Scripture : Luke 9:37-43 Video

Speaker : John Johnstone

One of the many advantages of preaching through a book of the Bible is that we can see the connections and contrasts between the stories all the more clearly. Here is a case in point. Jesus has just been encouraged and glorified in the most wonderful way, as he has been transfigured before the disciples. His face shone like the sun. He hears the affirmative words of his heavenly Father. However, the experience does not last long. Jesus must move from the mountaintop and come down into the valley. He must leave the conversation with Moses and Elijah, something exceptional, and return to the realities of a fallen world, such as the needs of a crowd, Satanic power wrecking the life of an only child, and the unbelief of his own disciples. This is quite a descent! Perhaps this descent is a picture of the very nature of Jesus’ ministry, leaving the heights of Heaven itself, and coming down into the realities of our world, in order to set people free from the power of Satan, and to bring salvation by being delivered into the hand of men (verse 44).

This descent is also a reminder to us as Christian disciples that times of spiritual high, such as that which Peter, James and John had just enjoyed, are not long-lasting. They too had to come back down into the valley. And that is always the way of things. We might feel the encouragement that a Lord’s Day brings, but then we have to go back home and go back to work. Our children might enjoy a Free Church camp, surrounded by other Christian children, but it only lasts for a week. We might attend a Christian conference, but then we go home and must deal with the humdrum problems of life in a sin-saturated world. The normal Christian experience is one of struggle and battle. It is helpful to have a realistic understanding of this fact.

However, there’s another connection I would like us to see. Yes, the greatness and glory of Jesus is famously revealed on the mountain during his transfiguration, but it is also revealed in the valley in the transformation of this demon-possessed child.  ‘And they were all amazed at the greatness of God.’ (Luke 9:43)

1. The disciples’ failure
Whilst Jesus and three of the disciples had been on the mountain, the other nine disciples had been trying their best to exorcise a demon from a young boy. But they had failed. The boy suffered greatly from seizures, convulsions, and the other gospel accounts tell us he was also deaf, mute, and would be thrown into fire and water. The life of this poor lad illustrates for us that Satan’s desire for humanity is only to enslave and ultimately to destroy. He stands for all who are not yet saved. The obvious question to ask is why were the disciples unable to exorcise this demon? After all, Jesus had given them the power to do so (Luke 9:1-2) and they had been able to do it on their first missionary trip just the week before. Jesus answers this question for us. The disciples’ impotence was down to their unbelief: ‘You unbelieving and perverse generation,’ Jesus replied… (Verse 41) The other gospels also point to the prayerlessness (Mark 9:28-29) of the disciples, and these things are closely tied together, as those who trust in the power of God, will call out to him for help in prayerful dependence.

Here is a clear warning for us today. The disciples, in the space of just one week, had subtly moved away from depending on God, and had begun to depend upon themselves. Perhaps, because they had successfully cast out demons several times already, they began to think that the key was their own special form of words, or even that the key was their own power, not God’s. They seem to begin to take the Lord’s power for granted, and start trusting in their own strength and giftedness. Because of their self-reliance, there is no transformation in the life of this boy.

The truth is, we are often like the nine disciples. God has given us as a church, and as individuals, different tasks to do. We are to live holy lives. We are to share the good news of Jesus with others. We are to be active in the church family, using our gifts for the blessing of others. We have our own temptations to battle with and people we are called to forgive. We are to grow in maturity, moving on from the basics of the Christian faith. And often we fail in these things. Why? For exactly the same reasons: unbelief, evidenced by our lack of prayer, and self-reliance. Our marriages are not as strong as they ought to be as we fail to pray about them. We don’t see conversions as we ought to, as we lack the zeal to pray for our neighbours, and for opportunities to witness to them. Sometimes we get the opportunities but think change will come because of something we will do or say, rather than humbly sending off an arrow-prayer into Heaven begging God to act. We learn so much from the disciples, not just when they get it right, but also when they get it wrong. Let’s remind ourselves today that growth and change come only as we depend wholly on the Lord.

