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MARK 9:14-29
Series:  The Good News of Jesus Christ - Part Twenty Eight

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
November 4, 2018

If you are able, please stand with me and we’ll read together our passage for this morning from Mark 9:14-29.


And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and the scribes arguing with them.  And immediately all the crowd, when they saw Him, were greatly amazed and ran up to Him and greeted Him.


And He asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?”


And someone in the crowd answered Him, “Teacher, I brought my son to You, for he has a spirit that makes him mute.  And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid.  So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.”


And He answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you?  How long am I to bear with you?  Bring him to Me.”


And they brought the boy to Him.  And when the spirit saw Him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth.


And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?”


And he said, “From childhood.  And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him.  But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”


And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’!  All things are possible for one who believes.”


Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”


And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”


And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.”   But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.

And when He had entered the house, His disciples asked Him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?”


And He said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”


How many of you have ever been to camp?  Camp Creekside?  Youth Camp?  How many of you have ever gone on vacation?  Some of you need to get out more often.  Coming back down the mountain - coming home - is a reality check.  Right?  Welcome back to the real world.


It’s not that what we experience on the mountain isn’t real.  When we get away from “it all” and get away to focus more on God.  What we experience up there are often moments of clarity as to what is real.  God speaking to us about Who He is and what that means.  That is very real.


It’s just that the transition - trying to connect all that with where we do life in the day-to-day - to live out what we’ve experienced up there and not have all that get lost in the day-to-day of our lives - sometimes that transition is hard.


Thinking back to what we looked at last Sunday - Jesus, Peter, James, and John - have been where?  Up on the mountain.  Most probably Mount Hermon - 9,232 feet high - located in what is today the extreme northeast corner of Israel and the border with Lebanon and Syria.


On top of Mount Hermon Jesus was transfigured.  Peter, James, and John were given a glimpse of Jesus in all of His divine glory - the reality of Who Jesus really is.  Jesus’ body is altered to display His divine glory.


And there was a conversation between Jesus and Elijah and Moses.  And the voice of God the Father speaking from a cloud:  “This is My beloved Son; listen to Him.”  The reality of God’s kingdom being here and now in the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ.

It’s hard to process the transcendent reality of all that.  But it happened.  And Peter, James, and John had a front row seat.  The ultimate in mountain top experiences.


Verse 14 picks up as Jesus, Peter, James, and John are coming back down the mountain to where?  Caesarea Philippi - which is located on the foothills of Mount Hermon.  Back to reality of day-to-day living and to somehow connect what they’ve just experienced with the reality of what they’re descending into. 


Let’s walk through this together.


As they’re coming into the area of Caesarea Philippi they see a large crowd of people surrounding the other disciples and the scribes.  The scribes who are arguing with the disciples.


The scribes are who?  The scribes are the theologians and teachers of the law.  Who had it in for Jesus and His disciples.  Meaning that they took any opportunity to push back against Jesus - to create controversy and conflict.


Apparently - in Jesus’ absence they’d found just such an opportunity.  To engage in a deliberate debate - a dispute over something - with the disciples.  Literally, the scribes were bullying the disciples and the disciples appear to be on the defensive.


When the crowd - which is witnessing and maybe even participating in all this ugliness - when the crowd sees Jesus, Mark tells us that they were “great amazed” - meaning that they were astonished - perhaps at the timing of Jesus’ arrival.  We’re not sure.  But, they reacted by running up to Jesus and welcoming Him.


The way that Mark records that greeting let’s us know that the crowd was glad to see Jesus.  There’s an expectation here that - with whatever is going on with this argument - somehow Jesus is going to bring clarity.  Somehow Jesus will sort all this out.


Jesus - stepping into that welcome back to reality conflict and chaos - Jesus asks His disciples the obvious question:  “What are you arguing with them about?”


Verse 17 - someone in the crowd - which we find out is the boys father - before the disciples can answer - the father’s voice breaks through over the top of the conflict and chaos and he offers the explanation.  The heart breaking explanation. 


Can you imagine being this boys father?  If this was your child or grandchild?  Personally I can’t and I don’t want to go there.  This is a nightmare.  The description is horrific.


