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  • Faithless and Perverse - Luke 9.37-43

    When Jesus comes down from the mountain, He immediately gets hit with trouble. And so it is with us most of the time. You get blessed in your morning time of Bible study and prayer only to get walloped at work half an hour later. Or you come back from a retreat only to get slapped with strife at home. We must remember that the God we meet on the mountain will also give us victory in the valley.

    Today’s story is another demonstration of Jesus’ compassion and power. This is the third “only child” He has healed in Luke’s gospel: Jairus’ daughter was first, then the son of the widow of Nain. Jesus, being an only child himself, seems to have special compassion for those families where the loss of a child is particularly devastating. The point is clear: Jesus has compassion on all who suffer - including you and me.

    With regard to Jesus’ power, even though the disciples and the crowd are accused of unbelief, the demon seems to understand very well what is happening when the boy is brought to Jesus, and the filthy creature goes hog wild in a last-ditch effort to destroy the young man’s life. Yet with a simple, clam, unagitated word, the power of Jesus Christ over all darkness is made concrete, and the once hopeless case is now a case for the record books. The boy is restored.

    Do you have a hopeless case? ARE you a hopeless case?  Not with Jesus you’re not! The power of Jesus Christ over all your sin and all your pain is absolute. You need only to come to Him in genuine, honest faith and listen to His voice. You will be set free, and if the Son sets you free, you shall be free indeed.

    So there is hope in today’s story for you who encounter trouble when you come down from the mountain each day, there is compassion for your wounds and your hurts, and there is power for your need. If you hear nothing else today, rejoice in that truth!

    But I want to focus our attention on this disturbing verse, right in the middle where Jesus says something very strange. In verse 41, we stumble on this shocker: “Then Jesus answered and said, ‘O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you and bear with you?’”   

    That doesn’t sound very nice, Jesus! What do You mean, “faithless and perverse generation”? Well, for one, “generation” is not referring to an age group the way we do: millennials or baby boomers. Generation is used more in the sense of a “people” and is meant to refer directly to the offspring of Israel. So Jesus is talking to the people all around Him, the children of Israel he came to first. But more specifically, he is referring to his disciples, the nine who were in the valley while he was on the mountain with Peter, James, and John. Matthew and Mark tell the same story, and they make it clear that the failure to heal is directly the fault of the disciples, whose faith is weak and misplaced.  

    “Faithless”

    In Mark’s account of this same story, he adds a few more details. Mark records that Jesus tells His disciples afterward that, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer.” (Mk 9.29) Basically, he is telling His disciples, “You forgot to pray.” Think of that! Jesus, who is always sneaking off to pray when he can get a few minutes, is telling His ambassadors that they fail because they do not pray. And they do not pray because they do not have faith. A person who has faith brings everything to God in prayer. A person who does not have faith tries to do everything on their own, without asking for help. In that sense, faith is simply asking God for help!  

    Do you make it a habit to pray? When you encounter a challenge that is too hard for you or when you realize that all hope seems lost, do you have faith as a child that asks your Abba father, your daddy, for help? Or do you curse under your breath and keep trying to fix it yourself? That is what happened with the disciples here -- Jesus calls such behavior “faithless” and rightly so. We must learn to bring everything to God in prayer. When we do God’s work in our own power, we will fail. When you bring it to Him, every valley shall be as exalted as the mountain where His glory shone.

    “Perverse”

    Next Jesus uses this even more troubling word to describe His disciples: “perverse” which also means “misguided” or “twisted.”  This seems a very harsh thing to say. The father says, “I implored Your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” (Luke 9.40)

    Of course they could not, because they were trying to do it themselves. No disciple has any power except that which God allows them to have.

    The moment you believe there is something special about you that enables you to make God’s glory manifest, you have altogether perverted the way of Christ. Instead of simply believing that God can do it, we resort to foaming at the mouth, getting whipped up by raising our voices, praying extra fancy, extra loud prayers, prescribing all sorts of religious shenanigans that only make things worse. One can only imagine what sorts of things this disciples were doing to try to conjure up the power of God on their own -- I picture a sideshow-style preacher slapping people on the forehead while he sweats like a pig on stage under tv lights.  Maybe I’m being too harsh, but I know very well the attraction and the danger of getting in God’s way when you are up front.

