Now do turn with me to Mark's gospel chapter 9 please, and we take up where we left off. We're going to begin reading at verse 11 of Mark 9, and you remember please what came before: the Transfiguration event - and that's very important, that you realise where we are reading on from.
Verse 11 of Mark 9 then: 'And they asked him, saying', this is probably while descending the mountain, 'Why say the scribes that Elias', or Elijah, 'must first come? And he answered and told them, Elias verily cometh first, and restoreth all things; and how it is written of the Son of man, that he must suffer many things, and be set at nought. But I say unto you, That Elijah is indeed come, and they have done unto him whatsoever they listed, as it is written of him. And when he came to his disciples, he saw a great multitude about them, and the scribes questioning with them. And straightway all the people, when they beheld him, were greatly amazed, and running to him saluted him. And he asked the scribes, What question ye with them?', that is, His own disciples, 'And one of the multitude answered and said, Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit; And wheresoever he taketh him, he teareth him: and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and pineth away: and I spake to thy disciples that they should cast him out; and they could not. He answereth him, and saith, O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him unto me. And they brought him unto him: and when he saw him, straightway the spirit tare him; and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming. And he asked his father, How long is it ago since this came unto him? And he said, Of a child. And ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us. Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief. When Jesus saw that the people came running together, he rebuked the foul spirit, saying unto him, Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him. And the spirit cried, and rent him sore, and came out of him: and he was as one dead; insomuch that many said, He is dead. But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up; and he arose. And when he was come into the house, his disciples asked him privately, Why could not we cast him out? And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting. And they departed thence, and passed through Galilee; and he would not that any man should know it. For he taught his disciples, and said unto them, The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that he is killed, he shall rise the third day. But they understood not that saying, and were afraid to ask him'.
The title I have taken for the message this morning is: 'Believing Prayer, and Power for Service'. Let me remind you where we were in our last study in chapter 8 and the beginning of chapter 9. You remember in verse 27 of chapter 8 through to verse 33, the Lord Jesus had been very explicit concerning how He had to die on a cross. He was the Servant of God who had come to suffer, and it was through suffering that salvation would come to mankind. Of course, we have within that account Peter's confession: 'Thou art the Christ'; but we also have Peter and the disciples' confusion concerning Christ's cross. Peter rebuked the Lord for such a suggestion, they just didn't understand the message of the cross.
Campbell Morgan, it was, who said - and I told it to you last time - 'The man who loves Jesus, but who shuns God's method, is a stumbling block to the Lord'. These disciples were becoming a stumbling block to the Lord, that's why He had to rebuke Peter and actually called him 'Satan' - 'Get behind me!'. They didn't understand that the way to glory, the way to salvation was through suffering and through the cross. We also saw that their stumbling at the cross was not so much a theological issue but a practical one, because their equation in their mind was: 'If He's going to a cross, in all likelihood - because we have left everything to follow Him - we're going to one too'. The Lord really answered that unspoken question for them by speaking to them of their own cross. He began to talk to them about the true cost of discipleship, and we looked at our cross - verses 34 through to verse 38. The Lord there spoke of the conditions of true discipleship, particularly in verse 34 if you look at it again: 'Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me'. So there was surrender: 'Deny himself', that's different, we saw, from self-denial. It's not just giving up chocolate or some other thing that's bad for us that we like, but it's giving up ourselves entirely to the Lord, surrendering ourselves passively. It's negative, saying: 'I'm giving up being the pilot of my life in control over everything that I am and have, and surrendering to the Lord' – denying yourself. Then secondly there's sacrifice: 'Deny yourself, take up your cross'. We've to sacrifice, there's a cost to be a disciple of Christ, and that sacrifice is daily: take up your cross daily and follow Me. We asked what it's costing us to be Christians in the 21st-century.
The third thing that marked true discipleship was submission. If surrender was the negative and the passive of letting go of your life and giving it over to God, submission was the positive and the active whereby we obey what God has told us in His command: doing God's will, and that was enshrined in that comment 'Deny himself, take up his cross and follow me'. We saw that discipleship was a matter of profit and losses, verse 35: 'Whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it. What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?'. It's a question of whether we waste our lives on ourselves and on this world, or whether we invest our lives in the kingdom of Christ - and that's the only thing that's going to last. Remember I explained verse 37, which is so much misunderstood: 'What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?'. To put it in our language, it's saying: 'No matter how much you have, you cannot buy a second opportunity at your life', so spend the life you have for Jesus.
