37 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38 And behold, a man from the crowd cried out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. 39 And behold, a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly cries out. It convulses him so that he foams at the mouth, and shatters him, and will hardly leave him. 40 And I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” 41 Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” 42 While he was coming, the demon threw him to the ground and convulsed him. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit and healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. 43 And all were astonished at the majesty of God. – Luke 9:37-43 ESV
Just one day after the scene of Jesus’ spectacular transfiguration on the mountaintop, it was back to business as usual for the disciples. Peter, James, and John had been given the unique opportunity of watching the glorified Jesus having an intimate discussion with the long-dead patriarchs, Moses and Elijah. Still on an emotional high from their experience, the three disciples must have been disappointed to find the ever-present throng of people who had gathered to see Jesus. They had probably seen the transfiguration as a sign that Jesus was about to establish His messianic kingdom. But now it appeared that nothing had changed. They were greeted by a scene of chaos and confusion. There was a large crowd encircling the other nine disciples, who were in a heated argument with the scribes (Mark 9:14). But as soon as Jesus arrived on the scene, He became the focus of attention, drawing the crowds like moths to a flame.
Like a father who arrives home to find his children in an unexpected predicament, Jesus attempts to discern the cause of the trouble. And it doesn’t take Him long to discover that the conflict involves His disciples and another man in the crowd. The rest of the people were like rubberneckers at an accident, drawn by the spectacle of it all and curious to see what was going to happen next.
When Jesus demanded to know the cause of the argument taking place, a father in the crowd spoke up.
“Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, my only child. An evil spirit keeps seizing him, making him scream. It throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It batters him and hardly ever leaves him alone.” – Luke 9:38-39 NLT
This man had come expecting to find Jesus but instead, he had encountered the nine disciples whom Jesus had left behind. In his account of this event, Matthew describes the man as kneeling at the feet of Jesus. His actions reveal his high regard for Jesus and his belief that Jesus was capable of assisting him with his need. He had brought his son for healing but when he had discovered Jesus to be gone, he had turned to the disciples for help.
“I begged your disciples to cast out the spirit, but they couldn’t do it.” – Luke 9:40 NLT
Disappointed by his failure to find Jesus, the anxious father had turned to the disciples for help. And it seems clear from the text that these men had made a valiant effort to cast the demon from the man’s son but with no success. What makes their failure so significant is that Jesus had given all of the disciples the authority to cast out demons (Mark 3:15). And they had successfully proven their possession of that authority when Jesus had sent them out in pairs to preach, teach, and heal. Mark reports that “they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them” (Mark 6:13 ESV).
And yet, on this occasion, their efforts had come up short. The argument that had ensued must have begun when the disciples started making excuses for their failed attempts at exorcising the demon. Perhaps they began to question whether this man or his son had broken a particular Mosaic law and this violation had resulted in the boy’s condition. They were obviously frustrated at their inability to exercise their authority over the demon and were trying to figure out what was standing in their way. When all the dust had settled, they even asked Jesus, “Why couldn’t we cast out that evil spirit?” (Mark 9:28 NLT).
The scribes may have been dragged into the argument in order to explain the Mosaic Law and to give their opinions on the boy’s condition and the demon’s persistent power over him. The whole scene had quickly devolved into a shouting match, with each side pointing fingers at the other. And all the while, the boy remained demon-possessed.
Into this storm of confusion and chaos, entered the only one who could bring peace and calm. Jesus, disappointed at the sordid scene taking place in front of Him, declared His frustration.
“You faithless and corrupt people! How long must I be with you and put up with you?” – Luke 9:41 NLT
To fully appreciate Jesus’ words, one must recall the transfiguration He had just experienced on the mountain top. For a brief moment in time, Jesus had been transformed into His future, glorified state, and had been joined by Moses and Elijah, two of the great patriarchs of the Hebrew people. The three of them had discussed His coming “exodus” or departure from this life. It had all been a much-needed reminder that His days on this earth were coming to a close and He would soon be returning to His Father’s side. But upon His descent from the mountain, Jesus had encountered a scene of faithlessness and spiritual apostasy.
