Object Lesson: Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?
Read the passage in Mark 9 through. Are there any significant differences with the account in Matt 17:14-20 and Luke 9:37-43a? Mark is the most detailed.
Verses 18, 20, 26 make mention of the symptoms of the decease of Epilepsy (seizures, convulsions, falling to the ground, foaming at the mouth and grinding teeth, rigidity). But this case is an extraordinary one - the child is also a deaf-mute. And the source of these conditions is attributed to a evil spirit!
Jesus' response in verse 19 is an indictment of everyone present - "O faithless generation". "To a greater or lesser extent all were faithless, lacking in the exercise of true, warm enduring faith, a faith operating effectively...Jesus was deeply dissatisfied with his contemporaries: with the father, who lacked sufficient faith in Christ's healing power (9:22-24); with the scribes who, instead of showing any pity, were in all probability gloating over the disciples' impotence (9:14); with the crowd in general, which is pictured in the Gospels as being generally far more concerned about itself than about others (John 6:26); and, last but not least, with the nine disciples, because of their failure to exercise their faith by putting their whole heart into persevering prayer." Hendricksen, Mark, p. 347
As Jesus interviews the father, what did he learn about the child? About the father's faith? How is his faith weak? Does true faith have any limits to its confidence in God?
Jesus did not limit the exercise of his power to those who have sufficient faith, but often he used times of trial to strength faith. As He probes the depth of the father's faith, he calls for a greater faith.
In another striking passage in Mark 5, we have similar situations where Jesus uses a crisis to teach what true faith is. Jairus meets Jesus at the shore, frantic because his daughter is seriously ill, and persuades Jesus to rush off to help her as she is nearly gone. Jesus stops to confront and refocus the faith of a woman with a recurrent hemorrhage, who trusting in the touch of his robe, had to be shown it was not magic, but her having a personal relationship with Jesus that mattered. Then as the servants arrived with the news the child had died, Jairus was confronted with trusting Jesus to accomplish the impossible - deliver his daughter from death.
What lessons about faith can we learn from the man's answer in verse 24?
The casting out of the demon is a striking scene. Can you describe it in your own words? What does it teach you about Jesus power over wicked spirits?
The disciples later asked Jesus about this incident and why they were unable to cast it out. Jesus indicated that some challenges ("this kind can only come out by prayer") require more faith and prayer than others. Matthew says Jesus pointed to their little faith, Mark says he pointed to their little (hasty) prayer. Of course these two go together. Where there is little faith there is little prayer. Where there is true faith in Jesus, rather than presumption and self confidence there will be earnest intercession and supplication.
Read Mark 11:22-25. How does what Jesus teaches there about faith and prayer underline the need for faith filled, diligent prayer?
How can you tell this story without frightening the children? How would you respond if a child were to express to you a personal fear of demons or ghosts? A fear of decease or illness?
What are some "impossible tasks" that The Lord calls upon you to undertake? How are you to go about "undertaking" them? Think up some examples for your children of persisting in prayer.
God sometimes answers our prayers in unexpected ways. What are some ways God's response may differ from our requests and why?
Faith healers often claim that it is the degree of our faith that determines whether God heals us or not. However most of Jesus' miraculous healings came about through the prayer and faith of others, not the person healed. Jesus promises to respond to the corporate prayers of his people... where two or three are gathered in His name. The Bible does not teach that God's power is limited by the degree of our faith. Rather we limit our selves by not drawing on the Lord through persistent prayer. It is God's power, not our faith that matters.
Jesus often tempers our faith through times of testing. And he warns us not to presume anything. The Scribes brought scorn and mockery when the disciples presumed that they could handle the situation. Faith healers often presume they "have the power". God does not always work in the ways we expect Him to. Putting God on the spot to perform miracles on demand shows only proud and misplaced faith, that often brings dishonor to God. Like the father, we must acknowledge that even though we believe, we are often spiritually weak. Faith healers presume they know what God's will is. Yet God refused the Apostle Paul three times when he asked to have the "thorn in his flesh" removed. We must allow God the freedom to respond to our prayers as He knows best. Our prayer must always seek for His will to be done.
This story teaches us that rather than seeking to parade our faith, we ought to seek to become more persistent in prayer.
Missionaries sometimes encounter what appears to be demon-possession in primitive and highly superstitious societies. Similar situations are sometimes found in connection with individuals as a result of drug abuse. However, it is very hard in most situations to clearly separate severe obsession or personality derangement from actual possession. In our modern western civilization, there is been a significant increase in occultism and "New Age" mysticism. The New Age movement promotes what they call "channeling" where supposed ancient entities communicate their wisdom though individuals who allow themselves to the the "channel". "Channeling", while similar to demon possession in some ways is closer to the practice of using mediums as Saul did with the witch of Endor. Biblical demons do just come and go as they please, and never seek to benefit their hosts or promote any kind of human happiness. Their presence usually results in hysterical blindness, dumbness, fits and violent irrational acts. They are always opposed to God.
Jesus treated the demons he dealt with as actual spiritual beings, hostile to God and men, acknowledging the devil as their "prince". He distinguished between ordinary illness and demon possession. The entities cast out were real enough to, for example, cause a herd of swine to rush into the sea, committing mass suicide. In our lesson, the demon within the child manifest similar self-destructive tendencies.
Demon "possession" is where a demonic being actually seizes control of the the personality of a person and indwells within him. The Bible indicates that Christians can not be possessed. While opposed to God, demons are always subject to the Lord. They can only operate as long as God allows them. The casting out of demons by Jesus is in no way similar to the portrayal of demon expulsion by a priest in the Exorcist. It was clearly something requiring a power and authority greater than any human possesses. The superstitious practices (such as "crossing" yourself, etc) portrayed in horror films have no basis in Scripture. Jesus repeatedly warns of its dangers.
Significantly there is very little reference to demon-possession in the Scriptures both before and after the time of Jesus earthly ministry. This was a unique time in which Satan was strongly opposing and confronting the Son of God in a great struggle. We should not be surprised if we find that Jesus was in continual conflict with demon possession far in excess of our present times. "Apparently it was a phenomenon especially associated with the earthly ministry of our Lord. It would be interpreted as an outburst of demoniacal opposition to the work of Jesus." New Bible Dictionary p. 278