The Necessity of Dependence (Mark 9:14-29)

Mark 9:14-29 | September 22, 2019

And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” – Mark 9:23-24.

Overview

It’s a mic-drop moment for the disciples as they see just how impotent they are without Christ. This week, we tackle the text of Mark 9:14-29, showing why faith is not a situational lever, but a relational lifeline.

Take Home Truth

Faith is not a situational lever, but a relational lifeline.

Introduction

Looking back at your notes from this week’s sermon, was there anything that particularly caught your attention, challenged or confused you?

Make sure you ask this question this week. It gives people the opportunity to discuss questions or issues that come up beyond the written questions. People’s responses can often lead to one of the questions in the “Digging Deeper” section. Also, some weeks this question will result in a lot of discussion, other weeks, not so much.

Read the Text

Mark 9:14–19 (ESV)

Jesus Heals a Boy with an Unclean Spirit

14 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?” 17 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.” 19 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.”

G. Campbell Morgan summarized this week’s text well: “He found disputing scribes, a distracted father, a demon-possessed boy, and defeated disciples … He silenced the scribes, He comforted the father, He healed the boy, He instructed the disciples.”

Digging Deeper

In this section, feel free to develop your own questions to help guide your group’s discussion. Below are some suggestions. Remember, if you are hearing from everyone in your group, chances are you won’t have time to discuss every question. You may start with one that catches your attention, so you don’t run out of time. For example, it’s not odd to start with Question #6, then go to Question #5 and if you have time come back to Question #4.

Summarize the Context of this week’s text.

It would help to review the chart, “The Gospel of Mark at a Glance” on page three to bring your group up-to-speed with where we are at in our teaching series.

When we started the series, we divided the Gospel of Mark into three sections:

  1. Serving His Neighbors (Mark 1:1-8:30)
  2. Serving His Brothers (Mark 8:31-13:37)
  3. Serving His Father (Mark 14:1-16:20)

As we pick up the narrative in Mark 9, Jesus has left his home base in Capernaum and is on his way to Jerusalem, stopping along the way to teach the crowds and to perform miracles.

This week’s text centers on the failure of his disciples to heal a boy stricken with seizures caused by an evil spirit. Their inability to cast out the evil spirit has caused a stir, which draws Jesus’ attention. This is where we pick up the text.

According to Jesus, why were the disciples unable to cast the evil spirit out of the boy?

Jesus, Peter, James, and John return from the mountain and find the remaining disciples in an argument with the Scribes. You can imagine the scene: the Scribes are probably taunting the disciples because they are unable to heal the boy. With voices raised and accusations flying, a crowd quickly begins to gather. In the midst of this crowd stands a father with his young boy who is tormented by an evil spirit.

Seeing his disciples in trouble, Jesus quickly inserts Himself into the scene and begins to diagnose the problem.

The father of the boy quickly answers. He could care less about the theological discussion taking place between the Scribes and the disciples, he simply wants his boy to be healed.

After hearing the father’s gritty description of the torment, the boy experiences because of the evil spirit, Jesus appears to be exasperated and declares, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” It is unclear whether he was frustrated with his disciples or more so with the contentious scribes.

In this statement, however, we see the root cause of the disciples’ inability to heal the boy: faithlessness.

This is the key point of the lesson this week: the disciples were powerless because they lacked faith. Likewise, we, too, fail to see the power of God in our own lives because we lack faith. Lack of faith is the foundation of our problems.

How do we know when we have faith and when we lack faith?

The writer of Hebrews1 gives us a simple definition of faith: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).

Yet, how many of us find our faith walk to mirror that of the father in this week’s text when he declared, “I believe (i.e. have faith), help my unbelief! (i.e. lack of faith) (Mark 9:24).

I have my hand raised.

Yet, when you think about it, acknowledging your lack of faith is something that can only be said by faith. Spurgeon worded this well when he stated, “While men have no faith, they are unconscious of their unbelief; but, as soon as they get a little faith, then they begin to be conscious of the greatness of their unbelief.”

Why do unanswered prayers often lead to a lack of faith?

Truth be told, very few of us doubt God’s ability to do anything He pleases to do; we more often struggle with His willingness to answer our prayers as we want them answered. In our self-centeredness, we think that getting what we want is a sign of God’s kindness and that being denied our desires indicates God’s displeasure. In other words, when we don’t get what we want, we lose faith in God.

In our human foolishness, we pray for many things that we think are for our best only to learn later that if God had granted us that prayer request, we would have found ourselves in a world of problems.

As we look back on life with 20-20 hindsight, we often find ourselves agreeing with that great theologian, Garth Brooks,

Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers

Remember when you’re talkin’ to the man upstairs

That just because he doesn’t answer doesn’t mean he don’t care

Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers

Sometimes, however, we find ourselves in situations like this father, desperate for God’s healing touch, and our prayer is simple: “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!”

What is the connection between prayer and faith?

After seeing the boy miraculously healed, the disciples ask a question that we all would have on our mind: “Why could we not cast the evil spirit out?” (Mark 9:28).

Jesus’ answer is simple, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (Mark 9:29).

While the key word in this verse is prayer, keep in mind the focus of this week’s text: a general lack of faith.

In the scene in this week’s text, Jesus did not stop and pray over the boy with the evil spirit. He simply addressed the spirit and commanded it to leave the boy and never return.

It isn’t that prayer makes us more worthy to cast out demons. It is that prayer draws us closer to the heart of God, and it puts us more in line with His power. Prayer is an expression of our total dependence on Him.

Chuck Swindoll provides a good illustration of how prayer and faith are connected:

If I might use an unsophisticated mental picture, think of a reservoir, a pipeline, and a faucet. The reservoir of God’s omnipotence always exists and cannot be depleted, but it does people no good if they do not have a means to receive what God wants them to have. Faith—believing in the Lord’s power and mercy—is the pipeline from the reservoir of heaven to the life of the believer. Prayer is the faucet.2

Personal Application Questions:

  1. What is an area where your faith is strong? (An area you trust God in and rarely lack doubting He will come through)
  2. What is an area where your faith is weak? (You regularly doubt He will come through and think it is up to you to handle)
  3. What “next step” do you sense God would have you take in relation to following Him as a disciple? What is your next step of faith?
  4. How are you feeding your faith so that is grows?
  5. What type of accountability do you think needs to be in place to keep your faith fervent or rooted?

Becoming A House of Prayer

“Even them I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices; Will be accepted on My altar; For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.” – Isaiah 56:7.

Prayer is an important part of being in a small group. Group prayer goes better when we follow three simple guidelines.

  • WE PRAY FOR ONE TOPIC AT A TIME – Anyone in the group is free to introduce a prayer request either before prayer begins or during the prayer time. Once a topic is introduced, the group focuses on that request alone. Once it’s covered, the group moves on to the next topic.
  • PRAY MORE THAN ONCE – Because the group is focusing on one topic at a time, each person is encouraged to pray several times during the prayer time for those topics they feel most led to pray about. No one is required to pray.
  • WE KEEP OUR PRAYERS SHORT AND SIMPLE – Group prayer goes better when members keep their prayers short and to the point. When someone prays for a long time, it’s hard for the other members to stay focused and long prayers tend to intimidate those who are just learning to pray out loud in a group. No one is required to pray out loud.

Notes:

  1. Now that Carlos has moved on, we can simply agree that the Apostle Paul was the writer of Hebrews. 😊
  2. Swindoll, Charles R., Insights on Mark (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 2) (p. 247). Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

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