Brad Libolt speaking on Mark 9:14-29. He spoke of Jesus healing a boy with an unclean spirit when the disciples could not. He spoke of the undeniable link between belief and prayer and asked us if someone looked at your prayer life, would they say you believe in God?
- What is your favorite fast food restaurant? Mine is probably McDonalds. Maybe Chick-fil-a if it was closer, I just don’t get to eat it very much. But say your favorite fast food restaurant is McDonalds, but I always see you at Carl’s Junior. You say over and over again and try your best to convince me that McDonald’s is your favorite fast food restaurant, but I always see you go to Carl’s Junior, even if it’s right next to McDonalds.
- You could tell me that McDonald’s is your favorite restaurant but if you always go to Carl’s Junior instead, I’m not going to believe that Mickey D’s is really your favorite.
- And in the same way, you can say you believe in God, believe in Jesus, say you have faith, but if you never pray, that belief comes into question. This story is all about belief, it’s all about the power of God that is harnessed and available to people through faith, through belief. But at the end Jesus connects this belief, this faith with prayer.
- Prayer is an indicator of our faith. Just like if we say McDonalds is our favorite restaurant but we never actually go there our love for McDonalds is questioned; if we say we believe in God but never pray to him, our belief comes into question.
- Let’s walk through this story and see how this develops.
14 And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. 15 And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him. 16 And he asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” 17 And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. 18 And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.”
- Jesus, Peter, James, and John come down from the mountain where the transfiguration occurs and there is a great crowd there with the disciples, and they are arguing with the disciples. But when Jesus gets down the mountain the crowd sees him and stops arguing and runs up to him to greet him.
- Jesus is curious about what is going on so he asks them what they are arguing about. Then someone from the crowd speaks up and explains that he brought his son to see Jesus, because he has a spirit that makes him mute. He goes on to explain the severity of this demon possession, that the spirit seizes the boy and throws him down and he foams at the mouth and grinds his teeth and his body becomes rigid.
- This boy’s condition was really serious. This spirit was greatly affecting his quality of life, so the father set out to bring him to Jesus so he could heal him. But when he got there Jesus was on the mountain, so he asked the disciples to help instead. This is reasonable, the disciples had cast out demons before, and the followers of a teacher were seen to be the same as the teacher. If Jesus could do it, surely his disciples could too.
- But that wasn’t the case. His disciples were unable to cast out the demon, and it had caused a ruckus. The scribes were probably saying that because the disciples didn’t have power, Jesus didn’t have power. And an argument broke out among the crowd over the power of Jesus and his disciples, whether or not it was authentic.
19 And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” 20 And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth.
- This upsets Jesus, and his response is telling. He calls the disciples a faithless generation, and asks how long he has to be with them, how long he has to bear with these people who just cannot get it. They have spent so much time with Jesus and he has been teaching them so much, and they still don’t get it. And Jesus is frustrated. So he has them bring the boy to him, and the spirit knows who Jesus is so it reacts, and the boy starts convulsing and rolling around and foaming at the mouth.
21 And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” 23 And Jesus said to him, “ ‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” 25 And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”
- Jesus asks the father how long the boy has been like this, and he tells him it has been this way since childhood. And he tells more about the severity of the condition, the spirit will throw him into the fire or into the water, the boy’s life was at risk.
- Then the father asks Jesus for help, but notice what he says. IF you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us. The father had lost faith in Jesus because of the disciples failure. When he brought the boy to see Jesus but saw the disciples instead, expecting them to be able to heal them, and when they can’t he started to question even if Jesus had the power to heal his son. So rather than asking WILL you help, he asks IF. If you can do anything at all Jesus, have compassion on us and help him.
- Jesus responds, “If you can!” He calls out the man’s unbelief. You’re asking if? Then he says, “All things are possible for one who believes.”
- It’s not a matter of whether or not Jesus can or cannot do something, it’s a matter of if the father believes. And by asking if Jesus can do anything, he is indicating an inkling of unbelief. But look what he says next.
- He cries out and says, “I believe! But help my unbelief.” The man says he believes, he believes Jesus is able, but he also acknowledges he still has unbelief, and wants help with that.
- So the crowd comes running together, Jesus rebukes the unclean spirit and commands him to leave the boy.
26 And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. 28 And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” 29 And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”
- The spirit cries out and the boy starts convulsing and then the spirit leaves. But the boy is left looking like a corpse, and everyone around seeing it says he is dead. But Jesus reached out and lifted him up and he rose up, alive.
- Then sometime later, Jesus enters a house with just his disciples. The disciples ask privately, just them and Jesus, what happened? Why couldn’t we drive the demon out? And Jesus’ response is that this kind can only be driven out by prayer.
- So notice something, because this is important. The disciples had an opportunity in public to do ministry. They had an opportunity to display the power of Jesus, to reveal God to those looking for a miracle, to save a boys life. They had an opportunity to do ministry in front of a lot of people, and they failed. They failed because they thought the power they had to cast out demons was their own. They were dependent upon themselves, not upon God. Because that is what prayer is. Jesus said they couldn’t cast it out because they didn’t pray, and prayer is an acknowledgement that you need God. It is a dependence on God. It is establishing that God is God and you are not, and you need his power and his ability and his strength to do what it is you’ve set out to do.
- And a lack of prayer indicates a lack of belief. Look at what is happening in this story. Belief and unbelief are a drum that beats steadily throughout this story. When Jesus hears of the disciples failure, he calls them a faithless generation. That’s the same thing as saying a generation who doesn’t believe. Then when the man asks if Jesus can, Jesus says all things are possible for one who believes. So unbelief caused failure for the disciples, now Jesus is saying just believe and it will happen. The man cries out “I believe! But help my unbelief.” He believes but acknowledges there are still aspects of unbelief in his heart. Then when Jesus and his disciples are alone and they ask why they failed, you would expect Jesus to say what has been said a bunch before this. You failed because you didn’t believe. But instead he says you failed because you didn’t pray.
- Which is just another way of saying you didn’t believe. If the disciples would have truly believed in God and his power and who Jesus was and acknowledged their own frailty and inability to perform miracles then they would have prayed. They would have asked God for help, for power, because they knew it could only come from him.
- So prayer and belief are closely linked together. They are inseparable. Remember, if you say McDonalds is your favorite restaurant and you never go there, McDonalds being your favorite restaurant comes into question. If you say you believe in God but never pray to him, your belief comes into question.
- Because believing in God is believing that he is all powerful, all knowing, merciful, just, gracious, forgiving, loving, that he is creator and sustainer, and that nothing happens outside of his control or his will. Believing in God is believing that we are weak, that our own power will never be enough, that we can’t solve our problems on our own. And it is this belief that manifests itself in prayer because it is an acknowledgment of great need. We have a great need for God, and we can access him through prayer, so if we believe God and acknowledge our need for him we will pray.
- When we have a problem we ask God because he is the only one who can fix it. When we experience blessing we thank God because he is the one who gave it. When we need help in life we ask God for power because he is the one who provides it.
- If we truly believe in God we will pray.
- So you have to ask yourself, what does your prayer life look like? If someone examined just your prayer life, would they come to the conclusion that you believe in God? Would they see your dependence on him and his power, or a reliance on your own ability?
- Here’s the thing, this is very convicting to me as well. I do not pray as much as I should. There are times when someone could examine how I handle a situation and conclude that I must not believe in God because I relied on my own power instead of his. This is convicting. But that’s a good thing. Conviction doesn’t crush us, but should lead us to a place of repentance.
- Remember the response of the father. “I believe! But help my unbelief.” This is the spot to be in. Believe in God, but acknowledge that there are areas in your life where you still don’t believe, and ask God to help. So notice what that does. Prayer is an indicator of your belief, but also prayer strengthens your belief. It’s a circle, you pray because you believe and you believe because you pray.
- So if you are feeling conviction as I did when I prepared this, take heart, and pray. Pray for a greater belief. And, look forward to the day when our belief will be complete. We will be with God and depend on him totally. There will be no more temptation or sin or evil.
- Remember this story is also about evil being cast out. But notice how that evil was cast out. When the spirit came out of the boy, it left him dead, but Jesus raised him. This story is priming the pump for when Jesus goes to the cross, showing that it is through death and resurrection that evil will be defeated.
- And it is through Jesus’ death and resurrection and the defeat of evil that we have access to God, and can pray. It is through Jesus’ death and resurrection and the defeat of evil that we can have belief, that we have faith. So we look to Jesus, we look to his work on the cross, we believe, but we acknowledge our unbelief and ask for help. We pray. We pray because we believe in who God is. We believe in what he has done for us through Jesus. And we look forward to the day when our unbelief will be eliminated and we will be with our creator forever.