Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 19B)
September 12, 2021
Text: Mark 9:14-29
Beloved in the Lord, do you have enough faith? Jesus says, “All things are possible for one who believes” (Mark 9:23; ESV). Oh, really?! Then why is it that so often life seems impossible? Why won’t the cancer go away? Why is my marriage in trouble? Why won’t the kids behave? Why did I lose my job? Why did God take my loved one away from me in death? Why do I still have to die? Why is it that my faith CANNOT move a molehill, much less a mountain? All things are possible for the one who believes? What can this possibly mean?
It’s easy to fall into this line of thinking. And when we do, we inevitably begin to ask ourselves the question, “Do I have enough faith?” What is so sinister about this question is the logic behind it. If my cancer isn’t cured, if my marriage falls apart, if I don’t have a job, if my loved one dies, it must be because I don’t have enough faith. Or maybe I don’t believe at all. Many are the false prophets who would burden you with this false law preaching that says when things go badly with you, it’s because you either don’t have faith, or you don’t have enough faith. If you believed enough, these false teachers maintain, you would have perfect health, significant wealth, and you would live in prosperity. This is the “name it, claim it” crowd, or the “Word-Faith Movement” as it is called, represented by televangelists like Kenneth Copeland, Joyce Meyer, and Joel Osteen. This is the theology represented in the Prayer of Jabez book that was so popular a few years back. But it’s false doctrine, beloved. It’s a lie. Don’t believe it. Don’t give in to it. The devil loves it when he can convince us that God is punishing us and we cannot enjoy His blessings or salvation because we don’t have enough faith.
Of course, you don’t have enough faith. If you want to quantify faith, nobody has enough of it. It’s impossible. Only Jesus has enough faith. We fallen humans always need more, always need our faith to be strengthened. We always have our doubts. We’re always afraid God can’t handle what ails us. We’re always searching for something else that can solve our problems. We always find ourselves fearing, loving, and trusting things and people that are not God because we can see them, touch them, grab onto them. And these things and these people, which are concrete to us, become our idols. Money becomes an idol. Possessions become idols. Politicians become idols. Our spouse or our child or our parent becomes an idol. Good gifts of God become idols because we think we can trust them more than we can trust God. We too often think of God as an abstraction. We think we have to see to believe.
This is true even of Christians who have comparatively strong faith. That is why the prayer of the man in our text, the father of the demon possessed boy, must become our prayer as well: “I believe; help my unbelief!” (v. 24). It is both a confession of sin and a confession of faith. It is a confession of sin in that it admits the deficiency of our faith in this respect: It is never strong enough. We always struggle with doubt as long as we live in this fallen world. We’re always afraid our problem, whatever it happens to be at the moment, is something that God, something that Jesus, cannot handle. “If you can do anything…” we pray along with the anxious father in our text. “If you can…” We doubt. All things are not possible for us. But all things are possible with Jesus. Where our faith is weak and lacking, Jesus’ faith is perfect, strong, as strong as it is possible for faith to be. Of course He can! He’s Jesus! He’s God in the flesh! And He wants to help. He wants to help the demon-possessed boy and He wants to help you in all your sorrows and struggles and temptations, in your sin and in your death. “I believe; help my unbelief.”
But this is also a confession of faith. Help my unbelief, yes, but you wouldn’t even make such a request if you didn’t believe at all. I believe. It’s just that my faith needs to grow. Even when the father in our text says, “If you can,” he’s still making a request of Jesus that takes faith. He wouldn’t even have asked, wouldn’t even have approached the disciples in the first place if He didn’t think Jesus could help. The “If you can” part betrays his doubt. But the request itself is a confession of faith. Jesus helps the man in our text move from an attitude of “If anybody can help, Jesus can,” to a faith that confesses, “Jesus CAN help, and He will, in His own way, in His own time.” As it happens in our text, the time is now and the way is Jesus’ authoritative Word. In a demonstration of His divine authority over all things (even demons!), Jesus commands the demon to come out of the boy and not to return to him again. The demon convulses the poor boy and comes out. And then there is a death and resurrection of sorts. The boy is lying motionless, like a corpse on the ground. But Jesus, the Lord of life, who on the third day would rise again in His own glorious body, takes the boy’s hand and raises Him up.
