Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,
Over the new year period, my family was with around 220 people at the annual RCNZ family camp. And those who attend would agree with me when I say that family camp has a kind of heavenly feel to it. You are surrounded by like-minded people, there is a great eagerness to renew fellowship with those you know and begin fellowship with those you don’t know yet, and you get to immerse yourself in morning and evening Bible studies with all the discussion and devotion that they generate. It almost feels like you have withdrawn from the world and entered this other-worldly place for a week. It’s very special.
But then camp ends and you go back home and you have to unpack the car and do 10 loads of washing and open the bills and mow the lawn, etc. And it’s not long before something or someone in your ‘ordinary’ congregation upsets you and you know that you have ‘left the mountain’ and returned to ‘sea-level,’ so to speak.
And perhaps you have experienced that feeling yourself some time; a wonderful spiritual experiences is followed by ‘bring-you-right-back-down-to-earth realities.’
Well, that is very much the situation in both of our Bible readings today. ELIJAH had enjoyed spectacular success over the prophets of Baal up on Mt. Carmel. But rather than this bringing Ahab and Jezebel to lead the people back to the true worship of God, they instead threaten Elijah with death. And so, he fled to the desert and asked God to end his life. Elijah had lost faith that the true worship of God might once again flourish in Israel.
And here in MARK, Jesus and the three disciples have just enjoyed the incredible moment of His transfiguration and the presence of Elijah and Moses. But now Jesus comes down the mountain with three disciples who haven’t understood what they have just witnessed and then finds the other 9 disciples who have failed to deliver a boy from an evil spirit.
Now, we have already read several accounts of people being DELIVERED FROM EVIL SPIRITS. However, this one is special because of what has just happened up on the mountain and before. We have learned that Jesus is the Christ. We have learned what must happen to Jesus as the Christ – He must suffer and die and rise again. And we have seen a glimpse of the kingdom glory of the Christ. So we need to understand this episode in the light of what has just occurred.
In these verses, then, Jesus Confronts the Reality of Unbelief. And we will discover ourselves among this crowd. We will discover that in us too there can be a mixture of belief and unbelief when it comes to things like dealing with sin and resisting temptation. So we need to listen carefully to the Lord Jesus Christ.
So first of all, Jesus confronts the reality of weak faith as the problem is discovered in vv14-18.
– Jesus and the three disciples who had been with Him find the other nine disciples and a crowd and an argument with the teachers of the law going on. And as Jesus inquires as to what the argument is about and we hear what the father of the boy replies, it is pretty clear what has occurred. This boy has what sounds to us like some of the symptoms of epilepsy but is clearly much much worse because it is the work of an evil spirit within him. And the disciples have been asked to drive out the spirit.
– Now, in MARK 6:7, Jesus had given His disciples “authority over evil spirits.” And in v13 we read that they “drove out many demons.” So there should have been no problem here. However, on this occasion we learn that they have been unsuccessful. Why?
– Well, v15 reveals that there is enormous interest in Jesus. His reputation as a miracle worker is well-known. But JESUS WAS NOT THERE when this father came with his son, so the father has asked the disciples to cast out the spirit.
o Now, you have probably been in that situation at one time or another when you are looking for some person in authority to help you with something but you learn that they are not around and you get some junior person instead. So what happens to your expectations of getting help? They are dramatically lowered, right? You know that Bob would have dealt with this in a few minutes, but with Gavin??? This could take hours, if it happens at all!
– Well, we learn later that this father was unsure if even Jesus could do anything for his son. And if that was so, it stands to reason that he would have had little or no confidence at all in the ability of the disciples.
– And on top of this, the TEACHERS OF THE LAW are there and they are eager for Jesus to fail and be discredited, big time. As perverse as it sounds, in their hearts, they hope that the disciples cannot deliver this boy for that will reflect badly on Jesus, their master.
– And then there is the crowd who are watching this ‘competition’ to see who will ‘win.’
– So the father has little confidence in the disciples, the teachers of the law want the disciples to fail, and the crowd is curious and growing by the moment.
