It’s lovely to have you join us for the podcast this Wednesday.
Our theme for today is ‘Dealing with Difficulty’ and the Bible passage is Mark 9:14-32.
In 1859, Charles Dickens published ‘A Tale of Two Cities.’ It begins with one of the most famous opening sentences in literary history:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us……”
We’re going to use these words to help unpack today’s Bible passage:
Peter, James and John have just been up the mountain with Jesus and witnessed the Transfiguration. They have seen Christ revealed in dazzling splendour and they have heard the voice of God. Everything that happened up on the mountain was amazing. Peter even suggested that they remain there, and construct tents for Jesus, Moses and Elijah to stay in. It was the best of times.
But after this awe-inspiring mountain top experience, they walk back down into the valley, and straight into a large agitated crowd of people arguing with each other. It could not be further removed from what they had just experienced. From a place of blessing, they walked straight into a battle. It was the worst of times.
In Mark Chapter 6, Jesus sent the 12 disciples out in pairs, and had given them authority over evil spirits. They had gone to different towns and driven out many demons. They knew what they were doing, and how to do it. When the father in Chapter 9 asked the disciples to free his son from an evil spirit, they obviously felt confident enough to respond to his request. It was the age of wisdom.
But then, in front of the crowd, in front of the teachers of the law, they tried to drive out the demon; but to no avail. Nothing happened. The disciples had failed, and in verse 28 we see that they just couldn’t understand why. It was the age of foolishness.
The father brought his son to be healed by Jesus. He has obviously seen or heard of the miraculous healings that Jesus was doing and wanted the same for his son. It seems likely that he also knew that the disciples had been driving out demons, since when he discovers that Jesus is up on the mountain, he doesn’t walk away and take his son home. Instead he asks them to free his son from this torment. It was the epoch of belief.
But it seems his belief has been misplaced. The disciples could not do it. And so his belief falters to the extent that in verses 22 and 24, the father says to Jesus, “But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us……I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief.” But it is not just the father who is being challenged. In verse 19 Jesus says to the disciples. “You unbelieving generation, How long must I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?” Jesus’ response expresses his frustration at the slowness, helplessness and inability of the disciples to deal with the task in hand now, let alone in the future. It was the age of incredulity.
And this is where we come to the focus of today’s podcast – ‘Dealing with Difficulty.’
So far in this Bible passage, we have seen a series of difficulties:
There’s difficulty for Peter, James and John leaving an amazing encounter with God, and having to return to normality. There is the difficulty of facing conflict. There is the disciples’ difficulty at feeling a failure. There is the father’s difficulty of feeling unsure in his faith. And there is difficulty for Jesus – his feeling of frustration.
What can we learn from Jesus’ response to these many difficulties?
The first thing to learn is that the longer we walk with Jesus, the more we will encounter difficult situations that challenge our faith, or stretch us in new ways. Like the disciples with this demon. And what should we do when faced with such things? Jesus’ answer in verse 29 is simple – pray more! When the difficulties we face just don’t seem to go away, this does not mean that we should think God is not at work, or not hearing us, and therefore that we should stop praying. Instead we should pray even more.
Secondly, we learn that we should not live in fear or worry about the future. For many of us, facing difficulty quickly becomes a season of darkness, a winter of despair, and we become overwhelmed by the feeling that there is nothing good before us.
Three times since Chapter 8, Jesus has spoken about the fact that he is going to suffer, be rejected and killed. In this situation, it would be very easy for him to respond in the same ways as we do – Jesus was totally human after all.
However, instead, Jesus chooses to act and live in such a way that demonstrates to others that there is a season of light, that there is a spring of hope. He focuses on what is before him in the present – the boy that needs his help, and says “Bring him to me.” When we face conflict, feel a failure, have a crisis of faith, or look to the future, do our words, attitudes and actions, show the same light and hope to the world around us? Do we bring people to Jesus through the way they see us deal with difficulty?
Finally, Jesus faces the difficulty with action. He heals the boy who has been afflicted since birth. The crowd think he has died – but instead he is alive…..and everything is now before him.
In his commentary on this passage, William Barclay wrote, “If we sit and think about the state of the world, we may well become very depressed; then let us get to action.”
Rather than difficulties making us feel unable to do anything, let us instead be a people who act.
It may be the best of times, it may be the worst of times, we may feel wise, we may feel foolish, we may feel secure in our faith, or struggling with doubts. No matter what our situation, let our actions show that “everything is possible for one who believes.”
Dear Jesus, help us to face difficulties differently. Help us to be persistent in prayer, share your light and hope with those around us, and to know that all things are possible for those who believe in you. Amen.
READING: Mark 9:14-32
When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.
‘What are you arguing with them about?’ he asked.
A man in the crowd answered, ‘Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 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.’
‘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.’
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.
Jesus asked the boy’s father, ‘How long has he been like this?’
‘From childhood,’ he answered. ‘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.’
‘“If you can”?’ said Jesus. ‘Everything is possible for one who believes.’
Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’
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.’
The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, ‘He’s dead.’ But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.
After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, ‘Why couldn’t we drive it out?’
He replied, ‘This kind can come out only by prayer.’
They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, ‘The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.’ But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.