Scripture – Mark 9:14-29
I would like to re-tell this story in an expository way so we can get a better idea as to what is going on, and perhaps gain a little insight into the real story. A child, possessed by an evil spirit, was brought to the disciples, and they could not cast it out…At which time the teachers of the law seized the moment and began to argue with the disciples. They were probably arguing over the supposed power they, or their leader Jesus, did or did not have. Jesus comes on the scene – probably to the relief of the disciples – and asks what they are arguing about….But, before they can answer, the father of the child comes forward to explain the situation. Notice the words of verse 17 – “Teacher, I brought YOU my son”…. (We can assume then that because Jesus wasn’t there at the time, his disciples thought they would just do it! After all, it says in chapter 6 verse 13 that when Jesus sent them out that “they drove out many demons and healed the sick”.) However, the words “O unbelieving generation” in verse 19 give us a bit of a clue as to part of the reason why the disciples could not cast out this spirit; neither the people nor the teachers of the law believed the disciples could do it.
I sometimes wonder if anything has changed. Even today we have an easy time believing that God can heal – and Jesus can heal – but we look with unbelief and doubt at someone who has the “gift of healing” as we call it today. “Jesus can heal… Jesus can cast out spirits…but, these disciples are just mere men…”
The fact that Jesus asks the question; “How long has he been like this?” would seem to shed some light on the subject as well. It would seem that the longer an evil spirit is in control, the harder it is to get it to leave. It has such great power over the person that it takes great power to over-come. The same is true by the way for some habits and sins! The longer we give them control over us, the harder it is to overcome. Just ask an alcoholic or a drug addict or even someone who has been a smoker for many years. It requires a greater power working with them on their part and it requires greater compassion and grace on our part.
Then the father says; “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” “If YOU CAN?” says Jesus. Again, with the unbelief thing! Then the man says; “O, I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief”… He by whom all things were created that are in heaven, and that are in earth, He whose name is Jehovah-Rophi, “The Lord that healeth thee” was standing before him, and yet his faith could reach no higher than “If you can do anything”. And yet – catch this now, Jesus did not cast the unbelieving man away from Him. Jesus never can deny that word, “He that comes unto me, I will in no wise cast out.” He sent him home a happy father with his child made whole. I believe these things are written for our admonition, how unbelief appears in another… and yet how little I perceive the same dishonoring thoughts of Christ when they lurk in my own mind. I feel as if I never could use such language to Jehovah Jesus – and yet how many times in the day do I doubt both His love and His power? How often, when guilt is on my conscience, do I doubt whether He will be entirely willing to forgive? How often, in an hour of temptation, do I doubt he will help me to stand. How often these words are really my words; “If you can do anything, have compassion on me, and help me.” And yet for all our unbelief, He does not send us away empty. Faith, as a grain of mustard seed, obtains everlasting benefits….
Though He had to call His disciples, “Ye of little faith”, that did not hinder Him from rebuking the winds and the sea for them! In like manner though we may have “little faith” we can go to Him with such faith as we have, and He will in no wise, no way, no how, cast us out!
Back to our story – Jesus casts out the evil spirit and the boy looks dead…but he is not…Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up. Now, here’s the disciples – scratching their heads, going – “How come we couldn’t do that?” And, Jesus gives us another clue when he says; “This kind can come out only by prayer”.
This can have several meanings; one suggestion is that the disciples were taking for granted all that they were able to do in Jesus name; Another is similar in that they had forgotten where their power came from, and just assumed the spirit would come out just because they told it to! In the Book of Acts chapter 19 we read a story of some false disciples – “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 Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” One day the evil spirit answered them, (that’s scary…) “Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them – and slapped them silly! He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.”…. You better know what you are doing before you invoke the likes of an evil spirit!
The third suggestion as to why the disciples couldn’t do it is a lack of prayer. All this takes place just prior to Jesus teaching on prayer. In Luke 11:1 we read: “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray…” I would suggest that the reason the disciples could not cast out the evil spirit is for all three reasons.
If there is a secret to effective prayer, we would have to look at the example of Jesus. First, Jesus always found a quite place…. A place to be alone with God; away from the noise and other interruptions. Second, Jesus found a quiet time…. He usually prayed in the morning before his day was filled with the crowds and the stresses of life. If we wait until our day gets full, prayer will be crowded out. And, third, He had a quiet heart… “Be still and know that I am God”…Jesus took the time to wait upon God, to listen, to meditate. If all the time we can spare is a couple of minutes to rattle off a few requests and say “Amen”…we won’t have a very effective prayer life.
Jesus was an amazement to his own disciples. Life with Jesus was like nothing they had ever experienced before. They were astonished at his wisdom in the face controversy and authority. They watched him walk through life as if he didn’t have a care in the world; yet his compassion showed that he cared more than anyone they had ever met. They watched him day and night, hoping to find the secret to his wisdom and the power behind his actions. They watched him while he prayed; and it seems they finally made the connection; “Lord, teach us to pray.”
This unknown disciple who watched Jesus pray, perhaps noticed that his own prayer life was more of an optional thing. He prayed when there was a necessity or need, or an emergency… But, we must begin to see prayer as a necessity to all of life. We need to see prayer as the way we come to know God and what He desires to do in and through us; before we can have an effective prayer life at all. God will do some things in spite of us…but, He longs to work with us. That’s why it says “All things are possible WITH God”… So, Pray