The Lord's Day Morning
March 7, 2010
“Amazed by the Greatness of God”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good. His steadfast love endures forever. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom He has redeemed from trouble and gathered from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south. Let us worship Him.
If you have your Bibles I'd invite you to turn with me to Luke chapter 9. We’re going to be looking at verses 37 to 45. Make sure you look back to verses 28 to 36 which records the passage we were in the last time we were together in the gospel of Luke which is the story of Jesus’ transfiguration. This is the one time in Jesus’ earthly ministry that something of the full glory of who He was shone through and only three people saw it, three human beings that lived and ministered with Him, His inner circle — Peter, James, and John. Of course, Moses and Elijah saw it as well, but they were already in glory, so three people on earth for a brief moment saw something of the fullness of the glory of Christ shine through.
By the way, I think that ought to tell us something about our own lives and ministries here. Very often the Lord simply calls on us to be faithful here, never ever to be recognized for that faithfulness. Jesus, only on this mountain, only for a brief time, did three people, who were then told not to tell anybody about it, see the fullness of His glory in His ministry. I think mothers perhaps especially need to take that in. Often times you’re called to give the best and the whole of your adult lives to invest in children and you may never well see the reason and the results of your ministry in their lives in its fullness, and yet you’re called to pour yourselves into them and wait for the Lord's “Well done, My good and faithful servant.” And it may not come in this life. But for all of us, isn't that a lesson? That no matter what we're called to in this life, we're called to faithfulness. We may never have that moment where the glory of what God is making us into or the glory of what God is using our service for shine through for everyone to see. But we don't live for that day. We live for the day when every knee bows and every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord and where the fullness of what we've done will be shone for what it is.
So we see there the transfiguration of Jesus Christ. That's the context of the passage that we're going to read today. Now the passage that we're going to read today has two parts. The first part you’ll see in verses 37 down to about the middle part of verse 43 and that is the story of the healing of this boy with an unclean spirit. This boy is possessed by a demon that is brutally abusing him and Jesus’ disciples are not able to cast out that demon. Hold that thought, and by the way, if you’re cheating, allow yourself to go back and look at the first verse of chapter 9, because it is the first verse of chapter 9 that provides the context for Jesus’ disciples failure to be able to heal this boy and it explains why Jesus says something that may confuse you in this passage. Jesus says something to His disciples when the man comes to them. Do you remember what the man says? He says, “Jesus, I'm coming to You because my boy is demon possessed and Your disciples weren't able to do anything about it.” And then Jesus says something. You’ll scratch your heads about it if you haven't read verse 1 or if you don't remember verse 1 of chapter 9. So there's the first part of the chapter.
The second part picks up in the second half of verse 43 and goes down to verse 45. Here Jesus says something about His death. Now these two incidents may look unrelated, but I want to suggest to you that they are closely related. The inability of the disciples to heal this boy and then in the second half the inability of the disciples to understand and believe something that Jesus is saying is going to happen to Him.
What I'm going to suggest to you is there is a battle in this passage for belief and in both cases it's a battle for believing to be true what Jesus has said. In the first instance, the battle to believe what is true, what Jesus has said about their authority to heal and to cast out demons. The second half of the story, the ability of the disciples to believe what is true, what Jesus has said about His own death. Now He's already started, He's already started to teach them about His own death. We've seen that even in this passage. After Jesus is confessed by Peter, if you look back at verses 21 and 22, immediately what does Jesus say? “The Son of Man must suffer.” So He's already started to teach them about His death in this passage but we're going to find out what they’re having a hard time even understanding that — we're told that in the second part of this passage.
So what we have going on in this passage is a battle about unbelief. Now it's specific to the circumstances that are going on in Jesus’ life and ministry but there are things for us to learn about right here and now and about our lives and the battle of unbelief from this passage because it's God's Word and it's inerrant and it's infallible and it is given to us for our edification. So let's pray and ask for God's help and blessing before we read it.
Heavenly Father this is Your Word. Open our eyes to see wonderful things in it by Your Holy Spirit. We ask for Your Holy Spirit not because there is some deficiency in Your Word. There's not. Your Word is perfect. There's not a flaw in it. But there is a flaw in our hearts and that flaw in our hearts makes it hard for us to believe what is true, even when it's put right before our eyes. So we ask the Holy Spirit to help us overcome our own sin and doubt and to believe Your Word and to understand it, in Jesus' name. Amen.
