Download or listen to the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, “The Lord Yahweh Helps Me,” (Mark 9:14-29)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
If you’re a parent, then you recognize this scene from Mark’s Gospel. Jesus comes down from the mountain and He sees the scribes and the crowds and the disciples arguing. “What are you arguing about?” Jesus asks. As my children can attest, I’ll be upstairs or downstairs, or inside or out, and I hear arguing. What’s going on here? What are you arguing about? Jesus comes down from the mountain with Peter, James, and John, and He finds His children arguing. What are you arguing about? A man from the crowd says, “I brought my son to You. He has an unspeaking spirit, and it makes him roll around, and foam, and grind his teeth. But your disciples were not strong enough to do anything.” And Jesus sounds almost like a frustrated father: “O faithless, unbelieving generation! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring him to Me.” And so they bring the son to Jesus, but as soon as the spirit is in the presence of Jesus, it throws him down, tries to tear him apart. “How long has this been going on?” Jesus asks. “From childhood,” says his father. “It often throws him down into the fire or the water, trying to destroy him. If you can, have compassion on us and help us.” If you can. If you can? If you can?! All things are possible for the believing one. This is not a comment on the power of faith, or the strength or amount of faith. This is a comment on having a faith that trusts the right thing—the right Person. We say, have a little faith. Or, all you need is faith. Or, faith will get you through. But faith, in itself, is worthless. Faith is nothing but wishful thinking if it’s not faith in Jesus. The only faith worth having is faith in Jesus, because Jesus is the only God worth having. If you can? All things are possible for the believing one, because all things are possible for Jesus.
Immediately the father cries out, “I believe! Help my unbelief!” Now he comes to the heart of the matter, the root of the issue. His request has changed from helping his son to helping his unbelief. Because the real problem is not unclean spirits. Jesus has cast out many unclean spirits. He even gave His Apostles authority over unclean spirits and they cast them out. The problem is not unclean spirits. The problem is not sickness, or disease, or grief, or pain; the problem is not death, or broken relationships; the problem is not even sin. The problem is unbelief. Jesus has already shown that He has power over the sick, the blind, the deaf, the mute. He has no problem with death, and He will have no problem with sin that His own death can’t solve. He is on His way to the cross at this very moment, as He tells His disciples, and He is going to deal sin and death a killing blow. He’s going to put an end to the sting of death; He’s going to take all the wind out of its sails. He’s going to make death a harmless, toothless, conquered enemy.
None of these are the real problem. The real problem is unbelief. And we prove it every time we use God as our last resort. We exhaust all our resources, run down all our leads, and then we turn to God as a final option. We’ll pray if we have nothing else to do, if then. Is there any doubt that God can heal? Perhaps we fear that He will not, and what does that say about Him? But it’s all unbelief. I believe; help my unbelief. What a wretched man I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! He delivers the son from his demonic possession. The disciples say, Why couldn’t we cast it out? This kind can come out only by prayer, Jesus says. So perhaps the disciples did not pray to God to cast out the unclean spirit, just like we don’t pray and entrust ourselves to His mercy. But Jesus doesn’t pray. Because He is God. He is Lord, and He alone can say to the demon: “I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again.” Never enter him again, because this one event is not going to cause the devil to give up. This is an ongoing battle. I believe; help my unbelief. I cannot do this life, I cannot even believe, by myself. In another place, Jesus tells a parable about a demon that is cast out. Like the word of Jesus in baptism taking you from under the power of the devil and putting you under His own Reign. But in the parable, the house is swept clean of demons but nothing is put in there. The unclean spirit is not replaced with the Holy Spirit. The Word is not there; the battle does not continue. And so that demon goes and finds seven demons bigger and badder than itself, and moves into the empty house, and the last state of that person is worse than the first (Matthew 12:43-45; Luke 11:24-26). You cannot be empty; either you will be under the power of the unclean spirit, or under the power of the Holy Spirit. Pray: I believe; help my unbelief. Help my unbelief.
And He does. The story of this boy is your story: under the power of the devil from childhood, even from conception; deaf to the word of Christ; mute, unwilling to sing His praise; brought by your mother, or father, or someone else to Christ; unwilling to submit to Him, until He finally has to kill you to loosen your grip; and then, He takes your hand, raises you up, and you are raised. Dead to sin, now, and alive to God in Christ Jesus. I believe! Help my unbelief. In the spirit, I believe. Left to myself, I do not. In the Spirit, I pray. Left to myself, I do not. And on it goes, dying these little deaths, rising in these little resurrections. In Christ, the only one who fully trusts, for whom all things are possible. In Him, the Lord Yahweh helps me, and I am not put to shame. My faith is not in vain, not empty, not worthless, because the Christ I trust is not vain, not empty, not worthless. Until the day when there is no more unbelief, and no more faith; just the simple sight of the eternal presence of Jesus.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 9/15/12