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A contentious crowd had gathered. When they saw Jesus—Peter, James and John following—they hurried to him. “What are you arguing about with them?” Jesus asked the other nine disciples (Mark 9:16).
A man from the crowd spoke up: “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. 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” (9:17,18). Nine disciples, to whom Jesus had earlier given authority to cast out demons (3:15; 6:7), had no power over this spirit.
“O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? (9:19a). Hear Jesus sigh in frustration? “Bring him to me” (9:19b).
That command stirred up a bees’ nest. And when the spirit saw [Jesus], immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. “How long has this been happening to him?” Jesus wanted to know (9:20,21a).
“From childhood,” the father replied (9:21b). “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us” (9:22b).
“If you can!” Jesus replied. “All things are possible for the one who believes.” (9:23).
Now the father’s “prayer”. “I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief!”
By bringing his son to Jesus, the father evidenced his belief in Jesus’ ability. But it was shown to be mixed with unbelief, when he told Jesus, “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” A few weeks ago, the Environmental Protection Agency, inadvertently released some sort of sludge from an old abandoned Colorado mine turning the state’s sparking clear rivers into a mustard-like mess. Unbelief pollutes faith. But for the one whose faith is like the see-to-the-bottom river all things are possible. Ah, but when the need is suddenly at hand, how do we attain a clear Colorado-river-like faith? By praying this prayer.
It seems Jesus did help the father overcome his unbelief—because Jesus rebuked the unclean the spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” And it came out (9:25-27). Jesus did the impossible for the one who believed.
Mark ends his report by recording a most important question and answer. Question from the disciples: “Why could we not cast it out?” Answer from Jesus: “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (9:28,29),
I infer that the nine disciples approached the boy and commanded the evil spirit out—but without first praying. Since they had authority before, maybe they presumed they could make the spirit jump. But not “this kind” of spirit. “This kind” required prayer. I think Jesus meant, “Before you go around commanding demons, understand the limitations of your faith (as the father did his) and pray for help to overcome your unbelief.”
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Faith is “funny”. How much faith is necessary? How do we measure it? What precisely is the “interaction” between faith and the answer? Mysterious! Yet, simple. The word “faith” makes me think of a warrior aggressively encountering an enemy. The word “trust” (a synonym for faith and belief) implies an almost passive reliance or resting. What is most mysterious, however—-and amazingly gracious—is the fact that when, in the heat of the battle, we confess, “I do believe!” and we humbly ask, “Help me overcome my unbelief!, the Lord answers! He gives the very virtue he requires!
Result? Against all odds. we are enabled to believe that Jesus can do the impossible that confronts us.