– So YOU KNOW WHAT HAPPENS, here, right? It is a very human dynamic. The 9 disciples are initially confident they can deliver this boy at first. They have done it many times before. But the father’s lack of confidence has rubbed off on them. So doubt creeps in. Maybe they cannot deal with this spirit? And on top of that, the teachers of the law are standing there watching. And they are pretty antagonistic. Major pressure! And this has further eroded their confidence. So maybe Andrew tries first. Nothing! So then he and Nathanael try together. Nothing. And then Philip and the others join in. But with every repeated effort to order the spirit to leave accomplishing nothing, the father is saying, “I knew this would happen,” and the Teachers of the Law are telling them that this proves that Jesus is not who He claims to be, and the disciples start defending Jesus and so they try even harder, and all the while the crowd is starting to jeer and make fun of them and pretty soon this has become an absolute disaster.
– And let’s not lose sight of the fact that while all of this is going in, there is this BOY there who is under the control of an evil spirit. He cannot talk, we learn from v17, and he cannot hear, we learn from v25. He suffers these terrible fits and has obviously suffered burns and almost drowned, as we learn from v22.
– We learn way back in Genesis 1 that man was created IN THE IMAGE OF GOD. But the evil spirit has horribly distorted and disfigured the image of God in this boy.
– And congregation, when you think about it, that is THE strategy of the evil one and his armies. There was a creation that was “very good.” But as a consequence of the Fall, sin, with all of its decay and corruption, has infected every molecule of creation, including every human being.
o Sometimes this comes out in the type of obvious disease and dysfunction we see in this boy.
o But congregation, at its root, it is no different than the unbelief of the father, the hatred of the Teachers of the law, the lack of confidence in the disciples, and the mocking of the crowd that we see here. And it is also no different than things like the lies, the lust, and the laziness that is found in you and in me. None of this is a reflection of the image of God.
o Satan is at war with all of God’s creation and the image of God in every human being.
– So having just glimpsed the all glorious King Jesus on the mountain, we are now presented with a picture of SATAN’S DOMINION. What the Holy Spirit through Mark has provided us with here is a picture of the complete and utter blackness of sin and unbelief that gripped the world of that time that includes even the weak and powerless disciples of Jesus. It is a picture of utter despair and hopelessness.
– Or is it? For Jesus has arrived in the centre of this picture.
– So the ‘stage is now set’ for a kingdom struggle between Satan (the destroyer of life) and Jesus (the life-giver).
– Now congregation, there are GOSPEL IMPLICATIONS in this story. To think of the gospel as – You are a sinner who needs Jesus as your Saviour – is what we might call a shrunken gospel. It is more accurate to say that the gospel is the glorious announcement that Jesus of Nazareth has been declared with power to be the world’s true Lord and King and Judge; that therefore creation is now ruled by a perfect Man of righteousness and glory and life; and that this Man invites and commands all people and all nations to bow before Him and receive from Him forgiveness of their sins, adoption into God’s family, empowering by the Holy Spirit, and a renewed calling to bring every aspect of their lives into conformity with God’s inspired and infallible word, the Bible. That is the full-sized gospel of Jesus Christ!
– Yes, it is about your standing before God as an individual but
o boys and girls it is also about your studies at school – what you study and how you study and why you study and what you do with your studies has to do with the Lordship of King Jesus. He wants you to do school, and everything that goes with it, as a child of the kingdom.
o And young people, the gospel is about student debt. Who you are as a citizen of the kingdom that Christ rules must influence whether or not you go into debt and how much you go into debt and how quickly you work to pay it off, for example.
o And brothers and sisters, the gospel is about how you conduct yourself as an employee. For example, you are to work just as hard when your boss is not watching you as when he or she is, as a ‘slave for Christ (Eph 6:6).’
– This whole-of-creation-wide-scope of the gospel is in view in the kingdom struggle that unfolds in this passage.
And so, now Jesus confronts the reality of unbelief as He questions the father in vv19-24.
