A Brief Commentary on Mark 9:1-29
Especially Addressing the Plea, “Help Me Overcome My Unbelief,” or Overcoming Our Jadedness
“And He said to them, Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power” (9:1 NIV).
The “Some Who Are Standing Here Will Not Taste Death Before They See That the Kingdom of God Has Come With Power” Conundrum: To whom did Jesus address this statement? The answer is found in the previous chapter. “Then He called the crowd to Him along with His disciples and said: Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me” (Mark 8:34 NIV). So, He addressed “the crowd” and “His disciples.” If He only addressed His disciples, then the complication would arise, which disciples? What event would some disciples see that the other disciples would not? But, this is not the case, since evidently “the crowd” (9:1 NIV) was being informed of a future event to be viewed by these “disciples,” as well.
If physical death (“not taste death”) was implied in Christ’s statement, then when would His disciples “see that the kingdom of God has come with power” (9:1 NIV)? Evidently, Christ was referring to the disciples’ witnessing His Resurrection, to which He referred only earlier in the same discourse (Mark 8:31). Both His Death and certainly His Resurrection were unexpected by His disciples at that time. And, Christ’s defeat of death through the “power of His Resurrection” (Philippians 3:10 NIV) transcends any expectation of a mortal mind. “And who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by His resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:4 NIV).
“After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with Him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There He was transfigured before them” (9:2 NIV).
Verse 1 is a continuation of the closing words of chapter 8; likewise, it is separate from the account of Christ’s transfiguration by six days. Some believe the “high mountain” (9:2) to be the southern ridge of Mt. Hermon (9,200 feet) about 12 miles northeast of Caesarea Philippi. “Transfigured” is from the Greek metemorphōthē, to be changed into another form, not simply in outward appearance. Peter, James, and John were later also with Christ agonizing in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was if they were being given a foretaste of a heavenly scene, advertising and raising their expectations of Christ, in particular, looking forward to Christ’s glory in His future resurrected state. “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived — the things God has prepared for those who love Him” (1Corinthians 2:9 NIV).
“His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them” (9:3 NIV).
Perhaps you have spilled bleach on a darker piece of clothing, resulting in ugly blotches of white. At the Transfiguration, dull white became exceeding “dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.” Perhaps the same kind of “dazzling white” was the effect upon Moses in the presence of the LORD at the giving of the Ten Commandments. “When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord” (Exodus 34:29 NIV).
“And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus” (9:4 NIV).
The LORD appeared to both Elijah and Moses on mountains. Moses received the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. “The Lord said to Moses, Come up to Me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone with the law and commandments I have written for their instruction” (Exodus 24:12 NIV). Elijah faced the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, where he challenged the people, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal is God, follow him” (1Kings 18:21 NIV). Both Moses and Elijah represented crucial turning points for the nation of Israel, where the people were facing a change in their thinking and relationship to God. The upcoming death and Resurrection of Christ would also mark a significant change in the disciples, starting with their realization that Christ would actually die, followed by the infusion of Resurrection Power at Pentecost. “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power” (1Corinthians 4:20 NIV). Whenever a change in God’s people is needed most (such as needing to understand the Resurrection of Christ), then God’s intervention should be most expected to bring about that change. “O LORD, revive Thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy” (Habakkuk 3:2 KJV).
“Peter said to Jesus, Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters — one for You, one for Moses and one for Elijah” (9:5 NIV).
Leadership often means taking the lead in speaking for others, but other times it means setting an example by being quiet and listening. Here, Peter would have set a better example by his silence; and, I, too, could learn from that admonition. “Sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongues” (Proverbs 10:19 NIV).
“(He did not know what to say, they were so frightened)” (9:6 NIV).
Only Perfect Love can control fear. Our lacking in love makes us vulnerable to fear. A heart seeking the highest good of God, and our neighbor as ourselves, clothes itself with Perfect Love. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1John 4:18 NIV). May God give us the reaction and wisdom to know when to be quiet.
“Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: This is My Son, whom I love. Listen to Him!” (9:7 NIV).
Clouds speak of God. “Look, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him” (Revelation 1:7 NIV). And, from a cloud, the Father reminded Peter and the disciples to be quiet and listen to Jesus.
“Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus” (9:8 NIV).