Then that brought us to what is commonly dealt with as just a separate and distinct section, that is the Transfiguration in chapter 9 verses 1 through to 10 - but we saw how much it relates to what has gone before. Christ's cross, our cross, and now the glory of the cross - and the message is clear: first the suffering, then the glory. The disciples didn't get it, and as we saw from our reading this morning they're still not getting it. You see, we want the glory without the suffering - and the devil would offer us the glory without the suffering, for didn't he do that in the temptation of our Lord? Isn't he tempting the Lord here again through Peter, and that's why the Lord Jesus uses exactly the same language to Peter as He did to the devil in the wilderness: 'Get behind me, begone!'.
The glory of the cross: you cannot have glory without suffering, it will end up suffering without glory. First the cross, then the crown. If we want God's glory, our lives will be marked by suffering service. That's what we see here in our portion, and it follows on very well from what has gone before because the disciples are not permitted to remain on the mountaintop of glory. We see them descending, and in the valley below there is a groaning sobbing example of mankind, a demon-possessed boy and his father. A world of need lying at the foot of the mountain where they had seen such divine glory!
In the Vatican Gallery in Rome there hangs a work of art by Raphael, his last painting in fact, which many believe was his greatest. It's entitled 'The Transfiguration', his depiction of this event. At the uppermost of the picture there is the transfigured form of the Lord Jesus, and Moses on His left and Elijah on His right. But on the next level down of the painting there are the three disciples who went up the Mount with the Lord - Peter, James and John - and you can see that they have recently been awakened, and they are shielding their eyes from Jesus' blinding brilliance. But then on the bottom level, the ground level, there is this poor demon-possessed boy, and his mouth is gaping hideously as if he's raving and mad. At his side there is the desperate father, and there are the surrounding disciples and scribes who are debating among themselves something - which we'll see possibly what it is in a moment or two - but some of them are pointing to the figure of the transfigured Christ at the top of the painting. In other words, the message that Raphael is getting across is that Christ is the only hope for that boy.
He very masterfully captures the overwhelming contrast between the glorious mountaintop experience of Christ's Transfiguration, and the reality of the troubled world that lay at the bottom of that mountain that the disciples were now travelling towards. Now imagine the experience that these disciples have had on the Mount - the three, Peter, James and John who were there. Surely as they came down the mountain their feet were hardly touching the ground, remember what they had seen: the divine essence of Christ bursting forth from Him, as never seen by them before. They had seen the father of the law, Moses; the father of the prophets, Elijah. They had seen the Shekinah glory, the cloud, the holy cloud coming down and enveloping them. They had heard the voice of God: 'This is my beloved Son, hear Him'.
From that, suddenly, they're brought forcibly down to earth. Now, before we reach the bottom of the mountain, do you see what they were doing on their way down? Verses 9 to 13, they had a theological discussion, they questioned the relationship, prophetically, between Elijah and the Messiah who was to come, and who they believed was now there. They discussed the timing of it all, and the resurrection - but from that theological discussion in the clouds, they're brought down to earth with a bump to face a young man possessed by a devil. Now can I make very obvious application to this just now, because many of us as believers: we want the glory, everybody wants the glory that the Lord has to offer! Often we want the rest that Christ gives us now. Now of course there is a spiritual rest that we all can enjoy, a peace that passes understanding, but we want to rest now like we will rest in eternity. We want to engage in leisurely theological discussion - and we could do with a lot more theological discussion these days - but so often it is leisurely and ignorant of the true realities of the aching heart of this world in which we reside.
