Mark 9:14-18… When they came to the disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the scribes arguing with them. 15 When the whole crowd saw him, they were amazed and ran at once and greeted him. 16 Jesus asked, “What are you arguing about with them?” 17 One from the crowd said to him, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that makes him mute. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to cast it out, but they were not able to do it.”
As Jesus, Peter, James, and John descended down the mountain, following Jesus’ transfiguration and the vision of the Kingdom, they arrived back in the real world. But their spiritual high was short-lived on the mountain, for when they rejoined the others they found a large crowd, including Jewish lawyers (scribes), gathered around them in the midst of a bitter argument. Scribal presence with Jesus in the NT usually indicates some sort of antagonism, and on this occasion it was likely to condemn the disciples and gather evidence against Jesus.
When Jesus appeared, however, the scene changed a bit. Upon merely seeing Jesus the crowd was “amazed.” This Greek term can mean “astonished, alarmed, or greatly disturbed.” The fact that the crowd subsequently “ran at once and greeted him” reveals that the term has to do with being amazed that Jesus would arrive on the scene at such an opportune time. But Jesus’ greeting to them and his demeanor seems anything but pleasant (cf. 9:19), and as he looked at the nine disciples, seemingly annoyed, he asked them, “What are you arguing with them about?” It’s almost as if Jesus was angered by the mere fact that the disciples had dignified the scribes’ patronizing presence with an argument about their failure to cast out the demon.
In v. 16, before the disciples could answer Jesus’ question, a man appeared before him to explain the situation. The man knew who Jesus was, at least in the sense that he knew he was a Jewish rabbi (a teacher). Though it’s unknown if the man recognized Jesus as the Messiah, it is clear that his son was sick and demon-possessed, and Luke 9:38 says that this boy was his only son. Therefore, the man was desperate and had likely heard of Jesus’ healing powers and the abilities of his disciples to perform exorcisms (cf. Mark 6:7-13).
The demon-possession in the boy had all the symptoms of a severe case of epilepsy. But his condition was exacerbated by the fact that a demon was tormenting him as well. It was seizing him, throwing him to the ground, throwing him into fire and into water, and causing him to be mute. Matthew’s Gospel calls the boy a “lunatic” – a condition related to the moon (lunar). The idea is that he was “moonstruck” which was an expression used by the ancient Greeks for those who had a mental illness caused by the effects of the moon. Today it’s known as epilepsy. As a result of the boy’s condition he no doubt had burns and scars all over his body.
Therefore, the argument between the scribes and the disciples, and Jesus’ frustration over this, no doubt stemmed from their inability to cast the demon out and free the boy of his misery. In Jesus’ absence the disciples represented him, but this time they failed to act appropriately.
Food for Thought
The spiritual highs God gives us are not given as some sort of a drug given to give us a temporary fix. Rather, they’re given to help us through the low times in our lives. All mountain-top experiences will be met with a real world problem, but our time alone with God is meant to teach us how to deal with them. The disciples got caught up in a foolish argument and were oblivious to the problem at hand. They forgot to represent Christ appropriately in his absence. So pray for personal faithfulness in the spiritual low times – the battles that cause us to lose focus.
Mark 9:19-24… He answered them, “You unbelieving generation! How much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I endure you? Bring him to me.” 20 So they brought the boy to him. When the spirit saw him, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell on the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. 21 Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 It has often thrown him into fire or water to destroy him. But if you are able to do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” 23 Then Jesus said to him, “‘If you are able?’ All things are possible for the one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the boy cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
After hearing the man explain the problem Jesus seems incensed. While a demon-possessed young boy lay there awaiting the healing power of the disciples they were arguing with the scribes about why they couldn’t heal him! Jesus looked at the disciples and the rest of the crowd and said, “You unbelieving generation!” Jesus was clearly frustrated over the failure of the disciples to act becomingly in his absence. They had the power to cast the demon out and thus to shut the mouths of the scribes without saying a word. After all, Jesus had given them power to cast out demons and heal sicknesses (cf. 6:7-13). Here, however, their unbelief was their defeat, and Jesus’ exasperation was likely due to the fact that his own disciples didn’t look any different than the rest of the unbelieving world. So because they seem to have misunderstood their task due to their relationship with the Christ, Jesus scolded them saying, “How much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I endure you?” This was an attitude of grief and frustration that a lonely believer, in the midst of a decidedly unbelieving culture, endures daily.
