Mountaintops and Valleys
October 24th, 1976 @ 7:30 PM
MOUNTAINTOPS AND VALLEYS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-24-76 7:30 p.m.
Once again it is an infinite gladness for us in the First Baptist Church in Dallas to share the evening service with a vast throng who listen on radio; on KRLD, on KCBI. And this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Mountaintops and the Valleys. It is a message that follows the transfiguration of our Lord on the mountaintop [Matthew 17:1-13]. And our message tonight is from the valley [Matthew 17:14-21]. This last week in meeting with one of our departments in Sunday school, they said, “Why do we not stand and read the Scripture in the evening as we do when we read the Scripture in the morning?”
“Well,” I said, “it is just changing the tempo, or the pace, or the practice, or the ritual, or whatever it is that we usually do. So we just do not do it in the evening.”
“Well,” they said, “forget about the ritual, or the tempo, or the practice, or whatever it is. We want to stand and read the Bible in the evening.”
“Well,” I said, “we shall try it Sunday night then.” So get your Bible, open it to Matthew, open it to the seventeenth chapter of the Book of Matthew, the First Gospel. Following the glory of the resurrection, we will read verses 14 to 21, 14 to 21. And if on the radio you are worshiping God with us and have a Bible, open it to the passage and read it out loud with us, Matthew 17:14-21. Now together in the Lord’s presence may we stand and read the Scripture out loud now, together:
And when they were come to the multitude, there came unto Him a certain man, kneeling down to Him, and saying,
Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatic, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water.
And I brought him to Thy disciples, and they could not cure him.
Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I suffer you? Bring him hither to Me.
And Jesus rebuked the devil; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour.
Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out?
And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If you have faith as a grain of a mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.
Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.
Now may we be seated for the exposition of the Word that we have read. As you can see from the context in chapter 17, the passage we have just followed is one that is immediate upon the story of the transfiguration of our Lord [Matthew 17:1-13]. The apostle Peter called that a parousia, a “coming” of the Lord. The glory of the return of Jesus in miniature, in microcosm, in little, brief silhouette, is found in Peter’s mind in the glory of Jesus on the top of Mt. Hermon. “His face shined like the sun, and His raiment was white like the snow. And there appeared with Him Elijah”—a representative of those who shall never die, who are raptured at the Lord’s coming—”and there appeared unto Jesus Moses”—a representative of those who shall be raised from the dead [Matthew 17:2, 3]. It was truly one of the most remarkable, wonderful, glorious of all of the events that mind could imagine. Now, you would think this surely is the pattern for life. As Simon Peter said, “Lord, let us stay here; let us build a dwelling place for You, a dwelling place for Moses, a dwelling place for Elijah” [Matthew 17:4]. Let us stay here, this wonderful place; the very voice of God in heaven is heard here. And the shekinah glory of the Father Himself, the raiment of the Lord Almighty, enfolds us in light and glory [Matthew 17:5]. I can understand that, the experience of the mountaintop, but life is never like that. Never. There is no life that is ever lived that is always on the top of transfiguration. Somehow a Monday always follows a Sunday, somehow there is always a valley beyond the mountaintop, and somehow there are always things that remind us of our mortality and of the issues that we face, sometimes tragically so, in our lives.
So down from the mountain they come, and when they do, they see a multitude gathered before them [Matthew 17:14]. Always, in a great throng of people, there is great trouble and great sorrow. You never have a group of people together but that some of them in the convocation are hurting. They are hurting sometimes in their physical bodies. They are hurting sometimes in their hearts. They are hurting sometimes in dashed visions and dreams that have turned like broken rainbows to the dust of the ground. It was so in this throng, in this multitude. There were five people in it—there were five groups in it, and I want to follow each group.
First of all, there was a boy who was afflicted. You know, it is an interesting thing here in the Bible. When they came to the multitude, there was a certain man who kneeled down before the Lord and said, “O Lord, have mercy on my boy, for he is lunatic, lunatic” [Matthew 17:14-15]. That is a very interesting description, and it arises out of the supposition of the people. The Greek word for moon is selene; and when you verbalize it, seleniazomai, that is “to be affected to by the moon.” Now let’s come to the Latin language. The Latin word for moon is luna—from Luna, the goddess of the moon. So we take the word luna, “moon,” and we adjective it, we substantively use it: “lunatic”; a lunatic or a lunatic idea. We use it both ways. Well, where in the world did our conception of lunatic come from—luna, the moon? And the same thing in the Greek word selene, moon; seleniazomai, to be affected by the moon, to be lunatic? Well, it is very apparent. For you see, there were people who in some instances we would diagnose as epileptic, and at certain times they will have tragic seizures. So as they followed the course of the seizures, they noticed somehow that it was somehow identified, they thought, with the phases of the moon. It was just superstition, just speculation, just idea, but the universal feeling through all of the centuries was that, that these that were seized were affected by the moon, the phases of the moon, so they called them lunatic, moonstruck. And that is the word that is used here in the Greek text. This lad is called lunatic [Matthew 17:15]. Actually, he was the victim of the oppressive bitterness against God’s people. Satan: I wish we had opportunity, as we do sometimes on Wednesday night, to speak of the oppression of Satan. Illness and hurt and disaster are so oft from his oppressive and hateful hand; so it was with this boy. Now he is the first one that we speak of in that throng: this boy who was seized by an evil spirit that tore the lad asunder, cast him into the fire, cast him into the water, cast him down frothing and foaming at the mouth; a pitiful creature [Matthew 17:15].