No Moses. No Elijah. No further voice from the cloud. Only Jesus remains. It is then pivotal to hear whatever Jesus is about to say. Better yet. To understand Jesus’ words would be crucial. “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding” (Proverbs 4:7 NIV).
“As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead” (9:9 NIV).
There Jesus did it again, talking about His rising from the dead. Must be important. What does He mean that He will die and rise again? Won’t we all die, then rise again? What makes this so special? Why did He restrict His disciples from sharing what they just saw on the mount? God knows what He wisely can reveal. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29 NIV). The disciples had more questions than answers. Evidently, not understanding the lesson Jesus attempted to teach at His Transfiguration would have crucial implications, like when Peter denied the Lord three times, after the Betrayal. “Teach me to do Your will, for You are my God; may Your good Spirit lead me on level ground” (Psalm 143:10 NIV).
“They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what rising from the dead meant” (9:10 NIV).
This scenario demonstrates God does not impose upon our consciousness understanding of His kingdom, which we are incapable of appreciating. We are told of Christ’s Second Coming. “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36 NIV). How could everyone not know? Because God restricts that understanding, and we are incapable of appreciating it. It appears the Resurrection was also such a topic at that time for Christ’s disciples.
“And they asked Him, Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?” (9:11 NIV).
Certainly, they argued of the meaning of Malachi. “5 See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction” (Malachi 4:5-6 NIV).
“Jesus replied, To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected?” (9:12 NIV).
Jesus assured them the veracity of Malachi’s prophecy, but immediately pointed the question to the suffering of the Son of Man. We must process the Scriptures with our understanding to properly arrive at their meaning. The Spirit of God will direct our thinking to arrive at the proper conclusions. “All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you” (Philippians 3:15 NIV).
“But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him” (9:13 NIV).
Jesus referred to John the Baptist and his execution by Herod (Mark 6:14-28). Malachi prophesied of John’s ministry, but John’s demise was both a modeling and harbinger of Christ’s prophesied death. Matthew’s Gospel reports Christ’s words, on the same occasion, and consequently interprets Marks report. “But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands” (Matthew 17:12 NIV).
“When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them” (9:14 NIV).
Jesus had just returned with Peter, James, and John from His Transfiguration. “The other disciples” (9:14) were involved in an argument with “teachers of the law,” while “a large crowd” watched. If you returned and your children were arguing with a large crowd, then you would probably want to intervene on behalf of your children. And, mark it down, though arguing may sound like a defense of the truth, it often means a poor understanding of truth, coupled with a commensurate lack of power of the Holy Spirit. “24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25 Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth” (2Timothy 2:24-25 NIV).
“As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet Him” (9:15 NIV).
Jesus did not need more publicity. To be “overwhelmed with wonder” (9:15 NIV) suggests a state of emotion, which invariably would express itself in action. They “ran to greet Him” (9:25 NIV). This would be normally good; however, emotion could actually interfere with Jesus’ attempt to develop understanding in them of who He was (the Messiah), who came to restore a people to Himself. “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be My people” (2Corinthians 6:16 NIV). Only the Spirit of God can select for us the right timing. “I being in the way, the LORD led me to the house of my master’s brethren” (Genesis 24:27 KJV).
“What are you arguing with them about? He asked” (9:16 NIV).
Jesus apparently directed the question, “What are you arguing with them about?” to the scribes, as reflected in the King James Version. “And He asked the scribes, What question ye with them” (Mark 9:16 KJV). He addressed immediately the interrogators.
“A man in the crowd answered, Teacher, I brought You my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech” (9:17 NIV).
The age old warfare of the wicked one against the Almighty manifests itself as an evil spirit in a young man, who has been robbed of his speech. Yes, inability to speak, at times, can be attributed to demon possession. The following verse gives more information, but it is enough for us to realize our situation. We do not operate in a vacuum without the complication of an adversary the devil, who “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1Peter 5:8 NIV). Whereupon, we are comforted, “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1Corinthians 15:57 NIV).
“Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not” (9:18 NIV).
The boy’s father describes the classic symptoms of epilepsy, which seem to be present, along with a muteness caused by demon possession described in the previous verse. A disciple would never be expected to cast out a demon, heal a boy of epilepsy, or enable the mute to speak; but, the Lord has already directed His disciples, “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give” (Matthew 10:8 NIV). And, He later commissions His disciples to do the same as they preach the Gospel to all nations. “They will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well” (Mark 16:18 NIV). But, the heartache of the father, no doubt, has been the anguish of disciples throughout the Church Age — “they could not.” But again,
“You unbelieving generation, Jesus replied, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to Me” (9:19 NIV).
