There is a stark contrast here between the glory of Christ and the failure of man. Jesus came down the mountain after revealing his glory to Peter, James and John. There they met the other 9 disciples who had miserably failed to cast out a demon.
The Italian painter, Rafael, painted this scene between 1516 and 1520. It depicts Christ glorified on the mountain and the disciples struggling below. He called it The Transfiguration. It was originally commissioned for the Pope to give to a city in France. But, when Rafael died, he kept it. It is now in the Vatican Museum.
When Jesus arrived, a man approached him and begged for Jesus to help his son, his only child, who was possessed by a demon. (38) This demon had tortured the man’s son. He said it made him cry out, convulsed him so that he foamed at the mouth and shatters him.
This father had faith.
Sadly, the disciples had tried but failed to cast out the demon. The man said “And I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not”. (40) This is surprising because Jesus had previously given the disciples power and authority over demons. (Luke 9:1)
Why did the disciples fail to cast out the demon? The answer is in the response of Jesus. He said “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you?” (41) The disciples did not believe Jesus. They did not believe they could cast out the demon. Jesus was grieved by this.
When Jesus called them a faithless and twisted generation, he made an Old Testament reference. As the Israelites were about to end their sojourn of 40 years in the wilderness and enter Canaan, Moses spoke to them and warned them that they would likely act corruptly and turn away from the covenant after Moses was gone. He said, although God was faithful and just, the Israelites were a crooked and twisted generation who rebelled against God. (Deuteronomy 32:5)
It was a stinging condemnation.
Although Jesus had dealt faithfully with his disciples, demonstrating his glory in his miracles and giving them the power to do them also, they continually failed to believe and act upon the things Jesus taught them.
You see real exasperation in Jesus here. He said “how long am I to be with you and bear with you?” . (41) Jesus knew his time was short. He did not have long to teach them. But it seemed long at times because he had to continually bear them in their unbelief and failure. That leads us to the thought that our unbelief in difficult situations grieves Jesus.
Jesus cast out the demon, who made one last attack on the boy, throwing him to the ground and convulsing him. Jesus cast him out with a simple word of rebuke, for demons are subject to him.
The lesson for us is to trust God to do the things only he can do. We do not have power over demons in ourselves. Jesus has power over them and we appropriate that power in his name.
God has the power to provide the means for us to do the things he calls us to do. That is why we sometimes accept ministries or jobs without knowing where the funds will come from or exactly how we will accomplish it.
People often make fun of churches, Baptists in particular, for having lots of committees to do things. While it is good to involve people in ministry, we must be careful not to rely solely on our own ability. It is the power of God that makes ministry work.
The reaction of the disciples and the crowd was one of astonishment. They were astonished at the majesty of God. (43) As Peter, James and John had been astonished at the visible glory of God on the mountain, all are astonished at the majesty of God revealed in his power over demons. Yet, this does not say that many were led to believe in Jesus or to follow him. You can stand amazed in his presence without bowing the knee and confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father.
Jesus Spoke Again About His Death
This is the second time Jesus spoke of his impending death. Rather than bask in the astonishment of the crowd, Jesus told his disciples that he was about to be delivered into the hands of men. (44) He wanted to words to sink into their ears. He wanted them to remember what he was focused on.
Although Jesus emphasized his words, God concealed their meaning from the disciples so that they would not perceive it. I think the meaning for this seeming contradiction is that God wanted the disciples to remember the words so that they would recall them after Jesus’ death.
They surely understood that Jesus said he would die at the hands of men, specifically the Jews, because Jesus had already told them this. (22) They did not really understand why and how the Messiah would be killed. And they were afraid to ask. (45) They did not want to know because it was frightening.
After the resurrection, they began to understand that it was God’s plan for Jesus to die to redeem them and us. Peter illustrates this point in his first sermon. He referred to Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God (Acts 2:23)
God reveals things to us through his Word and the Holy Spirit. Paul wrote that “these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 2:10) He does not reveal everything to us. He does not give the same level of understanding to everyone. And, he does not reveal to us all that he will reveal at one time. He reveals what he will when he will. He can do that because he is the Sovereign God.
Note that the disciples were afraid to ask Jesus about his death. (45) They knew he was talking about his death, but they did not want to know more. They wanted to contemplate power and glory. They did not want to think about suffering and death. Lots of people are that way today. They do not want to look at the cross. They want to diminish its importance.
But the main part of the gospel is not Jesus’ power over demons, it is his death for us on the cross. Some do not want to look at the cross, at Jesus’ death and at the need for satisfaction of God’s wrath on sinners. Recently a pastor in Kentucky wrote an article denying the doctrine of substitutionary atonement, the idea that Jesus died for our sins. To do so is to deny the gospel.
In contrast to this pastor, Paul wrote that he resolved to know nothing among the Corinthians but Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:2) He would not boast of anything except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Galatians 6:14) The cross is the center of our faith.
Next the disciples began to argue about who was the greatest disciple. Maybe this arose from Jesus’ selection the three disciples to go up on the mountain with him. But is so common to men and women. Wherever there is a group, even of Christians, there is a power struggle or a competition to be recognized as the best.
If the disciples had understood Jesus’ saying he must suffer and die, and that following him involved the same, they may have been less anxious to be the greatest of the group. But more likely they thought of the Messiah as conquering king and how cool it would be to be the head of his army and kingdom.
Jesus knew that they were up to. Verse 47 says he knew the reasoning of their hearts. Knowing this, he created an object lesson to show them the error in their thinking. He pulled a child to him and pointed out to the disciples. He said whoever receives this child in Jesus’ name receives Jesus. And, the one that is least is the one who is great.
Children were not held to be important in the culture of that time. A Rabbi would ignore a child completely. In contrast, Jesus brought the child close to himself and said receiving this child in his name would be the same as receiving Jesus.
It takes humility to welcome a child and have a relationship with him or her. Jesus always valued the powerless that society ignored. He received children, poor people, sick people and people outside the religious establishment. He did not seek out the rich and powerful. If we receive children, and others who are powerless, we receive Jesus.
Similarly, Jesus pointed to humility in leadership. He said the one who is least is great. Jesus values humility. He is not interested in competitions, or titles or anything whereby we exalt ourselves over one another. He values humility and service. Those two traits go together. Only humble people can serve the people Jesus served. Entitled or arrogant people cannot really serve other than to show themselves off.
The Wrong Enemy
John responded to Jesus’ lesson on humility by relating an occasion where the disciples stopped a man from casting out demons in his name.
They stopped him because he was not one of the disciples (“follow with us”)
After the lesson on humility, John seems to be saying “but aren’t we disciples special?”
But Jesus says they have it wrong again. They stopped the man out of their sense of self importance as Jesus’ disciples. They should not stop the man because he is acting for Jesus and the kingdom, even if he is not one of their group.
There were 4 events related in these stories and 4 mistakes:
1. not trusting God to do what we cannot do
2. taking our eyes off the cross
3. seeking glory for ourselves
4. fighting the wrong enemy
Let us not make the same mistakes.