Please Help Faithless Me!

July 18, 2010
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Mark 9:14-29

What A Faithless Age!

1. Today's gospel reading is the story of when Jesus took three men, Peter, James and John, and [then later] descended the mountain with them. (Please read the first half of chapter nine for what was on the mountain.) When they descended the mountain, the disciples were surrounded by a great crowd and were debating with the scribes of the law. Weren't they? Then Jesus asked them, "What were you debating about?"

2. Since they were debating, he asked them about the topic. Was that all [Jesus was wondering about]? No, it wasn't [just] that. Jesus must have felt that their debating was oddly out of place. Something was strange about what was happening among them. As a matter of fact, something strange surely was happening. We can see that from the words that a man replied back to Jesus. He said, "Teacher, I have brought my son to you. This child [of mine] is possessed by a spirit and cannot say a word. When the spirit possesses [my] child, it pulls him down to the ground everywhere and anywhere without notice. In those times, [my] child foams at the mouth, grinds [his] teeth, and stiffens [his] body. I have asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not," (verses seventeen and eighteen).

3. Let me try to sketch out the scene that Jesus had seen firsthand when he descended the mountain. A man brought his son [to the disciples]. He brought a son with a sickness. The symptoms that were shown in that child were like those of "epilepsy." The father described it as "he is possessed by a spirit." Of course, he brought him because he wanted him healed. If he were possessed by spirits, then he brought him because he wanted him set free from those spirits. He said those symptoms have been showing up since [his] son was an infant. Not only the child, but the parents too must have suffered a long while. They would probably have done anything if it were for the saving of their child. But, they did not know what they should do. They did not have the power to help him. It was a very hard [situation] to suffer. Therefore, they brought him to the disciples with a desperation of clinging to the last straw.

4. However, if we go by the results, the child was not healed. He was not set free. The father was standing there with his head hung with sorrow like always. His son too was the same way. And for all that, what did the disciples do? They argued with the scribes of the law. Having given up on this family, they were engrossed in debate. Neither the disciples nor the scribes were thinking any longer about this father and son. If I may go a bit further, the crowd that had assembled there was the same way too. Now they were surrounding the debating disciples, rather than this family who were the origin of the whole thing. This is the scene that Jesus had seen for himself firsthand.

5. Something is strange. Don't you think so? Yet, this kind of thing is heard a lot. In spite of there being suffering people out there, in spite of there being people controlled by sin, in spite of there being this reality in which Satan is in control in this world, we're on the sidelines engrossed in debate. We're engrossed in arguments. We're stuck interested only in winning the argument, persuading the opponent, holding to our position. It's a story we've heard a lot.

6. Then, Jesus said with a long sigh, "What a faithless generation! Will I always be with you? Must I always have to put up with you? Please bring the child to me!," (verse nineteen). Make no mistake about it. Jesus is not sighing here about [their] "lack of compassion." He is not sighing and saying, "You guys have no practical love but [can] only debate." He says the problem [they have is their] "lack of faith." He said, "What a faithless generation!" That's what it was, it was a problem of faith. Today the message we're being given is the problem of faith. Therefore, we must give it consideration. How does Jesus describe "the lack of faith?" What exactly is this faith that Jesus requires [of us]? The conversation that ensues between Jesus and this father has been passed down to us precisely for this reason. So, let's go ahead and read the next part.

[I] Believe, Please Help Unbelieving Me!

7. "Please bring the child to me!" That's what Jesus says. Then, the people brought the sick son to Jesus. Whereupon, the child started to convulse, fell to the ground, rolled around, and spewed forth foam. The Lord asked about the child. "Since when did he get like this?" The next part of what took place between them is written as follows. "The father said, 'It's been since he was an infant. A spirit has been trying to kill my son and has thrown him into fire and into water on so many occasions. If you can, have mercy on us and please help us.' Jesus said, 'Are you saying, If possible? Anything is possible to the one who believes.' The father of the child shouted immediately, 'I believe. Please help unbelieving me!," (verse twenty-three).

8. "Are you saying, 'If possible?'" That's what the Lord says. He is not finding fault with the father. He is saying, "Believe! Have the faith!" Jesus totally understood this wasn't a situation where [this guy's] saying "If you can" meant "Take your time about it; no rush," because the son right in front of their eyes was spewing forth foam and thrashing all over. The reality in which this man could not do one single thing on his own was in fact right there in front of their eyes, and since he himself was powerless, it is not a matter of whether he is saying, "I believe," or "I can't believe." I have no other choice but to believe Jesus. [The] only [thing I can do is] believe God's mercy and power as he reveals them in Jesus. [All I can do] is but believe and trust in God.