The Unbelieving Generation Conundrum: Who does Jesus address as the “unbelieving generation”? Apistos and genea are the Greek words for “unbelieving generation” (9:19 NIV). Apistos can be translated faithless, unbelieving, and even infidel. Geneacan be translated generation, ages, nation, time. It appears Jesus was replying to the boy’s father. Whether or not He included His disciples, you already could well imagine their frustration and embarrassment from the failure to handle the situation. Was Jesus too harsh to address the anguished father as representative of an “unbelieving generation”? The father probably was more despairing than angry with the disciples, and less concerned about any affront from Jesus. The scribes, on the other hand, were probably more gloating, as if they had just won a debate, or overcome an opponent. But, the very fact that Jesus rebuked with the words “unbelieving generation” meant He expected them (and us) to have the faith to accomplish the healing. In other words, You have been given the power to do this, so why don’t you believe Me? But again, whenever a change in God’s people is needed most (such as the disciples healing the boy), then God’s intervention should be most expected to bring about that change. “Turn Thou us unto Thee, O LORD, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old” (Lamentations 5:21 KJV).
Do we try God’s patience? Sadly, but emphatically, yes! Jesus’ response was, “How long shall I put up with you?” (Mark 9:19 NIV). Is it God’s job to put up with us? Obviously, not! Peter commented on this matter. “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” (1Peter 4:18 NIV). Faith is so simple a little child (Matthew 18:3, Mark 10:15, Luke 18:17) may believe; but, if faith were so common, why is it not universal? “Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:14 NIV).
“Bring the boy to Me” (Mark 9:19 NIV). If the disciples were comprehending the source of their power, then they would have realized that confidence in Jesus should have been the secret to casting out the demon, correcting the muteness, and healing the epilepsy. Even modern medicine promises limited success. How much more would this qualify as miraculous, if the disciples would succeed in doing so with the boy? Later, some of the same disciples would succeed in causing a lame man to miraculously rise up and walk, but they had finally learned to bring the lame to Jesus. “12 When Peter saw this, he said to them: Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? 16 By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through Him that has completely healed him, as you can all see” (Acts 3:12, 16 NIV).
“So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth” (9:20 NIV).
“So they brought him,” that is, the boy was brought to Jesus. This is war, and the demonic forces were not about to rationally and thoughtfully surrender to the superior power of Jesus. But, they could do no more than what Jesus authorized, “for there is no authority except from God” (Romans 13:1 NKJV). The demons must seek permission from Jesus to act, such as when some demons requested to be cast into a herd of pigs. “12 The demons begged Jesus, Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them. 13 He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned” (Mark 5:12-13 NIV). Jesus allowed this final scene of the boy in convulsions, where “he fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth” (9:20 NIV), for the glory of God.
“Jesus asked the boy’s father, How long has he been like this? From childhood, he answered” (9:21 NIV).
Jesus compassionately questioned the father. How long has he been this way? From childhood. The boy’s father must have been impressed that Jesus cared enough to ask. “Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14 NIV). The glory of God is more significant than we are, because He is the Creator, and we are His creation. We understand that intellectually. But, we find it difficult emotionally to reconcile a child’s suffering with God’s glory, because we are only finite, created beings. We find it difficult to imagine angels spending eternity glorifying God.
“It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us” (9:22 NIV).
Satan’s agenda is simple: Satan first. He wants to supplant God. What moral insanity to proposition the LORD Jesus Christ, “If you worship me, it will all be Yours” (Luke 4:7 NIV)! Satan refuses to admit that God is the Creator, and he himself is only a created being. Even Satan could agree all should act in love, that is, to seek the highest good of being, but with the proviso, seek it according to himself being the greatest being. His moral insanity could manifest itself in an evil spirit inhabiting that young boy, even “throwing him into fire and water to kill him” (Mark 9:22 NIV). But, the LORD permitted it to glorify Himself. Again, only the feebleness of our understanding limits our appreciation of how or why allowing the boy to be afflicted by this demonic spirit could glorify God. The boy’s healing memorialized in the New Testament evidences God’s glory. Even when shielded from earthly human eyes, the heavenly host of angels and glorified saints witness the drama of God’s glory manifested on humankind. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1 NIV). Are the citizens of heaven impervious and indifferent to the plight of the saints on earth? Is not our victory, their victory, as well? When God is glorified, are they not also encouraged? So, the boy’s father’s plea, “If You can do anything, take pity on us and help us” (Mark 9:22 NIV), is also a challenge. But, could he imagine he was face-to-face questioning God-in-the-flesh, IF He had the ability to heal?
