Sermon on the Gospel of Mark for the Fourth Sunday of Lent (Mark 9:17-31)

The Power of ]esus over the Demons. – The Cure of a Man Possessed of De­mons. – Prayer and Fasting are Weapons to be Used Against Evil Spirits.

Great indeed is the power of Jesus! Not only are His words sublime, full of meaning, admonitory, more competent to save men than are the words of any other human beings, deep as words of divine wisdom, but also the works and deeds of Jesus are tremendously great, and great and wonderful is the power He exercises over evil spirits, from the influence and tyranny of which He frees and delivers poor, suffering man! For the demons are truly and veritably tyrants and despots of the worst type, tyrannizing us through the effects of delusion and of sin. In the case of some men, in fact, these demons became fearful scourges, for they even rendered them physically unsightly to all other men. Among those who were sorely scourged and oppressed by such a demon there was the son of an unbelieving father, on account of whose sins it was permitted that an evil spirit should enter his house and torment him through his son, and compel him to repent and to correct his life. For no evil comes from God. No hurt results from any act of God’s. Neither does God want a man to be a prey to the Devil and a habita­tion of evil spirits. On the contrary, God wants all men to be saved, and to learn the truth, and to act in accordance therewith.

The Devil, however, exists. The spirits of wickedness also exist, being, in a way of speaking, spiritual microbes that threaten spiritual life. But, on the other hand, there also exists the perfectly good Spirit: there exists a God, and there exist many good spirits. Christ exists, who is full of the good spirit, while, on the other hand, man is inspired by the good Spirit, which is spoken through Christ, or is inspired by the Devil and his evil spirit. Accordingly, a man becomes or may become God-bearing or Satan-bearing. He may become, in other words, a man of Christ or a man of the Devil, according to the will he manifests and the disposition he possesses. If he believes in Christ, he becomes a partaker of the logical and rational spirit of God. But if, on the contrary, he disbelieves in Christ, he becomes a partaker of the imaginative spirit of the Devil. Hence it is evident that each and every man becomes, according to his own will, a partaker of the spirit of Christ or a partaker of the spirit of the Devil. Disbelief in God became the cause of an evil spirit’s taking up its residence in the man and rendering him such as today’s Gospel lection describes him to have been.

“And one of the multitude answered and said, Teacher, I have brought unto thee my son, who hath a dumb spirit; and wheresoever he taketh him, he teareth him; and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and pineth away; and I spoke to thy disciples that they should cast him out; and they could not.” (Mark 9:17-18)

This father, whose son was possessed of a demon, had previously already approached the disciples of the Lord, when the latter was away, but the disciples were unable to cure the demoniac. But when Jesus returned, the father appeared before Him bringing along his suffering son. In a voice of one in pain and distress that could be heard above the noise of the crowd he said: “Teacher, I have brought thee my son who is suffering from a spirit of speechlessness and is sorely and dreadfully disturbed by it. For, wherever it takes possession of him, it throws him into spasms on the ground, and he foams at the mouth, and gnashes his teeth in a most horrible manner, and becomes stiff like a dried-up stick. I applied to thy disciples, but they were unable to cast the demon out of him.”

Thus did he explain the nature of his son’s ailment, and besought the Lord to cure him and to restore him to normal life, being deeply moved to grief and in a state of dejection at this spectacle of his son, since the disciples were unable to benefit him. The spirit in question was speechless, for it had tied and fettered the organ of speech. In addition it caused the man great torment, and at the same time made him a fearful sight to look at, both by reason of his foaming at the mouth and on account of his plunging and writhing on the ground, and because of his gnashing of his teeth. How grieved the parents were to see their son, their poor, dear child, in such a terrible plight! But what terror the sight of a man in such a frightful state must have inspired in onlookers as well as intimates! The disciples really were unable to cast out the demon, because the father’s unbelief and lack of faith sufficed to prevent the success of their efforts. That is why Jesus proceeded to explain the reason for this inability of the disciples as follows:

“He answereth him, and saith, O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I put up with you? bring him unto me. And they brought him unto him: and when he saw him, straightway the spirit tore him; and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming.” (Mark 9:19-20)

