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Author:Rev. David Stares
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Congregation:Reformed Church of Masterton
 New Zealand
Title:The Doubter's Prayer
Text:Mark 9:14-29 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Struggling with doubts

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. David Stares, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

How is your faith? It’s possible that today you come to worship and your spiritual life is on a high. Perhaps on the way to worship you listened to a podcast or music that resonated powerfully with you. Perhaps as we read the law this morning the commandments struck you uniquely. I hope that the assurance of pardon spoke to you where you are. But maybe you are in an emotional and spiritual lull. Maybe the interactions you had this morning don’t match your ideals. Maybe you see that your faith is mixed with doubts.

Well, today we are going to be presented with someone who comes to Jesus with a faith that doesn’t seem to move mountains, and we will see the result.

Because Jesus is strong, we trust his power to save by weak faith.

1) The Lacking Disciples

2) The Faltering Father

3) The Able Saviour

1) The Lacking Disciples

Well, where have we been in the ministry of Jesus? We have seen that Jesus has headed to the far north to Caesarea Philippi. And from there he has been explaining to the disciples the way of the cross. They need to follow Jesus in his carrying of the cross and be willing to suffer. Well from there we have the encouragement. Why must they be willing to do this? Because it is a question of value. To values theirs soul more than the things of this life. To value the coming kingdom over the kingdoms of this world. To values Jesus more than our own lives. And with that comes the promise of coming glory. A glory that a few of the disciples were able to see as the new covenant mediator receives his final commission to go to the cross on the mountain in the cloud. And now, we read that they are coming back down the mountain to the rest of the disciples.

And as they do so they find that a crowd has gathered. And not for a good reason. There is an argument going on between the disciples and the scribes, and the crowd, when they see Jesus are excited and they run to greet him, and so Jesus engages. And he asks the scribes v.16. But the answer doesn’t come from the scribes. The answer comes from an individual man v.17-18. And there at the end we have the main crisis that is going on. There is this child who has a demon. And the effect of a demon is that he is unable to speak, but also that from time to time it produces an effect similar to a grand mal seizure. And so we can understand the request of this father that he comes with this request to cast out the demon.

And what has caused the disruption is that the disciples aren’t able to do it. You might remember that in chapter 6 Jesus gave the twelve authority over the unclean spirits, and after they go our calling people to repentance we are told that “they were casting out many demons.” This means that the request wasn’t out of line. This had happened before, and now they are unable to do it.

And the scribes have seized on this fact. The scribes were the specialists in the Law of Moses. The scribes were the ones who accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of demons, and they are the ones who Jesus has warned will be the agents of his death. Well, now they see that the disciples of Jesus are unable to do this, and the scribes have pounced.

And what is Jesus’ response? V.19. and this sets us up for the theme of this passage, as Jesus is going to bring out the issue of faith. and here in the face of the opposition of the scribes and the disappointment of the crowd and the father, and what Jesus knows is that the answer to his question is ‘not long!’ he is not going to be with them much longer, and when he leaves the revelation of his glory will pass away from Israel. And then the message of the gospel will go to the gentiles. God himself will send missionaries out because there is no faith in Israel.

2) The Faltering Father

And yet, their unbelief, their rejection off him will not be because they have not seen the evidence. And so Jesus commands that the boy be brought to him. And in response to the presence of Jesus, as we have seen with other demons in the book of Mark, we have seen that they have been provoked to action because of his presence. There was the man in the synagogue who was provoked to cry out to him. There was legion, filled with demons, who ran to him.

Well, now we see that when the boy is brought to Jesus the demon throws him into convulsions. And what we find is that there is even more. That the demon is laboring to destroy the boy. That when they would walk near the water, or when there would be a fire going for heat in the evenings, the father had to constantly be on the lookout to be ready to pull his boy from the water, to pull his boy from the fire. Never able to rest or be at peace.