“If You can? said Jesus. Everything is possible for one who believes” (9:23 NIV).
Evidently, the New International Version (NIV) translators allowed the possibility of Jesus effectively making two replies. First, “If You can?” (9:23) meaning, Are you really asking Me, if I have the ability, power, and authority to heal? Second, “Everything is possible for one who believes” (9:23), which is an open empowerment of all the children of God. So limitless is the territory of Everything-Possible-Believes, idle usurpers may appropriate this promise to demonstrate its inability to deliver their requests. But, God is unafraid of this promise being rendered powerless and impotent by their misappropriation.
Scriptural Support for the Promise: “Everything is possible for one who believes” (Mark 9:23 NIV).
- Upheld and successful. “Early in the morning they left for the Desert of Tekoa. As they set out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, Listen to me, Judah and people of Jerusalem! Have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld; have faith in His prophets and you will be successful” (2Chronicles 20:20 NIV).
- Mustard seed faith. “He replied, Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, Move from here to there, and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20 NIV).
- Do not doubt, ask, receive. “21 Jesus replied, Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, Go, throw yourself into the sea, and it will be done. 22 If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (Matthew 21:21-22 NIV).
- Glory of God. “Then Jesus said, Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” (John 11:40 NIV).
- Faith to be healed. “He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed” (Acts 14:9 NIV).
- Yes and amen. “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are Yes in Christ. And so through him the Amen is spoken by us to the glory of God” (2Corinthians 1:20 NIV).
- God rewards earnest seekers. “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6 NIV).
“Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (9:24 NIV).
The “Help Me Overcome My Unbelief” Plea, or Overcoming Our Jadedness. The earnestness of the boy’s father was demonstrated when he exclaimed “immediately” (9:24 NIV), Greek, eutheōs, at once, directly, straightway, forthwith, anon, “I do believe” (the affirmation), joined hard to, “Help me overcome my unbelief” (the paradox). Faith and unbelief are exact opposites. If you have faith, you cannot have unbelief, at the same time. Jesus pronounced a Unity of Moral Action, where one ultimate end could not be pursued simultaneously with another. Since God is the only ultimate end sanctioned by fitness and true understanding, then anything else is a selfish substitution. “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Luke 16:13 NIV). James also succinctly described the impossibility of opposite results coming from the same source. “11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water” (James 3:11-12 NIV). Herein is the paradox of faith and unbelief. If the father of the boy in Mark 9 had faith (“I do believe”), could he have unbelief (“help me overcome my unbelief”) at the same time? Theologically, unquestionably no, faith and unbelief are diametric opposites; but, emotionally, yes, because that’s what it feels like. The boy’s father was unquestionably emotional; and, whenever we also feel stymied by our inability to see faith do more for us, we completely sympathize with the father’s angst!
How to Reconcile the Paradox of Faith (“I Believe”) and Unbelief (“Help Me Overcome My Unbelief”)
- Faith and unbelief are impossible to come out of the heart, at the same time. Again, as Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters” (Luke 16:13 NIV). And, as James said, “Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?” (James 3:11 NIV).
- Wavering between faith and unbelief is a transitory condition. Either “make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit” (Matthew 12:33 NIV).
- Both faith and unbelief are willful acts of moral choice; but, both can be misidentified with states of emotion. Faith may be mistaken for the emotion of euphoric happiness. Unbelief may be confounded with the feeling of depression. But, neither the emotions of euphoria or depression are accurate indications of one’s ultimate aim or purpose. Christ suffered extreme and indescribable anguish in Gethsemane. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38 NIV).
- The boy’s father did not have the faith to believe for his son’s healing. It was possible for him to choose the highest good of God (“I believe”), while experiencing the emotion of inadequacy (“Help me overcome my unbelief”). But, that father did not care, if we absolved him of unbelief, if his son could be healed. “I will not let You go unless You bless me” (Genesis 32:26 NIV).