The problem the disciples faced wasn’t their lack of resources. They had all they needed, but they failed to entrust themselves to God. At the prayer meeting on Wednesday, we were thinking about the church in Corinth. In 1 Corinthians 1:7 we read: ‘… you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.’ Their church was full of problems, not because they lacked resources, but because they had become proud and self-reliant.

Let’s also see this principle from the other direction, in a more positive way. Think of the changes and growth which could take place in this church and in our families, for God’s glory, were we to appropriate the promises of God, and zealously rely on him in prayer.

2. A father’s wise action
How distressing it must have been both for this possessed lad and for his father, watching his only son being tormented and damaged day after day. The evil spirit is literally destroying his son. It would have been easy for the father to have given up seeking God’s help after the nine disciples had failed to help. Thankfully he does not give up, but does the best possible thing he could do – he cries out to Jesus for help. He begs for this help. He’s not too proud to ask for help. This man comes in faith to Jesus, believing that he could do what the disciples were not able to do. Jesus hears and answers his prayers, and gives the restored boy back to his father (verse 42).

J C Ryle sees a spiritual parallel here for parents who are in deep distress over the spiritual state of their children. Children who have been brought up coming to church and Sunday School and have been taught the Bible at home, but now show no interest in the things of God, and it is heart-breaking for their parents. What should parents do? We must copy this man, and go to Jesus in prayer, and cry out to him on their behalf.

J C Ryle writes: ‘Great is the power of prayer and intercession! The child of many prayers shall seldom be cast away. God’s time of conversion may not be ours. He may think fit to prove our faith by keeping us long waiting. But so long as the child lives, and a parent prays, we have no right to despair about that child’s soul.’ Are you praying for the salvation of your children every day? Keep on doing so.

The chaos and destruction in the life of this lad is dramatic and distressing. Even in front of Jesus, the demon manages to throw this boy to the ground, and causes him to convulse. The Bible warns us that Satan masquerades as an angel of light. He’s not always so easy to spot. In 2021, he can influence and damage our own children in all kinds of ways. Young people can become enslaved by materialism and slip away from the church and from God. They can become more interested in what their friends think that what God thinks. They are bombarded with immoral teaching and messages everywhere they go. As a church, let’s not just pray for our own children, but for all the children in our spiritual care.

After all, our struggle is not against flesh and blood, as Ephesians 6 reminds us, but against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. That why Paul says to us to put on the full armour of God, and that we must pray: ‘And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.’ (Ephesians 6:18)

3. The transformation Jesus brings
It’s remarkable just how easily Jesus casts out this demon. We ought to have a healthy fear of the powers of evil, yes, but we must also realise that the powers of evil are no match for Jesus. ‘ Greater is the One in us than he who is in the world. (1 John 4:4) He is the mighty victor over all forces of evil.

Jesus heals the boy with the word of his power. The impure spirit is cast out. Its reign of terror has come to an end. Jesus provides free and full deliverance. What a tender scene – imagine being there and seeing Jesus giving the boy back to his father! It had been such a long time since they’ve had a normal conversation. Suddenly, the future is filled with hope. We are told that the disciples and the onlookers are amazed at the greatness of God (Verse 43).

It is my prayer that we would see the majesty and greatness of God in Fife today, as we see spiritual transformation in the lives of many people. We long to see men and women and boys and girls come to faith. We long to see people turning from living for money, pleasure and self, and turning to God in repentance and faith. We long to hear the joy of those who realise their sins have been forgiven and their past mistakes have been dealt with – it is as if they never happened.

Perhaps you are not a Christian yet. There is only one thing you need, or rather, one person. The restoration of this young boy is a picture of what God can do for all of us. He and only he can restore us physically, spiritually, and relationally. This family was in a mess. The rejoicing at the birth of this lad had given way to sadness and distress. All of our families have their share of mess and trouble – and sometimes we feel like giving up. But let’s bring our mess to Jesus. He can sort it out. On our own, we cannot! He can.