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God’s Word for You

Luke 9:38-41

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, May 15, 2018

38 A man in the crowd called out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child.  39 A spirit seizes him and he suddenly screams; it throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It hardly ever leaves him and is destroying him.  40 I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they couldn’t.”

Along with other Greek physicians, Luke uses the words aphros “foaming” and sparasso “to throw into convulsions” as a description of epilepsy. An Akkadian medical text from the time of Abraham (2000 B.C.) describes a patient this way: “His neck turns left, his hands and feet are tense and his eyes wide open. From his mouth froth is flowing without having any consciousness.” An exorcist was called on who diagnosed the condition as ‘antasabbû,’ “the hand of the moon god.”

Luke uses a rare and interesting word translated “look at” in verse 38. The word, epiblepo (ἐπιβλέπω) means “to look at carefully” or “look at with care,” as in Mary’s Magnificat: “he has been ‘mindful’ of the humble state of his servant” (Luke 1:48). As a physician, Luke might be using this word in its medical sense: “Lord, examine my son.” In this sense, epiblepo was the examination before a diagnosis (or prognosis) could be given. But Luke is also a Gospel minister, and he knew the father’s love and fear for the boy, so “look with care” is at least as likely a meaning here.

The symptoms given by the Gospel writers are these:

  1. A spirit seizes him
  2. Sudden screams
  3. Robbed of (coherent) speech (Mark 9:17)
  4. Convulsions (seizures, Matthew 17:15)
  5. Becomes rigid (Mark 9:18)
  6. Foaming at the mouth
  7. Gnashing of teeth (Mark 9:18)
  8. Frequent attacks (suffering greatly, Matthew 17:15).
  9. Falls into fire or water (Matthew 17:15)

The nine disciples could do nothing for the boy, and it’s likely that the teachers of the law were mocking them even for trying. Jesus had a different reaction.

41 Jesus said, “O unbelieving and perverse generation! How long shall I stay with you and put up with you? Bring your son here.”

Who is Jesus talking about in this outburst of indignation? Could he be referring to (1) the whole generation of Israelites at his first coming, including his disciples, (2) his disciples only, (3) the people who were present, including the boy’s father and “with a special side glace at the disciple who were unable to heal the boy” (Keil), (4) the scribes, or even (5) the demons, a fallen generation of God’s creation that was forever unbelieving and perverse, and constantly attacking the innocent and the helpless? The last, although interesting, is never the way God treats the fallen demons (cp. Genesis 3:15; Job 1:8). The scribes (teachers of the law), though present (Mark 9:14) were hardly the problem here. Surely the people who were present were partly meant, but also the whole generation, and Jesus seems to be making a special point that even his disciples did not yet fully understand who he was, or what the miracles he performed meant.

Jesus says, “How long shall I stay with you?” and that’s an important point. He had been in Galilee now for over a year, and his time there was fast coming to an end. He had other people to see, other places to go, and it was time to move on. This is important for all of us to hear, especially pastors and missionaries. Sometimes we slap our foreheads and wonder, “Why don’t they get it?” But Jesus slapped his own forehead, too, in the same kind of aggravation and frustration. What a sequel to his glorious transfiguration! His most divine moment is followed by one of his most human moments. How often does a pastor climb down from the pulpit, from a stirring and long-belabored sermon which drains out all his energy, emotions, passion, and strength, only to be faced with the most ordinary and mundane troubles on Sunday afternoon? But if these are things we share with our Savior they are only tiny pinpricks of crosses to bear.

Jesus could express his frustration, but he still had compassion on the poor convulsing boy. The boy’s father had prayed and had asked for help, and Jesus would not let him go unanswered. Se here we need to get off our high horses and step out of the shoes that say, “O, I’m so much like Jesus that I have to sympathize with him in this case.” Instead, we need to step into the shoes of the boy’s father, or even of the boy himself. In this way we say: “Lord Jesus, I’m nothing but a miserable doubter, and you would be right to call me an unbeliever, except that I still look to you for my help, because there’s nowhere else to turn. I’m guilty of every failure you accuse me of, every sin, and every rebellion. But please help me.” We don’t deserve Jesus’ help, but the glory of Jesus is that he offers his help anyway. We don’t earn any special place in his kingdom, but he leaves the ninety-nine sheep and comes looking for me as if I’m his prize ram (Luke 15:4). The Proverb says that the righteous man stumbles and falls into sin seven times every day (Proverbs 24:16), but the Psalm says that we praise God that many times, too (Psalm 119:164). We’re at the same time saint and sinner, miserable sinner but rescued saint. Jesus still loves us. He examines us and looks at us with his special care, and he will come quickly to help.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.

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