The twelve apostles had been given great authority, but still they encountered problems, both external and internal. Jesus taught them about dealing with setbacks and conflicts in the ministry. He also warned them against causing anyone (including themselves) to sin.
Did You Know...?
1. Child (9:36): The Jews regarded the presence of children in the family as a sign of divine favor and greatly to be desired. Children were subject to the father, who in turn was bound to protect them. [ref]
2. Hell (9:45, 47): “The word translated ‘hell’ is gehenna, a Greek form of the Hebrew words ge hinnom (“Valley of Hinnom”). This was the valley along the south side of the city of Jerusalem, which was used in OT times for human sacrifices to the pagan god Molech (cf. Jer 7:31, 19:5-6, 32:35). King Josiah put a stop to this dreadful practice (2Kings 23:10); and the Valley of Hinnom came to be used as a place where human excrement and rubbish, including animal carcasses, were disposed of and burned. The fire of gehenna never went out, and the worms never died.” [ref]
3. Salt (9:49): Salt was often used for ratifying agreements, and became a symbol of friendship and faithfulness. It was plentiful along the shores of the Dead Sea and in Jebel Usdum, a mountain of rock salt. [ref] When rock salt is exposed to air and heat, its impurities cause chemical changes that gradually make it bitter. [ref]
- Jesus Drives out An Unclean Spirit (9:14-29)
- The disciples fail to drive out an unclean spirit (9:14-18)
- The unclean spirit defies Jesus (9:19-20)
- The father’s faith (9:21-24)
- Jesus rebukes the unclean spirit (9:25-29)
- Jesus Teaches the Disciples about What Is to Come (9:30-32)
- A servant’s proper attitude (9:33-41)
- The first must be the very last (9:33-35)
- Serving the children (9:36-37)
- Do not forbid others from working in Jesus’ name (9:38-41)
- Warning against Causing to Sin (9:42-50)
- Warning against causing a little one to sin (9:42)
- Better to enter life with a body part missing (9:43-48)
- Teachings from salt (9:49-50)
What setbacks and conflicts have you experienced when working for God? How was your faith affected? How did you overcome them?
Peter, James, and John came down from the mountain and saw the other disciples arguing. How do you deal with everyday problems after being inspired spiritually?Hide Answer
Their experience of heavenly glory eventually came to an end. It was not yet their time to leave the world, and they had to return to their everyday problems. Likewise, we must not let our minds be stuck in a particular miracle, a powerful sermon, or spiritual experience. God inspires us spiritually to help us grow in faith and understanding, so that we can move on with our lives and face their challenges.
What were the disciples arguing with the scribes about?Hide Answer
The disciples must have been very confident when the father asked them to drive out the unclean spirit. They had done it many times before, with great success. However, this time they could not drive out the unclean spirit. Perhaps the scribes were claiming again that Jesus’ authority was not from God. The disciples must have been frustrated at their inability, and tried to come up with reasons why. But arguing with the scribes probably made things worse. They were neither as educated nor as eloquent.
Compare the people’s reaction when they saw Jesus (15) to the Israelites’ reaction to Moses coming down from Mount Sinai (Ex 34:29-30). What does this teach us about the effects of spending time with God?Hide Answer
Moses’ face was so radiant that the people were afraid to come near him, and that was just a reflection of God’s glory, which probably had resulted from Moses speaking with God face to face (Ex 33:11, 34:29, 30). In the high mountain, Jesus showed His glory (9:3). As He was coming down from the mountain, some of that radiance might have remained in His appearance. Likewise, if we let God’s word and spirit fill us, others can see the glory of the Lord through us (2Cor 3:18).
Compare this unclean spirit’s behavior to those of the other spirits.Hide Answer
This unclean spirit dared to defy Jesus. It did not beg Jesus nor acknowledge His authority. When it saw Jesus, it lashed out (20). Even after Jesus rebuked it, it convulsed the boy one last time before coming out (26).
The unclean spirit had tried to throw the boy into fire or water to kill him (22). What extreme situations has the devil put you in to harm you?
What did the boy’s father do after Jesus’ disciples failed to drive out the unclean spirit?Hide Answer
Because of the disciples’ failure, perhaps the father’s faith had wavered. Still, he remained in the crowd, probably to listen to the argument between the disciples and the scribes. Although he did not understand, he earnestly sought the answer.
