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The Power Source

Date: Oct. 27, 2019

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Mark 9:14-29

Key Verse: Mark 9:23

“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

On most mornings, my wife heads to work early so she can get home early. This means that I have to get the kids ready for and to take them to school. I have to make sure they brush their teeth and find the clothes they want to wear, but I also have to get them breakfast. Like many kids, they might have a bowl of cereal or some pancakes. Sometimes, they want a waffle, a bagel or some toast. That means that we have to use the toaster. Everyone here should know how a toaster works: you put in the toast, bagel or waffle and lower the little lever. Usually, the lever stays down and the heating elements light up, but occasionally, the lever won’t lock into place. It seems like the toaster doesn’t work. We did all the things that we normally do, but the toaster just wouldn’t work. Does that mean that it is broken or is there a button that is stuck preventing the arm from staying down? No, the toaster wouldn’t work because it simply isn’t plugged in. It’s not going to work without power. How many times has something like that happened to you? Have you ever tried to turn something on but it wasn’t plugged in or start up an engine but there was no fuel? A couple of weeks ago, the wireless mic that we use for Sunday service wasn’t working. The receiver wasn’t plugged all the way. Only one of the pins of the plug was in, the other pin was out, so receiver wasn’t getting any power. Once we realized that there was a problem, it was pretty obvious what the problem was. If something has to be plugged in, then it is not able to do anything without power. Our lives are very much the same way. By using our own strength, intelligence and cunning, there is not much that we can do. We are powerless. We require a connection to a power source in order for anything truly meaningful to happen.

The disciples were powerless. In the recent weeks, we’ve seen the disciples fail to understand what Jesus was talking about. He was warning them about the yeast of the Pharisees and Herod, but they had no clue what he was talking about. They thought that he was talking about bread. Then Jesus predicted his upcoming death, but the disciples were lost on what he was truly meant. Jesus was speaking plain as day, but they thought he was being fatalistic. Then, last week, Peter, James and John saw Jesus transfigured before them with Moses and Elijah appearing, but those three failed to recognize the significance of what was going on. They were so caught up in fear that Peter suggested building shelters for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Those passages were, in part, about the failure of the disciples and this passage shows those failures continuing. Our passage begins, “When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them.” (14) Jesus, Peter, James and John came down the mountain to find the other disciples. When they found the other disciples, there was a large crowd around them, and the teachers of the law were arguing with them. While Jesus was gone, the other disciples got themselves in a fight. Sometimes, when it is just me watching the kids and I have to go to the bathroom or something like that, the kids are in the living room, playing or watching something, and, almost without fail, within minutes, some sort of argument erupts among the kids and they start fighting, and it is not just the oldest two. It’s quite frustrating and I imagine when Jesus returned from the mountain, he might have felt a little frustrated that the other disciples, somehow, got themselves into an altercation while he was gone, even for that relatively little amount of time.

As they approached the scene, the crowd noticed Jesus and ran to greet him. Perhaps they thought that Jesus would be able to settle the ongoing argument and they were relieved to see him. “‘What are you arguing with them about?’ he asked.” (16) is a fair question because the argument seemed to draw a crowd. Before any of the disciples could answer a man in the crowd spoke up, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 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.” (17-18) If you look at the man’s answer, there doesn’t seem to be an actual answer to the question Jesus asked. What the man describes, or disciples’ failure to perform, seems to be what initiated the argument, but it wasn’t the argument itself. The man had brought his son to Jesus because his son was possessed by a demon that would cause the boy a lot of harm. The demon made the boy mute and often threw him into what looks like epileptic seizures. It must have been hard for the man to see his son constantly under the thrall of a demon. He heard about Jesus in the area and brought his boy to Jesus, but when he arrived, Jesus was not to be found. He had already gone up the mountain and only some of his disciples remained. The man must have been disappointed to not see Jesus, but he asked the disciples to help. They were Jesus’ followers. Perhaps he taught them what to do.