1. It begins as Jesus says, “O unbelieving generation … how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?” And it sounds like Jesus is just fed up with these weak and feeble unbelievers, doesn’t it. But that is not what Jesus is expressing here.
a. Boys and girls, do you remember the story of the GOLDEN CALF in Exodus? Moses was up on Mt. Sinai receiving the law and God told Him what Israel were up to. So Moses went down to see this. And do you remember what he did when he got to the bottom of the mountain and saw the Israelites worshipping the golden calf? We are told that “his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain.”
i. Well, there is a similarity between Moses’ upset there and the upset of Jesus here. There is a righteous indignation especially with the unbelief of His disciples.
ii. You boys and girls will also remember the story of PETER WALKING ON THE WATER? When he looked at Jesus, he was fine. But when he started to look at the waves and the wind, then he started to sink.
iii. Well, back in ch. 6, we saw the disciples going about and healing many. Why? Because they had absolute confidence in the power of the name of Jesus. They believed in Him. But now, all they see and hear is the father and the Teachers and the crowd. They loom large while Jesus looms small. And as a result, they are powerless. And this is what Jesus laments with His cry! He wants their eyes and hearts to be filled with Him!
2. And so, the boy is brought to Jesus and the demon immediately causes him to fit. Jesus asks his father how long this has been going on and the father answers him. And the father says, “But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” And Jesus seizes on those words of his, “IF YOU CAN”? “If you can”? You see, that is not faith, people of God. “If you can…?” does not equal Jesus – you are able. So Jesus continues, “Everything is possible for him who believes.” Jesus invites this man to believe that He can heal. Because belief in Jesus unlocks the power of the kingdom of God!
a. Now, just pausing briefly, Jesus is not saying here that anyone can have anything they ask for if they just have enough faith. For sadly, many have taken these words and made them into a universal promise that has caused, for example, the parents of sick children untold grief. They tell these parents that if they just have enough faith, their child will be healed. And when the child is not healed and dies, it is the fault of the parents for not having enough faith. How dare they!
i. May we pray for healing? Absolutely. But have WE been told by Jesus that God’s glory is best served by OUR child being healed? No we have not. And it maybe that God’s glory is best served by our child not being healed. So we ask for healing, in faith that God can heal, but we pray “Your will be done.”
b. But in the situation in our text, Jesus is saying to THIS man, I can heal YOUR son; THAT is not the question. The question is, Do YOU believe this? If you believe, I will make him well. If you do not, he will stay as he is. What Jesus has done then is to expose the problem and the consequences of unbelief and to proclaim the blessings of belief.
c. And we read, “Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief.” This father recognized that his unbelief was the problem. And he recognized that only from Jesus could he receive faith and power to battle against unbelief. And so, looking to Jesus, he believed. He ‘stepped’ from unbelief into belief.
i. Again, referring back to our earlier mention of PETER, by way of illustration, Jesus has called this father to climb out of the boat and walk to Him on the water. And the man has set his eyes on Jesus, climbed out of the boat, and is walking across the waves.
ii. For THAT IS FAITH, my friends. Jesus says, “Whoever believes in me shall not perish but have eternal life.” Jesus says, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Jesus says, “If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
iii. Will you, like this man, believe? Will you step out of the boat of your unbelief and looking to Jesus, walk to Him; trust Him; take hold of Him?
Well, thirdly and briefly, Jesus confronts the reality of unbelief as the BOY IS HEALED in vv25-27.
1. And the record of his healing is very plain. Following the command of Jesus and a last, violent shudder, the evil spirit leaves him and Jesus raises him to his feet, completely healed.
a. Congregation, it wasn’t that long ago that the All-Blacks played rugby against the USA Eagles in Chicago. The reality is though that it was never a contest! There was always and only going to be one victor. The gap in power and ability between the two sides was just immense.
b. Well, as Jesus confronted this evil spirit, there was no contest. There was only ever going to be one victor in this struggle. The Lord of life would comprehensively triumph over the destroyer of life. And so, the evil spirit was vanquished, utterly! And that is the power of Jesus that we need to see in this story.
2. But before we move on, notice how particular attention is paid to the boy appearing to be DEAD. And in this he serves as a powerful illustration of unbelief. Apart from Christ, everyone is a slave to Satan and as dead as this boy appeared to be. And it is only Jesus who can free you from the devil’s grip and make you alive.
a. And if this boy had stood up and said, Didn’t I do well! I am so glad I got rid of that spirit! We would point out to him that he did nothing. It was all Jesus! What does Ephesians 2:8 say? “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith– and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no one can boast.”
i. It is Jesus who brings spiritually dead sinners to life. And this is why the believer sings this hymn, which we shall soon sing:
I bless the Christ of God, I rest on love divine; and with unfaltering lip and heart I call this Saviour mine. ‘Tis He that saveth me and freely pardon gives; I love because He loveth me, I live because He lives (SttL 441).
