The last time I preached from Mark’s gospel, we spent our time on the account of the Lord’s transfiguration on the high mountain, which was both a preview of his future glory as the resurrected Saviour of the world; and a preview of our future glory, because when the resurrected Saviour comes again, we will be made like him.
In today’s passage, we have the account of the healing of the boy with an evil spirit. By this miracle, the Lord once again demonstrated that he’s the Christ, God’s Anointed King, with the power and authority to destroy the Devil and all who side with him; and to deliver God’s people from our sin and misery so that we might possess everlasting life in his everlasting kingdom. But then this passage also teaches us about the need for faith: we must believe in the Saviour and trust in him if we’re to benefit from his saving work. And then the passage also teaches us about the need for prayer. The disciples wanted to know why they were unable to help the demon-possessed boy; and the Lord replied:
This kind can come out only by prayer.
So, we need to think about those three things today: the miracle as a sign to demonstrate that he’s God’s Anointed King; then there’s the absolute necessity of faith; and then there’s the absolute necessity of prayer.
Let’s look at the miracle as a sign to demonstrate that he’s God’s Anointed King. The Lord Jesus — along with Peter, James and John — had come down from the high mountain to rejoin the other disciples. And they saw a large crowd as well as some teachers of the law. And these teachers of the law, these scribes, were arguing with the disciples. But then, whenever the crowd saw the Lord coming, we read that they were overwhelmed with wonder. We don’t know why they were overwhelmed with wonder and amazement. Some commentators suggest the cause of their amazement might have been some lingering effects of his transfiguration. You know, his clothes were still dazzling white and his face still shone like the sun. However, there’s no indication from Mark that this was the case. So, we don’t know why they were so amazed to see him. Nevertheless they were, and they ran over to greet him.
And the Lord asked:
What are you arguing about?
And a man in the crowd explained that he brought his son who was demon-possessed to see the Lord Jesus; but since the Lord wasn’t there, the man asked the Lord’s disciples to drive away the demon. But they couldn’t do it. They were powerless to do anything about this evil spirit.
And the father described the suffering which his son had to endure because of this evil spirit. The spirit robbed him of his speech so that he was mute. And whenever it seized the boy, it threw him to the ground. It also made the boy foam at the mouth and gnash his teeth and it made his body rigid. Look down now to verse 22 where the father described how the evil spirit used to throw his son into the fire and water in order to kill him. And look now at verse 25 where the Lord referred to it as a ‘deaf and mute spirit’. And from 21 we learn that the boy had been like this from childhood. So, throughout the whole of his young life, he had suffered in this way. When other boys were out playing in the fields, running about, kicking a ball or whatever little boys did in those days, this boy’s life was very different.
Now, many of the things which the father described sound like the symptoms for epilepsy; and certainly the commentators discuss whether or not the boy was really demon possessed or whether he was suffering from a medical condition. However, while the symptoms seem the same as for epilepsy, we know from what the Lord Jesus said and did that it had to be a case of demon possession, because we read how the Lord addressed the evil spirit and he issued it with a command. The Lord did not treat a condition, but he rebuked a demon.
So, the boy was definitely demon possessed; and the demon inside him had caused him to suffer so very much throughout his life. And we can imagine the boy’s suffering, who had to endure all of this trouble. But we can also imagine the sorrow of the boy’s father, because throughout his son’s life he had to watch his son suffer so very much; and there was nothing the father could do to help his son or to relieve his suffering. The father had been unable to help his son. He hoped the disciples could help, but faced with the wicked and malevolent power of Satan, the disciples were unable to help this boy. Neither the father nor the disciples nor anyone else up to this point had been able to save this boy. But, of course, this only highlights for us the power and the authority of the Lord Jesus, because what was impossible for everyone else was simple and straightforward for the Lord Jesus Christ. Look at verse 25: he rebuked the evil spirit and commanded it to come out of the boy and never enter him again. And we read that the spirit shrieked and convulsed the boy one last time and then it came out. And the boy became still; so still, in fact, that some of them thought he had died. But he wasn’t dead, because when the Lord took his hand and lifted him, he was able to stand up. The demon had gone; it had gone for good; and the boy was well again. The Lord only had to speak and to give a word of command, and the demon was compelled to leave the boy alone.
The Lord versus the Devil
By driving away this demon, this evil spirit, the Lord once again demonstrated that he’s the Christ, God’s Anointed King, with the power and authority to destroy the Devil and all who side with him.
Right at the beginning of the Bible, we read how Satan spoiled God’s good world whenever he went to Eve and tempted her in the Garden to disregard God’s word and to disobey his clear command. And think of the consequences of what he did at that time: after Adam and Eve took the forbidden fruit, the Lord drove them out of the Garden of Eden and he placed an angel in the way to keep them from the Tree of Life and from the promise it held out to them and to us of eternal life in the presence of God. Eternal life in the presence of God was taken away from Adam and Eve and their descendants; and they were driven from God’s presence. And instead of living in paradise, they were sent away to live a life which would be hard and frustrating and full of troubles and trials and which would end in death. And it’s been the same ever since.
