The Importance of Faith
Matthew Lesson #096
October 4, 2015
“Father, we’re thankful for Your Word. We’re thankful for the fact that You have given us the written Word and the Living Word. And it is the Living Word that explains You to us through His life and through His death on the Cross. We get a visual training aid there for understanding what love is and understanding the horrors of sin and the necessity of a substitutionary sacrifice to pay the sin penalty.
Father, we’re thankful that we have Your Word to guide and direct us and to understand that there’s more to life than that which we see. There’s more in the universe than that which we are aware of physically, and we come to understand that our lives are part of a broader angelic conflict and coming to understand the dimensions of that conflict as it intersects with human life and human history.
Father, today as we study Your Word, as we come to understand some doctrines related to demonism, we pray that You would help us to understand these things as well.
We pray this is Christ’s name. Amen.”
We’re approaching another lesson that Jesus has for the disciples in Matthew 17:14. So turn with me there if you will, and we’ll spend most of our time there, although we may flip back and forth to the passage in Mark.
Matthew 17:14 down through 21 focuses on a specific lesson. This lesson is not directed toward demon possession or demonism, although that’s the occasion for the lesson. The lesson is about faith. The lesson is about the fact that there has been a lack of faith on the part of the disciples in the attempt to deliver this young boy from demon possession.
They have been complete failures. So Jesus is going to rebuke them as well as the entire generation at that time for their lack of faith.
The focal point of this lesson is on the importance of faith, even though we have to spend some time talking about the issue of demonism and demon possession because lots of questions always come up about that.
What we’ve seen in the previous section is that Jesus (since his confrontation back with Herod Antipas back several chapters ago), has been moving around the area of Galilee. He has briefly entered Galilee a couple of times.
He headed up north to Tyre and Sidon, where He had ministry to the Canaanite woman, the Syrophoenician woman there and healed her daughter, also demon possession.
Then He came back down to the opposite side of the Galilee, the area today that we refer to as the Golan Heights. That was gentile territory. This was the same area where He had cast out the demon, the legion demon of the demoniac, as described previously back in Matthew 10, which is a great paradigm for understanding demon possession.
Then He went from there with His disciples up to Caesarea Philippi, where He culminates His lesson to the disciples what He’s been doing in terms of training them with His question that He asked them: “Who do men say that I am?” And then He said, “Who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered that question correctly, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”
After that statement and His interchange with Peter in relation to the cornerstone and that He was going to build His church—first mentioned church—on this rock—referring to Himself—He then began to train the disciples.
Now I want to try to put this together for you because what we see at the end of Chapter 16 starting in verse 21 is a shift. That shift is to begin to prepare the disciples for His coming arrest, crucifixion on the cross, death, burial, and resurrection.
In verse 21 we read, “From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.”
The reason I’m pointing that out is because following that event, which is up here in the area of Caesarea Philippi, from there they went over to the Mount of Transfiguration. Now they are headed back down to this area of Galilee, where they reunite with the disciples.
Now there’s debate as to where the Mount of Transfiguration is. One place is up here by Caesarea Philippi—Mount Hermon, which is this ridgeline indicated here. I tend to think it’s probably down here, although the indication from Luke is that they have to travel overnight, camp out along the way before they reunite with the disciples. So it very well could be in the north.
The Bible doesn’t say where it is, so we’re just guessing as to where it was, but if you look at Matthew 17 at the end of the section we’re looking at this morning in verses 22–23, what does Jesus say?
He says after this, “Now while they were staying in Galilee”—so they’ve had this little episode we’re going to study this morning—“Jesus said to them”—He’s continuing to teach them and prepare them for His death, burial and resurrection—“ ‘The Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him, and the third day He will be raised up.’ And they were exceedingly sorrowful.”
Now the reason I point that out is it shows that what happens in verse 21 as we follow the thought flow of Matthew is that Matthew is beginning to show that Jesus is preparing them for what’s going to happen when He’s crucified, when He’s buried, and that He’s going to rise from the dead.
They just don’t get it. They don’t even get it after the crucifixion. It’s not until they physically see the resurrected Jesus will they get it.
But it’s that preparation. So all of this is involved in training. This is how Jesus is training His disciples and teaching them, and He’s taking them through this outdoor classroom, hands-on situation, to come to understand a few things.
So what we read in Matthew 17:14 is, “And when they had come to the multitude, a man came to Him, kneeling down to Him and saying.”