The father watches - hopeless - helpless - as this demon renders his son deaf and mute.  Meaning that they son can’t hear the consoling words of the father.  And perhaps… perhaps the son can only scream in response.  Maybe not even that.  Maybe only agonizing in silence.


The demon seized - the word has the idea of tearing at the son - sinking his claws and talons into the son.  The demon seizing the son throws him to the ground where he foams at the mouth and goes rigid - stiff and convulsing - rolling around uncontrollably on the ground.


And often - not rarely or once-in-a-while - but often - regularly the demon has cast the boy into a fire.  Imagine the disfigurement - the scaring - that comes from regularly being thrown into a fire.  Often the demon cast the boy into a fire and into water.  Purpose being to destroy the son.


The Greek word to “destroy” has the idea of ruining him.  Meaning to so destroy him that the son is no longer able to serve the purpose for which God had created him - to live with purpose and in the fullness of joy of God given life - to be a blessing to his father and family - and to serve and bring glory to God.


Most probably the son is repulsive in appearance - shunned by the community - a means of great sorrow and pain for his father and family.


The father had come to Jesus for help.  But Jesus not being there - he’d found the disciples - who tried to help.  But failed.  Enter the scribes and the opportunity to press their advantage and create conflict and controversy.


Verse 19 - Jesus asks two rhetorical questions:  “How long am I to be with you?”  And, “How long am I to bear with you?” 


The questions are really a statement directed at the:  “O faithless generation” - which is “Bible speak” for everyone.  Everyone there.  Maybe all of humanity.  Even us. 


Matthew and Luke record more of what Jesus said:  “O faithless and twisted generation.”  Twisted meaning perverted - distorted - by sin - without faith - trust - in God. 


Jesus’ two questions along with His description of humanity point to the core problem of the disciples failure and what we all have struggled with since the Fall back in the Garden of Eden.


Satan tempting Eve:  “Hast God really said?”  “Eve, trust your understanding of this…  not God’s.” 


Our lack of faith is not a new problem.


That choice between trusting what we know and relying on our own understanding of things - verses taking God at His word and trusting Him.  That choice is something we continually struggle with and continually get messed up by.  It’s at the core of our sin.  Man - Me, Myself, and I being on the throne of my life - in control - verses trusting God - period.


Jesus - in His description and questions - is pointing at all that.  Which is where the disciples struggled and what this father also needed to get passed.  Their faith is in themselves and in their understanding of what’s going on.


Jesus asks them to bring the boy to Him.  And verse 20 records that as they brought him to Jesus the demon immediately throws the boy into a fit - convulsing and foaming and rolling on the ground.


Verse 21 - Jesus - with all that violence - Jesus asks the father:  “How long has this been happening to him?”  The question isn’t because Jesus doesn’t know.  But it’s like a doctor at the bedside of a patient bringing calm and compassion into the circumstances.


Answer:  “From childhood”  Can we hear the years of suffering and pain in that answer?


“But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”


Can we hear the doubt and desperation in that request?


Verse 23 - Jesus says to the father:  “‘If you can’!  All things are possible for one who believes.”


Jesus is able to do whatever Jesus wills to do.  The question is not “if” but “what” Jesus chooses to limit His doing what Jesus is able to do - meaning the exorcism.  Jesus’ choice to limit what He does conditional to the faith of the father. 


Which the father immediate gets.  The only barrier to his son being rid of this demon is his own lack of faith in Jesus’ power and compassion.  “I believe; help my unbelief!”


“I do believe.  But help my unbelief.”

Let’s pause there and make sure we’re together.


Sometimes we ask why God doesn’t heal this or resolve that or end this or provide that or wonder if God is doing anything about whatever we’re dealing with.  Which isn’t necessarily wrong.  God invites us to ask questions.


But there are times when we struggle with disappointment with God when God doesn’t meet our expectations.  And we can doubt God.  Maybe even despair and give up hope.  Sometimes our faith can get a little shaky.


Many times our struggle isn’t that we don’t believe.  It’s what we believe in that messes us up.  It’s the object of our faith that gets us into trouble.  Because - way too often - the object of our faith is us - not God.


The age old problem of trying to reason things out on our own when we need to be trusting God.


Jesus’ disciples couldn’t do the exorcism.  Maybe they couldn’t.  Maybe Jesus can’t or won’t.  Maybe He’s not as compassionate as I’d hoped.  Maybe this is all because of sin and God is angry with me.  Maybe God has rejected me.  Maybe He’s rejected my son.


The father’s statement gives every indication that he is despairing and may have simply just given up hope.


Jesus - by His statement and questions - Jesus is trying to bring the father and the disciples and all of us - back to what the father has faith in.  We need to have faith in God.  Period.

Regardless of what we desire we need to surrender our will to God’s will.  We need to trust that God knows what we need better than we do.  We need to trust that God will do everything He desires to do in us and through us - for His glory and His glory alone.  God.  Not us.  His will.  Not ours.


Which we struggle with.  Because we struggle to get past our selves.  So - like that father - we need to learn to cry out to God for help.


God Who is the source of faith.  Faith which is a gift of God’s grace.  Not something we achieve or increase by our own efforts.  (Ephesians 2:8)


We need to have faith in God.  Period.


Going on - verse 25 - Jesus seeing that the crowd is getting bigger.  As people are running over - coming together from other places.  Maybe the paparazzi have found out that Jesus is back.


Jesus - probably seeking to avoid making the boy more of a public spectacle than he already is - and Jesus not needing any more publicity distracting from His ministry - Jesus rebukes the demon and gives two commands.


First:  “Come out of him” - which is a command of deliverance.  Setting this boy free from the possession of this demon.


Second:  “Never enter him again” - which is a command of protection.  The boy never needs to fear that one day the demon may return.


The demon responds by crying out and bringing about another convulsion.  But it must leave.  That’s the authority of the King of kings and Lord of lords - the almighty sovereign God of His creation.


Jesus is willing and able - compassionate and merciful.


Verse 26 records that when the demon left the boys strength was exhausted.  The source of his extreme exhaustion had left and - maybe for the first time in years - this boy had relief and rest.  The boy collapses.  Lays motionless.  Like a corpse.  He’s so at peace - just laying there - that the crowd thought he was dead.  That he’d died.


Verse 27 - Probably for the benefit of the crowd - Jesus takes the boy by the hand - lifts him up - and the boy walks under his own power.  A lesson in faith and God’s character.


Verses 28 and 29 - as they get off privately into what was probably a nearby house - verses 28 and 29 are Jesus’ bottom line teachable moment for His disciples.


Their question is…  “Why could we not cast it out?”


Which is a legit question.


Back in chapter 3 we saw Jesus send His disciples out on a practicum - going out in groups of 2 into the villages of the Galilee and Judea and surrounding areas.  Jesus had delegated His authority to them to cast out demons.  Which they’d done.  They’d come back to Jesus and reported great success in casting out demons.  So why not this one?

“This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”


Let’s make sure we understand what Jesus is trying to get the disciples to understand.


“This kind” meaning demons in general.  Humans are a “kind.”  Dogs are a “kind.”  Cats are their own “kind.”  Demons being a “kind” of created being - fallen angels.


Jesus is not saying that there are different kinds of demons.  Like this particular kind of demon needs prayer to cast it out.  Or that another kind of demon needs crosses or stakes or a machete or a chainsaw or flamethrower.  This is not Zombie Apocalypse and prayer isn’t some kind of magic formula.


The issue here isn’t demons.  But what the disciples forgot and needed to be reminded of.  The success they’d had on the practicum - casting out demons - their success was because of God - not their own abilities and power.  A reality that they’d seemingly let go of as they tried to cast out this demon from the boy.


Jesus’ answer brings together three things:  God’s Authority - Faith in God - and Prayer.


Chuck Swindoll - in his commentary on this passage - Swindoll illustrates those three important interrelated issues this way.  Looking at drawing.


The reservoir is God’s sovereign authority and power which cannot be depleted.  It always exists.  It is because God is.


And yet for that reservoir to enter into the reality of our day-to-day there has to be a connection.  So the pipeline is what connects the believer with the reservoir.  The pipeline is faith.  Trust in God’s power and mercy.


Faith which is a gift of God’s grace.  Not something we achieve or increase by our own efforts.  But God, by His grace, is the source of even our faith.


Prayer is the faucet.  When we pray we focus and direct our faith in specific requests to God seeking to bring the resources of God’s reservoir into the day-to-day circumstances of our lives.


