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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
 cloverdalecanrc.org
 
Title:Thanks Be To God That It Is Jesus, and Not My Faith That Saves Me
Text:LD 23 61 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Faith
 
Added:2022-07-12
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: Mark 9:14-29

Lesson: LD 23 (Q/A 61)

 

THANKS BE TO GOD THAT IT IS JESUS, AND NOT MY FAITH THAT SAVES ME

  1. Because Sometimes We Are Faithless

  2. Because Only Sometimes We Recognize Our Weakness

 

1. Hymn 7:1-4

2. Psalm 109: 1, 9, 11, 13

3. Hymn 53: 1-4

4. Hymn 2

5. Hymn 35: 1-4

 

Words to Listen For: fashion, bad questions, bragging, shaken, pop

 

Questions for Understanding:

  1. What are the 5 solas?  Add the filler words of explanation.

  2. Why couldn’t the disciples cast out the demon?

  3. Is our salvation about GRACE, or FAITH?

  4. What are the two prayers that we can pray in our struggle?  Which one is better?

  5. “Faith is like empty _______” (3 things)

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


Beloved congregation of Jesus Christ,

It’s interesting, isn’t it...that so many stories of faith in the Bible are related to water?

Think of Moses and the Israelites at the Red Sea.  When the people were between a rock and a hard place, with Pharaoh and his army coming on one side, and a raging sea on the other side, they panicked.  They feared.  They called out to Moses, “Were there not graves in Egypt that you brought us out here to die in the wilderness?”

But Moses said, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”

The Lord will fight for you...you only have to be silent.  This is faith.

Or what about the disciples, trying to row through a storm, while Jesus was sleeping in the bottom of the boat?  They cried out in fear, but they cried out to Jesus.  This was the right thing to do.  They cried out to the One who could do something about it.  There was a lot of fear mixed in with their faith, but the faith was there.

And the same could be said about Peter walking on the water.  He had faith and walked a few steps, and then, when he stopped looking at Jesus, he faltered.  But he didn’t sink, because he turned his eyes back and cried out for help.

So many stories about faith and the sea.  And I think this happens because we can see our faith for what it truly is when it is tested.  When there are tragedies in our life, when we are surrounded, as if by the waves of the sea...that is when our faith is revealed for what it is.

Because it’s easy to look strong and self-sufficient when things are going well.  You can appear to be an expert sailor when the water is smooth as glass.  But when the wind picks up and the waves suddenly rise around you...that is when our true selves are revealed.

And in the wind and waves of the world...there is only one expert sailor, and it’s not you.

THANKS BE TO GOD THAT IT IS JESUS, AND NOT MY FAITH THAT SAVES ME

  1. Because sometimes we are faithless

  2. Because only sometimes we recognize our weakness

 

Thanks be to God that it is Jesus, and not my faith that saves me.

Faith is an interesting thing.  It is so central to our Reformed theology, and yet, it is mysterious.  Faith is so popular, and yet so confusing.  There is no commodity on the religious market that carries a higher price tag than faith, and yet our understanding is so limited.

 

     What is faith...exactly?

     What does it do...exactly?

     How does all of this work...exactly?

 

Faith had fallen out of fashion for a time in church history.  In the history of the church, the medieval times, known by some as the dark ages, were not only dark due to a lack of innovation, and an abundance of war and disease, but they were also dark because the church as a whole had lost its way.

Our God will always have citizens in His kingdom, but for a time, that kingdom may seem small and reduced almost to nothing.  And this is how it was.  The Roman Catholic Church had corrupted true Christianity.  They made it about things that it wasn’t really about.  They taught ways of worship contrary to the Bible.  They said that the Christian life was more about blind obedience to the church, and removed the Bible from the hands of believers.  Something had to be done.  And something WAS done.  Our God raised up faithful men like John Hus, Martin Luther, and John Calvin.

The Reformation brought back faith into view as one of 5 main cries of the Reformation.  The solas.  Do you know these?

     Sola Gratia - Grace alone

     Sola Fide - Faith alone

     Solus Christus - Christ alone

     Sola Scriptura - Scripture alone

And

     Soli Deo Gloria - to the glory of God alone

 

Now, these 5 phrases, on their own, without explanation or context, do not actually do us much good.  We need to see them as answering the question:

HOW ARE YOU JUSTIFIED BEFORE GOD?

And, for it all make sense, allow me to insert some filler words in here

How are you justified before God?

     BY Grace alone

          THROUGH Faith alone

               BECAUSE OF Christ alone.

                    WE LEARN THIS AND SEE AS OUR ULTIMATE AUTHORITY Scripture alone.

                         OUR SALVATION is to the Glory of God alone.

It is through faith alone that we are justified before God.  And yet, Jesus Christ, and not our faith is the One who ultimately saves us.  And we should be VERY thankful for this.

In our reading this afternoon, we see two examples of faith.  A faith that thinks itself strong but proves to be weak, and a faith that admits its weakness, and there finds its strength.

The situation, the wind and the waves of the world in this place and at this time is a case of demon possession.

