I Believe and Don’t Believe – Mark 9:14-29
Good morning! If you have a Bible, I invite you to turn to the Gospel according to Mark. If you can grab a Bible, we’re going to be in Mark 9:14-29, this morning.
Mark 9, beginning in verse 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.’”
Last week, in Mark’s Gospel, we were up on the mount of transfiguration. And what we discovered is that we become what we behold. When we behold lesser things, then we will become like them. But if we behold the glory and majesty of Jesus Christ, then we will become like Him.
And we saw that the way in which we behold the glory of the Lord is through the Scriptures, as the Spirit of God speaks to us through the Word of God. When we are regularly beholding the glory of the Lord, when we are regularly in the Scriptures being transformed into the image of Jesus Christ through the work of the Spirit, this leads us to a kind of mountaintop experience in the Christian life.
Peter exclaimed, while on that mountain, beholding the glory of Christ, “It is good that we are here.” It is good for us to regularly experience these spiritual highs in the Christian life, as they tend to rejuvenate our souls.
But then, as we just read in our text, we were never intended to stay on the top of the mountain. Eventually, God wants us to come down to the valley. He wants us to be His ambassadors, ministering to the hurting and the suffering. He wants us serving real people, devastated by the effects of the Fall and sin. He wants us to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Jesus.
This is going to require dependence upon Jesus. But what we’re going to see, for our time together, this morning, is that even when we are weak, Jesus is strong, and His power is made perfect in weakness. Whether we are coming down from the mountain and into the valley, so to speak, or whether we have been in the valley for some time, we will see that Jesus is more than sufficient for us.
And we pick up our text as Jesus and His inner circle of three disciples—Peter, James and John—are descending down the mountain and into the valley below. And just as Moses came down from Mount Sinai to confront rebellion and idolatry and just as Elijah came down from Mount Carmel to face the paganism of Jezebel and Ahab, so also does Jesus come down from the mount of transfiguration to be confronted by trouble.
Verse 14 says that a great crowd had gathered around the remaining disciples, and that the scribes were there, arguing with them. But as soon as the crowd of people see Jesus, verse 15 says that they “were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him.”
And we see what the scribes and the disciples of Jesus were arguing about, in verse 16, when someone calls out from the crowd, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. 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.”
Here we have the scribes, quite possibly, taking advantage of an opportunity to attack Jesus and to question His authority, as a result of Jesus’ disciples being unable to heal this child. This would have been very embarrassing for the disciples, as this would have reflected badly on them, but it also would have reflected badly on Jesus. But we must also not forget that these were the very same disciples who were casting out demons, back in Mark 6.
If you remember, Jesus sent out His disciples, two by two, with authority over the unclean spirits. And Mark 6:13 says that “they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.” And it says that they had so much success that they came back from their journey, telling Jesus everything they had done and taught.
But here, these same disciples now had a case before them that they could not cast out. You can imagine that they were embarrassed and confused and potentially angry that they could not cast this demon out, especially with the scribes right there, ready to pounce on them with their condemnation.
This would have been a very humbling experience for the disciples, as they were learning dependence upon Jesus. We are reminded, in this moment, of John 15:5, where Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
We don’t like the idea that we can do nothing without Christ. We like to think we are self-sufficient. But that’s not what we read in Scripture. Ephesians 2:1 says, “You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked.”
There is no part of us that can do anything apart from Christ, because what can dead men do? Nothing. They’re dead. We cannot bear fruit, we cannot live a godly life, we are helpless “against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places,” apart from Christ.
How humbling it would have been for these disciples to have this father bring his son to them, who has some kind of demon in him, in hopes that they will be able to heal him, only to not be able. It seems as though they have forgotten their daily need for the grace and presence of Christ in their lives.
Here is a father, and maybe some of you can empathize with him, who is at the end of his rope and has nowhere else to turn, and who has come for healing for his son, but has not received it.
This child isn’t simply ill. He doesn’t just have some form of epilepsy. He is being assaulted by a demon that the father, in verse 22, is going to say “has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him.” And we are reminded that demons are real. They are intent on inflicting pain, and ultimately, death. And they are ready to pounce on us with their condemnation when we fail.
But when all human hopes and efforts have been exhausted, and we’ve come to the end of our rope, we can turn to Jesus. In all of our sinfulness and weakness, for looking to ourselves and other things to help us, He is where we can turn to, when we are confronted by our enemies of sin and sickness and the demonic. It’s not like we graduate from Jesus and go on to better things. No, Jesus is the point, the goal, at every stage of our lives.
And we see Jesus’ exasperation and frustration, in verse 19, when He says, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?”
Those are cutting words from Jesus, but recognize what He’s getting at. Jesus is coming face to face with unbelief. He is coming face to face with the sin that ravaged the garden of Eden, when the serpent said to the woman, “Did God actually say?” He is coming face to face with the consequences of living in a fallen world that lacks faith in God.