Luke adds something to this in Luke 9:37. Luke says, “Now it happened on the next day.”
Now in each of the synoptic accounts that describe Jesus going up on the Mount of Transfiguration with Peter, James, and John, we see that on the way back, they asked Him a question which we looked at last time about, “Well, what about Elijah? Because we’re expecting Elijah to come.” In other words, they were asking as we saw last time, “What about the kingdom? Is this postponed?”
Remember in Matthew 12, Jesus cast out a demon who has caused a man to be deaf and mute, unable to speak. The Pharisees said that He (Jesus) did it in the power of Satan and the power of Beelzebub.
That’s the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, and that was when Jesus announced that judgment was going to come on that generation because of their unbelief, because of their blasphemy against God the Holy Spirit.
At that point, He no longer offers the kingdom.
The issue was, the Pharisees still said, “Well, give us a sign.” Yet they’d been given sign after sign after sign, and they just rejected [them].
This is the background for understanding this event here when they come down off of the mountain. So they come down, and they had to camp out somewhere along the way.
Then Mark gives us some dramatic descriptions of what goes on. Mark sometimes is the briefer of the writers of the Gospels. But here he’s got the longest account.
In Mark 9:14 he says, “And when He came to the disciples” so Jesus is coming down. He sees that there’s a huge crowd with the disciples (these are the nine that have been left behind), and they are having some sort of dispute with the scribes.
What’s happened is the four of them have been up on the Mount of Transfiguration. They have heard the voice of God. The three disciples have seen His glory as He was transfigured on the Mount of Transfiguration.
They’ve had a foretaste of the coming of the kingdom. They have been in almost a perfect environment on top of the mountain. That’s why Peter said, “Lord, let’s just stay up here. Let’s not go back to the devil’s world.”
Now they’ve come down, and immediately they’re in the valley. They’ve gone from the mountain top with God, and now they’re in the valley with the demons. They’re confronted with this young boy who is demon possessed, and they’re confronted with these religious arguments and the conflicts, and there’s this huge multitude, and everything is stirred up.
We’ve got to note that contrast between that time of peace and almost perfection on the Mount of Transfiguration, and now just the clutter and the chaos of the world that they’ve come into.
What has happened is that Jesus has taken His disciples through these two training sessions. He’s taken the honor students, James, John, and Peter, and taken them up to their advanced training up on the Mount of Transfiguration.
The other guys are left without Jesus, and we see what happens when Jesus is gone, it’s that they’re lost. They’re just in failure. They have forgotten everything that’s happened already.
Back in Matthew 8 and Matthew 10 (especially Matthew 10), they’re sent out. Part of their mission is to cast out demons, which they do. They cast out demons. They do it in the name of Jesus. They understand what the instructions are—that they’re to do this in Jesus’ name, by His power and not in their power, or their efforts.
See, that was a contrast to what happened in the Jewish culture at that time. Acts 19 talks about these sons of Sceva who are Jewish exorcists who are incapable of casting out a demon because they’re doing it through the world’s system of rituals and incantations and all of these other things, and they just can’t do it.
Paul confronts them with that because they are not doing it in the name of Jesus and that’s the only name where a demon can be cast out.
The other important thing to note from that episode is that this word “exorcism”—probably a lot of you have seen the film “The Exorcist” and some of its subsequent “Son of Exorcist,” ‘The Next Exorcist” and “Exorcist” redo and over and over again because it makes Hollywood a lot of money—but exorcism is not a term for what Jesus or the disciples do.
They cast out demons. It’s always the same word EKBALLO. It’s never the word EXORKIZO.
EXORKIZO in the Bible—exorcism—is what the Jewish unbelieving exorcists tried to do. It’s what the pagans do. It’s not what Jesus does. Jesus just casts out the demons. The disciples just cast out a demon, and they do it in the name of Jesus.
But these nine have been left behind, and this man has brought his demon-possessed son to them, and they’re impotent. They can’t cast out the demon.
What we learn from it is (because they apparently in this dispute with the scribes have fallen into the trap of trying to do it the way the Jewish exorcists did it), there’s no faith.
Jesus rebukes them because He says you have no faith. That’s the failure. They’re no longer trusting in Jesus. They’re trying to do it some other way. So that gives us a framework of what’s going on at this particular time.
So Jesus comes up, and there’s just this huge hubbub. There’s a huge multitude there, and some see Him and they break away from the crowd, and they run towards Him. They greet Him, and they expect Him to solve the problem.
