I have titled this message this morning “War of the Worlds.” That title may sound familiar to some of you who may be aware of the Orson Welles science fiction radio program of that name that ran during World War 2. It was based on a book by H.G. Wells which was written around 1897. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, it was a book about the invasion of earth by Martian alien creatures. It was one of the first of it’s kind of that sort of science fiction.
One significant quote from that book says, “Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.” I found that scenario eerily similar to the conflict going on in our world which we are told about in Ephesians 6:11, [Eph 6:11 “Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual [forces] of wickedness in the heavenly [places.]”
1 Cor. 2:12 says that there is a spirit of the world that is in opposition to the Spirit who is from God. 1 John 5:19 says that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. That’s pretty amazing, isn’t it? To think that the whole world is held in captivity to the dominion of darkness. 2 Cor. 4:4 says that the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ. And consequently, because of Satan’s dominion over this world, Ephesians 2:2 says that man walks according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.
There is a battle for this world between God and Satan. Now we must understand that Satan is not equivalent to God in power or authority. He was actually created by God. But we must not underestimate him. He is undoubtedly the most powerful of all the angels created by God, and the fallen angels or demons under his dominion have supernatural power. We read in the Old Testament of a single angel that killed 185,000 men in one night.
But the scripture tells us that greater is He that is in us, than he that is in the world. And so our only hope in doing battle against the forces of darkness is through Jesus Christ. He has complete authority over all things in heaven and in earth. Jesus spoke of the devil as the enemy, as a thief, saying in John 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have [it] abundantly.” And so as Paul said in Eph 6:11-12 we must “Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual [forces] of wickedness in the heavenly places (or the spiritual realm.)” And the armor that he says we must put on to fight this battle is truth, faith, salvation, the gospel, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
But battles in the spiritual realm are rarely fought in our mountain top experience, they are most often fought in the valley of the shadow of death. The disciples have just had a tremendous mountain top experience. The three disciples, Peter, James and John, got a glimpse behind the veil so to speak of the spiritual realm. They saw Jesus transfigured with the glory of God, His face and garments shining like the sun. They saw Moses and Elijah miraculously appear and talk to Jesus. They heard the voice of God speak saying, “This is My beloved Son, listen to Him.” You just can’t imagine a greater mountain top spiritual experience than that.
But now they have come down the mountain. They have come back down to the realm of the god of this world. And the 9 disciples who had been left behind are surrounded by jeering critics. There are all sorts of things happening in this incident which are really expressions of the power of evil, the captivity by which Satan has blinded and held captive the world. We see an extreme example of demonic possession in the young boy by which Satan was trying to destroy his life. We see the failure of faith and discouragement of the disciples which rendered them fruitless and powerless. We see the pain and suffering of the father as he sees the hopeless situation of his son. We see the ridicule and criticism of the scribes.
The scribes are of the religious party about which Jesus said, “John 8:44 “You are of [your] father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own [nature,] for he is a liar and the father of lies.” And so rather than these religious leaders showing compassion on this young boy who is held captive by demonic power, they see that as something to gloat over, to lampoon the disciples who are confused and discouraged by this demonic power that they are facing.
Let’s read Mark’s account of what happened. Mark 9:14, “When they (Jesus and the three disciples) came [back] to the disciples, they saw a large crowd around them, and [some] scribes arguing with them. Immediately, when the entire crowd saw Him, they were amazed and [began] running up to greet Him. And He asked them, “What are you discussing with them?” And one of the crowd answered Him, “Teacher, I brought You my son, possessed with a spirit which makes him mute; and whenever it seizes him, it slams him [to the ground] and he foams [at the mouth,] and grinds his teeth and stiffens out. I told Your disciples to cast it out, and they could not [do it.]”
The disciples are under attack from the scribes, the teachers of the law, the representatives of established religion. And all around them is this crowd of people, who are taking sides in the argument and adding to the general confusion. The disciples have lost control of the situation. That’s always a strategy of the devil. Confusion, chaos, disorder, discord, anger. All of these things which undermine the authority of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And at the center of it all, the predicament that gives rise to this confused melee is the dejected father and his son who is desperately in need of deliverance.
But then there’s something like a ripple that runs through the crowd, as the people looked in amazement at Jesus who had just showed up. And there’s a great surge in the crowd as some run forward to meet him. And in verse 16, Jesus asks a simple question: “What are you arguing with them about?” And the answer that he receives is actually only an indirect answer. It suggests to us the root of the problem, but the answer comes from the lips of a man who’s in the crowd, and Mark describes him as “A man in the crowd answered”—somebody shouts out from the group—“‘Teacher, I brought you my son.’”
