Have you ever had to get into between two people fighting? If could be an argument, or a drag out fist fight. Either way, it can be a scary thing trying to get between two clashing opinions, or striking fists. We’re seeing this in our country right now. Recently there was a rally by a group called Patriot Prayer, which was met by a counter protest by a group called Antifa. And it ended in violence, people getting arrested, and in the middle of it were the police. The ones that had to try and keep the peace. The ones that have to get in-between two forces clashing.
Most of us have probably never been in such a position, but we all probably know the feeling of trying to get in the middle of something so that a situation can be reasonably worked out. I can’t count how many times I’ve had to step in between my children. There’s been a few times I’ve had to step in between teenagers.
But no matter what the situation is, it’s always fun, and I use the term very loosely, to get in between two people that are clashing.
Which is where we find ourselves in the book of Mark today. Two groups clashing in an argument. Luckily, they’re not coming to blows. So if you have your Bibles, we’e going to be in Mark chapter 9 verse 14. And as be open our Bibles to Mark 9:14, let’s catch up from where we left off last week.
Last week we saw the scene where three disciples, Peter, James and John, got to go up on a mountain and see Jesus in his glory. They saw Jesus as the God he truly is, rather than the man they had known. But in the experience, Peter didn’t know what to do, and his false perception of Jesus showed itself. Both in the way he addressed Jesus, and the the fact that as he and the others came down, their questions were focused in the wrong place. And we talked about how we tend to do the same thing. We tend to have our questions focus more on us, and what we’re going through, rather than on God, and how we can draw closer to him, through what we’re dealing with.
This brings us today, when Jesus and these three disciples come down off the mountain, and find themselves in a situation where Jesus’ disciples and some teacher’s of the law are in an argument. So let’s pick it up in Mark chapter 9, verse 14.
14 When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. 15 As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.
16 “What are you arguing with them about?” he asked.
17 A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”
19 “You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”
20 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.
21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”
“From childhood,” he answered. 22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”
24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”
26 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.
28 After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
29 He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”
30 They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, 31 because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.
So Jesus comes down from the mountain with three of his disciples. These three just got a glimpse into the reality of who Jesus is. Do they focus on that, no, their focus is on other things. Then Jesus arrives where the rest of his disciples are, and these disciples are in an argument with some teachers of the law. Now, Mark never specifically tells us why these two groups are arguing, but it has something to do with the fact that the disciples haven’t been able to cast out the demon the boy is possessed by.
Maybe the teachers of the law were calling them charlatans. Who knows. But whatever the reason, the crowd then sees Jesus and it says they were, “overwhelmed with wonder.” Maybe because there was still some residual glory still around Jesus, like there was with Moses in Exodus 34:29, when he talked with God.
But then the focus moves away from the argument, and to the father of the boy. Jesus gets some information about the boys condition, and then the father says this, “But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
Let’s pause right there. Now you and I can read through Mark’s book. We’ve had nine and a half chapters that have told us about who Jesus is. You and I can read about the healings Jesus has performed. We can read, about the demons Jesus has cast out. We can read about the power that Jesus commands. This boy’s father doesn’t have that luxury. All he has is rumors, and hope that this Jesus can do for his son, as he has heard that Jesus has done for others.
And so when the father says, “But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” We can feel the desperation in the father’s voice as he pleads with Jesus. But then, we get what seems like a flippant, almost uncaring response by Jesus, “If you can? Everything is possible for one who believes.”
Now, this isn’t the first time we’ve read where Jesus seems like he comes off as uncaring. But we know that’s not the case, and in fact, it sets up, to me, one of the top five greatest responses in the Bible. “Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’”
The father’s exclamation here is seeping with desperation for his son, and his knowing that he doubts that this will even work. The father is as open and honest with his spiritual condition as any great person of faith in all of human history. “I do believe,” the father says. He believes that Jesus can do something. But will it work? Will Jesus find him worthy? These are question that can plague us, and we see that they plague this father too. So he must ask Jesus, “help me overcome my unbelief!”
Jesus then casts the demon out and the boy is restored. Later, after all is done for the day, and Jesus goes with his disciples inside, the disciples ask Jesus a question that had to be on their minds since before Jesus came down the mountain, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” I wonder if they asked this question, because nothing like this had ever happen before. I mean, when Jesus had sent them out before, they did amazing things. But now, now something has change, and they didn’t know what it was.