But what we have to remember is this is the same kind of crowd that He’s been dealing with all along, and they’re looking to Him for a free lunch, feeding the 5,000. They’re looking to Jesus to do these miraculous things and just encourage them and excite them.
But they’re not trusting in Him as the Messiah, and they’re also enjoying the conflict that goes on between Jesus and the religious leaders.
So what we read here in verse 15 is that, “Immediately, when they saw Him, all the people were greatly amazed, and running to Him, greeted Him. And He asked the scribes”—notice He doesn’t ask His disciples. He turns to the scribes and He says, “‘What are you discussing with them?’”—that is the disciples.
What is the issue here, because He knows that these Scribes, like the Pharisees and Sadducees that have come, their job is to create this confrontation with His disciples?
Now in Matthew 17:14, going back to Matthew, right after he introduces Jesus’ return—(he doesn’t give that other detail that Mark gives)—says, “When they returned they came to the multitude and a man came to Him, kneeling down to Him and saying,”…
See, Matthew isn’t concerned about the conflict with the scribes, but Mark gives us more color, more background. Matthew just cuts to the real issue, which is this man and his demon-possessed boy.
Matthew says that he came, “and he kneeled down to Him.” The word there “kneeling” is this Greek word GONUPETEO. What we might expect is a different word since that’s the word that we normally translate as “worship.”
But this word just refers to kneeling down. It doesn’t have overtones of worship. It would be just expressing what someone would do out of respect to someone that they believe was superior, or just showing respect and maybe even pleading to someone.
Obviously he thinks that the man does think that Jesus can deliver his son, for this is what he says in verse 15 of Matthew 17, he says, “Lord have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and suffers severely; for he often falls into the fire and often into the water.”
We have to spend a little time on this verse, just understanding what is going on here. He pleads for mercy.
No, I don’t think at this point that he is a believer in Jesus as Messiah because that happens in the next verse or two, but he is pleading for mercy. He described his son here, uses the Greek word HUIOS, which indicates an older boy.
Now I’m making a point about that because what Jesus is going to ask him is, “Well when did this begin?”He uses a different word, a word that can mean a child or even an infant. That’s important to make a couple of observations about demon possession.
So he cries to the Lord, “Have mercy on my son,” and then the translation—and most translations do this—translate the Greek word as an epileptic. We think of epilepsy as a specific disease that is treatable by medication, and it is.
The Greek does not identify this as a disease. “Epileptic” is a poor translation because it’s making a medical diagnosis on a circumstance where the Scripture does not identify this with a medical diagnosis. The Greek Word is SELENIAZOMAI, and it comes from the root noun SELENE. Selene was the Greek goddess of the moon.
What you’ll find in some translations is they’ll say that the boy was moonstruck, and that’s a good translation. He doesn’t have epilepsy. Something is happening to him, and they just say that he’s moonstruck. It’s just a generic term.
Here is a carving of Selene. She’s the Greek goddess of the moon. She was named in Latin by the Romans. Her name was Luna. The root of that is where we get our term for the moon “lunar.”
But the idea of being moonstruck as something related to the effect of the moon on people came into English to describe the crazy person as a lunatic. The slang that developed from lunatic in England in the 19th century was to say that somebody was loony.
That’s essentially what’s going here. They’re just saying this kid’s crazy! He’s having these psychotic breaks—he’s having these convulsions—all these different things are happening, and we don’t know what to do about it. He’s harming himself.
If we look at Matthew 17 as well as comparing it with Mark 9, we see that there are a number of things that are described here. He falls into the fire and often into the water. Marks says he “has a mute spirit.”He also says that“wherever it seizes him, it throws him down, he foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth, and becomes rigid.”
There are ten characteristics that are given to describe what happens to this boy:
- He frequently falls into the fire, and
- He frequently falls into the water.
So whenever this spirit seizes him, he just goes into convulsions. If he’s next to the fire, he’ll fall into the fire. If he’s next to the river, he’ll fall into the water and possibly drown. It’s extremely dangerous.
- He’s also unable to talk.
It’s described in both passages as a mute spirit. So he’s unable to talk, and it …
- Also caused deafness.
When Jesus addresses, Mark says, He addresses the deaf and dumb spirit. So here’s a question.
When Jesus rebukes him, the boy is deaf—he can’t hear him, but the demon can. It’s interesting commentary. Who is Jesus talking to when He rebukes him?
