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Monday, February 1, 2010

"I Believe But Help My Unbelief" - (01/31/10)

"I Believe But Help My Unbelief" 

In James 1:8 we learn that “a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.”  But aren’t we all double-minded sometimes?  For example, I want to be a holy man, but at the same time I want to be able to sin sometimes and get away with it and not have it bother my conscience.  I want to be known as an honest man, but sometimes I am tempted to lie, or tell half-truths.  I want to please God, but I also want to please myself.  I’m often pulled two directions.  And when I’m double-minded like that my whole life gets out of kilter.

In today’s passage we are going to hear from a man who, by his own testimony to Jesus, suffered from being double-minded.  Here’s what he said: “Lord, I believe.  Please help me in my unbelief.”  What do you suppose Jesus said back to Him?  Let’s find out.  Turn in your Bibles to Mark, chapter 9.

Verses 9-10: As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.  10 They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant. 
  • We looked at these verses last Sunday but I included them just to remind us of the context.  Jesus had taken Peter, James, and John with Him up the mountain where He was transfigured before their eyes.

Verses 11-13: And they [His disciples] asked Him, “Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?”  12 Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things.  Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected?  13 But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him.” 
  • This question by the disciples came up, I believe, because of the presence of Elijah at the Transfiguration.  They were referring to the well known passage in Malachi 4:5-6 and wondering if this appearing of Elijah was the fulfillment of that prophecy.  That passage says: Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD.  He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.” 
  • However, the answer that Jesus gives points us in another direction.  Back in Luke 1 the angel Gabriel was sent to Zacharias and Elizabeth to announce the birth of their son, John, who would be called John the Baptizer.  In verse 17 the angel said: “And it is he [John] who will go as a forerunner before Him [the Messiah] in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous; so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”  This is obviously a reference to the Malachi passage and clearly shows that John was the one who is spoken of there.
  • This fact is further confirmed by the parallel passage in Matt. 17:12-13, But I say to you that Elijah already came, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wished.  So also the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.”  Then the disciples understood that He had spoken to them about John the Baptist. 

Verses 14-16: When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them.  15 As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were amazed and ran to greet Him.  16 “What are you arguing with them about?” He asked.
  • Why were they amazed?  Probably because of the timing of the whole thing.  Jesus arrived right when His disciples needed Him the most.  He has a way of doing that for us, doesn’t He?
  • Picture this.  As Jesus and His three guys come down from the mountain, the first thing they see is a bunch of people, including Scribes, surrounding their colleagues.  A big argument was taking place and it looked like the disciples were getting the worst of it.  Suddenly the crowd turns, sees Jesus, and runs up to Him.
  • Jesus asks the group what all the arguing is about.  But remember, Jesus never asked questions to gain information.  He already knew the answers but He wanted the issues expressed openly for all to hear.

Verses 17-18: A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought You my son, who is possessed with a spirit which makes him mute.  18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground.  He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid.  I asked Your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not do it.” 
  • Notice that the man says, “I brought my son to You.”  But Jesus wasn’t around so the job fell to Jesus’ disciples.  The man needed Jesus but all he got was a bunch of assistants.
  • The man has diagnosed the problem as being spiritual rather than strictly natural/physical.  He has concluded that an evil spirit is tormenting his son.  By the description of the symptoms I would conclude that he is right, based on some things I witnessed in Brazil.  While many of the symptoms resemble those of an epileptic seizure, the further symptoms described in verse 22 seal the diagnosis for me.
  • Notice that in the absence of Jesus the man appealed to the disciples for help in casting out the demonic spirit but they had no success.  In fact, they failed miserably.

Verse 19: “O unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you?  How long shall I put up with you?  Bring the boy to Me.” 
  • This is an amazing look into the pain in Jesus’ soul.  It was obvious to Him that the disciples were weak because of their unbelief.  This brought a feeling of disappointment and sadness that they still didn’t get it, and I think His frustration was mainly aimed at them.  But in the broader sense, He came to bring light, life, peace, healing, and salvation to the whole world but He was constantly confronted with unbelief, skepticism, hatred, and antagonism on the part of those He came to save.  I believe that this verse gives us a rare glimpse into the personal pain and frustration Jesus that felt.  He was, after all, human as well as divine and the Bible says that He was subject to the same feelings and frustrations that we experience, yet without sin.

Verse 20: And so they brought the boy to Him.  And when he [the spirit] saw Him [Jesus], immediately the spirit threw him [the boy] into a convulsion.  And falling to the ground, he began rolling about and foaming at the mouth. 
  • “When he [the spirit] saw Jesus.”  When you looked into that boy’s eyes another being looked out at you.  I’ve seen that and it is very unnerving.  The demon knew that he was in the presence of the Son of God and he immediately began acting out, trying once again to destroy the boy and impress the crowd.

Verses 21-22: Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”  “From childhood,” he answered.  22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him.  But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” 
  • Jesus directs the question to the father but the answer is for the benefit of all those gathered around witnessing this event.
  • The last part of the man’s statement is filled with pain coupled with hope. “But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”  Notice the word “if.”  The man wasn’t sure Jesus could help his boy, but he knew that Jesus was his best and last hope.  Doctors had not been able to help.  Theologians had not been able to help.  And now, even Jesus’ own disciples had failed in their attempt at exorcism.

Verse 23: ’If you can’?” said Jesus.  “Everything is possible for him who believes.” 
  • Jesus immediately picked up on the man’s words, because this whole thing hinged on faith.  That was the only thing in question.  Jesus knew that He had power and authority to heal the boy.  The demon knew that Jesus had the power and authority to cast him out.  The disciples believed that Jesus could do it because they had witnessed it before.  But Jesus here confronts the man about whether or not he believes that Jesus can cure his son.  But I would point out that he has already proved a degree of faith in the fact that he had set out to take his son to Jesus in the first place.