For years, not only has the boy suffered under the power of this demon. But not only him, his father, and perhaps his mother also have had to be constantly vigilant, always on the alert, never sure when they might be put into crisis mode again. Yes, the boy has a demon, but the way his father describes him, the suffering is his as well. How do I know that? Because of his request v.22c. They need help, and the scribes and Pharisees can’t help, and the disciples have been disappointing. And so he asks if maybe Jesus has something to offer.

He’s disheartened, he’s doubtful. He’s struggling to find hope. And maybe that’s you this morning. Maybe you don’t feel that you have the living faith that you would like to have. Maybe you don’t feel the assurance of God’s love for you that he has, maybe you don’t have peace of heart. Maybe you don’t desire obedience as you know you should. Discouraged, doubtful and weary.

And Jesus picks up on this man’s turn of phrase. And he asks him, almost taken aback ‘If I can?’ What we know, and what this father needs to know is that this is a misguided phrase. And what he needs to have is faith. And this isn’t because Jesus is like some pagan God whose power is limited by a lack of worship. The point is that if this man wants to receive the benefits that he wishes to receive, he has to believe. He has to have his faith in the one who is capable.

And what is the father’s response? V.24. He has faith, a faith which has been battered by life’s disappointments and doubts, and he desires a stronger faith, and he desires to receive what Jesus is powerfully able to do.

3) The Able Saviour

And now you have to pay attention. Jesus has perceived, and this man has admitted, that his faith is mingled with doubt. And what does Jesus say? How dare you! I am the son of God, you should know better! Come watch while I heal others and we’ll see if your faith improves! I can’t do it until you shape up a little better! Is that how Jesus responds to this doubter’s cry?

He sees the crowd gathering, and as you may be aware, that is often a negative thing, and Jesus has no desire for more crowds to press in and so he v.25b. One last time the demon tries to destroy him, but he is powerless to do so. The boy collapses into one last convulsion and then it stops. He is at peace. And Jesus takes him by the hand and gets him up. The suffering that this boy has endured, along with his family for years, perhaps a decade, is over in just a moment.

The disciples were not able to do it because, as Jesus says, the power over demons comes only through prayer. What does the mean? It means that they had their own weakness of faith. That what they forgot is that it was not them who cast out the demon in the first place. That when they ask why they couldn’t cast it out, the fact is they never could, and they had built up faith in themselves that they were the ones with power. What they needed to do was direct their faith to the one with the power in prayer.

And this is what the man did. Was his faith perfect? Absolutely not. But his son wasn’t healed by his faith, he was healed because of the mighty one in whom his faltering faith believed.

And what this man received from Jesus is but a foretaste of the work that Jesus us about to do. The benefits that he is going to earn for all those who believe in him. And it is by believing that we receive those benefits. But this is what you need to hear this morning. You are not saved by the quality of your faith. You are saved by the power of your mighty saviour.

I am scared of heights. Where that comes to be a problem is when I go tramping in the bush and have to cross a swing bridge. A number of my friends are the kind of people who go bounding across and shaking the bridge for everyone else, while I am left white knuckling the sides as I shuffle across. Let me ask you: survive the crossing any less than my friends? No. Why not? Because the security of the bridge doesn’t depend on the strength of my faith in the bridge. I make it across despite my fear because the bridge is strong.

And this is the same for us. We are not saved by the quality of our faith. We are saved by the strength of our saviour. He knows not only how weak we are against sin, but he also knows that if we were to need a perfect faith to receive those benefits, we would be lost, and so covers up also the weakness in our faith.

And so, people of God, it is the common Christian experience to need to say to Jesus, I believe, help my unbelief. And when we say that, we need to know that we receive the benefits of his grace, not because our faith is so strong, but because he is strong, because he says I CAN. So, to you who are struggling today in your faith, take heart. You are loved by your saviour. He holds you fast when you feel as though you are falling away, and in the midst of your doubts, he says ‘look at me, not yourself.’ Because he is strong, we trust in his power to save by weak faith.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. David Stares, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. David Stares

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