Last week we looked at the Transfiguration – in a sense the midpoint of the gospel and of the entire Revelation of Scripture. Jesus, the Son of God, revealed in glory and attended by the representatives of the Law, Prophets and Apostles. It was a moment of profound transcendence.
From that high, Jesus and his three companions descend into the moment of our text today. Just as Moses descended from the mountain to find a scene of unbelief and rebellion, these four come down to a scene of discouragement and unbelief.
This passage contains two of the fundamental statements on faith in all of the Bible. “All things are possible for the one who believes.” “I believe – Help my unbelief!”
In the Bible, truth is not abstract. It is taught in the context of lived experience. Before we get to the truths of faith, let’s consider the context in which they are delivered.
The context is a conflict between the disciples and scribes. They are arguing over the disciples inability to deliver a boy who is demonically oppressed. Jesus steps in to accomplish what the disciples could not and cast out the spirit and heal the boy. In this passage Jesus demonstrates a complete mastery of the world of spirits.
Jesus has complete mastery over the world of spirits.
We live in a world of spirits.
“We live in a world that is both seen and unseen and these two realms can influence each other in unimaginable ways. A segment of that invisible world seems to be mysteriously but remarkably hostile to human beings and seeks their physical and spiritual destruction.” -Dr. Richard Gallagher
“Let a Christian know that he sits among devils: that the devil is nearer to him than his coat or his shirt, or even his skin; that he is all about us, and that we must always grapple with and fight him.”
We live in a world of conflict.
Be self-controlled and alert, your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.
1 Peter 5:8
There is an enemy force devoted to the destruction of the image of God in humanity.
Not every physical problem has a physical cause.
The gospels record three instances of people with physical problems which are treated as spiritual oppression. Our enemy has the ability to afflict our minds, hearts and bodies.
The attacks on the boy in Mark 9 show how real the conflict is.
Here, and throughout the gospels, Jesus demonstrates a complete mastery over the spiritual enemies of God.
When the demon throws the boy at his feet, foaming at the mouth, Jesus is unperturbed. When he addresses the spirit, it obeys completely. Matthew’s account adds the word “instantly” to describe the response. (Matthew 17:18)
In every demonic encounter, Jesus displays complete control.
- All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him. (Matthew 28:18)
- The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8)
- He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil. (Acts 10:38)
- On the cross, Jesus triumphed over the powers of evil, making a spectacle of them in complete victory. (Colossians 2:15)
Despite their connection to Jesus, the disciples were unable to gain mastery over the spirit which Jesus so easily commanded. Why?
Faith is the door which opens our world to the power of Jesus
The boy’s father is discouraged by the disciples impotence. “If you can help, please help us Jesus.”
“If I can? All things are possible for the one who believes.”
All thing are possible for God, therefore all things are possible for the one who believes or trusts God.
“The sole bridge between frail humanity and the all-sufficiency of God is faith.” -James Edwards
The disciples were unable to deliver the boy because they lacked faith. Here in Mark Jesus tells the disciples that this kind can come out only by prayer. In Matthew (17:20) he tells them that they lacked faith. But he goes on to tell them that just a mustard seed sized faith is all that is needed to move mountains.
It’s not the size of your faith, but the object of your faith.
“Service in fellowship with Christ is characterized by constant awareness of the inadequacy of the servant. As this story illustrates, Jesus calls disciples to tasks beyond their abilities, and the fact that the tasks surpass their abilities is evidence that the ministry is Christ’s, not theirs. The inadequacy of disciples is not their fault, nor should it have the effect of impairing either their faith or fellowship with Christ. Rather, inadequacy drives the disciples to prayer, which is God’s gift to them and another form of fellowship with Jesus as their Lord.” -Edwards
The father’s response is wonderful. “I believe, help my unbelief.” His response is a lifeline to everyone who struggles to reach out to God in faith.
There is room for growth and progress in faith.
Faith requires risk.
“The father becomes a believer not when he amasses a sufficient quantum of faith but when he risks everything on what little faith he has, when he yields his insufficiency to the true sufficiency of Jesus, “ ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’ ” The risk of faith is more costly to the father than bringing his son to Jesus, for he can talk about his son but he must “cry out” (Gk. krazein) for faith. True faith takes no confidence in itself, nor does it judge Jesus by the weakness of his followers. It looks to the More Powerful One (1:7) who stands in the place of God, whose authoritative word restores life from chaos. True faith is unconditional openness to God, a decision in the face of all to the contrary that Jesus is able.” -Edwards
Faith is expressed first and foremost in prayer.
Apparently the disciples had not stopped to pray in their encounter with the demonic spirit. They had previously been given authority over the spirits by Jesus. They had successfully exercised that authority. It seems that they relied on their own authority in this situation. If they had more faith they would have prayed.
In prayer we transfer our trust from ourselves to God.
What is the greatest struggle you are facing in your life? What is it that keeps you up at night? What does faith look like today in that situation? If anything is possible to one who believes, what might be possible in your situation?
It’s important to note a common experience revealed in this encounter.
Sometimes things get worse before they get better.
When the boy is brought to Jesus, he is attacked.
“This indicates how the presence of God can produce storm and stress before anything constructive is accomplished.” -Eduard Schweizer
When Jesus commands the spirit to leave the boy convulses and cries out in a demonic voice before lying still, apparently dead. Most of the crowd believed they were looking at a corpse.
It would be easy to feel in that moment that things have gotten worse now that Jesus has gotten involved.
Sometimes we pray in faith and our situation seems to get worse. It’s easy to get discouraged and regret our attempt at faith. In moments like these we need patience.
In time Jesus reached down to hold the hand of the boy and lift him out of his oppression.
In time Jesus handed the healed and delivered boy back to his grateful father. (Luke 9:42)
In time the people were astonished at the majesty of God. (Luke 9:43)
Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown