Jesus Heals a Demon-Possessed Boy
14 When they returned to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd surrounding them, and some teachers of religious law were arguing with them. 15 When the crowd saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with awe, and they ran to greet him.
16 "What is all this arguing about?" Jesus asked.
17 One of the men in the crowd spoke up and said, "Teacher, I brought my son so you could heal him. He is possessed by an evil spirit that won't let him talk. 18 And whenever this spirit seizes him, it throws him violently to the ground. Then he foams at the mouth and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast out the evil spirit, but they couldn't do it."
19 Jesus said to them, "You faithless people! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring the boy to me."
20 So they brought the boy. But when the evil spirit saw Jesus, it threw the child into a violent convulsion, and he fell to the ground, writhing and foaming at the mouth.
21 "How long has this been happening?" Jesus asked the boy's father.
He replied, "Since he was a little boy. 22 The spirit often throws him into the fire or into water, trying to kill him. Have mercy on us and help us, if you can."
23 "What do you mean, 'If I can'?" Jesus asked. "Anything is possible if a person believes."
24 The father instantly cried out, "I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!"
25 When Jesus saw that the crowd of onlookers was growing, he rebuked the evil spirit. "Listen, you spirit that makes this boy unable to hear and speak," he said. "I command you to come out of this child and never enter him again!"
26 Then the spirit screamed and threw the boy into another violent convulsion and left him. The boy appeared to be dead. A murmur ran through the crowd as people said, "He's dead." 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and helped him to his feet, and he stood up.
28 Afterward, when Jesus was alone in the house with his disciples, they asked him, "Why couldn't we cast out that evil spirit?"
29 Jesus replied, "This kind can be cast out only by prayer."
Jesus returns from the mountain to find his disciples being harassed by the religious leaders because they (the disciples) are unable to cast out an evil spirit. Jesus denounces the evident lack of faith and then commands the spirit to depart. When asked by his disciples why they could not cast out the spirit, Jesus says that they were lacking in prayer.
Arguing (Mark 9:14)
Jesus moved from the cloud to the crowd. "While Jesus had been up on the mountain in Mark 9:2-13, a crowd had gathered around several of his disciples. An argument had erupted between them and some scribes. The argument may very well have had to do with what means were necessary to effect a successful exorcism."793 As one source puts it: "We may also surmise the cause of the dispute. The scribes were delighted by the failure of the disciples and taunted them and shamed them before the crowd; and the disciples were defending themselves as best they could. The situation was painful indeed."794 In essence, the religious leaders were casting aspersions on the disciples' power and authority and, by extension, that of Jesus. Their aim was "to discredit Jesus in any way possible."795
Possessed (Mark 9:17)
A father brought his demon-possessed son - his only child (Luke 9:38)796 - to Jesus to be healed. For years the demon had been blocking the boys ability to speak, and it had been causing the boy to go into epileptic seizures.797 This was "not a case of simple epilepsy; no, it was a very complicated condition, in which the boy did not merely fall to the ground but was actually again and again knocked down by the evil spirit."798 The demon had also been throwing the boy "into the fire or into water, trying to kill [Greek apollumi: "to destroy or to cause the destruction of persons, objects, or institutions"799] him" (Mark 9:22). Thus his "condition was long-standing and critical"800 and an example of Satan's aim "'to steal and kill and destroy' [apollumi]" (see John 10:10).801
Faithless people (Mark 9:19)
"Jesus addressed the crowd but especially His disciples with deep emotion,"802 calling them a "faithless people" ("unbelieving generation" NASB; compare Deuteronomy 32:5, 20; Numbers 14:11; Isaiah 63:8-10803 ). "Jesus allows his deep feeling to be expressed in words. Pain and disappointment wring this cry from his heart."804 Jesus' solemn and deeply emotional rebuke sprang from his frustration "with the unbelieving and unresponsive generation, including the crowd, the teachers of the law (scribes), the man, and the nine disciples. His disciples merely reflected that attitude of unbelief so prevalent in the society."805 Certainly "[f]rom his own disciples Jesus had a right to expect more than this unbelieving generation offered him."806 The people could gain the victory over "Satan and his unholy allies" only to the extent that they chose to respond in faith to Jesus and his Gospel message - something most of them refused to do.807 "Because of a lack of faith in Jesus' proclamation, gaining freedom from Satan's oppression is hindered."808
"The main lesson of this miracle is the power of faith to overcome the enemy."809 And because our enemy never takes a break, neither can our faith. "Mark tells this story to show that the battle with Satan is a difficult, ongoing struggle. Victory over sin and temptation comes through faith in Jesus Christ, not through our own efforts."810 Some manuscripts show Jesus saying that the disciples were lacking in both prayer and fasting. "Dependence on God and denial of self are meant."811 Fasting is "a practical means of focusing one's attention more fully on God for a specific purpose, for a limited period of time."812
Anything is possible (Mark 9:23)
The father said to Jesus: "But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!" And Jesus replied: "'If You can?' All things are possible to him who believes" (see Mark 9:23-24, NASB).
