Title: Instruction concerning faith
Scriptures to Read: Mark 9:14–32; Matthew 17:14–23; Luke 9:37–45
We’ve been listening to their conversation as they come down the mountain where the transfiguration occurred. Now as they return to the other nine disciples, what will they find? In verse 14, Mark notes two things that they find.
1. They find a large crowd around the other disciples.
2. They find there are scribes arguing with them. It will be the scribes who instigated this argument. No doubt the scribes were using the disciple’s inability to cast out this demon to refute Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah.
The demon was described as a violent demon, and Matthew adds in verse 15 that the boy was a lunatic. In Greek usage the word for lunatic is equivalent to being epileptic, afflicted with epilepsy, the symptoms of which were supposed to have become more aggravated during certain lunar periods. He often fell into the fire and also into water. This is an extreme example of demon possession. It includes epilepsy, and also suicidal proneness.
O unbelieving generation!
In Mark verse 19, notice Jesus’ emphasis on that generation: “O unbelieving generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you?” This is the generation that has rejected Him.
Next we see how Jesus heals the boy. Read Mark’s account, verses 19b – 27. He begins by instructing them to bring the boy to Him, which they did at the beginning of verse 20. And bringing the boy to Him means bringing him away from the multitude as is His policy after His rejection. The demon recognizes that he is about to have to leave and makes one last effort to destroy the boy. In verse 21, Jesus asked the father how long this has been happening and the father responds: “from childhood.”
I believe, help my unbelief
Then notice the expression of personal need at the end of verse 22: “but if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” However, the expression “if you can” is not an expression of faith but one of doubt. And that doubt must be removed before the miracle can be performed. So in verse 23, Jesus says to him: “If you can! All things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the father cries out: “I do believe; help my unbelief.” And this is an exercise of faith.
Notice how verse 25 begins: “When Jesus saw that a crowd was rapidly gathering, He rebuked the unclean spirit.” Remember that Jesus had the boy and his father removed from the crowd. Now, when He saw the crowd running toward him, and before they arrived, He casts the demon out. Again the miracle is not for the benefit of the masses anymore, so He does the miracle privately on the basis of personal need and faith.
Everything is settled, but not for the disciples. As we will see, they come to Him privately with a question. Read verses 28 – 29 of Mark’s account. What they want to know is: “why could we not drive it out?” Remember they have already been able to cast out demons, so why could they not cast it out this time? Jesus gives them two reasons:
1. The wrong method– In Mark verse 29, He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.” Here He says there is only one method to cast out this kind of demon. In other words, they used the wrong method. Unfortunately, most preachers and commentaries focus on the last three words, “only by prayer“. The point they make is that we should be praying more. But they are missing the real point of what Jesus is telling them. Notice how He begins: “this kind …” That raises the question: what kind was it? Look at the end of verse 17 of Mark. It was a mute demon. And in verse 25, Jesus addresses the spirit as you “deaf and mute spirit.” Remember that the casting out of a dumb demon was one of the messianic miracles that only the Messiah would be able to do. The Pharisees could cast out all kinds of demons except dumb or mute demons. So by this statement Jesus verifies that dumb demons are different from other demons. This was the first time that the disciples had dealt with a dumb demon. The others they could cast out in Jesus’ name. For all the other demons that method is sufficient. But a dumb demon is one you don’t cast out, or order out, you simply pray him out!
2. Faith– Matthew gives us the second reason. And in verse 20 Jesus gives the “littleness of [their] faith” as the reason why they could not cast out the demon. But He didn’t stop there. He goes on to explain this to them, “for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.” Notice that it is not any mountain they should be able to move, but a specific one: “this mountain.” Which mountain do you think He is referring to? If he means a literal mountain, He would be referring to Mt. Hermon, the mountain that He has just come down from. That is the mountain in the wider context here. But if He were not referring to that literal mountain what would He be referring to? When the word mountain is used symbolically, it is always used as a symbol of a king, kingdom or throne. In the immediate context, is there a king of a kingdom in view? Yes! In dealing with the dumb demon they had just had a war with the kingdom of Satan.
Now Jesus travels through Galilee privately with His disciples.
His coming death and resurrection
This is the second time He makes a clear statement concerning His death and resurrection. And for the second time they do not understand. This is another example of partial sight and partial blindness on the part of the disciples.