God’s Word for You
Mark 9:19-23 If you can…
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, March 31, 2020
19 “O unbelieving generation!” Jesus replied. “How long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him to me.”
When Jesus says, “unbelieving generation,” he is talking about the world being unable to trust in him as Savior. For this reason, Jesus’ words don’t only apply to the people who were there witnessing this boy’s trouble, nor even first century Palestine, but all people when they fail to trust in him.
When he says next, “How long shall I stay with you,” he is warning his listeners that he won’t be there in person forever. His time in Galilee was about to come to an end. Even today, his words would apply, since the gospel does not remain in one place for long. Luther compared it to a summer shower (cloudburst) that rains here and then there and then someplace else.
20 They brought the boy to Jesus. As soon as the demon saw him, it threw the boy down in a convulsion. He fell on the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. 21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has this been happening to him?” “Since he was a little child,” he said. 22 “It has often thrown him into the fire and into the water to kill him. But if you can do something in any way, help us! Have compassion on us!”
The demon did its best with one last torment to kill the child. I suppose there are those who wonder whether the boy had epilepsy since some of the symptoms reported by the Gospels fit that problem, but clearly we’re told that a demon, an unholy spirit, was behind all this. Demons are not responsible for every case of epilepsy. The boy’s father says that the demon had tried many ways and many times to kill him; this would have been a severe test of faith to the boy’s parents. But Jesus intervened.
23 “As to ‘If you can,’” Jesus said to him, “everything is possible for the one who believes.”
In Greek, Jesus does more than repeat “If you can?” Mark records the particle to (Τὸ), which is a way of asking: “As to the subject (you just raised), ‘If you can…?” He wanted the boy’s father to understand that he wasn’t mistaken in putting his faith in Jesus. For one with faith, all things are possible. His child could be healed.
We can apply this to something more far-reaching, a subject which most of the world misunderstands, which is the forgiveness of sins. What does the unbelieving man think, if he thinks about it at all? He thinks, “I will try harder.” But God doesn’t tell us to try, he commands us to be perfect and holy (Leviticus 19:2). Trying harder will not save a man from eternal punishment in hell. Or he thinks, “I will try to be a better person than I am a bad person, doing enough good deeds to counterbalance my wickedness.” But God doesn’t tell us to be a little better each day, he tells us not to have even a hint of impurity or sin (Ephesians 5:3). Or he thinks, “At least I’m not as bad as this or that wicked man.” But God does not command us to be better than others. He commands us to be perfect, to avoid even being partners with the disobedient (Ephesians 5:7). Or he might try to think, “I will act as if there will be no punishment; I will bury my head in the sand.” But “God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient” (Ephesians 5:6), whether they think it will come or not.
Through Christ, even the rescue of sinful men and women like us is possible. By his crucifixion, “our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with” (Romans 6:6). The gospel of Jesus Christ is with us now, today. Trust in him and know that you have full and free forgiveness in Jesus.
Pastor Timothy Smith