Text: Mark 9:14-29
Date: Pentecost XVII + 9/16/18
Have you ever seen a miracle? God reaching His hand right in front of your face performing something that cannot be explained in any other way? Have you ever explained away a miracle? Missed some amazing intervention by God only because of the distractions and diversions of the details of daily life? Today’s Gospel is a little lesson about faith, what it is and what it is not.
Now we’re not talking about so-called “blind faith.” There is such a thing, I guess. The idea of hoping for the best while having no idea how things are really going to work out, especially those things over which you do have some influence or responsibility. We are talking about Christian faith, faith in Jesus who has some very definite thoughts and plans for you, as it says in Jeremiah 29, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jer 29:11). Above all is the plan of your salvation by means of the forgiveness of your sins. The plan has always been that there is only one way in which your sin can be forgiven and taken away, namely, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb 9:22). And how much blood was shed through the Old Testament animal sacrifices! But it was only the blood of the paschal lamb, that is, the holy, innocent, perfect, spotless Lamb of God, the Son of God Himself that proved the worthy price.
Besides your salvation it is also God’s plan for you that you be filled with His Spirit, that you be sanctified or made to be His holy people, and even that you share in Christ’s sufferings. Oh, the details of how that all works out in your life will be different than in mine, but the faith God gives never gives up or gives in. We may be tempted to stop believing when life seems to be falling off its hinges, but divine faith is even stronger than that.
It has to be easier we may think for the inner circle of disciples, Peter, James and John to believe. Just before today’s text they were coming back down the mountain having witnessed nothing less than our Lord’s transfiguration where, in His glory, He spoke about God’s plan of salvation with Moses and Elijah to be accomplished in what He called His “exodus,” that is, His death on the cross and resurrection from the grave. But when they came down the mountain to the other nine disciples, what do they see? What do they hear? Everyone saw them and gathered around them. But Jesus noticed that they had been arguing with each other. They argued about a healing that didn’t happen!
It was a terrible situation involving a child who had obvious behavioral problems. Isn’t that how we’d diagnose it today? Instead, everyone blamed it on possession by an evil spirit. But is that so different? All evil, destruction, violence and death is from the devil after all. Upon asking the child’s father, he ended by saying these words: “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” It is Jesus’ response to these words that teach us an important lesson about faith.
I’ve always read Jesus’ words, “If you can,” as if they had a question or explanation mark after them, that is, repeating the father’s words in a sort of judgmental way, as if saying, “What do you mean, ‘If you can’”? But there is no such mark in the Greek. The old Authorized “King James” version turns it around and has Jesus say to the man, “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.” So which is it? Is it a question about Jesus’ ability to help or is it a question about the man’s faith?
Actually, it is both. But let’s say it first and right off the bat it will not be the man’s faith that “makes” the miracle happen. How many phony healing ceremonies preach that exact thing! And then when the healing doesn’t follow, when nothing happens, the conclusion is that “you didn’t have enough faith.” No. The lack of faith does not tie the hands of Jesus.
Miracles are not dependent on faith but only on the will of Jesus. How many times do we read of a healing miracle when the subject is quite unaware of Jesus much less of faith in Him? In John 5 a man is healed by the pool of Bethesda. When questioned by others all the man said was, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’ They asked him, ‘Who is the man who said to you, “Take up your bed and walk”?’” Then the Evangelist tells us, “Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place.” Then there was the man born blind in John 9 who only gradually came to faith. And there were so many more. No, miracles are not dependent on faith but only on the will of Jesus.
This man was a believer, as he said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” And isn’t that where we find ourselves so often. We believe in the possibility of God’s gracious will and work and plan. Yet how often we are beset by doubt. “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” Sometimes we are amazed as the eyes of our faith are fully aware of God’s gracious presence and activity for our good. Sometimes however we lose sight of the ministry of angels all around us, of God’s provision for our need much of the times because of the every day normality of life’s daily details. So this is our prayer today, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”