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January 17, 2015

By John Ulrich, Senior Pastor

Mark 9:14-29

In our current series we are studying the basic markers of discipleship as presented in Mark 8-10.  Last week we looked at Jesus’ glorification as He was transfigured on the mountain (Mark 8:27-9:10).  This week we see Jesus bringing the marker of faith into the experience of His disciples who are powerless in their disbelief.

In the narrative of Jesus healing a boy with an evil spirit (Mark 9:14-29), Jesus teaches us about faith and discipleship in four movements:

  1. The Disciples’ Epic Failure

Although the disciples had succeeded in the past (Mark 6:13) in their commission to “drive out demons” (Mark 3:15), the father of the boy with the evil spirit reported that the disciples now could not remove it (Mark 9:18).  Their failure was public, was criticized by the teachers of the law, and was confusing to all — except Jesus.

  1. The Issue of Belief

Jesus brings faith into this situation by a sharp rebuke: “O unbelieving generation … Bring the boy to me” (Mark 9:19). Jesus’ response shows that faith is the key issue; it is always what God wants.

  1. The Issue of Healing

In the midst of the father’s mixture of faith and unbelief, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief” (Mark 9:24), Jesus authoritatively rebukes the spirit and the boy is healed as Jesus “took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up” (Mark 9:27).

  1. Explanation

The disciples want a debriefing to answer why they were not able to revoke the evil spirit and Jesus was successful.  Although Jesus did explain that this kind of spirit “can come out only by prayer” (Mark 9:29), his answer only raises more questions.  Jesus’ main purpose in this narrative was not to teach his disciples about demons, healing or prayer, but to grow the faith of all those around him, especially His disciples.

Three Observations about Faith and Discipleship:

  1. As Jesus’ disciples, we will face moments where our faith does not seem to work and we feel conflict though we are still believers, such as when we perceive our prayer has not been answered or have long seasons of spiritual dryness. At times our formula for how faith works simply falters because God does not answer in the way we expect. This is not unusual.  God wants our faith in Him, not in our personal formula for faith.
  1. When we face these moments, it is a common characteristic of disciples to have a mixture of belief and unbelief: “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). Consider the mixed responses of Thomas and Peter in the Gospels. Thus, it is important that we all live in real community for encouragement and support from other Christians — in Bible studies, small groups, ministries and classes in our church.
  1. We face these times because being a disciple means continually moving into uncharted areas of our unbelief, where our faith is unclear, so that we can grow in our faith in Jesus. He is always nudging us to go to the deeper end of the pool, to move from unbelief to belief in Him. We would love to be comfortable knowing all the answers, but Jesus calls us further to wrestle with our faith.  He grows us by challenging us in new ways because He loves us.

When was the last time you wrestled with your faith?

Be encouraged that it is a mark of discipleship when everything you believe is shaken up, confused, and there is still belief.  It is a normal thing that can take us deeper into discipleship with our Lord.

Prayer:  Father, we pray for those now struggling and wrestling with unbelief while still believing.  Speak to us, grow us, and transform us daily into a closer walk with You by faith.