Pentecost 1718 (PR19) – “The Prayer of Faith!” Mark 9:14-29
Pentecost 1718 (PR19) – “The Prayer of Faith!” Mark 9:14-29
Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.
The text for our sermon meditation is taken from the gospel account of St Mark, the 9th Chapter:
“20And they brought the boy to [Jesus]. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. 21And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22And 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.” 23And Jesus said to him, “If you can! All things are possible for one who believes.” 24Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!””
So far the reading.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
How do you handle failure? How do you handle weakness? Where do you turn when life becomes difficult? What do you pray for when everything is against you? Who do you blame? Do you just watch or do you take action? Do you seek relief or do you try to endure what befalls you? Have you ever thought you didn’t have a prayer?
Reading through this passage from Mark’s Gospel account any one of these questions will be answered. For each question arises in the events placed before us. We are introduced to a large crowd standing around the disciple of Jesus. In that crowd are two groups of people. There are the watchers who wait to see what will happen. There are the abusers who ridicule and defame the disciples of Jesus for their inability to act.
Along with these groups there are the two people who are the focus of all this attention. There is the father who has watched his son tormented from a young age by a demon. There is the son who so afflicted by the demon is rendered speechless, and his body is sent into convulsions. When these convulsions come upon the child he is thrown into the fire or the water. Perhaps the boy has physical scars from the burns. Perhaps the boy has emotional scars from the water. It is certain that this boy’s life is one of torment and pain.
The father brings his son to the disciples for help. Certainly they can do something to give relief or help. The disciples are confident they can heal this child. Not too long ago they were given authority by Jesus to preach the good news, heal the sick, raise the dead and cast out demons. They had traveled into the towns and villages ahead of Jesus to prepare His way. Isn’t this another opportunity to do what was done before?
Have you ever thought, “I’ve got this”? It is confidence in your own ability to do what needs to be done. It can also be sinful pride as is implied of the disciples who suddenly find they “did not have this.” The demon still possessed the young man. More than that they now are facing the ridicule of the scribes. The scribes are mercilessly assaulting the disciples for their inability to cast out this demon.
One of the fun things to do as children is to blow bubbles. There is something about blowing bubbles that is fun and exciting. You can carefully and slowly blow a very large bubble, or you can blow many smaller bubbles. They catch your eye with their shiny surface glowing in the light. They float around your head or off into space. Yet, there is one thing that always happens. You reach out to grab the bubble and it pops. You let it fly off into space, it pops. All that is left is the residue of what once was. The residue clings to your hands or is lost in the atmosphere. The bubbles are gone.
Is that not the way of sinful pride. The ego takes over. In your mind’s eye you have this glorious vision of being able to do something. It may be something small or even something grand. Yet when you reach for it, try to accomplish it the vision of glory pops. You are left with the residue of your pride staining your heart. The dream is gone. The glory is unobtainable. The hope is shattered.
The disciples’ bubble is popped. They are left puzzled if not dumbfounded as to why they could not cast out this demon. Later they will ask Jesus why they were not able to perform this exorcism. Even the crowd and the boy’s father are dumbfounded. Their bubble of hope is popped as well. They look around wondering what to do. At this time Jesus enters the scene. He immediately askes the scribes why they are arguing with his disciples. Both the scribes and the disciples are silent. Like the demon who makes this young boy mute they refuse to speak.
The father comes forward and is not afraid to speak. He recognizes Jesus and knows what Jesus can do. He briefly describes the life of his son and the control which the demon has over his son. He then relates the attempt of the disciples to cast out the demon and the results of that attempt. “They were not able.” Literally, “They have no strength.”
Immediately, Jesus takes the crowd to task, and especially the disciples who failed to cast out the demon. He calls them what? “O, faithless generation!” There should probably be a few exclamation points after that sentence, right? This is a cry of disgust, reprimand, denouncement, maybe even a little despair. Why? How long have the disciples been with Jesus? How many miracles did they witness? How many miracles were they empowered to do? Did they not learn anything?