Whilst these disciples are walking down the mountain asking very valid questions, they are oblivious to mankind that is perishing while they pontificate on prophetic truth. I think this, perhaps, is one of the great scandals of evangelicalism today. Incidentally, it happened in Paul's day. When he wrote to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 4 he said, comparing himself to some false apostles and those living in Corinth: 'Now you are full, now you are rich, you have reigned as kings without us: and I would to God you did reign, that we also might reign with you'. Now you know what Paul is saying there: you are living as if the millennial kingdom has already come - you're full, you're rich, you're reigning; and I would that that was the reality, because then we would all be reigning with you! Then he talks of the apostle's own experience, which was so different: 'For I thank God that he has set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honourable, but we are despised'. In other words, he's saying: 'You need to be brought down to earth with a bump too, to realise that the time to be rich, the time to be full, the time to reign, the time to have leisurely discussions at the expense of others is not yet'.
We all need to be brought back to earth with a bump, I think. In one day these disciples had moved from the glories of heaven to the horrors of hell. Now it should be like that for every servant of Christ - do you believe that? We should come out of our closets, having met with God in a pseudo-transfiguration experience, a mountaintop of communion, but we should be travelling down from those mountain peaks to meet the needs of a dying and a perishing world. We want the glories of the heavenly, perhaps, but don't want to get our hands dirty with the earthly. It was C. T. Studd, that great cricketer and inheritor of a mass of wealth, who gave it all up and went to the mission field for the cause of Christ. He said: 'Some want to live within the sound of church and chapel bell, but I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell'.
That's what these disciples needed to learn. In verses 14 to 16 they reached the base of the mountain, and a lively debate was going on among the Scribes, the gathered crowd, and the other disciples. The Lord appeared to the people, and they beheld Him, they were greatly amazed it says - that may be that His face still shone - but He asks them: 'What are you discussing?'. Now this is supposition, but I believe it's warranted: I believe that the Scribes were questioning the remaining disciples who were at the foot of the mountain because they haven't got the power to cast out the devil from this man, this young boy. In verses 17 and 18 his father is distraught - Matthew, in his account, says his father got on his knees and poured out his heart to the Lord about his son who was possessed with a mute spirit. Luke records him saying in Luke 9:38: 'Master, I beseech', or I beg you, 'look upon my son: for he is mine only child'. His only child is deaf and dumb, and this demon that possesses him is dashing the child oftentimes to the ground. It makes him, Mark says, grind his teeth, foam at the mouth. Luke says he would become as stiff as a board, and these violent convulsions were causing the child to waste away. He was dying.
Mark tells us, as other gospel writers, that on occasion this spirit cast the boy into fire and water. Now imagine the sight of this little lad, skin and bones, probably shaking like a leaf with nervous anxiety, and burnt from head to toe. What a picture of humanity. One writer has said of this young lad: 'He lived an aquarium-like existence. He was deaf and dumb, he could see what was going on around his pathetic body, but he could not hear or speak'. Like humanity today: filled with pain, but powerless to do anything about it. 'An aquarium-like existence', and this father comes to the disciples for help, and they couldn't help! He says that in verse 18, at the end of it, after he asks the Lord for help he said: 'I asked Your disciples, but they could not'. There was an absence of divine power in their service - there's a thought! An absence of divine power in their service. How often, I know I feel this way, we are faced with people in our world whose lives are wrecked and ruined, ravaged, brutalised by sin and Satan - and often you feel you've no answer. Now I know we always say: 'Christ is the answer to your every need', and all that - but if you sit before these people, whose lives are messed up, sometimes you do wonder. Satan's mission is to destroy the image of God in man, and the question we all need to ask ourselves is - like the disciples were asked by this victim - do we have an answer? Is that answer a powerful answer?
Now look at the Lord, what He said in verse 19: 'O faithless generation'. Now please notice: Jesus chided the disciples for their unbelief. It's His own He is rebuking. The problem was not a lack of education among them, it was not cultural or social awareness, it was not a lack of being relevant or attractive or contemporary, it was a lack of faith! O faithless generation! So we conclude that an absence of divine power in their service was due to a lack of faith, and that's usually the case. An absence of power in divine service is due to a lack of faith. Had the Lord Jesus not given them the power to cast out devils and demons? If you turn back to chapter 6, you see it very clearly in verse 7 and verse 13 that there the Lord bestowed that upon them. Here He has to say to them: 'O faithless generation', that word 'O' was rarely used in addressing someone directly. It reflected deep emotion, exasperation: 'O unbelieving generation'.
