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"Help My Unbelief!" a Study of Mark 9:14-29

I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.


Introduction: A Test of Faith

In a book entitled "How to Speak to Youth, author Ken Davis recalled this incident from his life. He writes:

In college I was asked to prepare a lesson to teach my speech class. We were to be graded on our creativity and ability to drive home a point in a memorable way. The title of my talk was, "The Law of the Pendulum." I spent 20 minutes carefully teaching the physical principle that governs a swinging pendulum. The law of the pendulum is: A pendulum can never return to a point higher than the point from which it was released. Because of friction and gravity, when the pendulum returns, it will fall short of its original release point. Each time it swings it makes less and less of an arc, until finally it is at rest. This point of rest is called the state of equilibrium, where all forces acting on the pendulum are equal.

I attached a 3-foot string to a child's toy top and secured it to the top of the blackboard with a thumbtack. I pulled the top to one side and made a mark on the blackboard where I let it go. Each time it swung back I made a new mark. It took less than a minute for the top to complete its swinging and come to rest. When I finished the demonstration, the markings on the blackboard proved my thesis.

I then asked how many people in the room BELIEVED the law of the pendulum was true. All of my classmates raised their hands, so did the teacher. He started to walk to the front of the room thinking the class was over. In reality it had just begun. Hanging from the steel ceiling beams in the middle of the room was a large, crude but functional pendulum (250 pounds of metal weights tied to four strands of 500-pound test parachute cord.). I invited the instructor to climb up on a table and sit in a chair with the back of his head against a cement wall. Then I brought the 250 pounds of metal up to his nose. Holding the huge pendulum just a fraction of an inch from his face, I once again explained the law of the pendulum he had applauded only moments before, "If the law of the pendulum is true, then when I release this mass of metal, it will swing across the room and return short of the release point. Your nose will be in no danger."

After that final restatement of this law, I looked him in the eye and asked, "Sir, do you believe this law is true?" There was a long pause. Huge beads of sweat formed on his upper lip and then weakly he nodded and whispered, "Yes." I released the pendulum. It made a swishing sound as it arced across the room. At the far end of its swing, it paused momentarily and started back. I never saw a man move so fast in my life. He literally dived from the table. Deftly stepping around the still-swinging pendulum, I asked the class, "Does he believe in the law of the pendulum?" The students unanimously answered, "NO!"

In Scripture, Jesus is often dismayed by the lack of faith of individual's He encounters. But at times there comes a person will go against the norm and display acts of courage and faith in Jesus' abilities to help in time of need. One such man is found in Mark 9:14-29.

He was a normal person in a crowd of others who was different in only one way. He was desperate to save his son that was possessed by a demon causing him much harm. No one was able to help this man or his poor son. But the desperate father thought that, just maybe, the Lord might be able to free his precious child of this horrible and sad existence that he'd literally been experiencing for years.

Jesus not only helped them but He also took the opportunity to give everyone who saw and listened to Him a lesson on true faith which at least two people, the man and his son, would never forget. And, hopefully, we won't either.

I. A Story of Belief and Unbelief

The story in this section is clearly one that displays both belief and unbelief in the Lord. It begins, in the book of Mark, right after a very famous incident in the life of our Lord. Jesus, along with Peter, James and John had just descended from the mountain of transfiguration on which Christ shows three disciples a taste of His glory before His death on the cross.

Our Savior comes down the mountain only to see a crowd of people, including some scribes, arguing with his other disciples who had remained behind. When the crowd saw Jesus coming, they were amazed and ran up to Him.

He then asked the group what they were discussing. It was then that the man out of the throng of people spoke up and said:

“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).

Jesus answers them by lamenting over a sad truth, which was not only directed at the father, or the 9 other disciples, but also at the unbelieving scribes, who were probably gloating over the disciple's inability to cast out the demon. Further, the statement included that whole generation of unbelieving Israel at the time. He says:

“You unbelieving generation. “How long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me! (19).”

When they brought the man's son to our Lord, the demon threw him into a convulsion. The son then began rolling around and foaming at the mouth.

Jesus responds by asking the dad how long this kind of thing had been happening? Obviously, the son was no longer a boy since the father responds:

:"From childhood. It has often thrown him both into the fire and into water to destroy him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us!."

The King James here says in verse 23 that:

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"If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.

Some of the newer translations go with the fact that many of the oldest manuscripts available omit the word believe and just say: "If you can." In this case it becomes a question or an exclamation

The issue is not Jesus' lack of power. It was the father's lack of faith. Christ often healed though people didn't have faith in Him. He healed multitudes and not all of them believed in Him. However, here He chose, in this instance, to emphasize the power of faith.

The father then gives a very profound response to our Lord, showing that though he had doubts, he truly wanted to have the faith that Christ spoke of. He urgently cried out:

"I do believe; help my unbelief!" (24).