Jesus had just been on the Mount of Transfiguration with Peter, James, and John.  It was there that He spoke with Moses and Elijah, representing the law and the prophets.  His clothes became radiant and intensely white - showing His heavenly glory.

But at the same time this was happening, the other 9 disciples were down the mountain in the village, trying to cast out a demon.

A father had brought his son to the disciples for them to cast out the demon that had possessed his son, making him mute, foaming at the mouth, grinding his teeth, and paralyzing him.  But the disciples were not able to cast it out.

In response to this, Jesus says: O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you?  How long am I to bear with you?

You can hear the frustration in His voice.  The disciples had been with him for so long at this point, and still their faith was weak.  Their faith was almost absent in this situation!

It is curious, that 3 chapters earlier, in Mark 6, the 12 Apostles are sent out, having been given authority over the unclean spirits.  We read later that they cast out many demons healed many who were sick.

So these 9 who were now so weak and powerless, at one time, did have that power.  What changed?  What changed in them?

We can see this at the end of our reading.  The disciples asked Him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?”  And He said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”

It seems that the disciples, after all their success in casting out demons and in healing the sick, had begun to rely on themselves and their own power.  No longer were they relying on God, waking up every morning with a realization of their need, calling out to God in prayer...but now they were relying on themselves and their abilities, their own strength.

And this is what our catechism warns us against in question and answer 61

Why do you say that you are righteous only by faith?

Essentially saying...okay, hold up.  Are you saved by grace, or are you saved by faith?  In answer 60, we see the two intertwined with each other.  

So...which is it?

What is it all about - grace, or faith?  Not an easy question, is it?

But, as some of us might know...sometimes the problem isn’t with finding an answer, but sometimes the problem is with the question itself.  There are some questions that are JUST BAD QUESTIONS.

Is it grace, or is it faith?  The answer, if we were forced to give one, would be “YES.”

     Yes, it’s all BY grace.

     Yes, it’s all THROUGH faith.

 

Why do you say that you are righteous only by faith?

NOT that I am acceptable to God on account of the worthiness of my faith, for only the satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ is my righteousness before God.

 

It’s BY grace.

 

I can receive this righteousness and make it my own by faith only.

 

It’s THROUGH faith.

 

And the disciples had this confused.  They had it backwards.  They were relying on the strength of their own faith...and this trial by fire, this time spent in the wind and the waves, revealed that their own strength wasn’t very strong after all.

And Jesus said, “this kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”  And there has been much ink spilled on this verse, with speculations about different kinds and ranks of demons, but the simple answer is the right one: this kind...this kind of EVIL, present in those who are demon possessed...is too much for you as a human being.  You can’t handle it.  Instead, like with so many other things, you have to depend on God.  Depend on God’s strength.

You MUST have faith, this is KEY.  But that faith...what it does...what it really does...is connect you to that power.  Connect you to the power of God.  The grace of God.  The love of God.  Faith is nothing but the outstretched hands of the heart that knows it needs God.

And prayer is an outworking of faith.  A faith that sees ourselves as weak and God as strong.  A faith that sees us as dead and God as the source of life.  This faith will drive us to our knees, day after day, struggle after struggle.

And this must be our experience too.  When we come up against the wind and the waves, what will we do?

No matter what the challenge is, no matter your struggle, there are two prayers that we can pray.  Two things that we can say to God.

We can tell Him (remember who He is...the God of the Universe, Almighty Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer), we can tell God: “Don’t worry, I got this” or we can fall on our knees humbly and say, “God have mercy on me, a sinner!”

That first option, telling God that we have everything sorted out...that’s not really a prayer at all, but just bragging.  It seems ridiculous when you say it like that...telling GOD that we have it...but we do this so often in our lives.  I can pass this test in school because I’m smart and because I study...I don’t need to go to God.  I’m having a good day today, the sun in shining, I don’t need to start my day with prayer, I can do it.

When we do this, it is prideful, and what’s more...it’s an outright lie!  

There is no struggle so small that you can handle it alone.  There is no challenge that is so small that God doesn’t care about it.  As one of my seminary professors used to say: If it’s big enough to worry about, it’s big enough to pray about.

There is nothing too big for God’s power, and nothing too small for God’s heart.

It is faith alone and not works that allow us to receive Christ’s righteousness as our own...but Christ’s righteousness is there for us, granted to us...only by grace.

That’s the prideful prayer.  But the humble prayer?  The humble prayer that depends fully on our God...the prayer of the humble tax collector: God have mercy on me, a sinner?  THIS is true prayer.  This is a humble prayer.  This is a prayer heard by God, that recognizes the hopelessness of our position before God, and the weakness of our faith.  Our second point.

Thanks be to God that our Saviour is Jesus Christ, and not our faith.  For true faith recognizes how weak it is.  We can see, in this story, a man pushed to the edge.  Since childhood, his son had been demon-possessed.  This demon made his son mute, and cast him into fire and into water.  And then, when he went looking for Jesus, all he found were disciples who could not help him.

This man did everything right.  He preserved the life of his child against the power of demons.  He went to Jesus, and found only the weak disciples, unable to help because of their own pride.  And finally, he is confronted with Jesus Himself.  And what does he do?

