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Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Mark 9:14–29

James T. Batchelor

Pentecost 16, Proper 19, series B
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church  
Hoopeston, IL

view DOC file

Sun, Sep 13, 2015 

The paragraph before todays reading from the Gospel according to Mark begins with these words: And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. (Mark 9:23) This is the beginning of the account of the Transfiguration that we heard at the end of the Epiphany season last February.  This means that Jesus, along with Peter, James, and John, were on their way back from the Transfiguration at the beginning of todays reading.  The other nine disciples were at the foot of the mountain waiting for their return.  While they were waiting a father brought his son to see Jesus.  An evil spirit tormented the son, and the father wanted Jesus to remove it.

If a father came to you with this request, you would have every right to be more than a little bit bewildered.  On the other hand, the disciples should have been able to help this father and his son.  The difference is that earlier in His ministry, Jesus had appointed the twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach 15and have authority to cast out demons. (Mark 3:1415) Jesus has not given this authority to you in the same way that He gave it to His disciples.  The disciples had received this authority and so they should have been able to drive the evil spirit out of the boy.  Never the less, they were unable to help this boy.

There were also critics waiting for Jesus to come down from the mountain.  By this time in His ministry, the scribes and Pharisees always sent a few of their people to keep an eye on Jesus.  So when the disciples failed to drive the demon out of the boy, a few of those critics began to debate the disciples about the best way to drive out demons.  When Jesus came with Peter, James, and John and returned to the other disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. (Mark 9:14)

Jesus asked what the problem was and the father came forward and answered him, Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. 18And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able. (Mark 9:1718)

Jesus expressed His disappointment with the disciples in rather strong terms.  He said, O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me. (Mark 9:19) Jesus had given the disciples authority over demons and they did not trust His promise.  His primary frustration was the disciples lack of faith.

When they brought the boy to Jesus, the demons response reminds us that every demon knows who Jesus is.  When the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. (Mark 9:20) It is just as the Apostle James wrote; The demons believeand shudder! (James 2:19) The evil spirit in the boy was terrified of Jesus.  Although the demon believed in Jesus, it was the faith that knew an eternal future of punishment.

The father also had a kind of faith.  It was the faith of desperation.  It was as if he was thinking, Ive tried everything else and Ive got nothing to lose by trying Jesus. He said, But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us. (Mark 9:22) The father had enough faith to bring his boy to Jesus, but it was the faith of desperation.

Jesus rebuke of the boys father is gentler than His rebuke of the disciples, but it is still a rebuke.  Jesus said to him, If you can! All things are possible for one who believes. (Mark 9:23) The father trusted in his past experiences.  Everything he had tried before had failed.  He expected disappointment once again.

The lack of faith in the disciples and the father represent the two possibilities for the faith that comes by human power.  The disciples began to have faith in past success.  The father began to have faith in past failures.

The disciples had at one time been able to drive out demons, but now they could not.  Like many people who have success, they began to believe that the success was the result of their own skill and ability.  They had begun to rely on their own power instead of the true source of power, God.  Like many people who experience Gods blessing, they began to forget about God.

The father had faith in a different kind of experience.  No one had been able to heal his son.  He had placed his faith in many earthly cures and been disappointed.  When he asked for help, the disappointments of the past came through.  He said, But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us. The world had disappointed him so many times that his request had no confidence.  He expected disappointment once again.

The struggles that the disciples and the father had with faith demonstrate the war that the devil, the world, and even our own sinful flesh constantly wage against us.  One of their strategies is to convince us that we are responsible for our own faith that our relationship with Jesus depends on our decision to accept Christ.

The possibility that any part of salvation, including our faith, depends on us usually produces one of two possible reactions self-deception and despair.  Despair asks: Is my faith strong enough; Am I really sincere; What happens to my faith when I fall asleep; What happens to faith during surgery; and so forth.  If you really are responsible for your own faith then you must be ready for every possibility.  On the other hand, self-deception simply refuses to think about all these problems and proceeds in ignorance.

The truth is that if our faith truly did depend on us, we would never have it.  The Apostle Paul reminds us that you were dead in the trespasses and sins. (Ephesians 2:1) Dead people can do nothing much less work up any kind of faith.  He also wrote, The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to Gods law; indeed, it cannot. (Romans 8:7) From this we learn that not only is it impossible for anyone to produce faith within themselves, but the person without faith is hostile to God.

The only way out of this is for the Holy Spirit to put our old sinful nature to death.  When Jesus drove the unclean spirit out of the boy He said, You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again. 26And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, He is dead. 27But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. (Mark 9:2527) The corpse-like appearance of the boy reminds us that the Old Adam in us must die with all sins and evil desires.  Then, just as Jesus took the boy by the hand and raised him, the Holy Spirit must bring forth a new man in us.

The faith that the Holy Spirit brings to life in us is a faith in Jesus the same Jesus who drove the demon from the boy in todays Gospel.  Just as Jesus was the only solution for the demon-possessed son, so also Jesus is the only solution for us.  Just as Jesus dealt with the demon in todays Gospel, He also deals with the sin in us.  He does not ask us to work off our own sin.  Instead, He worked off our sins for us.  He took our sins onto Himself and then carried them to the cross.  He took the punishment of our sins on Himself so that we do not have to suffer for them.  He conquered sin with His suffering and death and then conquered death by rising from the grave.  Now He offers the cure for sin to all mankind.  This Jesus is the object of the faith that the Holy Spirit gives to us as He drowns the Old Adam and brings the new man to life in us.

This brings us back again to the fathers prayer: I believe; help my unbelief! (Mark 9:24) When we Christians pray this prayer, we acknowledge that our faith is weak and we can do nothing to maintain it let alone strengthen it.  We are crying out to God from our utter helplessness and begging Him to keep us in the one, true faith until He comes to take us home to Himself in heaven.

The Holy Spirit works to give us a faith that believes in Gods grace, not in our own works.  He calls us to believe in the one who is the way, the truth, and the life.  He calls us to believe in the one who drives out demons and gives us true life instead.  He calls us to believe in Jesus Christ.  The faith that comes from within us will fail.  The faith that comes from the world will fail.  Only the Holy Spirits gift of faith in Jesus Christ will last forever.  And only through that faith will Jesus give us forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.  Amen



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