And so, Jesus’ questions are as pertinent today as they were nearly two thousand years ago. Do we believe? Do we have faith? Notice that it’s not the amount of faith we have, but the object of our faith that matters.
One pastor writes, “The key is not the depth of our faith, but the direction of our faith. The key is not the potency of our faith, but the person our faith is in.”
In 2 Corinthians 12:9, the Lord says to the apostle Paul, who was wrestling with his “thorn in the flesh,” “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” We don’t need a certain amount of faith. A frail faith in a strong Saviour is sufficient. What matters is the object of our faith.
Jesus says, “Bring him to me.” And verse 20 says that “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.” Jesus then asks his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And the father replies, “From childhood.”
And I just want to pause here so that we can see the importance of influencing our children and grandchildren toward the things of God at a young age. Do we see how early the devil endeavours to influence the minds of young people? From childhood, it says. He comes after them when they’re young.
And we see this today, right? All children need to do is listen to music, turn on the television, or go on the Internet, and they are bombarded with the message that they are their own god and that nothing matters in life but finding self-satisfaction.
The devil does not play fair. He attacks our children’s self-worth, he convinces our children that they are not fearfully and wonderfully made and that they need to pursue ideal body images, he keeps our children distracted away from the Word of God, he tempts our children with worldly possessions that he promises will bring fulfillment. And he begins these tactics at childhood.
There is a war going on for the souls of our children and grandchildren, and we all play some role in it. Every time we care for kids in any capacity, or advocate for the unborn and the orphan, or train up our children and grandchildren in the way they should go, we are wrestling demons.
Listen, if young hearts can be filled by Satan, like what we are seeing here with this child, then they can also be filled with the Spirit of God. And when we are at the end of our rope in the fight for the souls of our children and grandchildren, guess what, when we are weak, God is strong. And while the devil hates the little children of the world, Jesus loves the little children of the world, and He is on our side in the fight. And we must trust in Jesus with what little faith we might have.
We see this in the father’s plea, in verse 22: “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” This father is rightly turning to Jesus, after he has exhausted all of his efforts and has no other options, but notice what he has just said. He says to Jesus, “If you can do anything….”
This is a little different than the leper, back in Mark 1:40, who came to Jesus, saying, “If you will, you can make me clean.” You see, the leper knew that Jesus could heal him, the question for him was whether Jesus would.
At the root of this father’s question though is not the willingness of Jesus to show compassion on them and heal his son, but the ability of Jesus to do so. “Are you able to do something? Do you have the ability to fix my situation?” That’s at the heart of this father’s question.
And Jesus’ response, in verse 23, is, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Jesus is pointing out that the problem is not divine willingness or ability, but human unbelief. Jesus is more than able to heal. The problem is human unbelief in Jesus’ ability to heal.
Now, does that mean that if the father had only believed hard enough for healing for his son, that he would be healed? Is that what Jesus means by “all things are possible for one who believes?” Do we just need to believe hard enough and have enough faith?
Turn over to 2 Corinthians 12. I’ve referenced this passage a few times, so we might as well go here to see what relevance it has. The apostle Paul had what he called a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass him, to keep him from becoming conceited.
Whatever this “thorn” was, in 2 Corinthians 12:8, the apostle Paul says, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Do you think the apostle Paul didn’t have enough faith? Do you think he didn’t believe hard enough? Do you think that if he had asked God four or even five times, then it would have been removed?
How about Jesus? In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prays, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And it’s like God the Father says, “No, it’s not possible,” because immediately after that, Jesus prays, again, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”
Surely, we cannot look at Jesus and go, “He just needed to have more faith, He just needed to believe hard enough, and then He would have been spared from the cross.” God help us, if we ever come to that conclusion. No, I don’t believe that is what Jesus is saying here when He says, “All things are possible for one who believes.”
It’s like Romans 8:28, which says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” This isn’t saying that everything will work out for the good that we have in mind, but for the good of God and the gospel. No, it’s the will of God, not our will, that should have preeminence in our lives. But then, what does it mean when Jesus says, “All things are possible for one who believes?”
It means that it is possible to speak like Job in a time of such devastating loss and suffering, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” It means that it is possible to rejoice “when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” It means that it is possible for me, if I believe, to bear any burden, endure any pain, suffer any loss, pass through any shame. All things are possible for one who believes.
What do you have to do? You have to believe. You have to trust Jesus. Jesus says to this father, “All things are possible for one who believes.” This could mean that his son will be healed, but what it certainly means is that Jesus is sufficient, even if he isn’t healed. That’s the hope for the one who believes.
And it causes this father to cry out, in verse 24, “I believe; help my unbelief!” Goodness, isn’t this where all of us have been at some point in our lives? I don’t know, maybe this is where some of you are at, now. How many of us have said to God, “I believe, but there's still a part of me that’s doubting that this is true.”
Last month, this was me. We go to get an ultrasound done for our baby, because we were having some complications, and we hear this good news that the baby is active and has a good heartbeat. That’s amazing! But I’m not going to lie, there was still a part of me that was skeptical. I wasn’t sure if I fully believed it.
