Angels & Demons ~ February 17, 2019 ~ Matthew 17:14-20A
There actually is, on a hill in Turkey, a little house – stone house – that is, legend has it, where the apostle John took Jesus’ mother Mary – remember, on the cross, Jesus said to John, “Woman, behold your Son, Son, behold your mother.” He wanted to make sure – one of the last things He did before He died – He wanted to make sure His mom was okay, and that John was to take care of her. Legend has it that they moved to Ephesus, which is modern day Turkey, and there was this little stone house with a little pipe that comes out of the ground, and water comes out of it. It’s supposed to be miraculous. So, here I am thinking, nah. Come on. So, I emptied out my water bottle, filled it up and took it back to the states with me, because I’m figuring that hey, if I ever need a miracle, I’ll just drink some of the miracle water! I did sip a little bit. I still got diabetes. Such is life.
July 4, 1776:
When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.
Imagine hearing those words for the first time on the steps of your local town hall, announcing the birth of a new nation.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Robert Frost, November 1916.
Do you recognize this one?
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
August 28, 1963.
Now, I shared these three readings for a reason. Those words have power for me, personally, and they are as powerfult for me today as if I were in the audience on the day when they were first spoken. They move me, and I’m sure not only me.
Jesus had just taken Peter, James, and John up on a mountain top, and revealed to them – given them a special insight into who He was, who He truly was. We know it as the transfiguration because on that mountaintop Jesus’ appearance was transformed. His face shown like the sun, His clothes became as white as light, and in that moment, a voice appeared within a cloud and said, “This is my dearly loved Son who brings me great joy. Listen to Him.” And I’ve always thought wouldn’t that be awesome? To hear the voice of God. To have Him speak and I could listen and understand.
He does. And you can. These words are just as powerful today as the day on which God spoke them for the very first time. No differently than our Declaration of Independence, or a beautiful poem by Robert Frost, or an incredible sermon speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. They are powerful because they are God’s holy and inspired words. If you want to listen to more Robert Frost, buy a book. He’s got lots of wonderful verse. Robert Frost is my favorite poet because I’m a simple man, and poetry for me has to rhyme! If it don’t rhyme, it ain’t poetry! But that’s just me. If you want to hear Robert Frost’s voice, you can buy a book. If you want to hear the voices of our founding fathers as they talked about whether or not they should become an independent nation, you’re more than welcome to borrow my two-volume set on the Debates of the Constitution – because I’m a history geek, I own books like this. The Federalist Papers, What Should We Be As An Independent Republic… if you want to hear their voices, you can read these books.
But if you want to hear the voice of God, it’s right here in front of us, folks. He is speaking today just as powerfully as the day Matthew wrote these words down:
“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders away, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others on the hills and go out and search for the one that is lost? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he will rejoice over it more than over the ninety-nine that didn’t wander away! In the same way, it is not my heavenly Father’s will that even one of these little ones should perish.”
If you want to hear God speak, you don’t need to hear an audible voice. He is speaking to each and every one of us right here. It is accessible to you anytime you want to open this book, or open the app on your phone. God still speaks as powerfully as He did the first time.
Now, our reading this morning. They were up on that hill. They experienced the transfiguration, and eventually the four of them come down – Jesus, Peter, James and John – and then… would you please join me in the unison prayer as we prepare to study the word of God. Let us pray.
Lord, upon the pages of this book is your story. It is also our story. Open our eyes that we may see, our ears that we may hear, our minds that we may understand, and our hearts that they may be transformed. In Jesus’ name. Amen. (Ah, music to my ears.)
So, they come down from the mountaintop, and Matthew 17:14 says:
At the foot of the mountain, a large crowd was waiting for them.
A large crowd was waiting for them. Why do you think that is? It happened all the time.
Large crowds followed him wherever he went – people from Galilee,
the Ten Towns, Jerusalem, from all over Judea, and from east of the Jordan
Large crowds soon surrounded Jesus, and he couldn’t publicly enter
a town anywhere. He had to stay out in the secluded places, but people from
everywhere kept coming to him.
Why? Why did Jesus draw such a crowd? Mark 2, first four verses:
When Jesus returned to Capernaum several days later, the news spread quickly that he was back home. Soon the house where he was staying was so packed with visitors that there was no more room, even outside the door.