Like all of us, this man had an imperfect faith. We all doubt the Lord at times. We worry and fret over what is going to happen in our lives. We grow impatient with God's timing for things that we're praying about. And we wonder if anything will ever change in our lives. During these times, we all need to cry to our Heavenly Father:

"I believe; help my unbelief!"

All things come from the Lord. That includes our faith. We'd do well to humbly admit like this pleading father, that we require help to have the greater faith that God demands of us.

However, it is also good to know that Christ took pity on this anguished father, imperfect though his faith may have been. And our Lord healed his son. This is how the Scripture relates it:

"When Jesus saw that a crowd was rapidly gathering, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You deaf and mute spirit, I command you, come out of him and do not enter him again.” After crying out and throwing him into terrible convulsions, it came out; and the boy became so much like a corpse that most of them said, “He is dead!” But Jesus took him by the hand and raised him; and he got up." (25-27).

No power in this universe is capable of winning against the Creator and Sustainer of it all. We are in capable hands when we lay all of our problems before His feet. We may face all kinds of hardships. They may be financial troubles, or relationship challenges. They may include any number of physical or spiritual problems. The challenge may be the death of a loved one or the possibility of losing our own life.

But no matter what, God has it all under control. And in order to have a life that doesn't go into a panic every day, we must have faith in this fact. God knows and cares. Further, in the end. It will all work out. He spoke the universe into existence. Nothing that we can ever face is too much for Him to take care of.

This incident ends with Jesus and his disciple leaving the scene and coming into a house. They then asked the Savior:

"Why couldn't we drive it out?" (28).

Jesus replied:

"This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer." (29).

That is, unless you are the eternal God to whom every knee will one day bow! All things are subject to Him.

The disciples probably had gotten a little over-confident in their own abilities. Earlier victories had made them cocky and they hadn't thought to resort to prayer.

This is a lesson to all of us who think that we have gotten to where we are by our own ingenuity and strength. Without the Lord, we can do nothing! May we never get so self-centered as to think that we don't need Him or that we don't require prayer for all of the events of our lives.

Sometimes the Lord uses the impossible situations in our world to remind us of the fact that we aren't as powerful, or as smart as we think we are. We need Him daily to help us to live in this world of sin and problems.

II. A Lesson For All Involved

So, we see that, in the end, there is a lesson for all involved in this incident. That lesson is faith in an all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving God.

We don't know how most people in the crowd responded to this display of Jesus' power. It is possible that many believed in Him because of what He did. But, most likely, many still didn't exercise their faith in Him and become His followers.

The scribes were theologians and jurists at the same time. They were the voice of tradition. Their business was to study and interpret, as well as copy, the scriptures. Because of their minute acquaintance with the law, they were also called lawyers, and were recognized authorities. These men were probably the hardest to be convinced that Jesus was who he claimed to be. However, for any who took the time to pay attention they could have, like the rest of the group, been given a reason to accept the claims of our Lord and be converted. Once again, we don't know if any of them were. However, they were given sufficient reason to do so, if only they believed.

Nothing else is said of the son, except that he was healed and freed from demon possession. Perhaps he was converted and followed Jesus. However, we don't know.

The disciples were humbled, realizing that their own power and authority was unable to free the young man. However, we can imagine that it boosted their faith in the Lord whom they followed and served. Christ was the only one who could have made this boy well.

The person that we do know some about is the father. He was a man who was so frantic for hope for his son, that he was humbled enough to admit that his faith was inadequate. It was C.S. Lewis who said that:

"You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn't you then first discover how much you really trusted it?"

Well, this man was hanging by a rope over a precipice. He didn't know where else to go or what else to do to help the son that he loved with all of his being. And in that utter hopeless situation, he came to Jesus. And the Lord honored that small piece of faith and saved his boy.


We must conclude this study by saying that there will come a time in all of our lives when our faith is tested. We will realize that our strength and reasoning alone isn't adequate to help us in a particular situation we encounter.

It is then that we need, more than ever, to cry out to the Lord to help our lack of faith and to give us the type of belief that will get us through even the roughest situations that any person can face.

But let us not wait until then. May we continually be praying for and cultivating the type of faith that trusts the Lord no matter what may happen to us. He is indeed the God of impossible situations. We are not alone in this world so prone to problems and misery.

And as Paul has said in Ephesians 3:20 , our God can do:

"exceedingly, abundantly above all that we can ask or think, according to the power that works in us."

This verse tells us that through faith in Jesus Christ, we have God Himself living in us and He is perfectly capable of handling any problem that we may have in this life.

May we, from this moment forward, wake up each morning and ask God for the faith needed for each day. And then let us go about our business knowing that, with Him and us together, there is nothing that will happen to us that we can't handle and overcome. All things are possible to the one who believes!

© 2020 Jeff Shirley

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