Is He rebuking the boy, rebuking the father, or rebuking the demon?
The boy is deaf. He says it’s a deaf spirit. So the boy can’t hear him, but the spirit can. Therefore He’s clearly talking to the spirit.
- He has uncontrollable seizures that come on at random times.
- He cries out, so when this happens he will cry out, and he also
- Foams at the mouth, and
- Gnashes his teeth, and
- He will become rigid.
- And the demon, it says, departs with difficulty, so when he leaves, there is some sort of physiological consequence of that, and the boy just goes through more convulsions and screaming; and when he leaves, it bruises him.
Now the reason I bring this up is because there’s always a temptation among those who teach and talk about demon possession to try to identify two things.
One thing that they try to identify is what is it that is an occasion for people becoming demon possessed. In other words, what kind of things can we get involved in that may cause us to become demon possessed.
I remember the first time I read a book on this that had been published, was a book called “Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth” written by Hal Lindsey—some of you have heard of Hal Lindsey. Between the time that he wrote “Late Great Planet Earth,” and the time this came out, Hal went charismatic, and he really picked up a lot of charismatic ideas on spiritual warfare.
A lot of you may not realize this, but the charismatic community has a very experienced-based view of spiritual warfare, and a lot of them believe Christians can be demon possessed. So they get involved in a lot of experiential things, and the more extreme the Charismatic movement, the more extreme their ideas.
I remember reading this book, and at the beginning Hal was talking about somebody who had traveled in India and picked up some—what would have been—idols, brought them home, and then all kinds of mysterious things happened after they’d put these idols in their home.
Finally some Christian said, “Well, the reason you’re having all these problems is because you’ve got that little Buddha in your house, and you need to get rid of that.” So when they burned the Buddha in the fire, all the bad luck stopped. You get these kinds of stories.
This is anecdotal theology that’s not based on Scripture at all. But it’s not unique to somebody like Hal Lindsey. He’s in a very respected tradition. This goes back to the early church and even into Judaism, where you have people saying these are the kinds of things that a person gets involved in.
Well, one of the things that we should note is several times you have children in the Gospels who were demon possessed. With this young boy, for example, the words that are used to describe him are words that are used of a very young child, maybe just an infant just out of babyhood.
He’s not getting involved. He’s not going home and playing with his Ouija board or getting on the Internet or searching for the local witch coven. He’s not reading his local horoscope every day or all of these other things that you find people say that you need to do in order to become somehow connected to the demonic.
Nothing in the Scripture ever identifies what the cause was of their demon possession. It’s just a fact that their demon possession is mentioned. In most of the cases, it’s in areas dominated by gentiles and pagans.
So that’s one element that we can clearly say is indicated by the Old Testament, There are those who are involved in pagan religion, which is demonic. That would be one possible way that you would be open to the demonic, but not necessarily so. It’s just a possibility.
Different times down through the centuries, people have identified different characteristics of how you can identify someone who’s demon possessed. That’s the second thing.
The first thing people ask is, “Well, what do you do to get attached to a demon?” and the second is, “How would you know if somebody’s demon possessed?”
Now let me preface this. I always hear people, and many of us have made this statement before, statements like, “Well, Adolf Hitler must have been demon possessed,” or “The Ayatollah Khomeini, or whoever, must be demon possessed,” or “Saddam Hussein was demon possessed;” or some mass murderer must have been demon possessed.
That’s clearly within the realm of possibility. But I find that that’s not a good solution. The reason it’s not a good solution is because most people who offer a demonic solution or demonic explanation is because they don’t want to wrestle with the fact that a human being just living in the power of his own sin nature can be that evil.
Yet the Bible is saying a human being without any help from Satan can be just as evil, because the sin nature, the nature of sin, that nature of corruption and arrogance that we have, isn’t qualitatively any different from Satan’s.
Quantitatively, it is. I mean Satan and the fallen angels have lot greater powers than we do, so they can give much greater, more powerful expression to their sinful rebellion against God than we do.
But we are just as capable of rebellion against God and horrible things all on our own. We don’t need any help, and we don’t need to go around blaming people. Really, the Bible never gives us those kinds of examples of “this is how you can tell if somebody’s demon possessed.”
But they knew it from certain things that were manifested. So let’s just look at some of these examples.
