The prior paragraph was the revealing of the glory of Jesus as he had been transformed on the mountain before the eyes of Peter, James, and John. Glory and restoration were going to come through suffering and humiliation. This was the message of the transfiguration. Jesus is restoring all things and coming into his glorious kingdom through his suffering, death, and resurrection. We need to remember this because the gospel picks up where we left off with that scene. Look at Mark 9:14.
The Problem (9:14-18)
And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him. (Mark 9:14–15 ESV)
We are allowed to see what was happening with the other nine disciples while Jesus, Peter, James, and John were on the mountain. While up on the mountain a large crowd gathered around the other nine disciples. We have seen throughout Mark’s gospel that wherever he goes there are always great crowds following him. It turns out that quite a scene is being made because the scribes are arguing with these nine disciples. While glory is being shown on the mountain, the scribes are arguing with the rest of Jesus’ disciples. But before we are allowed to learn what the problem is and what the argument is about, notice something else we are told in verse 15.
Immediately all the crowd, when they saw Jesus, was greatly amazed. Why are they overwhelmed with wonder? Why are they greatly amazed when they saw Jesus? The logical answer is that Jesus’ clothing is still dazzling white from the transfiguration on the mountain. The parallel is in Exodus 34:29-30 when Moses came down from the mountain that the shining face of Moses did not stop but continued and Israel saw it. The same thing is happening here. People are being given a chance to behold a small portion of the glory of Jesus. They are amazed when they see him. But that does not stop what is happening in this argument just as the shining face of Moses did not cause Israel to seek deeply into its meaning.
So Jesus asks what the argument is about. Why are the scribes arguing with the disciples of Jesus? The answer is revealed. Someone in the crowd announces the problem. He brought his son to Jesus but found these nine disciples here at the foot of the mountain. His son has a spirit that makes him mute, seizes him, throws him down, causes him to foam at the mouth, grind his teeth, and become rigid. In verse 22 we are told that this spirit casts the son into the fire and into the water to destroy him. This spirit has been afflicting him since childhood. But notice what the man says in verse 18. He asked his disciples to cast out this spirit and they were not able. The disciples could not cast out this unclean spirit. This appears to be the basis for the scribes’ argument. It seems that the disciples are being challenged over their inability.
The Real Problem (9:19-27)
Notice what Jesus says in verse 19 upon hearing this news. “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long as I to bear with you?” Faith is the problem. How long will you not understand? This has been an overwhelming problem recorded throughout this gospel: the disciples do not fully understand who Jesus is. The disciples do not have a full faith in who Jesus is. They do not understand about the loaves (8:20-21). They are confessing Jesus but do not grasp the full implications of this confusion as they rebuke Jesus for saying he is going to die. So here again we see a lack of faith by the disciples.
Now look at what the parents say in verse 22. “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Think about what the parents just said. Do we not do this ourselves? Do we do this with the Lord? Lord, can you do something here? Jesus immediately responses in verse 23, “If you can! All things are possible for one who believes.” It is never about what God can do. So much is built on faith. So much is dependent on our trust in God. All things are possible for the one who believes. The problem is not divine willingness but human unbelief. Nothing is too great for God. God can do anything. The parents beg for Jesus’ compassion. Jesus does have compassion for us and he can do anything. But do we really believe this? Do we really believe that God has the ability and the compassion to do anything?
Why did these disciples fail? Why could they not cast out this unclean spirit? The text reveals to us that they were relying on themselves and did not possess enough faith. A lack of faith blocks so much. Faith is a great obstacle which has been revealed to us as that obstacle throughout this gospel. Great faith is lacking and the lack of great faith is the hindrance. Jesus, if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us. If he can do anything? The problem is not with the power, ability, or compassion of God. The problem is us and our lack of faith. Listen to their response in verse 24. The father cries out, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
What a glorious prayer! I believe; help my unbelief! What we need is more faith. I have faith but I need more faith. Jesus shows why you should have faith in him. In verses 25-27 we see at simply the words of Jesus this unclean spirit, as strong as it is, is cast out. Jesus proves his point that there is nothing too great for him. Jesus has power over the dead. Jesus came to save and give life. Jesus conquers the dark powers that control us. Jesus is worthy of great faith. Believe in him.
The Solution (9:28-29)
In verse 28 the disciples speak privately to Jesus and ask him why they could not cast out this unclean spirit. Listen to Jesus’ answer in verse 29. “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” More faith comes from more prayer. Need faith? Pray for it. Pray the prayer that this man prays! I believe; help my unbelief! We see this message of praying for faith in the New Testament in many places. In Luke 22:32 Jesus prayed for the faith of Peter. In Jude 20 we read, “But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit” (Jude 1:20 NASB).
Pray for faith. Prayer is pictured as the avenue to faith. Success does not rest on our power. Self-sufficiency is the enemy of faith! We are not supposed to handle our trials alone. We are not supposed to walk through life independently. We are not supposed to take care of life ourselves. We are to believe that the Lord Jesus can do anything and pray for greater faith. This is the consistent message of the gospel of Mark: disciples need faith. The miracles we have read in this gospel have been a challenge of faith. The leper shows faith in Mark 1:40. The paralytic lowered through the roof to get to Jesus showed faith. The one healed from the demon called Legion showed faith after his healing. The woman with the flow of blood showed faith. Jairus showed faith for healing his dead daughter. Jesus marveled at the unbelief of the crowds. We see a lack of faith in the feeding of the 5000 and 4000. We read of great faith from the Syrophoencian woman who understands her position and just wants the crumbs that come from the table.
The big message is to have faith. Then admit the need for more faith. Admit the need for help and seek the help God gives. Lord, I believe! But I need so much more! Our inadequacies are to drive us to prayer. I want us to think for a moment about faith. What are we saying about our need for faith? We talk a lot about faith in church. But what do we need more faith in? We need to have faith in the sovereignty, power, and rule of Jesus in our lives and in the world. Do we believe in the full control and power of Jesus over this world because he is the king who sits on the throne and is ruling?
In fact, I would like for us to consider that our lack of faith and our fears come from a loss of seeing Jesus clearly? This is the connection to the prior paragraph about the transfiguration of Jesus. We need a greater view of Jesus. We need a greater view of who Jesus is and what he can do. God can bring difficulties into our lives so that we will need to trust him even more. We see this in the book of Job, allowing Job to suffer so that a greater faith would be developed in him.
What is it in our lives that we do not believe God can do anything about? What do we think God will not solve? What do we think God cannot handle? Where in our hearts have we said to the Lord, “If you can do anything?” Do not be self-sufficient. Do not rely on yourself. Let us pray for greater faith. Let us pray for the Lord to help our regular moments of unbelief. All things are possible for one who believes.