Second, we identify in that throng the father. This father had come to the, to the disciples, nine of them, with tremendous hope: “Surely, if I can get this boy to those apostles, they have power to heal him,” and the father came with the boy so optimistically. “The boy will be soon well.” But, instead of the lad being well, the disciples had no power to heal at all. So the father is cast down into a deeper abyss of despair than he had ever known before, and there he stands in desperation, looking at the seizures that destroy the very life of his son [Matthew 17:15-16].
The third group we will look at in that throng is the scribes who are scornful and full of sardonic and sarcastic castigation: “That is what we expected. That is exactly what we thought for” [Matthew 17:14]. These are not representatives of God. And every vile and evil and insulting thing that the scribes and the Pharisees could say about Jesus, they said about His disciples, and I can see them in their scorn as they ridicule and belittle those helpless apostles [Matthew 17:16].
The fourth group I see in the throng is the multitude standing around, and they are agreeing with the scornful scribes and the Pharisees [Matthew 17:14]. “See there, we didn’t think they could do it either,” and they picked up the refrain, just as the throng did at the cross. When the scribes and the Pharisees ridiculed the Lord Jesus—”He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If You be the Son of God, come down from the cross, and we will believe You” [Matthew 27:42]. That same story is re-echoed by the multitudes, and there they are repeating their refrain in ridiculing the helpless apostles [Matthew 17:16].
You know, there is not anything in the world that will get you down like people repeating a scornful refrain. I had an experience one time driving my car down here to the church. And while I was gone on a long journey, I was gone several weeks; they took that little street right out here on San Jacinto from Harwood to St. Paul and made it one way. But I did not know that. It was two ways when I left, and when I came back—I had been driving down here to the church for about thirty-two years, and I had always driven down San Jacinto, which is a two-way street—and I didn’t know that they had taken that one little block from Harwood to St. Paul, right by the Cotton Exchange Building, and made it a one-way street. I had no idea of it. So when I came down, I was just driving along as I always do, with my mind some other place, thinking about something else, and I drove down there, and the fellow in front of me was right down there on the lane to the right, in front. And when he got to St. Paul, he made a left turn, and I just followed him around, turning left. Well, to my left, over here on this side, I saw a car, but I thought that the fellow had lost his balance, or he was not paying any attention. He was to my left, and therefore I thought that he was just going to turn left, certainly. Well, when the car in front of me turned left, I just gradually turned left in front of it. And I want you to know, that car to the left of me just plowed slowly but surely right into the middle of my automobile. Just bumped it, just banged it, going about two or three miles an hour, just right into the middle of it. Man, you wouldn’t think that going two or three miles an hour he could ruin a car like that. He busted the door. He busted the glass. He busted the fender. It looked like a shambles on that side.
I was seething on the inside of me! I was just absolutely boiling! The guy was not going but two or three miles an hour, and yet he pushed his car right into the middle of me. Why didn’t he stop? The blooming idiot. Oh, I was just seething on the inside. I never said that to him, but that was just what I was thinking. Well, of course, I was actually in the wrong, because it had been turned into a one-way street and I didn’t know it. So, by that time, there was a crowd that gathered. I could have shot and killed them all dead. There they were, all gathered round, and my staff began to come out of the church house, and they were everywhere on that corner. They were just like termites coming out of the wood. Oh, they were all there, looking at that wreck. So there I was standing on the corner, humiliated to death, and up walked a fellow and took his stance on the street corner, and with a big heroic gesture of his hand, he raised his voice and said, “There is no doubt about who was wrong in this wreck. Look at that car over there making a left hand turn where he ought not to have made a left hand turn.” If I felt like murdering a man before, I felt like, oh! That guy stand there, and calling attention to that with a big, loud and blooming voice! And when he said, “And there is no doubt about who was wrong in this wreck,” all of the people around said, “That’s right. That’s right. That’s right.” All nodded, “That’s right.” Ah, you just want to—I don’t know—explode. That’s exactly what happened here about that boy, and those disciples that were helpless; the scorn of the Pharisees with their pointed fingers, and the multitude, the throng around, saying, “That’s right. That’s exactly right.”
Well, the fifth in the group, the disciples [Matthew 17:16]—can you imagine how humiliated and cast down they were? When the Lord came, He said, “Bring the boy to Me” [Matthew 17:17]. May I just make one comment there? Don’t ever give up until you have tried Jesus. Remember, it may be so impossible to us, beyond our ableness or grasp, beyond our doing; but it may not be beyond His ableness and His doing. Give Jesus a chance in it. Invite Him in. Lay it before Him. Try Jesus. So the Lord said, “Bring the boy to Me” [Matthew 17:17], and upon a word, the Lord healed the boy and gave him to his grateful father [Matthew 17:18].
