We are going to look at Mark 9:14-29 in two posts today and tomorrow. This story highlights an important aspect of what it means to be followers of Jesus. People will not always, but will inevitably fall below your expectations of them and fail you. So, we shouldn’t let other people’s sinfulness cloud our trust in Jesus’ faithfulness. In other words, because Jesus’ followers fail, it doesn’t mean he fails. The first thing this passage teaches us is that Jesus’ followers eventually and inevitable fail, but he remains faithful.
The failure of Jesus’ followers is evident in the disciples’ inability to heal the young boy. In the previous passage, Jesus was transfigured or transformed before John, James, and Peter. And like Moses coming down from the mountain having been with God in Exodus 34, the people are in awe when they see Jesus approach. The crowd of people has been arguing about something related to healing a man’s son and the disciples’ failure to heal him. Whatever the argument was about, Jesus approaches to see his disciples in an argument with the scribes. Seeing the disciples’ failure, the argument with the scribes, the boy who needs healed, and the exasperated father, Jesus has had enough. He calls them a “faithless generation”. They didn’t understand how God was working in Jesus, nor were they demonstrating faith in Jesus’ authority. His remarks in verse 19 “how long am I to be with you?” and “how long am I to bear with you?” are probably best understood as expressions or figures of speech. Something similar to saying “AH, you’re killing me!” or “You are driving me crazy!” Jesus is at a point of frustration with his disciples, the scribes, and the crowds because they simply don’t understand either who he is or what he has come to do, or both.
But even with such frustration and the failure of his disciples, Jesus doesn’t abandon his work. He says at the end of verse 19, “bring him to me”, referring to boy who needed help. Jesus’ work wasn’t dependent on his disciples’ ability to move the ministry forward. In another place, we read Jesus saying “I will build my church”. On that day, and even in our day, God has a great plan that he is working. His desire is for us to join him in it and see the great and mighty things that he is doing. But if we fail to act in faith or if we fail to understand how he is working, it will not thwart his plan. God is calling us to join him in knowing and practicing the Gospel, but if we fail to follow him, the harm is brought to us, not to him or his plan. God is calling us as individuals and as a church to bring the Gospel to our community. His plan will be accomplished with or without us. We need to align our lives with his will through repentance, and follow him in faith and we will see what he might accomplish through our lives and the church. Jesus was going to bring healing to this boy, but he desired to do it through his disciples. When they failed to heal him because of their lack of faith, Jesus still brought healing to the boy.
After the disciple’s failure, the next thing we see in this passage is this father’s wavering faith. This father believed that Jesus had the authority to heal his son, so he brought him to the disciples. But because of their failure to heal him, his faith was weakened, it became an insecure faith. After the disciples’ failure, the man is hesitant to trust in Jesus’ ability to help him. He says in verse 22, “if you can do anything have compassion on us and help us.” This man didn’t see Jesus feed the 5000 or walk on the water, but his disciples’ did. Jesus had demonstrated his compassion in many, many ways and he has helped countless people. But this man didn’t see any of those things, all he saw was Jesus’ disciples fail to heal his son. So Jesus calls this man to a deeper faith. Jesus says, “’If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes!” Jesus calls this man to genuine and deep faith in spite of the disciples’ failure to demonstrate that faith.
If you have seen a Christian demonstrate a lack of faith, it may have damaged your faith. We know that no one is perfect in our heads, but when others fail us, or fail to live up to the expectations we’ve placed upon them, it can damage our understanding of who God is or his love for us. We are still offended or shaken with we people fail us. There seems to be news stories all the time about a pastor that has embezzled money, or been unfaithful to his wife, or as recent as this week a pastor of a 30,000 member church was arrested and charged for allegedly hitting and choking his daughter. People see these things and it stokes the natural desire of their consciences and they are used as excuses to reject Jesus. But Jesus didn’t call this man to put his faith in his followers, nor does he call us to do that today. When a religious figure in your life fails or falls it can be tragic, but part of what causes people to lose faith is that they’ve spent more time and effort to follow that person than following Jesus. The church provides us with a context where we can have people who lead us in the faith, and who demonstrate life in Christ, but we have to understand that our faith was never supposed to rest in the ability of Jesus’ disciples, but in Jesus himself. Jesus’ followers will eventually and inevitably fail you, but Jesus will never fail you. We aren’t just imperfect, we are sinful. So we should strive to be examples to one another in faith and godliness, but more than this we should encourage one another to continually look to Jesus so that our faith will not waver because of another person’s sin.
In this story, this man had hoped the disciples could heal his son, and when they failed, his faith was shaken. So, Jesus calls this man to a deeper faith. And Jesus called him and he calls us today: to fully place our faith in him. And the man responds to the call by proclaiming “I believe, help my unbelief!” This is a prayer that I have prayed many times. It is the cry of a heart that wants to follow the Lord, but there is doubt, or problems, or circumstances that seem to be working against every attempt to follow. We know Jesus won’t fail us, but we are afraid to find out.
Look how Jesus responds in verses 25-27. He casts the demon out of the boy, who is killed in the process of the exorcism. Remember the story of Jairus’ daughter? They thought she was dead too. This passage uses the exact same wording as 5:41. Jesus takes him by the and, lifting him up, and the boy came back to life. You may have many things that are holding you back from believing. You may have questions about why things have happened the way they have in your life. You may wonder what will happen if you decide to follow Jesus, and what that might mean for your life. You may only half-believe and you know in your heart that if you followed Jesus whole-heartedly it might wreck your life, but you also know it would wreck it in a good way. Today you need to cry out like this man did saying, “I believe, help my unbelief”. Jesus will call you to a deeper place. He will call you to a deeper faith. Don’t be afraid to follow him there.