Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 17:15a (Holman) “Lord,” he said, “have mercy on my son, . . .”
We parents should pray for our children, especially for those who can’t or won’t pray for themselves. I thought I knew how to pray for my children, until they left home. I then realized the inadequacy of my praying. I overnight went from being somewhat earnest to being dead earnest. Pray for your children. Pray like you mean it, for their health, choice of a spouse, career decisions, etc.
Matt. 17:15b “. . . because he has seizures and suffers severely. He often
falls into the fire and often into water.”
Few passions are more persistent than parental love on a mission. A parent’s love is so strong that flight attendants have to say, “Put on your own oxygen mask before helping others put theirs on.” Parents love their children, and will attempt for them far more than they would attempt for themselves. The pains of our children explode in us many times worse than our own hurts do.
This father, desperate and frantic, brought his son to the Father’s Son. The ancients said the boy was moonstruck. They believed mental illnesses were caused by waxing and waning phases of the moon. We maintain a vestige of this in our word “lunacy” which comes from the Latin word for moon, “luna.”
We know this is superstition, but someone has wryly noted that anyone who laid awake all night staring at the moon would have so much time to concentrate on all their problems that it truly would drive them insane.
Life seemed to be mocking the father in our text. His agonizing plight could be stated in a sentence, but not understood in a lifetime of observation.
There was no respite. Someone had to be with the boy every moment. Seizures came on him suddenly, without warning, causing suicidal tendencies.
The root cause of this boy’s malady is unexplainable. We have no reason to believe the lad or his parents were guilty of grave sins. The Twelve asked about the blind man, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” Jesus answered. “This came about so that God’s works might be displayed in him” (John 9:2b-3).
Sin can have mental and physical ramifications (Gehazi’s leprosy). At other times God lets Satan do his sinister work in the mental and physical realm, without correlation to sin in the moral realm (Job’s troubles). Often the devil has no direct connection to mental and physical problems; troubles commonly have natural causes (genetics). We want simple cut-and-dried answers, everything tied up in neat little bows with no mystery left, but this usually is not an option. Be cautious in our declarations in these matters. Always be humble.
For reasons known only to God, evil spirits were tormenting this child and his parents. It is dangerous to generalize these Bible cases. When Jesus walked on Earth, the spiritual realm explosively manifested itself, for better and worse. Unconventional events happened that occurred neither before nor since. Much about this we don’t understand, but this we know. Parents should still agonizingly pray for children being obviously influenced by the devil.
Matt. 17:16 “I brought him to Your disciples, but they couldn’t heal him.”
Jesus had, in the recent past, given the Twelve authority over unclean spirits (Matt. 10:1). In Jesus’ previous absence, the disciples had done well, successfully casting demons out, but failed miserably here. Evidently they were now reeling from His recent predictions of doom. They lost their confidence; their faith had deserted them. Without confident faith we are powerless.
This failure of the nine reminds us even the best leaders don’t always succeed in having their requests granted. Everyone experiences disappointment in prayer. God often says no to even His best children. Pastors, Missionaries, etc., are not super-saints. In fact, many lay-people have matured far beyond us.
We happen to have highly visible spiritual gifts that catch attention. This often makes people mistakenly think we are inherently more spiritual. Not true.
God answers every prayer of every believer with yes, no, or maybe. We all hear a preponderant amount of resounding no’s to our requests. We can chafe at this, or we can trust God’s heart. Our broken desperation at repeatedly hearing no is God’s way of making us feel needy, of drawing us closer to Him, something He deems more important than granting any specific supplication.
Public failures by all believers, especially by professional religionists, are humiliating. Unclean spirits may not be as flamboyant in our culture as they were in Jesus’ day, and are in other countries, but are as real. We feel ourselves struggling to resist a tsunami of spiritual attack. Evil is proliferating in our land. Self dominates, driving us with its three sugar sticks: power, money, and sex.
When the church fails to stem this flood of evil, our defeat is total, our disgrace absolute. No other earthly power can do the vital spiritual work of defeating unclean spirits, yet to our shame we have failed often.
We need to confess weakness, and beg God to empower us in the present, embolden us in the future, and not let us repeat failures of the past, such as the Crusades, the Inquisition, slavery—I often wonder how my great great Grandpa Couch could be a preacher yet support slavery. Last month I learned my Hill ancestors owned slaves. They were wrong. It hurts. Am I to blame for their sin? No, but it does make me wonder, am I wrong about something? Is an evil spirit blinding me? No evidence says I’m inherently better than my ancestors.
We are not corralling evil spirits well. High profile Protestant preachers stumble regularly, tripping on adultery and stealing. Child abuse scandals haunt Catholicism. The list could go on. By the way, unbelievers do not distinguish between denominations. They lump us together. Don’t be pompous if another denomination has someone fall, as if we are better than they are. If one group has a scandal, we all get a black eye, and Jesus’ reputation is scandalized.
We need to confess to the world, “We are sorry. We are at best sinners saved by grace; forgive us for pretending or claiming to be anything else.”
Making big claims, we often act “better than thou,” causing our failures to dip as low as our claims are high. The world laughs at our swelling claims.
We talk about evangelizing the lost, yet we are losing a whole generation marching out our doors, intending never to come back. We talk about the church being unstoppable. We especially like to say it if we are thinking about our budgets and buildings, neither of which the world could care less about.
We talk about loving one another. It would be best for us if we don’t even go there. We talk about being on mission. Yet even in a missions minded church like Second, few travel the world to spread the Gospel.
Enough! No more browbeating is needed. An abundance of Christian-bashing is already well underway. Having duly noted many of our most glaring weaknesses, let me take a moment to defend ourselves to the unbelieving world.
You say we Christ-followers aren’t all we’re cracked up to be. I agree, to a point. Your premise is true if we are self-righteous, for then we are lying to ourselves and to others. Your premise is wrong if you mean we are hypocrites every time we sin. To say there is an abundance of failures in the church is like saying there are a lot of sick people in a hospital. When honest with ourselves, we humbly admit we are hurting people who come together to help one another.
The latest statistic to bite us is, the divorce rate among Christians is as high as among non-Christians, 50%. By the way, let me hasten to say marriage is a stronger institution than many think. The number of married people still married to their first spouse is 75%. Despite this fact, too many church couples divorce. Are we to be condemned for this? Did not many come to church in the first place because they had a trouble, a glaring weakness, in their life?
Do not mistake weakness for hypocrisy, or always equate sin with hypocrisy. A hypocrite is a fake, a person who knowingly pretends. Many sincere believers sin often, their failure being weakness, not hypocrisy. Be careful when you call a weak Christian a hypocrite. By so doing you become guilty of the same better-than-thou self-righteousness you claim to dislike in us.