2020-5-10 Help Thou Mine Unbelief

Cornerstone EPC                                                                              Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734                                                                          May 10, 2020

“Help Thou Mine Unbelief”
Mark 9:14-29

We recall, from last week’s sermon on Matthew 14:22-33, Peter’s exercise of faith and want of faith one very late night on the Sea of Galilee.  We would be those who exercise faith in God, through Jesus Christ, in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit without fail.  We would not wish to suffer such want of faith ourselves.  Yet, if we be honest with ourselves, we do suffer want of faith at times.  We hear, in today’s narrative, a powerful cry for help when struggling to apprehend the promises of God—and we see how God Incarnate graciously answers.  Let us give our attention just now to the reading of God’s holy Word.

(HERE READ THE TEXT)

Our passage opens as Jesus returns from this descent down the mountain where He was transfigured before Peter, James, and John (9:14-16, cf. 9:2-13).  On that mountaintop, those three disciples both beheld the shining brilliance that is Jesus’ glory and heard the voice of the Father affirming His beloved Son.  Meanwhile, the other nine disciples off the mountain endured a difficult time.  They try in vain to exorcise a demon—and if this be not frustrating enough, they also endure scribes, experts in the Law, arguing with them.  Jesus, with His three accompanying disciples, arrives—and all the crowd, greatly amazed, runs up to Him and greets Him.  He asks concerning the substance of the argument—and a most interested party responds.

The father of a demon-possessed son answers Jesus, and this answer leads to a considerable exchange between them (9:17-24).  The father, answering Jesus’ question, tells Him that his son has a spirit that makes him mute, throws him down, makes him foam, makes him grind his teeth, and renders his body rigid.  He, greatly desiring that his son obtain relief, brought his son to Jesus’ disciples, but they could not cast the demon out.

Jesus, after upbraiding that generation, sends for the boy.  Those nearby brought the boy to Jesus, but the demon—in the immediate presence of God Incarnate—throws him down and makes him both roll and foam.  Jesus, after the demon’s expression of hatred and nefarious might, asks the boy’s father, “How long has this been happening?”  The man’s succeeding tale is one of the saddest in all the Bible.

The demon has afflicted his son from childhood—the sense of the Greek word rendered here childhood refers to sometime after weaning, but perhaps not very long.  This demon, resident in this boy from his very young age, often throws him into fire or water to destroy him.  The man, understandably, then pleads with Jesus to have compassion on them by healing his son.  Jesus replies to this plea in soaring terms, “‘If you can’!  All things are possible for one who believes.”  This gracious declaration leads to the father’s cry, one of the most poignant in all Scripture, “I believe, help Thou mine unbelief!” (cf. KJV).  We easily enough can understand the man’s struggle to apprehend the promise of God for himself: both after the events of the day and after the years of his son’s affliction.  At a level he believes Jesus—for himself and for his son—but at another level it sounds, simply, too good to be true.

Jesus, upon hearing this father’s cry for his son, notes the crowd running together toward Him and deals with the demon (9:25-27).  Note Jesus absolute command of the demon, and of the situation, in His authoritative words, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”  The demon, at this sentence to flight and to desist from this boy forever, cries out and convulses the boy until he appears dead.  In fact, the crowd declares the boy dead.  Yet Jesus takes the boy by the hand, lifts him, and he arises.  Never again will he face that evil spirit and the horrific afflictions accompanying.  Presumably this healed son and his father head home full of joy and wonder at the good they received that day.

The passage ends a bit later in time, in a nearby house, apart from the crowds (28-29).  The disciples ask, of the demon, “Why could we not cast it out?”  Doubtless they were dismayed at their inability, and perhaps they wondered if their commission to exorcise (Matthew 10:8) had expired or was revoked.  Jesus answered them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”[1]  This demon was especially pernicious, and exorcism of such required—apparently—heightened spiritual preparation and communion with God.

Sometimes we stagger at the promises of God.  We ask, of things we need or wish, questions like, “Can He do that?” “Will He fulfill that?” and “Would He do that for me?”  We see readily today that we’re no different from the boy’s father in Mark 9:14-29.  He wonders if Jesus (Whom we know to be God in the flesh, but likely this father did not) could and would heal his son.  We, too, sometimes struggle to believe He can and will act on our behalf.

If you feel this way today, if you wonder if God will undertake for you at your point of need, then cry out with this father, “I believe; help my unbelief.”  Do this regarding regrets and scars from the past.  You may wonder how God will sanctify to your use that past failure, that past sin, or that past wound that another inflicted upon you.  Cry out to God, and He somehow by His grace will pour His redemptive power over your past pain.

Cry out also regarding difficulties in the present.  The father in today’s narrative has a pressing present difficulty.  He brought it to Jesus, owned his faith and doubt intermingled, and Jesus glorified Himself and blessed those needing it.  He will do the same for His redeemed in His Son.  Take your difficulty—or difficulties—to Him, owning your intermingled faith and doubt, and behold His glorious presence and work for your good.

Cry out also regarding worries concerning the future.  We all have them, and perhaps at this point we feel the current pandemic most keenly.  We worry about our future state of health, or future length and quality of life, or future economic prospects, or something else.  Cry out to God, in order that He would bolster your faith in what John Piper calls His future grace—His power to do you good in times to come.  Cry out, furthermore, that He would banish any lingering unbelief in His Person or in His power to do you good in days to come.

My own boyhood pastor, at the instant of his conversion, cried out to the Lord with these words—and presumably many others have too.  They remain poignant and powerful from their first utterance until now.  May the Lord, by His grace, increase our faith and help our lingering unbelief.

AMEN.

[1] Some manuscripts add and fasting.