It was mobbed!
While he was preaching God’s word to them, four men arrived
carrying a paralyzed man on a mat. They couldn’t bring him to Jesus because of
the crowd, so they dug a hole through the roof above his head. Then they
lowered the man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus.
Crowds followed Jesus wherever He went. At the foot of the mountain, a large crowd was awaiting.
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?”
Check this out:
“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.”
So, at the foot of the mountain, a large crowd is waiting for Him. A boy needed help. This scene, as I have said, repeated itself numerous times. Crowds everywhere He went. At first, Jesus’ reaction may be a little bit out of character, we don’t quite understand it. “You faithless and corrupt people! How long must I be with you?” Jesus was angry!
Why was He angry? I don’t know, maybe because this scene had repeated itself numerous times. (I’ll make more sense of that in a minute.)
Do you ever find it odd when you read your Scriptures how often that Jesus said to people, “Shh, don’t talk about the miracles I’ve done.” In Mark 1:32-34, there’s a story where it says:
That evening after sunset, many sick and demon-possessed people
were brought to Jesus. The whole town gathered at the door to watch. So Jesus
healed many people who were sick with various diseases, and he cast out many
demons. But because the demons knew who he was, he did not allow them to speak.
He is instructing even demons not to say anything. One time after He healed a man with leprosy, He sent the man away with a stern warning. The Bible says, “Don’t tell anyone about this.” Why? I think it was because this scene had repeated itself numerous times and Jesus does not want people to focus on the miracles. He wants them to focus on the message. The message of salvation that He was bringing. Don’t get distracted by the miracles!
Now, I seem to pick on Dave a lot, but he was fun (the lead singer in my old band). Dave was a huge fan of the 1970s band KISS. He loved KISS! And I’ll never forget when he went to see one of their shows live, he came to rehearsal the next time, and I said, “Dave, how was the concert?” He said, “Oh my gosh, you should have seen the fire and you should have seen the explosions! And Gene Simmons with blood going down!”
“Yeah, but how was the music?”
“I’m telling you, there was a tank and it shot something out there…” He went on for like five minutes!
“What songs did they sing?”
“I’m telling you, there was a platform that went…”
He was so distracted with the visual circus that KISS puts on, it doesn’t seem to me like he paid attention to the music! Who doesn’t like, “I wanna rock and roll all night?” It was amazing to me! All he talked about was the show.
Jesus – His anger is because He knew they didn’t believe who He was. They were just focused on the miracles, which is half of the story. Yes, Jesus was a mighty prophet, evidenced by His miracles; but the Son of God? The Messiah who came to die for our sins and offer us salvation? And they were not alone. A lot of people do not believe, even today, that Jesus was anything more than a wise teacher, a prophet maybe, a miracle worker. But no more than that. There are whole religions who believe that.
I don’t know if it might surprise you, but in the Quran, you will find Jesus. You will find Mary. They believe that Jesus was a prophet. They even believe that Jesus was born by a virgin. But the Son of God? In Surah (that’s what they call their chapters and verses), Surah 3:59 the Quran says:
The similitude of Jesus before God is that
of Adam. He [God] created Him [Jesus] from the
dust; then said to him, “Be,” and he was.
So, Jesus was a creation, not the creator.
O People of the Book! [That’s what they call Jews and Christians] Commit no excesses in your religion nor say of God ought but the truth. Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, was no more than an apostle of God, and his word, which he bestowed on Mary, and a spirit proceeding from him. So believe in God and his apostles, say not trinity. Desist. It will be better for you. For God is one God [Allah]. Glory be to him, far exalted is he above having a son. God would not have a son. [He would not stoop to have a son.] To him belong all things in the heavens and on earth. And enough is God as a disposer of affairs.
Last one (there are many). Surah 9:30:
The Jews call Uzair [Ezra] the son of God [lower-case “s”], and the Christians call Christ the Son of God [higher-case “s”]. That is a saying from their mouth. In this they but imitate what the unbelievers of old [the Jews] used to say. God’s curse be on them! How they are deluded away from the truth.