The nature of what Jesus is asked to deal with is actually demonic possession, as we discover in verse 17. The result of the demonic possession is such that the boy cannot speak. When the evil spirit takes him, “it throws him to the ground,” he “foams at the mouth,” he “gnashes his teeth,” and he “becomes rigid.” This is a terrible situation, one in which the demon is undoubtedly trying to destroy this boy. It’s somewhat like what we know as a form of epilepsy. But you will notice from the text that this is not described as a medical condition; it is described in terms of demonic possession. This demonic force violently throws this boy to the ground repeatedly, undoubtedly causing him to have head trauma which results in seizures. Perhaps by this time there had been permanent damage to this boy.
There are primarily two views of demonic possession that you find prevalent in the church today. One is that it is absolutely everywhere, so look out, it may be behind your closet door; or, that it absolutely doesn’t exist, therefore don’t worry about it at all, because there is no such thing. And of course, science doesn’t believe in it either. But both views of the church are wrong. And it takes discernment to navigate from a first-century description to our twenty-first-century reality. But we can know this for sure: that the reality of demonic possession to any degree is always purposefully to deceive and to destroy the image of God in a man or in a woman. It is to destroy any hope of salvation. It is never in order to enhance life, it is never in order to fulfill life, it is never in order to make life better; it is always to deceive and to destroy. And that is the condition, of this son and only child, Luke tells us, of this father. He’s his only boy—his only son, who has been in this condition for his entire childhood.
And so this man, having obviously heard of the miracles of Jesus, had sought Him out to deliver his son from demon possession. But Jesus wasn’t there when he arrived at the place he had heard about. Instead, he found 9 of Jesus’s disciples. But the disciples had been unable to cast out the demon. They had a great experience casting out demons earlier when Jesus had sent them out two by two. The demons had been subject to the name of Jesus. But for some reason, they were unable to be successful on this occasion, and it was embarrassing to say the least, not to mention it was tragic for the father who had such high hopes. And it was an opportunity for the critics, the scribes, to embarrass and condemn the apostles for their lack of ability. You know, the devil cannot really find fault with Jesus, but he can criticize His followers. He can demoralize his followers so that they add error to error, so that people don’t believe the truth of the gospel. So that people might even turn away from the faith.
So look at Jesus’s answer. Vs 19 And He answered them and said, “O unbelieving generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him to Me!” They brought the boy to Him. When he saw Him, immediately the spirit threw him into a convulsion, and falling to the ground, he [began] rolling around and foaming [at the mouth.] And He asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. “It has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” And Jesus said to him, ” ‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I do believe; help my unbelief.”
I want you to notice here that Jesus is not rebuking the father of the boy. He is rebuking the disciples. The lack of faith, the lack of belief is on the part of the disciples who thought that they were faced with a superior force that they could not overpower. It really comes down to them thinking that Jesus was somehow insufficient. Now in their defense, these particular disciples had not been witnesses to the transfiguration. They had not seen the glory of God manifested in Jesus on the mountain. But still, they had seen Him deliver hundreds of people from demonic possession. I can only assume that since He was not there physically with them, they lacked confidence that He could still deliver this boy through them. So Jesus in effect says to them in exasperation, “How much longer am I going to be with you? You’re going to have to learn how to carry on My ministry without Me.” That requires faith on their part, and that faith is shown to be lacking.
And so he says, “Bring the boy to me.” Verse 20: “So they brought him.” And immediately you have a collision between the dominion of darkness and the kingdom of light. What takes place in the immediate response of the forces of evil within the boy as they recognize the Spirit of God in Jesus Christ. As soon as the spirit in the boy saw Jesus—look at verse 20—“it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.”
What we see here is the compassion of Jesus towards the boy and towards the father. This is what Jesus came to do, to save the world from sin, from the curse of sin, the captivity of sin. He is the light that shines in the darkness of the world, and the world does not overpower it.
And He asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. It has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” The devil was trying to destroy this boy, and by extension, to destroy this father who had to witness this for the entire childhood of his son. The strategy of Satan is to destroy as many people as possible. You know, the alcoholism of a man not only destroys him, but it often destroys his family, his wife, his kids. That’s the way sin works. And that’s the way the devil works to destroy.
Vs23 And Jesus said to him, ” ‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I do believe; help my unbelief.” That sentence “All things are possible to him who believes,” has to be one of the best examples of a verse of scripture which is often used out of context. That’s the slogan of the charismatic faith healers. That’s the proof text of the prosperity gospel preachers. But make sure you keep it in the context of which Jesus said it.
Who or what is the person to believe in? Is it to believe that whatever I can think of, or desire, I can have it if I just believe it really really hard? Is that what Jesus is saying here? I think not. I think in Jesus’s response you see first of all His repetition of the statement “if You can.” This man was saying If you Jesus can deliver my son… If You have the power Jesus. If You have the authority. It’s almost as if the man is maligning who Jesus is by casting doubt upon His authority.
