On March 30, 1981, President Ronald Reagan and three of his aides were shot and wounded by a mentally disturbed man trying to impress a popular American actress. The assassination attempt set off waves of fear and uncertainty throughout the nation—indeed, throughout the world—as other government leaders scrambled to learn about the president’s condition and to bring a sense of calm to the nation. One such leader was the U.S. secretary of state, Alexander Haig. Haig happened to be at the White House at the time, while the vice-president was on a flight to Texas and was unable to communicate with the nation. Haig therefore approached the briefing room podium and announced, “As of now, I am in control here, at the White House, pending the return of the vice president.” Haig later received blistering criticism for his statement, but his intent was clear: the American people needed (and wanted) to hear that someone was in control of our nation’s government.
That critical event in our nation’s history dramatically underscored an important truth: most human beings prefer order to chaos. We might see an advantage to “shaking things up” every now and then, but we don’t want to live in a state of constant chaos. This is why we pass laws, choose to abide by those laws, and elect leaders to enforce the laws. We want to know that someone we trust is in control when chaos threatens to engulf our lives. This is true for us politically (our nation), socially (our families), physically (our health), and yes, spiritually (our faith).
Mark 9:14-27 is a Gospel text that highlights the struggle between chaos and control on a deeply spiritual level. Multiple people were involved in the scene—Jesus’ disciples, a crowd of onlookers, a desperate father, the father’s demon-possessed boy, and Jesus. The question hanging like a thick fog over this compelling scene was this: “Who, if anyone, is in control here?”
Out of Control (Mark 9:14-18)—The scene begins with a father who realized that his sick son’s condition was out of his control. That is a parent’s nightmare! Children depend on their parents to know what to do to keep them well and safe. This father was powerless to help his suffering boy; he was at the cliff’s edge of chaos. In desperation, he brought his son to Jesus; he found instead only a few of Jesus’ disciples. So he asked the disciples to do something. To their credit, the disciples tried to help the boy. However, they too were unable to help, adding to the father’s desperation and uncertainty.
Snatching Control (Mark 9:19-22)—When Jesus arrived on the scene, He was disturbed by the lack of faith in God being displayed by everyone in the crowd—the boy’s father and the disciples included! A sinister spirit was also present among the people, and that demonic spirit attempted to snatch control of the scene by attacking the boy in front of Jesus. It was as though the wicked spirit was trying to boast to Jesus and everyone else that he alone had control over this boy’s life and future. Meanwhile the helpless father watched his son once again fall victim to uncontrollable spasms and foaming at the mouth. The father begged Jesus to help the boy if He could.
Showing Control (Mark 9:23-27)—Jesus reminded the desperate father that “everything is possible for the one who believes” (9:23). This was a call for the father (and the disciples) to believe that God is in control even when circumstances seem the most chaotic and desperate. The evil spirit’s control over the boy’s life was both temporary and limited. Then in an act of supreme authority, Jesus commanded the evil spirit to leave the boy and “never enter him again” (9:25). The exorcism itself was a frightening event, in the end leaving the boy lying silent and motionless on the ground as though dead. However, Jesus—still in control—took the boy by the hand and helped him stand up. All of the chaos was gone. With God, all things were (and are) possible for those who believe.
Giving control (Mark 9:28-29)—While these two verses are not included in the session’s focal passage, they reveal the scene’s dramatic conclusion. Christ’s followers needed to learn an important truth about chaos and control. They didn’t understand why they had not been able to drive out the evil spirit from the boy. Jesus’ response underscored the need for Christ’s followers to depend on God’s power and not their own. Christians must resist the temptation to think we can confront evil in our own strength. As Paul emphasized in Ephesians 6:11, we dare not try to stand against the devil’s schemes without putting on “the full armor of God.” What power we have as believers is power that Christ alone gives us to help others in His name. We can (and must) pray in His name. We can (and should) serve only in His name.
David Briscoe is a content editor at Lifeway for Explore the Bible resources.