Mark’s Gospel contains a terrifying account of an attempt by dark powers to destroy a covenant child by throwing him into fire and water. His father brought him to Jesus for deliverance.
‘It has often cast him into fire and water seeking to destroy him…” – Mark 9
This is how a desperate father described to Jesus the destructive actions of a dark entity that was afflicting his young son.
“It has been like this since childhood”, he says. The boy in question is not a small child but more like a mid to late teen. He’d grown up in the covenant community – he would’ve been circumcised on the eighth day, attended Synagogue, perhaps made the journey with his father to Jerusalem for Passover and other Feasts as well. And yet, here he is – torn, afflicted, bound, and in desperate need of liberty.
I believe that in this boy’s experience and his father’s struggle of faith we hear a message for our time.
Many are noting the way in which the rising generation – whether Millennial or Gen Z – are suffering deeply, as well as checking out of the church and embracing lives devoid of the Faith.
* Between 2006 and 2016, the suicide rate for those between 10 and 17 went up 70%!
* In 2018 Life-expectancy went DOWN for the THIRD CONSECUTIVE year – last time that happened was WW1 combined with the Great Flu that killed 675,000 people.
* The Young exodus: 69-80% of EVs in their 20s leave the faith. The rate is 260,000 a year between the ages of 18-29. That’s 712 a day.
This is a well-documented phenomenon. In a recent article in The Atlantic, Peter Wehner quotes Karel Coppock observing, “We’re losing an entire generation. They’re just gone. It’s one of the worst things to happen to the Church.”
Why is this occurring? There are both sociological and spiritual reasons.
Sociological forces have created what some call the ‘Odyssey Years’ of youth, of wandering untethered and uprooted in search of defining experiences. This has been seen in all ages, even if it is more greatly emphasized now.
Spiritual reasons, however, cannot be ignored
– Some leave because they’ve never met Christ
– Some leave because they HAVE met Christ and they’re determined to be part of his mission and their Church refuses to join it
– Some leave because they’ve been seduced by internal vices and others by external voices and prefer other company while they pursue these invitations.
– Some leave because of the anger at the Church…. they see our desperate attempts to preserve institutions rather than deal fully with sexual predators and the harassers of our sisters; they see the way some confuse Gospel fidelity with party politics and weaponizing their faith against neighbors rather than being inspired by their faith to serve neighbors. They see the way some Christians disdain people who are held to be ‘disagreeable’ and ‘untouchable’.
Frankly, many issues could be cited. Francis Schaeffer wrote, “There must be something real of the work of Christ, something real in Christ’s bearing his fruit through me through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. There is nothing more ugly in all the world, nothing which more turns people aside, than a dead orthodoxy.” There can be no doubt that in the Church’s shameful hypocrisy we have made room for the enemy to blaspheme Christ in the hearts of the rising generation.
Can this be reversed?
The Hope of the Gospel
In this account of the dark strategy at work in the young boy is a note of hope for our time.
The boy’s father tells Jesus that his son was being thrown ‘into the fire and the water’ by the demon.
That is the clue.
When were Israel’s sons thrown into the fire and the water to destroy them?
Pharaoh threw the sons of Israel in the Nile, filling it with their blood in an effort to further the slavery of Israel, and Satan, in this way, sought to thwart the promise of God to raise up a deliverer. The enemy did not succeed. Moses was ‘delivered’ and became the deliverer. God turned the waters of the Nile into blood as a sign that he would avenge his ‘son’ and rescue him.
Nebuchadnezzar threw the three faithful sons of Israel into the fire because they refused to bow down to his golden image. What was the result? Deliverance and the conversion of the King. The Son of Man stood in the flames with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and rescued them. Drawn out of the flames, they did not even have the smell of smoke upon them.
How does this relate to our present situation?
I believe we are witnessing the rise of a ‘Daniel Generation’. In a season of Exile and Oppression for the People of God, when we see our young thrown into the fire and water, we should understand that God will not allow that to stand; he will arise and deliver his sons and daughters and make of them his agents of deliverance, conversion, and restoration in the world. Like the desperate father in Mark’s Gospel, we must cry out to Jesus for our sons and daughters, for this generation of restoration, a generation that will be delivered so that they may deliver others.
