Friday, January 25, 2013

Mk 9:14-29 - Almighty Power, Meager Faith, Merciful Response

This message outline that I prepared, entitled “ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE FOR ONE WHO BELIEVES,” was delivered at my church's Youth Fellowship on 12 January 2013.

taken from
Before East Timor gained independence in 2002, the Philippines was the only predominantly Christian nation in Asia, and this was a source of pride for many. Indeed, Christianity has had a much longer history here than anywhere else in Asia, as seen in many aspects of our culture and our annual celebrations. The latest of these celebrations occurred last January 9, when eight million devotees gathered in Manila to celebrate the Feast of the Black Nazarene. Every year, devotees line the streets and brave the dense crowds as an expression of their piety, and in the hope that God will grant their prayers—perhaps for healing, or for financial blessing, or for a successful courtship. And yet they are blind to who Jesus really is.

The yearly spectacle of the Feast of the Black Nazarene is a poignant reminder of the unbelief that characterizes people all over the world, and even Filipinos, who boast about being Christian! At the same time, it shows us our need to understand what it really means to confess Jesus as the Christ.

TEXT: Mark 9:14-29

Exegetical Data. The passage belongs to a segment of the Gospel of Mark wherein Jesus is revealed as the Messiah who must suffer and die. This segment begins with Peter's confession of Jesus as the Christ in Mark 8:27-30. After this follow three instances when Jesus tells His disciples that He must be rejected and killed by men, but He will also rise from the dead.
     It is also the time when Jesus is preparing his disciples to carry on without Him. For the past two years, they had enjoyed Jesus' physical presence. But within a few months' time, Jesus would be crucified, resurrected, and brought up to heaven. They would be left to carry on as His witnesses on earth, and they had to be prepared for that time. One of the lessons He teaches them, therefore, is how to live by faith.
     In the more immediate context, our passages contrasts with the one immediately preceding it: Jesus' transfiguration on the mount (9:2-26).

  • Transfiguration on the Mount: Jesus' glory revealed to Peter, James and John. Jesus talks with Elijah and Moses—the greatest prophets of the Old Testament. The disciples are terrified by Jesus' glory. The disciples encounter the heavenly Father and His glorified Son. The Father declares that Jesus is His beloved Son. The Father commands the disciples to listen to Jesus.
  • Healing of the Demon-Possessed Boy in the Valley: Jesus's glory concealed from the people. Jesus talks with the unbelieving generation—the scribes, the crowd, the father and his son, the nine disciples. The people treat Jesus with irreverence. Jesus encounters an earthly father and his demon-possessed son. The father of the boy doubts Jesus' authenticity. The father is barely able to believe in Jesus, the scribes oppose Jesus, and the crowds are more interested in seeing a spectacle than understanding Jesus' teaching.
     All three synoptic Gospels have this account. All of them begin with Peter's confession, followed by Jesus' first declaration that He must suffer, die, and rise gain, after which the Transfiguration event occurs, then the healing of the demon-possessed boy, and finally Jesus' second declaration of his suffering, death, and resurrection. Although Matthew, Mark, and Luke all contrast Jesus' experience on the mount and His subsequent experience in the valley, Mark does it most emphatically. He does this by including many details that are unique to his account, which highlight the prevalence of faithlessness in the world.

Significance to Present & Application
     Mark's account most sharply condemns unbelief towards the Christ, and most beautifully illustrates Christ's loving, self-sacrificial condescension to the weak and needy—two things that all people need to understand and believe. The church, in particular, needs to be reminded that we live in a “faithless generation,” and if we're to live by faith the way Jesus wants us to, then we to stand apart from the world. If we fail to do this, then we will be weak, immature, ineffective servants, just like the disciples who were unable to drive away the demon.

