Mark 9:14-29: Faith and Faithfulness

In today’s Gospel, Jesus triumphs in a spiritual miracle, casting out a demon.  For us, this is almost unrelatable because we can explain, in some way, people’s bizarre conduct.  In our world, people exhibit many weird behaviors.  Still, we almost always come up with some explanation, often traceable to an illness—Bipolar disorder, Alzheimer’s, a horrible upbringing, or whatever.  Never do we assume someone who behaves like the boy in this day’s reading, “Oh, demons are controlling him.”

Spiritual miracles demand faith.  Here’s why.  For we must rely on what the Scriptures reveal, not what our life teaches us.  Mull over the existence of demons.  Most of us believe in them because God’s Word tells us of them, not because a friend of ours suffered from demon-possession.

Grave spiritual peril surrounds us.  The Scripture warns us about adversaries, who do not course with blood or press us with their flesh (Ephesians 6:12).  The Bible instructs us about evil powers in creation, more formidable than we imagine.  Now, we don’t like this.  For we fancy ourselves to be sophisticated, enlightened, and technologically advanced today.  Nevertheless, learn of, and believe, these dangers are real.

A man comes to Jesus.  “A spirit inside my son makes him unable to talk.  So, I brought him to You, dear teacher.  Whenever this demonic being seizes him, he falls to the ground and foams and grinds his teeth and turns rigid.  All too often, the demon casts him into a fire or the water, trying to destroy him.  So, if you can do anything, show concern and help us.”

The statement appears to astonish our Lord, “If you can?”  So, Jesus responds by speaking life into this man—and into you and me.  “All things are possible for one who believes.”  Contemplate what Jesus is saying.  Often, we presume He is directing this poor, despairing father to work up a full-bodied faith inside him.  “Yes, I will heal your son if you will only believe this can happen!”  In other words, try harder at believing and conjure up more faith!

Ponder Jesus’ words, “Everything is doable for the one with faith.”  The Lord isn’t telling this despondent father to believe more.  No, He is referring to Himself, who He is and what He does.

Earlier, this broken man crumples down before Jesus, “If you can do anything, help us!  Show pity on us!”  The man is placing all his hopes on Jesus’ abilities—if You can and if You are able.  Again, Jesus’ capabilities, not his own, draws in the desperate father.

So, Jesus echoes what the man voices to Him, verbatim, “If You can.”  By repeating what the man said to Him, Jesus is also speaking about His abilities, in the same way the man did.  So, Jesus repeats his words, “If you can,” telling him, “Of course I can, and am able!  For I am full of compassion for you and your son!”

Such a beautiful picture Jesus paints for us.  Reflect on how He can do this deed for the man and his son.  How can this exorcism take place?  Ah, don’t miss Jesus’ explanation—this act is feasible for the person who believes.

Wait, this still doesn’t make much sense.  Lost in our translations are the shades of meaning for the verb “believe,” pisteuo in the Greek.  For not only does this word mean to trust in or to place your faith in something, but also to be faithful.  So, Jesus isn’t talking about the father’s belief, though he is to believe.  No, Jesus is pointing to His faithfulness.  All things are achievable for Jesus because He is trustworthy in the tasks His heavenly Father gives Him to do, because He is the faithful One.

Realize this—Jesus doesn’t require your belief to achieve the impossible when He says something is possible for someone who is faithful.  No, He is enlightening you to receive the gifts and benefits from the magnitude of His faith-filled acts!  For before any faith stirred within you, Christ’s faithfulness always acted first.

The man comes to Jesus, praying for his son’s healing.  “Be benevolent, if You can do anything.”  The man next listens to Jesus’ declaration about Himself.  “All things become possible for the one who is faithful.”

Though a full flesh-and-blood man, our incarnate Lord Jesus is also pure divinity.  So, the most mysterious and indescribable forces of evil are too feeble to stand against Him.  What Jesus says, goes; and when He speaks, what He says becomes a reality.  Remember Jesus and the man with a demon-possessed son.