This is God's Word beginning in Luke 9:37:
“On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met Him. And behold, a man from the crowd cried out, ‘Teacher, I beg You to look at my son, for he is my only child. And behold, a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly cries out. It convulses him so that he foams at the mouth; and shatters him, and will hardly leave him. And I begged Your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.’ Jesus answered, ‘O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be here with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.’ While he was coming, the demon threw him to the ground and convulsed him. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit and healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astonished at the majesty of God.
But while they were all marveling at everything He was doing, Jesus said to His disciples, ‘Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.’ But they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, so that they might not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask Him about this saying.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
Do you believe that God is sovereign over your troubles?
Or, when you are in the midst of your troubles do you wonder if your troubles are bigger than God?
And if you don't wonder if your troubles are bigger than God, do you act like they are?
I think this passage has something to teach us about that very struggle and I think it's a struggle that almost all of us have from time to time. And I think this passage unfolds that struggle in three phases.
I. We live in a fallen world.
First of all, I think it unfolds that struggle by reminding us that we live in a fallen world and you see this almost immediately. If you look at verse 37, Jesus and His disciples had just come down from the Mount of Transfiguration when Jesus’ glory has shone through and they've seen something of the awesomeness of who He is, and we read, look at verse 37, “On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain.” Luke is reminding you that they've just come down from the Mount of Transfiguration where they've seen this amazing display of Jesus’ glory. “On the next day, when they came down from the mountain they meet a great crowd and with them is a man with a son who is possessed by the demon.” In other words, Luke leads you right from the Mount of Transfiguration right back down into the trouble of every day life.
Now, frankly, this is where Jesus typically lived. Jesus, we're told in this passage, went around healing the sick and casting out demons and coming to the aid of those who were trapped in their struggles and in bondage to Satan. This is the world that Jesus lived and ministered in. It was a world filled with trouble and Luke is drawing attention to that here.
The norm is not what was happening on the Mount of Transfiguration, where Jesus’ glory is apparent to all, where there is a momentary cessation of hostilities with the world forces of darkness and of demons and this time of worship in the very presence of Moses and Elijah, and more than that, in the very presence of the One who is the Son of God. No, the norm for our experiences is what Jesus met when He came down from the mountain. It's trouble. We live in a world of trouble.
Now here's the problem. When we're not in trouble or at least when we're not aware of how much trouble we're in, we begin to think that that's the norm for our lives. And then when trouble comes along we're surprised. “This isn't supposed to be happening to me!” And then when trouble does come along, we start asking a different question. “Lord, why are You letting this happen to me?” We’re not only surprised by the trouble, we start wondering if God is in control because if God were in control we're thinking, “This shouldn't be happening to me.”
And Luke is presenting for us a circumstance that is the norm in the fallen world. In this case it's a man who has a demon possessed son. And Jesus sighs and cares with us and for us in this fallen world. It's so interesting isn't it, that Jesus’ immediate reaction is, “Bring that child to Me. This is what I'm here for. I'm here sighing with you. I'm here caring for you. I’ll do something about that. I know you live in a world of trouble. I know you live in a world of trouble that's beyond you. That's what I'm here for. I'm able to deal with this. This doesn't take Me by surprise at all.”
But it takes us by surprise. And we need to pause and remember that that is the world that we live in. We live in a fallen world. We don't live in the world of the age to come when all of these things are going to be taken away and there's going to be no more tears and no more sighing and no more sorrow and no more trouble. That's not the world we live in. We live in the here and now. And when we're going through those seasons of life where trouble isn't just falling in on our shoulders, we need to remember, “Well, that's a blessing from the Lord because normally in this life it's a life filled with trouble.” Trouble is not the exception to the rule now. It's the rule. And so we shouldn't be surprised when it comes because we live in a fallen world, and Luke is reminding us of that ,even as he brings us down the mountain and back into the normal situations of life where there's this man bringing a child cruelly demon possessed.
