I Believe; Help My Unbelief

Sermon for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost based on Mark 9:14-29

Dear believers: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

A desperate father sought help for his son. His son was demon possessed. The demon seized the boy, throwing him down and he would grind his teeth and become rigid. The demon would cast the boy into fire and water in order to destroy him. This had been happening since childhood.

When this man sought help, Jesus was up on a mountain with Peter, James, and John, but the other nine disciples were available. So this man went to Jesus’ nine disciples to cast the demon out, but they did not have the power to do it. These nine were apostles, which means they were representatives of Jesus. They were called by Jesus and given authority over unclean spirits (Mark 6:7). Yet they failed to do what Jesus had called them to do.

The fact that the disciples were unable to cast out the demon surprised them. Thus they asked Jesus later, “Why could we not cast it out?” Mark records that they had cast out many demons as part of their apostolic duty (Mark 6:13). But in this case, they failed. They were not able to do it.

In response to the disciples’ question why they couldn’t cast the demon out, Jesus answered, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” Apparently they had cast out other demons without prayer. They were given the authority by Jesus to cast out demons, so the demons obeyed Jesus’ command spoken through the mouth of His representatives.

But in this case, the demon did not respond. The disciples did what they usually did to cast out demons, but the demon didn’t listen. This threw the disciples into panic and despair. They didn’t know what to do. Maybe there was a problem with Jesus’ command. They doubted their authority as representatives of Christ. They lost faith in what Jesus had told them. Thus they didn’t pray.

When they came across this problematic situation, they didn’t turn to God in prayer, seeking His help. The disciples were believers and followers of Jesus, but if they would have completely believed, they would have sought God in prayer for help to do what they knew He had told them to do.

Just like every believer of all time, they struggled with unbelief. We know this because Jesus called them a faithless generation. He said, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?” The parallel in Matthew records Jesus telling the disciples they could not cast out the demon because of their little faith and telling them that if they had faith as a grain of mustard seed they could move a mountain (Matt. 17:19-21). If they would have been believing, they would have prayed that Jesus would do what He promised He would do; that Jesus would command the demon to depart through them as He had sent them to do exactly that. They were unbelieving, so they did not pray.

The disciples weren’t the only ones struggling with unbelief. The father who sought Jesus’ help also struggled with unbelief. Why would God allow his son to be demon possessed? Why would God allow his son to have such a debilitating illness? Where is God’s mercy when his boy is deaf and mute and having seizures while being thrown into water and fire? And on top of it all, God’s representatives were unable to do anything for his son.

The father must have just about lost all hope. Thus even to Jesus he said, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” If you can. The father doesn’t know any more. Maybe Jesus can help, maybe He can’t. The father struggled with unbelief, just like the disciples did.

Jesus responds, “’If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Whatever God has promised is possible for the one who believes.

Jesus isn’t saying that if you have enough faith you can do whatever you want. He isn’t saying that if you have enough faith you can have whatever you want. He isn’t even saying that if you have enough faith your children will never be sick and your family will never suffer.

Jesus is saying that everyone who has faith in Him will receive everything Jesus has promised. To the one who believes Jesus’ promises, those promises are his.

The father responds in faith to Jesus’ Word. He says, “I believe; help my unbelief!” He confesses his faith in Jesus, but at the same time confesses his sin of unbelief. He prays for help from Jesus. Jesus, help my unbelief.

This father did what the disciples did not do. He prayed for help with his unbelief. With his prayer, the father showed that he was totally reliant on Jesus, throwing himself at Jesus’ mercy. I believe; help my unbelief. Have compassion on us and help us.

Instead of despairing because they were unable to cast the demon out, the disciples also should have prayed to Jesus saying, “I believe; help my unbelief!” Instead of allowing themselves to be defeated, their faith should have risen up and appealed to Jesus in a fervent prayer that He make good on His promise to them to cast out demons. They also should have thrown themselves at Jesus’ mercy and prayed for Him to have compassion on the boy.

We should take this to heart in the trials that we must confront in this life. Jesus has not promised us to take all our trials away in this life. He has not promised us that He will give us everything for which we ask. But He has promised to be with us through all trials. He has promised that because of His death for us we will be delivered from all our trials at the end of our lives. He has promised that His death is our death and for that reason we will inherit eternal life with Him when we die. He has promised us that our sins are forgiven and our transgressions are covered.

So, in the midst of anguish and trial, let us pray, “I believe; help my unbelief!” In the midst of sorrow and sadness, let us pray, “I believe; help my unbelief!” In the midst of death and disease, let us pray, “Have compassion on us and help us!”

Jesus did have compassion on the father and his son. He commanded the evil spirit out of the boy and never to enter him again. The boy lay like a corpse so that most of the people said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him up by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.

So also Jesus will lift us up out of the ground when we lay dead. He will take us by the hand and lift us up, so we will arise. As Jesus rose from the dead, so He will raise us up from the dead along with all our loved ones who have died in the faith. This is sure and certain because Jesus has promised it.

“I believe; help my unbelief!” We can cling to His promise even us we struggle in anguish with doubt and unbelief. We can cling to His promise even as we suffer and our families suffer in this world of sin. Jesus will have compassion on us. Because of His death for us we have the promise of eternal life. I believe; help my unbelief. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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