Matthew 17:14-21 – Use Your Faith

At the foot of the mountain, a large crowd was waiting for them. A man came and knelt before Jesus and said, “Lord, have mercy on my son. He has seizures and suffers terribly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. So, I brought him to your disciples, but they couldn’t heal him.”

Jesus said, “You faithless and corrupt people! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” Then Jesus rebuked the demon in the boy, and it left him. From that moment the boy was well.

Afterward the disciples asked Jesus privately, “Why couldn’t we cast out that demon?”

“You don’t have enough faith,” Jesus told them. “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.” (New Living Translation)

As we reflect on today’s Gospel lesson, let’s keep in mind that any time we see Jesus exorcising demons, we need to resist the idea that anyone having similar symptoms today is demonic in origin. Any chronic health condition a person experiences, without seeing any healing take place, does not necessarily mean the condition is due to the person’s lack of faith.

Conversely, it is also possible to relegate such healing accounts to a different time and place. My own view of Scripture, along with personal experience, informs me that demonization is real. We may underestimate how influential and widespread demonization occurs in this modern time and place.

The nature of faith is not located in its amount or intensity but in its object. All of life requires some faith. Even sitting in a chair. When I sit, the amount or intensity of my faith isn’t the issue – the object, the chair, is the issue. If a leg on the chair breaks and I flop to the floor, its not reasonable for me to conclude that it happened because of my lack of faith.

The disciples’ inability to heal the boy.

I’m not sure what is more difficult: to be the person suffering, or to observe a loved one suffering. The father is desperate and hurting, watching his son suffer with seizures. The man is utterly discouraged because Christ’s disciples were not able to help.

So, the desperate father approached Jesus and knelt, begging him to have mercy and help his son.

Our Lord’s response, I admit, is not likely what my response would be. I would be more like, “I’m so sorry this is happening to you. This is terrible. Let’s take care of this.” Jesus did honor the father’s request and healed the boy, but not before he had some words.

Jesus was exasperated, and he let everyone know about it. Why was he so disappointed?

Because his disciples knew better. The disciples were not ignorant or unable. They had what they needed to deal with the boy and his father. Jesus already equipped them to do this kind of ministry: 

Jesus called his twelve disciples together and gave them authority to cast out evil spirits and to heal every kind of disease and illness… “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cure those with leprosy, and cast out demons. Give as freely as you have received!” (Matthew 10:1, 8, NLT)

The reason for the disciples’ inability to heal was their lack of faith.

Jesus was perturbed with his disciples because they were not utilizing faith.

Jesus is bothered when believers don’t believe.

Up until this encounter, the disciples were healing people and doing the work Jesus gave them to do. Yet now they cannot. What changed? They relied on their own power, abilities, and experience, instead of relying on the power of God to heal. 

The Gospel of Mark includes Jesus saying that this kind of demon can only be dislodged through prayer (Mark 9:14-29). In short, the disciples didn’t pray. They didn’t tap into God’s power. They didn’t use the authority Jesus gave them. Rather, the disciples rested on their own laurels.

Their lack of prayer translated into a lack of power. 

If we are unable to do the work God has called us to do, it isn’t because we lack the authority or ability. It is a lack of faith.

Effective ministry happens because of faith.

The power of faith is in the person to whom it is directed. If we trust solely in ourselves, we will fail. However, if we trust in Jesus, then even the tiniest of faith will be able to do the impossible.

The power is not in particular words, or in a certain formula – the power is in faith rightly directed toward Jesus. Most demonic manifestations are much more subtle – such as thoughts of how I am not enough, how I have no right to try and help another, and how unable I am to do the will of God.

Conclusion

Here is a simple observation of Christ’s words: We are not told that if we have faith as big as a mountain that we can move one. Instead, Jesus tells us that if we have any faith at all, even as small as a tiny seed, directed toward God and not ourselves, the sky is the limit – we will have all the ability we need to do the will of God.

So, what is that impossible thing that could be done in your life with properly directed faith? 

What miracle, healing, or resistance to a bad spirit needs to take place around us? 

Discouragement is the most common tool of the devil in keeping us from realizing genuine manifestations of faith. Jesus has already accomplished victory over sin, death, and Satan. We must, then, claim all the will of God for today.

Resist the devil and he will flee from you (James 4:7). Step out in faith and do the will of God. The first step is always one of prayer….