Yes, Jesus existed, they teach. Yes, He was a miracle worker, they teach. No, absolutely not, was He the Son of God. Which brings a good question to mind. If Jesus is God, then the God they worship cannot be the same God that we do. Think about it. Jesus either is God or He’s not. It’s either true or false.
There are lots of other religions, lots of other individuals who do not believe who Jesus truly was, and this is what Jesus was angry about. “You’re not paying attention to who I am and what I have to say, you just want a miracle!” Jesus does not want to be seen as some sort of wizard that we seek out only in desperation, like Miracle Max. (Have you not seen The Princess Bride yet? Oh, for crying out loud. Here is your homework assignment: you’ve got to watch The Princess Bride, because I’m going to use references to The Princess Bride all the time! It’s a classic!)
Wesley, one of the main characters supposedly had died. They needed to bring him back, so they went to Billy Crystal, playing Miracle Max, who came up with a chocolate coated pill. Who diagnosed him and said, “Ah, he’s only mostly dead.” They wanted a miracle from Miracle Max!
Jesus does not want to be our Miracle Max, just someone we show up when we need something, when we want something. In fact, Matthew 11:20 tells us that
Jesus began to denounce towns where He had
done so many miracles because they had not repented of their sins and turned to
They had not understood what they were supposed to do and why He came. This is why Jesus is angry. He’s saying, “You guys don’t care who I am, or the reason why I’m here. You just want a miracle!” Miracles are only half the story. They’re true, but they’re only half the story. It’s like those who believe in heaven but not hell, or those who believe in angels but not demons. They have accepted only half of the truth. Half of the truth. And as you heard me say to the kids, anything that is half-true is false. It can’t be half-true. That’s like saying, “I’m kind of pregnant!”
This is the holy and inspired word of God, as powerful today as the day it was first written, and everything in it is true. Everything. Angels and demons, heaven and hell, miracle worker and Messiah. See, I think the problem sometimes with our prayer life (and it’s funny, we’re talking so much about prayer life this morning), so often our prayer life kind of devolves into a seven-year-old making their list for Santa Claus, doesn’t it? “God, I need you to do this.” “Lord, I need you to help with this.” “God, I need…” “Help my friend.” “Help my mother.” “Help my brother.” “I need, I need, I need.” “I want a miracle!”
Was that His purpose? Is that why Jesus came? Did Jesus come to fix everything in our lives? Or did He come to take our sin to the cross, put it to death, forgive us and offer us eternal life? Sometimes we forget, I think. We get caught up in the miracles – because they do happen! We shouldn’t get distracted from who He is and what He came to do, what His purpose was. Maybe our prayer life should be more like, “Lord, I’m struggling, but You already know that. I have a circumstance in my life that’s really a challenge for me. But I know – because You are the Lord, my God and my Savior – that You have it under control. And that whatever solution for this problem, for this circumstance, You’ve already figured it out, and You will reveal it to me in Your time. I thank You, Lord, I love You. I am grateful. Your will be done.” Because sometimes Your will isn’t done. You know what some of the best things about Kyle’s internet not working? It made him pray! I wonder how much time Kyle would have spent in prayer if the internet was working! How much time do we not spend in prayer, or reading our Bibles, because our internet works? And our cable TV works.
It can be a distraction. He wanted the internet, that was the prayer. God gave him something even better – spend time with Him.
So, He’s angry because they don’t believe – they’re distracted. They’re not paying attention to who He is or why He came. Now, Jesus healed – couldn’t help Himself, and He healed this little boy. He can’t, it’s just who He is. He loves you guys, you’re His children, and when you’re in trouble He’s there to help. When Peter was walking on water and began to sink, and he yelled out the shortest prayer in the whole Bible, three words: “Save me, Lord!” Boom, His arm came down and He lifted Peter up. That’s just a part of who Jesus is. That’s His character. He’s going to help His children. So, He heals the boy. And then the disciples later ask Him, privately, “How come we couldn’t do it, what happened?” And then He hits them with that cold water in the face, doesn’t He? “You don’t have enough faith.” I left everything, you told me to drop my nets and leave my business, and I went! Peter left his wife and his family, and he went. We gave up everything, we believe. What do you mean we don’t have faith? Even the disciples were not immune to the spectacle, to the shiny object, that is miracles. I have mentioned before how zoologists catch monkeys. You know how they catch monkeys? Sometimes they’ll hang cages in trees throughout the jungle, little wire cages. And inside the cage they’ll put something shiny – something gold, or something brass, or something silver, or a mirror. Something that reflects light, something that catches your attention. And the monkeys want it! The monkeys really want it. So, they hop over to that tree and they stick their hand right through the cage, grab that shiny object (which they have to have), and try to leave. And they can’t leave because they can’t fit the big object through the bars! And they will not let go! So, later on the people come along and just scoop them up in bags, still holding on to that shiny thing. They won’t drop it.