Now think about that statement: 'unbelieving generation' - who was He speaking to? His disciples. Why does He call them 'a generation'? Do you know what He's effectively saying? 'You disciples are no different than the rest of this generation', that's what He's saying! He's lumping them in along with everybody else. Now friends, that is fitting for the church today that is so rich and well-equipped, so knowledgeable and yet so powerless, it would seem, to meet the needs of perishing humanity. How often the Lord Jesus must be grieved with us the way He was with the disciples when He thinks of the resources He has given us, blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus - and yet we seem so practically powerless to do anything with those who are lost. He said to them: 'How long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you?'. Staggering words! 'How long shall I be with you before you tap into the authority that I have given you? How long will it be before your lives of powerlessness and defeat are transformed?'.
Can I ask you today: if the Lord asked you how long, what would your answer be to that question? How long has He been with you? How long have you been saved? How long have you been walking this Christian life, and yet there is a powerlessness in serving the Lord that meets the needs of others. Their problem was unbelief. They believed in the process, they believed in themselves because they had done this before, they had cast out devils before, but they had started to rest on something other than the Lord Himself.
Now we often hear an expression, and it is this: 'Faith is expectation' - faith is expecting something, you've heard that, haven't you? If you don't expect it, it's not faith. Well, let me say that that's false, because these folk expected something to happen. It had happened before and they expected it again, but nothing happened because their faith was not a hoping and trusting assurance in God and His word - that's what faith is: taking God at His word.
Indeed, in Matthew's account of this same incident, it was then that the Lord is recorded as speaking: 'Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible for you'. What is happening here in verses 20 to 23 is that as they brought the child to the Lord Jesus, the demon induced a particularly severe fit, and then the father asked the Lord to do something. Now look at what the father says: 'Do something if You can' - do you see it? 'If thou canst', imagine saying that to the Lord Jesus! Now, what would you do on such an occasion? You would expect, at least, the Lord to turn round and rebuke that man: 'What do you mean 'if'? That's not faith! 'If'' - but He doesn't rebuke that man, and don't you be too hard on that man. The Lord doesn't rebuke him because it was the disciples who failed.
'What do you mean?'. Well, let me tell you what I mean: the father was desperate and he came to these disciples, and because they were the representatives of Jesus Christ and had empowered to them His power also, they felt that they could do something - but they could do nothing! That's why, in verse 22, he says: 'If thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us'. Now here is a very sobering thought: our lack of power in serving the Lord reflects on the Lord Jesus Himself. Did you hear that? You mightn't like it, but I don't care, it's reality. The rabbis had a saying, you know: 'The one sent by a man, is as the man himself'. The one sent by a man is as the man himself, in other words the messenger, you take the messenger as if it was the master sending him. That was their culture and their belief, and the Scribes were saying here - this is what the discussion, I believe, was - they were accusing the disciples of being a phoney, because they couldn't cast the demon out of the lad; and if they were phonies, then He was a phoney! It reflected on Him.
Now I know the reality is: we point people to Christ, we don't point people to ourselves - and we say: 'Don't look at us, look at Christ - but the fact of the matter is, the Lord wants people to be able to look at us and see His divine power, and see something different in us. Not powerlessness and a paltry spiritual existence! It was captured well in that little verse:
'You are writing a gospel, a chapter each day,
By the deeds that you do, and the words that you say;
Men read what you write, distorted or true,
Say: what is the gospel according to you?'.
Jesus told this man that it wasn't a question of His ability to heal, but of the father's ability to believe - verse 23, do you see the play on words? The father had said: 'If You can heal, please help', in verse 23 'Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth'. Now that was a rebuke, I believe, to the disciples - they hadn't believed, O faithless generation. Now, let me sound a word of warning in verse 23. This has been an often abused verse, people lift it out of context and say you can almost do anything by believing prayer, claiming a verse like this - that's not so. Now listen carefully: faith must never go further than God's clear promises. God is only obliged to give us what He has promised us. Now that's very important. Faith is only as good as the promises of God.