After hearing this wondrous truth about Jesus, the man, at once, changes his supplication, “Lord I believe!  Help my unbelief!”  With his no-nonsense response, he understands and states the truth.  “My faith and faithfulness aren’t strong enough!  So, I never outgrow my need for You, Lord—including believing!  Yes, only You, fear, love, and trust in God above all else.  Not so for me.  So, I must trust You to do my believing for me and grant such belief to me—as I also need to trust You in everything else!”

So, Jesus commands, “Come out from him.”  After crying like an impudent child and taking one last, brazen shot at the boy, “the demon came out.”

Now, if the Word of Jesus is so compelling against such evil spirits, how much more potent is the Word of Jesus against your failures and misdeeds?  Now, your failings may stifle, crush, and afflict you.  Perhaps, one sin dogs you and won’t let go.

No matter with Jesus, for as significant and as insurmountable we may think our sinfulness to be, Jesus isn’t bothered by their weight.  For Jesus hoisted them all—the transgressions of the entire world—on His back as He carried the cross toward the hill of death.  By the power of His Word, Jesus defeats this demon.  Be grateful He conquers your sins in the same way: “Come out and be gone.”

This exorcism isn’t the only spiritual miracle in today’s Gospel.  The other is the gift of faith, to which the boy’s father gave voice, “I believe.”  The second half, “Help my unbelief,” shows in such clarity—one’s faith is a divine act, something only God can provide.  The man asks Jesus to give him what he cannot produce himself, admitting and confessing the sinner inside him, who doesn’t believe.

By our strength and faculties, we are powerless to stand in faith.  “Help my unbelief,” exposes our ever-present misgivings and mistrust toward God, which are nagging temptations for every Christian.

Now, we may wonder if uncertainty and distrust are worse enemies than the devil and all his demons.  By a single order from Jesus, the hellish being in the boy departed and never returned.  “Come out of him and never enter again, you mute and deaf spirit.”

No doctor or pastor identified you as someone full of demons.  Still, be honest.  In your life, you often become the man who took his worries to Jesus, who tore open his heart in truthfulness, “Lord, help my unbelief!”

The way we survive much of the nastiness we experience is by faith in Jesus.  Though this is true, our trust in Christ will still surge and fall like the ocean tides.  The weather is sunny and warm, and our reliance on God is robust today.  A day later, the gale-storms of life beat and batter you and your faith trembles and shakes, as you drown in a sea of sin-born suspicion.

Doubt, nonbelief, and skepticism are subtle, craftier, and more persistent than demon possession.  The demon only needs one decree from Christ.  No so for our wavering faith, which requires the enduring help of God’s almighty Word.  For though we are a saint, we are still a sinner.  So, make this your daily prayer, “I believe.  Help my unbelief!”  Your Lord Jesus will answer your plea for help.

Remember, when Jesus talked about being faithful, He spoke of Himself, not the man—or you.  In this way, He reminds and assures you—He is steadfast and loyal.  Though your faith may waver, Jesus meets God’s perfect standards of holiness and righteousness for you.  Recognize your Lord wants you to understand this.

So, when your faith falters, find solace in His faithfulness, not yours.  Where your trust in Christ runs thin, He covers you with a thick, baptismal blanket.  Where your confidence in Jesus wavers and weakens, His trustworthiness on your behalf never wanes or wearies.

Last week’s Gospel told us about someone’s physical healing.  In kindness, Jesus healed a deaf and mute man.  The man’s ears opened, his tongue became functional, and he spoke in clear, understandable words (Mark 7:35).  In today’s Gospel, Jesus worked a spiritual miracle, vanquishing a demon, which caused muteness and deafness in a young child.

Physical or spiritual, the truth is the same.  For Jesus Christ is Lord over all.  In Him, everything is put back into place, cleansed and purified, and made right by the Word He speaks.  In both body and spirit, your Lord did all His savings deeds for you, which He still does each Lord’s Day.  On the Last Day, He will complete all when He calls forth your body to live with Him for all eternity.  Don’t miss these precious words from today’s holy Gospel, “Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.”

Yes, this certainty also awaits you.  Not because you met God’s unflinching standard but because of Jesus’ faithfulness, who achieved what you are incapable of doing.  Now, this is where your faith now comes in, which trusts what Jesus did to be enough.  Amen.