Before re-reading Mark 9:14-24 today, I prayed for my own soul to be ministered to, not just to get something I could share with others. I couldn’t imagine, though, what more I could learn from this passage I’ve been reading for several days now.
Note to self: NEVER underestimate the power of God’s Word to speak afresh from even the most familiar!
Got caught by v. 20 and wondered why “the [evil] spirit…threw the boy into a convulsion” (NIV) upon seeing Jesus. Was it reacting in fear to being confronted by Jesus? Or was it trying to intimidate Jesus by displaying its power? Hmmm.
Continued reading through the next few verses, and based on the conversation recorded there, I saw another possible reason—an intriguing one worth pursuing. The demon did not demonstrate his power to intimidate Jesus but to intimidate the boy’s father!
I think it’s important to realize this display of demonic power continued to happen as the conversation in the next few verses took place. So, while the boy is having this seizure, Jesus asks an unusual question: “How long has he been like this?” (v. 21a NIV).
The dad basically says his son’s whole life. His exact words, “from childhood” (v. 21 NIV), indicate to me the boy was not a toddler but more like 12, maybe a little younger or older. Even if the boy was much younger, any frequency of seizures would make even a few years feel like forever.
Imagine, then, what it’s like to be this father. He loves his son enough to seek help despite the many years of this condition. (Luke 9:38 says the boy is this man’s only son.) This man also has many memories of similar episodes filling his mind, as evidenced by the extra unsolicited info he shares (cf. Matt. 12:34b). And his senses are being overwhelmed by the attack of the enemy happening right in front of him! He wants so much to protect his child, to alleviate the suffering! But he knows there’s nothing he can do!
Literally, everything—both externally and internally—is screaming, It can’t be done!
I think Jesus asked that question because He knew this father needed to confront his own “demon:” the past and all the accompanying thoughts of being a failure as a father. The repeated painful incidents have hammered in hopelessness. This man feels impotent—that awful feeling every man hates to feel—the feeling of being unable to protect those he loves and fix whatever is wrong.
No wonder the man offered only a wimpy, “If you can do anything…” (v. 22 NIV). How many other exorcists had they already gone to? The man knew this was a tough case, so I hear him saying, “It’s okay if you can’t, Jesus; I understand.”
Jesus highlights his conditional faith in v. 23 and counters it with a confident declaration, to which the dad immediately cries, “…help me overcome my unbelief!” (v. 24 NIV).
While the story of this boy’s healing/deliverance is not exclusive to Mark, these details about the dad are. Still it’s possible it doesn’t tell us every little detail. It doesn’t say the dad turned to look at Jesus instead of at his son in that moment, but I imagine he did. And if he did, what a powerful and beautiful illustration it becomes for us!
Quit looking at your negative circumstances! it tells us. Break the mesmerizing hold it has over your information-gathering senses and look at Jesus! Look at the only One who cast out every demon confronting Him! Look to the only One who healed every disease and brokenness of body presented to Him! Get your info-gathering senses to take Him in! Absorb Him! Fill your mind with Him!
Don’t care for my sanctified imagination? Fine. Let’s get back into what’s written.
Consider the known fact that Jesus spoke a declaration about faith to him (v.23). Consider also the Gospel writer’s intent for sharing these details in the first place, especially when no one else did. Matthew and Luke condense the story down to being focused just on the boy’s healing/deliverance, and John doesn’t mention it at all. John 21:25 does tell us, though, that Jesus did and said so many things that basically there’s no way to write it all down.
So, why tell this story and with such detail (when ink, paper, and time were so limited) unless it helps communicate a truth and fits the theme the writer wants his readers to know? Remember: these writers wrote for more than just recording history. They sought to strengthen believers’ faith even as they preserved the history. Let’s look, then, at what Mark has already been saying prior to this story.
In 9:7 is God’s instructive response to Peter’s impulsive desire to build honorary temples: “Listen to [Jesus].” Just prior to that (8:31ff) is the story of Jesus rebuking Peter for operating from a worldly mindset—specifically, an understanding about the Messiah that had long been taught to Peter and all Jews. Immediately after this rebuke, Jesus teaches all within ear-shot that if anyone is going to be His disciple, they’ve got to deny their own impulses, their own ideas/thoughts about what and how things should happen, and to quit living by their feelings (8:34ff).
So, this father is an excellent example of the need to shut out the screaming sensory overload and to deny the entrenched thought patterns and, instead, focus on Jesus and what He is saying. In fact, the only way to “shut out” and “deny” is through this focusing! (Compare James 4:7.)
So, whether this dad actually turned and looked at Jesus or not, the point is still the same: when the cacophony of life—both without and within—is threatening your faith and resolve to follow Jesus, focus on Him. Don’t let these other things sabotage your faith.
Now that is an insightful understanding of why the demon reacted (v.20) that pulls this story out of just being history. It broadens this story’s applicability beyond the demon-possessed or even just the physically suffering and their family members to all of us, for who hasn’t been overwhelmed by negative external circumstances and/or negative internal thinking? And in a way that I don’t think I can fully explain, it makes the “everything is possible …” (v. 23 NIV) phrase more than just a platitude.
This is an understanding that would help the early Christians stay faithful despite deadly persecution, and it is certainly helping me have hope in the midst of my chronic circumstances! (How is it helping you?)
Thanks for reading!
 This exclusive info on the dad is a strong clue that focusing on him is the correct focus to have; that we’re on the right track.
PS. Just determining if I should publish this was a modern application of this lesson to not let the internal and external voices detract from hearing God. Click here to get the “behind-the-scenes” on this post!
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