And so Jesus response is “All things are possible to him who believes.” The point is that this man must believe in who Jesus Christ is. Not believe in the power of positive thinking, or even the power of prayer, or even in the power of faith. But believing in who Jesus is. And if you believe in Jesus Christ as Lord, the Son of God, you shall be saved. That is saving faith, to believe in who Jesus is, the Son of the living God.
Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please [Him,] for he who comes to God must believe that He is and [that] He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” So there is saving faith, and there is working faith. This man needs to show saving faith. The disciples were guilty of failing in working faith. Or we might better say, walking faith. Because the Bible says we walk by faith and not by sight. They failed to walk by faith. Jesus wasn’t around. They couldn’t see Him and so they didn’t have faith in His ability to heal this boy. Faith is not just something by which we are saved, but it’s the means by which we live, by which we work the works of righteousness.
The father at least recognizes that his faith is something that needs improvement. He says, “I do believe; help my unbelief.” That’s the other element about faith that needs to be mentioned. And that is that faith grows, faith matures. Faith is strengthened. And faith is a gift of God. So the father gets that right by asking Jesus to improve his faith, to give him faith to believe.
Vs25 “When Jesus saw that a crowd was rapidly gathering, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You deaf and mute spirit, I command you, come out of him and do not enter him again.” After crying out and throwing him into terrible convulsions, it came out; and [the boy] became so much like a corpse that most [of them] said, “He is dead!” But Jesus took him by the hand and raised him; and he got up.”
We shouldn’t interpret that as if Jesus wanted to have a crowd and so He waited until a crowd formed and then began to heal the boy. No, just the opposite. Jesus wanted to avoid the sensationalism as much as possible, so He wanted to avoid the crowd.
But as He commands the evil spirit to come out of him, the spirit throws the boy into one last convulsion which is so devastating that it seems that the boy must have perished. He looks like a corpse, deathly white and perhaps not even breathing. But Jesus takes him by the hand and raises him up.
This is what Jesus does. This is what Jesus does in our day and time. He takes people whose lives are decimated, who have been deceived and who are being destroyed, and he does what only He can do and what no one else can do, that is, he enters into that spiritual deadness, and he takes the person by the hand, and raises them up, and they enter into new life.
Jesus is the one who says, “I am the resurrection and the life, and he who believes in Me, even though he dies, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” He’s the only one who can deliver us from death and sin. He’s either truth or He’s a liar. He’s either the God in the flesh who has the authority to forgive sin, to give life, or he’s a liar.
Well, after the boy is healed, after all the drama is over, the disciples go back to the house with Jesus and they ask Him a question. Vs 28 When He came into [the] house, His disciples [began] questioning Him privately, “Why could we not drive it out?” And He said to them, “This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer.”
What Jesus is basically saying is, “You didn’t pray.” Or perhaps, “you didn’t pray enough.” When do you not pray? When you don’t think you need to. Or when you don’t want to. Or when you’re presumptuous. Or when you think you can do it by yourself. So, if you think you can preach by yourself, there’s no need to pray before you preach. If you think you can do everything, just go ahead and do it, and see how it goes. That’s what he’s saying: “And you tried it. You tried it without prayer; next time, be sure to pray.”
Prayer is expressing your dependence upon God. Prayer is calling upon the power of God. Prayer is saying it’s not by some power that I have, but by the power of Jesus Christ that this boy would be healed. Prayer is communication from us to God that the power might come from God through us.
You see, prayer is ultimately aligning our wills with the will of God. It is simply acknowledging that God must do these things, that we don’t possess these things in and of ourselves. It’s not that our will be done, but that His will be done. And I think these disciples were getting a little too self important, and therefore they needed a little reminder. Just a little bit further in this chapter we will see that they were discussing among themselves who was the greatest. So perhaps they needed a little public humiliation as a necessary part of their training, a reminder of where their power came from.
We need remind ourselves that the faith that is fundamental to this story is not a faith that reaches out into some vague void—a belief in belief, or a belief in something—but it is a faith that resolutely trusts in the Lord Jesus. And in a world that scoffs at our belief in Christ and is quick to criticize our failures, we’re able to turn to One who says, “Bring the boy to me. Bring the girl to me. Suffer the little children to come unto me.” You can’t educate them out of this present darkness. You won’t be able to therapy them out of this snare and trap of the world that Satan has set for them. Actually, it’s good that you know you can’t do this. Bring them to Jesus. And some of us, as parents and grandparents, might want to take that in a very personal way. And if we can’t physically bring our children and grandchildren face-to-face with Christ, we can go face-to-face with Christ in prayer and bring them into his presence and trust in His power to make that which seems impossible, possible.