Read verse 24. What did the father believe? What was his unbelief?Hide Answer
He believed that Jesus would take pity and help them, if He could do anything. He believed in Jesus’ compassion, but was unsure of Jesus’ power. The disciples’ failure and subsequent argument with the scribes probably did not help the father’s faith in Jesus. But after Jesus had spoken to him, he realized that only Jesus could make him believe completely, and that only Jesus could help his son.
Jesus later taught the disciples the power of faith as small as a mustard seed (Mt 17:20). It tells us how small our faith is. We receive grace through faith; but only Jesus can give us the perfect faith (Acts 3:16).
What do you believe about Jesus? What is your unbelief?
For a moment, the boy appeared dead. Share a time in your life when things seemed to get worse after you had prayed to God. What happened in the end?
Why couldn’t the disciples drive out the unclean spirit?Hide Answer
Jesus said that the unclean spirit could be driven out only by prayer and fasting (cf. Mt 17:21). Prayer was always a part of Jesus’ habit (cf. 1:35; 6:46). He was always prepared against the devil, and did not have to make a special prayer just for a miracle. On the other hand, the disciples’ argument with the scribes shows their lack of faith, understanding, and power.
How does a habit of prayer help you? Have you ever prayed with fasting against the evil spirit’s work?
Why do you think the disciples were afraid to ask Jesus when they didn’t understand?Hide Answer
They were filled with grief (Mt 17:23). Also, Jesus had rebuked them several times before (cf. 4:40; 7:17-18; 8:16-17), so they would rather not ask Him another question.
When you don’t understand certain biblical teachings, what do you do?
The disciples argued over who was the greatest. What does this tell you about their relationship with each other?Hide Answer
We don’t know who started the argument, but perhaps Peter, James and John were thinking highly of themselves because Jesus had taken only the three of them to Jairus’ daughter’s bedside (5:37) and to the transfiguration (9:2). Even though Jesus had sent the twelve disciples out in pairs (6:7) to teach them how to work together, each one still had selfish ambitions (later, James and John asked Jesus for glory for themselves [10:35-37]). It is also probable that their different backgrounds made it difficult for all of them to get along with one another.
Explain verse 35. How can you be first by being the very last?Hide Answer
Jesus was speaking about being the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (Mt 18:4). Heavenly authority is different from earthly authority (Lk 22:25-27). While acquiring earthly authority requires ambition and and self-promotion, heavenly authority starts with humility. If we humble ourselves, God will exalt us (1Pet 5:5-6). Jesus Himself set an example of this lesson (Php 2:6-7).
What phrase do verses 37 and 41 have in common? What does this teach us about serving others?Hide Answer
“In my name”—the phrase reminds us of our roles as God’s servants. We do everything for Jesus. We express Jesus’ teachings in our lives. Like our Lord Jesus, our goal must always be to edify others physically and spiritually. Jesus warned the disciples against causing anyone to sin. If we truly follow His example, our actions would not cause anyone to fall (1Cor 8:13).
Why did Jesus have a little child stand among them?Hide Answer
1. Jesus wanted to remind them of a parent’s love. A parent is concerned only for the child’s wellbeing. A parent is never jealous of a child who is greater and more successful than him or her. Jesus was probably also pointing to the small child when he was warning the disciples against causing “one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble” (42). If we love others like our own, we will do everything in our power to keep them away from sin, much less cause them to sin.
2. True humility is expressed in our attitude towards the least of our brothers. If we are willing to serve even the little children and those who tend to be despised among us in the name of Christ, then Christ Himself will reward us and make us great (cf. Mt 18:1-6, 10-14).
List examples of welcoming one of the little children.Hide Answer
Feeding the hungry, giving a drink to the thirsty, providing hospitality, clothing the naked, looking after the sick, visiting those in prison (Mt 25:35-36).
Identify one of the little children around you. How can you help him or her?Hide Answer
A little one is anyone in need. It might be an elderly believer or a young child. It might be a minister or a religious education teacher. It might be your spouse, your parent, or your sibling. It might be a friend or a stranger. While what we can give might seem insignificant, it can bring unexpected comfort to someone in distress (like a simple cup of water for someone in thirst ).
