Help My Unbelief: Mark 9:14-29

This is a sermon manuscript, which is written for the ear, not the eye.  So, it’s full of grammatical errors and incomplete sentences, I imagine.  Also, I try to attribute thoughts to others, but my sermon is the product of much reading of others, to whom I am indebted.

 Help My Unbelief  (Mark 9:14-29);  One of my favorite passages and verses (I know I have a lot):  “I believe, help my unbelief”.  After two sermons on miracles in the Gospel of John, I want to turn our attention to one more desperate father and one more healing from Christ.  This is a story that we will find ourselves somewhere in, but I hope that we also find our Savior in this story.   

[Introduction]: 

Do you ever think of your life as a story?  Or maybe you picture yourself in a movie, complete with a soundtrack.  And in general, we love a good story.  And some of us love to tell a good story.  Part of the fun of our Wednesday night gatherings is the opportunity to fellowship over a meal and tell the stories of our week.  Sometimes, they are of our foibles or our frustrations, but in those moments we understand ourselves as living in a story.  Obviously, you know that my use of the term “story” does not imply fiction, but the truth of our lives as we experience them.  Aren’t you glad that the Bible gives us stories?  Yes, we get lots of other things we need:  teaching, prophecy, poetry, included.  But we also get stories.  And here we have another story from the Gospels.

What are the five elements of story (you may have learned slightly different terms): the plot, the characters, the theme, the conflict, and the resolution.  Well, we definitely have that today in this story from the Gospel of Mark.  And we have those in our lives.  Do you know conflict in your life and your heart?  Aren’t our lives full of characters, especially here in the Deep South – we have some real characters here.  And whether we know it not,

Let me tell you the theme of this story that were going to explore, and thus the theme of this sermon:

Theme:   You can have an imperfect faith, if you have a perfect Savior. 

 Your faith can falter & fail, if you know Jesus.  You can struggle with unbelief, when you also believe that God is bigger than it.  Isn’t that who we are?  And where we live most days?

BB:  We’re going to take a slightly different approach this morning.  We’ll get the outline of the story and then we’ll look at the details as we consider the characters in this story.    So, my main points our The Story, The (Usual) Suspects, and The Savior.

[Main Point #1]:  Story

Before we get to the Story at Hand, I should tell you about the Story Before the Story, since we are jumping into the middle of this chapter.

{The Story Before the Story}:

At the beginning of chapter nine, Mark records the Transfiguration of Jesus for us.  That is, Jesus glory and God’s declaration that Jesus is His Son is revealed in a striking way.   This happens on a high mountain.  Jesus leads only three of the disciples – Peter, James, and John – up the mountain.  The reason this is called the Transfiguration is because of what we read at the end of verse 2 and 3:  And [Jesus] was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.   And then Moses and Elijah show up.  It’s a scene that is hard to imagine.  Peter being Peter is the first to speak.  He never heard that saying: Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubtHe suggests that they make tents for everyone – maybe so they could hang out or sleep.  Mark is clear that Peter didn’t have a clue what to say.  He just had to say something.   That’s when God shows up and declares:  “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”   It’s hard to listen if your talking!  And then everything reverts to normal and they come down the mountain.  This is the definition of a mountain top experience.   I share the story before the story, because it provides some context to verse 14 of our passage.  Those four have been up on the mountain.  Meanwhile, the disciples have found themselves in a mess.  That brings us to the Story at Hand.

{The Story at Hand}: 

This is another healing story, as many of the miracles of Christ are in the Gospels.  In the past two sermons that I have preached, I used two other healing stories from the Gospel of John.  First, we had a desperate Father, whose son had been close to death.  Then, we had a helpless man who had been an invalid for 38 years.  And now, another father, but now the son is afflicted by an evil spirit.  Some would like that to be something like epilepsy that is being described here, but Jesus commands the spirit to come out of him in verse 25.  This is different than epilepsy or some other medical phenomena.

At this point, I just want to look at the main components of the story and then go into some detail at the next point.   So, Jesus and the 3 disciples with him come down from the mountain and happen upon a big argument.  The Disciples and the Scribes are duking it out over something and Jesus asks what the disagreement is over.  The father of a son who has been suffering and nearly killed, by a spirit, doesn’t care about the argument.  He cares about his son.  Rightly so.  He explains to Jesus that he asks the disciples – the nine that weren’t up on the mountain – for their help.  Unfortunately they were no help at all.  They failed to heal his son.  From here, Jesus, the boy, and the father become the main focus.  After a lament and a question to the Father from Jesus, Jesus rebukes the spirit and heals the boy from this affliction.  The last two verses return us to

BB:   Now with the Story in mind, I want to look at the characters in the story.  The Usual Suspects, if you will, because these are the people we find in many of the stories in the Gospel.  And in them, we find ourselves. 