"Jesus repeated the father's words and turned them around to put doubt in the right place. In a sense, Jesus was saying, 'If I am able to do anything? I can do all things - but it depends on whether you believe that I can.' Spiritual power comes only when a person turns from self to God in faith. Then the possibilities are limitless."813 That said, we should be sure to note that
Jesus' words do not mean that we can automatically obtain anything we want if we just think positively. Jesus meant that anything is possible if we believe because nothing is too difficult for God, even when our experience seems to indicate otherwise. We cannot have everything for which we pray as if by magic; but with faith, we can have everything we need to serve Christ. We are free to ask whatever we want, as long as we realize that God will answer according to his will (1 John 3:21-22; 5:14). When we will what he wills, then we truly will have the mind of Christ and can ask anything, being assured of God's answers (see also John 14:13-14; 15:7).814
Or, as another source puts it: "'[A]ll things' are here concrete: all those things which faith trusts to the power of Jesus who, moreover, always exerts his power and ability according to his good and gracious will. Faith never asks anything foolish or wrong of Jesus; requests of that kind are never the product of faith. Moreover, faith always bows to the will of Jesus in those things of which we cannot be sure that they are good for us."815
"Mark recorded this story to show that the battle with Satan is a difficult, ongoing struggle. Victory over sin and temptation comes through faith in Jesus Christ, never through our own efforts (see John 15:5)." The disciples would soon be experiencing tremendous uncertainty during Jesus' trial and execution. They would struggle with doubt and question their faith. Their "demon of doubt" could be cast out only by prayer and reliance on God. And, following his resurrection, Jesus would fully restore the disciples' faith.816
Believe ... unbelief (Mark 9:24)
It seems that the father of the demon-possessed boy had in good faith come seeking Jesus. When Jesus was not to be found, and Jesus' disciples failed to deliver his son, the man's faith - that is, "his trust in the ability of Jesus"817 - faltered. He was now afraid "that the ability of Jesus [was] perhaps no greater or only a little greater than that of the nine disciples."818 The father offers us a double lesson in faith. First of all, Christian faith "is possible only with the help of the One who is its Object."819 Here it is good to remember that "[n]o matter how much faith we have, we never reach the point of being self-sufficient. Faith is not stored away like money in the bank. Growing in faith is a constant process of daily renewing our trust in Jesus."820 The key thought here is "trust in Jesus" - not trust in those who claim to speak for him. Secondly, at times every believer struggles with trusting in and relying on God. And so Christian faith is both objective and subjective: "Objectively our faith is in Jesus, and He is unshakable. Subjectively our faith is often mixed with hesitancy and doubt. The way to overcome uncertainty is to remember that what makes faith valid is not its subjective strength, but the trustworthiness of its object. We can confidently affirm this truth: 'I can't, but Jesus can.'"821 What's more, the realization that our faith is weak or small is a very good place to be - provided it leads us to Jesus, the only one who can strengthen and grow it.822 This is something like what the apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote: "when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Corinthians 12:10, NASB).
Only by prayer (Mark 9:29)
Despite the fact that Jesus had commissioned his disciples to cast out demons and that they had already done so (3:15; 6:13),823 they were unable - literally "lacked the strength"824 - to cast out this demon on this occasion. Why? Jesus said: "This kind [of demon] cannot come out by anything but prayer" (Mark 9:29, NASB). Apparently the disciples were trusting in past successes,825 perhaps even thinking they were in permanent possession of the power to cast out demons and so had no need to pray. "Prayer is what the nine had failed to use. They were powerless because they were prayerless. Their self-complacency spelled defeat. Matthew 17:20 has 'because of your little faith' (oligopistian). That is true also. They had too much faith in themselves, too little in Christ. 'They had trusted to the semi-magical power with which they thought themselves invested.'"826 Prayer is absolutely vital. It demonstrates our faith in (= reliance upon) God. Without it, even the most sincere act of service can quickly change from a humble offering into a pride-filled performance.827 As one source reminds us: "Where there is little faith, there is little prayer. Conversely, where there is an abundance of genuine, persevering faith, there is also fervent, unrelenting prayer."828
The story is told of a Roman Catholic nun who was given a mission assignment to a tribe of Apache Indians. In her excitement and haste, on the way to the reservation she drove past the last gas station without noticing that her gas gauge was reading "empty." Her car ran out of gas about a mile past the station, and so she got out and walked back.
The attendant said he would love to help except for the fact that he did not have a gas can.
After some prodding from the kindly sister, however, he searched his storage shed and found an old bedpan - which the nun gratefully accepted and filled with gasoline.
After walking gingerly back to her car, the nun removed the gas cap and began slowly transferring the gas from the bedpan to her car's gas tank.
Just then a trucker drove by, saw the nun emptying the contents of the bedpan into her gas tank, and yelled out his window at her: "I sure wish I had that kind of faith, sister!"829
To those without a personal, saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, placing faith in him makes about as much sense as pouring the (usual) contents of a bedpan into a gas tank. Those of us who are privileged to call ourselves his disciples know differently, however. The Scriptures, the testimonies of fellow believers, and our own experiences - all these teach us that God will never fail to give us what we truly need. And oftentimes it will be at the very moment we need it most.
That said, we also know that because our hearts contain a mixture of faith and unbelief, we must do our part in fostering faith and resisting unbelief. Which means focusing on Christ's ability, recognizing our own inability, and calling on the faith and prayers of others. We must "[a]sk Jesus daily for stronger faith."830
??? At times it's easy to let our struggles with lust, pride, envy, and a host of other sins overwhelm and discourage us. What can this passage teach us about drawing close to God in order to gain the victory over such forces?