Why did the disciples stop a man driving out demons in Jesus’ name?Hide Answer
“Because he does not follow us” (38). Perhaps the disciples assumed that Jesus gave authority only to them. Perhaps they thought it was their exclusive right to preach, to heal, and to drive out demons. They thought highly of themselves, and forgot the fact that they could not drive out the epileptic demon (18).
Today, who are those working in Jesus’ name and yet are not one of us? How do we associate with them?Hide Answer
Jesus lay down His life for His sheep, but not all of them are yet of His fold (Jn 10:16). Today, there are many devout Christians who are doing their best to live for Christ and to search for the perfect gospel. Instead of rejecting their efforts, we must bring them into the true church, “till we all come to the unity of the faith” (Eph 4:13), in “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph 4:5).
How does each of the following cause you to sin? a. Hand, b. Foot; c. EyeHide Answer
a. Hand—We do things against God’s teachings. Examples are: stealing, hitting, gambling, touching inappropriately, laboring for earthly possessions (Eccl 2:11). When we surf the Internet, our hands may click on sites that cause our eyes to sin.
b. Foot—We walk into places where temptation awaits us. We go to parties that do not edify our spirituality. We go with our worldly friends instead of walking with the Lord.
c. Eye—Our eyes are the windows to our hearts (Mt 6:22-23). What we see affects our thoughts and imagination. Sometimes we look at sinful things out of curiosity or our fleshly desires. Or we may stare hatefully or jealously at others.
What did Jesus mean by “cut it off” and “pluck it out”?Hide Answer
To cut off the body part that causes us to sin refers to our resolve. We must find the culprit and ask God to take our sins away.
Read verse 48 and visualize hell. What do you see?
In verse 49, what does salt represent? (cf. Mt 5:13; Col 4:6)Hide Answer
Salt is a humble but useful and essential material. It symbolizes hospitality and faithfulness (cf. Did You Know 3). Paul compares speech that is full of grace to that which is seasoned with salt. Jesus also teaches us to be the salt of the earth to show these qualities.
In verse 49, what does fire represent?Hide Answer
Jesus contrasts hell’s unquenchable fire to the greater fire of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit appears as a tongue of fire (Acts 2:4). John prophesied that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Mt 3:11). The Holy Spirit gave the apostles power and courage to serve the Lord (2Tim 1:7).
Explain verses 49-50.Hide Answer
Hell is horrible; we must avoid it at all cost. However, cutting off the offending parts of our body does not destroy the source of sin. Without Jesus Christ, our entire body is a slave to sin (Rom 7:18). The only way to be saved from hell is to be salted with the fire of the Holy Spirit (Isa 4:3-4). The Holy Spirit gives us the spiritual qualities of salt and leads us into life (Rom 8:5-6). Through Jesus Christ, we can do all good things (Php 4:13).
If we continue to reject the Holy Spirit’s guidance, we lose our saltiness, and will be “thrown out and trampled underfoot by men” (Mt 5:13). If we deliberately keep on sinning, no sacrifice for sins is left (Heb 10:26-27); we cannot be made salty again.
If we strive to obey the Holy Spirit, we will naturally be at peace with those around us (Heb 12:14). Had the disciples been salted with the Holy Spirit, they would not have argued or acted arrogantly.
How might have the disciples’ actions (cf. 14, 34, 38) have caused others to sin?Hide Answer
Their argument with the scribes might have caused some in the crowd to lose faith in Jesus. By arguing, they did not appear to be wise or gentle, which reflected poorly on Jesus.
Their argument over who was the greatest caused discord among them (Mk 10:41). In spite of Jesus’ teachings on forgiveness (Mt 18:15-35), it probably took some time before the disciples forgave each other.
One thing the disciples agreed on was that they were greater than other people by virtue of being Jesus’ chosen disciples. They forbade someone else from working in Jesus’ name simply “because he does not follow us” (38). Their arrogance might have caused confusion among the believers, and caused other workers to lose heart or even turn away from God.
In our zeal to serve God, how might we cause others or ourselves to sin?Hide Answer
Church work should not take precedence over a member’s needs. We must be careful not to become hypocrites like the Pharisees. The devil often concentrates his attacks on church workers. If a worker is not faithful, it is easy to strike down God’s sheep (Jn 10:12). Also, God’s work does not prosper in a divided church (1Cor 3:3). We must understand that God’s work belongs to God, not any one person. Remember that we have been “hired” by God to build up His church (1Cor 3:9-10).