Summary: Face it, we humans like to be in charge of ourselves and as many others as we can. Though we aren't all power mongers, this default human behavior causes major problems when we see how God's universe really operates. The lesson comes home in this portion
We as humans have various default behaviors that we engage in. I know that we as Christians don’t like to think that we are that way, but unless energy is expended in seeking healing from these default human behaviors, we will continue to do them naturally. Paul said in Philippians 2:12 “work out your own salvation.” That doesn’t mean you earn salvation. Another way to say it would be “put your back into your own transformation.” We need to be self-aware and an active participant in the Holy Spirit’s activity in our lives. One of those default behaviors is the seeking and maintaining of power. In every setting we naturally and unconsciously place ourselves in a pecking order: “I am more important or less important than you based on the amount of power or ability or position I have.”
Chapter 9 of Mark’s gospel is really an object lesson in upsetting the default human predilection towards power and the real way God’s universe runs. In verses 1 through 13 we have the mount of transfiguration, where we see Jesus transformed into His glory. It is a seminal moment. This proves that Jesus is no ordinary man, He is also God. It also showed that He is not just equal to the Law and the Prophets but actually superior. And it provided an opportunity for the Father to say “listen to Jesus.” This had a profound effect on Peter, James, and John—but the near term effect may not have been that positive. As we’ll see, the disciples left off the mountain, experience the weakness of trying to do God’s work in our strength—and then they all engage in a bit of a pecking order struggle until Jesus sets them right.
After leaving the incredible mountaintop event of the transfiguration, Jesus, Peter, James, and John return to the valley of doubt and dispute. The nine other disciples are in the midst of a heated discussion with the scribes. Though Mark doesn’t say what the argument was about, it is quite likely that it involved the disciple’s lack of ability to throw out a demon and perhaps the issue of whether they had any authority or position. The scribes took great delight in the failure, perhaps once again claiming that Jesus had no authority.
I love this account because we, as Jesus’ disciples, face ministry “failures” all of the time. We think we hear from God, we step out in faith, and then fall flat on our faces. The enemy and even pre-Christians around us taunt and laugh and claim Jesus can’t be real. But it is important for two aspects: 1-we are the disciples and Jesus is the Master. We must always be learning from Him and reliant on Him to move. We can’t just “make things happen” when Jesus “fails” to show. We must trust in Him so much that if He “fails” then we “fail.” 2-The situation for the doubters becomes an opportunity to let Jesus shine instead of us. God will work in His way in His time so that the spotlight is not on us but Him.
15 – 18
The nature of the arguing becomes clear—a man had brought his son to be healed of deafness and muteness. But this wasn’t simply a physiological problem but a spiritual one. This father recognized that something very evil had taken over his son. Simple epilepsy does not explain the situation here (as we’ll see in verse 22). The disciples were unable to do what they had previously in Chapter 6. Now look at Jesus’ response:
Here Jesus shows His exasperation. But notice what frustrates Him: unbelief. It was unbelief in the words of God in the Garden of Eden that got humanity into so much trouble in the first place and led to a position where Satan’s forces of evil can actually possess and control a human body. Jesus fought unbelief the entire time He was here on earth—and it is a battle that continues to this day. Humanity refuses to believe the words of God even today—words spoken on the mountaintop: “This is My beloved Son. Listen to Him.”
20 – 22
As we’ve seen before, when the demons set eyes on Jesus they become fearful. This one appears to panic in the presence of the Messiah. We see in verse 22 that this is no mere epilepsy. This demon, as all of Satan’s forces, is bent only on destruction. No epileptic seizure would throw a person into water or fire. So the man says “if you can do anything.”
It’s like Jesus is saying “I can do anything. The question is: do you believe I can?” This actually gets back to the central question of the account: do you sustain unbelief or trust in Jesus? So the father answers in a very human way—something we can learn a lot from.