In reply to the father of ·the child, the Lord reprehended in his person the faithless generation of that time, and revealed that He did not wish to suffer nor to put up with it indefinitely, but would do so for a time only, until it dawned upon its mind that it was suffering evils because of its unbe­lief in God and its lack of faith in God, and regained its senses sufficiently to be persuaded to repent. Otherwise He would consign it to perdition. “O faithless and unbelieving generation,” said He, “who do not resort to God with faith in order to be free from the evils that beset you, but, on the con­trary, owing to your faithlessness ye become a prey to the Devil and a play­thing in his hands. How long shall I have to stay with you and how long shall I have to put up with the likes of you? Hasten and repent, and approach God with faith in order to be awarded the requests of your heart. Join hands with God in order that ye may be saved, and be lifted up to a higher plane of existence, and become invulnerable to the attack of every evil.” But the moment that the spirit saw Jesus it felt His power pressing it to leave the man, and on this account it rent him like a wild beast, and he fell upon the ground, where he lay wallowing and foaming.

“And he asked his father, How long ago is it since this came unto him? And he said, Of a child. And ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do anything, have compassion on us, and help us.” (Mark 9:21-22)

The question asked by Jesus, “How long ago is it since this came unto him?” recalls the father’s sins and reminds him of the fact that if he had not been faithless and had not refused to believe in God, and had not been morally corrupt – in a word, if he had not been impious – this terrible afflic­tion which beset his son would not have resulted in the first place. For children suffer as a result of their parents’ sins, and the latter are punished through the sufferings of their children. Parents contribute greatly to the welfare or to the woe of their children both in the course of giving birth to them and in the course of bringing them up. Parents who are impious, who disbelieve in God, who get drunk, who are base and vile, intemperate, pleasure-lovers, and impassioned with lust communicate their vices to their children through the process of childbirth and breeding, just as they com­municate also their bodily diseases and infirmities.

This son had been suffering from the spirit of a demon ever since he was a child, and had been continually, tormented by it, at times throwing himself into the fire, and at other times into the water, so as to do away with himself, because his father had been faithless both when he begot him as a child and during the time he was bringing him up as a child, and presented him an example of faithlessness and of unbelief for imitation, and he had, moreover, all the vices that depend upon faithlessness and want of belief in God. A man that wants belief in Goel and is faithless to God is on this very account materially-minded, too, intemperate, dissolute, unjust, unrighteous, greedy, and maleficent. Notwithstanding the fact that he applied to the Savior and requested Him to cure his son, he was nevertheless imbued with unbelief and faithlessness, and, as a matter of fact, he bewrayed this un­belief and faithlessness and his doubt when he said, “but if thou canst do anything, have compassion on us, and help us.” In other words, what he said was: “If Thou canst, O Lord, please help us, and be moved to do so out of compassion for us because of our terrible sufferings.”

“Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” (Mark 9:23-24)

“I can,” Jesus told him, “help thee by curing thy son and freeing him from the demoniacal spirit, because I am God become incarnate in man, and moreover, such is indeed My mission on earth, to wit, to free the man who believes in Me From the influence of the demon that is afflicting and tyrannizing him. So accordingly, if thou believest in Me and hast faith in Me thou shalt see thy son freed from his woe. Otherwise, if thou remain in unbelief and persist in thy disbelief and faithlessness, it will do thee no good to have thy son cured of his malady, for thou are possessed of a still worse woe, that of unbelief and faithlessness in God. To him that believeth in Me all things are possible, for faith in God is omnipotent. I have the power to cure thy son, but only on the condition that thou also hast the power to be­lieve in Me and to believe that I am able to do this.”

Faith is a power which conjoins the believer with the everlasting truth, and blessed is he that possesses it, he that is able unhesitatingly to believe in the Savior Christ. Upon being told these things and becoming conscious of the fact that he was suffering woes on account of his faithlessness and unbelief, the father of the child, repenting, cried aloud, and manifested his repentance with a loud cry and with tears in his eyes, saying, “Lord, I be­lieve; help thou mine unbelief.” That is as much as to say: “I believe, Lord; but I beseech thee to strengthen this belief of mine.” For, in order that a man may believe he must be strengthened by the truth and helped to do so, since faith comes by degrees and is of a progressive nature, and from a small amount in the beginning it grows and keeps on growing and becomes in the course of time a great and powerful force in the soul that is insuperable and for ever steadfast and unshakable.