9. Did you catch what the father said to Jesus? It is not a matter of whether one says, "I believe," or "I can't believe." It is not a matter of saying, "Is it possible?," or "Is it impossible?" He says, "[All I can do] is believe." No matter how impossible it is to believe, believing is all I got. Therefore, the father shouted, "I believe. Please help unbelieving me!" In a certain sense it is an illogical statement. But, he had no other choice but to say that. Since it is nearly impossible to believe, I have no choice but to have you help [me]. That's how it was, he, even before the son, was the one who must get the help. It was him having the hard time believing. Before he beseeches God for his son, he himself is in need of help.

10. It is not just the father. To be truthful, the disciples are the same way. The suffering son had been brought [to them]. They could not set the son free. Their own powerlessness became apparent. When their powerlessness became plain to them, it was not an occasion for them to argue with the scribes of the law. It was not an occasion for them to speak to others about what they could or could not do. They had no choice but to seek God to work, to believe in God's control, and to turn over their powerless selves to God. As a result, all they could do is ask from God, like that father did, and say, "We believe. Please help unbelieving us!" That's how they should have been from the start. Therefore, in the concluding part to this passage, Jesus says, "You can never expel this type of thing except by prayer."

Except By Prayer

11. Please recall at this point the story of the time when the disciples were sent to preach. Jesus sent the disciples in teams of two into the villages. On that occasion, the Lord sent the disciples out with nothing. But the circumstances at that time is recorded as follows. "The twelve went out and preached in order to bring about repentance. And they expelled many evil spirits and healed many sick persons by anointing them with oil, " (6:12-13). Furthermore, in verse thirty of the same chapter, it is written that "So then, the apostles assembled before Jesus, and gave him a report of everything they did and taught, not leaving out anything." They came back triumphantly in high and exalted spirits, and gave him a report of their results with a triumphant air. [Can you not] visualize them doing that?

12. The text in the Bible puts it this way, "They gave [Jesus] a report of everything they did," but actually, the disciples did not truly do it [themselves]. God did it. The disciples went out bringing nothing with them and the disciples only believed God, but through them God showed forth his power. The disciples surely understood that these things were not done by their own power and strength.

13. But, we can easily imagine how their hearts had changed. They were most certainly thankful, that the people were healed, that the people were set free, as well as for their families. What happens when this kind of thing is repeated? Won't it inevitably result in thoughts of "[Look at what] I did for your sake?" As if they were my own achievements. While they were acting that way, the focus of attention shifted gradually onto themselves. While proclaiming the kingdom of God, their thoughts started to not be on the rule of God. While proclaiming "Believe God!," it began to happen that they would not be turned towards God, but only looking at themselves. Furthermore, when they were not turned towards God but only looking at themselves, they started to worry about how other people were looking at them. I'm sure it went something like that. Eventually, they were always thinking about themselves, the people around them, humankind, "me, myself, and I." It came to pass that while speaking of what faith was, they would only think of their side of things.

14. That was how the disciples turned out to be. It is also clear from the passage I read to you today. So, ignoring the suffering parent and child, [the disciples] wound up engrossed in arguing. -- Because when their eyes were on themselves and nobody else, then their not being able to heal [people] was a big issue. Because how people saw the truth of them was a big issue. Because, furthermore, how they would be judged by the scribes of the law was a big issue. Of course, how they were regarded by their own selves also was a big issue. Because their self-confidence so far as disciples might crumble. So, they were desperate to make excuses. They could only do their best not to lose their self-confidence. It was an argument to that end. But, not one single part of it, none of it [could] be attributed to them, [could] it?

15. The important thing with respect to the son bound by the evil spirit and also with respect to the father suffering because of it is this matter of "What will God do?" For that very reason then, [they] should have believed and [they] should have asked in faith. [They] should have asked in earnest for God's working by believing in God's rule, turning all that they are over to God, and turning their powerless selves over to God. Isn't that what prayer is? Therefore, Jesus said to the disciples, "except by prayer," "unless it comes by prayer", "unless it is based on prayer."

16. Jesus said, "What a faithless age!" Jesus is not looking for us to start puffing up with pride saying, we "believe perfectly." He isn't; rather [he is looking for us] to change where our eyes look, which is at just me, myself, and I, and to start turning our eyes on God's rule, on the kingdom of God, to which Jesus pointed. We [should] admit our powerlessness, admit [our] weaknesses, and admit [our] tattered state, and from there we [should] become persons who look up to God in earnest. We [should] admit that we must have him save us, indeed, at times, we [should] honestly admit we aren't even able to believe the God who saves us, and we [should] become persons who seek the Lord's mercy in earnest. May we be like that father, who shouted, "I believe. Please help unbelieving me!"