And so, finally, Jesus confronts the reality of unbelief THE REASON IS IDENTIFIED in vv28-29.
1. Later on, the disciples asked Jesus why they had not been able to drive the spirit out? And He told them that “this kind can come out only by prayer,” or “by prayer and fasting” as other Bible versions have it.
a. And it sounds like Jesus is saying that there is one sort of evil spirit that just needs the standard ‘deliverance from demons form’ to be read out and bob’s your uncle, out they go, while there are other more stubborn types that need “prayer and fasting” to be driven out. And you know what? That is exactly what Jesus is saying: A FAITH THAT BRINGS POWER IS A FAITH THAT PRAYS.
i. The disciples had previously encountered evil spirits in people who were eager to have them driven out and confident that the disciples could do so. And the disciples’ own confidence in the power of Jesus was solid. But now, the devil who controlled the boy raised doubts in the father, and set the teachers of the law in opposition to the disciples, and kindled unbelief in the crowd. And as a result, the faith of the disciples wavered and weakened and waned. Though they tried harder, themselves, there was no ‘success.’
ii. But contrast them with the boys’ father. He initially did not believe in the power of the name of Jesus to deliver his sin from this spirit. But then he looked to Jesus and prayed, “I believe; help me in my unbelief,” and the boy was delivered. He believed and he prayed and the power of the Lord came forth.
iii. And think back to Elijah under that broom tree, who had lost faith. But then the Lord appeared, told him to go and anoint three people and that there were 7000 who had not bowed the knee to Baal. So now Elijah’s faith was revived.
iv. A FAITH THAT BRINGS POWER IS A FAITH THAT PRAYS.
b. And there is a powerful lesson in this for us, People of God. I said at the beginning of the sermon that there can be a mixture of belief and unbelief in each one of us when it comes to things like dealing with sin and resisting temptation. You will be struggling with a besetting sin of one sort or another, because all believers do. There is a sin or some sins that you struggle with in an ongoing way, which is what besetting means. Let me give you some examples of what I mean:
i. It might be anger.
ii. It might be an addiction to food or alcohol or pornography or social media.
iii. It might be envy.
iv. It might be gossip.
v. It might be talking back to your parents or an argumentative spirit.
vi. It might be an inability to not remember past hurts done to you.
vii. It might be a bad way of communicating with your spouse.
viii. So, can you overcome that sin and resist temptation when it comes? Do you really believe this?
A. And it is right that you make use of any and every tool to combat that sin:
1) Toss out whatever it is that you eat or drink or watch too much.
2) Have an accountability partner.
3) Have an internet filter.
4) Ask someone to say a certain phrase when you are falling into that way of talking.
5) Take medicine.
6) Get counselling…
7) And you may have all of those things in place but an unexpected opportunity to engage in that ‘delicious’ sin presents itself or things get extremely stressful or you are sorely provoked by others… Do you really believe that you can overcome that sin or resist that temptation, in that moment? Or could it be that some of you are shaking your head knowing that sin is inevitable – you will give in?
B. Jesus said, “This kind can come out only by prayer and fasting.”
C. Do you believe in the Christ of the transfiguration? Do you believe in the power of the poured-out blood of Christ? Do you believe in the Christ of resurrection and ascension POWER?
1) Is your confession the confession of Paul in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”? Really?
D. Dear brother or sister, “This kind can come out only by prayer and fasting.” In your weakness and in your unbelief, look to Jesus Christ by way of prayer and fasting. Forego ordinary things that are good, for a time, that you might pray for His strength to resist temptation, believing that you will see His power at work in you.
And finally, remember these words from 1 John 1:8-9: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” What I have just put before you is not a recipe for sinlessness. Perfection is something that will only be ours when Jesus has taken us to be with Him. But as the word of the Lord continues, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”