There’s a really interesting story in the gospel of Mark. After most of Jesus’ ministry with his disciples we find him here, Mark 9:14-29. Jesus has begun telling his disciples who he is and what’s going to happen in the near future, preparing them to lead his ministry. Just before this story in Mark the disciples did hear God’s voice speak directly to them saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him!” (Mk. 9:7) Instead of typing the entire text let me summarize what’s going on here.
Jesus is descending from a mountain with Peter, James and John, three of his key people. They come down to find the remaining 9 disciples arguing with a few others who have gathered. Jesus inquires about the commotion and finds out a man came to the disciples with his son who is possessed by a spirit. This father shares how his son is thrown into convulsions, is mute and deaf and foams at the mouth. He asked the disciples to heal his boy, but they could not.
When Jesus hears this there is clear frustration as he exclaims, “You faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him to me.” (Mk. 9:19) I’m not sure what the disciples were thinking or doing at this point, but I imagine they have shrunk back and are humbly reminded none of them are the Messiah. Following this the boy is brought to Jesus and after seeing God in the flesh the spirit throws the boy immediately into convulsions. In the meantime Jesus is asking the father when the spirit possession all started. The dad answers and ends with one of the more famous gospel interactions:
“…but if you are able, have pity on us and help us.’ Jesus said to him, ‘If you are able? – All things can be done for the one who believes.’ Immediately the father of the child cried out, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’” (Mk. 9:22-24)
After this, Jesus commands the spirit to leave the boy and never enter him again. With a shriek and one last major convulsion the spirit obeys and leaves. The boy lies on the ground looking dead. So lifeless, the crowd around him verbally confirms the boy is gone. What happens next?
“Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he was able to stand. When Jesus had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, ‘Why could we not cast it out?’ He said to them, ‘This kind can come out only through prayer.’” (Mk. 9:27-29)
A few things jump out to me when reading this passage, first and foremost the amount of human nature evident in all personal interactions. The disciples are arguing when Jesus comes. Then Jesus is frustrated with the disciples’ lack of attention and ability to cast out the spirit. Then the father doubts Jesus’ ability! Jesus simply says it’s faith in him that will bring healing and the father admits with no reservation that he believes, but doesn’t really. Right after Jesus actually casts the spirit out people believe the boy is dead, no better than having a spirit possess him on occasion, I would think. And in the end, Jesus is just sitting with his disciples and taking a moment to teach them.
Another powerful thing to note was the spirit’s reaction to seeing Jesus. It knew Whom it met face to face. Not only is there a violent reaction, but also the spirit demonstrates its own submission to Jesus by leaving at His command. Clearly, there is power in the presence of God.
And finally, where I find the most beauty in this passage is near the end after the spirit leaves. The Bible says, “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.’ But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he was able to stand.’” (vs. 26-27) The crowd heard Jesus tell the father all things are possible for the one who believes. They saw Jesus tell the spirit to leave and watched the spirit exit. Still, they do not believe he is healed, only left for dead. They even say it. Aloud. In front of the dad. In front of the Healer! Jesus doesn’t reprimand them for thinking it though and doesn’t make a big deal out of their lack of faith again. His gesture is much more subtle. Jesus grabs the boy’s hand to help him up and goes home.
There is so much beauty in this story and I am thankful for its reminders. Praise God for the humanity of the disciples and the followers of Jesus back then. It gives me hope that we can remain our human selves and still follow and be considered saints along with those who knew Him most intimately. Praise God for the raw emotion in Jesus, reminding us He is one of us too. God in the flesh, one who experienced life as we did and even got frustrated at times. I do not have to be ashamed of or hide my emotions from my Lord. Praise God the Bible can be so relevant and relatable to us, 2000 years later. And praise God when we see no more hope, have no more faith, and have witnessed what we consider death, Jesus sees life and grabs it by the hand.
May we have courage enough to admit when we believe, but don’t really. May we have faith enough to believe Jesus can heal us, heal anyone, from anything. And may we have eyes to see life when all that seems to appear is death. This is the true beauty of Jesus. And average looking, blue-collar worker came down to a world full of selfishness, greed, and brokenness and sees life for us all. Praise God.