The words of the father give witness to the truth of everything in this passage. They have no strength. What do those words mean? The disciples should know what they are to do. They should know it is not with their strength they cast out demons earlier. They should know they need to turn to the One who has the power and the authority over the whole of creation, both the seen and unseen.
How often are we like these disciples? We forget the words we confess in the third article of the Creed. “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in my Lord Jesus Christ or come to Him.” We blindly confess this truth every week in this house of God. We stand before His altar and mouth these words confessing our sinful weakness. Each one of us proclaiming we have no strength to save ourselves from sin and death, let alone rescue ourselves from the trials of this world.
Many appliances will have a reset button. You may have noticed in your bathroom or kitchen that certain plugs have reset buttons, too. What does a reset button do? When the plug detects an overload of electricity it will trigger a break in the connection. The reset button will reconnect the circuit when it is pushed. For appliances it will reboot or restart the appliance and set it back to proper operating condition.
Jesus resets the disciples and us with His words. Rightly, Jesus takes the disciples to task, and in doing so takes us to task as well. This cry of Jesus needs to remain in our ears and written firmly in the grey matter of our memory. These words are humbling to those who listen to the voice of Jesus. There is a mental reset button which they push to return us to the path of faith and bring us to humility before God. The father responds to this call for repentance and faith.
Hear his words. “I believe, help my unbelief!” in repentance and faith this man comes to Jesus. His words are a prayer of petition and trust. He is asking for mercy upon his son and asks this in faith, trusting that Jesus will answer his prayer with power of God. This is also the prayer of every Christian. It is a brief summary of what will offer to the Lord in a few moments. Before invoking the Lords presence in the Sacrament of Holy Communion, we will offer this prayer of faith. In that prayer we will petition our Lord to heal our unbelief. We will ask God to remove the barriers to faith.
What are those barriers? Not trusting in our heavenly Father. Not worshiping in faith. Not trusting that the Father’s will is for our good. Seeking the treasures of the world over the blessing of God for our daily needs. Failure to confess our sin. Walking headlong into temptation. Seeking salvation in things other than the cross of Jesus.
These are the unbelief with which we daily contend, unnecessarily.
While Jesus speaks of contending with us, we remember he also contended for us. This casting out of the demon is only a brief skirmish in the battle for our salvation, restoration and healing. This brief moment points the penitent sinner to the cross upon which Jesus contended with our last enemy, death. The demons of hell have no power of over Jesus. They are soundly defeated by a brief world from Jesus, as is Satan. As Luther wrote, “This world’s prince may still, scowl fierce as he will. He can harm us none, he’s judged the deed is done. One little word can fell him.”
So also is death defeated by one word, “It is finished!” Finished is that word. That word was spoken by Jesus as he gave His spirit into the hands of His Father. This word declares salvation accomplished, death overpowered, and the grave cleansed of fear. There on the cross Jesus contended with these enemies for us. He faced them in all their fury and remained faithful through the final moments of battle. He was laid lifeless in the tomb, but rose to full life on the third day.
The father who witnessed the healing of his son was given a preview of this powerful resurrection hope. The voice of Jesus commanded the demon to depart and never return to this boy. The demon did not leave peacefully. The demon gave one last violent gasp of defiance before Jesus. The demon left the boy as if dead. Jesus took this boy by the hand, raised him up and returned him to his father.
The prayer of faith was answered. The power of God was brought to bear on the evil things of this world. Doubt is disciplined. Unbelief is erased. Faith is encouraged, given and strengthened. Life is restored. Deliverance is effected. Hope is assured. Mercy is given. All this when Jesus contends for us against our sinful weakness and Satan’s prideful power. We kneel before Jesus now in humble prayer. We will stand before Jesus in eternity fully healed from the afflictions of this world.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen