A Powerless Church

“What are you arguing with them about?” He asked. A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.” Mark 9:16–18

When Jesus came down from the Mount of Transfiguration with Peter, James, and John, He found a distressing scene in the valley. A huge argument had broken out between the nine disciples left behind and the teachers of the Law, with a large crowd looking on.

The crowd, on seeing Jesus, turned its attention away from the fracas to Him. Any normal cleric might have taken time to bask in the glow of adoration, but Jesus was no ordinary spiritual leader. He ignored the crowd and queried His disciples regarding the argument, “What’s this about?”

Before they can answer, or perhaps because they are hesitant to answer, a father does it for them. His statement about having a son possessed by a demon, at first blush, seems to have no bearing on what the argument was about.

Early on in Jesus’ ministry, His opponents accused Him of driving out demons by the power of the Devil (Mark 3:22). Later, when Jesus sent out His disciples on their first mission, they also drove out many demons (6:13). This is the first time exorcism doesn’t occur and it gives the critics of Jesus powerful ammunition to argue that prior occasions were a demonstration of Jesus’ connection with the occult—that what He and the disciples did was through demonic agency. And since the Devil has limited powers, exorcism can only be done sporadically and not at all times.

This story really tells us about a powerless church. When the mighty works of God are not being done, then all that’s left is argument. The church must have more than an argument if the world is to be won.

This account also contains a powerful paradigm at what the Devil does to people. (1) He seizes them. They are no longer able to control themselves—another power is in control of their lives. They think, say, and do the wrong things. (2) He throws them to the ground. The Devil doesn’t come to build up, but to tear down. The ultimate end is down even for those who consider themselves successful and have no need of God.

The effect of the Devil is seen on what happens to persons whose life he influences: (1) foaming at the mouth—embarrassment before God and people. (2) Gnashing of teeth—a foretaste of hell, and a present act of despair. (3) Becoming rigid—rigor mortis is the spiritual condition of incapacity and inability to change. Jesus came to reverse all these effects of the Devil.

A powerless church is no help to those dominated by the Devil. When Jesus sent out the Twelve, He gave them authority over evil spirits, and they indeed “drove out many demons” (6:7, 13). Somewhere along the line, their power had leaked out. Their bad example is a lesson for us.

A Prayer: Lord Jesus, I cannot be effective with yesterday’s anointing, yesterday’s blessings, yesterday’s spiritual reserves. I need present power if I am to overcome the deeds of the Devil, if I am to live a life that is right before you, and if I am to help others. May my supply of the Spirit be full today!

Excerpted from Dr. Wood’s forthcoming book, Fearless: How Jesus Changes Everything, available in September from Vital Resources. 

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