The Miracle at the Foot of the Mountain Read: Mark 9:14-29
The Glory of Christ often seems so high and otherworldly a concept that we earthbound creatures cannot easily comprehend it. How can such a glorious Christ, who dwells in majesty, stoop low enough to meet us His creatures in our need and sin and emptiness? When we think of His glorious transfiguration in the presence of three of His disciples, we wonder how human eyes could have even taken in such a sight. We could never, we might think, be able to be witnesses of such glory!
And yet Christ showed Himself no less of a glorious Lord after His descent from the mountain after His transfiguration. For shortly thereafter, He performed an amazing miracle, which testified of the glory He is willing to reveal to poor and needy sinners.
The Glorious Christ Descends to the Valley
Chapter 9 of Mark begins on a high note, both figuratively and physically. Christ took three of His disciples (Peter, James, and John) to a high mountain (v. 2). This mountain became a holy and heavenly place as Christ was transfigured before the three disciples’ eyes (v. 2). His garments glistened radiantly, “shining” and “exceeding white” (v. 3). Moses and Elijah, two Old Testament saints who had gone on to glory in heaven, now came and talked with Christ on this mountain (v. 4). What a scene of unapproachable majesty! It would have been understandable if the disciples had feared that they would be consumed in light of such an event! No wonder that “they were sore afraid” (v. 6). They must have been even more amazed when they heard the voice of the Father from an overshadowing cloud: “This is my beloved Son: hear him” (v. 7).
But rather than staying on the mountain to be worshipped there by His disciples, Christ came back down the mountain with them. Peter had suggested building three tabernacles on the spot for Christ, Moses, and Elijah (v. 5). But that was not Christ’s purpose at all. He had a work of redemption to perform, and nothing would sway Him from it.
What would be the first sight of the “real world” that would greet the returning Lord and His three disciples? During their lifetimes, both Moses and Elijah had had “mountaintop experiences” as well Moses on Mount Sinai and Elijah on Mount Carmel. Upon their descent from those mountains, they were met with the harsh realities of a sinful world and of sinful people. Think of how Moses came down from receiving God’s sacred commandments, only to be confronted with the idolatry of the children of Israel. His anger at this sin led him to break the tables of stone (Ex. 32:19). Think of how Elijah had come down from the glorious display of the God of Israel’s power on Mount Carmel, only to have his life threatened by the wicked and revengeful Queen Jezebel. He had fled to Beersheba (1 Kings 19:1, 3).
When Christ came down from the Mount of Transfiguration, He was met with something even more sinister than the reality of a sinful world and of sinful people the devil himself! As He came down to His other disciples, He saw a multitude that had gathered around them (v. 14). Among the people was the father of a demon-possessed boy, who came forward to describe his predicament to the Lord Jesus.
Several details are given about this poor boy. He was an only child (Luke 9:38) who had probably suffered in this way for years, since childhood (v. 21). Matthew tells us that he was “lunatic and sore vexed” (Matt. 17:15). A number of symptoms mentioned by the gospel writers are indicative of what we know today as epileptic seizures. In addition, however, this boy was both deaf and dumb (vv. 17, 25). And, most significantly, a demon had taken hold of him (vv. 17, 18, 25). This evil spirit had often tried to drown the boy in water or burn him in fire (v. 22). No wonder, then, that Matthew describes him as “sore vexed,” or as it literally reads, “he suffers miserably” (Matt. 17:15). What an accurate description of the effect that the devil has on us! He comes to steal, to kill, and to destroy (compare John 10:10).
In his great need, this man had come seeking the right Person. In Christ’s absence, the disciples at the base of the mountain had tried to help the boy but had been powerless to do anything. In fact, scribes had interfered, arguing with them (vv. 14, 16). We get the impression that at the foot of the mountain had been lots of arguing but little action; lots of words but little work being accomplished. How often do we not see the same thing happening today? Well-meaning disciples of Christ can display only powerlessness in the face of what Christ alone can do. And how often don’t believers occupy themselves with arguing and debating instead of walking worthy of their calling!
What a drastic change of scene for the Savior! On the mountain, He had been, as it were, to the gate of heaven. Now He stood as if at the door of hell. On the mountain, He had spoken with Moses and Elijah about the work of redemption He would accomplish (Luke 9:31); this boy would now become an object lesson of what His work would involve. Christ would show by His actions what it looks like to redeem miserable captives of Satan. Not long after this event, Christ would Himself enter into the forsakenness of hell, bearing the curse and punishment His people deserve as part of His redemptive work. What a condescending Savior! He is a Savior who not only displays His glory on the mountaintops, but also in the valleys in the presence of the forces of evil.
The Glorious Christ Nurtures Faith
It is interesting and instructive to notice that, before conquering the forces of darkness present in the spectacle before Him, Christ first addressed issues of the heart. In other words, before performing a visible miracle, Christ worked in the invisible realm. He worked as a Prophet, teaching about faith and encouraging its growth and development. This is a very important part of Christ’s glorious work.
