Archive for the ‘Psalm 116:1-9’ Category

Help For Our Unbelief!

Sunday, September 13th, 2009

15th Sunday after Pentecost, September 13, 2009
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA 
Click here for audio of this message

Our text this morning is the 24th verse of our Gospel lesson.  “Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” [Mark 9:14-29]

Introduction: The Christian life is “a land of hills and valleys” isn’t it?  In one day, we can move from the glory of heaven to the attacks of hell. In our gospel lesson this morning, we join our Lord returning from the Mt. of Transfiguration, where 3 of the apostle were allowed to see Jesus in His heavenly glory; a glory that would once again be His forever as He began His painful walk to the cross—a cross where He would once and for all free us from sin, death, and the devil.  He would do this through His own death.  When they came down off the mountain and joined the other nine disciples, Jesus found them involved in a dual problem: they were unable to deliver a boy from demonic control, and the scribes were debating with them and perhaps even taunting them because of their failure, and the demon was doing its best to destroy him.  As always, it was Jesus who stepped in to solve the problem.

What happened?  What went wrong?  Jesus had given all of His disciples authority to cast out demons [Mark 6:7, 13], and yet their ministry to the boy was a failure. Well, there was no time to dwell on their failure because the desperate father was now begging Jesus to help.  Wouldn’t you if that was your child?  But that poor father was not even sure that Jesus could succeed; after all His disciples had failed.  That’s why he said, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us.” [Mark 9:22] But something interesting is learned here, the father was honest enough to admit that he was having trouble believing in Jesus, and he asked the Lord to help him believe.  

The main lesson of this miracle is that faith in Jesus alone gives us the power to overcome worry and the fear of sin, death, and the devil. Why had the nine disciples failed? Because they were afraid and worried.  Why was the father successful in seeing his son healed by Jesus?  Because he was afraid and worried.  Both are examples of how worry and fear can either have a negative or a positive effect on our faith. 

 I. The nine apostles were worried because things weren’t working out the way Jesus had said they would.  He said that He gave them the authority to drive out demons, “It worked before when He sent us out,” they must have said, why isn’t it working now?  Oh where is Jesus?  Why did he have to leave us alone like this?  What if He doesn’t come back soon?  Well if he doesn’t it won’t be our fault, after all, we’ve tried everything!”  Worry and panic began to take over.  But that wasn’t all; that demon was starting to get nasty with them, and to top it all off, those hypocrites called “the scribes” saw the whole thing and now they were ridiculing them.  OK, now their worry was giving way to fear.  “What if we actually did harm to the boy by angering the demon?  Look at the way that demon is throwing him around—Oh where is Jesus?  Somebody do something…!”  And to this, the devil sneers and taunts them saying, “Where’s your pride now?  Where’s your pride now?”

Help was so close.  Jesus had taught them that with the faith the size of a mustard seed they could call out to God and if it was according to the Father’s will they could order a mountain to fall into the sea and it would! [Matt. 17:20]    Yet because of their fear and worry, they forgot that help was just a prayer away. 

 Have you been there before?  So sure of yourself; so certain that you had everything under control and then– “BAMB”… everything falls apart?  What the nine apostles forgot, and what we so very often forget, St. James gladly reminds us of in our epistle reading: “We all stumble in many ways.  And if anyone does not stumble in what he says (or in what he does), he is a perfect man…”  Oh how easily because of our pride, we forget that everything we have, all of our talents, all of our gifts, and all of our finances are just a gift from God—every second of our lives are being guided by His loving hand.  And when things stop going the way we think they should go, when we’re done coasting downhill and seem to be stuck in the dark valley, we seem to always demand, “Where is God?  Why isn’t He here helping me?”

 Friends, what do you do when you’re smack dab in the middle of a crisis?  Well let me tell you what Jesus expects you to do.  Stop, remember God’s gospel promise that He will never leave you, take a deep breath, relax, and then pray.  That’s what the disciple forgot to do, and so many times when tragedy strikes, that is also what we forget to do.  Why is that important?  Because prayer invites God into your dilemma and your small faith says, “Here Lord, take over.  I’m tired and ready to give up.  If you want this done please work through me and do it.”  The father of the boy told Jesus that His disciples didn’t have the strength to drive the demon out.  They did not have the strength because they didn’t ask for it.  So remember, stop and pray for God’s strength!

