“‘If you can?’ said Jesus. Everything is possible for one who believes.’” Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” Mark 9:19-24
This prayer of the desperate father: “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” is one of the most succinct, and in some ways wisest. prayers in the Bible.
Are there times when it is easier to believe than others? Are there times when it is harder to believe? On a scale of 1-10, “10” being “extra certain and strong” to “1” being “faltering, on the brink of unbelief” – where would you rank your “believing” at this moment? Was it the same yesterday? A month ago? A year ago? Will it be the same next week?
I know, for me, it changes. It is “Easier to believe” when things are going well, when I am reminded of God’s grace, mercy and love – 1) when a worship service or Bible Study is especially meaningful to me; 2) a special family event (i.e. wedding, baptism, birth of a child, holiday gathering); other times. And there are times when it is “harder to believe” – 1) spouse / family member – Alzheimers / Parkinsons / stroke / death; 2) we are terminated from our job for no apparent reason; 3) our health or that of our loved one is misdiagnosed and we suffer the results; many others.
Can you relate to the “great need” of the father in today’s Gospel reading? How totally helpless he was because an evil spirit tormented his son. This father wanted to bring his son to Jesus to be healed, but Jesus was not there. (He was on the Mount of Transfiguration – see Mark 9) So the father brought his son to the other disciples, who were unable to help. [To add to the helplessness: had this father heard that the disciples HAD been driving out demons? (Mark 6: Jesus “sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits… they drove out many demons…”)] Adding insult to injury: 1) The teachers of the law (church leaders) were of no help; instead, they mocked and were arguing with the nine disciples! 2) A large crowd was gathering – not to help, but to “gawk,” to see what would happen next. How embarrassing for the father and the son! 3) Even when Jesus arrived – but then asks, “How long has he been like this?”
The father in desperation cried out: “Don’t ask questions; DO something!” “If You can do anything…”
Jesus answered, “Everything is possible for one who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” Note the beautiful prayer of confession and plea for help by the father! This needs to be our constant prayer too! As this father confessed his “unbelief” and asked that his son be healed anyway, Jesus demonstrated that the man’s faith or lack of it was no obstacle to Jesus! Jesus commanded, and the evil spirit HAD to obey. Jesus answered the father’s prayer in the greatest way – Jesus helped the father “overcome his unbelief!”
And this Gospel reading is not just about the father. Why couldn’t the disciples drive out the demon? They had done it before! (Mark 6:13) God’s Word answers this: Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.” The same is true for why the father was so desperate, and why we have times of doubt and despair. Unbelief = trust in self = looking for human answers, human strength.
When the disciples asked Jesus why they were unable to drive out the evil spirit from the boy, Jesus answered, “This kind can come out only by prayer.” (v.29)
Jesus is NOT saying that prayer is like a magic formula (hocus pocus), nor is “this kind” more resistant to exorcism and thus requiring additional power to be cast out. The only power – of prayer and to cast out demons – is Christ Himself. The point is that the disciples had forgotten this – they had been successful in casting out demons (Mark 6:13) by the power of Christ (6:7) but now, it appears, they had come to think the power was their own. Prayer is always an expression of dependence on Jesus, a trust that He and He alone could do the work. On our own, we are totally helpless – with Jesus, “all things are possible.” Mark 9:23
Jesus’ statement and question: “You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?” addressed to His disciples, the scribes (v.14), the crowd, the father (v.17-18) – every one of us. Jesus CAME for unbelievers – to GIVE us faith. He continues to come – day after day – always – to strengthen and keep us in the one true faith. He does this through the daily blessing of remembering our baptism; daily being strengthened by reading, hearing, learning God’s Word; daily through the power of God in prayer to Jesus “the Author and Perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2); regularly through the Lord’s Supper “the true body and blood… given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening and preserving us in the true faith until life everlasting.” Like the father in our Gospel reading, we too may “Depart in peace.”
Please join us each weekend as we receive God’s bountiful blessings as we gather together for worship and Bible Classes. (The new quarter’s classes began this weekend – but you can always come and be a part of a class. Call the church office at 684-5201 for more information.)