Help My Unbelief

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In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

If Jesus gets tired of living in this world, how are you and I going to make it? If Jesus—who is holy, righteous, and faithful—seems to be exhausted at the unbelief around Him, how much more you and me—who are not only faced with the unrighteousness around us, but the unrighteousness in us? Who are not only faced with the unbelief around us, but the unbelief in us? “O unbelieving generation,” Jesus says, “how long must I bear with you, endure with you? How long will I be with you?” Jesus is grieved that His own chosen disciples are among the unbelievers. He’s grieved that the scribes have an opportunity to dispute with His disciples over the fact that they couldn’t cast out the spirit. He’s grieved, it seems, at the fact that the father’s faith seems to have been shaken. “What are you disputing about with them?” He asks the scribes in the midst of the large crowd. And the father comes out of the crowd and says that he brought his son with the mute spirit to Jesus. But Jesus wasn’t there because He was up on the mountain of Transfiguration with Peter, James, and John. So maybe the father thought he’d do the next best thing and ask Jesus’ disciples. So he asked Jesus’ disciples to cast out the spirit. But, he says, “they were not strong enough.” Not strong enough like Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane: Peter, wake up. Are you not strong enough to watch with Me, even for one hour?

And perhaps the father’s faith in Jesus has been shaken by the disciples inability. It’s happened before. If Jesus’ disciples are not strong enough, maybe Jesus isn’t strong enough. If Jesus’ disciples can’t cast it out, maybe Jesus can’t either. If Jesus’ disciples are unable to do it, perhaps Jesus will be unable. “If you are able, have compassion and help us.” “’If you are able’?” Jesus says. “’If you are able’? All things are ‘able’ for the believing one.” But good luck finding a believer in the Gospel of Mark. From the very beginning, Jesus sums up His entire preaching with “Repent and believe the Gospel” (1:15). Repent and believe that the time of God’s salvation is fulfilled, that Jesus is the Son of God who has come to restore all things. Repent and believe the Gospel. But no one does. No one believes, not within the Gospel itself. The verb for “believe” is never applied to an actual, concrete person in the Gospel. It’s used by Jesus hypothetically, or conditionally: “If you believe…”; He says to the disciples, “Do you not yet have faith?” (4:40). But the only place where that verb is used of a person is here, where this father says, “I believe; help my unbelief.” Which isn’t much of an upgrade.

No believers, no righteous ones, no faithful ones, no strong ones. No problem for Jesus. In fact, Jesus says it way back in chapter 2: Those who are whole, well, strong, have no need of a physician, but those who are sick and weak. So, He says, I have come not to call the righteous, but sinners (2:17). Unbelievers. The weak. People like you and me, who sometimes wonder if we’re going to make it. If you’ve got it all together and you don’t feel your sin, and your weakness, and your helplessness, then Jesus has nothing for you. He came for sinners. He came to restore what sin has done to His creation. That’s what He says as He’s coming down the mountain of Transfiguration: John the Baptizer has come first, standing in for Elijah; and now I come to restore all things (9:12). How long will He be with us? Until He has accomplished the work He came to do. Immediately before and immediately after this account, Jesus predicts—no, He doesn’t predict, He promises—His rejection, betrayal, suffering, death, and resurrection. This account could very well be the hinge on which the whole Gospel hangs: sandwiched between two promises of His death and resurrection is the perfect example of why He has come. Here in the middle, at the crux of faith and unbelief, Jesus says, “Bring him to Me.” Because all else fails, all other helpers flee, all other resources run out, bring him to Me. Jesus restores all things: withered hands, sight to blind eyes, and possessed, mute, tortured sons to their fathers.

Why could we not cast it out? the disciples ask. This kind only comes out with prayer. But did you hear Jesus pray when He cast out this mute spirit? No, because Jesus is what constant, unceasing prayer looks like. Prayer is nothing other than the words that flow out of faith. And faith is nothing other than trust in the words of the Father. If prayer is anything else but God’s own words addressed to Him in Christ, then it is not Christian prayer. It might be what we want, what we really would like, what we think is best, but it’s not the prayer of faith. Because faith needs a certain word, not uncertain desires and wishes. Just as we heard last week, that every prayer for the healing of bodies is a prayer for the resurrection of those bodies, and every prayer for the healing of this creation is a prayer for the new creation, so the prayer that prays against the Evil One is a prayer that Jesus is Lord and will cast the devil and his angels into the eternal lake of fire. All of those have an explicit promise of Christ. And so Jesus casts out the demon with His word, because He has absolute, unyielding faith in His Father. He alone is the faithful, believing, true Son of God. And just as He is the fulfillment of Isaiah 35, that He makes deaf ears hear, bound tongues sing, blind eyes see, and lame legs walk, so He is also—along with all the Scriptures—the fulfillment of Isaiah 50. He is the one who has the tongue of the child who is taught, who sustains with a word the weary father, and lifts up the weary son. He is not rebellious, and He will not turn back, but instead sets His face like flint to go to Jerusalem, where He will suffer, die, and be raised on the third day. He gives His back to those who strike with the rod, His cheeks to those who pluck out the beard, His face to disgrace and spitting. Why? Because He knows His helper. He knows there is no “if” about the Father’s help. I will not be put to shame, the One who vindicates—who justifies—Me in the resurrection, He is near to Me. The Lord Yahweh helps Me.

He is the faithful Son, helped by His Father, but He is also the faithful Son who helps the weak, faithless, unbeliever. Bring him to Me. Let the one who walks in darkness, who has no light trust in the Name of Yahweh, and rely on His God. The certain Word of God breeds faith, and faith breeds prayer. And that is the sort of prayer in which there is no wavering, no doubt, no uncertainty. It’s the sort of prayer with which we come before the throne of God, into the most holy place, through the curtain which is the flesh of Christ, washed in the blood. In the full confidence of the promise of Christ, like little children asking their dear Father. So let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:19-23). Lord, I believe; help my unbelief! Behold, the Lord Yahweh helps me (Isaiah 50:9).

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.

Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 9/12/15

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