A Prayer Prompted by Mark 9:23-24

The interaction between Jesus and the father of a demonized boy is highly instructional.  

23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” 

Heavenly Father,

We know that you are all-powerful and all-good.  You deserve every bit of faith and trust that we can give.  Sadly, however, that faith and trust is still sometimes sorely lacking.  We believe and yet we don’t.  We trust you, but not completely.  We have faith, sort of, but it wavers almost uncontrollably.

We believe, Lord; help our unbelief!  If the faith we have is no more than a mustard seed, please respond by moving the mountains that we face.  It may look as if our chances and hopes are dismal, but they are no worse than the hopes of this father with the demonized son.  Our challenges are no greater than those of the disciples on the Saturday after Good Friday when your body, Jesus, was still in the tomb.

Please act, Lord!  Please hear our prayer!  Please pull us up from the depths of our unbelief, doubt and despair, and teach us to trust more fully in you.

It is in your name we pray,

Amen.

(Un)Belief – Mark 9:23-24

Jesus has just come down from the Mount of Transfiguration with three of his disciples.  Now he finds the other nine stuck in a situation for which they can do nothing helpful.  It seems a father has brought his son to Christ’s disciples.  The symptoms the boy exhibits are similar to epilepsy, but are actually caused by a demon,  When the father asks Jesus if perhaps he can help, the following interaction ensues.

23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” 

Isn’t this where we so often find ourselves?  We believe Jesus has the ability.  We pray to God, knowing he is all-powerful and all-good.  And still we doubt.  Our faith falls short.  We lack something in the area of true belief.

Eckhard Schnabel, in his Tyndale NT Commentary on Mark, describes the man, “He acknowledges his lack of faith, which is not an unwillingness to commit to Jesus’ power but an inability to believe in the face of immense odds, given that the nine disciples were unable to heal the boy.”

The reassuring thing is that this admission on the part of the father, “I believe; help my unbelief!” turns out to be enough of an expression of faith that Jesus heals the son.  The demon doesn’t come out without a fight, but it is a fight that Jesus cannot help but win.

We need to be willing to express our faith in Christ and the lack thereof.  Our belief and unbelief which somehow coexist in our torn and divided hearts.  It is not a rejection of Jesus so much as a wavering acceptance with a desire for the waves to calm down.  The doubts of the saint and those of the skeptic are of a different species entirely.

We believe Lord, help our unbelief!  And help he will.

 

Familiarity – Mark 6:1-3

Everyone in Nazareth knew Jesus.  The town wasn’t that big and Jesus had lived there most of his life.  When he came home and taught in the synagogue, the response might have been positive.  I’m the sort that loves it when guys from my hometown of Buffalo, NY, or my current home of Indianapolis make it big in one way or another.  Imagine if one of your local boys turned out to be the Messiah!?  It doesn’t get any bigger than that.

Alas, that was not the case.

Then He went out from there and came to His own country, and His disciples followed Him. And when the Sabbath had come, He began to teach in the synagogue. And many hearing Him were astonished, saying, “Where did this Man get these things? And what wisdom is this which is given to Him, that such mighty works are performed by His hands! Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?” So they were offended at Him.

Familiarity can go two ways.  They clearly knew enough about Jesus and his “mighty works” to put two and two together.  It was an informed decision.  But they also had enough information to imagine that their unbelief was justified.  “He’s just a carpenter, right?”  “And his mom, brother and sisters are just normal folks. We’ve known them forever.”  If they had anything privately against the family, say suspicion surrounding the circumstances of Jesus’s birth, or some minor scuffle with a one of the brothers, these things would not work in Christ’s favor.

They were still wrong.  Jesus was and is the Christ, the Son of God (Mark1:1).  Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12)

We can make the same mistake today.  People reject Christ due to familiarity.  They grew up in a Christian home or they know any number of Christians that they find unimpressive.  Or they pay Christ a bit of lip service while not accepting the Jesus we find in the Bible, because, well, they know a little too much, they believe.

This also happens in churches to otherwise solid believers.  It is more subtle, but the same basic thing.  The longer we know a pastor, a worship leader or the overall atmosphere of the church, we are faced with a continuous decision.  We can stay faithful for the sake of the relationships and continue to help build the ministry – or not. 

Maybe we’re kind of bored with the music.  Maybe we wish they would stress our favorite doctrinal stance a little more then they do.  Maybe we like the decor of another building or the neighborhood in which another church is located.  We can go on. 

Familiarity can increase commitment, cultivate brotherly love and build trust.  Long, old friendships are usually the best we have.  Or, we can collect evidence that something is seriously wrong.  If they did it with Jesus, we can certainly do it with other sinners saved by grace.  

 

 

Misunderstanding and Lies – Mark 3:20-35

Jesus’ family thought he was losing it.  The scribes were convinced he was evil.  Neither was right.  Jesus understood them far better than they understood him.

20 Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. 21 And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”

22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” … 28 “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” 30 for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”

31 And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. 32 And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” 33 And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”

If we are going to faithfully follow Jesus there are two accusations that we have to expect.  They were leveled at Christ and we will make easy targets for them too.  They are simply:

  1. You are crazy.  If, as Paul says, “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing” (1 Cor 1:18), then we can expect those who believe it to be looked upon as fools.  
  2. You are evil.  This is almost the oldest lie in the book, since it echoes the serpent’s slander of God, calling his motives into question in dealing with Adam and Eve.  It is an easy switch to move from slander against God to slander against Christ to slander against God’s people.  Again, we can expect it.

The beauty of all of this misunderstanding and outright falsehood is that Christ endured it first.  In our case some of the misunderstanding is justified, some of the criticism is true and, let’s face it, our motives are rarely altogether pure.  Yet even when we really are completely in the right, if we expect to be treated like Jesus, there will be those people who fail to grasp that.  Some of them will be important, like the scribes, so their criticism will feel very demeaning.  Some of them will be close, like our family, so their misunderstanding will hurt.  We can only imagine how Christ felt.

39 Books: Malachi – But What Have We Done Wrong?

39 Bks Torah Scroll WhiteMalachi – But What Have We Done Wrong?

The final writing prophet in the Old Testament delivers a scathing rebuke to people whose religion has deteriorated to mere formality..

39 Malachi.pdf               39 Malachi.mp3

Palmer St. Podcast: No Turning Back

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”    – G.K. Chesterton, in What’s Wrong with the World

The problem is not new.  People begin in the faith but don’t finish.  Today’s passage gives us the classic example.

Numbers 13-14.mp3

Numbers 13-14.pdf

Numbers 13-14.pptx