“I Believe! Sort of…”
If you’re anything like me, I’m sure you’ve all had times in your spiritual journey where you’ve spent considerable time with God in prayer and his word. Perhaps you went on a weekend retreat, or just a day away. God spoke powerfully to you and ministered to you. We often refer to this as a “mountaintop” experience. But then God takes us and brings us to “Monday morning” – or back to the real world. As much as we would like to continue these times of great spiritual blessing, we know we must return to daily life.
This is where we find ourselves this morning. Last week, we took a look at Peter, James and John’s trip up the mountain where they witnessed a glimpse of the glory of Jesus Christ. Remember that Jesus has just informed them of his own suffering and death. He then extends this concept to his disciples. He tells them that they too must deny themselves and take up a cross. Discipleship is characterized in self-denial and suffering. And on the heels of such a heavy concept, I believe Jesus chooses to present them with an eternal perspective. He leads them to a mountaintop and reminds them who they follow. Though he is under no obligation to do so, Jesus graciously allows them this glimpse into his nature. This was truly a “mountaintop experience.” Then they must descend the mountaintop. This is where we pick up our text. We are in Mark 9.14-29. Let’s begin by reading the passage.
One of the major things that I have noticed as we have been studying Mark’s Gospel is the new understanding of these healings, miracles, and exorcisms. On the surface, we typically are “wowed” by the power, the miracles, and the authority of Jesus. And these are important in Mark’s presentation of the life and ministry of Jesus. But when you meditate and study the text, you begin to understand that the emphases are truly on the spiritual lessons from Jesus. So, when we witness Jesus exorcising a demon that has been within this person since childhood, it is tremendous and compassionate that he is able to do so. But more importantly, we will see the lessons on faith for the father of the boy and the disciples. This is the emphasis of the passage. The exorcism just presents the opportunity for these great spiritual truths.
I have entitled the sermon, “I Believe! Sort of…” and will identify my points based off the title. Though this is seemingly a paradoxical concept based on the admission of the boy’s father in verse 24, I think it is something we can all resonate with today. There are times in our lives where we can declare with our mouths that we believe in God and yet do not live lives fully reflecting this assertion. Isn’t this true? For example, do our lives reflect completely and morally this truth? Do we consistently make decisions Coram Deo – in the presence of God? Because if we fully embraced the fact that God sees all that we do every minute of the day, we would make much different decisions than we do and act differently than we do. I would guess that I am missing no one with this idea – including myself.
This paradox also plays itself out with regard to circumstances. We say we believe in the power of God and either don’t act on this belief or neglect to pray expecting results. It is merely lip service. We believe that God changes hearts of people as the Gospel is shared and yet we are timid in evangelism. Or we pray token prayers for the unconverted, but don’t really expect anything to happen. “I’ll pray for uncle so-and-so but I don’t really think he’s actually going to give up the cocaine and turn to Jesus.”
Or how about this one? Perhaps you are in ministry (or preparing for ministry) and you function without believing the power of God in service. “Yeah. I know what it says in the Bible about turning to God in prayer, but no need. I can just push a little harder and work a little longer. I’ll bring him in on the bigger issues for sure. But for this daily stuff… I got it.”
I think that our text this morning addresses some of this. We’ll begin by looking a bit at this last line of thinking. The first point is “I believe. But I’ve got this one…”
In similar fashion to Moses’ descent from Mount Sinai where he had been in the presence of God, the small posse of Peter, James, John and Jesus are quickly met by “reality.” They just witnessed some of the glory of Christ and now come face to face with real people and real problems. Remember we mentioned earlier in our study that when the disciples are separated from Jesus for a time, they quickly run into trouble? Here we go again.
Can you imagine what is going on in Jesus’ mind here? Now what? They see a crowd and … the scribes. Now the scribes have not been all that accommodating to Jesus to this point. So for them to see the disciples surrounded in a confrontation might have been a little disturbing. What is interesting is that when the crowd saw him [Jesus], they were greatly amazed. And they ran up and greeted him. Mark doesn’t tell us why they were so amazed. Perhaps there was a lingering glow about him from the transfiguration. We don’t know. But this point isn’t emphasized. The issue emerges immediately after Jesus and company arrive on the scene. It seems as though the question Jesus asks is directed to the scribes here – though they aren’t the ones who answer. Jesus asks what the argument is about.
A man from the crowd is the one who answers. And he appears to be the one at the center of the episode. The man replies, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.”
A couple of things should be noted here. It would seem as though the disciples were recognized to represent Jesus for the man brought the boy to them. Perhaps he initially was looking for Jesus but, in his absence, asked the disciples to perform the same task. In fact, the man’s reply indicates that the man brought the boy to Jesus. He then asked the disciples who were unable to help.
Second, we know that they had been authorized to do this previously. In Mark 6.7-13, it is the first time that Jesus sends out the twelve on mission. They were sent with a message of repentance which included delegated authority over demons. So, you would think that the disciples should have been able to repeat their earlier mission. Perhaps the assignment was too difficult for them. Or was it something else?
Let’s look first at what they were facing. It does seem to be a tough case. The boy has a spirit that causes him to not speak. This is a rather violent demon as well. It seizes the boy and throws him down. This account is also recorded in Matthew and Luke. Interestingly, Matthew includes the fact that the boy is an epileptic. And it certainly seems as though some of these symptoms are included in epilepsy. But Matthew also includes the work of a demon that needs to be exorcised. I think this helps us to avoid two extremes. There are some who would indicate that any talk of demon-possession is really just an archaic understanding of a medical condition. The fact that Matthew includes two different perspectives would seem to nullify this understanding.
We also must indicate that merely because somebody suffers from a physical ailment, does not suggest demon possession and/or sin. We know from Scripture that there are several righteous people that suffer from health issues that cannot be traced to sin or evil. We know that Job was a righteous man and yet suffered because of his righteousness – and yet by Satan. We also know that this issue was also raised from his disciples. John records in his Gospel, in 9.2, the disciples asking Jesus who sinned because there was a man was born blind. Jesus’ response is that nobody sinned, but it was so that the works of God would be displayed in him.
Do you know what I think is going on here? I think that the disciples believed that because of their former mission, that they possessed the ongoing ability to cast out demons. Except this time it was without the delegated authority of Jesus. Perhaps they thought the ability to be automatic. I think this becomes evident as we see Jesus’ remarks in verses 19 and 29. In his response, Jesus equates the inability of the disciples to a lack of faith. It’s difficult to know how far-reaching the faithless generation would extend. But it at least includes the disciples and maybe the crowd.
And then in verses 28-29, we see how this is so. At the end of the ordeal, Jesus and the disciples go inside the house (a primary place of instruction for them) and process what happened with their unsuccessful attempt at demon exorcism. They ask Jesus, “why could we not cast it out?” And Jesus responds by saying that “this kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” So what does this mean? Does it mean that they must say some magical prayer or formula in order for their effort to succeed? I think not. When we are on our knees, it communicates our dependence on Almighty God.
The disciples did what many of us do today. This can be especially symptomatic of those in ministry leadership. The disciples attempted to do ministry without Jesus. Not just physical presence. They failed to turn to God in prayer for empowerment for ministry. Allow me to be a bit candid for a moment. It can be very easy to be active in ministry and neglect your prayer life. This may or may not be intentional. You can find yourself so busy that you think that you can get more done in a day if you just get going or you can just forget to pray. This is absurd! We may be more like the disciples than we like to admit.
One of the quotes in your bulletin makes a lot of sense. Martin Luther said these very wise words: “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” To the non-Christian this does not make much sense. But to the believer, doesn’t this ring true?? Like the disciples, we will be rendered ineffective in the Christian life if we neglect our communication with the Almighty! There are some here from Kaleo training for ministry. Please understand this! We all need to cultivate our prayer lives and thrive from our relationship to him! I’ve said this before, we live in an age permeated with distraction. If we do not take care of the primary things, we will lose them.
Let me offer an illustration for this. In a business example, a businessman filled an empty bucket with bricks in front of some junior executives. He asked if the bucket was full. Some thought so, but most said “no.” The businessman then filled the gaps with pebbles and sand, asking after each new ingredient whether it was “full now?” Finally, he poured in water until the bucket overflowed. He asked the junior executives the meaning of the exercise. After a moment of dumb silence he explained, “If you want bricks in a bucket, put them in first.’’ If you don’t make prayer a priority (and study of the Word), it becomes much more difficult to squeeze it in.
When we neglect prayer, we are saying to God that we can live the Christian life without his help. We are saying that we can do the work of ministry without Jesus. We say that we are sufficient in ourselves – thank you very much! We might not admit it, but it demonstrates unbelief. “God, I know that the Scriptures say that we need you for salvation and because of the work of Jesus and the Holy Spirit in us we are able to be changed and glorify you. But you know what, I think I can do it better. Thanks anyway! I believe. But I got this one…”
And Jesus says, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?” I don’t know about you but I would not want Jesus to say this of me. And I wonder if he has at times.
And how many of us have prayed to God the second point: “I believe. Yet I need some help believing…” Put yourself in the shoes of the man here. You have a son who is tormented by a demon – for years! It seizes him and throws him. It causes him to grind his teeth and become stiff. And there you hear about Jesus. The stories have reached your town. You hear reports of this Teacher and Miracle Worker. This Jesus teaches with authority, not like the Pharisees or scribes. And not only that, he is compassionate. He teaches and feeds multitudes. He heals withered hands and blind eyes, stops the constant bleeding of a woman, brings children back to life. Maybe, just maybe. “My son.” Luke indicates that it is his only son. My son has been tormented for years by this demon. I am powerless to help my own child.” If you have children, you know what it is like to watch your children suffer. You would rather bear the infirmities or sufferings yourself. Can you imagine hearing about Jesus??
So you pack up and you go to Jesus. You’ve heard where he is. And when you get there you find that he has retreated to a mountaintop for a time. But his disciples are there. And they have already gone through the region exorcising demons. They represent Jesus. Certainly they can help! And they were not able. Sigh…
And now Jesus comes down from the mountainside. Are you still hopeful? Was the man dejected? Or did he express himself with great amazement? Perhaps the emotions were mixed between them. After all, he was desperate. This was perhaps his last hope. Jesus says to bring the boy to him. He does speak with authority – though he is somewhat discouraged by his representatives. And when the boy is brought before Jesus, it (the demon) convulses the boy and causes him to fall to the ground and foam at the mouth. If you are the man, what are you thinking right now?
Jesus asks the man how long he has been tormented by the demon. Now why would he ask this? I think it is to set up the exorcism. This wasn’t a situation that began to bother the son this past week. This demon has inhabited this one for a long while! He is quite comfortable here and not too likely to leave without a fight. In fact, the father details some of the things that they have endured – including casting him into fire and water to destroy him. Wow! For years, this demon has been trying to destroy his son.
The man would have to be exhausted – suffering with his son and protecting him from fire, water,…destruction. And with this exhaustion, remembering the failed attempts of the disciples, he utters, “if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Are you there? Do you feel the desperation in the man’s words?
Jesus says, “If you can!” You would expect a question mark in your Bible here. But it’s not. It’s an exclamation mark. This is because in the original it is something like, “the if you can.” Jesus says, regarding your request, “the if you can,” all things are possible for one who believes.
I have at times struggled with verses like this because many take these statements and man-centralize them. Do you know what I mean by this? Those who would rip Scripture out of context – name and claim it types – take this verse and twist it to serve their own purposes. What I have come to realize however, that this does not make God our servant. If I have enough faith, God will do this for me. It does not say that all things are guaranteed for one who believes.
This declaration speaks to the greatness of God! Jesus is encouraging the man to believe in the One with whom all things are possible. Do you see it? And in his desperation, the father immediately cries out, “I believe. Help my unbelief.” The man has come with hope to find Jesus. He has heard the stories and perhaps had some spring in his step. If Jesus has healed this many, why would he not help us? And then the disciples failed. He believes and yet he needs help to continue to believe.
Haven’t you been there? You believe in God. He’s the Creator of the universe and the Savior of your soul. And then a cancer diagnosis comes along and suddenly you begin to think that God might be unable or unwilling to help. And you say, “I believe! Sort of…” There is a conflict in the church and you wonder whether God will intervene. You say, “I believe! Sort of…” You have a rebellious child who has turned to drugs and you say, “I believe! Sort of…”
One commentator notes this, “There is within every believer a tension between faith and unfaith, and that faith can only continue to exist by dint of divine aid.” And G.K. Chesterton writes, “There is something in man which is always apparently on the eve of disappearing, but never disappears, an assurance which is always apparently saying farewell and yet illimitably lingers, a string which is always stretched to snapping yet never snaps.” Believer, doesn’t that make sense? Do you know this tension? You may have had doubts at points in your life. But at the end of the day, your faith remains! This is a supernatural work of God. He will not let you lose your faith, but allows it to be stretched in order to strengthen it!
I think the request of the man validates his faith because he requests help for more. He is not defeatist in his request. He is desperate and yet somehow he knows that the man standing in front of him is the real deal. And at the end of his day, can you imagine his faith?
Our third point, “I believe in the Lord Jesus!” Jesus sees a crowd running toward him. Perhaps once again, Jesus has pulled the man aside from the crowd to avoid fanfare. And he chooses to act. Jesus spoke directly to the demon and rebuked him. The words, “I command you” are emphatic – stressing the authority of the one speaking and commanding. “I, the Lord Jesus command you who is subservient to my authority, to come out of the boy… permanently.” Jesus has asked the man the duration of the torment of the demon. And now this will demonstrate the power and authority of Jesus to extract a long-standing demon from the boy forever. But he doesn’t go without a fight. In a last ditch effort, he torments the boy by convulsing him terribly. The exorcism has come at a cost to the boy - so much so that many believe him to be dead.
Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he has often chosen to personally interact and touch the people he ministers to. And he does so here. In his first interaction with the boy (remember he has only spoken to the demon inside), he takes the boy by the hand and he is instantly restored! You recall that this is quite similar to Mark 5.41-42 where Jesus raises up Jairus’ daughter, taking her by the hand and saying, “little girl, I say to you, arise.” Immediately the girl got up and walked around – amazing everyone present.
The Lord Jesus has recently displayed some of his glory on the mountaintop. He returns to rebuke the unbelieving disciples, encourage the fainthearted, exorcise demons and restore children. He is the object of our belief through this story and throughout all of the Scriptures. Though Mark does not include the response of the father and son, I can only imagine how their faith in Jesus was strengthened.
And our last point, “I believe. Teach me…” After this spectacular event, Jesus and the disciples retreat to a house for a while. This is a repeated theme of instruction between Jesus and disciples – insiders and outsiders. To their credit, the disciples want to learn from their failure. We may be surprised as we track the ministry of Jesus and his interaction with the disciples that he continued to show mercy to them and to teach them. Perhaps it was because there was no “Plan B.” I think it was more the character of Jesus to show such great patience and compassion to them. And I think that they are completely like us. The recorded accounts can’t help but be an encouragement to us in our failures. For they are many.
And even as we can commiserate in their failures, let us also follow their example of being teachable. We seem to learn more in failure than in victory I think. And so it is here. The disciples are not content to be defeated in their ministry; but seek to grow and be better servants of Jesus. In their failure, they were forced to be reacquainted with their dependence on Christ.
And so they ask, “why could we not cast it out?” And as we already saw, Jesus says, “You didn’t pray. You relied on your own strength and didn’t seek supernatural power. You left me out of your ministry.” We don’t do this today, do we?
There are the more obvious exclusions of Jesus - the churches who focus on health and wealth and have left the biblical Jesus out. There are churches who focus on healing and leave Jesus out. There are churches who say all religions are the same – all beliefs lead to the same place. No Jesus.
But what about the churches that are made up of busy people that don’t pray? And thus show their unbelief… Are we one of those churches? Are we a people who pay lip service to our faith and yet demonstrate great inconsistency with our lifestyle? And nullify our testimony to Christ.
Let’s not leave Jesus out! The Lord Jesus is the reason we are here today! The book of Acts says, “In him we live and move and have our being.” Let’s live like it we believe this! Let’s be the kind of Christians who thrive on having their faith stretched so that we see the power of God most prominently. Let’s be an example to our brothers and sisters in the other local churches of our great faith! Let’s show this community of Squamish that we aren’t just a bunch of people that gather on Sunday mornings out of religious duty – but that we thrive because of our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ!
If you don’t know him, he is everything that is said about him in this Book and more! John wrote in his Gospel, “John 21:25 25 Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” Mark’s Gospel opens with the beginning of the gospel (the good news) of Jesus Christ who is the Son of God. He left his throne above where he enjoyed perfect fellowship with his Father, and took on flesh as a human child so that he could die for a traitorous race. That’s us! He did it to show his great love for you and for me. And most of all he did it to glorify his Father. “That a king would die for his subjects says more about the king than the subjects.” “I believe in the Lord Jesus.” And I pray that you do too! Let’s pray.