And ever since, Satan has done everything he can to frustrate God’s plans and to destroy his people, all those in this fallen world who have been chosen by God and who belong to him. The Devil has done everything he can to destroy them; and throughout the Old Testament we see this ongoing conflict between those who belong to the Lord and those who love what is wicked and evil and who had sided with the Devil. We see this conflict in the story of how the Egyptians oppressed the Israelites, who were God’s people in the days of Moses. We see this conflict in the story of how the Philistines and other nations attacked the Israelites when they were living in the Promised Land. We see this conflict in the story of how the Assyrians and Babylonians invaded the land and took the Lord’s people away. We see this conflict in the story of how King Herod wanted to kill the baby Jesus after he was born in Bethlehem. We see this conflict in the way the teachers of the law and the Pharisees continually criticised the Lord and plotted against him.
hroughout the ages, the Devil has been stirring up hatred and bitter opposition to the Lord and his people. And throughout the ages, he’s blinded the minds of unbelievers to keep them from believing in the Saviour. Throughout the ages, he tries to crush the Lord’s people and to destroy their faith. Throughout the ages, he does what he can to deceive the Lord’s people and to lead them away from the truth. And he gets into the church and, like a roaring lion, he frightens the Lord’s sheep and he scatters them and he does what he can to divide the church. And in every age, he stirs up opposition to the church so that the Lord’s people are persecuted throughout the world and they’re despised and treated with contempt by an unbelieving world. Throughout the ages, the Devil and his demons have done everything they can to oppose the Lord and his church and to bring suffering to all.
But before the Lord sent Adam and Eve out of the Garden, he promised that — when the time was right — there would come someone who would crush and destroy the Devil and all his work. And by that promise, God was foretelling how the Lord Jesus would come into the world to stand up to the Devil and to defeat him and all his demons and to give victory to his own suffering people. And so, when the time was right, the Lord Jesus was born; and to him was given the power and authority to stand up to these evil spirits and to cast them out. The Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Anointed King, only had to speak, and the evil spirit inside this boy was compelled to do what he said, because though the evil spirit was strong and powerful, he was not able to stand up to God’s Anointed King.
And what the Lord did on this occasion is a foretaste of what he will do when he comes again, because when he comes again, he will destroy the Devil and all his demons and all those who have sided with him. We read about this at the end of the Bible, and how Satan will gather his forces from around the world to make war one last time on the Lord and his people. But fire will come from heaven to devour them; and the Devil will be thrown into the lake of burning sulphur to be tormented day and night for ever and for ever. And as a foretaste of how the Lord will one day utterly destroy the Devil and give victory to his people, the Lord commanded this evil spirit to come out of the boy and never ever return to him. He is the Great King, God’s Anointed King, who has the power and authority to destroy the Devil and to bring salvation to whom?
That’s the second thing we need to consider today, because this passage makes clear the absolute necessity of faith. In verse 19, after the boy’s father explained to the Lord that the his disciples were unable to help his son, the Lord rebuked the people for their unbelief. Do you see that? He said:
O unbelieving generation. How long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?
The Lord rebuked them for their unbelief. And then, in verse 23, after the boy’s father had doubted even the Lord’s ability to help, the Lord rebuked him sharply and said to him:
If you can [do anything]?
How dare this man doubt the Lord’s ability! How dare he question his power and authority to save! The man said: ‘If he can!’ But, of course he can, because he’s the Christ, God’s Anointed King, the one God promised to send into the world to destroy the Devil and all his demons.
And then the Lord added:
Everything is possible for him who believes.
In other words: I can do everything that is necessary for the one who believes in me. And he can everything that is necessary for the one who believes in him, because he’s God’s Anointed King with the power and the authority, with all the power and all the authority, to destroy the Devil and all his demons and to deliver God’s people from our sin and misery. Can the Lord Jesus deliver this boy from the evil spirit? Is the Lord Jesus able to save this boy? Of course the Lord is able to deliver him and save him, because he’s the Christ, the King. And the way we receive the Lord’s salvation and the way we receive his help is through faith, by trusting in him, clinging to him through faith.
Do you remember back in chapter 6 when the Lord went to his home town, we read how the Lord was unable to do many miracles there. Why not? Because of their lack of faith. Because they did not believe in him, he would not help them. But then, in chapter 7, we read about the faith of the Syro-Phoenician Woman. Even though she was a Gentile, and the Lord had been sent to the Jews, nevertheless because she trusted in him, he was willing to help her. And on this occasion, in Mark 9, when the boy’s father doubted the Lord’s ability to help, the Lord rebuked him; but when the father confessed his faith — even a weak faith — the Lord listened to him and did what he asked and he drove the demon away.