II. Our response to God's sovereignty.
The second way that God teaches us about how we respond to His sovereignty in our trouble in this passage is He focuses us on a story of a man whose son, his only child, was in a terrible predicament, possessed of an evil spirit. And we see something, I think, for Jesus’ concern for young people in this passage. And isn't it interesting how often the spiritual battlefield that we fight is a spiritual battlefield that involves our young people.
Now, I don't know all the reasons why that is. I suspect that one of the reasons that Satan chooses our young people as the spiritual battlefield on which he likes to fight is because our young people are so dear to us and he likes to strike us at the place where it hurts us the most. I suspect also that it is a fertile field for his victory because young people have not developed in the maturity so that they can know how to fight back Biblically in the way that they ought to fight back. And I'm not attempting to make this as the ultimate paradigm, but it is very clear that there is a spiritual battle going on here.
And it's not an exception in Jesus’ ministry. Think how often this happens. There's the daughter of Jairus. There's the nobleman's son at Capernaum. There's the daughter of the Canaanite or the Syrophonecian woman. There's the widow's son at Nain. Over and over in Jesus’ ministry there's this situation where young people, and even children, are being brought to Jesus for ministry. And it's appropriate that we would do this on a morning where there’re children behind me and where there's a child who's been baptized and there will be six more baptized. How often is the battlefield circling around our young people, the spiritual battlefield in life? And Jesus shows a deep concern for these young people. When this man with a son, his only child who is cruelly demon possessed, comes to Jesus and begs for help, Jesus says, “Bring him to Me.”
Jesus has a deep concern for young people and there are many things that we can learn from that, but I want to suggest this — if this man, in the midst of that spiritual battlefield brought his son to Jesus, ought not we, who say that we believe in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, bring our children to Him in prayer? I love what J.C. Ryle says about this. He says,
“There are many Christian fathers and mothers at this day who are just as miserable about their children as the man of whom we are reading. The son who was once the desire of their eyes and in whom their lives were bound up turns into a spendthrift or a prodigal or profligate and a companion of sinners, and the daughter who was once the flower of the family and of whom they said, ‘This girl shall be our comfort in old age’ becomes self willed and worldly minded and a lover of pleasure more than a lover of God and their hearts are very well near broken. An iron seems to enter into their souls and the devil appears to triumph over them and rob them of their choicest jewels and they are ready to cry, ‘I’ll go to my grave sorrowing. What good shall my life do to me now?’ Now what should a father or mother do in a case like this? They should do as the man before us did. They should go to Jesus in prayer and cry to Him about their child. They should spread before that merciful Savior the tale of their sorrows and entreat Him to help them. Great is the power of prayer and intercession. The child of many prayers shall seldom be cast away. God's time of conversion may not be ours. He may think fit to prove our faith by keeping us long waiting, but so long as a child lives and a parent prays, we have no right to finally despair about that child's soul.”
Do we spend more time working on our children's circumstances than we do teaching our children? Do we spend more time teaching our children than we do living the faith before them? Do we spend more time living the faith before them than we do praying for them? And if we spend more time noodling with their circumstances than we do interceding before the Lord in prayer, then we clearly think that we're sovereign; not God. And yet, in our world and in our culture today, it's our tendency so often to figure out what are the things that we can do to position our children rather than entrusting them into the hands of God. Do we pray? This man brought his son to Jesus. You bring your children to Jesus in prayer.
III. A battle about unbelief
Third, the battle in this passage is a battle about unbelief. In the first case, it's a battle about whether the disciples are going to believe in the healing power of God. Look at what happens here. The man comes and he says to Jesus, verse 40, “I begged Your disciples to cast it out but they could not.” And then Jesus responds and then He says something really strange. “O faithless and twisted generation. How long am I to be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.”
Now why would Jesus say that?
Is Jesus rebuking the father? No. This rebuke is not for the father. The father has done exactly what he ought to do. He's brought the child to Jesus.
Is Jesus rebuking everybody in the community around Him, after all, He says “generation”?
Maybe, but I suspect that the people who are in the bull's eye of Jesus’ rebuke are His own disciples.
Why? Because of what the father said. They were not able to cast out the demon. Now you say to me, “Come on, isn't that being a little hard on the disciples, they weren't able to cast out a demon?” And you think to yourself, “I don't think I could cast out a demon.” Okay, I understand that, but you go back and look at verse 1.