I fully expect that the next generation I see arising around me will be a generation of Daniels, Esthers, Ezekiels, and Nehemiahs.
I believe this new generation will be marked by mighty prophetic voices and strategically placed royals who will act with wisdom and grace to see the advance of God’s Kingdom and purpose. For this, I pray.
Jesus said powerful, life-giving words to the father. “Bring him to me”, said Jesus.
That is what we must do. We must bring our sons and daughters to Jesus.
We bring them to concerts, ballgames, educational and artistic events, and to eminent people we hope will inspire them. Above all else, however, we must bring them to Jesus. We cannot save our sons and daughters, but we have access to the One – the only One! – who can.
Like the father in the Gospel, confronted by the relentless horror of the oppressor’s wicked destructive activity, we might find our faith faltering. “I believe”, he confesses, adding with tears, “Help my unbelief!”
Do we not all sometimes encounter this in our own lives? We have a mix of faith and unbelief in our souls; we trust Christ and his promise but in the face of dark powers we find that our faith sometimes falters. Like Peter, we begin to walk on the waves but only too quickly begin to sink when we see their ferocity and lose sight of the Savior. Like the disciples gathered on the mount of Ascension, we ‘worship but some doubted’ (Matthew 28).
When we sense that our faith is faltering or weak, we need to recall that the issue to keep before us is not so much the strength of our faith as it is the object of our faith – Christ himself. Our faith may be weak, but he is never powerless. He is faithful to save!
I note this truth in my book Indispensable: ‘You may have a weak faith that you wish were stronger, but you have a strong Savior who could not be more powerful. If you are his it is not because your trust never wavers, but because his love never fails.” Christ will ‘hold me fast’, just as that great hymn reminds us.
This is especially true when it comes to our often feeble example in the eyes of our children. Every Christian parent wants their child to see Christ in the way they live, but we are all too well aware that the best way the Gospel is seen in our lives is in our repentance. Let’s stop trying to keep up appearances, promoting a model of parental perfection. We parents are sinners who need a Savior. Francis Schaeffer wrote, “True Christianity produces beauty as well as truth. If we do not show beauty in the way we treat each other, then in the eyes of the world and in the eyes of our own children, we are destroying the truth we proclaim.”
There is nothing more beautiful than repentance for our sins. That beauty must be displayed as a Gospel reality in the life of every parent. Since we do fail in so many ways, let us be quick to confess our failures and sins, quick to repent, quick to say to our children, “Forgive me; I am a sinner and I need the Savior too.”
Jesus had mercy on both father and son, delivering the boy from the great peril he was in and his father from the great agony of witnessing the horror of his son’s demolition. In this miracle, Jesus foretold his own coming resurrection and our deliverance as well.
The boy appeared to be ‘dead’ after Jesus delivered him from the dominion of darkness. Things may appear to be getting far worse with those for whom we pray, sometimes precisely because Jesus is at work with them! At that moment when all appeared lost, Jesus ‘took him by the hand and he arose.’
Later in the Gospel, Jesus, beloved Son of the Father, would be slain on the cross, his dead body secured in a borrowed tomb, slaughtered in an apparent triumph for the darkness. On the third day, however, he arose, the Deliverer delivering his people, by his death bringing us to life and liberty.
Duke Kwon writes, “The Resurrection is not a peacetime truth for occasional, feel-good, religious nostalgia. The Resurrection is a wartime truth for every day, tear-smeared, blood-stained allegiance to Jesus.”
The battle is raging for the next generation. Because of the resurrection of Jesus, we have hope. The same Spirit that raised Jesus will yet raise our sons and daughters. This is why our confidence for the future is rooted not in the persuasive abilities of parents or pastors but in the promises of God and the power of the gospel.
Here it the promise:
“But now, this is what the Lord says—
he who created you, Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…
Do not be afraid, for I am with you;
I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west.
I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’
and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’
Bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the ends of the earth—
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.” – Isaiah 43
“One generation shall praise thy Name to the next… the kingdom of God endures to all generations.” – Ps 145
Let us pray.
- This is the longhand form of the message I preached in London July 7 at Lifeline Church led by John Singleton
Categories in: General