Our Unbelieving Generation
16th century painter Raphael captured the dichotomy between the glory of the Mount of Transfiguration and the kerfuffle at the base of the mountain (see photo below). Peter, James, and John are worshipful witnesses to Moses and Elijah and the illumined Christ. The top of the renaissance painting has lightened hues. A subtle line of demarcation draws one’s attention to the darkened activity down below. Here the painting depicts a bewildered man clutching his demon possessed son, presenting him to Jesus’ disciples. A group of scribes stand in the background with hands raised in mocking inquisition, as to why Jesus’ disciples have failed to cast out the demon.
The lower scenes are revealed in Matthew 17:14–21; Mark 9:14–28; and Luke 9:37–42. All three accounts must be read, in order to capture the fullness of the encounter. A desperate man has brought his demon-possessed son to Jesus for exorcism. Jesus is not there. He is up on the mountain, in glory, yet shrouded from the view of those below. The disciples received the power to cast out demons, under Jesus’ command and authority (Mt 10:8). Nine disciples below cannot see Jesus’ glory like the other three above. They stand perplexed by their failure to help the boy. Although this encounter occurs in Galilee, a group of scribes from Jerusalem are tracking with Jesus. Their intentions are not good. They seize the opportunity to discredit Jesus via His defaulters.
The man was beside himself, “falling on his knees before Him (Mt 17:14).” People all around us are in complexity. Life has not taken the trajectory they had dreamed of in their youth. A myriad of troubles potentially plague people. Usually, one or two leave a person exasperated with life itself. They have no idea what to do, where to go, or who to go to. Like the soldier, whose son was dying, and the woman with the issue of blood, desperate people are drawn to Jesus for help.
The boy is a problem for his father and for us. His condition is spiritual, but it manifests in very physical realities. In what may appear to be epileptic seizures, he throws himself into fire and water hazards that threaten his own life. He looks crazy, with convulsions and foam at the mouth. He has a deaf and dumb spirit (Mk 9:25).
Enlightenment era philosophy (18th and 19th century) neutered the supernatural scenes from the Bible. The Bible clearly notes the demonic, but even today’s psychology balks, at such a scenario being attributed to evil spirits. We must take the biblical account as it reads, but we must be cautious about being lopsided in either direction of application. We may be dealing with a person with chemical, muscular, or traumatic injuries on the one hand; but we also may be dealing with a spiritual condition in someone displaying peculiar behavior.
The scribes, like today’s skeptics, revel in the failure of Jesus’ disciples. They have no compassion for the suffering father and son. Atheistic skeptics clearly have no power from God, to extend healing to anyone. They do not believe. They obviously offer nothing to any situation requiring an act of God. They have no love for God or man. Their task is to mock and scorn followers of Jesus. They exercise their profound hatred of God.
Attacking Christians is a way to attack Christ. Belligerence is their spiritual gift. They do not believe the followers of Jesus. They do not believe in supernatural signs. Therefore, they reject Jesus and His messianic claims.
Messiahship is the issue. Healing miracles by Jesus were ascribed to the power of Beelzebub, Satan, the adversary. Their oversight is confronted by Jesus when He argued that Satan cannot cast out Satan. The evidence was apparent. Every miracle performed by Jesus was for the good of the beneficiary of His miracle. He was casting out evil spirits with the power of God. Thus, we acknowledge there is magic. There are displays of supernatural spiritual power, as demonstrated by those who opposed Moses before Pharaoh. The distinction for Jesus was the variety, the volume, the goodness, and the extent of His miracles.
Isaiah 35:5–6 prophetically anticipates the Messianic miracles, “Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb will shout for joy.” The blind man, given his sight by Jesus in John 9, articulated the exclusivity of Jesus’ miracle healing, “Since the beginning of time it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man (Jesus) were not from God, He could do nothing (Jn 9:32–33).”
The spotlight turns to the nine disciples. They have fallen short of the glory of Christ. They are at the bottom of the hill, both literally and figuratively. Raphael paints them into the shadows. The scribes are laughing at their failure. They have left the man with less hope than he had on approach to Jesus. They are not encouraging one another, either. Jesus exposes them, as he descends from the glorious mountain top. It is often humiliating being a disciple of Jesus, endowed with a commission but without power to perform. There is a lesson for them in their failure. We, too, must learn this lesson.
First, the conflict is ever-present. Reading through the life and ministry of Jesus in the Gospels confronts us with the conflict Christians have in the world. We occupy a world of unbelief, and it does not help when we ourselves are lacking faith. In the world, you will have conflict with unbelievers. Some are desperately in trouble. Others are arrogant in self-satisfaction. Power and position is a game to these prideful people. They want to be in control, and they want to destroy the competition. Jesus, whether explicitly or implicitly, is their competition. His glory is above them. Their view of His magnificence is clouded over. They cannot see Jesus (2 Cor 4:4) in His glory.
Second, the cure is Jesus alone. The man brings his troubled boy, with a miniscule degree of hope. No doubt everything else has failed. Jesus is a last resort. When we are in trouble, Jesus should be our first option. The scribes are there to argue that Jesus is not the solution. Religious people, even secularists, are everywhere. The Bible and prayer have been expunged from American public schools because Jesus is not the answer for these unbelievers.
With no knowledge of God, our children have no fear of God. The moral and ethical woes we reap, result from the godless unbelief we have sown. America has listened to the scribes of higher education, and we are stiffened and rocked by societal convulsions. Politicians exacerbate the problem, by constituting laws that punish Christians and prevent freedom of religion and speech in the assembly of our schools. They are blind to their unconstitutional laws.
Jesus’ assessment of the conflict should give us consternation, “O unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you (Mt 17:17)?” The scribes were unbelieving. The man was unbelieving. Worst of all, the disciples were unbelieving. The result of unbelief was confusion and accusation. Raphael captured this by men pointing fingers at one another on the dark side of his painting.
With so much privileged access to so much knowledge of Christ, we must marvel at this generation, throwing itself into the fires of hell and drowning itself in the lake of fire. We live in a perverted generation. The Bible clearly states homosexuality is a sin, while so called, “gay Christians” write articles about God’s “gift of homosexuality” to them. It is an abomination.
The Bible clearly states that men should not tattoo themselves, but Christians glory in defacing themselves with graffiti. We slaughter children at a rate that would make Molech blush, and many of the people working in abortions mills actually claim Christ. We allow our children to incessantly kill others on video screens, and then we wonder why they heartlessly kill others in the world. Then, the scribes blame the murder weapon, while granting free college educations for murderers. Jesus asks, “How long shall I put up with you?”
“Bring him to Me,” must have brought a surge of hope to the boy’s father. Still, you can hear the lack of confidence, “If you can do anything take pity on us and help us!” Jesus emphatically reiterates the unbelieving statement, “If you can!” The point is that He can. Sensing the problem is not Jesus, the man cries out, “I believe…help me in my unbelief.” It is at this point that all things become possible. Christians want to believe in the power of God, but we are desperately wicked, in waiting for the power of God in action before we actually believe. Jesus corrects this in them and in us.
Jesus’ disciples were clearly frustrated by the conflict and their failure to perform. They came and consulted with Jesus privately (Mt 17:19–20). Jesus spoke plainly. The problem was their faith. Whereas the others felt the failure was on Jesus’ part, He refuted that idea. The disciples had faltered in knowledge and power. The knowledge deficiency was that they did not understand the power of this kind of demon. Prayer was essential for this type of exorcism (Mt 17:21). The exorcism ministry had become routine for them. They were faced with an obstacle demanding greater power and authority.
Ironically, false TV preachers and their Pentecostal faith healing services will quickly blame their patients for washout healings. Their focus is always on the quantity. They claim that some people do not have the right amount of faith. This, of course, is not what Jesus was saying here. The problem was not with the boy. The problem was with his faith-healing ministers. The disciples were to blame. Their faith had become misappropriated. They were subtly relying on themselves and their schtick.
The power is not in ourselves. The power must be Christ Himself. We must have faith in Christ, who is the power of God. Faith must be of the quality that relies on Him, not on His command or authority given. For Christians to minister in obedience, we must claim to speak and act only as men in submission to God. Demons clearly recognize pretenders. Just ask the seven naked sons of Sceva (Acts 19). We must have a clear view of the glorified Messiah. We must be guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit, for every good work. These works have been prepared for us to walk in (Eph 2:10), but we must walk in faith, which is trust in Christ alone. Of course, we walk in love, unlike scribes.
In summary, we have considered a conflict with many components. We have learned that no matter the kind of conflict, Jesus Christ is the cure for the person in need. Before engaging in the spiritual warfare of practical problem solving, we must consult with Jesus Christ in prayer. Not only that, our prayer must be one of faith, for all things to become possible for us in the ministry. We must not rely on ourselves or the way it has always been done. We cannot even trust our authoritative commission. We must trust in Jesus Christ, for right resolution in every problem situation. God is able to make all grace abound toward us and toward the ones we minister to in Jesus’ name. In this way, God gets the glory for the work He alone can accomplish. We believe. O God, help us in our unbelief.
Spokane Valley, Washington
December 7, 2020