Peter, James and John had just shared a mountaintop experience
with Jesus. Returning to the fray and with no time to debrief,
this scene awaited them.


 

[{Luke 9:37} The next day, when they had come down from the
mountain, a great multitude met Him.] When Jesus came to the
disciples, He saw scribes disputing with them. He asked the
scribes, "What are you discussing with them?"

Then one of the crowd answered, "Teacher, I brought You my
son, who has a mute spirit. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him
down; he foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth, and becomes
rigid. So I spoke to Your disciples, that they should cast it out,
but they could not."

Jesus answered him and said, "O faithless generation, how long
shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him
to Me." They brought him and when he saw Him, immediately
the spirit convulsed him, he fell on the ground and wallowed,
foaming at the mouth.

Jesus asked his father, "How long has this been happening to
him?" He said, "From childhood. And often he has thrown him
both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if you
can do anything, have compassion on us and help us."

Jesus said to him, "If you can believe, all things are possible to
him who believes." Immediately the father of the child cried out
and said with tears, "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!"

When Jesus saw that the people came running, He rebuked the
unclean spirit, "Deaf and dumb spirit, I command you; come out
of him and enter him no more!" Then the spirit cried out,
convulsed him greatly, and came out of him. And he became as
one dead, so that many said, "He is dead." But Jesus took him
by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.

[{Matthew 17:19-21} Then the disciples came to Jesus privately
and said, "Why could we not cast it out?" So Jesus said to them,
"Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you
have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain,
'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be
impossible for you. However, this kind does not go out except
by prayer and fasting."]

                                                    Mark 9:14-29 NKJV, condensed


                                     Lord, Have Mercy!

From almost heaven they took the plunge. Jesus, Peter, James and
John surefooted it off the mountain and right into a conflicted crowd
where some scribes were winning an argument with the nine disciples
who had been left behind. In the middle of that debate was a distressed
father pleading for help with a child victimized by violent, unpredictable
seizures. The disciples had tried to substitute for Jesus but proved
inadequate for the task. What this situation required was faith that
could move mountains!

Crowds have a way of being insensitive. Shoulder to shoulder they
rush headlong over individual needs without pausing to ponder the
anguished cries of any particular person. Like fans at a sporting event
they communicate by shouting over each other, and find their way by
following the next person. This crowd was no different, and Lord have
mercy on the father and son at the center. The confidence needed
to produce the necessary miracle was in short supply amid the
abundance of all that confusion.

What a relief when Jesus showed up! Jesus, who did the works of
God, would turn the chaos into calm, but not before creating a storm
of his own. When Jesus heard the details, he popped off at anybody
who was listening, including the impotent disciples. It was Jesus' turn
to express heartache and he chose these piercing words, "You people
have no faith; how long must I put up with you!"

Then Jesus said, "Bring the boy to me." Whereupon the boy's
convulsions started up again. It was an awful scene with the boy rolling
violently over the ground. The father implored Jesus to take pity. "If you
can do anything, please, I beg you to help us." Jesus picked up right
away on that word, if, as though it didn't belong in the man's vocabulary.
"If you can" is a curse on all miracles, and on the power of God to
work for good in anyone's life.

"God, if you can do anything . . ."--never, never, never use those
words in prayer! It's a form of unbelief that will drag your faith into the
helpless zone. On the other hand, if you are able to believe, all things
are possible to you! That's what Jesus told this father, who of course
wanted more than anything for Jesus to heal his son. Jesus' words
were so confident and inspiring, the father immediately declared his
faith, "Lord I believe; please set me free from any remaining doubts."

At once Jesus rebuked the raging physical condition which caused so
much suffering in the life of this family. He commanded the abnormality
to leave the boy and never return. In response it cried out and shook
its victim in one last final attack, so violent it appeared to have killed
the child. The boy lay there looking like a corpse and the crowd, like we 
might expect, declared him dead.

These appearances were deceiving. Jesus took the boy by the hand,
lifted him to his feet and presented him to his father, whole in body and
as free as his father's faith. In one miraculous act, Jesus cured the boy
so that the demon of epilepsy could never returned.

But the disciples didn't get off so easily. Privately they dared to raise the
subject and ask, "Why couldn't we heal him?" The response, "Because
you didn't believe!" By this time, the disciples had been with Jesus
about two years. And still their faith was smaller than the smallest seed.
Jesus was rightfully concerned because he didn't have a whole lot of
time left to spend with his disciples. The pressure was beginning to
build. The carefree days of Galilee were coming to an end.

What exactly was their sin of unbelief? Did they think the problem
too big and their resources too small? Or that God would do nothing
through them? Didn't they remember all they had witnessed the past
two years! Jesus made it clear the question is not, "Is God willing or
able to help me?" The question is, "Am I willing and able to believe?"

 

Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further
study or reflection.

 

Icebreaker: The healing process in this story was very dramatic and painful
                   to watch. Maybe you can remember a similar set of circumstances 
                   from your own past. If so, what was your role in that experience?

 

Jesus, Peter, James and John are fresh from a mountaintop religious
experience. They immediately encounter an argument between the remaining
disciples and higher authorities. Center stage is a desperate father and his
epileptic son who was prone to sudden and uncontrollable seizures.
And it's all played out in the public arena with curious spectators.
            Each person or group seems to have a problem. Go down the list of
                        characters and state what their dilemma is.
            As you look at this story, with which group or individual do you identify
                        most clearly?   At the moment?   Or most of the time?

 

The remaining nine disciples had tried, in Jesus' absence, to do what
Jesus would have done--heal the child at the request of the father.
            Think of a time when you tried to do what Jesus would do, and
                        share something from that experience.

 

Many times in the Gospel accounts, people were amazed at Jesus' authority.
            Where and how do you see the authority of Jesus displayed in this story?
            Contrast Jesus' authority with that of the disciples.
Describe how the Church today is like, or unlike, those nine "left-behind" disciples.

 

"O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear
with you? Bring him to Me."
            If you were an actor playing these lines, how would you say them?
            What inflections and emotions would you want to bring out?

 

When he first arrived on the scene, the despairing father probably believed
Jesus could heal his son. But after all that had transpired, he wasn't as
sure anymore. Hence the remark, "Jesus, if you can. . ."
            How true to life is that?
What did Jesus mean, "If you can believe, all things are possible to you."
            Does Jesus expect us to move mountains?

 

Damn or mercy? This father could do little to solve his problem. When in a
situation like that, people often curse and shout "Damn!" Or we could learn
to cry "Mercy" instead. When angry and frustrated, make the better choice.

 

Sometimes no matter how much faith we have, we run into a brick wall and
are powerless to change the situation. What are we to think and do then?

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