Scripture: Mark 9:14-29
Good morning. If you were expecting to see Pastor Mark this morning, I hope that you are not too disappointed, but I appreciate the opportunity to share with you today in pastor Mark’s absence. At this point, I need to make a confession. Each time I began preparation to share a message with you I am struck by the overwhelming sense of responsibility, as well as the amount of work and study that it takes for me to prepare for a message. I know that there is a seriousness associated with being a teacher, in fact James says to avoid it altogether if possible. It is at that point where I begin to think to myself, “Why did I volunteer for this?” However, as I prepare and dive deep into the word of God so that I can be faithful to the text, I find that the word of God is opened up to me in new and fresh ways. There are lessons learned and convictions deepened that I have only been able understand through intensive study of the word. The reason I continue to volunteer to step into the pulpit when given the opportunity is that there is great benefit in the disciplined and prayerful study of God’s word. I pray that as a byproduct you are all encouraged as well.
We are currently working our way through the book of Mark in our series the Crown and the Cross. In last week’s scripture passage, Pastor Mark took us through the account of the mountaintop transfiguration of Jesus. Today we will be looking at the next section of scripture in the gospel of Mark, Chapter 9 verses 14 through 29, with the help of parallel passages in the books of Matthew and Luke. There is a great contrast between last week’s account and that of our text today. The transfiguration of Jesus took place on a mountaintop, while today’s passage takes place in the valley. On the mountaintop there is a father with a beloved son, but in the valley, there is a father with a tortured son. On the mountain top there is amazement from the witnesses, but in the valley, there is arguing and conflict. The mountain top was overshadowed with the presence of God, but in the valley, there was demonic possession.
Before we read our passage, lets open with a word of prayer.
Verse 14 says; “When they came back to the disciples, they saw a large crowd around them”. Jesus, along with Peter, James, and John are coming back to rejoin the other nine apostles and probably other disciples that were there as well. Luke tells us in his account that they had come down from the mountain, the day after Jesus was transfigured. Mark also says that there was a large crowd surrounding the disciples that included some “scribes” that were arguing with them. As pastor mentioned last week when speaking on the transfiguration, the beginning of this passage sounds very similar to the account of Moses on Mt. Sinai. In the book of Exodus, starting chapter 24, Moses goes up to the mountaintop and waits to receive the stone tablets that God was preparing for him. After spending time with God on the mountain, chapter 32 tell of rebellion in the camp of the Israelites. Joshua describes it as “a sound of war in the camp” and Moses find them in a state of disorder and sin. When Jesus came down from the mountain, he found the disciples and scribes in a state of arguing and confusion.
The encyclopedia Britannica describes the “scribes” this way; “In the 1st century, scribes and Pharisees were two largely distinct groups, though presumably some scribes were Pharisees. Scribes had knowledge of the law and could draft legal documents such as contracts for marriage, divorce, loans, inheritance, mortgages, and the sale of land. Every village had at least one scribe. Like pharisees, scribes were experts in the law. As we will see in a few moments, this is a “gotcha moment” for the scribes. They insulted the disciples, and by extension Jesus because of the disciple’s inability to cast the demon out of the boy. This all took place under the watching eyes of the gathered crowd.
Point Number 1
As true believers, there will always be opposition to our message and our beliefs.
Jesus was opposed for his message throughout the New Testament, even to the point of his own crucifixion and death. He warned his disciples that if they followed him that they would face the same opposition and persecution. In Mark chapter 13, Jesus speaks of this persecution to his followers and ends with; “you will be hated by all because of my name.” also, in John chapter 15 Jesus says; “remember the word that I said to you: a servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”
In the New Testament, Acts chapter 3 and 4 tell the story of Peter and John getting arrested after preaching a sermon in the temple. The 7th chapter of Acts gives the account of Stephen speaking in his own defense and subsequent stoning. In Acts chapter 12, Peter was imprisoned and in the 16th chapter of Acts, Paul and Silas are in prison. Ultimately, Peter and Paul lost their lives due to the opposition to their message and relationship to Jesus Christ. History tells us that many of the disciples went to their deaths because of their relationship with Jesus. In fact, throughout history, many people have died at the hands of those who oppose their message. Early church father Polycarp, who personally knew the apostle John, was martyred in the 2nd century when asked to deny Christ. John Wycliff, William Tyndale, Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley are just a few of the medieval martyrs that died upholding their faith.