The disciples jumped at the opportunity, but they ultimately failed to drive the demon out. Earlier, Jesus sent out his disciples in pairs to preach the good news and drive out demons. They had done it before; surely, they could do it again. Well, they were wrong. The disciples were unable to extract the demon from the boy. They must have been a little bewildered, but that is where the teachers of the law came in. They must have seen the disciples’ ineptitude and began criticizing them, which probably led to the argument. Again, some of this is pure speculation, but it is not outside of the what we know about the disciples and the teachers of the law. It is entirely plausible.

When Jesus heard of his disciples’ failure, he spoke out. “‘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.’” (19) Now, when Jesus said, “You unbelieving generation,” he could have been referring to the crowd or just to his disciples. Jesus was frustrated at the lack of faith he saw, especially in his disciples. His words, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?”, show his frustration, but they are also literal. Jesus was going to die on the cross, and he wouldn’t be with his disciples for much longer. They would have to carry on without him immediately around. Here, though, Jesus calls for the boy to be brought to Jesus.

The passage continues, “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.” (20) When the demon inside the boy saw Jesus and knew exactly what was going to happen, so it took the boy and threw him into a seizure. The demon wasn’t going to go without a fight and wanted to cause the boy harm before leaving. Jesus saw for himself what was going on and asked the father how long this was happening. The father replied, “From childhood”. Let me take a moment. The passage continuously refers to the person who is demon possessed as a boy, but the father says that he has been like that since childhood. Isn’t he a child right now? Isn’t he in his childhood? Why refer to him as a boy? At any rate, it had been going on for a while and the father explained, “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.” (22) The demon would throw the boy in the fire or water. It really wanted to cause the boy harm and possibly kill him. It must have been hard for the man to see his son suffering as he did. It must have also been exhausting. There must have been countless times where the father had to rescue the son from dangerous situation after dangerous situation.

The man pleaded with Jesus to help. He asked for Jesus to have pity on them and help, if he could. Now, I kind of believe that when the man said, “if you can”, it wasn’t an intentional knock on Jesus. However, it may have been colored by the disciples’ failure. It was probably a slip from his mouth because he was discouraged at the disciples’ failure, but Jesus latched on to it. “‘“If you can”?’ said Jesus. ‘Everything is possible for one who believes.’” (23) Jesus uses it as an opportunity to teach and what he says is very powerful. Everything is possible for one who believes. Think about those words. Belief is the foundation for all possibilities. By believing, we have access to unlimited power. Does that mean that we can Thanos away all our problems in a snap? Can we make it rain burritos when we are hungry or instantaneously travel to other parts of the world when we want a vacation? Is that what Jesus is talking about? Everything is possible for one who believes. In the time of Moses, when the Israelites were fleeing from Egyptian slavery, they were in trouble. The Egyptians were coming to retrieve them and there was nowhere to run because their backs were to the sea. There was no place to go, but God made a way. By believing, Moses parted the sea and made a pathway for the Israelites to pass through. They escaped the charging Egyptians and when they tried to follow, the sea closed up and drowned the army. Their problems were snapped away. When those Israelites were getting hungry wandering in the desert, God made manna appear six days a week. It was like dew on the ground. So, it is possible, but all those acts occurred because they were the will of God. They all taught the Israelites the nature of God.

When Jesus said that everything is possible for one who believes, he meant that there is no, “if you can?”. The limitation is not how much power there is. The power comes from God, the one who created the whole universe with his voice and created life from dust. There is nothing that God cannot do. Jesus showed that. He commanded the wind and waves of a tremendous storm to stop. He walked on water and brought the dead back to life. Each of those things seem impossible, but they were ordinary for Jesus because of his connection to God. Jesus was connected to the power source and that allowed him to do amazing things: things that no one thought was possible.

The father, realizing his mistake, exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (24) Now, that sounds kind of funny. It sounds like he is saying that he does believe, and he needs help to believe at the same time. But what he says is slightly different and shows the complexity of having faith. The first part, “I do believe” is an affirmation of faith. He has some faith. We can see that because he brought the boy to Jesus. He had faith enough to give it a try, but doubt creeped in because of the disciples’ failure. He had faith up to a point, but it was hard to go further. Unbelief had crept in and was in danger of taking over, so he cried out, “help me overcome my unbelief!”