[Main Point #2]:  The (Usual) Suspects

Here are the Suspects that are in this story:  The Crowd, The Scribes, The Disciples, The Father, and The Son.  A sixth character, Jesus, we will approach separately for obvious reasons.  I think that in these characters, we find something of our own story.  It may be that it’s where we are now, where we’ve been, or even where we are headed (but don’t know it yet).  I don’t mean these to be mutually exclusive:  for instance, I think many of here this morning we’ll see ourselves both in the disciples and in the Father.  They each reflect some aspect of the human heart.  And our imperfect faith.

{The Crowd}:  First the crowd.  So often in the Gospel stories there’s a crowd a part of the story, but usually not a major character.   That’s the case here, as well.    The crowd is part of the setting of the story and they show up in the first two verses of this passage, verses 14 & 15: And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him.  While the crowd is excited about Jesus, there is something that characterizes the crowds in the Gospel stories:  Interested, but not invested.  They like Jesus.  He’s a cool dude – most of the time.  They know He’s done some things or at least they’ve heard.  But, they often just want to see what they get from Jesus or what they’ll do next, but they will quickly turn from following Jesus when things get too rough or Jesus says something they don’t like.  That’s what happens in our Confession of Sin this morning.   Following Jesus in this world, isn’t easy.  I know I am generalizing about this crowd, but I think this characterizes much of the reaction to Jesus yesterday and today.  Lots of curiosity, but no outlay.  It’s easier to keep Jesus at an arm’s length.  There is no faith, imperfect or otherwise, in that.  There can be no faith, if your intent is to keep Jesus at arm’s length.  I wonder if that describes anyone of us here?   If so, I bid you to come out of crowd.   Come to know the Son – put your trust in Him.  He will not fail you.

 {The Scribes}:  Within the crowd are two smaller groups:  the Scribes and the Disciples.  There are at the center of the debate, while the crowd remains on the sidelines.  Let me talk about the Scribes first.  (“teachers of the law”)    The disciples had failed to heal this possessed boy and the Scribes were surely there to make sure they knew they had failed.  It might have been an opportunity for the Scribes to let the disciples know that they were quite what they thought they were.  And that they were many rungs below the Scribes in the social order.   Or they might have used this as opportunity to debate theology.  You see, the Scribes were often placed on the same order as the Pharisees.  A scribe could also be a Pharisee, but they were distinct groups.   They were religious leaders of the day and the Scribes were experts in the law – both local law and spiritual law.  Jesus didn’t have kind words to say to either Scribes or Pharisees.    For example, from Matthew 23: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.”  They both loved the law and their self-righteousness more than they loved God.  They drove people away from God, rather than closer to him.   They were quick to condemn and slow to love.  And they probably loved winning arguments, more than they being right.  And there is no faith in that.  No is room for a Savior or faith in Him, if you think you’ve got it altogether already.  They were wrong – they just wouldn’t admit it.  There’s no room for faith, especially imperfect faith.   Maybe you are that person or you were that person.  Scribes need Jesus too.  You just have to admit it.

{The Disciples}

And there were the disciples, who have just had another face palm moment (visual).  And there was no walking away and just forgetting about it.  The disciples are the masters of imperfect faith and aren’t you glad we have some stories about them and their faltering faith.  I know it makes me feel a little better.

So, a question that is in the background in the beginning is this:  Why did they fail?  After all, if we go back to Mark 6, we’ll find a different experience for them.  Not too long ago Jesus had sent out the disciples two by two, as His witnesses and to do His work.  We read in Mark 6:7 & 12-13 this:   “And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits….So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.”  It wasn’t that long ago that they had success with this very thing.  But what had happened this time?  Jesus answers that very question for them at the very end of this passage in verses 28 and 29: And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.

Here was another teaching moment for the disciples.  What is true prayer, but faith and dependence upon God.  Our prayers aren’t perfect, but they do reflect our need for God.  And the disciples have just acted like they don’t need God or His power and presence.  They acted as if they could do it on their own and in their strength.   Tim Keller, in The King’s Cross, pulls no punches about the disciples: “How arrogant, how clueless they are about their inadequacy to deal with the evil and suffering of the world.  The disciples tried prayerless exorcism for the same reason they couldn’t understand why Jesus had to die – they didn’t see how weak and proud they were.  They underestimated the power of evil in the world and in themselves.”

            Now a question for us:  have you ever tried to live the Christian life and fulfill the commands of God in your own strength?  (Nod).  Do you ever try to serve God, but forget to pray? (Nod).  Do you sometime feel more sufficient than you are?  (Nod).  This is imperfect faith.  Sometimes Jesus rebukes and laments their faithlessness, but notice here at the end, he simply told them they were doing it all wrong.  Once again, he was pointing their imperfect faith to their perfect Savior.   That is the anecdote for our imperfect faith – to turn more to Jesus, with our failures, questions, and all.  We’re like them.  We’re also like the father, at times.