     The main theme of the passage is captured in Jesus' two statements in verse 19 and verse 23. The first is a lamentation over the unbelief prevalent in the generation, and the second is a call to faith in Him.
     “Faithless Generation.” In verse 19, Jesus exclaims “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?” We see an exasperated Jesus, who is finding it very difficult to tolerate the sinners surrounding Him.
     “Generation.” For most of the times when the word “generation” is used in the New Testament, it has a negative connotation. Jesus spoke about it the most, and He had nothing good to say about it! On several occassions He described the generation as evil and adulterous, unbelieving and perverted, sinful, and wicked. Among the apostles, Peter and Paul use the word only once. In Acts 2:40, Peter called the people of Jerusalem to “Be saved from this perverse generation”. In Phil 2:15 Paul contrasted the children of God with the “crooked and perverse generation”.
     To whom was Jesus' indictment directed? Primarily, to the people who were with Jesus at the time: the father of the boy, the immature disciples, the stubborn scribes, and the crowds. Each of these groups reflected in different ways the faithlessness of the generation. Secondarily, to all people who have lived or are living in the Messianic Age (the period innagurated by the coming of Jesus). See Lk 21:32. And so, Jesus' lament in Mk 9:19 over the “faithless generation” may be applied not only to the people present at the time, not only to the nation of Israel at the time, but to all people of the world who came after Christ.
     “Faithless.” The word “faithless” can refer to either to one who fails to believe the gospel, or one who believes the gospel, but is unfaithful to live by it. The first sense applies to the scribes and the crowds. The second sense applies to the disciples. The father of the boy transitions from the first to the second sense in response to Jesus' call to faith (v.23).
     Now, let us examine these four groups in turn.

     After His Transfiguration, Jesus returned to the nine disciples who were waiting at the foot of the mountain. He then saw them surrounded by a great crowd, and arguing with the scribes.
     Who were the scribes? They were scholars of the Torah. Some were priests, others Sadduccees, but majority were Pharisees. In any case, they belonged to the intellectual, social, and religious elite of Jewish society.
     The scribes were exemplars of the “faithless generation.”
  • They were the leaders and teachers of the people, but they twisted the word of God. Taught man-made doctrines as though they were from God, while they ignored the actual commandments of God (7:7ff). Were very particular about observing the finer points of God's word, yet failed to practice the more important things: justice, mercy, faithfulness (Mt 23:23). Had a holier-than-thou attitude and were strangers to the gracious compassion of God toward repentant sinners. Many misused their authority to elevate themselves in society.
  • In God's eyes, their religion was a sham!
  • Ultimately proven when their hostility toward Jesus led them to have Jesus condemned and crucified.
Challenge: Who are the scribes today? They are those who...
  • Insist on meriting salvation, so that they do not see their utter sinfulness and need for Jesus' atoning sacrifice. Cf. Lk 18:10ff, the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.
  • Care more what people say than what God says. Fashion... friends... manhood & womanhood... love & sex... possessions.
  • Appear to be very devout, but have no real love for Christ.

     The crowds probably came from nearby towns, wanting to see Jesus and have their sick healed.
     The Crowds in the Ministry of Jesus. Throughout Jesus' three-year ministry, He attracted large crowds everywhere He went. In the Gospel of Mark, crowds are said to gather around Jesus in every chapter except two (13 and 16). Characterized as desirous of healing, astonished at Jesus' teaching (11:18), and unable to understand that teaching.
     The crowds were typical of the “faithless generation.” They were often supportive of Jesus' ministry. But this support was superficial, because they did not understand who He was (8:27) or what He taught (7:14ff). They were also fickle (contrast 11:18 and 15:8ff). Unlike the scribes, they failed to believe out of ignorance. They were oblivious to spiritual realities.
     Challenge: Are we like the crowds? Is our religion superficial? Is our faith fickle?

     The nine disciples were told to wait in the valley, at the foot of the mountain. They had been given authority to carry out Jesus' ministry: preaching, healing, exorcism (3:14-15; 6:12-13). The nine continued to minister while waiting for Jesus, Peter, James and John. It was while they were doing this that they encountered the demon-possessed boy.
     Challenge: Do we take initiative in ministry? For the disciples, partnering with Jesus was a blessing and privilege, not a burden!
     Jesus' disciples not free from the “faithless generation”
  • They were committed to Jesus (10:28); loved and cared for by Jesus; enjoyed special attention from Him; entrusted by Jesus to help Him in His ministry.
  • Little did they know, but Jesus was also preparing them to carry on without Him, because they were on their way to Jerusalem, where He would be crucified, resurrect, and finally ascend to the Father. They would have to learn where to turn for help, how to access the grace and power of the ascended Lord even when they could no longer see Him.
  • The disciples were slow learners because they were children of their time and culture. They accepted Jesus' authority, but because they had been raised up in the religion and traditions of apostate Israel, their thinking often clashed with that of Jesus. 4:13 - “Do you not understand?” 7:18 - “Do you not see?” 8:17 - “Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?”
  • One of the things they were slow to learn was the importance of prayer. They trusted in their spiritual gifts, instead of trusting in God. All the time that they were failing, they never thought of praying!
Challenge: Abide in Christ
  • Every Christian has at least one spiritual gift, given by God, to be used to build up the church. Yet we are not to rely on our gifts, but on God's grace! Cf. Jn 15:4, Jam 1:5, and Jam 4:13ff. Ministry without prayer is neither faithful nor fruitful.
  • The father came looking for Jesus, but instead he found the disciples. That's the same situation we have today. When people come looking for Jesus with the right reasons, and they find you, are they going to be disappointed? Are they going to receive the same God-sanctioned, Spirit-enabled ministry that they would have received from Jesus? …

