Digging in Deeper: Mark 9:19

“He replied to them, ‘You unbelieving generation, how long will I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring him to me.'” (CSB – Read the chapter)

If you are a parent, have you ever finally lost it with your kids? I’m not talking about a time when you fussed at them and they settled down from whatever tiff they were working out among them. I’m talking about a time when you finally blew your top. They had been at each other’s throats and argumentative with you over an extended period of time. You tried to be patient at first, but that ran out an hour ago. You upped the ante to sterner warnings and assurances of punishment if the chaos didn’t abate and that failed to take. At last you just erupted at them. Everybody got yelled at. Everybody’s feelings were hurt. Everybody was then sent to their rooms to sulk for the rest of the day and probably forever. My take is that if you haven’t hit that particular parenting milestone, one of three things is true: Your kids are too young and haven’t quite gotten to the age where that kind of thing starts happening; your kids are too perfect and you need to check to make sure they haven’t been replaced by body doubles; or you are Jesus. Actually, scratch that last one. As this passage reminds us, even Jesus hit His frustration max on occasion. Let’s talk about it.

Have you ever noticed that your worst moments tend to come right on the heels of your best ones? That’s so often the case for me. Several years ago I was able to attend a weeklong silence retreat. The retreat itself was wonderful. While the group of pastors there had a time to fellowship in the evenings, for the rest of the week it was nothing but us to ourselves. You could use the time to do whatever you pleased – work, rest, hike, hunt, soak in the beauty of the Smoky Mountains in the full glory of fall. Each time I went up there I got to the end of the week feeling spiritually and physically refreshed. Then I got home and was even more impatient and short-tempered with Lisa and the boys than I usually was. It was like instead of taking a gentle trail down from the literal mountaintop high I had been enjoying, I found the nearest cliff and jumped straight to the bottom without a parachute.

Jesus, Peter, James, and John came down from the mountain after Jesus’ transfiguration and found chaos waiting for them at the base. A group was there with the rest of the disciples where Jesus had left them and they were all arguing. As soon as they saw Jesus, they all rushed over to Him and He asked what was happening. One man whose son was suffering from some kind of a demonic epilepsy immediately spoke up. He had brought his son to them for healing, but Jesus’ disciples hadn’t been able to do anything to help him.

Now, put yourself in Jesus’ sandals for a minute. He had just had a really powerful experience with His Father and came down from it to find that nothing had changed on the ground. The whole group here was rife with pettiness and unbelief and faithlessness and failure. The scribes were being the irritating curmudgeons they always were. The crowd wanted little more than a show and had no genuine interest in the Gospel. The man was acting like an entitled jerk. The disciples looked like they hadn’t bothered to learn any of the lessons He had spent the past several months teaching them. In short, there wasn’t anything going right here. How would you have handled it?

If you’re like me at all, this probably would have been the moment when you finally blew your lid and just let everyone there have it. “You blankety-blank and so-and-so’s! Why can’t you ever just get over yourselves and quit your nonsense? I’m so sick and tired of dealing with your chaos. How long am I going to have to put up with this before you finally get your heads on straight and stop it?” But that’s you and me. We’re not Jesus. Certainly Jesus wouldn’t have done something like that…right?

Oh wait.

“You unbelieving generation, how long will I be with you? How long must I put up with you?”

Wait, what? We were talking about how Jesus would have handled the situation, not you and me. Except…that is how Jesus responded to the situation. What on earth are we supposed to do with this? I mean, I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound very Jesus-like to me. What are we to make of His losing His cool like this?

Well, although Jesus was fully God, He was also fully human. And the thing about God as well as the people created in His image is that we are all persons who experience a full range of emotion. Frustration is one of those emotions. Just like you and I get frustrated, so does God. So did Jesus.

Okay, but what does this mean? It still doesn’t tell us how we should think about what we are seeing here. Well, for starters, it tells us that getting frustrated and exasperated isn’t a sin. Frustration is the natural result of being in a place where our expectations or desires are not lining up with reality. Given that the world is broken by sin, and that sinful people have a tendency to act like it, frustration is a part of life. It has always been since the fall. And we’re not the only ones who experience frustration. Jesus did here. God did several times throughout the narrative of ancient Israel. Just think about the number of times He blew His lid with the people during their wanderings in the wilderness with Moses.

Right, but our question here still remains: What are we supposed to do with this? Here’s what: Sin should make us angry when we encounter it. It should make us angry when we encounter it personally. It should make us angry when we observe its effects in the lives of the people around us. The foolishness of people who are broken by sin should drive us crazy. That’s all normal. Those are healthy reactions to a broken world. Whenever we experience sin and its effects there should be an immediate tension in our hearts and minds that things are not as they should be. We want for the world to operate without sin, but each time it looks like things are going to sail on smoothly, there is sin to mess them up again. That should absolutely frustrate us. It frustrates God. It frustrated Jesus here.

The real issue we need to consider is not how to avoid frustration – we can’t – but rather, how to respond to it when it comes. The temptation in moments of high frustration is to throw up our hands and walk away. Our tendency is to want to write people and situations off as hopeless. There’s nothing we can do and that’s that. Let’s wash our hands of the whole thing and turn our backs on it. That’s natural. But that is the point at which God’s normal reaction and our normal reaction begin to diverge from one another.

God may get frustrated with us – Jesus was undoubtedly frustrated with the people here – but He refuses to walk away. He never quits loving. God’s solution to frustration is neither apathy nor destruction. It is redemption. Redemption is the fix for frustration. My friends, that is why Jesus died and rose on the third day. The ultimate cause of frustration is sin. On the cross, Jesus dealt sin a mortal wound. The time has not yet arrived for making all things new, but the kingdom of God is here. There is a path out of the frustration of this world. There is a day coming when it will be gone entirely. That is what we work for as His followers. We refuse to give into the frustration. Instead, we lean into the redemption and love Jesus died and rose to make available and keep moving forward toward the kingdom. This path often isn’t easy, but it will always take us to where we most want to be in the end. Let’s commit to walking it together.

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