This man tells his story all over again.  Reliving the pain of his situation, and begs Jesus for help.  His faith has been tested.  He had come to where he thought Jesus would be because he had faith that his son would be healed.  But the failure of the disciples had really shaken him.  His faith wasn’t as solid as it had been at the beginning of the day.

And this father isn’t alone in this feeling.  As we as humans get older and older, and spend more time in the Word, spending more and more time sitting under the preaching, spending time in prayer...our faith, somewhat surprisingly does not increase steadily.

Because the older we get, the more time we spend in the world as well as the Word.  And the world takes its toll on us, even as believers.  We see people who are hurting, whether these people are friends, family, strangers, or ourselves.  We see the effects of sin in this world, and it can feel that very real pieces of our soul are taken away.  We can feel beat up by the world, and exhausted.  Our desire for Christ to return isn’t so much a joyful one but an exhausted cry, How long O Lord?

And our faith is not as solid at the end of the day as it was at the beginning.

But our God is there, right beside us, walking with us, and giving us exactly what we need, when we need it.  In His timing, we receive blessings from His hand.

Even though the boy’s father did not receive help directly from the hand of Christ at the beginning, our Saviour did come, and He did help.  His response to the failure of His disciples, along with disappointment is the command: Bring him to me.

Seeing the boy under the influence of demon-possession, Jesus asks the father, “How long has this been happening to him?”  

And he said, “From childhood.  And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him.  But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.

If you can do anything.

So often, this is what we think of our God.  Maybe for us, it is not doubting His power, but we doubt His love.  When we pray for healing or relief, there is a part of us that thinks… “Well, it’s all decided anyways.  I’ll pray because I’m supposed to...but I’m really not sure it will do any good.”  But that’s not how we should pray.  That is not praying with a heart of faith.

Our God promises that the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.  We see powerful men of prayer like Habakkuk who called out again and again for an answer, and finally received more than he had ever bargained for.  We see Moses intercede for the people of Israel and God relent from His fearsome anger.

While we may sympathize with this father’s frustration, we know that our Lord’s answer is right.

If you can do anything, have compassion on us, and help us.

     IF YOU CAN!  All things are possible for one who believes.

Jesus isn’t angry, He isn’t outraged, but He does challenge this man’s somewhat hopeless view of the situation.  Repeating his own words back to Him, our Lord encourages this struggling man

“If you can”

Of course I can.  All things are possible for one who believes

And here we must pause, because this answer of our Lord sounds eerily similar to the pop psychology of the day.  The power of positive thinking.  Faith in something...anything...whether a generic higher power, or even belief in yourself...that is all it takes to be successful.  You can have anything you want if you just visualize it strongly enough.

But that is not what Jesus is saying to this man.  That is not what Jesus is saying to all of us here today.  Faith is nothing in and of itself, but an expression of trust, of longing, and of desire toward the goal of that faith.  And so a faith in oneself, a faith in a false god...these things are not at all in the same category as faith in the true God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Jesus’ teaching mission on this earth was for people to turn their eyes upwards.  To seek the will and glory of His Heavenly Father, as He Himself did.

Believe in God, believe also in me.

And this man does.

Immediately the father of the child cried out and said: “I believe; help my unbelief!”

This is the best prayer that we as sinners can offer up.  I do believe.  Help my unbelief.  Such a simple response, and yet so perfect.  There was faith there.  There was true faith.

This man’s faith recognized two things: that he believed Jesus was the answer, and that he knew that he needed a stronger and more perfect faith.

This man cries out for God’s help and expresses the smallness of his faith.  Our Lord answers, according to the richness of His grace, not the poverty of the request.

And we must recognize this truth, beloved.  This is the important truth contained in Question and Answer 61 of our catechism.

We are not acceptable to God on account of the strength of the worthiness of our faith...as though faith were simply the chosen work that God would reward with salvation.

There is no works righteousness.  It simply does not exist.  Not the good work of loving your neighbour as yourself (which we all fail at, time and again), not the good work of loving our God with everything we have (our hearts stray from Him constantly), and not the good work of believing in Him.

It is not our faith that saves us, and thanks be to God.  For if it was my faith that saved me, if my ultimate hope and security was found in the strength of my faith, I would live a constantly fearful life...because my faith is weak.  My faith, so often, is faith like the faith of the disciples.  A faith that is often faithless.  But sometimes, in the strength that God gives me, I can have faith like this man.  A faith that calls out: Help me, just as I am, a doubter.

Faith, you see, is just empty hands, reaching up to grasp the grace of God.

Faith has been described as an empty vase or an empty vessel.  We must come empty, with the mouth of our vessel open, seeking Christ's grace.  Faith is only the space, which if true, will receive and house the treasure given to us by God.  It is not the treasure itself.

But rather, the treasure, as our catechism so beautifully puts it, is the satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ.

And now, at the end, we come back to the question we had at the beginning: What is it all about - grace, or faith?

Is our salvation due to grace, or due to faith?

Yes.

     Yes, it is all BY grace.

     And Yes, it is all THROUGH faith.

AMEN.




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

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