{The Father}  There are three characters that begin to stand in relief against the backdrop of the first three groups of characters:  The Father, His Son, and Jesus.  Let’s first talk about The Father.  In verse 24, he says one of the things that I am so glad the Lord put into the pages of Scripture:  I believe, help my unbelief.    That is the heart cry of an imperfect faith that is crying out to a perfect Savior.  But let’s see what has to bring him to that statement.

We can admire that the Father doesn’t care to hear who wins the argument or the disciples or Scribes respond to Jesus question in verse 16:  What are you arguing about with them?  I’m guessing the question was directed to the disciples.  Either way, the Father has no hesitation to interrupt the argument.  There is something far more important going on.  The Father emerges from the crowd and explains the whole sordid tale, from the affliction of his son to the failure of the disciples to heal him.  Jesus offers up a lament and then asks for the boy to be brought to him in verse 19.  And once again the Son finds himself at the mercy of this spirit.

Let’s focus on verses 22-24 for a moment.  In response to Jesus’ question of how long this has been going on, which has been since childhood (v21).  Listen to the heart of the Father in verse 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.”   This is the first cry of an imperfect faith.  It is placed in the right place but it doubts.  He’s already been disappointed by the disciples once.  What will this Jesus do.  If you can, he says.

  • How does Jesus respond?  Verse 23
  • Verse 24 – oh how this reflects where we live.  We just have to own this.

{The Son}:  The Son is both a major and minor character here.  He stands in the middle of the action, but he has no words.  However, put yourself in his position.  He is afflicted and assaulted.  Ever felt like that.  It doesn’t require an evil spirit for us to know the brokenness of this world in our bodies, our hearts, and our minds.  Maybe he wondered where God was in this.  Well, God shows up through Jesus.  And Jesus brings complete healing and deliverance to him.   We do not know if he followed Jesus after this (I would hope so), but we cannot dispute that his life was forever changed.  Do you see yourself here too?  Have you been delivered and had your life changed.  Faith, imperfect though it may be, is the means that the Perfect Savior uses to deliver us from our greatest afflictions and greatest need for deliverance.

 [Main Point #3]:  The Savior

You can have an imperfect faith, if its object is a Perfect Savior.  I want to show you three ways that we can see Jesus’ perfection.  This is by no means the totality of His perfection, which will take eternity for us to comprehend, but I hope to show you some connection between His perfection and our lives.

Order in Chaos

  • The argument
  • The Father & Son 

Power & Glory

  • Glory on the mountain; glimpses of it here
  • John 1:14 – And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
  • Power:  Verse 25

 Resurrection

  • “he arose” – verses 26& 27

Tim Keller:  “Through Jesus we don’t need perfect righteousness, just repentant helplessness, to access the presence of God.  The boy’s father says, ‘I’m not faithful, I am riddled with doubts, and I cannot muster the strength necessary to meet my moral and spiritual challenges.  But help me.’  That’s saving faith – faith in Jesus instead of in oneself.  Perfect righteousness is impossible for us, and if you wait for that, you will never come into the presence of God. You must admit that you are not righteous, and that you need help.  When you can say that, you are approaching God to Worship.”

 [Conclusion]:  

My past 3 sermons, including this one, have focused on three healing from One Perfect Savior.  He is what we need, when we need it.   We’ve had a

  • Desperate Father with a son near death at the end of his own resources
  • An Incapable Invalid who was completely helpless
  • And today another desperate father who has an imperfect faith. 

Jesus, the Perfect Savior, is the common thread to these stories.  He is the One we need.

Be encouraged this morning…You can have an imperfect faith, if you have a perfect Savior.   You can be desperate and wounded, if you know the Savior who does not fail.  You can be afflicted for years and helpless in every way, and find the help you need in Christ.

Where are you in your story?  Which character are you inhabiting right now?  And where does the Savior fit into the story of your life?

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9 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Denise on February 21, 2015 at 9:35 pm

    I really enjoyed and learned from this teaching. Faith

    Reply

  2. Posted by Bessie S. Dunn on February 27, 2016 at 12:15 pm

    Great insights – some of which I had not realized

    Reply

  3. Posted by Rev MCcleave on March 5, 2016 at 11:08 am

    This is a great teaching

    Reply

  4. Posted by Christina Mwanga on July 2, 2016 at 2:44 am

    I lernt something

    Reply

  5. Posted by Pastor: Pal Szekrenyes on February 18, 2017 at 2:36 pm

    Perfect Savior. That’s great. And you also.

    Reply

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