Let’s be careful. 


Sometimes we hear people say, “There’s power in prayer.”  Or “I felt your prayers.”  Like prayer is a spiritual force that we control or that the prayer itself has power. 


When we act in faith and prayer we need to be reminded that the spiritual authority and power we have faith in - is not us - but God alone.


Sinclair Ferguson writes:  “Faith is man in his weakness trusting in God’s promise in His word.  Only through such weakness is the strength of God seen.”


Going back to Jesus’ answer:  “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”


Prayer isn’t the issue.  Jesus didn’t pray before, during, or after the exorcism. 


Jesus’ statement about prayer is to remind the disciples that their authority over demons comes from Him.  Facet connected by pipe to God.  What the disciples had let go of was their complete and ongoing need for dependence on God. 


Quoting Swindoll:  “Jesus had given them a faucet, not a reservoir.  He gave them authority dependent upon His own, not omnipotence to use independently.”


Why did the disciples - that Jesus had delegated authority to - why did they fail at casting out the demon?  Because they were casting out the demon - faith in “self” not God.  Demons - “this kind” only comes out by God’s authority - not ours.


Processing all that - pulling all that together so we can focus on what is helpful for us to take with us into the reality of the rest of our lives.


Jesus’ Second Quarter curriculum:  In the day-to-day reality of our lives what does it mean that Jesus is the Christ.  How are we suppose to live in response to that reality.


Jesus and Peter and James and John up on Mount Hermon where they’ve been given a glimpse of Jesus’ divinity coming back down into the reality of conflict and controversy and the argument that the disciples had gotten themselves locked up into.  That’s not random.


That’s there to remind them and to teach us - that Jesus being the Christ - means that in all things we have the privilege of relying on and living by and under His power and authority. 


We ourselves possess no divine authority.  But God endows us with His divine authority.  God makes our access to His power an integral part of our relationship with Him.  But we need to be careful not to take for granted or forget that it’s His power bestowed on us - not ours.


So in faith and in prayer - in every part of our lives - we need to stay focused on Him - dependent on Him.  And when we struggle with that - when our faith is weak or misplaced - we need to cry out to Him to help us.


Four take away questions borrowed from Swindoll’s commentary.  These are good because they cut to the heart of where we struggle and just maybe might help us to avoid falling into the trap of thinking that we are the reservoir.


First:  Do we believe that God can do anything?


Do we really believe that God can redeem anyone anywhere at anytime?  That no one - including us - that no one is too bad or too messed up or beyond His ability to forgive or restore or heal?  That God can redeem any situation anywhere at anytime?  That no circumstance - that we’re stressing over and trying to resolve on our own - is beyond God’s ability to redeem?


Do we really believe that God can do anything or do we just say that because we’re suppose to believe that and then go on in guilt and doubt stressing over things?


Second:  Are we willing to leave the “anything” up to Him?


We may believe that God can do anything.  But are we willing to let Him do anything?  Are we willing to let God  be God and let Him do what He knows is best in the way He knows is best?  Are we really willing to trust that God’s perspective on things just might be clearer than ours and to trust Him.  Period.


Third:  Will we stop worrying, quit interrupting, cease striving, and simply pray?


Have you ever told God what to do?  I have.  Way too often.  Because I know what God should do.  And I’m constantly telling God how I think He should handle things.  And when God doesn’t do what we think He should do the way we think He should do it - how easy is it to let our emotions take over?  Like somehow we need to step into all that with our clever attempts at doing what’s impossible for us to do.


Which probably means we need to keep praying and lay the issue in the hands of God and leave the issue in God’s hands and not snatch it back again.  To actually trust that He has it covered.


Fourth:  Will we accept the answer God chooses to give?


Will we set aside our expectations and disappointment and doubts to accept what God desires to give us instead of what we desire for ourselves?  What we need not what we want.


Are we willing to submit to God’s authority and surrender to His will whatever that may mean for us?






Series references:

Sinclair B. Ferguson, Let’s Study Mark (Edinburgh, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2016).

Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary, Volume 2:  Insights on Mark (Carol Stream, IL, Tyndale House Publishers, 2016).


Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®  (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.