Tyler David speaks on Mark 9:14-29
Series: Normal Christianity
The Gospel of Mark is broken into two main stories. During the first eight chapters, Mark is communicating that Jesus is the Christ, the long awaited Messiah. There are stories of His healing, powers and authority to show us this. But at the transfiguration Mark begins to shift his narrative to tell us that this Christ must die.
The transfiguration was the contrast of Jesus revealing His glory and telling His disciples He was going to die, which is the second main story captured in the Gospel of Mark.
Before the cross, Mark spends two chapters showing how Jesus was training, teaching and developing His disciples in what it meant to follow Him. He was getting them ready to advance the kingdom of God after He finished the work the Father had given Him to do.
These disciples would be the ones to teach the world what it meant to know, love, obey and follow Jesus. They would be the disciple makers of all nations.
We’re staring a new seven part series called Normal Christianity. We will be studying things like ambition, relationships, marriage and finances. Jesus thought it was necessary for the disciples to understand these things in order to make disciples of all nations, all the while reminding them that He was going to die.
So we’ve titled the series Normal Christianity, because this section of Scripture describes what should be normal for followers of Jesus. The standards and practices that Jesus put into action for these men will appear radical to our society and culture, but not to the Church. For us, they’re the norm.
Strong Faith in a Weak Savior
14 And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. 15 And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him. 16 And he asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” 17 And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. 18 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.” 19 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.” 20 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. 21 And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 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.” 23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” 25 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.” 26 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.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. 28 And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” 29 And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” Mark 9:14-29 (ESV)
Jesus’ first lesson is that weak faith in Jesus is stronger than the greatest faith in ourselves.
Faith is only as strong as the object you’re trusting in. We can have all sorts of self assurance, confidence and faith in our own abilities and wisdom, but its only a matter of time before the evil in this world shows us just how powerless we really are.
Great faith in a weak savior means nothing.
Often the powerless savior that we trust is ourselves. My life is littered with stories of me putting strong faith in a very weak savior: myself.
But often, my faith doesn’t produce what it promises.
When I was ten years old, there was a girl across the street that I thought was cute. One day I was riding my bike and I saw her in the front yard. I thought this was my time to shine. So I gave her the head nod. As soon as I did it, I ran into a parked car, flying onto the hood. I was so embarrassed, scrambled onto my bike, avoided eye contact and rode straight home, never talking to her again.
In that situation, the problem wasn’t my faith. I had plenty of faith and assurance in myself. It was the object of my faith that was lacking. I had put strong faith in a weak savior, one that wasn’t strong enough to save, and one that didn’t have peripheral vision to see the car right in front of me.
This is exactly what the disciples had; great faith in their own abilities. They found out, just like we do, that we make very weak saviors.
Jesus, with Peter, James and John, came down the mountain to find the disciples arguing with some scribes. Jesus asked them what they were arguing about. A weary father came forward and said he brought his son, who had been suffering with violent seizures, to be healed.
We know from the Scriptures these seizures were not just a medical issue. They were a demonic issue.
The father wanted him healed. The disciples tried to heal him, but couldn’t. Jesus ended up healing the boy. After everything was over, the disciples immediately asked Jesus why they couldn’t cast out the demonic spirit. They were perplexed. Probably a little humiliated they couldn’t do what they promised in front of a big crowd. In Mark 6:7-13, Jesus gave authority to the disciples to cast out demons. They had done it before. It wasn’t anything new to them, but this time was different.
Jesus taught them a lesson; a lesson about their great faith in themselves and how powerless they really are.
28 And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” 29 And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” Mark 9:28-29 (ESV)
Jesus’ answer reveals to them how much faith they had in themselves, how self-reliant they were. He said that only prayer could drive out that type of demon. He didn’t say longer prayers, more passionate prayers, and more specific or theologically concise prayers. He just said they should have prayed.
The indictment was clear; they hadn’t prayed at all.
They had already come across this situation and thought they could handle it on their own. Their lack of prayer was evidence of their lack of faith in Jesus, but strong faith in themselves.
Our lack of prayer is evidence of our lack of faith in Jesus, but strong faith in ourselves.
This is why Jesus called them faithless in verse nineteen.
19 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.”(ESV)
The disciples had lost sight of their utter dependence on God. They thought the power belonged to them. Which is also why we don’t pray.
You and I don’t pray because we think we can handle most situations. We presume upon His grace. We think we have a good marriage because we have a great spouse. Or the reason there’s been reconciliation in our relationships is due to us being wise. Or the reason we have a good job is because we’ve been working so hard.
We can usually handle things until a situation arises where our normal means of operation can’t fix the problem. It isn’t until we can’t overcome some evil that we begin to realize how dependent we are on God.
No matter how much faith you think you have, prayer shows how much is actually there.
Jesus was teaching these men they were very weak saviors. They didn’t have the power to overcome that type of evil. He also gave them a picture of what faith should look like.
“If you can”
Through this father, Jesus showed them that even weak faith in Him has unbelievable power.
