Faith’s Missing Link: Mark 9:14-29 & Matthew 17:14-20

Focus Passage: Mark 9:14-29; Matthew 17:14-20 (NIV)

14 When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. 15 As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.

16 “What are you arguing with them about?” he asked.

17 A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”

19 “You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”

20 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.

21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”

“From childhood,” he answered. 22 “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.”

23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”

26 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.

28 After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

29 He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”

14 When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. 15 “Lord, have mercy on my son,” he said. “He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. 16 I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.”

17 “You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” 18 Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed at that moment.

19 Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

20 He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, 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.”

Read Mark 9:14-29; Matthew 17:14-20 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

In these two passages on the same event, we find two of the most quoted phrases/promises Jesus ever said – but too many times, they are shared out of context, and because they are shared out of context, we lose some of the power behind them.

  • Everything is possible for one who believes.” (Mark 9:23b)
  • . . . 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 17:20)

Between these two verses, as well as a few others, a whole “self-help” movement has been launched within Christianity. I will be the first to say that this prompts mixed feelings in my own mind.

The very positive side of these phrases is that they empower individuals towards acting – and ideally acting in a way that can improve lives – both their lives and the lives of those they are around. Phrases such as these help individuals push forward and take on huge, “God-sized” dreams. There is power in believing you are capable of greatness, and belief is necessary for positive change.

However, when we only look at the secular application of these phrases (i.e. out of context), we miss out on some interesting spiritual truths. A father is bringing his son to Jesus for healing. While the father has doubts on whether Jesus can heal his son, he has enough faith/belief to try – to bring his son to Jesus. The first key to maximizing these phrases is that we are to be leading people to Jesus.

The second key is what Jesus tells His disciples when they ask Him why they couldn’t cast out the demon. After all, they had cast other demons out of people, so what was different about this situation? In Jesus’ response in Mark 9:29, we see prayer being another necessary key: “This kind can come out only by prayer.” Sometimes, we face circumstances that are not solvable by us, through quick wit, cleaver thinking, or anything else we can come up with. In these situations, the direction we must turn is to God, through prayer.

Through these two neglected keys, we can tap into the full power of these promises. However, while the out-of-context versions of these promises often lead people to focusing on themselves or others, the in-context versions of these promises prompt us to lead people to Jesus, lean on Jesus for our support, and look to Jesus for our guidance. This isn’t a “wait for Jesus to move before we start” idea, but instead, it is a challenge for us to get started and see where Jesus leads!

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus "Reflective Bible Study" package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

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