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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:Coming Down from the Mountain
Text:Matthew 17:9-23 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ
 
Added:2023-09-21
Updated:2023-09-21
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Sing to the Lord, Sing His Praise
God, Be Merciful to Me
Soldiers of Christ Arise
Come, My Soul, with Every Care

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


“Coming Down from the Mountain”
Matthew 17:9-23
 
In the opening verses of Matthew 17 we read how three of the disciples, Peter, James, and John, witnessed the glory of Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. Seeing the glory of Jesus impacted Peter so much that he wrote about the experience years later in 2 Peter 1:16-18.
 
But in verse 9 we read that as they were coming down from the mountain Jesus commanded them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” Although they may have been disappointed by that command, they must have been fascinated as Jesus explained to them that John the Baptist was the Elijah whom the prophets had predicted would come before Jesus. From the prophecy of Malachi, people expected Elijah to return and be a forerunner to Jesus (Mal. 4:5). But from their conversation they realized that the Elijah to come was a veiled reference to John the Baptist who fulfilled Elijah’s role.
 
Jesus also foretold his suffering when He said in verse 12, “But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.”
 
But after the mountaintop experience, and the discussion on the way down, the disciples returned to the base of the mountain to face reality. They returned from the mountain to “the valley” where they witnessed all the sin and misery that marks life here on earth. In verses 14 to 16 we read: When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. ‘Lord, have mercy on my son,’ he said. ‘He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water.’”
 
Both Mark and Luke also give an account of this situation. Luke tells us that the son who was sick and demon possessed was an only son. Both Luke and Mark give us significantly more detail than Matthew. They describe a scene of contention and anger; a mob scene greeted Jesus, Peter, James, and John.
 
While the four of them were on the Mount of Transfiguration, the nine remaining disciples were carrying on their ministry. But they ran into a great obstacle. This man had brought his only son, who was suffering greatly from seizures. And from Mark and Luke we know he was also mute and deaf; he could not hear or speak, for he was possessed by a demon.
 
The disciples had tried to heal this poor boy, but were unable to. Because of that, the father was filled with mistrust about the power of the Lord and His disciples. In Mark 9:22 he said to Jesus, “...If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” And the Pharisees and teachers of the law, rather than having compassion on the boy, were delighted at the disciples' inability to heal. In all probability they, were making fun of the disciples and berating them in front of the crowd that had gathered.
 
In the year 1517 Raphael Sanzio began a painting entitled The Transfiguration. Unfortunately, he died before completing the painting, but he did enough to leave us with a visual imprint of what was going on. The top part of the painting is in glorious, bright colors as it depicts Jesus in all his glory on the Mount of Transfiguration. The disciples are awe-struck by His glory, as He speaks with Moses and Elijah. The bottom half of the painting depicts the other disciples in front of the jeering crowd, trying to cast the demon out of the epileptic boy, and yet being unable to, as the anguished father watches in frustration.  
 
The painting graphically reveals the tremendous change of scenery for Peter, James, and John. They had been on the mountain top, witnessing the glory of Jesus, hearing the majestic voice of His Father saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” And now they come down from the mountain to this mob scene and the suffering of a young boy, his distraught father, and the nine disciples who could not heal the boy. But that’s how life is in this sin-stained, fallen world, isn’t it? It is filled with seizures, suffering, sickness, and death.
 
At the close of this passage Jesus explains to His disciples that He will be betrayed, killed, and then on the third day, raised again. On hearing of His betrayal and death verse, 23 says the disciples were filled with grief.” Few things touch the heart with as much anguish as the news that a dear loved one has a terminal condition. Losing a loved one means losing part of yourself.  No wonder the disciples were filled with grief. And yet seizures, suffering, sickness and death are all part of the world in which we live. In this life we spend far more time in the valleys than we do on the mountain tops.
 
A second devastating thing for the disciples was their inability to heal this boy. In verse 16, the father says: I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.”
      
From Luke’s treatment of this incident, we also see clearly the chronology of when this took place. It was after Jesus had sent out the twelve disciples giving them power to preach the gospel and to heal. Luke 9:6: So they set out and went from village to village, preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere.”
 