Jesus responds, “This kind can come out only by prayer.” Following this response, Mark tells us that Jesus’ next teaching to the disciples is again, about his death and resurrection. How he must suffer and die, and then be raised back to life on the third day.
In the closing verse of this passage we get these finally words, “But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.”
The disciples tried to cast out the demon that was in the boy, but they failed. Their failure hung around them, until they got the opportunity to ask why they failed. And they find out from Jesus that they failed because of prayer. What’s amazing in this encounter here in Mark, is that we are given two approaches to life with God.
The first is the disciples. They have walked with Jesus for about two and a half years. They have seen amazing miracles, that showed Jesus’ power over God’s word, the physical realm and the spiritual realm. They were even sent out by Jesus to perform those same types of miracles. And now, when they can’t cast out a demon, they realize somethings wrong. What have they lost? It’s not their proximity to Jesus; sure he was on a mountain when all this happened, but they were miles away from him before and it still worked. What has changed?
The answer Jesus gives is prayer, but it is rooted in the second approach we see in the passage. The approach of the father to Jesus. He is desperate for Jesus to heal his son. He knows that Jesus has the ability, yet he doubts the probability that Jesus will act on it. And when confronted about his unbelief, the father doesn’t try to hide it. Instead he asks for help in his unbelief.
Compared side-by-side, the disciples have all the boxes of spirituality marked off compared to the father. But they have missed a fundamental aspect of their relationship with Jesus. Desperate prayer. Prayer that focus’ on the need for God to work in every situation. Prayer that embraces our unbelief and asks God to break through it.
The disciples have begun to rely on themselves to perform the miracles, rather than on God who worked through them. The father might have had less spiritual boxes check, but he showed what desperate prayer looks like. Prayer that says one simple phrase, “You are God and I am not, help me.”
In my own life, this simple prayer has revolutionized my relationship with God, because it reminds me that no matter what I do, or how I perform, I need God every moment. Any good I do, comes from him, and not from me. “You are God and I am not, help me.”
But even at the end of the passage, the disciples still had not taken this to heart, because it says that they were afraid to ask Jesus. They understood that they did not get what Jesus was saying, yet instead of seeking for understanding, they simply kept quiet. Instead of being honest with their unbelief, they hid it.
And we can do the same thing. From time to time we can forget where the power to overcome this life comes from. Like we talked about last week, we can get so focused on us and the questions we want answered, that we forget that God’s desire is that we come closer to him. But we can also get so focused on ourselves, that we try to do things in our own strength, and then when it fails, we ask why didn’t it work? Don’t I go to church? Don’t I give money? Don’t I this? Don’t I that?
And the answer is, it didn’t work because we have lost desperate prayer in our lives. Prayer that says, “You are God and I am not, help me.”
But God wants us to fall constantly into prayer that is desperately seeking him. Prayer that keeps it’s focus on who God is and who we are in relationship to him. Because it’s in desperate prayer, that we truly find who we are, because we begin to understand who God truly is. He is the God, who loves us, who sent the Son, Jesus to die for us while we were in rebellion against him. And through Jesus’ death, and resurrection, we now have access to God. And it’s in that access that our desperate prayers are heard, and we can develop deep relationships with the God who loves us.
It’s so easy for us to be like the disciples, and wonder why things are not happening in our lives, when all it is, is our prayer life becoming too much about us, and not enough about seeking God. Too much self confidence, and not enough desperation for God.
My challenge to you this week is to have three prayers: one in the morning, one in during the day, and one at night. Now they need to be tailored to you, but here are some examples..
First in the morning prayer before you start your day to be something like, “God this is your day, empower me to meet it.”
Second one, praying throughout the day, and it is the one I shared with you earlier, “You are God and I am not, help me.” This one is for any situation throughout the day that takes your attention off of God, to bring that attention back to where it should be.
The third at night before you go to bed, “God thank you for this day, forgive me where I fail, draw me closer to you tomorrow.”
Just saying these, as flippant throw away words is easy, but to say them with the desire to desperately seek God is life changing.
Let us become people who are desperate in our prayers, so that we can meet God where he would have us meet him.
Now may you enter into your prayer, with desperation. Seeking God, not out of tradition or mere habit, but out of a deep longing desire to grow closer to him. Amen.