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Mark 9:14-29 – Help My Unbelief

After the Transfiguration, it must have been strange to come down the mountain and see a crowd and the scribes and disciples arguing about something. Hadn’t they seen the brilliance of Jesus’ glory? Hadn’t they seen Moses and Elijah? Hadn’t they heard the voice of God the Father telling them to listen to His Son? The answer to all of those questions is no. These people had not been a part of that incredible event. Instead, the crowd was watching a dispute between the scribes and disciples which was going nowhere.

  1. Jesus was told about the problem (Mark 9:14-18).

    What does it say?

    When Jesus came back to the rest of His disciples, He saw an immense crowd around them. He also saw that some religious scribes were arguing with His disciples. As soon as Jesus arrived, the crowd ran to Him and greeted Him. Jesus then asked the scribes what they were talking about with His disciples. Before they could answer, someone in the crowd told Him the situation. The man had a son who was possessed by a mute spirit. The demon would seize him, throw him down, cause him to foam at the mouth, to gnash his teeth, and to become rigid. The man had asked Jesus’ disciples to cast out the demon, but they could not.

    What does it mean?

    The religious leaders were still a problem (Mark 9:14).

    When Jesus and the three disciples arrived, some scribes were arguing with the remaining disciples. “The word for ‘argue’ (Gk. syzetein) carries combative connotations and is often used by Mark for altercations with religious authorities (8:11; 9:14; 12:28).”4 We are not told what the issue was, but the dispute was happening nonetheless. Lenski suggests that “the scribes were delighted by the failure of the disciples and taunted them and shamed them before the crowd.”7 If I were to guess the reason for the dispute, it was probably an argument on how to handle the demon-possessed child.

    The demons were still actively harming people (Mark 9:17-18).

    As in other cases, a demon was causing harm to a person. Remember the demoniac of Gadera? The demons possessing him caused him to cut himself and caused him to yell. In this case, the child seemed to be completely miserable. It seized him, threw him down, made him foam at the mouth, gnash his teeth, and become rigid. “The demon’s attempts to destroy the lad show again the purpose of demon possession.”1

    Has there ever been a demon-possession where it went well for that person? I am unaware of that ever happening. It seems that demons are always trying to destroy someone’s life and to make their friends and family miserable in the process. But that should come as no surprise as Satan was a murderer from the beginning and is the father of lies (John 8:44).

    The disciples had failed (Mark 9:18b).

    The troubled father had probably heard about Jesus and the disciples having success in casting out demons. But when he asked the disciples to help him, they were unable. “The father’s appeal to the disciples to exorcise the demon was legitimate because Jesus had given them authority over evil spirits.”2 Remember when they were sent out to preach and help people. They came back excited that they had been able to cast out demons. But in this situation, they had been powerless to help.

    How does it apply?

    Everything was going wrong here. The scribes were arguing with the disciples. A demon was harming a child. A father was looking for help but the disciples couldn’t help. It is a vivid picture of a time where everything was wrong and there was no hope that things would turn out for the good. But did you notice what happened in Mark 9:15? Jesus arrived and the crowd ran to Him. And that is what made the difference in this situation.

    No matter how bad your day becomes, no matter how many people are against you, and no matter how many times you fail, Jesus can make everything right. When you face those difficulties, be sure to run to Jesus for help. But how can you do this since Jesus is not physically here to talk to? You can turn to the Lord in any situation by prayer and Bible reading. When you read the Bible, God has a way of speaking to you through its words. When you pray, you are talking to God and allowing Him to give you the peace and solutions you need. So, look to the Lord for the hope and help you need every day.

  2. Jesus saw the need for faith (Mark 9:19-24).

    What does it say?

    Jesus responded to the man’s explanation by expressing his frustration with the current faithless generation. He wondered aloud how long he would be with them or bear with them. He then told the man to bring the boy to Him. When he had been brought to Jesus, the spirit caused him to go into convulsions, to fall on the ground, and to foam at the mouth. Jesus asked the father how long this had been happening. The man told Jesus that it had been happening since he was a child. The demon would cause him to be thrown into the fire or water to destroy him. But the man wasn’t interested in talking anymore. He pled with Jesus to have compassion on them and to help if He was able. Jesus told the man that if he could believe, all things were possible. The man burst into tears and told Jesus that he believed but needed help with his unbelief.

