” Unbelief is the willful rejection of God’s truth, and when people do so, they open themselves up to all kinds of perversion, because there is no restraint on their behavior.
But before we are too critical of Jesus’ generation, we should ask about our own. There is a popular saying, “God bless America.” This saying presupposes that God is pleased with America and would wish to bless it. But might it be more the case that we trouble and grieve Jesus just as much as the people of his own day?
We can consider the case of our own generation. A Biblical generation is forty years, so what was America like forty years ago? To be sure, America had many problems, especially with civil rights. But it was also a believing generation. People went to schools that taught prayer. But in this generation, it is not so much that there is no school prayer, but that the schools actively and aggressively teach unbelief. I went to public school; I know. I went in as a blank slate and came out an atheist. If this is an unbelieving generation, then should we be surprised that it is also perverse. Should it surprise us that unbelieving schools have to deal with problems of drugs and gangs and pregnancy and school shootings?
We live in an unbelieving and perverse generation. We do not need to say “God bless America”, but we need to pray for God to be merciful and put up with America. America has a great Christian heritage. In previous eras, America went through two great awakenings. But today, America grieves God. We cannot know how long God will put up with our perversity and unbelief. This is why we must pray for God’s mercy, and urgently pray for our nation to repent. This is what is meant when we pray for America to be kingdom of priests and a holy nation. We are praying for a third great awakening of belief and a national repentance of perversion.
When we pray for our generation, we must also pray for ourselves, because we live in such a generation. We are influenced daily, even without knowing it. We also test God’s patience. We also can marvel that Jesus has stayed with us and put up with us so far, through all of our unbelief and perversity. Let us then not try the patience of God, but repent with sincere hearts.
It was the same for Jesus’ disciples. They also belonged to their generation. Despite being his disciples, they were often unbelieving. In verse 41, Jesus points his disciples to why they had failed to drive out the demon. We have already considered the question of relevance, and recognized that we, too, have failed, just as the disciples did. Therefore, what Jesus tells them about why they failed is very important to us, because we want to learn this lesson too, so that we do not keep failing.
Jesus indicates that the problem is unbelief. In Matthew’s account, Jesus more clearly explains. The disciples asked why they could not drive it out, and Jesus responded, “because you have so little faith.” (Mt 17:20) In Mark’s account, Jesus also points out their failure to pray and fast(Mk 9:29, with text note).
We can interpolate that the disciples had probably depended on their past experience. They may have thought of the work of God like a chef’s recipe: add flour, water, and eggs then bake and out comes bread. If you just repeat the same procedure you should get the same result. But the work of God is not a formula. God works according to our faith. Why didn’t the disciples pray? Because they felt that they did not need to. They already had faith – faith in themselves and their past experience.
Yet Jesus was never far off. While the disciples were failing during a dark and fruitless night in the camp, Jesus was just a short distance away, up on the mountain shining with divine glory that was as bright as the sun. The concept of failure was incompatible with the glorious Jesus, but his disciples were failing, just a short distance away.
We do not want to keep failing, time after time, or to live in a culture of powerlessness. We do not want to quake constantly before the strength of one demon, so that we have no hope for the power of God to drive out the Kingdom of Satan. We do not want to go to campus with the expectation that we will fail every time. If this is what we do not want, then we know what we do need to do.
We need to let go of our past experience all of our formulas of what used to work. Instead, we need to begin praying earnestly and with fasting. We all know that we see someone who needs our help, but are we praying and fasting for her? We need to challenge our unbelief, and depend on the strength of God. When we repent of our unbelief, we must revive our expectation. As a constantly defeated and beaten down church, we need to newly find God’s victory over the world and the demonic forces at work in this generation.
Part 3. Jesus victory and coming betrayal (42-45)
Let’s read verses 42-43. “Even while the boy was coming, the demon threw him to the ground in a convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the evil spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father. And they were all amazed at the greatness of God. While everyone was marveling at all that Jesus did, he said to his disciples.”
The demon resisted Jesus’ efforts. To the end, it fought to harm the boy and frighten the people. Even while the boy was coming it through him to the ground. In the other gospels, it even made the boy seem dead when it left him. This was all to plant doubt in the people and especially the father. Where God is working, Satan is also working to destroy. Therefore, we need to strength of Jesus to overcome.
The demon fought, but Jesus overcame. He drove out the demon with his rebuke. What had seemed impossible for the disciples proved to be a simple matter for Jesus. The demon who had seemed to be the unquestioned greatest power in the world was found to be powerless before Jesus. All of the people were amazed. They marveled at all that Jesus did. In an ironic sense, even the disciples’ failure brought glory to God, because it made his victory over the demon all the more impressive. I can find hope in this, that Jesus’ work is not irreparably damaged by my mistakes.
When the disciples failed, the people began to argue. When Jesus showed up in power, everyone was amazed. The disciples did not have to win the argument but to demonstrate the power of God.
No sooner had Jesus won this victory than he took his disciples aside, and brought them back down to earth. When the disciples saw Jesus power, they always got visions of a beautiful earthly kingdom, where Jesus reigns and they serve as governors. It was the traditional Jewish view of the Messiah. So, for the past several passages, Jesus keeps bringing them back to reality. He keeps reminding them of his true mission to be crucified for the sins of the world. And they keep not listening. Look at verses 44-45. "Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. But they did not understand what this meant. It was hidden from them, so that they did not grasp it, and they were afraid to ask him about it."
On the mountain of transfiguration, The father spoke from a cloud, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen. Listen to him.” But they didn’t. Now Jesus says strong words, “Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you.” But they don’t. Instead, it says that they did not understand what this meant, and they were afraid to ask him about it. This means that they actually understood – his language was simple enough – they just wanted to close their ears and didn’t want to know.
As a professor, I can understand when students don’t understand. This is natural. But when they don’t ask questions to clear up their lack of understanding, this is the problem. For instance, once Jesus told a parable about a farmer who sowed seed. Some fell on the path and was eaten up, some on rocky soil and it didn’t last long, some on the weeds, where it couldn’t prosper, and some on good soil, where it became fruitful. Jesus; disciples did not understand, but this time, they went and asked him about it, so he explained it to them. He explained that the seed that falls on the path represents people who hear the word of God, but who don’t take it in. They forget what they heard and Satan takes it away. The word of god has the power to transform our hearts. But when we harden our hearts and don’t listen, then it can’t come in.
This is what is meant when Jesus says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Let us also listen carefully to Jesus’ words. Let us sincerely repent of unbelief. Let us revive our expectation of god’s powerful working in our midst. And let us sincerely pray for our generation, and for America to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.