Week Four of 40 Days through Mark’s Good News
Mark 9:14–29—The healing of a demon-possessed boy
14 At the foot of the mountain they found a great crowd surrounding the other disciples, as some teachers of religious law were arguing with them. 15 The crowd watched Jesus in awe as he came toward them, and then they ran to greet him. 16 “What is all this arguing about?” he asked. 17 One of the men in the crowd spoke up and said, “Teacher, I brought my son for you to heal him. He can’t speak because he is possessed by an evil spirit that won’t let him talk.
18 And whenever this evil spirit seizes him, it throws him violently to the ground and makes him foam at the mouth and grind his teeth and become 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 until you believe? 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 very small. 22 The evil spirit often makes him fall into the fire or into water, trying to kill him. Have mercy on us and help us. Do something if you can.” 23 “What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes.” 24 The father instantly replied, “I do believe, but help me not to doubt!” 25 When Jesus saw that the crowd of onlookers was growing, he rebuked the evil spirit. “Spirit of deafness and muteness,” 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 lay there motionless, and he appeared to be dead. A murmur ran through the crowd, “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.”
Points of Interest:
- ‘The crowd watched Jesus in awe’—Who knows, but perhaps the people are in awe because Jesus’ clothes are still dazzlingly white. The book of Exodus, chapter 34, tells us that when Moses came away from speaking with the Lord, his face would glow for a while. Perhaps Jesus has a similar heavenly glow to him as he returns.
- ‘What is all this arguing about?’—Isn’t it so often true that what is being fought over gets lost in the midst of the argument? Jesus comes down into a chaotic scene in which he can’t even tell what the disciples and the religious teachers are arguing about. Perhaps the disciples and the religious teachers are arguing about methods for casting out demons. Perhaps the religious teachers are using the disciples’ failure as a way to fight against Jesus’ legitimacy. Whatever the case, the actual, helpless demon-possessed boy is lost in the shuffle as the disciples and teachers argue. It is so easy to let arguments over turf and over methods get in the way of helping hurting people, and it is such a great pity when it does. Although Jesus asks what the argument is about, he doesn’t actually get himself entangled in the substance of the argument. Rather, he goes straight to the original matter: the healing of the boy.
- ‘How long has this been happening?’—Jesus asks a little bit more about the boy’s condition. Knowing more about exactly what’s going on with the boy apparently helps him to treat the problem effectively. Often, when we are praying for someone, especially when it appears that their problem is influenced by an evil spirit, it’s worth it to ask a few questions to discover what we are dealing with.
- “What do you mean, ‘If I can’?”—The father thinks that the limiting factor is Jesus’ ability. Jesus responds that the question is not whether or not he has the power, but whether or not others have the faith. Earlier on, Jesus says, “You faithless people!” Apparently, the whole environment here is one of faithlessness. No one, not the father, nor the disciples, nor certainly the religious teachers have demonstrated faith that this boy can be healed. Perhaps the intrusion of the religious teachers into the situation has disrupted the faithfulness of the people involved.
- ‘This kind can be cast out only by prayer’—it seems that before Jesus arrives no one has even prayed during this attempt to cast out the evil spirit. Imagine what it would have been like for the disciples when they first began to cast out demons. They must have been totally reliant on God: “Oh, Lord, please, please, please, give us the ability to cast out this demon. We know we can’t do it without you,” must have been their feeling if not their actual words. Perhaps by now, casting out demons has become a little old hat. They know they can do it; it just takes a little laying on of hands. They’ve become confident in their own abilities, maybe even their own techniques, rather than on the power of God. They follow their time-tested technique, but it doesn’t work. They’ve forgotten the most important ingredient: faithful prayer to God.
- ‘I do believe, but help me not to doubt!’—Jesus says that this kind of spirit comes out only by prayer, but Mark makes no mention of Jesus praying. Who prays the prayer that causes the demon to leave? The only thing it could be is the father saying, ‘I do believe, but help me not to doubt.’ This confession of faith and cry for help to have faith is the kind of prayer Jesus loves to answer. Jesus doesn’t expect perfect faith: he only expects the man to cry out in dependence on him. We don’t need to have perfectly phrased prayers or have all our ducks in a row before we pray. All Jesus expects is for us to come to him with what we have. Just like Jesus could multiply the 5 loaves to feed a crowd, he could multiply the man’s faith once given the invitation.
- ‘he appeared to be dead’—Jesus has told his disciples that he will be killed and rise again, and they don’t understand his words. Here, Jesus tries to give them a little picture of the resurrection to bolster their imagination and their faith. Jesus predicts that he will suffer, die, and rise again. The boy suffers at the hand of the spirit. He appears to be dead. And when Jesus touches him, he rises up from the ground. Just like Jesus revives this father’s son, God the Father will revive his own son.
Taking it Home:
- For you: The father brings the boy to Jesus to be healed, but it looks very much like Jesus has killed the boy instead. Sometimes, when we bring a problem to Jesus it seems to get worse rather than better. That doesn’t necessarily mean that something is going wrong. The example of this boy shows us that sometimes the path to healing goes through death to resurrection. If you have brought a problem to Jesus, and it’s gotten worse, ask him to see it through to resurrection.
- For your 6: All that Jesus needs to do something amazing in a person’s life is a little starter faith. All the father can do is offer a prayer that Jesus would help him to believe, and Jesus responds willingly and abundantly. Pray that your 6 would have enough faith to ask Jesus for more. Ask Jesus to respond to them as lavishly as he does to this man.
- For our church: Pray that our church would become more and more a place of prayerful dependence on God. We don’t want to rely on our ministry techniques, but on God’s power. We want to do the things that only happen by prayer.