So Jesus commanded that the boy be brought to him, and when the demon saw him he threw the boy into a convulsion. He then fell on the ground rolling around and foaming at the mouth. This behavior is indicative of the antipathy between Jesus and the demonic realm throughout the NT. And as Jesus observed this awful sight he asked (just like a doctor), “How long has this been happening to him?” Then he learned from the boy’s father that he had endured this affliction since childhood and that he was often thrown into fires and bodies of water. The boy’s father must have had to watch him around the clock just to keep him alive. And in his own exasperation he pleaded with Jesus to heal the boy. He said, “If you can do anything, help us!”
In v. 23 Jesus seized upon the man’s unbelief by sarcastically saying, “If I am able?” It’s as if Jesus was saying, “You don’t really know Who you’re talking to do you?” Then Jesus basically told the man that the cure to his son’s demon-possession didn’t rely on Jesus’ ability to heal but on the man’s ability to believe. So in desperation the man said, “Yes I believe; now please help my unbelief!” Possibly the man’s faith in Jesus was shaken by the inability of the disciples to help his son. In saying this he was confessing that his faith was small, and he needed Jesus himself to strengthen it. So Jesus rewarded the small faith the man had by exorcising the demon (cf. verse 25). In doing so he answered the man’s request by strengthening his unbelief.
Food for Thought
Christians, by the simple virtue of being believers, trust in God’s power. But our affinity for failing to trust God in tight situations reveals a gaping hole in our relationship with God. It is clear from Mark’s Gospel that Jesus puts his followers through very difficult trials, and he does so to test their faith and make them stronger through the ordeal. We all believe, but we all need help with our unbelief, for we are still “working out our own salvation” (cf. Phil. 2:12). Keep in mind, however, that everything depends on our ability to believe, not on God’s ability to act.
Mark 9:25-29… Now when Jesus saw that a crowd was quickly gathering, he rebuked the demon, saying, “Mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” 26 It shrieked, threw him into terrible convulsions, and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He is dead!” 27 But Jesus gently took his hand and raised him to his feet, and he stood up. 28 Then, after he went into the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we cast it out?” 29 He said, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”
With all the commotion, the arguing, the appearance of Jesus, and the epileptic demonic seizure the demon-possessed boy went into upon seeing Christ, it’s no wonder that a “crowd was quickly gathering” in v. 25. As they surrounded the site Jesus addressed the demon which possessed the boy and commanded it to come out of him and never enter again. He addressed the demon first, however, by calling it “mute and deaf” for this was the effect of the demon on the boy – it caused him to be mute (v. 17) which was apparently caused by deafness. The fact that Jesus told the demon to never enter the boy again is noteworthy in lieu of Matt. 12:45 and Luke 11:26 which explains that when a demon departs a person it can come back and re-enter that person. When it does it brings seven other demons more wicked than itself with it making the condition of the one possessed worse then than it was before his first exorcism. Jesus, however, made this an impossibility with his command to the deaf and mute spirit.
Upon being exorcised the demon, in v. 26, “shrieked, threw [the boy] into terrible convulsions, and came out.” Demons always obey Christ, for though they are enemies of God they do submit to Him. When the demon came out, however, it left the young boy in such a depraved condition that those who looked upon him thought he was dead. The fact that Jesus took him by the hand and raised him up parallels the death and resurrection of Jairus’ daughter (cf. 5:41-42) and suggests that this is what might have transpired in this scene. And casting out demons (i.e., dethroning Satan) is one of the ways Jesus showed his power over Satan and death. He came to set free those in bondage to sin, and He did that through his death and resurrection. It should be noted here that demonic resistance in Mark’s Gospel grows in each scene in which they appear (cf. 1:23-27 – 5:1-20 – 9:14-29). Satan’s schemes, in view of his power, became more stubborn as Jesus remained on the earth longer. William Lane says, “The healing of the possessed boy thus points beyond itself to the necessity of Jesus’ own death and resurrection before Satan’s power can be definitely broken.” And at the cross, Jesus defeated death!