All right, then what happened? The disciples came to Jesus apart, privately, and said, “Master, Why? Why could not we cast him out?” [Matthew 17:19]. Why couldn’t we heal that boy? Now I have a first comment to make about that, and it is this. That is one of the best things in the world. When you sit down before God and ask Him, “Why, why, Lord? Why?” You are on the way, you have an open heart and an open mind, and you are willing to be taught. You will do better; yes, you will, when you ask God why. Let’s take our own staff, for example. When we don’t do good, and when people are not saved, and our Sunday school is not growing, and our church is not rising in spiritual power, if the staff is apathetic and indifferent, it’s bad. It’s sad. It speaks of lethargy. It’s a phlegmatic soul. But when we face the work of the Lord and there is not in it great power, and the staff bows before the Lord and says, “Master, why?” we are going to do better. God will have an answer from heaven; He always does.
So they searched their souls and couldn’t find an answer, and they took it to Jesus and said, “Why? Lord, why are not throngs saved? Lord, why do so many pass us by? Lord, why? Is it we have such little power, such little ableness before God? Why, Lord, why?” And then the true and faithful answer; for God will always be open with us. When the Lord answered, He answered in a way that they never thought for. You know what I think? Now this is just speculation on my part, but this is what I think. When they asked the Lord why [Matthew 17:19], I think they expected the Lord to say something, to deliver some kind of an expiation upon Satan and his kingdom, or upon demons and their power, or upon the forces of darkness and night against which we battle unevenly. You know, I think they expected that, and I don’t think they did expect what the Lord said. What He said to the disciples was this: “It is not Satan and his power; and it is not the demons and the hardness with which we wrestle against them. It is not even the kingdom of night. The reason lies in you. It is in you.” “In us, Master? In us?” “The reason lies in you: Because of your unbelief” [Matthew 17:20], your little faith; that is why. Isn’t that an astonishing thing, until you begin to think about it? Somehow unbelief shortens the arm of God, that He cannot save [Isaiah 59:1-2]. It destroys the very foundation upon which the Almighty has erected His throne. Did you know Jesus can walk on the sea? [John 6:19-20]. He can raise the dead [John 11:43-44], He can cleanse the leper [Matthew 8:2-3; Mark 1:40-42], He can open the eyes of the blind [John 9:1-7, 25], He can cast out demons [Matthew 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-17], but He can’t work where people don’t have a great faith and a great trust [Matthew 17:19-20]. You remember the story of His coming to Nazareth? And the Book says, “He did not any mighty works there because of their unbelief” [Matthew 13:58]. Somehow, for God to do great things, He must have a people who believe great things from His hands. God can do it. I may not be able to, but God can. I may be so weak, the weakest of all God’s saints, but He is strong. I may not know all of the answers, but He knows all of the answers. Trust in God, faith in God—and how the Lord honors it [Psalm 147:11].
I must close. I want to close with Mark’s record of this story. In the story as Mark tells it, the Lord turned to the father and said, “If thou canst believe”—this is in the ninth chapter of Mark, the twenty-third and twenty-fourth verses—Jesus turned to the father about that boy, and He said, “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help Thou my unbelief” [Mark 9:23-24]. You see, the Lord understands the limitations of our humanity. When God says to us to trust, I may stagger! When the Lord says to me to believe, somehow my faith wavers. Tell God about it. Just tell God all about it, and pray that prayer: “Lord, to the extent that I can, I do believe, and wherein I stagger or stumble, Lord, help my unbelief.” And God honored the commitment of that desperate father, and the Lord healed that demented boy [Mark 9:25-27]. I think that is all God asks of us. Not what I do not have, not what I cannot do, but “Lord, insofar as I can, I do. I trust. I believe. And wherein I am feeble in faith, or stagger at the promise, Lord, forgive my weakness in unbelief, and override it and overcome it, and make me strong in the faith.” If you will do that, God will save, and God will heal, and God will bless, and God will strengthen in the way.
And that is the invitation we press upon your heart tonight. Maybe you don’t have all of the answers. You don’t need to; He does. Maybe we are not able, but He is. Maybe we fight battles that we can’t win; He never lost a battle. He never will. He will see you through if you will trust in Him. As He says, even as a grain of mustard seed, just that much, mountains are movable [Matthew 17:20]. Nothing is impossible just committing heart, and life, and destiny, soul, and every tomorrow to Him. Will you? Would you? Then tonight, come. Come to Jesus [Romans 10:9-13], and come to us. In a moment when we stand to sing our appeal, in the balcony round, you; on this lower floor, you; a family, a couple, or just one somebody you; while we prayerfully, earnestly make this appeal, sing this song, come now. Make it now. Do it now: “Here I am, pastor, here I come,” while we stand and while we sing.