In the 3rd century AD, there was a Jewish rabbi, Rabbi Huna, who said there were four characteristics of demon possession:
- “If you walk around at night.” Alright. So if you’ve got middle-aged insomnia, then maybe you’re demon possessed—just a thought.
- Spending the night on a grave.” Sleeping down at the local cemetery.
- “Tearing one’s clothes,” and
- “Destroying what one is given.”
Now I think any of these could apply to a host of teenagers on any Halloween at any given year, so that’s not very definitive.
Then in the 17th century (in the 1600s), Puritans identified a number of characteristics of demon possession:
- If you “thought that you were possessed.” Ok, so you’ve had a little psychotic break, and if you think a demon possesses you, you must be. That’s experienced based, isn’t it?
- Or if you “lead a wicked life.” Well, that’s awfully objective. One person’s wickedness is another person’s not quite so bad. So how do you define living a wicked life?
- Or “to be persistently ill.” So if you are sick a lot, well maybe you’re demon possessed. Some of us who are prone to allergies and upper respiratory infections, well, who knows?
Okay, if you “fall into a heavy sleep”—like in the middle of Bible class.
Or if you’re “vomiting unusual objects like toads or serpents, worms, iron, stones, or artificial objects like nails, pins, or things like that.” I won’t call for any personal testimony.
- If you “blaspheme.” If you use the Lord’s Name in vain, maybe you’re demon possessed.
- If you “make a pact with the Devil.”
- If you’re “troubled with spirits.” If you see things.
- If you “show a frightening and horrible countenance.” I like that one! Now we’re not going to ask for volunteers, what you see when YOU look in the mirror when you wake up in the morning, but you might think that’s a frightening countenance.
- “To be tired of living.” Again, no personal testimonies here. I know there’s at least a dozen people in this congregation that on any given day are just tired of living. They’re ready for the Rapture to occur.
- “To be uncontrollable and violent.”
- Or “to make sounds and movements like an animal.”
See, these are all very subjective. Notice how different they are from Rabbi Huna’s.
Now in the period in the Middle Ages from Rabbi Huna up through the Puritans, there were a lot of other ideas and guesses as to what might make a person demon possessed.
When I took Angelology and Demonology under Bob Lightner who’s very solid on this topic, he had us, so that we would be aware of it, read these little books by a German guy who was an exorcist. He was an evangelical. He wasn’t necessarily Charismatic, but he had a number of books out, and his name was Kurt Koch.
He said characteristics of demon possession involved “cursing; grinding teeth”—some of you have that problem when you sleep; “suicide; falling into a trance; if you emit a scornful laugh or you hear someone talking about the cross of Christ or the blood of Jesus, then that person possessed will always display ‘evil and hateful expressions, especially if spiritual things are talked about.’ ”
Merrill Unger was a tremendous, well-known Old Testament professor at Dallas Theological Seminary. You may know of “Unger’s Bible Handbook.” You may have seen “Unger’s Bible Dictionary.” He wrote his PhD dissertation on biblical demonology, which was excellent, and he had a great biblical argument there for why Christians cannot be demon possessed.
But he got so many letters from missionaries and others who were basing everything totally on experience, that he came out with another book on what demons could do to Christians and reversed himself—not based on exegesis or new word studies, but just on experience. That’s the problem.
When my book “Spiritual Warfare” came out, which is available here—(you can order it off the website)—when we wrote that book, when it first came out, one of the book reviewers said, “This is the only book currently in print that doesn’t get its information from experience, but focuses just on what the Bible says.”
Now I mentioned Bob Lightner earlier. He’s got a book called “Angels, Satan, and Demons,” which is also very good. In fact, he quotes our book as well.
But Unger also claimed that a possessing demon will voice opposition to Jesus Christ, and yet—wrote there—“no possessing demon in any of the biblical cases speaks derogatorily or blasphemously of the Lord.”
In fact, most of these things that are given as characteristics are not mentioned in Scripture at all. So people are just making it up out of their own imagination. That has a certain salacious appeal to lots of people.
But even fairly decent Bible teachers today, well-known Bible teachers like Chuck Swindoll, also fall into the experiential trap when they’re studying the Scripture.
This is from his little book, “Demonism,” which he wrote back in the 70s, and he asked the question, “Can a Christian be demonized?”
He says, “For a number of years I questioned this.” Notice he didn’t use the word “demon possession,” because what happens is, by avoiding that word and using the word “demonize,” which is really a perversion of the Scriptural term, you can just drive all kinds of trucks of bad teaching and bad theology through that vague term.
