By Tyson Thorne

September 21, 2016

The Galilean Ministry at Various Cities (4.14-9.50), 9.37-50

The day after the remarkable transfiguration event atop the mountain, Jesus, Peter, James and John came back down and were met by a large crowd. More importantly, they were immediately accosted by a distraught man whose son was oppressed by an unclean spirit. Apparently the nine disciples who did not accompany Jesus up the mountain the night before had tried to cast out the demon and failed. That in itself is a remarkable admission, especially since they had recently been going from town to town healing and casting out evil spirits (Luke 9.1-9). What was so special about this one?

This demonic spirit is known to “come upon” the man’s only son (rather than a full on possession) and cause fits that resemble epileptic seizures. While not possessed, the boy is in danger from the unclean spirit, as he is constantly beaten when thrown down. Usually this type of abuse eventually results in a possession, a fate the boy was spared by being taken to Jesus. The presentation of the oppression is important to note, as today it may be mistaken for epilepsy. It is important to establish and rule out all medical possibilities before assuming a spiritual attack. Jesus, of course, could see the problem for what it was.

On the surface Jesus’ response seems inappropriate. Here is a man obviously concerned for his only child pleading for Jesus’ help and Messiah responds in a way that could be taken as irritated. The old prophets of Israel often made statements about the faithlessness of the people of Israel, Jesus being a prophet was no different in this respect. This reaction may be a direct result of his re-experiencing his fully righteous state on the Mount of Transfiguration. What is important is that Jesus did heal the boy and all who witnessed the event understood that he was healed by the power of God.

While the crowd was discussing this miraculous event Jesus turned to his disciples and said, “Take these words to heart, for the Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men.” Intentionally, the disciples did not understand the meaning of this and were afraid to ask him to explain. Why were they afraid? It isn’t the first time Jesus said something cryptic that he explained to the 12 later. I believe this is further evidence of Jesus having been affected by his transfiguration. He was different now, more purposeful as he headed toward the completion of his mission.

It is curious that the disciples would begin arguing amongst themselves about who is the greatest among them. I’ve wondered over this many times as it seems such a petty thing after all they have been through. It may be that the nine who did not witness the transfiguration were jealous of the three who accompanied Jesus the day before. It may also be that Peter, James and John were poking fun of the others for not being able to cast away the demon oppressing the boy. I can hear them now, “You think you could have done better?” Probably it was both. No matter how it started, Jesus ended it with an object lesson.

Jesus brought a small child forward to stand by his side as he addressed the disciples. “Welcome this child,” Jesus began, “welcomes me. And he who welcomes me, welcomes the Father. For the one who is least among you is the greatest.” In other words, concentrate on serving God and stop comparing yourselves to each other. One of my favorite authors, Madeleine Le Engle, put it thusly: “Comparisons are odious.” I know a couple pastors who need to learn this lesson.

Properly chastised, John (perhaps trying to lighten the mood) tells Jesus that at some time the disciples witnessed someone who is not a follower casting out demons in the name of Jesus.” This is interesting as it indicates that non-Christians can indeed have success in removing demons. Jesus’ response is equally curious, “Do not stop him, for whoever is not against you is for you.” Even though the man was not a Christ-follower, he was permitted by God to have some authority over unclean spirits. God uses whomever he likes to do his work, even those who do not follow him. This is further evidence of God’s authority and of the Kingdom’s presence.

This brings us to a close of the Galilean ministry. The next step on his way to the cross is the Samarian ministry, which we’ll begin examining next time.

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