They had the experience of being able to heal, at whim, anyone who they came upon. But now this father and his epileptic demon-possessed son came to them, and they could not bring healing. They are stymied and thus, after the crowd had dispersed, verse 19 records how Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, ‘Why couldn’t we drive it out?’”
 
Jesus famously replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
 
The power of God’s gift of saving faith to us is seen in Jesus’ illustration of a mustard seed. A mustard seed is among the smallest of seeds and yet the mustard tree grows to be a large tree.  Jesus had used the example of the mustard seed earlier in a parable concerning the growth of the kingdom of heaven. He had said, as recorded in Matthew 13:32, “It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
 
As a garden plant, the mustard seed needs to be cared for, cultivated and nourished. Those of you who have gardens spend time in them so that whatever plants you have, grow and produce a good crop. Jesus is saying that faith is the same way. Faith is a gift of God’s grace to us, but it must be cultivated by faithful prayer, study of the Scriptures, the proper use of sacraments, and the fellowship and encouragement of fellow believers. One commentator writes:
 
     “Faith, as a mustard seed” is the kind of trust in God which does not immediately give up in despair when its
      efforts do not meet with immediate success. It maintains its uninterrupted and vital contact with God and
      therefore continues to pray fervently, knowing that God, at his own time and in his own way will bestow the
      blessing." (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary on Matthew, pg. 675)
 
But the nine disciples had given up. They had not prayerfully trusted in their Lord’s power and strength, which led Jesus to teach them that where there is true faith God’s will can be accomplished. Verse 20 with its imagery of faith moving mountains fits in with Philippians 4:13, and many other Scriptures, which remind us that we can do all things – all things that are in the will of God – through Him who strengthens us.
 
A third valley that the disciples faced was the “valley” of the demonic world. Verse 18 leaves no doubt that the epileptic boy was demon possessed. It declares: Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed from that moment.”
 
Many commentators note that demon possession appears to be unique to the time when Jesus lived on earth. In their view, demon possession was a manifestation of the devil’s power to try to derail the ministry of Jesus. But God overcame the evil as Christ showed His mastery over the demonic world.
 
But just because we don’t see demon possession today in our culture in the same way that it was evident in the first century when Jesus was on earth, doesn’t mean that the demons – the fallen angels under the devil’s authority – are not at work.
 
In the words of Revelation 12:12, the devil knows that his time is short. He and his fallen angels – his demons – are hard at work. He attacks people of every age, but young people are a favorite target. He loves to aim his temptations – his flaming arrows and darts – at young people who have grown up in Christian families, who have been nurtured in Bible-believing churches and often in Christian schools, too. He wants to derail your faith before it makes an impact on this world which is already under the devil’s sway, as he is variously described as the prince of the power of the air” and the god (small “g”) of this world.(Eph. 2:2; 2 Cor. 4:4)
       
The power of the demonic world is so great that the Lord inspired Paul to devote a good portion of Ephesians 6 to the importance of spiritual armor. How crucial for all of us, no matter what age you may be, to put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes.” (Eph. 6:11)
 
Prayer, Faith, and Spiritual Growth
 
What other applications do we find flowing from this passage of Scripture? One key application is that prayer is essential to faith and spiritual growth. We have seen from verse 20 that the disciples were unable to heal this boy because they had so little faith. But here again, Mark adds more details than Matthew. Mark 9:28-29 explains that After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”  He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer. (Some manuscripts add, “and fasting.”)
 
It appears that they presumed that the Lord would enable them to heal at whim whomever they encountered. Because they experienced some spiritual success, they reached a “plateau” and did not rely on the Lord in prayer as they should have.
 
But how often is that also true of us? We can so easily become like the disciples in that we are content to be where we are spiritually, without seeking a deeper reliance and faith in Christ. Prayer is so essential to our faith and spiritual growth, yet how often is our prayer life put on hold? How often are our prayers offered as a formality as the same pet phrases that roll off our lips without being deeply rooted in our heart? Or for some, is prayer like the spare tire in your trunk, to be used only in a time of crises?  
 
