14 And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. 15 And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him. 16 And he asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” 17 And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. 18 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.” 19 And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” 20 And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. 21 And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” 23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” 25 And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” 26 And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.
28 And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” 29 And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
If you were reading through the Gospel of Mark, coming to this text would be like hitting a brick wall. You would see a high, lofty moment followed by this discouraging scene. Immediately preceding this text, Jesus is transfigured. His clothes turned radiantly white – brighter than the sun glaring off freshly fallen snow. Jesus’ face shined more brightly than if He had swallowed the sun. The voice of the Lord God Almighty spoke from the cloud, “This is My beloved Son, listen to Him.” From that high, great, glorious place, Jesus and Peter, James, and John descend from the mountain to this chaotic scene. What is going on?
At the foot of the mountain, the other nine disciples are dealing with a crisis. A man had brought his demon possessed son to them, but they were unable to cast that demon out. These disciples had previously been commissioned by Jesus with authority to cast out demons, and they did (Mk. 6:7-13, 30). However, this demon stumps the disciples, and the scribes are having a field day with this. If Jesus is so great, then why are His disciples so insignificant? If Jesus is so powerful, why are His disciples so powerless. If Jesus is so mighty, why are His disciples so weak? So they argue back and forth. Meanwhile this father stands around helpless as he listens to the disciples squabble with the scribes.
Now, imagine this man. He has watched his son being tormented by the demon his whole life. What had this done to his marriage? How did he explain all of this to his other children? How many times had this father been burned by fire and how often did he jump into the water to save his son? What sacrifices had he made to bring his son to Jesus only to have the disciples fail him? Who has suffered more, the son or the father? It’s a close call.
Jesus enters into this scene like a parent stepping in between fighting children. “What are you arguing about?” The father steps forward and tells his story. At this story, Jesus sighs in frustration against the disciples, the scribes, and possibly even at this father. “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring the boy to me”
The demon shows off – convulsing the boy, making him roll around on the ground and foam at the mouth. The father prays an iffy prayer to Jesus, “If, if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”
“If you can? Of course I can! You wouldn’t be here if you thought I was unable to help. You wouldn’t have brought your son to Me, away from your family.” But with the inability of the disciples and the questioning of the scribes, this father’s faith is faltering. So Jesus encourages his faith, “All things are possible for the one who believes.”
The question is, Believes what? Faith by itself is worthless. We believe all sorts of things that simply will not happen. You could believe with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength that the chair you are sitting in right now will be able to take you to Sydney Australia, but it can’t. Faith is only as good as the object it is placed in. Faith always has an object. To simply say, “I believe,” is incomplete. When you say, “I believe,” the proper question should be, “You believe what?”
Spiritually speaking, the only faith worth having is faith in Jesus because Jesus is the only God worth having. All things are possible for the one believing in Jesus because all things are possible for Jesus. And so Jesus says, “All things are possible for the one who believes.” These words from Jesus cause the father to pray another petition – and what a prayer it is. It is the constant prayer of all followers of Jesus: “I believe; help my unbelief.”
This is the prayer of the desperate father. This is the prayer of every Christian. And this is the prayer of you who cannot stand on your own. This is the prayer of you who are wavering in your doubt about what Jesus can do and has promised to do for you. “I believe; help my unbelief.”
You see, the father’s problem wasn’t the demon and the torment of his son. And your problem isn’t always what is apparent. Your problem is not sickness, disease, grief, or pain. Jesus has already shown that He can take care of those things. Your problem isn’t even death. Jesus has no problem with death. Jesus is on His way to the cross where He will meet death on death’s battlefield, and Jesus will win. Jesus will strike down death with a killer blow making death a harmless, conquered enemy.
Your real problem, and this father’s real problem is unbelief. Your unbelief is on full display whenever you face troubles and try everything in your power before finally, in desperation, turning to prayer and God. Of course Jesus can help. Of course Jesus will have mercy upon you. He always does. Just as he does for this boy.
This boy’s story is your story. You too have been under the power of the devil your whole life. You too have been deaf to Christ’s word. You too have been unable and unwilling to sing His praise. You too have been unwilling to submit to Jesus. Yet, you were brought to Jesus, and He took you by the hand and raised you up by the power of His Spirit. But you are also like this father. You continue to fall back into your original problem of unbelief. Because you constantly fall back into the same sins over and over, you begin to doubt and wonder if Jesus has had mercy on you and helped you. In the Spirit, you believe. Left to yourself, you do not. In the spirit you pray. Left to yourself, you do not. On and on it goes. You constantly waver, but Christ will always have mercy on you because He has had mercy upon you as He suffered, bled, and died.
Brother and sister, your even though you constantly and continually waver between faith and unfaith, your faith in Jesus is never in vain. Your faith in Jesus is not empty. Your faith in Jesus is not worthless because the Jesus you trust in is not vain, empty, or worthless. Jesus is the One who can and does break the darkness, free the prisoners, and brings you from death to life, from unbelief to faith. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.