UNBELIEF VERSUS FAITH

Mark 9: 14-29

BRIEF INTRO: You might remember that the several previous chapters in this writing revealed a sense of doubt and unbelief in who Jesus was, not only by the multitudes but, sadly, the disciples as well. In our previous study, the Lord was transfigured before the disciples, an act of tremendous patience and kindness shown by Christ to, once again, help these men (Peter, James, and John) understand more fully who He truly is.

These three men were part of the “inner circle” of disciples and needed to grasp the truth that Jesus, the kingdom’s King was teaching them. They had to comprehend and believe that He would die and rise again, so sinners could be forgiven and enter His kingdom! These men needed to help the other disciples understand that as well. Together they would be sent into the world to proclaim these truths to people who desperately needed to hear them.

“1The transfiguration is a revelation of the glory of the Son of God, a glory now hidden but to be manifested completely and openly at the end of the age, when the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father to render judgement on the world” (Mark 8:38). But, we read how they left the mountain discussing with one another what “rising from the dead might mean” (v. 10), clearly still struggling with doubts, questions, and a lack of faith.

14 And when they came back to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and some scribes arguing with them. 15 Immediately, when the entire crowd saw Him, they were amazed and began running up to greet Him. 16 And He asked them, “What are you disputing with them?”

FOCUS ONE: What are you talking about?

As they were coming down from the mountain, they saw a “large crowd” gathered around the other disciples in the distance. They notice some scribes around them as well, arguing with them. What were they arguing about? Mark doesn’t tell us, and neither do the other gospel accounts. I speculate that if we stick to the immediate context, we’ll have our answer. They appear to be arguing with the disciples over the fact that they couldn’t heal the man’s son (v. 17). Notice that Jesus asks them, “what are you discussing with them?” And then a man from the crowd “answered Him.”

The scribes always seem to monitor Jesus. “1If the transfiguration took place on Mount Hermon, the presence of the teachers of the law [scribes] so far north in Palestine indicates their concern in monitoring the teaching and preaching of Jesus.” 

So Jesus’ inquiry about the heated discussion was answered by a man whose son was demon-possessed. “2The boy had a demonically induced inability to speak,” and the nine disciples left behind when they went on the mountain could not heal him. 

So why would the scribes be arguing with them over that? Perhaps they viewed them as fake, impotent, wannabes of their rabbi, Jesus. Maybe they just wanted to “rub-it-in.” Whatever their reason, Jesus’s rebuke of the situation was meant for all. The crowd, the scribes, and even the disciples. “O, unbelieving generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you” (v. 19)?

We also notice in these verses that the crowd ran up to greet Jesus as He approached. “They were amazed” (v. 15). Amazed at what? He hadn’t said anything. Nor had He done anything. Were they amazed at an afterglow that resulted from the transfiguration that just occurred? Most commentators do not think so. “Was this the afterglow of the transfiguration lingered on His face? This is unlikely, especially in view of His instruction for the disciples to keep the event a secret.”

Most likely, they were amazed because His presence was unexpected, creating a sense of wonder about why He was there.

17 And one person from the crowd answered Him, “Teacher, I brought You my son, because he has a spirit that makes him unable to speak; 18 and [a]whenever it seizes him, it slams him to the ground, and he foams at the mouth and grinds his teeth and becomes stiff. And I told Your disciples so that they would cast it out, but they could not do it.” 19 And He answered them and *said, “O (unbelieving) generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him to Me!” 20 And they brought [b]the boy to Him. When he saw Him, the spirit immediately threw him into convulsions, and falling to the ground, he began rolling around and foaming at the mouth. 21 And He asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 It has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to kill him. But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” 23 But Jesus said to him, “‘If You can?’ All things are possible for (the one who believes.”)

FOCUS TWO: Help my unbelief

Jesus is met by this man who describes what his son has been going through. This young child has been suffering from this from childhood. The father realized that what his son was going through was much more than a common sickness; he understood it to be demon possession. How did he come to that conclusion? Is he the appropriate authority to determine what demon possession is? I think so. After all, he states from childhood, “(it) has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him.” That certainly is evidence enough to any reasonable mind that something very odd, even evil, is taking place.

This is quite a list of symptoms the child is struggling with:

Speech loss

Seizures

Foaming at mouth

Grinding teeth

Rigid body

All of which points to demon possession (v. 17).

The man explains to Jesus how he brought his son to the disciples, in his absence, for them to heal him, but they couldn’t (v. 18). This man exhibits faith by bringing his son to these men. His appeal to the disciples was legitimate because Jesus had given them such authority (6:7). 

The disciples, the nine that did not go up to the mountain, could not heal the boy. They tried, probably several times (v.28), but to no avail. As I previously mentioned, they had been commissioned and empowered to do this (6:7), and they were successful at it (6:13)!