When the man said this, the crowd must have realized that something was going to happen. “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.’ The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, ‘He’s dead.’ But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.” (25-27) The crowd was running over to him, and Jesus commanded the spirit to leave the boy and to never enter him again. The demon didn’t want to leave. It shrieked and convulsed the boy violently, but it could not disobey an order from the Son of God. It left and the boy looked like he was dead, but Jesus got him on his feet, and he was healed. What was seemingly impossible, was now done. The boy was healed, and the demon was gone.

Later, the disciples asked Jesus why they couldn’t drive out the demon. Jesus replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.” (29) Again, this seems a little funny. Jesus said that the demon can only come out by prayer, but when did Jesus pray for the demon to come out? I don’t see it in this passage or any of the parallel passages. When did this prayer happen? Sometimes, when Jesus gets ready to perform a miracle, the passage says that he prays first, but here there doesn’t seem to be any direct prayer before driving the spirit out. So then, what is Jesus referring to? It can only come out by prayer. I think that it is related to what Jesus told the father, “Everything is possible for one who believes.” Believing and prayer have a relation. We can’t truly believe if we do not pray. Belief requires a relationship with God and as with any relationship, there has to be communication, which for us is prayer. We communicate to God through prayer. How can we have a relationship without talking to each other? Have you ever had a relationship with someone without ever communicating with them? We need to converse with God. We do so via prayer, and he speaks to us through the Bible and by convicting us in our hearts.

Jesus didn’t pray to drive out the spirit, but he lived a life of prayer and had a close relationship to God the Father. Jesus was constantly connected to the power source and was able to do amazing things because of that connection. We, too, have to plug into that power source by developing a relationship with God through prayer. Every day we should be coming to God in prayer. Living a life of prayer doesn’t mean that you only say a few words before bedtime. It doesn’t mean that you only take an hour every day to deeply pray. It doesn’t mean that we only come to God with a laundry list of items that we need or want. It is good to have a dedicated time for prayer, but prayer shouldn’t be sequestered and cordoned off to only a certain time of day. It should be interwoven through all times of life. Praying only at a certain time of day is like having a scheduled time to talk to your friends. It makes it feel like you are talking out of obligation and not because you want to. Who wants that type of friendship? Also, if you only pray with requests or complaints, it’s like having a friend that only comes to you when they want something from you or to complain. That would get old really fast and you wouldn’t want to talk with them. You might want to hear how their day went: what victories did they have, who they saw and what made them laugh. God wants for you to share everything about your life with him. God wants to hear about your joy and be thankful for all the things in your life. He wants to hear about your fears and struggles and give you peace in times of trouble. God is our greatest fan and we need to cultivate that relationship. He loves us no matter what we have done when we accept Jesus as our savior. That connects us into the power source. We get plugged in and learn to trust in Jesus and believe what he says is true.

The disciples failed because they tried to go it alone. They thought that they had the power to drive out demons because they did it before, but they didn’t cultivate the relationship. It shriveled and dried up because they didn’t cry out to God, so they had no power. They failed because they thought the power was within them, but they were just unplugged from the power source. We have to constantly be connected to power or disaster strikes. We can’t do anything meaningful on our own. Even humanity’s greatest achievements are not without horrible consequence. All this industry and commerce that we have is polluting this world. Many of the advancements that we have done have come from a response to war and countless deaths ensued. On our own, humanity pushes forward with death, violence and destruction, even if we don’t mean it. However, when we are connected to God, when we are plugged in, even greater things are possible. Humanity has no idea how to change a person’s heart or mind, but with God’s power people can truly be changed. The darkness that resides within us can be expelled, like this demon was. Our hearts can be healed, and our minds restored. Fear and pain can be a thing of the past. People that we care about can be saved. There is no amount of technology or human advancement that can do that, only the power of God.

We can achieve anything, including life everlasting, if we truly believe. That requires us to have a life of prayer. Prayer must permeate every aspect by just talking to God throughout the day. It doesn’t even have to be verbal; it can be in your head. God will still hear it. You don’t have to sit and meditate until you can float in the air. To have a relationship with people, you don’t have to do some great thing. You just have to be a part of their lives. God wants to be an important part of your life and that relationship gives you access to the most immense power imaginable, more powerful than all the Infinity Stones, if you just believe.

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