Powerless. It’s an unsettling feeling and lingers like a cloudy day. Some situations highlight just how powerless we can be. We’re powerless to halt the aggressive advance of an incurable medical condition. Powerless to mediate between bickering parties. Powerless to put faith into a loved one’s heart. Powerless to halt Satan’s encroaching agenda of self-mutilation and destruction.
And if you think I’m talking about 21st Century Utah, you’d be gravely mistaken. All these points of powerlessness are on full display in Mark 9:14–29.
Note: Before reading this article any further, I would strongly encourage you to read the above passage, which can be done by clicking here: Mark 9:14–29
Mark 9 is about power. We see a Savior who commands it, disciples who lost it, and a dad who desperately needs it. If you’re feeling powerless today, maybe Mark 9 could be a help to you.
An Ugly Scene
Mark’s scene is not unique in its severity, but in its density. We’re familiar with all that ails these people, but it’s rare to see all these ailments in one place. We see a child with grave special needs and a propensity to self-harm. He doesn’t just dash himself to the ground in full body paroxysms but has them over a campfire or a body of water. Every seizure threatens to kill the child in some horrific way.
We see a dad who’s wrapped his life in the preservation of his son. Whether he knew it or not, his son’s ailment was the result of demonic possession. No medical help, modern or otherwise, stood a chance against such dark forces. This dad hadn’t given up all hope, but he’s wearied from the constant toll these never-ending dangers exact. Imagine waking up every morning with the gnawing realization that today could be the day you’re too late.
We see nine prayerless disciples incapable of helping this dad. What’s more, we see these same disciples in a bitter argument with Jewish scribes – men who are experts in Jewish law. Mark doesn’t give us the content of their dispute, just the fact of it.
Our Lord encounters all this ugliness fresh off the Mount of Transfiguration (Mark 9:1-13). If Jesus was emboldened by his Father’s loud acclamation or refreshed by the heavenly visitors sent to speak to him, he must have been equally assaulted by all this brokenness. When Jesus came upon spiritual leaders, fingers in each other’s faces, arguing over a convulsing child with foam cascading from his mouth, it drove the Lord to a holy groan, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?” (Mark 9:19).
The desperate scene poses an unstated question – What’s the answer? How is any of this brokenness made whole? Fortunately, Mark provides the solution in three parts.
First and foremost, Christ needs to arrive. And in Mark 9, Christ did arrive in complete command. Jesus silenced the bickering with a single question, cast out the demon on his own personal authority, and thoroughly healed the child with a mere word. What’s more, He performed these feats with remarkable empathy and a human touch so deft that the reader can easily miss the power displayed.
Second, faith is the victory that overcomes the world. The boy’s father, desperate and overwhelmed, must have heard promises of healing before. Perhaps he’d even steeled himself against all premonitions of false hope. I think we can understand why he would say to the Lord, “If you can do anything ….” Nevertheless, Jesus is quick to the point, “If I can?!” What happens next is as beautiful as it is instructive. The father doesn’t deny his cynicism but prays for the same help that he requested for his son. In the father’s estimation, his unbelief and his gravely endangered son were problems of equal proportion. Both needed divine intervention. The man’s faith was weak, but it was enough, for he had found the right object for his faith. Jesus was and ever will be sufficient to the task.
Third, believing prayer is a vital source of power. The father prays for his child, then prays for himself, and Jesus is happy to help. The same, however, could not be said of the disciples. Prayer, it seems, never occurred to them. And they’re powerless for it.
Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t initiate a rebuke for their prayerlessness – not during the scene nor after. The disciples asked him why they lacked the requisite strength. And even then, Jesus responds somewhat indirectly, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (Mark 9:29). Apparently, Jesus doesn’t flap his arms or raise his voice to get our attention to pray. Yet, 2 Chronicles 16:9 says, “the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward Him.” Jesus is ever ready to spring into action for people who realize their powerlessness and turn to Him in believing prayer.
When we’re trying to get a loved one to believe the life-saving message of Chris-crucified, we can feel exceedingly powerless. But the Bible has good news. You have far more power available to you than you ever could have dreamed: “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we can ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21). Let us cast the eye of faith on the Lord in believing prayer since He delights to unveil His great power on our behalf.