 II. What the disciples forgot, the father of the demon possessed boy remembered.  “Teacher, I’ve brought my son to you.”  Faith in Christ is compelled to bring its dilemmas and tragedies to Christ.  And when by faith we bring these things to our Lord, He asks us, “Do you believe I can help you?  Do you believe I will help you?  Remember, all things are possible for one who believes.”  And then, little faith, small almost unobservable faith calls out in the same anguish as that father had for his only son, “I believe Lord; help my unbelief!  Teach me to believe….teach me to trust you.   You Lord Jesus Christ are my only source of hope!”

 In these words friends, we hear pain; we hear worry and fear, but we also hear a confession.  “Forgive me for my unbelief O Lord, and help me to believe!”  Dear baptized friends, that is your confession—your confession when you know you should believe; you know you should believe, because of the many promises God has given you, you know you must believe, but for some reason your faith is very small, you are afraid, and you find it hard to believe.  Your privilege friend, as a baptized child of God, is that you can call out to Him and confess all of your sins, including the sin of doubt and then know with a great certainty that He has heard your prayer.  He wants you to know that not only does He forgive your doubt, but for the sake of your Savior Jesus Christ, He also gives you what you are asking for because He loves you and because what you are asking for is in keeping with His will.  Friends, God wants you to believe unto eternal life!

III. But what if you pray and pray; what if you are always confessing your many sins and you don’t feel peace—you don’t feel comforted?  What if you still feel fear and worry?  Did you do something wrong?  Does that mean that God isn’t listening to you?  No!!  Dear friends, faith—your faith is not based on how you feel, but on Jesus’ real presence in your life.  Just because one person feels peace and another still feels fear doesn’t mean that God is closer to one and farther from another.  God stands by all of His children…He stands by you!  Listen friends, since faith is so important and vital to our spiritual well being don’t think for a moment that God wants you to remain captivated by your fear.  Don’t try to talk yourself out of your emotions, instead confess them to Him and then rest in His presence in your life.  It is the God of peace that will comfort you.  How?  By helping you to trust in His work in you!  Friends, through His Holy Spirit, God is moving your heart to turn away from your sin—to turn away from your lack of faith and turn to Him.  He wants you to turn away from your sinful lack of trust in His presence in your life and look to Jesus Christ, the lamb who takes away the sin of the world—even the sin of doubt and fear; then you will find big faith friends…very big faith!

 But pastor, you said last week that even small personal faith is saving faith?  Yes, that’s right, but don’t be happy with only small faith, instead let the Lord grow your faith.  Your faith will grow every day as you learn to rest in His love and then trust in His presence.  You will need that big faith friends, because when you least expect it, the devil will attack your heart and try to take away that little faith.  When will this attack happen?  I can’t answer that for you, but I do know this, sooner or later we will all have our faith tested.  For sure, when it comes time for you to face your own death, or the death of a loved one, your faith will be tested!  It is at this time that you must already be trained to turn your eyes to God, because that is where we will all end our walk of faith.  This is the narrow gate, the straight path that our Lord taught us about. [Matt. 7:14]  God desires for all of us to joyfully walk down this path and excitedly enter through that narrow gate.

 This narrow passage of death is very similar to the physical birth of a child; like Jesus said, “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.” [Jn. 16:21]  And that is how it will be in our death and the death of a loved one who dies in Christ.  We know that in dying we must bear with great fear and worry in order to reach our very big mansion in heaven.  And that is the job of faith, to help you overcome your fear and worry by trusting in our Lord’s promise of joy and love that awaits you!

 CONCLUSON: How do you prepare for this journey?  By staying in God’s Word; by allowing the Holy Spirit to give you a hunger to read and hear it as often as possible.  You prepare for this journey by daily confessing your sins and knowing for certain that because of your baptism the sweet Words of absolution are really intended for you.  You prepare for this journey by feeding your hunger to know God’s love and forgiveness through the eating and drinking of His holy and true body and blood.  Receive all of these by faith and know beyond doubt that He truly is giving you not just the forgiveness of your many sins, but a new life… an eternal life of joy and peace.

 Dear friends, though our faith is weak, let us pray with great passion along with the apostles, “Lord increase our faith” and let us pray with the child’s father, “Lord I believe; help my unbelief!”  In Jesus name…AMEN!