Without vv. 28-29 the disciples’ lack of power would be unexplained. So once they arrived at whatever house it was they were staying in they asked Jesus why they failed to cast the demon out themselves. Jesus told them in simple terms that evil spirits, like the one they failed to exorcise, could only be expelled through full faith in God expressing itself through prayer. Perhaps the disciples were relying on their own power, and in their arrogance forgot where their true power resided – in God, through His Son Jesus Christ, who works through faith and belief.
Food for Thought
From casting out demons to needing a new job to obtaining wisdom from God, it all comes through prayer. When we fail to pray and believe in God’s power to deliver us and those around us we betray our own belief. It is then that we should cry out as the boy’s father did: “I believe! Help my unbelief.” Believers in Christ will be tested regularly in relation to their faith. We’re supposed to grow stronger through each trial because each trial is more difficult than the previous one. And each trial exposes our weaknesses thus driving us to the Lord in greater faith.
· Verses 14-18… the argument overshadowed the poor boy’s condition. When we get caught up arguing w/fools and dignifying their false accusations we lose perspective of the more important matters set before us. No wonder the man came out of the crowd as soon as Jesus posed the question. He was trying to get the attention back on his son where it belonged.
· Verses 19-24… Once again, Jesus lets a person get to his/her lowest point before helping them out. All along, in each case in which this occurs, the answer is in the faith of the person, not in Jesus’ ability to act or heal. God’s majesty becomes most visible when human resources have become exhausted. Through the power of faith God’s power is released.
· Notice how it was the faith of the one seeking help from Jesus that healed the one needing deliverance. So-called “faith-healers” today tell us that those needing healing don’t get healed because they don’t have faith. This of course proves them wrong. Healing is based upon the one seeking the healing. This being the case, true faith-healers should have enough faith to empty out hospitals.
· Christ’s presence in our lives is supposed to upset the demonic world. Unfortunately it far too often is suppressed by believers in the name of love and acceptance. Thus, we end up looking just like the world and cause no disruption in the demonic realm.
· How wonderful it would be to stay on the mountaintop and bask in His glory! But discipleship means denying self, taking up a cross, and following Him; and you cannot do that and selfishly stay on the mount of glory. There are needs to be met in the valley below. If we want to share the glory of Christ on the mountaintop, we must be willing to follow Him into the sufferings of the valley below.
· The Christian life is “a land of hills and valleys” (Deut. 11:11). In one day, a disciple can move from the glory of heaven to the attacks of hell.
· The scribes were debating with them and perhaps even taunting them because of their failure. As always, it was Jesus who stepped in to solve the problem.
· Jesus had given His disciples authority to cast out demons (Mark 6:7, 13), and yet their ministry to the boy was ineffective. No wonder the Lord was grieved with them! How often He must be grieved with us when we fail to use the spiritual resources He has graciously given to His people!
· Since the disciples had failed, the desperate father was not even sure that Jesus could succeed; hence his statement, “If you can do anything” (Mark 9:22, nasb). However, the father was honest enough to admit his own unbelief and to ask the Lord to help him and his son. Jesus did cast out the demon and restore the boy to his father.
· The main lesson of this miracle is the power of faith to overcome the enemy (Mark 9:19, 23–24; and see Matt. 17:20). Why had the nine disciples failed? Because they had been careless in their personal spiritual walk and had neglected prayer and fasting (Mark 9:29). The authority that Jesus had given them was effective only if exercised by faith, but faith must be cultivated through spiritual discipline and devotion. Not only did their failure embarrass them, but it also robbed the Lord of glory and gave the enemy opportunity to criticize. It is our faith in Him that glorifies God (Rom. 4:20).
· If we know Jesus as Lord/Savior we have saving faith and cannot lose it. We can have trusting faith in some measure to seek God. But we sometimes lack sufficient faith to employ the power of God that we have in Christ Jesus.
· Even the apostles had to rely upon Jesus to minister effectively.
· Like the father who was let down by the disciples he had no where to turn but to Christ.