The statement of the sick boy’s father, recorded in Mark 9:24, should be the prayer of each one of us, “I believe; help my unbelief!” We should all be able to relate to that statement, because, unfortunately, unbelief and doubt reside in the heart of every believer.  We read that even John the Baptist, when he was in prison, wavered, and sent messengers to Jesus asking, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matt. 11:2)
 
Some of the seeds of unbelief and doubt come from within us as we recognize dullness in our devotional life and public worship, or repetitive sin that dominates our thoughts and actions. At other times the seeds of doubt come from outside ourselves as the world puts all its allurements before us, sidetracking us from the Lord. The world – the whole realm of life apart from God – can both allure us and attack us, shaking our confidence and causing doubt.
 
And then, in addition, there is doubt caused by the devil’s questioning, especially concerning the truthfulness of God’s word. It has been pointed out that all the attacks on the Bible go back to the Garden of Eden and the question that Satan put in Eve’s mind: “Has God really said…?” Has God really said, “You shall not covet?”  Has God really said, “All we like sheep have gone astray?” Has God really said that the Good Shepherd laid down His life for the sheep? Has God really said that He loved the world so much that He gave His one and only begotten Son…? 
 
Satan is still asking those questions, with a plethora of effective variations. And so often we are tempted to react just as Adam and Eve did. They were swayed by doubt and substituted human reasoning in the place of the authority and wisdom of God’s Word. And we, too, at times are tempted to doubt God’s goodness, His promises, and His word.
 
Prayer is essential to our faith and to our spiritual growth in so many ways, including that prayer refocuses us in times of doubt and temptation. The exclamation of the sick boy’s father, “I believe; help my unbelief!” should certainly be included in your prayers and in mine!
___
 
We also read in this passage that the “mountain top experience” of seeing the fullness of the glory of God is ours only through faith in Him who died and who was raised to life for our justification. The glory that the disciples saw on the Mount of Transfiguration was just a small glimpse of the great glory that awaits all those who have a true saving faith in Jesus Christ.
 
When Peter, James, and John saw the glory of Jesus the Scripture says, They fell face down to the ground, terrified.” By contrast, in the glory of heaven we will see Jesus and we will be filled with praise and adoration. There will be no fear even though we will see Him in all His glory, for love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18), and His love for us and our love for Him will be perfectly realized throughout all eternity as God reveals to us the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us through Christ Jesus.” (Eph 2:7)
 
But that place in eternity comes at a cost. A very great cost. Jesus described that cost to His disciples in verses 22 and 23: When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, ‘The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.’  And the disciples were filled with grief.”
 
None of us could pay the cost of our salvation for “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:24) and no man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him – the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough.” (Psa. 49:7-8) The only payment that is enough is the payment made by the shed blood of Jesus Christ. He alone could and did cancel our record of debt from sin as He nailed our sins to the cross (Col. 2:14).
 
Is you faith focused on Christ alone? Is he your Surety, your Mediator, your Savior from sin, and the Lord of your life? If so, you can not only deal with the sin-stained problems in the valleys of life, but more importantly, you can also anticipate the glory of living in His presence eternally in the glory yet to be revealed. You can do so with confidence because of the sacrifice He has made for us, and the righteousness that He imputes to everyone who by His grace and Spirit’s power has saving faith in Him alone. Amen.
 
 
sermon outline:
 
“Lord, have mercy on my son,” he said. “He has seizures and is
  suffering greatly…” – Matthew 17:15
 
                    “Coming Down from the Mountain”
                                    Matthew 17:9-23
 
I.  After the “mountain top experience” where three disciples witnessed
     the glory of Christ (Matthew 17:1-8), they came to “the valleys:”  
     1) Seizures, suffering, sickness (14-15) and death (22-23)
 
 
 
     2) The inability of the disciples to heal (16), because of the weak-
          ness of their faith (17, 19-20)
 
 
 
     3) The power of the demonic world (18)
 
 
 
II. Applications:
     1) Prayer is essential to faith and spiritual growth (Mark 9:29)
 
 
 
     2) The statement of the sick son’s father, recorded in Mark 9:24, 
          should be the prayer of each one of us, “I believe; help my
          unbelief!”
 
     
     3) The “mountain top experience” of seeing the fullness of the
          glory of God is ours only through faith in Him who died
          and who was raised to life for our justification (22-23)
 
 
 

 

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Ted Gray

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