     Aside from Jesus, he is the most prominent character in the event. He came with the crowd, hoping to see Jesus and have him heal his son. Instead, he found the disciples, and they couldn't help him!
     When Jesus arrives, everyone runs up to Him, and He asks the disciples, “What are you arguing about with them [the scribes]?” (v.16). The disiciples don't answer because they're absolutely humiliated. Whatever the debate was about, they were probably on the losing side because the scribes were much more educated and intelligent than they were. The only chance they had was to demonstrate the power of God, but they failed in this regard, too. We can also assume that at this point the scribes were mocking the disciples.
     So, the father answers in verses 17 to 18, and you can almost hear the pain in his voice as you read.
"Teacher, I brought You my son, possessed with a spirit which makes him mute; and whenever it seizes him, it slams him to the ground and he foams at the mouth, and grinds his teeth and stiffens out. I told Your disciples to cast it out, and they could not do it."
     Mark vividly shows the father and son's suffering
  • deaf and mute (v.17,25) - made communication between father and son very difficult. But this was the least of their problems.
  • Verse 18: “it seizes him” - lit. in the Greek, “seizes him down.” The demon had the ability to affect the boy's body in such a way that it would induce frightening seizures.
  • it throws him down” - rJhvssei, “to shatter to minute fragments”
  • he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid [lit. shrivels]” - All common effects of having a seizure. Others include drastic mood swings, loss of consciousness, loss of bladder/bowel control.
  • The father and boy had to live as social outcasts in Jewish society because the religious leaders taught that a person's suffering was a direct consequence of sin—either of that person or his parents (Jn 9:2).
  • Verse 22: “often cast him into fire and water” - The demon tried to kill the boy by causing him to fall into open fires, wells, pools. Father and son—but especially the father—lived in constant fear. …
  • Verse 21: “From childhood”
After the father explains the boy's situation, and the disciple's failure to help, Jesus exclaims “O faithless generation!”
  • Out of exhasperation. On the mountain, He communed with God, conversed with His faithful servants Moses and Elijah, and was glorified before His awestruck disciples. For a moment, He tasted again the glory that was His with the Father before the foundation of the world. But, then, it was back down to earth. Back down to the scribes who didn't have the faith to accept Jesus... to crowds who didn't have the faith to understand Jesus... to the disciples who didn't have the faith to act like disciples... to a world under the dominion of Satan... to a father whose faith was unworthy of the Son of God.
  • Out of compassion. Lamentations 3:33 (NLT) says, “He does not enjoy hurting people or causing them sorrow.” We don't know why God allowed this to happen to the father and son. But ultimately, it was for this moment, when they would finally meet the Savior (Jn 9:1-3).
Mark wonderfully portrays Jesus' compassion, and His power to act on His compassion.
  • Verse 19: “Bring him to me.” Of everyone present, who do you think cared most about the boy?
  • How long has this been happening to him?” - Not for information. Not limited waranty. Relationship. We come to a person, not a power. He allowed the father to express his pain.
  • If you can do anything,” - The father had faith. He had approached Jesus humbly (Matthew tells us he kneeled before Jesus and called Him “Lord”). But he had so many doubts. The years had made him cynical.
  • If you can!” - An expletive. A rebuke. Jesus does not baby us. Followed quickly by encouraging words.
  • All things are possible for one who believes.” - Not great faith. Not extraordinary faith. Just minimal faith invested in the all-powerful God.
  • All things” - refers only to things that are according to His will.
  • I believe; help my unbelief!” - Honest, humble. “Bohvqew” - lit. “run to my cry!” Bohvqei mou th/: ajpistiva/” - lit. “run to my unbelief!”
  • Come out of him and never enter him again.” (v.25) … “took him by the hand and lifted him up” (v.26) … “gave him back to his father” (Lk 9:42). The boy was delivered forever. Probably followed Jesus for the rest of his life.

     Of all the people surrounding Jesus in the valley, only the father is commended (Mt 17:20). The father came with weak faith; God responded with Almighty power. Let us pray and resolve to do the same for the coming year.

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