Just Announced: Philippians Sermon Series

Summary: How do we deal with spiritual warfare situations in which the enemy persists? Jesus shows us how.

Eyewitness to the Messiah

From Desperation to Deliverance

Matthew 17:14-21

This morning we deal with a passage that has to do with a controversial subject in the Christian community—demon-possession, a.k.a., demonization and also demonic oppression.

What are we to make of such accounts in Jesus’ ministry? Are these accounts an anachronism, a compromise Jesus made with primitive or medieval superstition, as even some Christian commentators suggest? Do things like these actually happen today? Do they only happen in primitive third-world countries? And do they happen to Christians? Are we who are believers actually vulnerable to these sorts of attacks? And if so, how do we deal with them? Do we deal with them exactly like Jesus did? Or the disciples did? More than that, what do we do if at first we don’t succeed? If there’s failure, as there was in this case? How relevant, after all, is a situation like this to Christians today?

Now those are a lot of questions to answer in one message. I’m not sure I can a thorough job of answering all these questions in the course of teaching the passage.

But anyone who knows me very well, knows how I would answer these questions. Just like the Bible consistently does. No, these stories aren’t anachronistic, a compromise with primitive or medieval superstition. They are a reflection of a world-view which the Bible consistently testifies to—that there are indeed very wicked, invisible evil spirits operating in our world who are the result of an ancient rebellion began by Lucifer, a powerful and highly placed angel. They oppose God, life, all that is good and right, and seek to bring the world into rebellion against God and to deceive mankind with respect to the truth about Jesus Christ. Second, these kinds of things do happen to people today in varying degrees, more so to non-Christians who are involved in occultic or satanic activity or false religion. But to some degree Christians who give ground to Satan through believing lies or involvement in sin also open themselves to demonic attack. The question of how we deal with them will be the subject of the body of this morning’s message. But let me say this, this story is very relevant to us today, especially in cases in which there is failure—a failure to effectively free believers from demonic oppression.

Just how relevant this passage is this week was driven home by the fact that the very week we just happened to come to this passage in our teaching through the Gospel that I encountered a situation in my ministry that in many respects paralleled the circumstances evident in this story. A couple from out-of-state whom none of you would know was referred to me for help with spiritual problems—namely varying manifestations of evil spirits. They had been to several evangelical pastors in their home state for help, but all help had failed. The kind of helps tried varied from sprinkling holy water to praying in tongues. The husband was ready to give up, but his wife persevered in her hope of finding hope and was finally referred by a friend to me.

The situation was in this way similar to the circumstance faced by the father in this story we have just read. He apparently had come to find help from Jesus as He and the disciples were in the very northernmost regions of Israel, only to find nine of the disciples and no Jesus. Jesus and the three disciples had climbed the Mount of Transfiguration to experience the mountain-top experience in the presence of God the Father and Elijah and Moses which we talked about last week. But after most every Mountain-Top experience comes the descent into the valley of this world’s grim realities, and the experience of Jesus and his three closest disciples was no different.

And all three Gospels in which this story occurs, the account of Transfiguration is followed by these events—in obviously Matthew, Mark and Luke. Mark gives quite a few more details, and its evident the nine disciples are neck-deep in snake-pit as Jesus makes his appearance. Mark tells us they were involved in a dispute with the scribes, and all three accounts tell us that when Jesus shows up, he is immediately approached by a man who is desperate for help for his son, who had already tried to get help from the disciples, but the disciples had failed in their attempts to deliver his son from a suspected demon.

Matthew has given us some key details of course. As Jesus comes back to join the nine remaining disciples, this man fell on his knees before Jesus, and according to verse 14, begs him saying, Lord have mercy on my son, for he is a lunatic and is very ill, for he often falls into the fire and often into the water. I brought him to your disciples, and they could not cure him.”

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