“Jesus called His twelve together” and did what? “Gave them power and authority” over what? “All demons.” Now, I'm not saying that Jesus has given you authority over all demons, but He had given His disciples authority over all demons. Not one demon, not one demon had He rescinded from the totality of this command. All demons were under their authority, and yet when this boy is brought, they’re not able to cast him out. Jesus, in this passage, clearly says the reason is because they didn't believe what He had said.
Now, this is not the unbelief of denial you understand. What's going on here is not the disciples failing to accept the reality right before their eyes. What's going on here is the disciples are not believing what Jesus said. He said, “I've given you authority over all demons” and they did not believe that.
And friends, that is the same kind of struggle that we face in regard to faith and unbelief when we are looking our troubles in the eye and we don't believe that God is sovereign over our troubles and that He's working all things together for good according to His own purposes.
So I want to ask you again, do you believe that God is sovereign over your troubles? Because you and I can point our fingers to the disciples and say, “Well, you know Jesus did give you authority over all demons. Why didn't you believe Him?” Yeah, well Jesus also said through His servant the Apostle Paul, that “God works together all things for your good” so in your troubles do you believe that God is doing that and that He's sovereign over those troubles, or are you daunted by despair and despondency when you look at your problems and you begin to ask “What's going on?”? You know, when there's no work coming in, there's no business coming in, there's no income coming in — “What's going on? God's not in control? God doesn't love me. He doesn't care about me. I'm going to have to take care of myself because there's nobody else out there taking care of me.” Or when your marriage is troubled — “God's not in control. I don't know what's going on. Why me?” Or when your children are troubled — do you believe that God is sovereign over your troubles?
Do you believe that God is sovereign over your troubles?
If you do, you’re going to be asking a different set of questions. Not that you’re not going to be asking questions. You are going to be asking questions, but it's a different set of questions. You’re not going to be asking, “Why me?” first of all because you remember that we live in a fallen world. This world is filled with trouble. Trouble is the norm. It's not the exception to the rule. But you’re not going to be asking, “Why me?” as if God is somehow asleep on His watch.
Because if you believe that God is sovereign over your troubles and you believe that God is good, you know that God is working in every circumstance of your life for His good purposes if you trust in Him. I need to say that. This is not a generic promise for every human being. This is promise for those who trust in Him. Paul makes that clear in Romans 8:28 and following, doesn't he? It's for those who are “called according to His purposes,” for those who love Him. It's for those who are trusting and resting in Jesus Christ alone for salvation as He is offered in the Gospel. But if you’re trusting in Jesus Christ and trouble comes, you have this absolute promise, a promise as absolute as Jesus’ absolute declaration to His disciples that all demons had been put under them. And here's the absolute promise — everything that happens in your life, I am purposing for good. Everything – including the trouble. I'm not saying that everything is good, I'm saying that everything that happens in your life I'm purposing for your good.
Do you believe that? If you believe that, then the question that you’re asking is not, “Lord, are You in charge?” or “Lord, are You good?” or “Lord, are You going to use this for good?”
If you believe that, then the question is, “Lord, what am I supposed to do right now and Lord, what am I supposed to learn in this?” Those are two very different questions than, “Lord, are You in charge? Lord, is this happening for my good? Why is this happening to me?” Those are very different questions. “Lord, what am I supposed to do right now and what am I supposed to learn from this?” Do you believe that God is sovereign over your troubles?
Now this is how the two parts of the passage connect together because what happens next after Jesus has this exchange about the unbelief of the disciples in the healing power and the power over demons that He's given them, He immediately turns them to the issue of His death. Verse 44 — let these words sink into your ears — “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.” Jesus knows that these disciples have a bigger challenge on their hands than just demons. And the bigger challenge is this — He's about to die and it is vital for them to understand that in His death trouble is not bigger than the sovereignty of God, that His death, is the agenda of the sovereignty of God. Yes, He's going to be delivered into the hands of men, but ultimately it's not men who are going to deliver Him into the hands of men. What does Paul say in Romans 8:32? “He who spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all.”