What a gracious Savior we have. How compassionate. He really does care about us. He who is very God of very God came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary. He descended into our mess of a world, our mess of a life, into our problems, into our sin, into our death. He became a man for us men and for our salvation. He who is very God did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking on the form of a servant, taking on our flesh, humbling Himself even to the point of death on a cross, our death, the death we deserve in punishment for our sin. And in so doing He delivers us from the main problem, the worst problem, the problem that is sin. This is the problem that rots us to our very core. This is the disease that kills us. It results in death every time. Jesus conquers it in His death. The cross means forgiveness for us. So great is our Savior’s compassion, so great is His love for you and for me that He willingly sheds His blood in order to snatch us out of the jaws of hell. And here’s the real kicker. He is risen! He is risen, just as He said! Death could not hold Him. He is victorious. His redemption worked. We’re saved. And if that’s true (and it is!), how can we doubt that He is able and wants to save us from the rest of our infirmities? “If you can…” we say to Jesus. “All things are possible for one who believes,” He responds. “Just watch what I’m about to do. I forgive your sins. If I can forgive your sins, which only God can do, surely I can make everything else right again.”
“Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” We must keep coming back to this prayer because our faith is weak. And the hard part is that even though Jesus promises that He is making all things new, even though He is willing and able to help you in your afflictions, He does it His way and in His time, not your way or in your time. You have to bear the cross in this life. You have to suffer in this life. You have to bear sadness. You have to be ill. You have to suffer broken relationships. These things come to you now, for a little while, to crucify your flesh, lead you away from your idols, and drive you to Christ alone for mercy. The cross has this way of making evident the fact that your faith is weak, weaker perhaps than you thought. It has this way of driving you again and again to the prayer: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.”
Some Christians have stronger faith and some have weaker faith. And at one time or another, your own faith may be stronger or weaker. We all need a stronger faith. We all need to grow in the faith. But here’s what really matters: God has given us faith in the first place, faith in Jesus Christ, trust in His sin-atoning death and victorious resurrection, that there is forgiveness of sins in His blood. Faith is God’s gift to us. And whether you have more or less of it, you have it, and it receives. It receives God’s gifts. It receives Christ. Faith is the receiving hands of the believer in Christ Jesus. Christ doles out Himself in His gifts. Faith appropriates those gifts for the Christian. You do not have enough faith. You never do in this fallen world. But the faith God has given you is sufficient. It is sufficient to receive Christ. For all that really matters, is Christ. You should always give thanks to God that for the sake of Christ, the Holy Spirit has brought you to faith through the Gospel and continues to sustain you in that faith, through all its highs and lows, by means of the same Gospel.
And what about when you particularly struggle with a weak faith? Immerse yourself in that same Gospel. Come to Church to be absolved of your sins. Private confession and absolution is a great way to do this. Hear the Word. Read and study it. Mark it, learn it, inwardly digest it. Trace the sign of the holy cross upon yourself and remember that you are baptized. And do as our Confessions say. Come to the Supper of Christ’s true body and blood. The Supper is precisely for the weak in faith. I’ll let the Confessions have the last word:
"Some Christians have a weak faith and are shy, troubled, and heartily terrified because of the great number of their sins. They think that in their great impurity they are not worthy of this precious treasure [of the Lord’s Supper] and Christ’s benefits. They feel their weakness of faith and lament it, and from their hearts desire that they may serve God with stronger, more joyful faith and pure obedience. These are the truly worthy guests for whom this highly venerable Sacrament has been especially instituted and appointed… Worthiness does not depend on the greatness or smallness, the weakness or strength of faith. Instead, it depends on Christ’s merit, which the distressed father of little faith [Mark 9:24] enjoyed as well as Abraham, Paul, and others who have a joyful and strong faith."
“Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” “I am able,” says Jesus. “Take, eat, this is my body. Take, drink, this is my blood. It is given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.” In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 FC SD VII:69, 71 (McCain, pp. 573-74).