Mark 09v14-29, “Weak Faith and a Strong Savior”

1456053183_thumb.pngWhat would you do if you have a big bill that was due, but not enough money in the bank to cover the expense? You might be out of luck.

What if you needed a miracle from God, but did not have enough faith to cover it? That’s the story that we will consider today, the story of the man and his boy and the unclean spirit in Mark 9. As we pick up the story in Mark 9:14, we find the scribes arguing with some of Jesus’ disciples.

Jesus was not on the best of terms with the scribes. Things had gotten off to a rocky start when Jesus, this thirty-something young prophet who had not gone through the training that they had had, turned out to be a vastly superior teacher than they were. The common people had been astonished at Jesus’ teaching

Mark 1:22 ESV … for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes [Mark tells us].

No doubt, this comparison that the people made between Jesus and the scribes had not gone unnoticed by the scribes themselves. They would not have appreciated being unfavorably compared to a carpenter’s son. Jealous as they were of people’s approval and praise, they tried to discredit Jesus before the people at every opportunity.

  • When Jesus forgave sins, the scribes thought that he was guilty of blasphemy (Mark 2:6-7).
  • Trying to undermine his influence, the scribes asked people why Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners (Mark 2:16).
  • When Jesus cast out demons, the scribes accused him of being possessed by Satan, and acting as an agent of Satan and using the power of Satan to cast out demons (Mark 3:22).

In another attempt to smear Jesus, the scribes asked him publicly,

Mark 7:5 ESV …”Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled [unwashed] hands?”

Now in Mark 9, Jesus comes down from the Mount of Transfiguration with Peter and James and John to find the scribes arguing with his disciples. Just one week before, Jesus had told his disciples what the scribes were going to do to him:

Mark 8:31 ESV And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.

Now Jesus comes down from the mountain where he had been transfigured before three of his disciples, and talked with Moses and Elijah. You might say that it was a mountaintop experience, a spiritual high, especially for the disciples, but now they are returning to the valley below.

How often we would like to stay on the mountaintop! To experience only the highs of life, the wonderful times whether of spiritual delight or relaxation in God’s beautiful creation. That was certainly Peter’s idea when he suggested that they stay on the mountain: “Let’s build three tabernacles,” he said, “one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah!”

That’s when a cloud covered them, Moses and Elijah disappeared, they they heard the voice of His Father declare to Peter and James and John,

Mark 9:7 ESV … “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”

As Solomon wrote,

Ecclesiastes 3:1 ESV For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

There is a time for the mountaintop, and there is a time to come back down to the valley,

  • a time to be in the presence of God, and a time to do the work of God,
  • a time to be alone with God, and a time to do good to people wherever we find them.

Mountaintops are beautiful places. They change our perspective. And the valley can be messy, because lives can be messy, but Jesus came to clean up our messy lives.

We can divide this story in to four scenes:


As Jesus and his three closest disciples come down the mountain, they find that a great crowd has gathered around his other disciples and the scribes are arguing with them. The scribes had no doubt come looking for Jesus to find evidence to discredit him.

But there was also a man, a father, who had come looking for Jesus for a very different reason. This father had a son who was demon possessed. He came seeking deliverance for his boy. Not finding Jesus, he turned to the nine disciples who had not gone up the mountain with Jesus. He asked the disciples to cast the demon out of his son, but they could not.

Now the scribes get involved. They had come to discredit Jesus, but not finding him, they will discredit his disciples. The disciples had failed to cast out the demon, so it is very probable that the scribes were asking the disciples what right they had to try to cast out demons. Note that the scribes made no attempt to cast out the demon. They will argue and condemn, but they do not even attempt to help those in need.

When Jesus came down from the mountain, he found the scribes arguing with his disciples.

Mark 9:14-16 ESV 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?”


Mark 9:17-18 ESV 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.”

Now this is a terrible condition and we need to be very clear about the condition of this boy. We need to have a clear biblical understanding of sickness and afflictions. We live in a Genesis 3 world. The world that God created was a perfect world, but in Genesis 3, sin entered the world through the disobedience of Adam. Sin bring its consequences. The world was cursed with thorns and thistles, and the eventual payoff of sin is death.

Sickness is part of the world in which we live. The common cold, malaria, AIDS, birth defects, and epilepsy are all the result of Adam’s sin. As descendants of Adam, we all share in the consequences of his great fall. We are all subject to sickness, and unless Jesus Christ returns before too long, we will all surely die.

Sickness may or may not be the result of personal sin. There are other passages in the Bible that indicate that sometimes sickness is the result of sin (1 Corinthians 11:30), but that is generally NOT the case:

  • We read about a man who was born blind in John 9. The disciples thought that somehow he or his parents had sinned so that he was born blind. Jesus plainly says,

John 9:3 ESV Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.

