In comparing the three accounts of the miracle (Matthew 17:14-21; Mark 9:14-29; Luke 9:37-43), Mark, as usual, supplies the most detail. From the multitude, the distressed father approaches Jesus, asking with humility and reverence accompanied by tears for a miracle on behalf of his only son. This must have been a heartbreaking scene, seeing the father's anguish over his violently insane, demon-possessed boy.
The disciples are unable to exorcise the demon, but the father is determined to secure Christ's help. The nine disciples on the scene feel humiliation and shame before the people, especially before the scribes who habitually sneered at them. So, the eager and desperate father pleads with Jesus to bring his son permanent relief from the effects of sin.
The work of sin is pictured in the details of the boy's affliction. We will briefly analyze four significant details: the affliction's description, intensity, defilement, and deadliness.
1. What is notable about the affliction's description? Matthew 17:15; Mark 9:21, 22.
Comment: Christ interrupts the father's appeal to ask about the duration of the child's affliction. The man answers, "From childhood," that is, since he had been a small child. The boy was still young, as the Greek word translated "child" in Mark 9:24 implies, but the sense is that the affliction had lasted many months or years. Sin, too, has been with us since we were children (Psalm 58:3; Isaiah 48:8).
The boy's illness—"epilepsy" (NKJV) or "lunatic" (KJV)—was then regarded as a disgraceful disease. Some thought it fell on those who had sinned against the moon (luna, "moon") and changes in the moon were said to govern the period of epileptic seizures. Epilepsy was also connected with demon possession, but we know today that being epileptic does not mean that a person is demon possessed.
The boy's convulsions are sudden and last an incredibly long time, for the evil spirit "departs from him with great difficulty." The demon's frenzy becomes more violent in Jesus' presence: The boy falls on the ground, rolls around, and foams at the mouth. Many who have given themselves to sin could be said to act crazily and irrationally. They may be highly respected people in society, but they do not act sensibly when it comes to life's most important matters. They have no interest in salvation, God's truth, or His Kingdom, justifying all sorts of evil. Their choices to do self-damaging acts shows the craziness of their thinking.
2. What is significant about the affliction's intensity? Mark 9:26; Luke 9:39.
Comment: The demon "suddenly cries out." In Greek, the word suggests a loud croak, scream, or shriek. Such sounds are not dissimilar to the cacophonous noise of some modern "music" in which the singers scream and shriek jarringly, their amplifiers turned up all the way (see Amos 5:23). We can know whether a thing is good or bad by its fruit (Matthew 7:16), and prolonged exposure to such noises produces traumatized brains and damaged eardrums.
Otherwise, the demon's influence on the boy is to make him deaf and dumb (Mark 9:17, 25). In this context, "dumb" means that he could not speak coherently. Sin disables the sinner, making him unable to hear or speak the truth (John 8:43-44; II Thessalonians 2:9-12). It keeps the ear from hearing God's Word and causes the mouth to speak dishonorably of Him.
3. What is distinctive about the affliction's defilement? Mark 9:25; Luke 9:42.
Comment: The demon is called an "unclean" spirit, "impure" and "lewd." In Scripture, demons are well-known for being unclean, as representing the work of sin, which defiles the sinner. Curse words are "filthy language," and some people love to tell "dirty jokes." Moral filth often goes along with physical filth; evil people are dirty in mind and often in body and dwelling (Isaiah 28:6-8).
The Bible describes demons abusing those they possessed by causing them to convulse, fall, break a limb, foam at the mouth, roll, and gnash their teeth. The words "suffers severely" (Matthew 17:15) come from two Greek words that mean "badly" and "experience." To be controlled by sin is a horrible experience; it is a brutal, distressing taskmaster. Sin's delights are brief and small (Hebrews 11:24-26), while its severe discomforts can last a lifetime.
4. What is significant about the affliction's deadliness? Matthew 17:15; Mark 9:18, 22, 26; Luke 9:39.
Comment: The biblical account certainly suggest that the outcome would be death. Sin's costliness and deadliness are connected in Paul's memorable truism, "The wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). The world frequently advertises that sin results in an exciting life, but this is false, as "sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death" (James 1:15). Many things that society sanctions as good only lead to suffering and death (such as sexual immorality, abortion, and alcohol abuse).
It is by Christ's sinless death we are forgiven and healed by the stripes He received when beaten (Isaiah 53:5; Matthew 9:2, 5; Mark 2:5, 9; Luke 5:20, 23; I Peter 2:24). God not only removes sin, but He also forgets it (Hebrews 8:12). The prophets Micah and Isaiah vividly illustrate this divine forgetfulness of pardoned sin: God will "cast all our sins into the depths of the sea" (Micah 7:19), and "cast all my sins behind Your back" (Isaiah 38:17).