This recalls a similar scene that took place hundreds of years earlier. Moses, the great deliverer of the Hebrew people, had just spent 40 days and nights on the top of Mount Sinai. He had enjoyed intimate communion with God and had received the Ten Commandments from the Almighty’s hand. But when He had descended from the mountain, he found the people of Israel worshiping before a false god. He had returned to a scene of chaos and confusion prompted by the faithlessness of the people of God.
Upon His descent from the mountain, Jesus was forced to look upon a similar scene where faith was in short supply and the enemy was having his way among the people of God. The disciples’ inability to cast out the demon had left the boy still possessed and persecuted. But even more importantly, their failure of faith had left the people in a state of doubt and uncertainty.
But Jesus stepped into the darkness of the moment and focused His full attention on the state of the boy. The father provided Jesus with a blow-by-blow description of his son’s condition, explaining in great detail how relentlessly the demon had tormented his child (Mark 9:21-22). And you can sense his growing state of desperation as he begs Jesus for help.
“But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” – Mark 9:22 ESV
At this point, even the father is unsure whether Jesus can do anything about his son’s condition. He is losing hope. But Jesus gently rebukes the man’s timid and half-hearted expression of faith, stating, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes” (MRK 9:23 ESV). Jesus seems to be telling the man that it is not so much a matter of if He can heal the boy, but if He will. This was less an indictment of the man’s faith as it was an exposure of his lack of understanding of who Jesus was.
The father, anxious to see his son healed, cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24 ESV). He desperately wanted to believe that Jesus could heal his son, but he had seen the disciples try and fail. He asked Jesus to remove any and all doubts by casting the demon from his son. And Jesus did just as the man wished. He addressed the demon directly, commanding it to leave the boy and to never return.
“You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” – Mark 9:25 ESV
And the demon obeyed, convulsing the boy one last time and leaving him in a catatonic state that made it appear as if he was dead. But Jesus raised the child up, revealing him to be fully restored to health.
This entire scene had been a demonstration of faith. But the focus was not on the faith of the father. Jesus was exposing the faithlessness of His disciples. Matthew records that after Jesus had exorcised the demon and the disciples had asked why they had been unsuccessful, He had responded, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20 ESV).
Remember, Jesus had told the man, “All things are possible for one who believes.” The emphasis was on His own faith, not that of the father. Jesus fully believed He had the power and authority to cast out the demon, and He proved it by doing so. He knew who He was and what He was capable of accomplishing with the power He had been given by God. But the disciples were another matter. Their belief had proven insufficient. But it was not the amount of their faith that was the problem. It was their inability to understand the true source of their power. According to Jesus, even the smallest portion of faith in the full power of God could “move mountains.”
Their ability to cast out demons did not reside in themselves. It was not some inherent power they possessed but it was meted out to them by God. That is why Jesus told them that “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (Mark 9:29 ESV). They had failed to understand that their earlier experience of casting out demons had been authorized by Jesus and made possible by God’s power, not their own. But they had somehow believed that they were in personal possession of that power. They had wrongly assumed that it had become permanently resident within them.
In trying to cast out the demon, they had put their faith in themselves. Like the Israelites in the wilderness, the disciples had ended up worshiping a false god: Themselves. They thought they were the possessors of power, but Jesus reminded them that even the smallest of faith placed in the power of God could produce the greatest of miracles. Jesus believed He had authority over the demon because He believed He had the power and authority of God at His disposal. His life was living proof that “All things are possible for one who believes.”
And Luke concludes that everyone who witnessed this scene was “astonished at the mighty power of God” (Luke 9:43 NET). Jesus had full faith and confidence in the power given to Him by God the Father, and He had demonstrated that faith by casting out the demon. And even those in the crowd had to recognize that what they had witnessed was the power of God. There was no other explanation.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson