What do you think about Satanic power? Mark is going to give us the long version of a story also told in Matthew and Luke. From our point of view in the 21st Century, I wonder what will come across your mind as you read this account? Let’s see.
Mark 9: 14 – NLT
Jesus Heals a Demon-Possessed Boy
14 When they returned to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd surrounding them, and some teachers of religious law were arguing with them. 15 When the crowd saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with awe, and they ran to greet him.
16 “What is all this arguing about?” Jesus asked.
17 One of the men in the crowd spoke up and said, “Teacher, I brought my son so you could heal him. He is possessed by an evil spirit that won’t let him talk. 18 And whenever this spirit seizes him, it throws him violently to the ground. Then he foams at the mouth and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid (or becomes weak). So I asked your disciples to cast out the evil spirit, but they couldn’t do it.”
19 Jesus said to them, (his disciples) “You faithless people! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”
20 So they brought the boy. But when the evil spirit saw Jesus, it threw the child into a violent convulsion, and he fell to the ground, writhing and foaming at the mouth.
21 “How long has this been happening?” Jesus asked the boy’s father.
He replied, “Since he was a little boy. 22 The spirit often throws him into the fire or into water,
trying to kill him. Have mercy on us and help us, if you can.”
23 “What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes.” 24 The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!”
25 When Jesus saw that the crowd of onlookers was growing, he rebuked the evil spirit. “Listen, you spirit that makes this boy unable to hear and speak,” he said. “I command you to come out of this child and never enter him again!”
26 Then the spirit screamed and threw the boy into another violent convulsion and left him. The boy appeared to be dead. A murmur ran through the crowd as people said, “He’s dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and helped him to his feet, and he stood up.
28 Afterward, when Jesus was alone in the house with his disciples, they asked him, “Why couldn’t we cast out that evil spirit?”
29 Jesus replied, “This kind can be cast out only by prayer.”
It looks like the Pharisees have managed to locate Jesus once again. Remember that Jesus is in a more northern location in Caesarea Philippi? Talk about people determined to follow Jesus around to make sure they kept an eye on this way too popular fellow! There seemed to be quite a ruckus going on when some of the people saw Jesus coming down from the mountain. The cause of the commotion? A young boy who was having what we would likely today call grand mal seizures; the remaining 9 disciples who hadn’t gone up the mountain with Jesus didn’t seem able to do anything.
These seizures are graphically described. Since he was a little boy, the seizures would “throw him violently to the ground. Then he foams at the mouth and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid (or becomes weak).” Sometimes they would “throw him into the fire or into water”. Can you imagine being a parent dealing with this situation?
In 2020, many medical people would say these were seizures caused by some brain malfunction. For example, University Hospital in London has a floor of the hospital devoted to caring for people suffering from seizures. They tape dozens of wires connected to computers on a patient’s head, to determine the place in the brain where the seizures occur. Cameras are focused on everyone in the ward to capture any seizure that happens – again, something to help figure out the source of the seizures. Medication or surgery is prescribed to treat the seizures. And I am certain that many seizures are caused by some kind of brain malfunction. Scientists have made many excellent discoveries, and likely a majority of them would say that seizures are never caused by demons.
You also have people in 2020 who are obsessed with demonic powers. There are covens who do various things to entice spirits to appear. Hollywood has made several movies over the years about demons – The Exorcist, Omen, Carrie, etc. (By the way, I wouldn’t recommend seeing them.) The year we lived in Kenya, the missionaries on the station where we lived, told us to not purchase the rather strange bust-like figures local people would try to sell as art. They told us many of those items were demon possessed. We certainly took their advice. We also knew there were “witch-doctors” who opposed people bringing their family members to the hospital on the mission station. In 2020, it’s actually North American people who would mostly deny demonic power. Many in other countries do believe in demons.
Jesus didn’t deny the presence of an evil spirit. Jesus tells us that Satanic power is real. Jesus was very specific as he cast out the demon: “He rebuked the evil spirit. “Listen, you spirit that makes this boy unable to hear and speak,” he said. “I command you to come out of this child and never enter him again!” Satan is a power in this world doing his best to fight against God. Jesus has encountered this many times beginning with his personal encounter with Satan at the beginning of his ministry. We need to be aware of this as well, and not succumb to our tendency to only believe what science says.
Jesus questions the father’s faith? “What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes.” The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!” (v. 23 – 24) I can identify with the father. I do believe in God and his power to do anything, but I too sometimes ask him to overcome the moments when I question God, when I wonder if he is really there, if he really cares. Those moments often happen to many of us when we face difficult situations that have us panicking. What I find exciting and reassuring is that Jesus heals the man’s son. He doesn’t say, ‘Sorry, you don’t have enough faith”. Again, over my life, I have found that God has been faithful and my trust in him has strengthened. I don’t always get what I ask for or want, but I do see God’s hand in my life circumstances.
Jesus has a rebuke for his disciples. Remember in chapter 6, Jesus sent the disciples out to preach, and heal people. At that point they could cast out demons. So what happened here? When the disciples asked him later why they weren’t successful, Jesus answers, “This kind can be cast out only by prayer.” It looks like they forgot that God was the source of healing. They were depending on their own ability. They’d done it before. Why not now? Once again, there is a message for us. As we go from day to day, we need to realize that our successes don’t come completely from us. We must depend on God.
In conclusion today, I want you to read some instructions given in Ephesians about living under God’s control and defeating any attempts by Satan to derail us. With God’s help and his instructions, we can defeat Satan’s attacks on us.
“And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life- or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.
Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.”
Ephesians 6: 12 – 18 The Message