High and Holy One, because your mercy is everlasting and your truth endures from generation to generation, show mercy to the sick and infirmed of either body or soul. Grant them deliverance from mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical illness. Blessed Lord, keep them under your care, for only in you can we live in safety and wellbeing. Visit them with your saving health. Do not let their hope be taken away, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Ephesians 6:10-20 – Spiritual Combat

A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.

And pray for me, too. Ask God to give me the right words so I can boldly explain God’s mysterious plan that the Good News is for Jews and Gentiles alike. I am in chains now, still preaching this message as God’s ambassador. So, pray that I will keep on speaking boldly for him, as I should. (New Living Translation)

When I think of the Apostle Paul, I think of a guy who had a bucket load of boldness, who did not sidestep tough situations, but who fearlessly stepped into the world with the good news of God’s grace in Christ. 

Maybe Paul was that way because of prayer and the prayers of God’s people. Maybe what stands in the way of people knowing Jesus and believers maturing in faith is a profound lack of intense, consistent, and sustained prayer. Maybe too many of God’s people have been duped by the enemy of our souls to retreat in a bubble of fear, unable to effectively engage God’s big world with confidence.

Paul told the Ephesian Church what kind of practical and vital obligations were needed to put aside fear and flourish as Christians….

Be strong in the Lord because we are in an invisible war.

There is an unseen world all around us. We serve an invisible God, and we have an invisible enemy. Satan and all his wicked spirits exist. They are organized for war with methodical schemes and strategies designed to blunt our spiritual development and the expansion of God’s benevolent kingdom. The enemy seeks to render us ineffective in our walk with Christ, unproductive for God, and all knotted up inside in a broken mess so that we are weak, not strong.

The names of our invisible enemy in Scripture tells us the kind of diabolical and methodical work he is doing to snare us: 

  • Satan (the adversary who opposes us)
  • Lucifer (the shining one who comes looking like the light but only delivers darkness)
  • Beelzebub (lord of the flies, who is a false god promising protection and help apart from God)
  • Belial (the evil one, who seeks to have us engage in sin instead of righteousness)
  • Tempter (offering alternative plans to the will of God)
  • Accuser (the false judge, using criticism to bully people into shameful submission)
  • Prince of this world (the architect behind all systemic evil)
  • Devil (the diabolical one who engages in spiritual guerilla warfare against God’s people)

The unseen wicked spirits of this dark world pull out whatever technique they can to turn us from knowing who we are in Christ and how we are to really live. They seek to distract us from our mission, to keep us busy fighting among ourselves, so that we will put our ultimate confidence in anything or anyone but Christ.

Put on the armor of God and prepare for spiritual battle.

Satan is a defeated foe. The nails that crucified the Lord Jesus, and the power of God that raised him from the dead, ensured Satan’s doom.

Although we stand in the victory of the Lord Jesus, the world, the flesh, and the devil still dog us at every turn. So, we must discover and dislodge every threat to our spiritual growth and the mission of the church to step into the world with the gospel of grace. 

Jesus said he will build his church and the gates of hell will not prevail against us. The picture is not one of the church being defensive and only responding to threats, but of a church pushing forward and storming the gates. 

The promise we have is that we can engage the enemy to the point of hell itself – and will not be burned by demonic enemy fire. Therefore, we are not to hunker down in self-protective foxholes; we are to engage the enemy with our spiritual armor on.

  • Put on the belt of truth. We need to combat the demonic lies. The truth will set us free. Lies will place us in bondage. Shame will keep us in the dark shadows. We are to embrace Jesus who is the way, the truth, and the life. The truth is that we belong to God. We are not to fight demonic fire with fire. Instead, we fight Satan with the waters of baptism, remembering who we are in Christ. Just as the wicked witch of the west was killed with water, so we are to fling our baptismal water in the face of the enemy and watch him melt away.
  • Put on the breastplate of righteousness. It protects our heart as we push forward and engage the enemy. Satan is aiming for our hearts, so it is vital that they are well-guarded. Our hearts belong to God. Before we chose God, God chose us before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless (Ephesians 1:4).         
  • Put on the gospel shoes of peace. Satan and his minions are trying to cause chaos, unrest, and division.  We are to be ready for his methods through embracing God’s peace and harmony with others. We are to use our shoes, both for digging in and standing firm, and stepping forward into situations as peace-makers. Those who ready themselves with the gospel of peace live differently, openly, with grace and integrity.