“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 him no more. And the spirit cried, and rent him sore, and came out of him: and he was as one dead: insomuch that many said, He is dead. But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him tip, and he arose to his feet.” (Mark 9:25-27)

The crowd of people came running together there, and, upon seeing the congregation of the crowd, Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, or reprimanded it, and told it to come out of the man in whom it was dwelling. “I command thee,” He told the spirit, or demon, “I am God become incarnate in man in order that I may free man from the tyranny and despotism of unclean spirits and emancipate him. I charge thee, Come thou out of him, and enter him no more.” Not only did Jesus drive the unclean spirit out of the man, but He also forbade it to enter him again in the future. The spirit, or demon, it should be borne in mind, had been tormenting the man ever since he was a child, and through him the unfortunate father, who was naturally pained in seeing his son in such a terrible condition! The spirit not only prevented the man’s organs of speech from functioning, but also prevented him from hearing, causing him to become both deaf and dumb, and he had been so ever since he was a child. But at the rebuke administered by Jesus, the spirit immediately obeyed out of fear, for a divine power, invisible, compelled it to come out of the man, and it could not resist this power. But well may it be asked, What was this power? lt was the power of the Holy Spirit, a power stronger than any other power in existence: the executive power of the words of Jesus Christ. God spoke, and His power executed and realized His words, and no word of Cod’s ever can remain unexecuted and unaccom­plished.

The word of Jesus was the Word of God, and the Word of God is an irresistible and invincible power that does whatever God says. The divine power is an all-strong force, and whoever is protected by the divine power remains unharmed, due to the fact that there is no other power that is greater than that of God or superior thereto. God commands demons to come out of men, and they come out immediately and at once. God rebukes the wildest sea, and it suddenly becomes calm. God bv a word cures the diseased and resurrects the deal Jesus is the possessor of this power. At the behest of His word everything becomes possible, because it is the Word of God, to whose word nothing is impossible. He told the deaf and dumb spirit: “I charge thee, come out of him, and enter him no more.” And the spirit immediately came out of the man, and entered into him no more, while the man, on the other hand, regained his health, and arose to his feet, and was turned over to his father, who rejoiced and marveled at the miracle.

“And when he was come into the house, his disciples asked privately, Why could not we cast it out? And he said unto them, This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.” (Mark 9:28-29)

The disciples naturally enough asked the Lord why they had been un­able to drive out the demon, since they had already received authority against unclean spirits and had been exercising it. So how was it that in the present case they were powerless to effect the same result? The Lord replied to them by saying in explanation of this strange circumstance that this was a kind of demons which could not be driven out of a man except by prayer and fast­ing, and that they were unable to do so because their power was weaker than the power of this genus of demons.

He told them, in other words, that in connection with the struggle against demons of this kind they ought to draw closer to God, to the Lord of hosts – that is to say, in plain English, the Lord of powers – by praying and fasting, thereby eliciting greater power from Him. For by fasting one be­comes temperate, and sober and abstinent, and master of the desires of the flesh, while, on the other hand, by praying one draws closer to God and re­ceives a correspondingly greater share of His power. Fasting and praying go hand in hand, and it is impossible to perform the duty of praying in a man­ner pleasing to God without observing temperance and restriction of bodily desires. Consequently those who are engaged in operations against unclean spirits ought to keep temperate in all matters pertaining to the body, and to pray, or, in other words, to keep God in mind and not lose conscious memory of Him, and to call upon Him with faith for moral reinforcement and strength and for enlightenment in truth.

True enough. The more temperate one becomes in respect to the body and matters pertaining thereto, the closer he comes in relation to matters of the spirit, and the more he communes with God through the medium of prayer. But faith in God is a prerequisite to both prayer and fasting, which are founded and grounded upon divine faith. He that prays according to the manner prescribed by the desire to please God is the man who believes rightly and unwaveringly in God. So in recommending prayer and fasting to His disciples as weapons of the soul against demons, or unclean spirits, it is to be inferred that the Lord is recommending the same means to all His followers also, for Christians all are struggling against the viciousness and wickedness of unclean spirits, and in behalf of divine virtue. Accordingly, they have need of these irresistible weapons of temperance and of prayer, and of subjugation of the flesh to the spirit, and of the complete and abso­lute subordination of the body to the dictates of right reason and of the moral power of the soul, or in other words, to the free will acting under divine enlightenment.

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