    What does it mean?

    Jesus was frustrated with their lack of faith (Mark 9:19).

    To whom was Jesus speaking these words? Mark says that he responded to the man, but He addressed the generation. He could have been speaking to the man himself who was one more example of the unbelieving generation. He could have been speaking to the whole group of people who were known for their lack of faith. Remember how Jesus was unable to do many miracles because of the lack of faith in one area (Mark 6:5-6). He could also have been speaking to the disciples who had not been able to cast out the demon. We may never know, but Jesus was very frustrated with the lack of faith He witnessed at that time.

    Jesus wanted to know the details about the child’s problem (Mark 9:21).

    I find it interesting that Jesus stopped to ask the man how long this had been happening to his son. It almost comes off as Jesus being calloused to the problem that was happening at that exact moment. But we should not look at it that way. We should instead see in Jesus’ question His concern for the man and his son. He asked about the situation because He wanted to hear from the man. He also wanted to show the man what a serious request he was asking of Him. He probably also asked so that the disciples and people in the crowd would know how bad things had been. But the most important thing to see here is that Jesus cared about the man and his son.

    There are some who “regard this as ordinary epileptic fits.”8 They do this because some of the symptoms match what happens during an epileptic seizure.9 They also do this because they do not believe that the Bible is true or that Jesus is the Son of God. But there is good reason to believe otherwise. First, Mark says that the demon caused the boy to convulse. Second, Jesus addressed the demon as the cause of the problem. Third, after casting out the demon, the symptoms were gone. To claim that demon possession was not involved would be calling Jesus a liar. Not a good idea.

    Should we look at all epileptic seizures as the result of demon-possession? While that was the problem in this situation, it wasn’t always. A survey of the people healed by Jesus will show that sometimes they were simply suffering from a normal physical ailment. Peter’s mother-in-law was healed of a fever (1:29-31). The paralyzed man lowered through a hole in the roof was healed with no mention of a demon (2:1-12). The deaf man with a speech impediment (7:31-37) and the blind man (8:22-26) were both healed of physical problems with no mention of demon-possession. Because of this, we need to be careful of attributing every ailment to the work of a demon.

    Jesus wanted the man to believe (Mark 9:23).

    Besides his desire to help the child, Jesus wanted the man to have faith in Him. He wanted the man to believe that He was able to do what was needed. This is why God often allows us to go through difficult situations because they point us to our need of Him. Sadly, “the words, If You can do anything, indicate that the disciples’ inability to expel the demon (v. 18) had shaken the father’s faith in Jesus’ ability.”3 He needed to believe but was having difficulty in seeing a positive conclusion to his son’s problem. Nobody had been able to help for a long time.

    When Jesus told the man that all things were possible to those who believe, the man was triggered. He immediately responded to Jesus with words He had until this moment been holding back. His statement came straight from his heart. “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” He had a small amount of faith but he was beginning to wonder if Jesus would ever do anything for his son. With everything now out in the open, Jesus performed this miracle and gave good reason for this man to believe Him in the future.

    How does it apply?

    Some believe that “faith is necessary for all such miracles, and that the absence of faith ties the hands of Jesus.”9 But do we really believe this? Is Jesus unable to heal a blind man, cast out a demon, or restore someone’s hearing only if they believe? While there was a time when Jesus did only a few miracles because of the unbelief of the people, this was probably done “for the simple reason that miracles would be wasted on such people.”10 But I do not believe that Jesus’ power is limited by the lack of faith of the person needing to be healed. Remember that Jesus is God.

    However, we do know that “without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Heb. 11:6). Those who believe in the God of the impossible often see Him do what might not have been accomplished otherwise. Read through Hebrews 11 and you will see many times that God rewarded the faith of those who put their trust in Him. This is the goal of the Lord in every situation. He wants us to trust in His ability to do whatever is needed. And sometimes He does it despite our lack of faith. But He still wants us to come to the place where our confidence is in Him alone.

  3. Jesus cast out the demon (Mark 9:25-29).

    What does it say?