How ridiculous is that, right? And obviously, anything can happen. You can lose the baby at any stage of the pregnancy. But in that moment, God was given us grace, He was giving us good news, and my initial response was, “I believe, but there's still a part of me that’s holding back.”
And how good is Jesus in this moment, right? He doesn’t chastise this father for having a frail faith. He doesn’t rebuke him for having doubts and fears and questions. I mean, the guy just witnessed the inability of Jesus’ disciples to heal his son. But he has the mustard-seed beginnings of faith.
This father is giving to Jesus what little faith he has. He is yielding his insufficiency to the true sufficiency of Jesus. He is asking Jesus to help him overcome his unbelief. He is asking Jesus to help him, in spite of himself.
And in verse 25, we see that Jesus does heal his son. Jesus rebukes the unclean spirit, saying, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”
And after some screams and convulsing, the demon comes out of the boy, leaving him almost dead. But Jesus takes him by the hand and raises him back to life. And in Luke’s account, in Luke 10:43, it says that “all were astonished at the majesty of God.” The miracle pointed them to the greatness of God.
But the disciples are still wondering why they couldn’t cast the demon out, so they ask Jesus why, to which Jesus replies, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” Meanwhile, I’m thinking, “There are kinds of demons that come out of people a certain way.” How terrifying is that?
But the point is that however terrifying they might be, it is not as terrifying as the awesome power of God to command demons to go and to raise to life what they destroy. There is no contest between what God can do and what the devil and his demons can do.
The devil may be strong and conniving and malicious and prowling “around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour,” but we must not soon forget that Jesus “is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him.” Jesus still lives. He is still on His throne. And He has said, in John 10:28, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one,” not even Satan himself, “will snatch them out of my hand.”
That’s the guarantee of faith. Jesus doesn’t save us because of how much faith we have, but because our faith is in His ability to save. And this is really good news for us. It’s good news to know that when we are weak, He is strong.
And that’s the posture of prayer. Prayer is acknowledging that, in and of ourselves, we can do nothing. Prayer makes us dependent upon God, because we realize that the power to make the impossible, possible, is not found in myself, but in God alone, who must come and do this thing.
The reason the disciples couldn’t drive this demon out was because they thought they were self-sufficient. After all, they had cast out demons before. But they hadn’t come to the end of themselves. They hadn’t acknowledged their inability.
The reality is that God calls us to tasks beyond our abilities, so that when we are at the end of our rope, we will see how much we need Christ. God does give us more than we ourselves can handle, so that our attitude of self-sufficiency will break and we will find ourselves dependent upon the only One who is both able and willing to deliver, and even if He doesn’t, we still believe. That’s faith.
In Daniel 3, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are brought before King Nebuchadnezzar, who is angry with them, because they will not bow down and worship his golden image. And King Nebuchadnezzar says to them, “If you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?”
And I just love their response. They say to him, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
That is true faith. God will deliver us, but even if He doesn’t, we will still believe and will not serve your gods. And here's the good news of Jesus Christ: God will deliver us. It might not be on this side of glory, but He will deliver all those who follow Jesus, when Jesus comes again to fully and finally restore all things.
You see, Jesus is able to save to the uttermost, because Jesus would eventually go to the cross to pay the penalty for your sin and my sin. Through faith in the work of Jesus on the cross, and Jesus’ work alone, we are saved. And though we are not guaranteed deliverance from pain and loss and shame and death, in this life, we will most certainly be delivered when Christ returns.
So, I don’t know who here feels weak and inadequate and unable, but if you do, I’m with you. In fact, I would say that if you don’t feel weak and inadequate and unable, if you feel strong in your own ability, then I would say you have a problem with self-sufficiency, like the disciples, and you need to give that over to Jesus.
The point of this text is not the boy, it’s not the father, it’s Jesus. Jesus is giving us a glimpse of what the kingdom of God looks like when it invades earth. He is showing that He is strong and mighty to save. He will ultimately reign victorious and will have dominion over all things.
If you are here this morning and you don’t know Jesus, if you have not put your faith in Jesus, then I would encourage you to do so today. If you believe, if you have the mustard-seed beginnings of faith, but there's still part of you that doesn’t believe fully, then I would just encourage you to look to Jesus.
Like the hymn: “Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in His wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.”
It doesn’t make the problems of this life go away, but if you are here this morning, and you are struggling with unbelief, if your faith in Jesus is frail and weak, because of a situation you are going through in the valley, then let me encourage you, Jesus is more than sufficient in the midst of your insufficiency.
The Jesus on the top of the mountain in all of His glory is the same Jesus down in the valley with us, as we wrestle with unbelief and hostility and pain and loss. He is greater than all of that, and He is encouraging us come to Him.
May we be a people who find ourselves dependent upon the sufficiency of Christ, even when we find it hard to believe. Let’s pray…