I Believe, Help My Unbelief - Mark 9:14-29
We probably all know what it feels like to experience a time of spiritual renewal. There are times and seasons when we seem to see God more clearly and sense His presence more fully. While those times and seasons are sweet, it’s also true that there are times for most of us when we struggle to take God at His Word and to trust His plan for our lives.
As we return to Mark 9 we see two passages that seem to mirror these divergent experiences. In vv. 2-13 Jesus and three of His disciples are on a mountain where Jesus is transfigured and God speaks from Heaven. It’s an incredible scene that reminds us of who Jesus is and that He can be trusted. But as we pick up in verse 14 the setting changes and we are reminded of how fragile our faith can be. As Jesus, Peter, James and John return to the rest of the disciples they come face to face with the realities of life in a fallen world and with the often-imperfect faith of followers of Jesus.
As we consider this account of a demon possessed boy, a desperate father and imperfect disciples we are reminded of four important truths about the life of faith.
The weakness of men and the fallen nature of our world (9:14-18)
- An arguing crowd – As Jesus returns He finds his disciples involved in a dispute with scribes. While it’s not an unusual scene it is a quick reminder of the realities of living in a fallen world. It’s also reminiscent of the chaos Moses found as he returned from Mt. Sinai.
- A demon possessed boy and a helpless father – As Jesus engages the crowd the first to speak up is a father of boy whose life has been ravaged by demon possession. Mark gives a lot of time to the description of the boy’s pain and the father’s desperation.
- The inability of the disciples – While this father came to the disciples with hope, they were unable to help, despite having cast out demons on other occasions (Mark 6).
- Application – There is so much in this passage that reminds us of our weakness and inability. In the previous section we considered the glory of Christ, but here we are confronted with the pain and disappointments of living in a fallen world.
The common temptation to insufficient faith (9:19)
- Jesus’s rebuke of faithlessness – After assessing the situation Jesus issues a rebuke. He rebukes his disciples (once again) for their lack of faith. These are the men that He will soon entrust with His mission to the world, but at this point they continue to be slow to learn. They are persistently weak in faith and in their dependence on God.
- Application –Jesus’s rebuke is reminiscent of many of the interactions between God and His people in the Old Testament (Example: Numbers 14:1-11). And sadly we may often fall into the same pattern: While God has been faithful we are quick to doubt His goodness and His care for us and slow to go to Him with our needs.
The power of honest faith and sincere dependence on God (9:20-24)
- The father’s desperate plea – One thing that is clear is the father’s recognition of His need. He comes to Jesus because He has a need and He is hopeful that Jesus can help – but Jesus senses some doubt.
- A call to confident faith – While it’s less severe than His rebuke of the disciples, Jesus calls out a deficiency in the man’s request. While the man used a qualifier in His request (if you can) Jesus calls for confident faith. After all, all things are possible for the one who believes.
- Application – While Jesus isn’t suggesting that God will grant us everything we ask for, He is calling us to ask in faith – to ask knowing and believing that God is able; that nothing is impossible for Him. God never answers out of lack of ability (Mark 5:36; 10:26-27).
- I believe, help my unbelief – The father responds with a confession of faith and a cry for help. This is good and appropriate prayer. Even on our best days we are people of imperfect faith. In our weakness we should come to God, bringing our request with the faith we possess and asking for increased faith.
The ability and willingness of Jesus to help those who call on Him (9:25-29)
- Jesus frees the boy and gives him new life – Jesus accepts the man’s confession and extends mercy on the boy. We should praise God that He hears our prayers, even when our faith is imperfect.
- The necessity of prayerful dependency on God – As the disciples question Jesus about their inability to cast out the demon Jesus emphasizes the need for prayerful dependence on God. If we rely on our own strength we will always fail. We must be a people who rely on God, and our dependence is most evident in our commitment to prayer.