Get the picture. A distraught father whose son was possessed by a demon brought his boy to Jesus’ disciples (Mark 9:14-29). Under the demon’s influence from his childhood, the son often threw himself into fire or water to destroy himself. We have to believe the father had sought for years to find any solution to his boy’s tragic condition. Any caring father would have done the same.
The father must have heard that Jesus (and apparently his disciples) had power to heal. In desperation, he brought his son to Jesus’ disciples – and the tragic words of a defeated father speaking to Jesus echo loudly from the pages of the Scripture: “So I asked Your disciples to drive it out, but they couldn’t.”
“But they couldn’t.” It’s hard to find more tragic words about God’s followers when hurting people turn to them for help.
God’s power was available to the disciples, but they somehow missed it. They had previously dealt successfully with demons (Mark 6:12-13), but not this time. In fact, his disciples were both faithless (v. 19) and prayerless (v. 29) even as they confronted the spirit that controlled the man’s son. Jesus’ words, “You unbelieving generation! . . . How long must I put up with you?” may have pierced them, but the evidence suggests otherwise.
Sometime later, Jesus taught his disciples about his coming betrayal, death, and resurrection (Mark 9:30-32). Perhaps not surprisingly, they did not fully understand what he was teaching. He had previously predicted his death and resurrection (Mark 8:31-33), and Peter had aggressively rebuked him for such teaching. Their leader didn’t “get it” before, and now the whole group still didn’t fully get it.
Here’s what’s amazing, though. In the very next passage, these same disciples were debating over who was the greatest:
“When He was in the house, He asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they were silent, because on the way they had been arguing with one another about who was the greatest.” (Mark 9:33-34, italics added)
Cast out a demon? They couldn’t do it.
Comprehend Jesus’ teaching about his death? They failed.
Understand the nature of Jesus’ kingdom? Not yet.
Willingly follow Christ’s model of service? Not even close.
Yet, these men were arguing over who’s the greatest in the kingdom! No wonder they failed in their ministry to the demon-possessed boy.
Let’s not kid ourselves, though. We’re not that much different. Sometimes we love our positions of power in the church even when we lack the power of God in our own lives. We strive for teaching positions without recognizing our own unwillingness to learn. Lesson after repeated lesson, we still don’t get it. Our pride keeps us from admitting our lack of understanding even while our powerlessness keeps us from being effective.
In all of our supposed greatness, I fear what would happen if we came face-to-face with a boy possessed by a demon.
*Adapted from Chuck Lawless, Nobodies for Jesus (2014, Rainer Publishing)