He first spoke an honest word of rebuke: “O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I suffer you?” (v. 19). This rebuke was aimed at the multitude in general, but also at the disciples and the father, targeting the unbelief in their hearts. Christ’s words may seem harsh, especially in light of the well-meaning disciples and a grieving father. We should not, however, be surprised if Christ wounds before He heals. He acted here as a good surgeon would, using the knife to get to the root of the problem. How great an evil unbelief is! It is greater in magnitude than even the devil’s hold on this boy. Let us search our own hearts on this matter. What would the Lord say of our hearts? Is there unbelief to be found? Does He have cause to lament over us, the way He did over the people gathered here in our chapter?
After rebuking the unbelief in the hearts of those present, Christ went on to nurture the faith in the heart of the boy’s father. He called for the boy to be brought to Him: “Bring him to me” (v. 19). He first asked the father, “How long is it ago since this came unto him?” (v. 21). The father answered that the boy had been afflicted since childhood with this demon.
How understandable, then, is the father’s request: “If thou canst do anything, have compassion on us and help us” (v. 22). Notice that the father appealed to the Lord’s power, compassion, and willingness as he took hold of the Lord with his request. And yet notice also the word that precedes it all: “if”! This word betrayed the weakness of the man’s faith, the doubt that was in his heart about whether Christ could be of any help to his son.
Christ proceeded by taking straight aim at this “if.” He said to the man, “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth” (v. 23). The Greek original draws attention to the word “if,” literally saying: “Regarding the ‘if,’ if you believe...” Christ’s point was that this man was putting his “if” in the wrong place. The question was not whether Christ could do what this man wanted; the question was whether the man believed that Christ could do it.
A note of caution is appropriate here. The Lord Jesus was not announcing here that a person possessing faith will necessarily work miracles. Many people twist the meaning of this and other passages of Scripture to support their belief in faith miracles. The fact of the matter is: genuine faith goes farther than a belief in miracles. Miraculous faith might think it can believe enough to bring about a miracle; but true faith believes more, and trusts more than that. For even when the hoped-for miracle doesn’t happen, or doesn’t happen as quickly as we think it might, true faith doesn’t stop. It believes all things. It hopes all things. It was through a true faith like this that the Apostle Paul could live with the thorn in his flesh, even after praying repeatedly that God would remove it, for God would supply His sufficient grace (2 Cor. 12:9). Even if a desired request is not granted the way that faith wants it to be, as Christ said:
All things are possible to him that believeth.
The faith lesson that Christ was teaching here was a most precious one. This is at the heart of how Christ brings His glory to bear on miserable sinners like you and me. He calls forth faith. He refines faith. He works through faith. Through faith, the glorious Christ reveals His glory. He doesn’t entrust His glory to anything else; faith alone as the gift of God will receive it.
In response to the glorious revelation of Christ to his heart, this man went on to evidence true faith, albeit in all its weakness, but also in all its strength and its reality. Crying out, he confessed, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief” (v. 24). Under the glorious gaze of Christ, he confessed both his faith and his unbelief. Notice, however, how he spoke first from the perspective of faith: “I believe.” Then, in the next breath, he begged for Christ’s assistance. He needed help, not just against the devil who was possessing his child, but help against the unbelief in his own heart.
The Glorious Christ Rewards Faith
The greater battle the one in the heart of the father was won. The smaller battle would also be quickly resolved. We read in verse 25:
When Jesus saw that the people came running together, He rebuked the foul spirit, saying unto him, Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him.
Despite the violent, hellish response of the demon, who cried and rent the boy sore, Christ’s simple, decisive command was all that was needed to effect the boy’s complete cure. Hell cannot stand before the glory of heaven. Even when it appeared to the people that the boy was “as one dead” (v. 26), the glorious Christ simply “took him by the hand, and lifted him up; and he arose” (v. 27).
What a miraculous, visible demonstration of Christ’s power was given to the multitude gathered at the foot of the mountain that day! This is a picture of what Christ’s incarnation, suffering, death, and resurrection would accomplish. From heaven this resplendent Christ came down in order, on the cross, to free a captive and miserable people bent on their own destruction. Still today in glory He calls forth faith in Himself and nurtures it, even in afflicted, tried, and assaulted souls, for His glory.
- Do you agree that no one comes to Christ unless driven by need? What sorts of needs can drive us to the Savior? What does the Lord teach us about our true need in the process? Trace how this went for this father.
- It’s been noted that on the Mount of Transfiguration the heavenly Father shows the world His only Son. At the foot of the mount this human father shows his only son. Compare and contrast the two fathers and the two sons.
- On verse 19, one commentator points out how Christ showed here a “divine home-sickness” without forsaking the cause for which He had come into the world. What does he mean? Discuss what our unbelief must look like to Christ.
- Discuss the man’s “if” in his prayer to Christ. Notice how Christ did not reject his prayer because of its deficiency, but refines it.
- How was the man’s cry “help thou mine unbelief” already evidence of the presence of true faith? What might you say of those who never struggle with any unbelief?
- What can you learn from the fact that Christ first dealt with the enemy in the man’s heart before He dealt with the enemy in the child’s life?