The whole issue began when this father brought his son to be healed by Jesus. The way the father interacted with Jesus is a great picture of what faith should look like.
Jesus asked the boy to be brought to him, who had another seizure right there.
21 And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 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.” 23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” Mark 9:21-24 (ESV, emphasis added)
The father used a phrase that we’re all familiar with; surely Jesus, “if you can”. He was already let down by the disciples. They weren’t able to heal his son. He was wondering if Jesus could do any better. All of us have hedged our bets like this in prayer.
We don’t go boldly before God and ask Him for what we want. Usually we use small little caveats in our prayers to protect ourselves from being let down. We’ll ask for something and then say, “if its Your will,” or “God, do what You think is best”.
Those are appropriate things to pray, but I wonder how often we use those spiritual phrases to protect us. Because we’ve prayed before and nothing happened.
We begin to lower our expectations of what God can actually do.
Jesus heard this statement and called out the lack of faith.
23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Mark 9:23 (ESV)
Jesus responded incredulously, saying the problem was not in His ability, but in their ability to believe.
There’s nothing impossible for the one who believes, because nothing is impossible for God. So the father saying this was simply exposing his unbelief.
Asking for belief
How the father responded is where we can begin to learn from him. Jesus confronted his weakness and lack of faith, but he didn’t shy away. He pressed into Jesus and asked for more.
Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s how most of us respond when Jesus reveals our lack of faith. Often we tend to pull away from God, to get ourselves right. When we’re convicted and can see our lack of faith, we cower and decide we shouldn’t ask for anything. Or we try to defend ourselves. We begin to argue that we do have faith and begin to blame others. We try to get ourselves right so we can follow God again.
The father owned his weakness. While we tend to move away, he pressed in through prayer. He cried out and was honest about his lack of faith. He ran to Jesus and He responded.
25 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.” 26 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.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. Mark 9:25-27 (ESV)
The most amazing thing happened through this father’s weak prayer; Jesus acted. He responded and undid what evil had been doing to this little boy for years, all because a father cried out in weakness.
The father knew the weakness was in him, but he knew that Jesus was the solution. He knew he wasn’t going to be fixed by trying to be stronger or wiser. He put himself completely and utterly dependent on Jesus to help him with everything he needed.
Even the weakest faith has access to Jesus. Jesus demands faith, but not perfection, to act on our behalf. He demands prayer, but will respond to even our weakest cries.
Prayer, Not Perfection
Jesus is the King; He holds all things together. It’s treasonous to act as if someone else could save or that He lacks something.
That’s why He demands faith be expressed through prayer, because it recognizes who He is. Prayer shows that we acknowledge we don’t have the power and thus we’re crying out to Him.
Even though He demands faith, He doesn’t demand perfection in order to act.
This is one of the weakest prayers in the Bible. He lacked single-mindedness and conviction. He knew Jesus could do it, but still had doubt and fear.
But Jesus heard him and responded.
Faith is nothing more than crying out for help. Faith is not powerful in and of itself. It’s powerful when it’s placed in Jesus.
Even when your faith is weak, you still have access to great power, because of Him.
Life in the Valley
Jesus was showing the disciples what faith looked like. They had just come down from the mountain of transfiguration. They just saw Jesus glorified, a snapshot of heaven on earth. They didn’t want to leave.
But Jesus took them down from that mountain of glory and into the valley of brokenness. They had just met Moses and heard the voice of God, and were now being greeted by anger, evil and faithlessness everywhere.
Jesus was getting them ready for life after He was gone. Then and now, we follow Him and minister to others. Not on the mountaintop, but down in the valley. Like the disciples, you and I will come face to face with evil, both in the world and in ourselves, that we are powerless to overcome. With evil we don’t know how to deal with. It will be obvious that we are like the father, not having full faith in Jesus.
But faith in the valley looks like us running to Jesus when we’re weak, casting everything on Him -- our weakness, our pains, our struggles and all of our unbelief -- in prayer.
6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:6-7 (ESV)
We cry out to Jesus not because we’re strong but because He is. We recognize our weakness and repent of our lack of faith and run to Jesus all the more.
People of Prayer
If we’re going to be a faithful church down in the valley, we have to be a people of prayer.
Too often we long for the mountaintop experiences to cure the evils of the valley. But Jesus taught the only thing that deals with the evil in the valley is prayer.
Our Sunday services are great. We need to be taught from the Word of God and sing songs to Him. Each week we’re reminded about what is most true in this life. But if our spiritual life as a church is just Sunday-to-Sunday, looking for mountaintop experiences, eventually we will be undone by the evils in the valley. The nostalgia from mountaintop experiences are not powerful enough to save. You need access to power through prayer.
This is exactly what Jesus modeled for us on the cross. His greatest triumph over evil for us did not happen on a mountaintop of glory, but in the valley of brokenness. He was confronted with the greatest evil in the world, all of our sins, and He overcame it by suffering on a cross, crying out to His Father.
Jesus gave His life so that His people would know we have an audience with God at all times. We can feel wayward and weak, but we must still cry out and ask for help from Him.