Swindoll says, “For a number of years I questioned this, but now I am convinced it can occur.” Now what convinced him, exegesis of the Scripture or experience? That’s always the question to ask.
He says, “If a “ground of entrance”—now there’s an interesting term. What is this “ground of entrance,” and do we see it in the Bible?
“If a ground of entrance has been granted the power of darkness, such as trafficking in the occult”—Do you think this little baby boy in Matthew 17 was trafficking in the occult when he was just an infant? I don’t think so.
He says, “trafficking in the occult, a continual unforgiving spirit, a habitual state of carnality”—He’s a baby! He’s always carnal. I know that’s a shock to some of you parents, but they’re not Christians, they’re not born again yet. That’s the only option they have is to live according to the sin nature.
“A habitual state of carnality.” That’s every unbeliever in the country.
“The demon sees this as a green light. It’s okay to proceed.”
Then he says, “I have worked personally.”
This—always watch this. I’ve seen it personally. So what’s your authority—the Bible or your interpretation of your own experience?
“I’ve worked personally with troubled, anguished Christians for many years. On a few occasions I have assisted in the painful process of delivering them of demons.” Notice delivering Christians from demons.
“While present within the body (perhaps in the region of the soul) that evil force can wreak havoc within the life.”
See what I’m pointing out here is that so much of demonism and demonology is based on experiential ideas and not on what the Scripture says.
Some of you have listened to Charlie Clough a long time. Charlie went through this back in the 70s. I think it was kind of a vogue thing in the 70s for people to think that Christians could be demon possessed. I remember having a lot of conversations with Charlie about this back in the 80s.
And then he read this little book called—I forget what the original title was, but what the Bible teaches about spiritual warfare when it first came out—and we convinced him.
Tommy Ice listened to Charlie for many years, so Tommy and I wrote that book, and we finally convinced Charlie. He said, “You know, you’re right. You make a better case.” Now we’ll get to that in just a minute.
So in Matthew 17:16, the father says, “So I brought him to Your disciples, but they could not cure him.”
This is the Greek word THERAPEUO, where we get our word “therapeutic” or “therapy.” And it’s just a generic term for healing someone.
So then Jesus answered. Jesus is making a statement here in Matthew 17:17 where He is really challenging the carnality, the spiritual rebellion of this generation. It’s a generalized statement, and He is making this statement not about the disciples specifically or about the father specifically, but He is making this point about that whole generation.
He says, “Oh, faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him here to Me.”
Now what’s His point here? The point that He’s making is that first word—faithless. It means to be unbelieving. They are not trusting in Him.
Now I want you to keep your place there and go back to the Mark 9 passage, which is what I talked about earlier. In verse 23, Jesus says something else. It’s after verse 19, it’s where He makes this statement about a faithless generation.
“Then they brought the boy to Him … and He asked the father, ‘How long has this been happening?’—in verse 21—and he says, ‘From childhood.’ ”
The word there indicates it could be early infancy, when he’s just out of babyhood. So you can’t imagine that he’s been involved in these different things that people say would open the door to demonism.
In verse 22 he says, “Often he has thrown him into the and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything”—that’s what he says to Jesus—“if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”
Then in verse 23, Jesus says, “If you can?” That first “believe” there. He’s not saying if you can believe, He’s saying, “If you can? You’re doubting Me? You’re coming to Me, but you’re not really sure that I can do this? What do you mean if you can?” That’s the thrust of Jesus’ response there.
Then Jesus says what? “All things are possible to him who believes.”
So what are we talking about here? The focus of this isn’t on the demon possession. That’s the occasion. The purpose here is to say the issue is faith. This is where the disciples failed. This is where this generation is failing—it’s because they’re not believing the promises of God, they’re not believing the prophecies of God about the Messiah, they are failing to trust in God.
This man comes, and he’s doubting. He’s not sure. He’s probably not even saved, and so Jesus says, “All things are possible to him who believes.” And, “Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!’ ”
I think it’s at this point he trusts in Jesus as the Messiah, knowing that Jesus can deliver that child from the demon possession. So the issue is faith.
This is interesting how this fits together this way. If you were here on Tuesday night, the last several Tuesday nights in 1 Samuel, I’ve been pointing out the failure of Israel at the time of Samuel to believe and trust in God. The result of that was that God brought divine judgment on the nation.