So what's Jesus’ point in this passage? “Disciples, when you see Me delivered up and you’re going to see the chief priests do it and you’re going to see the Romans do it, you’re going to see Me delivered up, betrayed into the hands of My enemies and crucified and dead and buried. When you see that happen, don't think that your trouble is bigger than the sovereignty of God or that My trouble is bigger than the sovereignty of God. My trouble is there because of the sovereignty of God. My trouble is there because of the sovereignty of God and because of His love for you and because of My love for you.” And so in a matter of speaking saying, “You know, your inability to believe that you have authority over demons even though I gave it to you in 9:1 is not your biggest challenge to believe. Your biggest challenge is to believe that God is sovereign even in My death.”
Now look, we're Christians and we've been two thousand years on the other side of that story and even Christians that don't believe in the sovereignty of God inconsistently believe that God was sovereign in the death of Jesus. They know that Jesus is the way of salvation. They know that “for God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son and whosoever should believe on Him should not perish.” They know that Jesus’ life and death and resurrection is somehow, someway, at the very center of God's purposes in life, but for the disciples, especially on that side of the cross, that was a very, very difficult thing to understand. In fact, Luke just comes right out and tells you what? “We didn't understand this.” And then this very interesting phrase — “It was concealed from them so that they might not perceive it.” They were even afraid to ask Him about it. It was a battle of unbelief going on here and the disciples could not believe what Jesus was saying.
But that's the same battle that you and I fight in troubles. Do you believe that God is sovereign over your troubles — when you've lost your job, when the economy is so bad that money's not coming in, when your relationship between husband and wife and parent and child is so bad that you just can't ever see it getting any better, or when whatever circumstance or trouble of life — when a diagnosis comes that you can do nothing about now — do you believe that God is sovereign over your troubles?
This passage tells us that it is that battle between faith and unbelief that is so crucial for a Christian disciple to understand and to encounter by believing what Jesus says. Do you look at your circumstances and your circumstances are so big, they’re so looming, they’re so dark, that you think those circumstances are bigger than God? In other words, your troubles, they’re more sovereign than God? Or do you look at those circumstances and react like this crowd reacted? Now I understand that Luke is not telling you that this whole crowd believed in Jesus savingly because the crowd was fickle throughout Jesus’ ministry, but look at how after Jesus heals this child, look at what it says in verse 43 — “They were all astonished at the majesty of God.” They were all amazed at the greatness of God. When Jesus showed His power, the crowd is astonished at God's majesty. They’re amazed by God's greatness. Are you, when you look at your troubles, when you look at your problems, are you despondent and despairing and daunted because of the size of your problems or are you astonished by the majesty of God? Are you amazed by the greatness of God? Only if you believe that God is sovereign over your troubles, because your troubles pale in comparison to the size and greatness and majesty of God.
Now here's the trick — your troubles are far more real to you than the troubles of this man in this passage. And if you’re honest with yourself right now, it is very, very hard to believe that God's greatness is greater than your troubles. The harder your troubles are right now, the harder it is for you to believe that. Welcome to the battle of this passage. So don't cast stones at these disciples. You've just entered into the same battle of unbelief that they were having. And be generous toward your brothers and sisters in Christ who are facing this battle. Listen again to what J. C. Ryle says,
“Let us learn that men may understand spiritual things very feebly and yet be true children of God. The head may be very dull when the heart is right. Grace is far better than gifts and faith than knowledge. If a man has faith and grace enough to give up all for Christ's sake and take up the cross and follow Him, he shall be saved in spite of much ignorance. Christ will own him on the last day. So let us learn to bear with ignorance in others, to deal patiently with beginners in religion. Let us not make men offenders for a word, let us not set our brother down as having no grace because he does not exhibit clear knowledge. Has he faith in Christ? Does he loves Christ? These are the principle things. If Jesus could endure so much weakness in His disciples, so we may surely do likewise.”
So the lesson in this passage is not to look around the room and see all your brothers and sisters who are struggling to believe that God is greater than their troubles. You’re supposed to be patient with them. The application of this truth is to look at your own heart and ask, “Do I believe that God is bigger than my troubles, that He's sovereign over my troubles, and I'm going to trust in Him?” May God enable you to do so. Let's pray.
Heavenly Father, we thank You for this Your Word and we ask that You would, by Your grace, enable us to believe and to be amazed by and astonished by Your majesty and greatness even in the face of our troubles. This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.
Receive now this benediction from the One who is sovereign over all your troubles:
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.