    Jesus calls this perverse. Why couldn’t you drive it out? You forgot to get out of God’s way. You were supposed to be running the spotlight, shining it on Him, but you got greedy and wanted the spotlight for yourself. That is what false religion is all about -- stealing the spotlight from God. It has a sense of the truth, but it is twisted, misplaced, perverted. Religion is powerless to save. God alone can heal.

    “How long...?”

    Finally, Jesus utters those hard but honest words, “How long shall I be with you?”

    Do you get the sense that He is somewhat exasperated with the disciples? Yet, even though He is frustrated with their lack of faith and their twisting of the truth, He doesn’t leave them. He could have ended it all right then, if He had wanted to. But His time had not yet come.

    And that is something we need to be reminded of. Have you ever wanted to escape from your trouble? Just close the doors, draw the curtains, lock yourself away in a happy place? Or maybe you dream about taking a permanent vacation from your troubles -- skipping town without leaving a forwarding address. From this verse, I sense that Jesus himself knew that temptation. But He did not yield to it. You see, the truth is, God’s desire is not that we should be taken out of the world, but that we should be in it, changing it, the way salt enlivens an ear of corn and the way a porch light changes a dark street.

    Jesus said: “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.” (John 17.15)

    We may feel what Jesus felt from time to time -- “Lord, take me home now!” But we have no right to abandon the mission he has called us to. Throughout the centuries, Christians have always come up with creative ways to escape the valleys and hide away in the mountains. They used to literally hide away in caves as hermits. Then they built monasteries where they could wall-off the outside world. Nowadays we are more clever, but we commit the same sin: hiding behind political walls and closed circles of people who think and feel just like us. All of it done in the name of “shunning the world,” but all of it -- every last bit -- is just as much a sin as cloistering yourself away in the false security of escapism. Jesus did not desert his post and run back to the mountain when the valley became too tough. He brought the power from the mountain with Him down into the valley. He did not hide the light behind a wall, but carried it into every dark corner of the world.

    It will be time to go home soon, but it isn’t time to go home today. We still have work to do. “But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day;  lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 13.13, KJV)

    Echoes of the Exodus

    There is one more thing you should know about these hard words from Jesus. He didn’t speak them first. He was quoting Moses. In Deuteronomy 32.5, Moses says this in his farewell speech to the children of Israel:

    “They have corrupted themselves;
    They are not His children,
    Because of their blemish:
    A perverse and crooked generation.”
    (Deuteronomy 32.5)

    Moses knew that the chosen generation of God were always drawn back to the the slavery of stubborn selfishness. What Jesus experienced with the disciples, and what He still groans at with us today, is nothing new! The people of God have always been faithless and perverse: forgetful to pray and obstructing the light of God with the veil of religion. When Moses came down from his mountain, the people were worshiping a baby cow. Perverse indeed! Were the disciples doing anything less when Jesus came down from the mountain by attempting to drive the demon out on their own strength, playing to the will of the crowd, just like Aaron did?

    The good news is this: that in spite of our stubbornness, in spite of our lack of faith, in spite of our twisting what is good into what is corrupt, God’s mercy is great. Even when we are steeped in our sin, God himself has compassion on us. He doesn’t walk away from you, even though He has every right.

    Let’s resolve here and now to set aside our faithless, perverse ways. Let’s not be found foolish by trying to do things on our own, and instead ask our Heavenly Father, who loves us very much, for His help in our valleys. And for those here who serve the Lord, let us beware the miry clay of religion, and instead simply live lives of trust and obedience. That is where His power is revealed: in quietness and trust -- not in a show.  

    The rest of luke 9 reads like a laundry list of disciple fails. If someone really wanted to portray the disciples in a good light, they would have edited the whole rest of Luke 9 out. They really look bad. And yet, in spite of themselves, Jesus doesn’t give up on them. Even when hey seem to give up on Him, He doesn’t turn His back. He is there, forgiving and restoring. Not excusing their foolishness, mind you, but calling it for what it is, then forgiving it. God doesn’t excuse our sins, He identifies and forgives them. There is a big difference between saying “Go and you never sinned at all” and “Go and sin no more.” Jesus acknowledges our sin, then tells us we are forgiven. Won’t you ask him to show you where you are faithless and twisted today? And then hear him say those marvelous words: “Where are your accusers?...” “Go and sin no more.”

     
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