All of this teaches us the absolute necessity of faith, because through faith we’re united with the Saviour. And even though our faith might be weak — like this man’s faith was weak — nevertheless we’re trusting in a mighty Saviour who is able to deliver us from Satan’s tyranny and bring us into his own kingdom of grace; and he’s able to strengthen us and enable us to stand firm against all of the Devil’s wicked schemes; and he’s able to keep us and to guard us and to guide us along that narrow path which leads eventually to everlasting life in his presence. Even though our faith might be weak, if we believe we’re united with a mighty Saviour, an all-conquering King, who is able to keep us for ever.
And so, I say to you: Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and for peace with God and for the free gift of eternal life, because he’s the only Saviour who is able to deliver us from Satan’s tyranny and give us everlasting life in his everlasting kingdom.
And if you’re already a believer, then you need to keeping trusting in the Saviour for everything you need in this life in order to stand firm and faithful in the face of trouble and to stand firm against the Devil and his wicked schemes, because though the Devil will come at you with troubles and trials and temptations — as he has always done ever since that day in the Garden of Eden when he came at Adam and Eve — though the Devil will come at you, Jesus Christ, God’s Anointed King, has the power and authority to help you and to strengthen you and to keep you. And so we must keep trusting in him, looking to him everyday for all that we need.
And this leads on naturally to my final point today, which is the absolute necessity of prayer in the life of the believer and in the church. At the end of today’s passage, the disciples asked the Lord why they were unable to drive out this evil spirit. Back in chapter 6, the Lord granted them authority to cast out demons. But this demon was too strong for them. They weren’t able to drive it out. And the Lord replied:
This kind can come out only by prayer.
Now, by these words the Lord seems to suggest that there were different kinds of demons, some more powerful than others. And while we could spend some time thinking about that, it’s more important for us to note that the most powerful kind of demon can still be dealt with by prayer.
This is not because prayer is powerful. Sometimes people will say that prayer is powerful; and they talk about ‘the power of prayer’. But prayer is not powerful. However, when we pray, we’re praying to the God who is powerful. When we pray, we’re appealing to Almighty God who can do all things and for whom nothing is impossible. Prayer itself is not powerful; but when we pray, we’re coming before Almighty God who is willing to hear and to answer the prayers of his people. And he’s powerful.
And when we think about the Devil and his demons and their implacable opposition to the church and to the purposes of God in the world; when we think of the Devil and his ability to blind the minds of unbelievers and to keep them under his tyranny; when we think of the Devil and his power to deceive even believers and to lead them astray; when we think of the Devil and his power to afflict us with suffering in order to crush us and our faith; when we think of the Devil and his schemes to divide the church and to scatter the Lord’s people; when we think of the Devil who is like a roaring lion, and who for the time being rules over so many people in the world; when we think of him, we cannot help but feel our own powerlessness and helplessness and inability to stand up to him. and to overcome him.
But even though we are weak, we believe in a Mighty God who is unafraid of the Devil and who is able to frustrate his wicked schemes and who has promised to build his kingdom on the earth. And he calls us to pray to him and to appeal to him to destroy the works of Satan and to build his own kingdom of grace in the world. Listen to what our church’s Larger Catechism says about prayer; and, in particular, about prayer for God’s kingdom to come. It says:
In the second request — which is ‘Your kingdom come’ — we acknowledge ourselves and all mankind to be by nature under the dominion of sin and Satan, and we pray that the kingdom of sin and Satan may be destroyed, the gospel spread throughout the world, the Jews called, the fulness of the Gentiles brought in, and that the church may be provided with all the New Testament office-bearers and ordinances, cleansed from corruption, and countenanced and maintained by the civil authorities.
Our prayer is that by these means the ordinances of Christ may be purely dispensed and made effective to the converting of those who are yet in their sins, and the confirming, comforting and building up of those who are already converted; and that Christ would rule in our hearts here, and that the time of his second coming and our reigning with him for ever may come quickly. And so we pray that God would be pleased to exert the kingdom of his power in all the world as may best serve to achieve these ends. Did you notice how the quotation from the Catechism begins? We acknowledge ourselves and all mankind to be by nature under the dominion of sin and Satan. So, bearing that in mind, what are we to do? Well, we’re to pray. We’re to pray in private and with our families at home. And we’re to pray together as a church, which is why we have the Midweek and the prayer time before the evening service. And when we pray, we’re to pray for the dominion of sin and Satan to be destroyed, for the gospel to be spread throughout the world, and for the church to be built up.
And, of course, faith and prayer are linked, aren’t they? Faith and prayer are linked, because when we believe in our own weakness, and when we believe in God’s great power, then we’ll bow before the Lord in prayer and ask him to exert his mighty power to bring down the Devil and to extend his kingdom throughout the world.