Today in the West, Christians have not yet suffered to the point of death. However, Canadian pastors James Coats and Tim Stevens were arrested and jailed for the breaking of COVID restrictions that contradicted the churches mandate to meet. In America, we are faced with confronting the lies of the new social architects, where truth is not grounded in what we read in the bible, rather truth is flexible depending on how the individual feels. At the Truth Matters conference that Holly and I attended, Pastor Mike Riccardi, spoke to these issues, saying; If you refuse to affirm and celebrate homosexuality, if you refuse to concede that the baby in the womb is just a clump of cells that can be discarded at the mother’s will, if you refuse to call Richard, Rachel, or refuse to use someone’s preferred pronouns, if you refuse to repent of your whiteness. You may be cancelled. The social architects of today are not satisfied if we just keep our beliefs to ourselves, they want nothing less than our affirmation, celebration, and the renunciation of our biblical worldview.
Brothers and sisters, we need to understand that conflict with the world is inevitable if we are to live out our faith as commanded in the word of God. This is summed up in John chapter 15 versus 18 and 19 when Jesus said; “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.”
Getting back to our text, in typical fashion Mark, verse 15 starts with; “Immediately”, when the entire crowd saw him, they were “amazed” and began running up to greet him. The Greek word used here for amazed can be described as to amaze or terrify. The same word is used later on in Mark to describe Jesus as being “distressed” when going into the Garden of Gethsemane. It is interesting that Mark uses this word to describe the crowd’s reaction when they see Jesus approaching. In his commentary, Matthew Henry gives a possible explanation, related back to the account of Moses on Mt. Sinai in Exodus that we looked at earlier. When Moses was up on the mountain his countenance would change because of his close physical proximity to God. In Exodus 34 we see that when Moses comes down the mountain with the second set of tablets, it says that “his face was radiant” and that Aaron and the sons of Israel were afraid to come near him. Matthew Henry says; “So perhaps did Christ’s face in some measure; at least, instead of seeming fatigued, there appeared a wonderful vibrancy and liveliness in his looks, which amazed them”. While this is a possible explanation, it seems to contradict Jesus’ strict instructions to Peter, James, and John to tell no one what they had seen on the mountaintop. The crowds were always “amazed” and drawn to Jesus because he was a miracle worker that could perform signs and wonders as well as his authoritative teaching.
Jesus’ return was no doubt welcomed by the disciples. Jesus would be able to get them out of this messy situation. They thought Jesus’ arrival would be bad news for the scribes. In verse 16 Jesus asks what they are discussing or arguing about. Before the disciples or the scribes can answer Jesus’ question, a man from the crowd steps up, in Luke’s account it says that the man “shouted” and said “I beg you to look at my son”. This father wanted to make himself heard over the crowd. Verses 17 and 18, describes the desperate condition of his son. In Matthew’s account the father calls him a lunatic and very ill, while in both Mark and Luke the father describes his son as being possessed with a spirit. The unclean spirit causes devastating effects on this boy, first the father says that the boy is mute, can’t speak, then that the unclean spirit “slams him to the ground”. In Luke it says that it “throws him into convulsions” and “mauls him”, in Greek, the verb form of maul has the meaning to “shatter” or “break into pieces”. Finally, in Matthew’s description is says that that the boy “often falls into the fire and often into the water”. It was a full time job for this father and his family to look after his son to keep him from hurting himself and tending to his needs.