- The baggage — and, not necessarily sinful baggage — we carry because of our past gets in the way of our perceptions, understandings, and expectations of God; else wise, why are not the deeds of the patriarchs, prophets, and apostles not ours in this present age? “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” (2Kings 2:14 NIV).
- In the above context of the “unbelief” of the boy’s father, both the inability to believe God and unwillingness to believe God are the sin of unbelief, for a “faithless and perverse generation” (Matthew 17:17 NIV), “hardness of heart” (Mark 16:14 NIV), and an “evil heart of unbelief” (Hebrews 3:12 NIV), are all anathema and rightfully condemned by God. But, to our utter amazement, we find that, like Israel, “God hath concluded them [the boy’s father, and us] all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all” (Romans 11:32 KJV). God now has us where He wants us, in that place where He can mercifully draws us to faith in Christ. “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws them” (John 6:44 NIV). Like salvation, faith is the “gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8); and, though we are commanded to immediately believe, only when God’s Spirit moves upon the heart, will we believe. Even as the “Lord opened her [Lydia’s] heart” (Acts 16:14 NIV), it is “God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose” (Philippians 2:13 NIV).
- Jesus is the solution to the paradox of faith and unbelief. “Bring the boy to Me” (Mark 9:19 NIV). Only Jesus can break through our jadedness, which is the hardened soil of what little our faith has experienced, based upon our understanding, and colored by the collective understanding of those around us and before us. For this reason, Jesus later counsels the disciples, “This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:29 KJV). In other words, the healing comes in answer to prayer from God, but fasting may be necessary to clear away any obstructions from us, sinful or otherwise.
“When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, He rebuked the impure spirit. You deaf and mute spirit, He said, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again” (9:25 NIV).
Jesus responds to the father’s impassioned plea at just the time “a crowd was running to the scene” (9:25 NIV). Jesus could have healed with no intention of gaining attention, as He did the leper — “Don’t tell anyone” (Luke 5:14 NIV). But, sometimes it serves the kingdom of God and the glory of God to allow the act be better known. Though Jesus came as the lowly Son of Man, both He and His Archenemy the Devil knew He was still the Lord of Glory (1Corinthians 2:8), so the demon well understood His meaning, when “He rebuked the impure spirit” (Mark 9:25 NIV). It is important to note, “You deaf and dumb spirit” (9:25 NIV) only indicated this particular case of deafness and muteness was identified with demon possession — not all cases of deafness or muteness are to be considered so. Jesus made that concept clear, when His disciples assumed a case of blindness indicated sin on either the parents or son’s part. “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, said Jesus, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3 NIV). The majesty of the authority of Jesus is felt in how He cast out the demon. “I command you” (9:25 NIV). Personal power so well known, the demons would say to impostor exorcists, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” (Acts 19:15 NIV). Merely invoking the Name of Jesus will be so consequential “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” (Revelation 5:13 NIV). So thorough is the cleansing, Jesus not only demands, “Come out of him” (Mark 9:25 NIV), but “never enter him again” (9:25 NIV)! This seeming afterthought may be more consequential than first perceived, since Jesus reminds us of the tale of the return of an unclean spirit. “43 When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. 44 Then it says, I will return to the house I left. When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. 45 Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first” (Matthew 12:43-45 NIV).
“The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, He’s dead” (9:26 NIV).
No debate about departing, but immediately the “spirit shrieked” (9:26 NIV), as if frightened by a Greater Power. “4 I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear Him” (Luke 12:4-5 NIV). The demonic spirit “convulsed him violently” (Mark 9:26 NIV), if that drama could do any lasting harm, but, to his displeasure, he “came out” (9:26 NIV), as if he had any choice in the matter. So thoroughly had the unclean spirit mastered the boy’s physical body, his departure appeared to rob him of any physical presence. He “looked so much like a corpse that many said, He’s dead” (9:26 NIV), which would not have unnerved Jesus, since He could cure that, too!
“But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up” (9:27 NIV).
