Mark 9:20-24 (NIV): 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.
Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”
“From childhood,” he answered. “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.”
“’If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.”
Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
They didn’t even get the boy to Jesus before the evil spirit caught one look at Him, and threw the boy into a convulsion. He was rolling around on the ground, foaming at the mouth, and making a huge scene. The noise and the disturbing sights made the people who were nearby back away from the scene. It was an impressive display of power, dismaying to the disciples, who had been completely powerless to do anything to remove the demon.
Jesus questioned the father. This was not something that had just started happening; it had been a normal occurrence with this young man since he was a child. The doctors hadn’t been able to do anything (it wasn’t, after all, a physical ailment, but a demon that was causing the problem), and the father had eventually given up hope, figuring that sooner or later the demon would end up destroying the boy.
But then the man had heard about Jesus, and that He had been able to cast demons out of people, freeing them body and soul. But when the man had gotten to where he had been directed, Jesus wasn’t there. In hope he had approached the disciples with his sad tale, but the disciples ended up being as ineffective as the doctors had been. It was this additional frustration and disappointment that caused the father to blurt out his nearly hopeless plea: “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
Jesus’ response was almost indignant, but has been widely misunderstood: “’If you can’? Everything is possible for him who believes.” This has been taught as pointing an accusing finger at the man, as if it was his lack of belief that had cause the failure of the disciples. But if there was any accusation at all, it was pointed directly at the disciples who had failed to dislodge the spirit. The man was not looking for a reason why the previous attempt had failed, but he was wondering out loud if Jesus was actually able to do anything to help. “If you can…”
Jesus answer pointed out that OF COURSE He could. He believed, and EVERYTHING (and the Greek word here means EVERYTHING) is possible for the one who believes. Jesus had no doubt that would get in the way of His evicting this demon. There was no hesitancy, no doubt, no needing to test how strongly the spirit was lodged in the young man. (Remember, Jesus had already cast out a whole legion of demons and sent them into a herd of pigs with a simple word. Mark 5:1-13) Since Jesus believed, getting rid of this demon was going to be no problem at all. It was the disciples lack of belief that had led to their failure.
The father’s follow-up statement, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” has led some to establish a doctrine that only those with adequate faith can receive healing. Of course, if someone doubts that God can heal them, or someone that they care about, they won’t be able to pray effectively for that healing. But, in this instance, Jesus is not talking about the faith of the victims (after all, the boy, the actual victim here, was currently rolling around on the ground in the midst of a demonic convulsion, completely unable to exercise faith of any kind!). He’s not talking about the faith of the family members (who weren’t the ones who were going to have to cast out the demon). In this case, He was talking very specifically about the belief, the faith, of the one who was doing the casting out.
Matthew’s version of this event includes a fuller response to the disciples’ later question (“Why couldn’t we drive it out?”) than Mark’s does, and verifies this conclusion: “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:19-21 NIV) The disciples’ belief was weak. They had doubted that they could remove the demon, so they ended up being powerless. Jesus had no doubt at all that He could cast out the demon, and so the demon would be gone. It was a foregone conclusion. EVERYTHING is possible for him who believes!
That is still the lesson for the disciples of today. God still calls us to action. And when we have full faith in God that He will help us to do whatever it is that He has called us to do, whether that is speaking a word of healing, casting out a demon, or sharing the gospel with someone who is lost in the darkness of sin, nothing will be impossible for us.
Father, this father’s prayer needs to be OUR prayer far too often: “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief.” There are so many times when we know beyond a doubt that you want us to speak a word of healing, a word of encouragement, or a word of salvation to someone, but we let our doubts stop us cold. If we do manage to struggle on and do what you have prompted us to do, we do it haltingly, with great fear and trembling, and without the mountain-moving faith that our strong relationship with You should engender. And, all too often, we fall flat because we have so little faith. Help us to realize that EVERYTHING really IS possible for us if we will only believe, have faith, not in our own ability or power, but in Your ability, Your power to accomplish through us whatever you have called us to do. Amen.