Verse 24: Immediately the boy’s father cried out, “I do believe; help me in my unbelief!”
  • You can hear the emotion in the man’s voice.  It says he “cried out.”  And I love the man’s response because he is so honest.  He admits to Jesus that in the dark corners of his faith there are still some resistant pockets of unbelief.  He did believe, yet he was acutely conscious of the fact that his faith and trust in Christ were imperfect, to say the least.
  • That is so like us, even those of us who have been Christians for many years.  There are situations in which we find ourselves acting like total unbelievers, worrying and fretting over whether or not God is going to come through for us this time, even if He has come through for us a hundred times in the past.  I think we all have some unbelief mixed in with our belief.  We need to pray this prayer often to the Lord.  “Lord, I believe.  But please help me with my unbelief.”

Verse 25: When Jesus saw that a crowd was rapidly gathering, He rebuked the evil spirit.  “You deaf and dumb spirit,” He said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”
  • Obviously Jesus believed that the boy was being tormented by a demon.  Jesus did not address the problem as an illness, like He did on many other occasions.  This was a clear case of demon oppression and Jesus addressed His remarks to the unclean spirit.
  • For a long time people have argued over the difference between being “demon-possessed” versus “demon-oppressed.”  In truth, the Bible doesn’t draw this distinction.  The Greek word used throughout the NT to describe a person afflicted by demonic spirits is daimonídzomai, or literally “demonized.”  This boy was demonized.

Verses 26-27: The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out.  The boy looked so much like a corpse that most said, “He’s dead.”  27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up. 
  • Demons do not leave quietly or happily.  This spirit had no choice but to obey Jesus but he was obviously angry and tried to damage the boy in the process of leaving.  Once the evil spirit was out of the boy, however, he was made well and whole in every way.  His will was freed up and the symptoms caused by the presence of the demon were all a thing of the past.  Can you imagine the joy that the father felt when he saw all this?

Verses 28-29: After Jesus had gone indoors, His disciples asked Him privately, “Why is it that we could not cast it out?”  29 He replied, “This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer.” [N.B. A few manuscripts add, “and fasting” but these words are not in most of the manuscripts.] 
  • Notice Jesus’ words, “this kind,” informing the disciples (and us) that there are different kinds of demons, some stronger than others, though all are subject to Him, and us, when we deal with them in His strength and by His authority.  From Jesus’ words to the nine disciples who had tried to cast out the demon and failed, I conclude that they had attempted it without relying on God’s power.  The formula for failure goes like this: puny faith + prayerlessness = spiritual impotency.
  • I feel sorry for the disciples in this story.  They were good guys, good Christians.  They wanted to help the boy.  They tried their best.  They did all the things they had seen Jesus do in the past.  They used the same words that Jesus had used, etc.  However, they had been unable to do battle with even one stinkin’ little weasel of a demon.  They didn’t have enough mojo to cast that bad boy out.  How do you think that made them feel?  Embarrassed?  Silly?  Weak?  Failures as followers of Christ?  Probably all these things, and more.
  • But Jesus used this occasion to teach them an important lesson about spiritual warfare.  But don’t be too hard on these guys because you have to remember that the NT didn’t even exist yet.  They couldn’t just go to the BOOK for answers.  In fact, some of these guys were the ones who would write it later on.  For example, they hadn’t ever read Ephesians 6:10-18, which says, “Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.  11 Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil.  12 For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.  13 Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil.  Then after the battle you will still be standing firm.  14 Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness.  15 For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared.  16 In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.  17 Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.  18 Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion.” [NLT] 

          I said a moment ago that the formula for failure is: puny faith + prayerlessness = spiritual impotency.  So what is the formula for spiritual success in dealing with the devil?  I guess it would go something like this: solid faith + prayerful dependence = spiritual power.
          In the parallel passage to this one in Matthew 17 (NLT), when the disciples asked the Master why they had been unsuccessful in casting out the demon, He responded: “You don’t have enough faith.  I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move.  Nothing would be impossible.”  Notice that Jesus speaks here of the quantity of their faith.  He said, “You don’t have enough faith.”  That’s one issue—the quantity of faith.  The other issue has to do with the object of our faith.  In confronting the enemy, if we are trusting in our experience, our knowledge of Scripture, our vast wisdom, our talents, our spiritual maturity, etc. etc. then we will fail for sure.  Apparently the disciples went at that exorcism like they were all professionals who knew what they were doing.  After all, they had seen Jesus do it!  It just didn’t look that hard.  From Jesus’ reply I have to conclude that unshakable faith in Christ and prayerful dependence on the Spirit are the two necessary things in order to experience spiritual victories over the devil and his minions.

         What is the take-away for you from this passage?  What spiritual lesson is the big one for you?  Why?

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About Me

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Since 1994 I have been the pastor of Sellwood Baptist Church in Portland, OR. Before that I was a missionary in South Brazil for many years. Until just recently I have also served as a police chaplain with the Portland Police Bureau. Now, however, God has a new assignment for us. My wife and I have been appointed with WorldVenture and are preparing to move to Ireland to help plant a new church in Sligo, a small city in NW Ireland. I'm married to Ramel, a crazy, beautiful redhead that I love more than life itself. We have three great kids, Jonathan, Chris, and Simoni who have given us ten wonderful grandchildren. We are truly blessed.

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