In this portion of Scripture, we find the Lord teaching the disciples a lesson of enormous importance, and we find that Mark presents this lesson to us in a series of unforgettable contrasts.
“And when he came to his disciples, he saw a great multitude about them, and the scribes questioning with them …” (Mark 9:14-50).
Jesus comes down from the mountain to the disciples who had been left below (v. 14). A crowd was there, and scribes were arguing with the disciples. The people were amazed at Christ’s presence (v. 15), and ran to meet Him. Jesus asked the scribes what they were all arguing about (v. 16). They do not answer, but the father of a demon-possessed boy does answer (v. 17). The boy was in a bad way (v. 18), and the disciples had been unable to cast the demon out. This had apparently brought the scribes into the act, and they were complicating a bad situation with their faithless arguments.
The lament offered by Christ does not just apply to the disciples, or to the father, but rather to the whole generation (v. 19). When the boy was brought, the demon threw him into a violent convulsion (v. 20). Jesus asks the father how long this had been happening, and found that it had begun when he was just a child (v. 21). The demon constantly tried to destroy the boy, and the father asks Jesus to help if He can (v. 22). Jesus replies that He is not limited, but that the father’s faith is (v. 23). The father admits this immediately, and transfers his prayer for help from his son to himself (v. 24). Jesus saw that a big crowd was developing, and so He commanded the demon to come out (v. 25). This the demon did in one last violent convulsion, leaving the boy in such a condition that the bystanders thought he was dead (v. 26). But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet (v. 27).
When the disciples were alone with Jesus they asked why they had been unable to cast this demon out (v. 28). According to Matthew, Jesus answers that their faith was inadequate, and Mark tells us that this kind of demon requires prayer and fasting (v. 29).
This is not just a story placed here randomly. Mark positions this narrative in this way for a reason. First, note the hatred of children; the demonic attitude is one of hostility toward children. This attitude is seen in its final form in the hatred of the demon for this boy, but it had been seen in an incipient form in the adult self-importance of Christ’s disciples. Second, note also that the demon had tried to destroy the child in fire and water, and Christ threatens those who stumble little ones with fire and water. We have an inescapable choice; we either serve the one who destroys children, or we serve the one who destroys those who destroy children.
As they were passing quietly through Galilee (v. 30), Jesus taught them again about the necessity of His death and resurrection. He taught them explicitly, but they were still unable to comprehend it (v. 31). Further, they knew that they did not understand, and yet were afraid to ask Him about it (v. 32).
When they got to Capernaum, Jesus asked what they had been disputing on the road. Silent, like refuted scribes, they did not answer, because they had been debating who was the greatest (v. 34). Consider the blindness of pride. They had not been able to cast out the demon, they did not understand the heart of Christ’s instruction, but there was still plenty to be proud of! But true leadership is true service. The greatest is the one who serves (v. 35). Jesus then takes a child in the crook of His arm (v. 36), and commands His disciples to receive children (v. 37). He attaches to this one of the most wonderful promises of Scripture. A received child is Christ received, and Christ received is the Father received (v. 37).
But we have a fine way of turning the Bible inside out and backwards. Jesus tells us to become like little children, so we tell little children they must become like adults. Jesus tells us that we should receive children as though they were Christ Himself, but we say that we cannot do this because we do not know if the children have really received Him. And this is what we do: we are far too concerned about the mysteries of someone else’s heart.