  • The prophet Elisha died of a sickness (2 Kings 13:14) but his dead bones raised a man from the dead (2 Kings 13:21).
  • Timothy had frequent stomach ailments (1 Timothy 5:23).
  • The Apostle Paul’s associate Trophimus was sick (2 Timothy 4:20).
  • Another associate names Epaphroditus nearly died of a sickness, but God had mercy on him and Paul (Philippians 2:5-27).

So we should not make the mistake of blaming the sick person for his sickness.

A second principle should be noted here. As we read through the New Testament, we see Jesus healing many sick people of various diseases. We also see him casting out demons. Sometimes the demons have caused a severe handicap such as blindness or deafness. But at other times, and we should say most of the time, the handicap is simply physical and is not at all caused by demons.

So let us NOT make the mistake of thinking that a severe handicap is the result of demon possession. That was not the case of

  • Peter’s mother-in-law who had a fever (1:31)
  • The leper who was cleansed (1:41)
  • The lame man who took up his bed and walked (2:12)
  • The man with the withered hand (3:5)
  • The woman with the issue of blood (5:29)
  • The man who was deaf and had a speech impediment (7:32-35)

To that we can add the case of epilepsy. Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that causes a person to have seizures. It is a terrible affliction and in most cases is purely physiological. I had a friend in Bible college who suffered from epilepsy. He was studying for the ministry. I simply mention this to say that we must not conclude that epilepsy is a spiritual condition.

  1. Sickness and dying is part of our human condition. Christians and non-Christians alike get sick and die. Let us not think that sickness is necessarily the result of personal sin. It is part of human existence.
  2. Severe disorders and handicaps should not be attributed to evil spirits. While demons can cause certain terrible conditions such as deafness, it would be a terrible mistake and a terrible injustice to assume that such conditions are the result of demonic activity.

Now, I have said all that because this boy had an unclean spirit that caused him to be mute and deaf and epileptic. Let us be quick to hear and slow to speak before such conditions. Let us not jump to conclusions about the cause and thereby inflict more pain on the person who suffers.

Let’s look at the text again:

Mark 9:17-18 ESV 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.”

The boy has suffered greatly. The father is crushed over his condition, and in desperation came looking for Jesus. When he could not find Jesus, he turned to the disciples for help: “I asked your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.”


Mark 9:19 ESV 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.”

The failure of the disciples to cast out the demon is associated with a lack of faith. And yet, Jesus does not single out his disciples; he speaks of the “faithless generation.” But how does one have faith for such a need?

Everyone was overwhelmed by the problem. The boy was powerless to resist the attacks of the unclean spirit. The father could do nothing to stop the convulsions. The disciples were unable to cast out the demon. What to do?

“Bring him to me,” Jesus said.

Mark 9:20 ESV 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.

Things do not always get better the moment you come to Jesus.

The initial result of the effective presence of Jesus is not peace, however, but conflict; not resurrection, but suffering. Eduard Schweizer’s insight is correct: “This indicates how the presence of God can produce storm and stress before anything constructive is accomplished.”[1]

What the father has described, Jesus now sees. They bring the boy to Jesus, but the moment the evil spirit saw Jesus,

Mark 9:20 NLT … it threw the child into a violent convulsion, and he fell to the ground, writhing and foaming at the mouth.

Out of compassion for the boy and his father, Jesus asked,

Mark 9:21 ESV … “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood.

The father further explains,

Mark 9:22 ESV And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him…

Make no mistake about it. Satan “comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” He comes to destroy and pervert the image of God in each of us. But Jesus “came that [you] may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

The question allows the father to tell his story that the boy has been afflicted since childhood, with near fatal effect. But it also allows the father to declare his heart. The question of Jesus invites the father to come to him as a total person, with hard facts and with human hopes.[2]

The boy’s father had come in hope of finding Jesus. Instead, he found the disciples. It mattered not to him whether it was Jesus or his disciples who cast out the demon; he was desperate for help. But when the disciples were unable to cast out the demon, the father’s faith and hope were shaken.

Mark 9:22 ESV And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him [the man said]. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”

“If you can do anything,” the man says! The problem is not what Jesus can do. Jesus can expel demons with a word, but producing faith is a much harder matter![3] Lack of faith in Jesus Christ is a greater obstacle than demons. We are not simply talking about having faith, or more faith, or great faith as if faith were some power that we could acquire and direct. True faith is simply trusting in God. True faith has an object and that object is a person, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Mark 9:23 ESV And Jesus said to him, “’If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.”

God is not limited to do his work in us except by our lack of belief that he can do it. In his hometown, Nazareth,

Mark 6:5-6 ESV … he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6 And he marveled because of their unbelief…

Jesus calls the man to put his faith in him. He had said to the hemorrhaging woman,

Mark 5:34 ESV … “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

Jesus had said to Jairus, who had just learned that his daughter was dead,

Mark 5:36 ESV …Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.”

Now Jesus calls upon this father with faltering faith to put what faith he has in an all-sufficient Savior. You may have weak faith, but you have a strong Savior. The only bridge between human weakness and our omnipotent God is faith. The authority and power of Jesus becomes effective in human life by faith.[4]

Mark 9:23 ESV And Jesus said to him, “’If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.”

This must seem impossible to the father. He does not seem to have the faith he thinks he needs:

Mark 9:24 ESV Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

True faith does not make a display of itself. It does not talk about itself. True faith does not boast. True faith realizes how small and insufficient it is. True faith looks beyond itself to the all-sufficiency of Jesus: “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

Jesus could have told the man, “I am the glory of God in human form. Purify your heart, confess all your sins, get rid of all your doubts and your double-mindedness. Once you have surrendered to me totally and can come before me with a pure heart, then you can ask for the healing you need.” But Jesus doesn’t say that— not at all.[5]

Jesus takes the man where he is and leads him to where he wants him to be. If we will come to him, he will lead us to greater faith in Christ as we walk with him on the road of discipleship.

The Deliverance

Jesus often tried to shelter certain individuals from the sightseeing crowds. Jesus had compassion on people. He never used them to draw crowds to himself. He never used them for his own benefit. So when he saw a crowd running toward him, he wanted to quickly deliver this boy of the unclean spirit.

Mark 9:25 ESV 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.”

Once again, it was by his word and in his own name that he cast out demons. Jesus did not appeal to heaven to expel the evil spirit. “I command you,” he said, “come out of him and never enter him again!”

The boy has been rolling on the ground, convulsing, and foaming at the mouth. Jesus has now commanded the demon, which he identifies as a “mute and deaf spirit,” to come out.

Mark 9:26-27 ESV 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.

Christ our Savior is greater than any demon, any unclean spirit, any situation. This is not about your faith; it’s about his power to save. Forget about your faith. Focus on our great Savior who is mighty to deliver.


In scene four, we find Jesus and his disciples in a house where they ask him what went wrong:

Mark 9:28 ESV And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?”

It was an embarrassing failure. They had tried and failed to cast out the unclean spirit. The boy’s father had seen them fail. The crowd had seen them fail. And the hostile scribes had seen them fail.

“Why could we not cast it out?”

There seems to be an emphasis on “we” in the text. Their failure had actually come as quite a shock to them. Jesus had given them authority to expel demonic spirits:

Mark 6:7 ESV And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.

They had gone out and had been successful. But now, they came up against a stronger demon.

Mark 9:29 ESV And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”

Did the disciples think that they knew how to do it? Were they depending upon themselves and their ability and their experience rather than depending upon Christ alone? Should they have been praying rather than arguing with the scribes?

Why do we fail so often in overcoming the demons and the sins that plague us? Are we trusting in ourselves rather than in God?

1 Corinthians 10:12 CSBO Therefore, whoever thinks he stands must be careful not to fall!

Are we trusting in our methods and strength. The Apostle Paul says,

Philippians 3:3 NLT …We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort,

Jesus is talking about a continual relationship of prayer to God. We text God and think we have prayed. We send a quick message to God, asking for help, but do not give him the time of day.

How can we overcome the evil in our own hearts and lives?

  1. Come to Jesus. This deliverance was a hard case, but Jesus told them, “Bring the boy to me.” Bring your sin, bring your problem, bring your situation to Jesus.
  2. Believe that Jesus can deliver you. Your faith does not have to be perfect. Act on the faith that you have. The boy’s father told Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
  3. Pray.

Jeremiah 33:3 ESV Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.

Isaiah 55:6 ESV “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near;

  1. Read good portions of your Bible every day.

Romans 10:17 NLT So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ.

In daily reading God’s Word, the Bible, your faith will grow and you will know what God wants to do in your life.

John 8:31-32 ESV So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Nothing is too hard for God! Our God is mighty to save!

[1] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Locations 5178-5180). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

[2] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Locations 5185-5187). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

[3] Edwards Jr., James R.. The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary). Eerdmans Publishing Company: 2009.

[4] Edwards Jr., James R.. The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary). Eerdmans Publishing Company: 2009.

[5] Keller, Timothy (2013-03-05). Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God (p. 119). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

See also “Gospel of Mark”:



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