20 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.
21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”
“From childhood,” he answered. 22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”
24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”
26 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. Mark 9:20-26
As I’m sure most do when they read Scripture, there’s a tendency to put ourselves within the story. It’s the reimagining of what a particular scene was like and what we may have felt if we had been there. I think of the big moments of the Bible: Moses and the Israelites crossing the Red Sea, David defeating Goliath, the birth of Christ as well as His death and resurrection, the start of the early Church, the missionary journeys of Paul. How would we have felt if we were there? What would we have seen? What would we have said? How much of an impact would it have left on us to be first-hand witnesses of a miracle?
I love the ordinary day-to-day people Christ would come into contact with. He rubs elbows with the best of society at times (i.e. the Pharisees and Jewish elect) but I think He had a particular calling to the poor and the “least of these.” Mark 9 is an account of one such encounter. The disciples have come across a young boy who is possessed by an evil spirit. We don’t know how he become possessed. We really know very little regarding the details of his backstory. All we know is that the father of this boy approaches Jesus after he already gone to the disciples for their help in casting out the demon. The disciples were not able to and the father is desperate.
What comes through this conversation of the father with Jesus is perhaps one of my most treasured statements in all of God’s Word. I love it because it’s honest and it’s real. I love it because I can identify with it 110%. It’s me. It’s all of us if we’re speaking plainly. The statement is this: “I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief!” This phrase is uttered after the man pleads with Jesus and says “If you can…” please help. Jesus takes a moment to quantify that statement: “If you can? Everything is possible for one who believes.”
In setting up the context for today’s blog, I want us to see both the reality of faith and unbelief which we often live in. We know God is able to do all things. Yet we often are beset by a number of fears and doubts; unbelief. How do we live in this tension and much like the father, move forward in saying “I do believe….”? Let’s dig in.
1. It is not wrong to have doubts
As much as the father perhaps knew of Jesus and what He was capable of, he still came before Him empty-handed and full of humanity. What I mean is this: here he stood before the Savior of the world. A man who would willingly go to the cross to die for the sins of not only this father but for all mankind. The father perhaps doesn’t realize just the magnitude of Who he is standing before and maybe just thinks, “Here’s a guy who can help me. He has a power that I have not seen before in anyone else.”
I love that Jesus doesn’t turn the man away because of his lack of faith. “If you can,” is not a deal-breaker for Christ. Is it something He chooses to place a finger upon? Yes. He doesn’t outright rebuke the father. He doesn’t even say you are wrong to have doubts. But He does poke a little further because He wants the father to recognize just how big Jesus is. I believe even in our doubts, Jesus gets to the heart of the matter. He wants to know if we will believe; fears or doubts not withstanding. In that moment, just like the father are we willing to say “I do believe” despite the tension in our heart?
2. God is big enough for honest statements
So much of the time in our sanitized, “you’re ok, I’m ok” Christian faith, we think it is somehow less holy to ever express any form of doubt. I called this blog “The Most Honest Statement In The Bible” and I believe that’s true. And that’s not taking anything away from the rest of Scripture. I believe it’s all honest. And it all can be real and raw at times. Look at some of the Psalms and the wrestling between David and God. Look at the whole story of Job. There’s doubt in some of those texts. There’s fist shaking at God. There are times we cringe a bit because it even makes us uncomfortable to read it (“Job, you can’t say that stuff to God!”)
The honest statements reflect the heart of the character in the story. They are uttered in complete transparency and openness. But those statements do not change Who God is. God is still in control despite our doubts. He still has a plan despite what we can see from our vantage point. The crazy cool thing about God is that He is big enough for us to utter those statements. He can take it and honestly, He wants to break past the walls of formality and decorum. You see, we are good at hiding our true selves even before our Maker. But He created us, knows us, and sees every hidden thing. Why then, do we hide from Him the true feelings we have? He wants everything and is after our hearts.
3. God moves despite our doubts
The father expresses the statement I feel so often: “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” It’s kind of an oxymoron but when I think about it, it makes complete sense. That’s me in a nutshell. I go into each day believing God is Who He says He is. He’s capable of anything. He can move any mountain. He can part any sea. But life hits and suddenly my perspective changes and I’m quickly saying “help me overcome my unbelief.”
Jesus heals the boy. He casts out the demon. Putting myself into the story, I can imagine a tearful father finally being reunited with his son; his “true son” in his right mind and fully healed. Where are his doubts now? What is too big for Jesus now? He’s seen a miracle first hand. Jesus knew he had doubt in his heart but his belief still came to the surface and Jesus wasn’t going to push this man or his son away. It’s grace. Pure grace and none of us deserve it.
I’m glad that God doesn’t look down upon us in the same way many of us might judge ourselves or one another. He doesn’t say “Well Derek’s heart is about 45% belief and 55% unbelief so I’m not going to be able to help him out this time.” Haha. No, that’s not our Lord. He looks at us and say’s “If you have faith even as small as a mustard seed, the mountain can be moved. I’m looking for a willing heart to step out and believe even when it doesn’t make sense.”
God never wastes an opportunity and I believe we face these fragile moments of faith vs. fear on a daily basis. It might be a small thing like asking God just to guide a difficult conversation you are preparing for. Or it could be a devastating diagnosis in which the outcome looks bleak. Each situation requires moving past our doubt and into a place of trust for what God is doing. Hear me out; I’m not saying we ignore our doubt or pretend it doesn’t exist. But “faith is the evidence of things unseen” and the faith we take into each situation is a reliance upon an unseen but all-powerful Lord and Savior.
Let’s take this message into 2019 believing God is truly capable of all things.
“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”
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