The Disciples Dilemma (Mark 9:14-29)

The Disciples Dilemma (Mark 9:14-29)


I.) Dangers of Serving Independently of God

Truly, a horrific matter unfolds in this text about a man, his son, and Jesus’ disciples who are incapable of exercising the very authority given to them. A man comes to the disciples with his only “son, possessed with a spirit which makes Him mute:”

“Whenever it seizes him”:

1.) “It dashes him to the ground.”

2.) “He foams at the mouth.”

3.) “Grinds his teeth.”

4.) “Stiffens out.”

5.) “Throws him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him.”

6.) It has done this “from childhood.”

Nine of the disciples who are known among the region to cast out demons through the power of Christ are suddenly unable to do so.

It is important for us to see that though a good portion of this text is spent detailing the actual event, its purpose does not rest in this awful scenario itself. In other words, the greater purpose lays more in Jesus’ interaction with His disciples through it. This text begins and ends with the disciples:

1.) It begins with Jesus coming to those incapable of casting a demon out.

2.) It ends with Jesus telling them exactly why they could not do it.

Once the event is detailed, and healing occurs, we are left with a text revealing the dangers of Christ’s people serving independently of God. We are shown what a ministry completely dependent on self produces; Nothing!

In the end, no one is helped and Christ is not glorified, rather something far worse happens; He is doubted.

It would behoove us as Christ’s ambassadors today to carefully examine the disciple’s failure here to ensure we do not serve in a similar way.

When we slow this text down we will be able to discern not only how the disciples failed, but:

1.) Why they failed.

2.) What their failure produced.

We are ultimately left with an indictment against serving in the flesh.


II.) Faltering in Devotion

As we look at this account keep in mind that we are two years into Jesus’ earthly ministry.  For two years the disciples have walked with Jesus:

1.) Hearing His claims.

2.) Witnessing His works validating His claims.

For two years they have watched Christ serve dependently upon His Father by His devotion:

1.) To His Word.

2.) To communing with Him in prayer.

It is important for us to understand that the areas Christ was devoted to were the very areas the apostles were to be devoted to after His ascension. The book of Acts reveals this in chapter six, with the apostles making this statement:

“It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables…we will devote ourselves to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.”[1]

A careful look at our text in Mark will reveal nine of the disciples faltered in the very areas they were one day going to be commissioned to be devoted to. This will become clearer as we go on.


III.) The Failure of the Disciples

Let’s first get a handle on the beginning:

Mark 9:14-16

We see Jesus, James, Peter and John return from the mountain to witness an argument taking place between the other disciples and some scribes. The text does not directly address the content of the argument, but I would venture to guess it was over the credibility of Jesus.

Q.) Why would I venture to guess that?

A.) Neither the disciples, nor the scribes answer Jesus’ question.

A man with an unhealed son does. Not only does his answer reveal the disciples failure, but also a matter that would give Jesus’ enemies ground to attack His reliability:

Mark 9:17-18

Consider the weight of what he is saying:

1.) “I brought You my son.” He believed Jesus had the power to heal.

2.) “I told Your disciples to cast it out.” He believed they were given Jesus’ power, and fully confident in their ability to do so.

3.) “They could not do it.” This would have caused the crowds to begin to question the power and authority of Christ.

If Christs power is called into question His claims will naturally follow, for His power confirms His Person. The scribes are now in a position with what seems like evidence to declare Jesus is not who claims to be:

“This man brought his only son to your disciples, who claim to do things in Your power; but to no avail.”

Q.) What would the natural conclusion be?

A.) Jesus is not that powerful; therefore, He is not the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

Consider also the words of the man later on who went from telling the disciples to cast the demon out, to questioning if Jesus could actually do it, saying:

“If you can…”

The next eleven verses consist of Jesus compassionately proving He can, thus confirming Himself to be the Christ, the Son of the Living God:

Mark 9:19-29

It is through the working of His awesome power here that the disciples’ failure is eclipsed. Christ has sovereignly worked despite His closest followers’ blatant error.


IV.) Fleshly Ministry

Now if we do not take the time to consider what Jesus has said here we will miss the answer to the question the beginning of the text creates:

Q.) Why couldn’t the disciples cast the demon out?

Consider the implications of Jesus’ statements:

1.) “All things are possible to him who believes.”

2.) “This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer.”

Q.) If all “things are possible to him who believes,” and Jesus helped this father who possess just a fraction of belief, what does this imply?

A.) Nine of the disciples were in unbelief.

Q.) If nothing “but prayer” could cast the demon out, what were the disciples not doing?

A.) Praying for God to work through them.

He reveals the disciples’ inability to cast a demon out was the fruit of their failure to believe and pray. They faltered in their devotion, which led to them serving without any dependence upon God. Their self-reliance produced nothing, but reproach and doubt towards Christ.

It should be understood that His followers received the brunt of His rebuke:

“O unbelieving generation!”

To emphasize His exasperation with their unfaithfulness He says:

“How long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you?”

What we see is the pain Christ feels when His people neither believe nor pray when ministering in His name. When one serves in such a way their dependence is not on God, but self.

A ministry carried by the flesh of man can hold the appearance of being for Christ, but only Jesus can determine if it is so. Like the disciples, sometimes serving in the flesh will become evident, because a circumstance unveils it. Serving in the flesh; however, has followed men and women to the grave.

Q.) Do we serve in a way that Jesus would characterize as unbelieving and lacking prayer?

Q.) Do we serve in our flesh or the Spirit?


V.) Serving in the Spirit

If we desire to serve in the Spirit, we are required to forsake all of our personal wisdom and strength, and depended on the wisdom and strength of God.

Q.) Where do we turn to know the wisdom and strength of almighty God?

A.) His revealed Word.

Q.) What do we do to experience that which we know about God’s revealed wisdom and strength?

A.) We pray in accordance with what we know.

Prayer is fueled by belief, and belief is to be grounded in a careful examination of the word of the living God in its correct context. I believe the disciples’ lack of prayer was the natural progression of their unbelief, which led to their serving in the flesh.

Q.) Why didn’t they depend on God through prayer?

A.) For some reason they did not believe in Jesus’ power through them.

Tragically, their fleshly and unbelieving service led to the doubt of the very people they were to help. Both Jesus’ credibility as the Christ, and His ability to save were called into question.


VI.) Live to His Glory

Clearly I desire us to understand that if we serve in unbelief which leads to a lack of prayer we will undoubtedly be serving in the flesh. Such fleshly service will do nothing for the expansion of the kingdom to the glory of God. Jesus does not want His people to serve independently, but dependently upon God. To serve in the flesh will ensure in the end that no one is truly served, and Christ is not glorified. Such service may hold the appearance of living for Christ, but when we stand before the One with whom we have to do, and our lives lived for Him are tested:

Q.) What will remain as our eternal rewards?

Q.) Once the fire has consumed everything we have done independently of Him, and for our own glory, what will be left standing?

Q.) Can Jesus work in spite of our unbelief?

A.) Yes, but understand that just because He works in spite of us does not mean we should willingly continue to put Him to the test.

All it means is that He is God and He will not allow His purposes to be thwarted by the puny will of man.

Serve in accordance with His will by carefully and prayerfully examining His Word in its correct context.

Continually praise Him and thank Him for:

1.) He is gentle with us even when we inadvertently bring reproach upon His name, or give people reason to doubt His ability to save.

2.) His awesome power eclipses our frequent failures.

3.) He is Who He declares Himself to be.


[1] Acts 6:2,4

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