    When Jesus noticed that a crowd was forming, He rebuked the demon. He addressed it as a deaf and mute spirit and told it to come out of the boy and never come back. The demon cried out, caused him to go into convulsions, and came out of the boy. The boy lay on the ground like a dead person and had people believing that he actually was dead. But Jesus took him by the hand and helped him to get up. Later when He and the disciples were in the house, they asked Jesus why they could not cast out the demon. Jesus told them that this type of demon would only come out after prayer and fasting.

    What does it mean?

    Jesus was able to cast out the demon (9:25-27).

    It should come as no surprise that Jesus was able to do this. In our study of the Gospel of Mark, we have seen Jesus cast out a demon several times. For instance, He cast out demons in a synagogue (1:23-26), at night (1:32-34), by the sea (3:10-12), in the country of the Gadarenes (5:1-17), and remotely for the Syro-Phoenician woman’s daughter (7:24-30). If that were not enough, Jesus also gave his disciples the ability to heal and cast out demons (6:13). Jesus was able to do this because He is God. And God can do anything.

    The demon was not happy to comply (9:26).

    It is interesting that the demon inside this boy was none too happy to be sent out. With cruelty in mind, the demon tormented the child a little more before obeying Jesus’ command. It cried out (although it was a mute spirit), caused him to go into severe convulsions, and left him lying on the ground as if dead. Demons are never happy to do God’s bidding and will often do as much as evil as they can get away with before obeying. Thankfully, Jesus was able to remove the demon and raise the child back to health despite the best efforts of the demon.

    Some situations require more than expected (9:28-29).

    You can imagine the chagrin of the disciples as they were publicly humiliated in front of the religious scribes and the large crowd of people. They had previously been given the ability to heal people and to cast out demons. But now they had failed. What had happened? Jesus told them that this kind of demon would not come out unless they prayed and fasted. It may be that “the disciples had failed because they had not prayerfully depended on God’s power.”5 But whatever the case, Jesus instructed them that there would be times when they would need to spend much time in prayer and even set aside food for a time to plead with God for help.

    How does it apply?

    There are times when you may feel very confident. The disciples had been very confident in their own abilities after seeing such success on their preaching and healing journeys. But this time, they were confronted with something they could not handle. This demon was more than they could handle. But the Lord was able to handle the situation. “The spirit who was too strong for the disciples, is at once cast out by the Master. He speaks with mighty authority, and Satan at once is obliged to obey.”12

    What do we learn here? We learn that the ultimate answer to all of our difficulties is found in Jesus. While there may be some things that God gives us the strength to handle, we must remember that it is He who enabled us to do those things. There will also be things that we are unable to handle in our own strength. “Let us learn a lesson of humility from the failure of the disciples. Let us strive to realize every day our need of grace and presence of Christ. With Him we may do all things. Without Him we can do nothing at all.”11

    As you go about your business this week, will you set aside your own self-confidence and rely on the Lord for every need you have? This is where you will find the strength, ability, and peace that you need. It is all found in Jesus. Will you trust Him?

Conclusion

Did you notice what is missing from the story? At the end of the miracle, Jesus lifts the boy by the hand and he gets up. But that is the last we hear from the boy or his father. We might say the same thing about many of the people whom Jesus healed. I wonder what happened to them after He left. There is no doubt that they never forgot what Jesus did for them. But did they come back and listen to Jesus’ teaching? Did they become His disciples? Did they spread the news about what He had done for them? We may never know.

Footnotes

1 Grassmick 144.
2 Grassmick 144.
3 Grassmick 144.
4 Edwards 277.
5 Grassmick 145.
6 Grassmick 145.
7 Lenski 376.
8 Lenski 377.
9 Lenski 382. He was referring to others who think this.
10 Lenski 382.
11 Ryle 182.
12 Ryle 184.

Bibliography

Edwards, James R., The Gospel According to Mark, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.

Grassmick, John D., “Mark” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1983.

Hiebert, D. Edmond, The Gospel of Mark, Greenville: BJU Press, 1994.

Lenski, R. C. H., Columbus: The Wartburg Press, 1946.

McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. 4, Matthew through Romans, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983.

Ryle, J. C., Ryle’s Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, Volume One, Matthew – Mark, Grand Rapids: Baker, reprint 1977.