The Perfect Servant in Mark’s Gospel: His Itinerary

Τhe Lord has shown Peter, James and John the importance of enduring the Cross in anticipation of the Crown (8:27-9:13). Sacrifices can be made with confidence in the fulfilment of God’s promises.

Upon reunion with the remaining nine disciples at the foot of the mount, further lessons were given. It is not only true that sacrifice can be made with confidence in God’s promises; it is also true that service must be carried out in dependence on God’s power. Between the experiences of the Cross and Crown, there is Conflict. Once the way of the Cross has been chosen, we soon discover on the path to glory that:

The Conflict Is Current (9:14-29)

1. The disciples had to learn their Spiritual Weakness (vv14-19)

The Lord returned to find a crisis unfolding; the scribes were arguing with His disciples. The crowd greeted His arrival with astonishment for He had come just when the failure of His disciples had given opportunity for His detractors to challenge.

He asked the scribes, “What question ye with them?” (v16).[1] One of the crowd responded, “Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit” (v17). The boy was possessed by a demon of such power that he could not speak, and he experienced fits and seizures during which he cried out, fell, foamed at the mouth, ground his teeth and became rigid. The demon was bent on the boy’s total destruction (v22).

The father had brought his son to the Lord in hope of deliverance. In the Lord’s absence, the disciples had attempted to do their best, only to discover that their best was not good enough. Their powerlessness had been exposed; they “could not” do what was needed. Why?

The Lord answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?” (v19 ESV). The Lord exposed the problem. He was surrounded by a “faithless generation” and found the weight of their unbelief a heavy burden to bear. Failure was the result of unbelief.

2. The disciples were engaged in Spiritual Warfare (vv20-27)

Responding to the Lord’s appeal, the man brought his child to the Lord and the evil spirit instantly reacted. Mark constantly emphasises how demons recognised the Lord and revealed their viciously destructive nature in His presence. The child, torn by the evil spirit, “fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming” (v20). The boy’s short history had been one of constant suffering and danger, as the spirit often cast him into fire and water to destroy him.

The father appealed, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us” (v22 ESV). Having been bitterly disappointed by the disciples, the man feared a further disappointment from their Lord. The Lord’s response is most important. Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes” (v23 ESV).

Once again the Lord put His finger on the problem, drawing it to the man’s attention. The distraught father said, “If you can do anything,” and the Lord responded, “If you can!” He called out the lack of faith and then revealed the necessity of faith to access divine power – “All things are possible for one who believes.” The lack of deliverance for the boy was the result of a lack of faith. Faith in the Lord’s power was absent, and to doubt the Lord’s ability is to restrict the exercise of His power (cp. 6:5).

At this point the father crumbled. He acknowledged his weak faith by crying out, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief” (v24). Here was a public profession of faith accompanied by a public confession of weakness and plea for help. As the crowd gathered close in anticipation of a miracle, the Lord acted. 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” (v25). He spoke with perfect authority, charging the demon to leave and to never return. The spirit could not refuse to obey. However, it responded in character, revealing its unwillingness in departure and attempting to complete its destructive mission. It “cried, and rent him sore, and came out of him: and he was as one dead; insomuch that many said, He is dead” (v26).

This engagement in spiritual battle was not to end with victory for the powers of darkness. Just as many thought the boy was dead, the Lord “took him by the hand, and lifted him up; and he arose” (v27). The demon the disciples had found impossible to dislodge was defeated by a word from the Lord, and the child was delivered.

3. The disciples were given Spiritual Wisdom (vv28-29)

Concerned at their failure, the disciples were wise enough to ask the Lord about it. “Why could not we cast him out?” (v28). Previously they had been given authority to cast out demons (6:7), but they were unable on this occasion. What was the cause?

The Lord answered, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (v29 ESV). Here was the secret for victory in spiritual battle. Powerful spiritual forces made it absolutely essential for the disciples to learn that service must be carried out in dependence on God’s power.

So divine power is available to the Lord’s servants. But this power must be accessed for the spiritual conflict. How? By faith! A “faithless generation” (v19) had not witnessed blessing, an unbelieving father would not experience blessing (vv22-24), and disciples acting independently of God were powerless to be a blessing (vv28-29).

The perfectly dependent Servant was never found lacking in divine power. As His followers, we must also walk in utter dependence upon God. Prayer evidences sincere trust in God and is the God-ordained means by which His power is applied in our service.

[1] All Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.