DOWN FROM THE MOUNTAIN
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
December 17, 2017
37 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38 And behold, a man from the crowd cried out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. 39 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. 40 And I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” 41 Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” 42 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. 43 And all were astonished at the majesty of God.
— Luke 9:37-43, ESV
The greatest commandment in Scripture is to love God. The second is like it, that we should love other people as much as, if not more than, ourselves. I think we would all agree that the first is easier to obey than the second.
In the same vein, worshiping God is much easier than working with people. Worship is a mountaintop experience. Peter, James, and John had such an evening with Jesus, Moses, and Elijah on the mount of transfiguration. After worshiping God, however, they had to “come down from the mountain.” So do we. And down from the mountain, people and problems await.
The Problem with People
I do not claim originality with this sentiment, but I have always said that the problem in the world today is that it has people in it. They are the worst. The worst thing about people is that they are all sinners. They display all kinds of unfaithfulness toward God and engage in all manner of ungodly conduct against one another. It is enough to make you want to go up on a mountain and spend the rest of your life with God, and God alone.
But God, who never leaves us alone, commands us to “come down from the mountain” and live among the people. When Jesus came down from the mount of transfiguration, “a great crowd met Him.” Reading between the lines of Luke’s Gospel with the other Gospels, this was not a friendly, faithful crowd. It was a mess of sinners.
In the crowd that day were Christ’s inner circle (Peter, James, and John), the other nine (one of whom was a traitorous spy), casual onlookers, desperate parents, the usual tax collectors and prostitutes, and any number of religious leaders looking to contradict Jesus and catch Him in some fault. This is quite a mix of disciples and deadbeats. The problem with them all, according to Jesus, is they were “faithless and twisted” (also translated “perverse,” “crooked,” or to use a word similar to the original, “disastrous”).
The twelve in the crowd were puffed up with pride, jealousy, and treachery, as we shall see in subsequent texts. The onlookers came not for spiritual things they could share with God, but for material things they could get from God. The usual sinners were sinning as usual. The rotten religious leaders stunk to high heaven, Even the concerned parent confessed his unbelief. Who wants to live with such people, work with such people, go to church with such people?
I do, because Jesus does. I do, because I am one of them. Stated in another unoriginal thought, “Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst” (ref. 1 Timothy 1:15). The problem with people is that people are just like me, We are all sinful, selfish, wounded, weary, in desperate need of the grace of God and a deeper faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The People with Problems
God is love but Jesus is not always nice. He called a member of another race a “dog,” characterized His religious enemies as “a bunch of snakes,” and when He came down from the mountain Christ called His own disciples “faithless” and the crowd around them “perverted.” So much for the milquetoast Jesus.
Lots of love and lack of tact can go together, though, when you call attention to someone’s problem in order to remedy it. That’s what Jesus does for all of these people laden with their various problems. Good news for you and me, Jesus loves people with problems.
For the disciples, Jesus pointed out the problem with their faith and showed them how to improve it. A case requiring healing and exorcism had been brought to them. In the recent past, Jesus had given the Apostles power and authority to heal and cast out demons. The power came from the Lord and the authority is the Lord, but apparently like Moses at Meribah, the Apostles tried to cure the boy in their own strength and name. This is faithless, and faithlessness does not work.
Jesus showed them the way, by doing what the Father had commissioned Him to do on earth, heal the sick, preach the gospel, expand the kingdom of God. Faith is trusting God, going forth in His name, and doing what He has called and commanded us to do. If you are a disciple, God is calling you to gather for worship then go out and help people. Do it!
For the crowd, Jesus unveiled the problem with the devil and showed them God is ultimately in control. The devil and demons have been around for a long time, and they’ve always been a problem. They were especially a problem in Jesus’ day, for then they descended upon His geographical location in droves. Here, however, they were defeated.
As a young pastor, a laymen expressed his theology to me in this way: “God votes for you, Satan votes against you, and you cast the deciding vote.” This is patently absurd and virtually heretical. I am not Lord. Satan is not equal to the Lord. Jesus is Lord of heaven and earth.
For the sick boy, Jesus delivered him from his problem and gave him back to his father. This poor father and son had double trouble, the physical pain of epileptic seizures and the spiritual problem of demonic possession. One probably led to the other, and Satan seized this opportunity to try to make Christ and the fledgling Christians look bad.
Jesus came out of this episode, as always, smelling like the Rose of Sharon. “All were astonished at the majesty of God” (ref. vs. 43). It would not be the last time Jesus faced the darkness and came out smelling like a rose.
The Person for Problem People
At the end of the day, Luke’s aim is not to highlight the problem with people, or claim the gospel is here to merely help people with their daily problems. His purpose is to expose the greatness of God, affirm the deity of Jesus Christ, and call all people to trust in Him for salvation.
Look at that last phrase again, “The majesty of God.” This episode pointed people to God. Down from the mountain, the devil is there to do us harm. People often do not help and sometimes make matters worse. But everything God does is good, or at least it works together for good. God is great, God is on the throne, and God is love. God is the supreme person for problem people.
But wait, as the people down from the mountain extolled “the majesty of God,” they should have put two and two together (or three in one). God healed the boy. Jesus healed the boy. Jesus is God. Jesus Christ is Lord! Jesus is the supreme person for problem people.
Remember, finally, another thread running through the Gospel of Luke, the other Gospels, and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our greatest problems are not epilepsy and demonic possession. Our greatest problems are not poverty and lack of adequate health care. Our greatest problems are sin and death. There is only one person for this problem.
“Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (ref. Romans 10:13). The person for problem people is the savior for sinful people. He is the Lord Jesus Christ. Believe in Him. Follow Him, up and down from the mountain.
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Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org