Faith and unfaith. 9:14-29


The healing of the possessed boy follows immediately upon the transfiguration. By the time Jesus joins the gathered crowd, the boy's father is desperate because his son is suicidal. The disciples, who had remained behind while Peter, James and John went up the mountain with Jesus, were unable to exorcise the evil spirit and so Jesus has to remove it. He heals the child, and at the same times gives us an important lesson on the prayer of faith. We are reminded that even with a faulty faith we can access the abundant grace of God.

The passage

v14-15. Jesus and the three apostles come upon an embarrassing failure. Members of the Sanhedrin, obviously gathering evidence against Jesus, are haranguing the disciples for a failed exorcism.

v16-18. Jesus asks why the Scribes are attacking his disciples, and the father of the child intervenes to explain. The boy possesses an evil spirit which has not only destroyed his capacity to communicate, but has sought to destroy him. Jesus had given the disciples the power to exorcise, but on this occasion the powers of darkness were too strong for them.

v19. In the face of faithless humanity Jesus feels the burden of loneliness, anguish, and disappointment.

v20-22. In the presence of Jesus, the Satanic power oppresses the boy. Jesus' question to the father demonstrates empathy and interest, yet after the disciples' failure, the Father's plea now carries with it doubt. Is Jesus really able to act for his son?

v23-24. The power and authority of Jesus is not limited, for nothing is impossible to God. The father affirms his willingness to rely on Jesus, but exposes his humanity in identifying himself with the "faithless generation". All he can do is seeks God's mercy in the face of his "faithless" faith.

v25-27. Release is again effected through Jesus' powerful and authoritative word. The description of the near-death struggle of the child's release, images the death and resurrection of Jesus through which the powers of darkness will soon be defeated.

v28-29. In a short epilogue, Mark records the reason for the disciples' failure. The disciples faced a power that was beyond them and they could do nothing more than hand the matter over to the divine restorer.


Discuss the problem of unanswered prayer. What are some of the reasons commonly given? What is a sound Biblical reason?

Unanswered prayer

The early church was fascinated with demon possession and took the view that demons were driven out with prayer and fasting. Most of the later manuscripts of Mark have Jesus' words in v29 as "this kind can only be cast out by prayer and fasting", the word "fasting" being an obvious later addition. For the church today, the words of Jesus to the bewildered disciples are often used to empower prayer. Failure in prayer is often linked to a failure in faith. Is doubt, even little faith, behind unanswered prayer?

We can categorically assert that a failure to fast has nothing to do with unanswered prayer, but what about a failure of faith?. It may seem that little faith, in the terms of "help my unbelief", is responsible for unanswered prayer, yet faith as small as a mustard seed moves mountains. Perfect faith, doubt-free faith, lies in the province of God's perfection and is certainly not within the reach of we mere mortals. We may convince ourselves that our faith is free from doubt, proclaim it loudly, but in the full light of day our perfection is nothing more than "filthy rags." No, all of us can well identify with the words, "I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief." Such faith, weak as it is, can move a mountain of Satanic oppression; such a faith can save.

So then, why is it that so many prayers go unanswered? In the story of the boy with an unclean spirit Matthew actually tells us that it was a faith problem. The disciples had been given special authority to exorcise demons, but on this occasion they fluffed it. Mark, on the other hand, tells us that it was an information problem. Life situations will, at times, overwhelm us and the best we can do is hand it over the one in whose hands our eternal restoration is assured.

Our unanswered prayers are nearly always related to false information. We may well recognize the real Jesus and his unlimited power, but we often ask for things that were never promised us. The prayer of faith is always a prayer according to the revealed will of God, according to the promises of God. It is good to bring all our troubles to the Lord, but in the end our Lord is God; he will act according to his sovereign will, not according to our will. We are best to consider our Lord's sovereign intentions before we fall to our knees in prayer.

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