Take up your spiritual weapons and do battle.

Whereas the spiritual armor is protective, giving us a solid defensive posture, our spiritual weapons help us to go on the offense and walk into the struggle.

  • Take up the shield of faith. Extinguish all the nasty flaming arrows of the evil one. The Roman phalanx was a rectangular military formation where the army took their shields and connected them together for protection and the ability to push forward, engaging the enemy. This tactic helped the Romans to conquer most of the known world of the time. It was based not on individual ability but on the strength of the entire army working together. The devil seeks to divide and conquer. Yet, there is strength in numbers, that is, as long as we work together!  Linking our shields together through unity, fellowship, and encouragement is absolutely necessary if we are going to win the battle.
  • Take up the helmet of salvation. Active transformation through the renewing of our minds enables us to avoid retreating and going back to old sinful patterns of thinking. We need mindfulness, not mindlessness, aware of who we are in Christ and actively occupying our thoughts with God’s Word.
  • Take up sword of the Spirit. This is the word of God. The written word is to be the spoken word. Our primary offensive weapon in the battle against the evil one is God’s Word. It needs to be read, memorized, meditated upon, learned, talked about, and, used by speaking it aloud.

Be alert and pray.

Prayer is to undergird everything we do. The early church was effective and successful through prayer. They all joined together constantly in prayer (Acts 1:14). They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer (Acts 2:42). After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly (Acts 4:31).  The early apostles re-arranged their busy schedules so that they could give their attention to prayer and the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4). Believers in Jesus pray.

Whenever prayer takes a back seat to everything else, believers end up fighting the wrong battles with the result of a lot of friendly fire where people get spiritually and emotionally hurt. Our battle is not with flesh and blood human beings; it is with Satan and his wicked spirits. Fight them, not each other!

Conclusion

The spiritual forces we are up against are wicked, evil, cunning and do not observe any kind of Geneva Convention rules when it comes to war. They are out for blood. Therefore, we must be ready and put on our spiritual armor, take up our spiritual weapons, and move forward with the word of God and prayer. This present darkness requires that we be at our best. Our very lives depend on it.

Mark 1:21-28 – The Authority of Jesus

Welcome, friends! Although there is an unseen world, the Lord has authority even over the dominion of darkness. We can experience spiritual healing and deliverance because of Jesus. Click the videos below and let us worship Christ, the sovereign over all creation.

Mark 1:21-28
A Mighty Fortress Is Our God – arranged and sung by Matt Boswell

Our Father in heaven,
    we pray that your name will always be kept holy.
We pray that your kingdom will come—
    that what you want will be done here on earth, the same as in heaven.
Give us the food we need for today.
Forgive our sins,
    just as we have forgiven those who did wrong to us.
Don’t let us be tempted,
    but save us from the Evil One. Amen.

The Authority of Jesus

They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

“Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.

The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.” News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee. (NIV)

When I was in college, I drove a big car – an Oldsmobile Delta 88 with a 455 Rocket engine. Because I had the largest car around, I could fit a lot of people into my vehicle to drive to church on Sundays. Since I often gave rides to people I did not know very well, one Sunday I picked up two sisters who had never been to my church before.

Everything went like a typical Sunday morning, until toward the end of the pastor’s sermon one of the sisters began yelling and crying out in the service, maybe much like the account we have in our Gospel account for today. The pastor quickly brought an end to the worship service and the congregation hurriedly filed out of the building. I stayed behind because, well, I was her ride.

What happened next is an entire story for another day. I will just say that I saw some crazy stuff that did not seem readily explainable with our five human senses. And, I might add, there was a deliverance on that Sunday from whatever or whomever was influencing the young lady.

Ever since my experience on that Sunday, I continually wonder: What are our expectations when we come to a worship service?  Do we anticipate Jesus will be present via the Holy Spirit?  If so, do we believe he is there to confront demons and bring deliverance to people? Do folks even believe there is such beings as angels and demons anymore? How do we make sense of stories like this?

Perhaps there is so little deliverance from evil in our own experiences and in many faith communities because we simply have no expectation that such a thing will happen. Maybe the demons just sleep through gatherings knowing that their influence is not being threatened.

This brings me to the bread and butter of today’s message. I will give you three pre-suppositions (that is, things that we assume or take for granted) from which I work from when approaching Scripture and ministry. I will also make three observations of this story about Jesus, because ultimately the story is really all about him and not about demons. Finally, I offer three applications based on today’s Gospel lesson.