Now, praise God, I believe Christ can heal today, and He's still healing - but is it always the Lord Jesus' will to heal? Well, if it was, no believer would die. The question that needs to be asked is: do you have a promise from God that He's going to heal you? If you don't have a promise from God that He's going to heal you, you've no grounds to ask Him to heal you. Now God can give that promise through His word, He can give it through other means I believe - and He can, I believe, and does give these promises; not just for healing, but for other things - but we need God's word to claim, in order to be sure that our faith will not be disappointed. Whilst we need to be cautious in this whole realm, we - I believe - in our circles, are on the verge of the other extreme, and that's that we've ceased to believe that God can do anything. Am I wrong?
Verse 24, what a statement, this man said: 'I believe'. Jesus said: 'If you believe, it's not about if I can - I can - but if you believe'. Now he's getting the word from Christ: 'If you believe, all things are possible'. He says: 'I believe, but help thou my unbelief - or as one translation puts it, 'I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief'. What an honest man! Would to God we were a bit more honest! His faith was imperfect, and there is no such a thing as a perfect faith in the life of a sinner. A faith that declares itself publicly, and at the same time recognizes its own weaknesses and pleads for help, is real faith. We can see it, verses 25 to 27, when the Lord Jesus ordered the unclean spirit to leave the child there was another terrible spasm, the little boy relaxed, many people thought he had died, and the Saviour raised him up by the hand - how precious - and He restored him, Luke says, to his father. Luke also records: 'And they were all amazed at the greatness of God'.
In verses 28 and 29 the Lord Jesus goes into a house. Incidentally, when you're going through Mark and the gospel's, note whenever the Lord takes the disciples into a house - there's something important going to be taught. When He's alone with them there, they ask Him privately, here's the question: 'Why couldn't we cast the devil out of the boy?', and He replied that certain service requires prayer and fasting. Now here's what the Lord Jesus was teaching them: He had showed them that there was an absence of divine power in their service, He then taught them that an absence of divine power in service is due to a lack of faith; but now He's teaching them in the house that the faith which brings power is the faith that prays. The faith that brings power is the faith that prays.
Why had the nine disciples remaining on the ground failed? Because they had become careless of their spiritual walk with the Lord Jesus Christ. A very simple answer: they had neglected prayer and fasting, they were operating on their own strength or their past experience. I don't know whether you ever think to yourself: 'Why is it that preachers keep going on about the quiet time? Having time with God, and praying, and reading the scriptures?'. This is why - but it's more than your quiet time, there are some things that need more than a quiet time! The authority that the Lord Jesus had given these disciples would only be exercised if they used it by faith, and cultivated it through spiritual discipline and devotion - and that was manifest in prayer, and fasting and prayer. What do you know about that? I know this much, to my constant condemnation, that the true test of our spiritual walk is our prayer life.
It was Murray M'Cheyne who said: 'What you are on your knees, you are and no more' - what you are on your knees, you are and no more. When I thought about that, all I could think was: my stature on my knees truly brings me down to size. I imagine you're no different. Why is there an absence of divine power so much in our service? It's due to our lack of faith, but it's a faith that must be fed by prayer and fasting. So much defeat, so much frustration in Christian service - is the Lord saying to you, is He saying to me: 'This kind can come forth by nothing but by prayer and fasting'. We're labouring tirelessly, conscientiously, and facing defeat and frustration over and over again - do you know what this is that He's talking about? It is the way of the cross again! Deny yourself, take up your cross, follow me. Pray, fast, suffer, sacrifice, serve!
On His way away from Caesarea in verse 30, what does He talk to them about again? Surprise, surprise: the cross. A further not so big surprise: they didn't get it! In verse 32, look at this, this is marvellous - at the end it says: 'They were afraid to ask him'. They were afraid to ask Him what the cross meant! I imagine that wasn't just because of what it meant for Him, but what it meant for them. The Lord was teaching them: there is no power, there is no power without paying the price.
Let's all bow our heads: I hope that you've got the message. He was Jehovah's Suffering Servant, and we are called upon to be His suffering servants. A very simple message, and yet how difficult to receive it, how hard it is to live it.
O Lord, give us the grace to put into practice what we have learned, for we will be condemned if we do not do what we have read and what we have studied. To whom much is given, much will be required. Lord, help me, help us to serve with the Saviour's heart. For His sake and glory, and for the salvation of lost souls we ask it, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Evangelical Church in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the forty-first recording in his 'Studies In Mark' series, entitled "Believing Prayer, And Power For Service" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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