But this time, they failed. Why? Why was this time any different? According to Jesus, they failed to cast it out because of their lack of faith and prayer (vv. 19, 29). “Apparently they had taken for granted the power given them or had come to believe that it was inherent in themselves. So, they no longer depended prayerfully on God for it, and their failure showed their lack of prayer.”

So the boy is brought to Jesus, and instantly the evil spirit throws him into convulsions, rolling around and foaming at the mouth. This must have been a scary sight for the other parents in the crowd. The father, helpless and struggling to maintain some sense of hope, says to Jesus,” if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us” (v. 22)!

Jesus responds, “If you can, all things are possible to him who believes.” The point is not about Jesus being able to heal (v. 22) BUT about the boys’ fathers’ ability to trust in God to heal (10:27).

And that is where the “rubber meets the road,” isn’t it? How do we respond when someone we love is seriously ill? When hope seems lost and the worst outcome inevitable? We need to be reminded from this event that the issue IS NEVER about whether or not God can heal; we certainly have enough evidence that shows He can. But it IS ALWAYS about our ability to trust Him, even if He chooses not to heal in His providence.

What was the father’s response? “I do believe” (v. 24). Now, take notice of the rest of his declaration: “help my unbelief.” I think he said this loudly (cried out) and honestly. Some may surmise that this man contradicts himself, but I think that would be a poor interpretation of what’s going on in his heart. Jesus elicited faith in this man, but at the same time, he recognized that his faith was far from perfect. Have you ever experienced that in your own heart? If we are honest with ourselves, we know that there isn’t one of us that has not experienced this in our own lives.

I love the honesty and simplicity of his cries. He has been facing terrible, heat-wrenching things in the life of his family and his child. He is growing weary, but as we see here, he has not given up what little bit of hope he still clings to. His faith is small, but it is still alive!

25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was [a]rapidly gathering, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I [b]command you, come out of him and do not enter him [c]again!” 26 And after crying out and throwing him into terrible convulsions, it came out; and the boy became so much like a corpse that most of them said, “He is dead!” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and raised him, and he got up. 28 When He came into the house, His disciples began asking Him privately, “Why is it that we could not cast it out?” 29 And He said to them, “This kind cannot come out by anything except prayer.”

FOCUS THREE: The authority of Christ

With the crowds rapidly increasing, Jesus rebukes the unclean spirit. It appears that the crowd mentioned in verse twenty-five would be in addition to what has been mentioned in verse fifteen when they came down off the mountain. A more literal reading of “rapidly gathering” would be “running together.” So we have many people quickly encircling Jesus and this man. It doesn’t take much wisdom to understand how forceful and energetic the crowds probably were.

Some people may credit this boy’s sickness to some disease, not demon possession. Epilepsy is one such disease that is noted in some commentaries. That might be helpful to us if it wasn’t for the fact that Christ Himself understands the child’s problem to be demon possession (v. 17 He does not refute it; In v. 25 He rebukes the unclean spirit, and in vv. 28-29, in His discussion with the disciples, He continues to affirm the demonic cause).

The demon that appears to have always wanted to destroy the child (vv. 21-22) is cast out. But not without a last, horrific display of his evil motivations. Why didn’t the demon kill him at some point over the years? He couldn’t. God is sovereign over all and everything; therefore, the demons can only do what God allows them to do (read the book of Job for clarity on this topic). 

The effect of the demon being cast out is such that the boy’s body lay lifeless on the ground in front of all the watching eyes (v. 26). But who has the ultimate authority over life and death? Jesus! He takes him by the hand, and the boy “got up.”

Now you can speculate how all of this has been working on the disciples’ minds. Notice how short yet direct Jesus replies to them: “This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer.” It is paramount in their thinking (v. 28). Why couldn’t we do that? 

These men cast demons out before under the authority of Christ, but not this time. Why? What was different? The context suggests that they failed this time because they didn’t prayerfully depend on God for His power. Perhaps they trusted in previous successes. Maybe they figured that the power was given to them and is just innate within them now to use as necessary. It is easy to see how quickly they would fall into a place of not seeking God’s power for His work when they believe it is already a constant within themselves.

Jesus, with direct brevity, and great patience, reminds and reinforces the seemingly simple truth that they need God to do His work. So do we. How often do we move forward in our Christian walk living off of our past victories, bible reading, and church service, assuming they will be effective for our present experience? How often do we move forward without praying and seeking God? How much do we need direct patient reminders and rebukes from the Lord?

Nothing else is said about the conversation after Jesus’ reply. We are left to surmise how His words affected their hearts and minds. But we know by reading through Acts and the Epistles that it had a lasting impact!

  1. The Expositors Bible Commentary
  2. Macarthur Study Bible

3 thoughts on “UNBELIEF VERSUS FAITH

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