2023-02-26 “Into the Valley”

Cornerstone EPC                                                                                  Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734                                                                               February 26, 2023

Into the Valley”
Mark 9:14-29

Beginning this week, as we continue looking in Mark’s Gospel at Jesus’ ministry, we move to the shadow side of His life and ministry. Jesus has announced the necessity of His death and resurrection (8:31), and He has announced the denial of self inherent to Christian discipleship (8:34 ff.). Yet, amid these, Jesus, in His transfiguration, has revealed His glory further to that inner circle of disciples within the Twelve—Peter, James, and John the brother of James. Now, in today’s text, we come down the mount of transfiguration to the sin-sick valley. Jesus there meets a great crowd, and, amid the crowd, two others of special mention. Let us once again hear the Word of God read and proclaimed in this place.


Jesus, and the three disciples with Him, descend the mount of transfiguration—presumably the day after Jesus’ transfiguration. They find a great crowd together, and they find a group of scribes—experts in the Law of Moses—in dispute with the other nine disciples of Jesus. Once Jesus appears in their midst, however, attention shifts from the dispute to Himself. He then asks, with all amazement and attention riveted upon Him, “What are you arguing about with them?” It is not clear from our text who Jesus addresses, but, in any case, the occasion for the dispute presents itself in the form of two individuals—of whom only one can speak.1

A father brings his son, who is possessed by a mute spirit, to Jesus’ disciples. He tells Jesus of the harm this spirit inflicts upon his son. The spirit causes to boy to fall down, to foam at the mouth, to grind his teeth, and to become rigid. Apparently, this father heard of Jesus, had a measure of faith in Him, and acted consistent with that faith—bringing his son to Him. He got not Jesus, for the moment, but he got the nine remaining disciples—who attempted to exorcise the demon from the boy with the authority Jesus earlier granted them. Alas, the father’s hope that the nine disciples of Jesus could cast out the demon stands disappointed for the moment, and he expresses the same to Jesus, “So I asked Your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.”

Jesus then remonstrates with the crowd, calling them a faithless (or unbelieving) generation. He then (rhetorically, I believe) asks how long He shall be with them and shall bear with them. How can so little faith, after so long a time of Jesus’ presence and miracles, remain in the assembled throng? Yet Jesus, despite all of this, commands concerning the demon-possessed boy, “Bring him to Me.”

The unclean spirit, now in the immediate presence of Jesus, treats his unwilling host still worse. He convulsed the boy to such degree that the boy fell to the ground, rolled about, and foamed at the mouth, aiming both to harm the boy further and to display his own displeasure—yea, his craven fear—in Jesus’ presence and power.

Yet Jesus does not act yet. Rather, the boy’s father and He talk. Jesus asks, “How long has this been happening to him?” and the man answers, “From childhood.” He then tells that the spirit often casts his son into fire or water, in order to destroy Him. His agony over his son’s state simmers as he asks, “But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Perhaps he wonders if Jesus can do anything, in view of the disciples’ failure. Perhaps he wonders if Jesus will do anything, in view of His displeasure vented moments ago.

Now the conversation comes to its crux. Jesus declares to this father, “‘If You can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” To these words of assurance, the father, who agony now boils over, replies (and, we do well to note, replies immediately), “I believe; help my unbelief!” Indeed, he has—and expresses—a measure of faith in Christ’s power and willingness. Now He needs the Lord incarnate to increase his faith and to decrease, even remove, his unbelief.

Jesus hears in the father’s words of admission and plea all He desires. As the crowd quickly draws near, Jesus commands the deaf-mute spirit to come out of the boy and never to enter him again. The spirit, compelled by absolute, infinite authority, reluctant complies—but only after inflicting a final paroxysm likely worse than any other he flung upon this boy. The boy lies very still after the demon’s exit. Most in the crowd say, “He is dead.” Then Jesus takes him by the hand, and, despite all appearance to the contrary, the boy rises—whole and well.

The scene immediately changes. We meet Jesus and His disciples next in a house—apart from the crowd. The disciples wonder as one, concerning this demon, “Why could we not drive it out?” After all, they had His commission to exorcise, and they enjoyed earlier success in the enterprise. Jesus answers their question, saying, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”2 A extraordinarily pernicious demon requires extraordinary spiritual means to banish it—and, in this, Jesus’ disciples in every age receive an important lesson and Jesus Himself receives glory.

The disciples found themselves in a place of unusual spiritual difficulty. So shall we, from time to time. In places of special spiritual difficulty, our usual abilities, even the God-given ones, well may fail. Yet Jesus was with them, and is with us—and this is enough. Note, along with Jesus’ presence, the weapons of our warfare. In today’s text, prayer—perhaps with fasting as well—is the weapon du jour. By extension, the spiritual disciplines, such as Scripture, prayer, and worship attendance, among others, serve us well as we serve Him, and others, in the sin-sick valleys to which He appoints us. Therefore, thus armed, let us go with our Lord into the valley, and let us serve Him—and others in His Name—well there.


1The King James Version, relying upon its Greek manuscript tradition, indicates that Jesus addresses the scribes. Another Greek manuscript tradition, upon which the English Standard Version, among many others, rests, leaves no explicit indication who Jesus addresses.

2Some ancient manuscripts, including the one undergirding the King James Version, add and fasting.