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Mark 9:14-29: Help My Unbelief Print E-mail
Sunday, 07 October 2007

As we move into our sermon this morning, I want to begin by taking a closer look at the last song we just sang.  The title is ‘Help My Unbelief’ and comes from the Red Mountain Church CD with the same title (which I highly recommend).  The verses were written by John Newton, who also wrote the hymn ‘Amazing Grace.’  What he writes is a fairly degrading picture of humanity to say the least.  Consider the second verse with me: “I would but cannot love, though wooed by love divine, no arguments have power to move a soul as base as mine…I would but cannot rest in God’s most holy will, I know what He appoints is best and murmur at it still.”  These are difficult words.  Basically, what he is saying is that if left to ourselves, we would never have enough faith or belief to please the Lord.  Is this an accurate confession? Is what Newton is saying biblical?

My answer to that question is a resounding yes.  Yes, his words are hard and degrading, but they are honest and true.  We are a people who cannot believe by ourselves.  Thus, we pray the chorus often: “Help my unbelief…My help must come from Thee.”  The first part of this prayer is taken from our text this morning.  Jesus is continuing to teach His disciples about faith.  We see in our story this morning their continual struggle to believe.  With the disciples (and with Newton), we recognize our own struggles to believe.  Yet, what can we learn about faith and belief from our text this morning that will actually serve to help our unbelief?  Three lessons:

First, the necessity of faith.

We have to begin by acknowledging that faith is not optional in the fight to be a disciple of Christ.  It is good for some but unimportant for others.  No, faith is necessary for all.  In our text, Jesus and the three disciples that joined Him on the mountain return to find the other nine disciples arguing with the scribes seemingly about their inability to cast out a demon.  The father of the boy who has the demon tells Jesus what has happened and Jesus responds in verse 19.  Look at that verse with me.  Notice what Jesus criticizes here, namely their lack of faith.  It is hard to know exactly who Jesus is referring to (father, scribes, disciples, crowd), but however you interpret it, you see the importance of faith.  Most agree that to some degree Jesus is referring to the disciples (even if it is not direct) since His dealings with them are the focus of this story and the surrounding passages.  In fact, notice how the story ends. 

Look at verses 28-29.  The disciples come to Jesus and ask Him why they could not cast the demon out.  Now remember, they had already had success in casting out demons (see 6:13).  So, what was the difference here?  Some might say that the difference is the demon, since Jesus uses the words this kind.  Yet, what is being emphasized is the importance of prayer in casting out demons.  Could it be that the disciples had grown arrogant in their abilities and failed to pray?  Possibly.  Could it be that they trusted more in their methods than they did in God?  Possibly.  It does seem that the focus is their lack of faith, their lack of prayer, their lack of dependence upon God.  Thus, we see the necessity of faith.

We also see the necessity of faith in what Jesus says to the father of the boy.  Look at verses 22-23.  Apparently, possibly due to the disciples’ failure, the man was now questioning exactly what Jesus could do for his son.  Yet, Jesus tells him that all things are possible for one who believes.  We will say more about this in a minute, but for now I just want to point out the condition of belief.  We saw the lack of healing in Nazareth due to the lack of faith.  Here, Jesus says again that faith is necessary.

Thus, do not think that you can be apart of the Christian life without faith.  Faith is necessary for all disciples of Jesus.  We must believe.  We cannot please God apart from faith.  Listen again to what the author of Hebrews says in verse 6 of chapter 11: And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.  Faith is necessary to please God.  This is the first lesson that Jesus teaches us in our text this morning.

Second, the possibility of faith.

I want to consider some more what Jesus says to the father in verse 23.  Look at that with me again.  I have wrestled this week with what this means.  I had first thought that my second point would be ‘the promise of faith’ rather than ‘the possibility of faith’.  So, why the change?  Well, if you look at what the man says to Jesus, then I think it helps us understand His response.  The man says: But if you can do anything…  The man is questioning what Jesus can actually do.  In other words, he is only hoping that Jesus has the ability to help His son.  He is not certain that Jesus actually has this ability.  This is why Jesus responds the way He does in verse 23.  He quotes the father’s statement to point out his doubt.  He goes on to say that the one who truly believes will know that all things are possible.  The one who truly believes will not question Jesus’ ability to cast out demons or to save or to heal or whatever.

So, is this a blank check?  Does this verse mean that I can fly if I will only believe?  No, again that is why I changed my wording from the ‘promise of faith’ to the ‘possibility of faith.’  I do not doubt the possibility that if God wanted to make me fly He could, for nothing is impossible with Him.  Yet, I have no reason to think that God will make me fly just because I work up enough faith to make it happen.  Such an application from Jesus’ statement does not take into consideration the context of the story.  Granted, there are other passages that are more difficult to qualify, but I think the father’s struggle is with Jesus’ ability and so Jesus responds by telling him that those who truly believe do not struggle with possibility.  All things are possible to the one who believes. 

I always think about Paul and his thorn.  Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 12 that he was given a thorn in his side to prevent him from boasting about the revelation of heaven that he was given.  He says that he prayed three times for God to remove this thorn, but the Lord did not.  Rather, the Lord told him: My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.  Would we accuse Paul of lacking faith to have the thorn removed?  No, we would just recognize with Him that God was able to remove it, but for Paul’s good and God’s glory, the Lord chose to not remove it.  What happened to Paul is not a contradiction to what Jesus says in Mark 9.  No, Paul knew that the Lord was able, he had faith that all things were possible, but he also knew that the Lord might chose to do otherwise.  This is an important lesson of faith.  May we have faith to believe that all things are indeed possible for the one who believes.

Third, the difficulty of faith.

Now look at how the father responds in verse 24.  The father claimed to believe, yet, he also understood his struggle with unbelief.  This mixture of belief and unbelief is all too common.  I think it is what we see in the disciples as well.  Yes they believe that Jesus is the Messiah, they just do not seem to believe that the Messiah must suffer and die and be raised on the third day (the struggle we see in the next few verses of chapter 9).  Of course, if we are honest, I believe we would all admit our struggle with this mixture.  Sure, we believe that Jesus came in the flesh and died on the cross and was raised again, but we just do not know if His sacrifice really covered all of our sin.  We believe that He can save our neighbors through the sharing of the gospel, we are just not sure that He wants us to be the ones who share.  We believe that sin is wrong, but we still convince ourselves that the passing pleasure is better than obedience.  I believe we can all confess with the father this morning: we believe, but help our unbelief.

So, how do we deal with this?  How do we fight for belief?  We know it is necessary and we know it involves believing that all things are possible, but how do we deal with the difficulty of faith?  I mean where is our hope in all of this?  Well, we need to notice two things from our text this morning.  First, we need to remember the power of Jesus.  Look at verses 25-27.  We see it again and again in the gospels: Jesus’ power to defeat our enemies.  He casts out demons, He heals the sick, He raises the dead, He calms the storm, He feeds thousands with next to nothing.  We must constantly be reminding ourselves of the power of Christ.  He is able. 

You might be saying at this point: ‘Sure, William, I know He is able, but how do I know that He will actually help?’  My answer is to remember the patience and kindness of Christ.  Did Christ refuse to help the man and the boy?  Did He ridicule him for his confession of his struggle to believe?  No, He had compassion on him.  He healed his boy.  Likewise, did Christ give up on the disciples because of their struggles to believe?  Did He just throw His hands up and move on?  No, He continues to teach them and encourage their faith.  When they ask Him about why they could not heal the boy, He answers them and teaches them the importance of prayer and faith.  Thus, as we realize the difficulty to have faith in our own lives, we need to focus on these two points in our texts: Jesus is powerful and Jesus is patient and kind.  These two truths should encourage us in our struggle to believe.

As we have noted, Jesus is continuing to train His disciples in this section.  He is teaching them the necessity, possibility, and difficulty of faith.  So, how can we use these lessons to fight for faith in our own lives?  First, be honest with your struggle and pray for more faith.  We do not need to pretend that all is well in our hearts.  We do not need to pretend that we have it all together.  Jesus is not fooled.  Rather, we need to be honest and ask Him to increase our faith.  With every situation or circumstance that we go through, our prayer needs to be: ‘Jesus, increase our faith through this.’ 

Second, as we just said, we need to remember the power and patience of Jesus.  We do this through reading, studying, and meditating on the text, for in it we see the power, patience, and kindness of God over and over again.  Also, I encourage you in your prayers to keep a journal to record all that God has done for you.  It could just be a few sentences each time, but you will be amazed at how encouraged you will be by simply remembering what God has done in your life.  Faith is necessary, but it can be difficult at times.  May our constant prayer be this: ‘Help my unbelief, help my unbelief, my help must come from Thee.’  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Thursday, 18 October 2007 )

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