Text: Mark 9:14-29
Dear saints in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
How strong is your faith? Do you think of yourself as a person with strong faith or do you struggle with faith? Your answer to that question might change on a daily or hourly basis. How strong, would you say, is your faith today, right now?
On a pretty regular basis I hear people say things to me like, “Don’t worry about me, Pastor, my faith is strong…” or, on the other hand, “You know, Pastor, my faith doesn’t feel so strong right now…” Everyone goes through times in life where they might fall into either one of those extremes. Most of the time, I imagine, we are somewhere in between the two. Whichever part of that you fall into, however, wherever you would put yourself on the spectrum of faith and strength, our gospel reading today has something to say to you: the strength of your faith does not matter.
In our gospel reading today a man brings his son to Jesus hoping that Jesus might heal him. The boy has a demon, an unclean spirit, which makes him unable to speak. This spirit also seizes him, throws him to the ground, causes him to foam and the mouth and become rigid, and even throws the boy into fire and water seeking to destroy him. All this, the father explains, has been going on since the boy was just a little child. I can only imagine the distress, anxiety, turmoil, and stress that this father and the rest of the family have been through because of this boy’s condition. On this day, however, there is reason for hope. Jesus is near.
When they left their home that morning to come find Jesus the man’s faith was probably as strong as it could possibly be. He was confident that a single word from Jesus would be enough to rid his son of this evil spirit forever. Their ordeal would soon be over. Salvation had come. Brimming with this confidence and filled with this hope they make their way to find Jesus.
When they get to where Jesus was supposed to be, however, they run into a problem. Jesus isn’t there. Jesus had gone up the mountain with three of his disciples, Peter, James, and John, and had been transfigured before them. Up there on the mountain Jesus revealed His glory to His three closes disciples, Peter, James, and John. When the man and his son arrived, then, Jesus was not there.
The man is undeterred, however. He is still confident, filled with hope, and strong in faith. Jesus may not be there personally, but 9 of His disciples were there and that was enough for him. Peter, James, and John were up on the mountain with Jesus, but the others weren’t. All 12 of Jesus’ disciples had been commissioned and sent out by Jesus to preach and cast out demons. They had all dealt with things like this before and had actually been rather successful in doing it. The man was confident that they would be able to heal and save His boy.
But then another problem popped up. One by one the 9 disciples who had not gone up the mountain tried to cast the demon out of the boy. One by one they all failed. Try as they might the boy remained mute and was still afflicted with an evil spirit. Up to this point the man had been confident that his boy would be saved, but now the doubts started to creep in. “They are not strong enough,” the man thinks to himself, “the evil spirit is too powerful. Perhaps even Jesus can’t save my boy.”
Crowds had gathered around by now and the news of the disciples’ failure spread through the crowd like wildfire. The scribes from Jerusalem, who would do anything to discredit Jesus and His teaching, were there too and they were thrilled to see that the disciples were unable to help the boy. The man, hearing the crowds murmur about what had just happened and hearing the scribes crow about Jesus wasn’t everything that the people thought He was, feels his faith and hope slip away second by second, moment by moment. He feels like a fool for trusting Jesus.
That’s when Jesus showed up. Jesus walks right into the middle of the crowd and takes command of the situation. “What are you arguing about?” He asks. Then, from the midst of the crowd, the man who brought his boy to be healed speaks up, he explains the situation and tells Jesus that the disciples were too weak to cast the demon out of his boy. “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us,” he says.
Notice here how far the man’s faith seems to have fallen. He’s not so sure anymore that Jesus can help. He’s not brimming with the confidence he had when the set out from home earlier that day. He’s not holding out hope that anything can be done for his boy. “If,” he says, “you can do anything have compassion on us and help us.”
Jesus responds, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.”
Those are beautiful words, “All things are possible for one who believes.” What reassurance those words gives us, what hope! But for this man who brought his boy to Jesus so that he might be healed and is now filled with the doubt brought on by the disciples’ failure these words lay everything on the line and he has to ask himself, “Do I even believe?” He once believed, but now it doesn’t seem so clear. He cries out, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
Now, that doesn’t sound like strong faith, does it? If anything that is the definition of weak faith. It hardly seems like faith at all, actually. He says that he believes, but in the very next breath confesses that he does not believe.
But look at what Jesus does. Jesus does not proceed to lecture the man about his faith that seems weak or even non-existent. He does not explain to everyone there that they really ought to trust him more. He doesn’t chide or scold the man for struggling in faith. Jesus, having heard the man’s seemingly weak and conflicted confession of faith, steps in to heal and save. He turns His attention to that poor boy who has been afflicted so terribly for so many years and says to that unclean spirit that has been afflicting him, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” With that the spirit came out. Jesus took the boy by the hand, picked up him from the ground, and returned him to his weak in faith, doubting, questioning, and uncertain father. Remarkable.
That is the whole point of this story and that is what you and I are meant to take out of this today. The strength of our faith does not matter. Having strong faith does not save you. Having weak faith, faith that struggles to believe, does not condemn you. Faith in Jesus, whether it is strong or weak, is what matters. Faith in Jesus, whether it is strong or weak, is what saves. In other words, it is the object of our faith, the thing our faith believes in, trusts in, and clings to, that matters, not our faith itself or the strength of that faith.
Having “strong faith” means nothing. I can have strong faith that my football team, the Edmonton Eskimos, is going to win the Grey Cup this year. I can have strong faith and believe that with all my heart. But unless the team that I am believing in figures out how to play better, stops losing games they should win, and beats all the other teams that would also like to win the Grey Cup this year my faith is meaningless. Believing in something doesn’t make it so.
That is the difference between our faith and the object of our faith. Faith itself, simply believing in something, does not accomplish anything. The object of our faith, the thing that we believe in, is what makes the difference.
Even though he was conflicted and filled with doubts this man who brought his son to Jesus still, by the grace of God, trusted in Him. That trust, that faith, was shaky at best and had been reduced to a fraction of its former self, but it was trust and faith that believed and trusted in the right thing, the right one, Jesus, the Son of God in human flesh, who had the power to heal and save.
Our faith can be just as shaky, just as weak as that man’s faith was. Events transpire in our lives sometimes leaving the same doubts and concerns in our hearts and minds too. But the object of our faith, the thing that our faith clings to, is not its own strength, but Jesus Christ the crucified and risen Son of God who has the power to heal and save. Our faith clings, even in the midst of doubt, to Jesus who died for us. Our faith clings, even when conflicted, to Jesus who rose from the dead for us. Our faith clings, even when guilt plagues our conscience to the point that we think that God could not possibly love us anymore, to Jesus who takes away our sin. Our faith clings, even when everything around us seems to suggest that we should give up hope, to Jesus who has promised us life in His Kingdom. He is the object of our faith.
So how strong is your faith?
If your faith feels strong rejoice, be glad, and give thanks to God because He has given you faith to trust in His Son. What a blessing! But also know that the strength of your faith won’t save you, only Jesus will save you.
In the same way, if your faith feels weak rejoice, be glad, and give thanks to God because He has given you faith to trust in His Son. This faith, weak though it may be, saves as it clings to Jesus, the Son of God who died and rose for us. In Jesus name, Amen.