The centrality and instrumentality of Jesus affecting the change in the boy is most important. Though Jesus can and does use secondary means, it is still His healing power that makes the difference. If this were not so, how can missionary hospitals spread the Gospel to foreign lands, if they only become more impressed with the greater scientific and medical prowess of the seeming more affluent nations? Why didn’t Jesus simply command sight into the blind man? Instead, “He spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. Go, He told him, wash in the Pool of Siloam (this word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing” (John 9:6-7 NIV). So accustomed are we to the instrumentality of science and medicine, we, as the secular humanists do, see only the secondary means, and do not give the glory to God. Or, if we do profess His part in the healing, we nearly feel it so commonplace that it is not worthy of our adulation of God. (Though, we would never say that aloud.) Is that not jadedness? Remember, jadedness means “dulled or dissipated by overindulgence.” Any wonder God must change up His delivery to us, so as to arouse us from our sleep? Whatever causes us a greater sense of emotion or participation in whatever seemed common or pedestrian to us, is sufficient for the God of Heaven to gain our attention. “O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the LORD” (Jeremiah 22:29 KJV). Any wonder God needs to punctuate the history of the world with an apocalyptic ending? “And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and He shall reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 11:15 KJV). True to form, Jesus the Healer, “took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet” (Mark 9:27 NIV), with the result “he stood up” (9:27 NIV). Likewise, modern physical therapy requires the cooperation of the patient. As Jesus reminded us, “My Father is always at His work to this very day, and I too am working” (John 5:17 NIV).
“After Jesus had gone indoors, His disciples asked Him privately, Why couldn’t we drive it out?” (9:28 NIV).
Let us not condescend on the disciples, for we, too, want to know, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” (9:28 NIV). Away from the crowds, afterwards, privately, the question is asked. Do we even understand what casting out a demon means? Remember the seven sons of Sceva? “13 Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, In the name of the Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out. 14 Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. 15 One day the evil spirit answered them, Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you? 16 Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding” (Acts 19:13-16 NIV). Do we confound simple physical malfunction or psychological illness with a necessity of demon possession? Or, do we sometimes not realize the extent of the possibility of an evil spirit influencing aspects of physical and psychological conditions? Certainly, modern secular institutions, by now, have much to say about the treatment of such things. What cannot be limited or regulated by the institutions of man is the reply of Jesus to this question, in the following verse.
“He replied, This kind can come out only by prayer” (9:29 NIV).
To this, I would add the King James Version (KJV), of Mark 9:29: “This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.” Man’s institutions may influence, even mandate that we not pray to God, as demanded of Daniel. “The royal administrators, prefects, satraps, advisers and governors have all agreed that the king should issue an edict and enforce the decree that anyone who prays to any god or human being during the next thirty days, except to you, Your Majesty, shall be thrown into the lions’ den” (Daniel 6:7 NIV). But, though prayer is required by God for Him to act, most certainly, God designs prayer to organize and rearrange the way we think and act, before He acts for us. Though the KJV includes “fasting” and the NIV includes only “prayer,” neither one was done for Jesus’ healing of the boy. Obviously, the boy would not have been healed at that time, if they had to begin and complete a season of prayer and fasting. Had the disciples been spiritually prepared with prayer and fasting, they would have cast out the demon, as Jesus did.
See the above entry, ”Scriptural Support for the Promise: ‘Everything is possible for one who believes’ (Mark 9:23 NIV),” for additional comments on the significance of God’s promises in prayer. Encouragement to pray is found in the Lord’s Prayer of Matthew 6, where God’s “will be done” (6:10 NIV), not our will, is the first priority of prayer, in establishing His kingdom, not our kingdom; but, Jesus knew full well, our personal circumstances would be used by God to awaken our prayer requests. Luke 11:1-13 sets forth a parallel teaching on prayer, where Jesus is recorded twice of saying the same thing, laying particular emphasis on His promise to answer prayer. “9 So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Luke 11:9-10 NIV).
God’s Chosen Fast is outlined in Isaiah 58. “5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? 6 Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?” (Isaiah 58:5-6 NIV). Here too, fasting is represented as humbling one’s self before God for the purpose of doing good to others. But again, it becomes plain the positive impact upon the one doing the fasting is numerous, only to name a few: (1) God “will be your rear guard” (Isaiah 58:8 NIV) — “I’ve got your back!” “I’ve got your six!” (2) You will pray “and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and He will say: Here am I” (Isaiah 58:9 NIV). (3) the LORD “will strengthen your [physical] frame” (Isaiah 58:11 NIV) or “make fat Thy bones” (Isaiah 58:11 KJV) — a promise of special modern significance to sisters with osteoporosis, and (4) You will find delight in the LORD — “then you will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob. The mouth of the Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 58:14 NIV).