First Pre-supposition: Demons are real.  We know almost nothing about the man in the Gospel story other than he was “possessed by an evil spirit” which meant he was being influenced by a demon. I believe there is an unseen reality we cannot perceive with our physical eyes.

Second Pre-supposition:  Jesus has authority over demons.  Jesus took charge of the situation because he had the authority to do so. Throughout Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is portrayed as one who came to decisively deal with the powers of sin and death, especially as expressed through the demonic realm.

Third Pre-supposition:  Demons could be here.  I do not mean to scare anyone. I simply intend to point out that demons, or any type of evil manifestations, are not just out there somewhere in the world. Today’s story takes place in the sacred space of worship to God: the synagogue. Although it is a rather dramatic story, most demonic activity goes unaware because demons do not like to be recognized; they like the anonymity of the shadows and to operate in the dark where no one can detect them.  If we knew they were around, we would do something about it!  Just because we have dedicated spaces to the worship of God does not mean that it magically keeps evil out. God’s people must be savvy to evil demonic ways and take charge to use our authority in Christ with truth, justice, peace, faith, and the message of the gospel so that we might live wisely and shoo the devil away.

Based upon those three assumptions, the following are three observations about God and Jesus concerning the Christian life. These realities ought to evoke confidence in our lives without fear of the demonic realm…

First Observation: Jesus is directly interested in people.  Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. Christ came to directly confront evil and deliver humanity from sin, death, and hell.  Jesus showed interest, care, and love to people.  In the story, Jesus went to Capernaum to begin his ministry. Capernaum was a non-descript small village that was of no interest to anybody outside of it. Yet, Jesus sought to reach common ordinary people as well as the rich and famous because all are in need.  Furthermore, Jesus is concerned about every part of our lives, and not just the spiritual matters.

Second Observation: Jesus deals with pain and suffering.  One of the truest theological statements I could ever say to you is this: God loves you in the person of Jesus through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus suffered on our behalf. Christ is against everything that destroys. In fact, Jesus did not even destroy the demon, who was probably expecting that to happen. Instead, the Lord Jesus took the demon’s power away.  Jesus has taken the sting out of death.  Anything that robs life of its intended flourishing, Jesus is ready to do away with.  This can be a tricky point because God will use pain and suffering to teach us and form us into faithful people. Yet, that does not mean God is the author of pain or enjoys suffering. It just means that God’s grace will bend any circumstance, whether good or evil, to divine purposes for our benefit.

Third Observation: Jesus gives grace.  Every instance of healing, each miracle, and every event of deliverance from evil are all because Jesus loves us and cares about us, despite whether we deserve it or not.

Now let’s pull this together into some points of application…

First Application: We need the deliverance of Jesus, and not only psychological therapy.  I am a big believer in counseling and therapy for all kinds of emotional issues. It seems to me that far too many persons do not take advantage of the resources we have today in the psychological realm. What is more, I daily provide a range of counseling for individuals as both a church pastor and hospital chaplain. However, this in no way diminishes the need for spiritual deliverance or that therapy can somehow replace Jesus. If demons are real, and evil truly present, then no amount of counseling will deal decisively with Satan because only Jesus can do that.  I believe Jesus is not merely one option among a smorgasbord of people who could help us. Rather, Jesus is the Messiah who delivers us from evil, like no other can.

Second Application: Amazement is not faith.  The people in the Gospel story were amazed at Christ’s teaching and deliverance ministry. They had never seen or heard anything like it. Yet being impressed is not the same as naked trust. Spreading news of what Jesus did is not the same as putting Christ’s teaching into practice and personally experiencing divine power to deliver from sin.

Third Application: The Lord’s Table brings healing.  Christian communion is neither only a remembrance of what Jesus did on the cross, nor a magical act of bringing deliverance. Rather, the Table is a means of grace in which we partake of the elements in faith knowing Jesus is victorious over the demonic realm. What is more, the Spirit will join us to Christ and give us the confidence and hope to confront all that ails us. Liturgical rhythms of grace consistently and surely work their way into us and bring about the healing we need and want.

Conclusion

Jesus Christ has authority over everything, including the demonic realm. This makes him perfectly suited and situated to provide spiritual deliverance from evil – which is precisely how Christ encouraged us to pray. So, let us pray the prayer our Lord taught us:

Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.