The Ark of the Covenant was captured in battle. The Israelites were defeated in battle, and 30,000 were killed, and then the Ark of the Covenant went into captivity among the Philistines. God took care of Himself just fine, and we’re in the middle of studying that right now, and it’s all quite humorous, but God took care of Himself.
But Israel went through 20 years of oppression from the Philistines, economic collapse, it was a horrible 20 years, but it wasn’t the first time they’d gone through this. They’d gone through this four or five times under the judges, as long as 80 years that they had gone through this kind of divine judgment.
So the 20 years is just a short time, basically, compared to the others. It is during this time that God is teaching them that they need to trust in Him.
Then we looked at Peter, 1 Peter 1:8 on Thursday night, where Peter’s talking to his readers about how they can be delivered from the trials, the testing that they’re going through in this life, not just waiting for eternity, and he talks about part of their life is to focus on Jesus “whom having not seen, you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet what? By believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.”
Believing, trusting on a day-to-day basis, the faith-rest drill; this is the focal point of the Christian life and Christian growth. What Jesus is teaching His disciples and demonstrating to all of Israel through the deliverance of this child from this demon is that if you will trust in Him, He can conquer any and every problem that they have.
For the nation, He can deliver them from spiritual oppression, which is what He talked about “binding the strong man” back in Matthew 12. He can do the same thing for every single person that trusts in Him. He can provide spiritual deliverance from the power of the sin nature. It’s understanding the sufficiency of God’s grace and the need to trust Him radically and exclusively.
Slides 19, 20
So in Matthew 17:18, Jesus rebukes the demon. He just speaks to the demon. Notice, Jesus doesn’t pray, Jesus doesn’t fast—I’m just making that point as we come along. He just commands the demon, and the demon came out of the child.
That’s the word EXERCHOMAI, and that’s important to understand because people get into using this word DAIMONIZOMAI, which is a participle they want to translate as “demonize.” They say, “Well, that just can mean anything from demon influence to demon possession.” And they are correct. It’s a general word, but what gives specificity to what demon possession is are the other verbs.
When someone is demon possessed, the demon has to come OUT of them. What does that mean? That means there’s a demon IN them. It doesn’t just mean they’re being influenced by a demon, it’s that a demon has entered into their body and is controlling their body.
So we see these words that a demon goes into somebody, that’s the Greek word EISERCHOMAI, to go into or enter into, and then to get rid of it, the word that is used is EKBALLO, to cast out, which indicates that the demon goes out, and that is described as EXERCHOMAI. So those words are very specific.
Now a question that always comes up and we’ll wrap this up pretty quickly is the question, “Can a Christian be demon possessed?”
As I quoted earlier from Chuck Swindoll—he’s just an example of many, I’m not picking on Chuck. There are many who have taken the experiential route and say, “Yes, I’ve met with numerous Christians, and I have enough—basically what they’re saying is—I’ve got enough knowledge to know they’re demon possessed.”
But the reality is we’re indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Every believer is indwelt by the Lord Jesus Christ as well as the Holy Spirit, 1 Corinthians 3:16 and 3:19.
Now historically, this argument was presented this way:
Major premise: Every believer is indwelt by God the Holy Spirit.
Minor premise: The Holy Spirit cannot dwell in the same location as a demon or Satan.
Conclusion: No Christian can be demon possessed.
The problem is with the minor premise. The minor premise isn’t specific enough because there are examples where Satan and the sons of God, the fallen angels, come into the presence of God and the throne room of God in Heaven. so people have used that to say, “See, that minor premise doesn’t work.”
Well, here is the issue. In 1 Corinthians 3:16 when Paul says that we are the temple of God, he uses a specific word. He uses the Greek word NAOS, which refers to the Holy of Holies, not the whole temple precinct, but the Holy of Holies.
Unclean people can go into the HIEROS, the outer courtyard, but no one unclean can go into the NAOS. The NAOS is the inner temple, the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctum. Nothing unclean can go in or if an unclean human, if a priest were to go in unwashed, uncleansed, he would die instantly.
That’s why priests would go in, and they had bells on the bottom of their robes, and they had a rope tied to their foot, so that if something happened, if they committed blasphemy, and they were struck by God while they were in the Holy of Holies, there’s this rope that’s attached to their foot, and they could be dragged out.
