St. Mark 9:14-29
September 12, 2021
Dear saints of our Savior~
It may be the sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, but for all intents and purposes it’s “Christian Education Sunday,” the day when we rally our resources, and resume the time-tested traditions of Sunday school and Bible classes. It’s the children who are most excited about this; and rightly so. For them today means new classes, new teachers, new Bible stories and new hymns to learn—with a potluck meal to top it all off.
This day makes me think of Jesus and the little children. It’s not hard to picture the Savior with the children of our congregation—with their smiling faces and the joy they have in Jesus. It’s no wonder Jesus said that the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. We have a painting of Jesus and the little children that hangs in the church library. It’s vintage 1970 with Jesus and the children sitting in a dewy meadow, full of wildflowers, with hills in the background which are alive (no doubt) with the sound of music. That’s one way of picturing it.
But then there’s also Jesus and the little boy in today’s Holy Gospel. Quite a different picture. This poor boy isn’t skipping through any dewy meadows. He’s demonized. An unclean spirit has taken control of the child. It makes the boy mute. It causes seizures in which he foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, and becomes rigid. And for the love of God, keep the kid away from fire and water because it loves to throw the boy in—in order to kill him.
See what Satan does. See how he sets his sights on all people of all ages—children included. He is a shameless predator who delights in victimizing even children. This is serious, scary stuff. If, in fact, the kingdom of God belongs to such as these, then “these” little ones have targets on their backs. And since the evil one delights in hurting and harming little ones, can there be any doubt about who is really driving the abortion industry? Can there be any doubt about who is really behind the push to prevent the unborn from taking their first breath? As we heard from Ephesians a few weeks ago, “Our battle is not against flesh and blood.” Our battle is not against Planned Parenthood or politicians who bow the knee to the abortion industry. Our battle ultimately is not against them—not against flesh and blood—but “against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places,” against Satan and the evil angels.
Of course, whenever the devil attacks children, he gets the parents, as well. Imagine the life of the demonized boy’s father. For years, this unclean spirit had been harassing, attacking, and trying to kill his son. How could you as a father even fall asleep at night? There is no worse feeling for a father than the feeling of helplessness—being unable to protect and help the child that God has given you!
This father is desperately trying to help his boy. He even brings the boy to the disciples of Jesus—and Jesus’ disciples had failed—failed to cast out the demon. What must that have done to the father’s faith? You better believe that he’s prayed and prayed. He’s done everything—doctors, drugs, therapies, rabbis, healers. And now there’s little left in his heart but doubt and despair. He tells Jesus, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” “IF you can.” There it is—that doubt planted and cultivated by the evil one. Jesus calls him on it: What do you mean IF? All things are possible for one who believes.
All things are possible for one who believes. That statement really brings us to the heart of the matter. This isn’t so much a story about a nasty demon, or even the miraculous power of Jesus, as it is about what happens to our faith when our “religion” doesn’t seem to work. What happens to our faith when something tragic pushes you to the crossroads of doubt and despair? It doesn’t have to be demon possession. Substitute whatever suits you: the accident that ruined your life, the cancer that killed the child, the marriage that unraveled, the friend who betrayed you, the child or grandchild who abandoned the faith. Whatever it is, it seems like your religion is powerless to fix it. Things aren’t working like they’re supposed to! Like the father of the demonized boy, you did the very thing you should do. You brought your problems to church; and the church couldn’t fix them. You prayed for healing; and new complications developed. You prayed for patience; and got more suffering. You know how it is; I know you do.
At this point, what a lot of people do is trade in your “god” for another model. You swap your religion (or at least change churches) until you find something that works. We Americans are particularly prone to the “whatever works must be true” way of looking at things. We’re pragmatic. We admire efficiency—whatever it takes to get the job done. But when it comes to faith, the whole “go with whatever works” mentality is a deeply flawed strategy. And it’s got the devil’s fingerprints all over it.
If you equate what’s right and true with what works, then what happens when it stops working? What happens when the disciples can’t cast out the demon? What happens when you take your troubles to church and lay them at the feet of Jesus and things only get worse? Well, you’ve got a handy excuse to move on—to chase after what works. OR . . . you can stick with Jesus and see how He blesses us in the long run through our suffering—how He carries us through every trial and tragedy—how His grace is always sufficient, how His power is made perfect in our weakness. Jesus does His best work in our lives precisely when nothing is working right—when nothing makes sense—when nothing is proceeding according to plan.
The best thing we can do is learn to pray like that desperate father: Lord, I believe; help my unbelief. That’s not double-talk; that’s honesty. That man didn’t try to hide his weakness. He didn’t try to appear more polished and pious than he was. He wasn’t afraid to be real. I believe; help my unbelief. That’s actually aAnd who are we? Saint and sinner, at the same time. A believer and an unbeliever. That’s you; that’s me. And that reality shapes our prayers: I believe; help my unbelief. Lord, teach me to trust You when You appear weak. Teach me to trust your Word when it seems powerless. Teach me to lean on Your promises instead of my own reason and strength.
You can pray with that kind of honesty because Jesus is here for you—for the helpless, the weak, the scared, and even the demonized. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an “innocent” victim like the little boy with the unclean spirit, or whether you’ve made your bed of shame and now you have to lay in it. All things are possible for Jesus—and for the one who believes in Jesus! All things are possible . . . including the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.
How can I be so sure? How can you be confident that Jesus will help you? Beloved in the Lord, Jesus has a history of helping. He has a track record of deliverance—a record written in blood. His crucifixion and resurrection—His dying and rising—are the indisputable proof that with God all things are possible—that He is always, ready, willing and able to help those who wait for Him in faith. You can trust this Jesus.
In fact, today’s gospel reading points us directly to Jesus’ death and resurrection. For when Jesus finally got around to exorcising the demon, it appeared that things had gone from bad to worse. It looked like the boy was dead. He looked like a corpse and most of the crowd quickly concluded, “He is dead.” (And, for all we know, maybe he was dead.) But Jesus took the boy by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. He arose. (In Greek, anes’tay—the resurrection word) It’s a little preview of the resurrection—corpses rising to new life.
This little detail is why we can trust Jesus. For He truly died. As our sin-bearing substitute, He died like a common criminal. He became a corpse on a cross. And on the third day He rose again. Jesus lives. And in Jesus you also will live. When it seems like your religion isn’t working—that your faith is failing—remember the resurrection. For on that day death and sin will be undone. Everything will work again. Everything will work perfectly—including you.
But for now, today, Jesus is here to help you. Now, the Savior’s help may not be exactly what you were hoping for. It may not come according to your timetable. It may not materialize according to your exact design and plan. And if you find that to be discouraging or troubling, then pray. Pray. Go to Jesus with your trouble. Lay it on the line: Lord, I believe; help my unbelief. He will answer. He will help. Trust Him. Believe His promises.
His nail-scarred hands declare that your sins, no matter what they are, cannot separate you from God. Jesus has done away with them as surely as He dispatched the demon in today’s reading. That means that your troubles, your weakness, your sorrows, your demons—they have only a short season to live. They will not last. They do not reign; Jesus reigns! And He is Our Savior. Nothing is impossible with Him.In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.