Here in Mark, it says that the man specifically brought his son to Jesus for healing. Imagine his disappointment after arriving to find out that Jesus was not there in the crowd. However, after being with Jesus over the last few years and sitting under his teaching, his disciples probably believed that they had the ability to heal this man’s son. Especially, after Jesus had sent them out with the “power and authority over all the demons and to heal diseases”, as described in Luke 9. Their confidence came because of their success as described in Mark 6, “They were casing out many demons and were anointing many sick people and healing them. After the father described the condition of his son to Jesus and noting that Jesus was not with his disciples, the father says, “I told your disciples to cast it out and they could not do it.”
So, imagine the scene, the disciples are together, waiting for Jesus, Peter, James, and John to return from the mountain. As time passes a crowd gathers with the anticipation of seeing Jesus, with that crowd a group of scribes gather as well, but they are there to question Jesus and cause trouble. One man stands out among the crowd, he is there so that Jesus can heal his son. Jesus isn’t there but he is desperate, probably a little skeptical, but he brings his son to the disciples and tells them to heal him. The disciples, they have been through this before, they have seen Jesus heal and cast out demons. In fact, they were pretty successful in doing this type of thing in the past. Then there are the scribes, they want another opportunity to stand against the deceiver from Galilee, they want to see if Jesus disciples have the same abilities as their teacher. The moment comes, they try, but the disciples of Jesus can’t heal the boy.
Point Number 2
Living out the Christian life in our own strength is not pleasing to God and will eventually fail.
As we saw earlier, Jesus had given His disciples authority to heal and cast out demons. They were doing so during an earlier commissioning. It is clear that the disciples had been given the ability to cast out demons and heal. What made this encounter different? It seems reasonable that the disciples needed a lesson on their need for reliance on God. Their earlier successes in dealing with demons may have given them a false sense that their ability came from within themselves. Or that they may have lost focus on the source of their power. We can imagine that with their earlier successes, they believe that this was just another “run of the mill” encounter with a demon that would be easily dispatched. They could show their abilities to the gathered crowd, the scribes and Jesus when he returned from the mountain.
One commentary that I read said; “The disciples did not lack power, experience, or authority; they lacked the faith to deal with this powerful demon. The deficiency did not consist in the lack of confidence, they were surprised that they could not cast out this demon. The problem lay in the failure to make God rather than their own gifts, the object of their confidence. Having discerned the strength of the demon possessing the boy, the apostles should have sought God’s help in believing prayer. If they had done so, even a mustards seed amount of faith could have handled this situation.
We all need to rely on God rather than our own strength.
John 15 verse 5; “I am the vine; You are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, is he that bears much fruit, apart for me you can do nothing.”
Philippians 4 verse 13; “I can do all things through him who strengthens me”
Jesus himself was the perfect example to his disciples and to us, of the need for connecting with the Father rather that doing things in our own strength. He took the time to get away, pray, and reconnect with the Father, especially during key times in his life.
After the feeding of the 5000 and before healing of the multitudes at Gennesaret, Matthew 14 says; “he went up on the mountain by himself to pray.”
Again, after healing the man with the withered hand of the Sabbath and before calling his 12 apostles, Luke 6 says; “it was at this time that he went off to the mountain to pray and he spent the whole night in prayer to God”
Then before going to the cross, in Mark 14, Jesus tells his disciples “Sit here until I have prayed.”
There are also other biblical examples that show how a disconnect from God leads to devastating consequences. In the book of Revelation, Jesus either affirms or warns each of the seven churches. Of those seven churches, three of them get severe warnings because they have lost their connection to Jesus to the point of not even recognizing how far they have fallen. Jesus threatens to remove the Church of Ephesus’ lampstand because they had left their first love. Jesus tells the Church of Sardis that even though they think they are alive; they were actually dead. Finally, Jesus warns the Church of Laodicea that they were in danger if being “spit out of His mouth” because they had lost touch with Him. They put themselves on autopilot, in verse 17 it says; “because you say, I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing, you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.” These churches took their eyes off Jesus and began to believe in their own power and strength, which is not pleasing to God and leads to spiritual impotence.
After hearing from the father of the demon possessed boy and how his disciples were unable to heal him, the end of verse 19 says; “O unbelieving generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you?” Jesus’ rebuke is directed toward his disciples, who by this point in his ministry should have had the faith to cast out the demon. He asked a series of rhetorical questions for which he did not expect answers. We can hear the weariness and exasperation in those questions; How long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Jesus knows that his time on earth with his disciples is growing short yet there is still much that they need to learn. The verse ends with; “Bring him to Me!” Jesus is going to show compassion to this father and his son by ending the boy’s suffering, as well as use it as a teachable moment for his disciples.
As the boy is being brought to Jesus, the demon affects the boy just as his father had described. Just being in the presence of Jesus causes the demon to throw a temper tantrum, maybe a final attempt to permanently injure the boy before being cast out, possibly because he knows that his time was short or maybe an attempt to weaken what was left of the father’s faith. Jesus, with calm and compassion, asks the father; “How long has this been happening to him?”. Commentators assume that Jesus, knowing all things, did not need to ask the boy’s father the length of his illness, he already knew the answer. However, it did show the father, and those with him, that Jesus was empathetic and took personal interest in him and his son.
In verse 22, the father ends by saying; “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” Contrast this with the statement that the leper makes to Jesus in Matthew 6 verse 2; “Lord if you are willing you can make me clean.” Both of these “if” statements call into question something of Jesus character or desire. The leper’s statement questions the will of Jesus, and the response was “I am willing, be cleansed.” However, the father’s statement calls into question Jesus’ power to heal, and Jesus takes notice. “If you can!” The father obviously has some measure of faith, he specifically sought to bring his son to Jesus for healing. He was even willing to have the disciples try and heal his son when Jesus was not in the crowd. Ultimately, with each setback and failure, the father’s faith dwindled until he questioned the very power of Jesus himself. Jesus helps to restore the father’s faith by telling him that; “All things are possible to him who believes.
In verse 24, it says that “immediately” the father “cried out” which in Greek is “krazo” and has the meaning; to cry, call out with a loud voice or urgent prayer. The father sees his opportunity to finally get the healing for his son by blurting out his belief, although imperfect, in the power of Jesus to heal his son. In this account, Jesus used the faith of the boy’s father to play a part in the miracle to heal his son. We see this same interaction between faith and healing when in Matthew chapter 13, it says that in Nazareth; “He did not do many miracles there due to their lack of faith”. Jesus took this opportunity to make this a teachable moment for his disciples on the relationship between their faith and his power.
This prolonged interaction with the demon possessed boy and his father most certainly caught the attention of the gathered people. Verse 25 says that “a crowd was rapidly gathering”. Jesus was not willing to make a spectacle of this boy and his situation, we have to assume that he was not going to perform this miracle for the sake of the crowd. He had already established his credentials as messiah, there was no need to make a show of this situation just to please the onlookers. Without further wait, Jesus “rebukes” the demon; “I command you come out of him and do not enter him again. In this we see that not only does Jesus command the unclean spirit to leave the boy in the present, but commands him never to return in the future. The demon makes a final violent exit, leaving the boy looking so much like a corpse that those around him think that he is dead. “But Jesus”, verse 27 says; “took him by the hand and raised him. Imagine the joy of the father, after years of caring for his son and watching him suffer, Jesus raises the boy up and returns him completely healed.
Point Number 3
Faith, no matter how small, pleases God.
This passage ends as the disciples are able to get Jesus alone, away from the crowd. In this moment of privacy, they ask Jesus; “Why could we not drive it out?” His response in verse 29 is; “This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer.” Matthew gives us more detail, he records Jesus full response to their question as; “because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, move from here to there, and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” So, here Jesus makes the connection between faith and prayer. In fact, faith and prayer can be seen as different sides of the same coin.
The book of Hebrews has much to say on the subject of faith and chapter 11 verse 1 gives us a great definition. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” The Amplified bible says; Now faith is the assurance (title deed, confirmation) of things hoped for (divinely guaranteed), and the evidence of things not seen [the conviction of their reality—faith comprehends as fact what cannot be experienced by the physical senses]. We live by natural faith every day, like when we board an airplane, get in our car, drink some water, or go to a doctor for treatment. Natural faith is rooted in the physical world, like the laws of physics, human achievements, or personal experience. This is not the kind of faith that is defined in Hebrews 11 verse1 or the faith that Jesus spoke about in Matthew 17. Biblical or spiritual faith is God focused, the assurance and conviction is rooted in the character of God himself. It is not natural to us but instead is a gift that God gives us. (Ephesians 2:8) That gift, like our salvation, is ours for the asking, through prayer.
The Forerunner Commentary states it this way; “A lack of faith is a sign of a weak prayer life… Prayer provides the repeated and continual contact with God that we need to get to know him. This sets in motion the process that will lead to faith, to God being willing to give us the gift of faith. The prayerful person becomes the faithful person, not the other way around. Hebrews 11: 6 illustrates this point: “But without faith it is impossible to please him, for he who comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him”.
Think of Jesus frustration with his disciples, he said that “mustard seed sized faith could move mountains”, yet he rebuked them for the “littleness” of their faith. That must have meant that the disciple’s faith was smaller than a mustard seed. The disciple’s failure to cast out the demon was rooted in their reliance on natural faith. The focus of their faith was the experience of their past successes. However, they lacked the spiritual faith in the character and promise of God. Their only hope for success would have been to seek God, and pray for the necessary faith to face the challenge of casting out this demon.
In his essay on The Prayer of Faith, Sinclair Ferguson said; “This, then, is the prayer of faith: to ask God to accomplish what he has promised in his word. That promise is the only ground for our confidence in asking. Such confidence is not “worked up” from within our emotional life; rather, it is given and supported by what God has said in scripture. True prayer can never be divorced from real holiness. Prayer of faith can be made only by the “righteous” man whose life is being more and more aligned with the covenant grace and purposes of God. In the realm of prayer, too, faith without works is dead.
Here are some takeaways
Our first point was:
As true believers, there will always be opposition to our message and our beliefs.
If you are faithful to biblical truths, the world will oppose you.
Matthew 5:44 – But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you
Study the word so that you can stand firm on what you believe.
Matthew 24:13 – But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
Lovingly share your faith with others.
Ephesians 4:15 – Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, even Christ
Our second point was:
Living out the Christian life in our own strength is not pleasing to God and will eventually fail.
Self confidence in our Christian walk can have disastrous results
1 Corinthians 10:12 – Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.
Walk by faith
Romans 8:8 – Those who are in the flesh cannot please God
Rely on God’s word to direct your life
Psalm 149:4 – For the lord takes pleasure in his people; He adorns the humble with salvation
Our third point was:
Faith, no matter how small, pleases God.
Live a life of faith
Psalm 119:30 – I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I have set my heart on your laws
Ephesians 2:8-9 – For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and not from yourselves, it is a gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.
Faith comes through intimate knowledge of God
Romans 10:17 – So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.
Finally, is there is sin that separates you from God today? Does Jesus have the pre-eminent place in your life? Today you have the opportunity to start a brand new relationship with God. However, your rebellion and sins are what keeps you separated from Him. The good news is that the Father has provided the perfect sacrifice in His son Jesus, who was fully God yet fully man. He opened the way to the Father by taking our punishment upon himself so that we could be made acceptable before God. All you need to do repent, which is to turn from your rebellion and trust or have faith in the sacrifice that Jesus provided for you. That “faith” need only be small, the size of a mustard seed to be effective, and if you ask, God will even give you the necessary faith. The bible, God’s own words to us, plainly says; It is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is a gift of God” Ask God for that faith to believe today. If you make that your prayer, I encourage you see one of the deacons or call the church in the coming week. We would love to talk with you and help you take the next steps in your Christian walk.
Now grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.