The principal is that every believer’s body is transformed into a Holy of Holies for the indwelling of Jesus Christ. No evil or unclean thing—this is the revision of the minor premise—no evil or unclean thing can enter the Holy of Holies. No demon can enter the inner sanctum of God. It’s made the argument more specific; therefore, no demon can indwell a believer’s body.
John 4:4 says, “Greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world.”
So, Jesus cast out the demon from this unbelieving child, and then the disciples take Him aside, get away from the crowd, and they said, well, Lord, “why couldn’t we cast it out?” They used the word EKBALLO there. They understand the correct terminology.
Jesus says, “It’s because of your unbelief.”
Notice He doesn’t say, “Because you didn’t believe,” and He doesn’t say, “Because you didn’t pray and fast.” I’m making that point because we’ve got this weird verse in verse 29 and also in verse 19 of Mark 9.
“Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed”—that’s the tiniest seed that we know of. He’s just saying it just takes a little bit.
“You can move mountains”—and that doesn’t mean literal mountains. It is an idiom for doing something that is thought to be impossible, thought to be too difficult. All you need is a little bit of faith and you can move mountains.
Nothing will be impossible to you, and He’s training the disciples to trust in Him during that time once He has ascended into Heaven, and they’re leading the church.
So the issue is belief.
Now just briefly this last verse. Matthew says this kind can come out by nothing but by prayer and fasting. That whole statement is probably not in the original. It’s not in the oldest documents. Now usually I go with the Majority Text. This is in the Majority Text.
The Mark reading, some manuscripts added fasting there, but the Mark reading probably said this comes out by prayer. Now there’s some problems with this just historically.
Historically by the 3rd century, early 4th century you had the rise of monasticism, where they’re putting this emphasis on prayer and fasting as a means to manipulate God to do anything, becomes a big deal.
The center of monasticism is in North Africa. So if somebody anywhere is going to add prayer and fasting to the manuscript, you would think it would be in North Africa.
Well, the oldest manuscripts we have come out of Egypt in North Africa, which was the starting point of monasticism, and prayer and fasting is not in those manuscripts, which is interesting. You would expect it to be there not in the other ones.
It’s only in the older manuscripts, and it’s in the majority of them. So external historical evidence is against it, but also internal evidence. Nowhere else in Scripture is prayer emphasized as the means of casting out a demon. In fact, when the disciples were sent out they are told simply to cast the demons out in His Name.
So prayer is not referred to in any of the earlier episodes in Matthew or in Mark. In fact it’s not mentioned in any of them. And fasting certainly isn’t mentioned in any of them.
I’ve spent most of yesterday. I’ve searched this, researched this before, reading through a lot of new commentaries; nobody takes this as being original. So it’s not part of the original text I’m pretty sure for a number of reasons.
But the point here that Jesus is making is that if we’re going to get anywhere in our ministry and our spiritual life, if we’re going to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, it’s done by faith.
It doesn’t take a whole lot of faith to get started. We just have to trust what the Word of God says, and the more we trust what the Word of God says, the more we’re going to see God respond, fulfill His promises, and our faith will be strengthened, and our faith will grow.
Many times I think we have to have to utter a prayer to the Father, “Lord, I believe. Strengthen my faith. My faith needs to become stronger.”
The way our faith become stronger is first of all learning the Word of God so we know what the truth of the Word of God is and then by walking by the Spirit.
With our heads bowed and our eyes closed.
“Father, we thank You for this opportunity to study and reflect on this, recognizing that we are in the midst of an angelic rebellion, angelic conflict, and that as Paul points out in Ephesians 6:10 and following that our warfare is ultimately against the principalities and powers, that is these demonic forces against us, but we can’t see them.
The only thing that we know about is Your Word, and the only solution to defend ourselves is to put on Your full armor. As we put on Your armor, then You protect us. As we walk by the Spirit, You protect us.
You were the One who watches over us, and we know that we have no fear in our lives of demon possession because greater is He that in us that he that is in the world.
Father, we pray that if there’s anybody listening today that’s never or is not sure or their eternal salvation or their eternal destiny, that they would take this time to make that both sure and certain.
Jesus Christ paid the penalty for sin. He died on the Cross. He paid for our sins that by trusting in Him alone, we have eternal life. We’re not saved because we’re good or because we do good things. We’re saved because Christ’ righteousness is ours at the point in faith in Him.
Father, we pray that You would make this clear to anyone who is unclear about their salvation. And that they would take this time to trust in You for their eternal life.
We pray this in Christ’s Name. Amen.”