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The Faith That Saves

September 16, 2018
By Rev. David French


The words that explain who the “they” in our lesson are begin: And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them (Mark 9:2–3). That means that Jesus, along with Peter, James, and John, were just getting back from their time on the Mt. of Transfiguration as our lesson begins. The disciples at the foot of the mountain were the nine apostles who didn’t go with Jesus and were waiting for Him and the others to return. It was while they were waiting that a father brought his son who was being tormented by an evil spirit looking for Jesus to do what He had done for so many others, that is, cast it out.

Now, if a father came to you with that request, you’d no doubt be more than a little confused, perhaps even dumbstruck. On the other hand, these particular disciples should have been able to help this father and his son. The difference as we read in Mark 3 is Jesus had appointed the twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons (Mark 3:14–15).  Jesus has not given you or me that authority, at least not in the same measure He gave it to them. And yet, even though the nine had this authority, they still were unable to help the boy.

There were also spies, if you will, who were waiting for Jesus to show up. You see, by this time in His ministry, the Pharisees and Scribes always had a few of their people keeping an eye on Jesus. When the disciples failed to drive the demon out of the boy, a few of those spies began to argue with the disciples, and that’s when Jesus, Peter, James, and John show up. Jesus asked what the problem was and the father answers, Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able (Mark 9:17–18).

Jesus makes His disappointment with His apostles very clear: "O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me” (Mark 9:19). The problem is, Jesus had given them all they needed to help this boy, but they didn’t trust His promise.

When they brought the boy to Jesus, the demon’s response reminds us that every demon knows who Jesus is. When the evil spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. Why? The demon knew, and in a strange way, had faith in Jesus; faith that Jesus was the One who would bring about his eternal punishment.

The father also had a kind of faith. It’s the kind that shows itself when we think, “I’ve tried everything else, I might as well try Jesus.” Remember his words, "… But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us” (Mark 9:22). The father had enough faith to bring his son to Jesus, but it was the faith of desperation, not of hope or confidence.

Jesus’s rebuke of the boy’s father is gentler than that of His disciples, but it is still a rebuke as He says, "If you can! All things are possible for one who believes” (Mark 9:23). This father had believed in the past, and everything he had believed in before had failed. He seems to be preparing himself for the inevitable disappointment once again.

The lack of faith seen in the disciples and the father represent the two possibilities for the faith that comes by human power. The disciples had faith in past success. The father had faith in past failures. The disciples had driven out demons in the past, but now they couldn’t. Like many who have had success, they begin to believe that success is the result of their own skill and ability. The disciples had begun to rely on what they think is their own power instead of power of God’s Word and promise. Like many who experience God’s blessing, with time they began to forget about the giver of the blessing. The father had, in the past, found no one was able to heal his son. When he asked for help, the disappointments of the past came through. He said, “But if you can do anything ….” The world had disappointed him so many times that he expected disappointment once again.

The struggles that the disciples and the father had with faith remind us that the war with satan, the world, and our own flesh never ends. Alone or together they work to convince us that we are responsible for our faith … that our relationship with Jesus depends on us. A lie which Paul says, "… itching ears want to hear."

The idea that any part of salvation, including our faith, depends on us usually produces one of two reactions … self-deception or despair. Despair asks questions like: “Is my faith really strong enough?” or “Do I even really believe?” Self-deception, on the other hand, simply refuses to think about all these problems and is content to go merrily along in ignorance.

The truth is, if our faith really did depend on us, we would never have faith. As Paul reminds us in Ephesians 2, we were dead in our trespasses and sins. And dead people don’t do anything including working faith in our hearts. To the Romans, Paul wrote, The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God …. And so, not only is it impossible for anyone to produce faith within themselves, but the person without faith is hostile to God, and that’s true whether we know it or not.

The only way out of this is for the Holy Spirit to put our old sinful nature to death. When Jesus drove the unclean spirit out of the boy, He said, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose” (Mark 9:25–27). The corpse-like appearance of the boy reminds us that the Old Adam within us must die. Then, just as Jesus took the boy by the hand and raised him, so the Holy Spirit brings forth new life within us.

The faith that the Holy Spirit creates is saving faith in Jesus alone … the same Jesus who drove the demon from the boy in today’s reading. Just as Jesus was the only solution for the demon-possessed boy, so also Jesus is the only solution for you and me. Jesus doesn’t ask us to pay the debt for sin that we owe. Instead, He pays the price for us. Jesus alone overcame sin with His suffering and death and then conquered death by rising from the grave, and since that day, Jesus has freely offered the cure for sin to all mankind through His Word and Sacraments.

That brings us to the post rebuke prayer of the father: I believe; help my unbelief! (Mark 9:24) When Christians pray this prayer, we confess that our faith is weak and we can do nothing to maintain it, let alone strengthen it. We are crying out to God in helplessness and begging Him to keep us in the one, true faith until He comes to take us home to be with Him in heaven forever.

You see, it is the work of the Holy Spirit to create in us saving faith, the faith that holds to or trusts God’s grace alone, the faith that holds to or trusts in the One who alone is the way, the truth, and the life.

The faith that comes from within us will fail. The faith that comes from the world will fail. It is through the faith that comes from God the Holy Spirit alone that we receive freely from our Heavenly Father: forgiveness, life, and the fullness of our salvation, all because of the life and death of Jesus, His only begotten Son and our only Savior for sin.

In His Name, Amen

Tags: Mark 9:14-29