All of their focus was the shiny object, and unfortunately sometimes in our prayer life, the focus is the miracle. That’s the shiny object, and that’s what was happening to the disciples. They were getting distracted by the shiny object of the miracles. So, why couldn’t they heal this boy? They had done so before. Jesus sent them out in Mark 6, it says:
So the disciples went out, telling everyone they met to repent of
their sins and turn to God. And they cast out many demons and healed many sick
people, anointing them with olive oil.
So, the disciples had done miracles before. It’s not new. What was different now? They had become distracted. They began to think that they were the ones with the power who were healing these folks. They were the ones doing the miracles. We sometimes do the same thing, don’t we? How about when we give modern medicine and doctors all the credit for healing, not remembering that God gives some men and women some amazing talents to be doctors, and to be nurses, and to be scientists, and to be lab technicians to develop pharmaceuticals? You think they did that all on their own? Is not God sovereign? God works through modern medicine. God works through doctors and nurses and medical professionals. And then they in turn use their gifts to heal us. But don’t focus so much on them – thank them, obviously, for using their gift – but don’t give them the credit, not all of it. Thank the Lord for your healing. God heals through modern medicine, and He still does miracles. There are times when people recover from illnesses they were not supposed to, and the medical profession does not know what to say. Monday they had terminal cancer, they came back Friday for a scan and it’s all gone. And their professional opinion is ???
We know what happened. God sometimes still does miracles, because everything that happens on this planet and throughout the univers e(which He created) – there’s only two choices. Either God caused it, or He allowed it to happen. That’s the only two choices, because God is sovereign. So, He either caused the internet not to work, or He allowed Kyle’s internet not to work. Either way, He was in charge.
Yes, God still does miracles; however, what He can do should not distract us from who He is. He is the King of Kings. He is the Lord of Lords. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. He overcame death, had victory over death, and offered us eternal life. That’s what He offered us, right? Eternal life. He didn’t offer us a life free of pain and problems. He offered us eternal life. He never once said, “Your life is now going to be a life full of rainbows and unicorns, and we’ll drink magic potion and fly!” He never said that. God promised not that there will be no times of struggle and pain; He promised that He would walk beside us during those times of struggle and pain. If we have faith in Him, in who He is, if we trust Him, not only will we get through the tough times; we will find that we can move mountains. Moving mountains is a Jewish proverb meaning doing what is virtually impossible. Jesus is saying here, if we have faith in Him and who He is and what He came to do, nothing is impossible. Faith in Him – not in His miracles. In Him, because the answer to your prayer might not be a miracle. There may be something else you need to experience. We need to trust Him and believe Him, that He knows what He is doing.
Miracles are only half of the story. If we have faith in Him, in who He is, in what He says, all of it – not half, not just the parts we like or agree with – all of it, then nothing is impossible.
The Bible says in John 1 that Jesus is the Word. In verse 14 it says:
So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of
unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the
Father’s one and only Son.
Jesus and the Word are one and the same, and when we embrace the Word, we embrace Jesus. And when we reject the Word or any portion of it, we are rejecting Jesus. Jesus is the Word become human. To accept only half of it is to accept only half of the truth. And anything that is half-true is false.
When we look at Jesus as Miracle Max, we will see His anger; however, if we have faith in Jesus – in who He is and what He says, all of it, heaven and hell, angels and demons, miracle worker and Messiah – and live according to the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, we will see the impossible. And we will see the impossible because God still does miracles. He can’t help Himself. It’s who He is. If you want to see miracles, believe in who He is and what He has done. If you do, you’ll see things you never thought possible. Don’t take my word for it – He gave you His. Would you stand and pray with me?