15th Pentecost Sunday
September 17, 2017
Good Shepherd Evangelical Lutheran Church
Sioux Falls, SD
Rev. Norman F. Seeger
When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.
“What are you arguing with them about?” he asked.
A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”
“You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”
So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.
Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”
“From childhood,” he answered. “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
“ ‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”
Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”
The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.
“Lord, I Believe; Help Me Overcome My Unbelief”
1) What Threatens My Faith Today?
2) What Strengthens My Faith Every Day?
Fellow believers in our Lord Jesus Christ,
‘I need help.’ Is the phrase familiar? A regular part of our daily speech? Probably not. We prefer independence, prefer to do it myself even if I should be saying, praying, ‘I need help.’ Look at your life. How often do I hesitate to ask assistance because I am too proud to admit I cannot carry a recliner up out of our basement by myself? Too proud to admit I cannot complete my math homework without someone a little smarter or more experienced walking me through steps a teacher taught us one more time? Like stereotypically lost men refusing to ask for directions, where am I slow to ask for help even if I know I need more physical strength; need better mental understanding of a situation to effectively tackle whatever task has me feeling helpless?
What makes me feel helpless? Circumstances in this world or situations at work I cannot control? Physical sickness I cannot cure? Does my helpless, defeated feeling flow from some sin I appear unable to avoid or sin I seem unwilling to walk away from, leaving me confessing with apostle Paul, ‘The good that I would I do not; the evil that I would not, this I keep on doing… what a wretched man I am?”[ROM 7] Moving from physical struggles to focus on spiritual challenges we face in life – as Jesus deals with a demon-possessed son — God encourages us to regularly ask for his help, to repeatedly pray with a faithful, frustrated father, ‘Lord, I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief.’
Jesus has just come down from that mountain where he was transfigured, where Peter, James & John saw the Lord pull back his humanity while shining in undeniable godly glory. Dropping from the heights to the depths, Jesus finds a large crowd & teachers of the law arguing with his nine other disciples. Seeing Jesus, all the people, overwhelmed with wonder, run to greet him. Jesus asks, ‘What are you arguing about?’ A father voices frustration, ‘Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth & becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.’
In this father, we first see faith. He knows Jesus possesses the power to order evil spirits to leave people they possess. Maybe he heard about a legion of devils Jesus cast out of a Gadarene demoniac or heard of a demon-possessed daughter Jesus healed from a distance. No question need be asked; no doubt is evident. This father knows, trusts; absolutely believes Jesus can drive the evil spirit out of his son. Finding Jesus absent (up on a mountain), this father asks the disciples to exorcise his son’s evil spirit, ‘but they could not.’ Faith falters; frustration tiptoes in as faith’s expectations are left unfulfilled.
Why is his son still sick, still possessed? Disciples ‘whom Jesus earlier gave authority to drive out impure spirits; to heal every disease & sickness’[MT 10] when he sent them out to speak on his behalf may not be able to exorcise this evil spirit because they apparently trust their own power, rely upon their own ability; do not pray for Jesus’ power to be applied. As they later ask ‘What did we do wrong?’ Jesus will explain, ‘This kind can only come out by prayer.’
Frustrated, a father expresses his disappointment. Jesus voices a similar sentiment, ‘You unbelieving generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?’ We ask: What could threaten our trust in Christ today? When might faith falter? If pastors fail to live up to our expectations (as Jesus’ disciples are unable to exorcise an evil spirit), people possibly question God’s power or doubt promises God speaks through us. Please understand, of course, before I blame pastor for weakening my faith, I better be certain my expectations are accurate; be certain I expect from pastor not what I want but what God wants: a faithful preaching of God’s entire truth; proper applications of our Lord’s comforting promises as well as his productive instructions for our life in Christ. Also understand, as a pastor’s imperfections can raise questions, so also any Christian’s failure to imitate Jesus’ loving words & actions might make other souls wonder about the Lord’s role & control in my life.
What threatens faith? Unmet expectations (Christ’s people or pastors failing to let God’s power fully guide their life). Earthly disasters are also often used by Satan to try driving a wedge between us & our Savior. Satan attacks very visibly as Jesus lovingly invites a frustrated father, ‘Bring the boy to me.’ When the evil spirit sees Jesus, it immediately throws him into a convulsion, causes this boy to fall to the ground & roll around, foaming at the mouth.’ Will sickness I suffer (a rare case of cancer, the incurable onset of alzheimer’s; some deadly virus never before detected in any human being), will natural disasters (catastrophic hurricanes or destructive forest fires) make me question God’s loving care for us believers or raise shadows of doubt about God’s ability to protect us from every evil?
Whenever faith falters, whenever we are trapped by troubles we cannot personally resolve; facing any temptation I feel too weak to resist, please do not pray to Jesus the way this frustrated father prays – as if prayer is a last resort after all hope is lost — ‘Jesus, if you can do anything, take pity on us & help us.’ Rather, recalling Jesus’ response, ‘If you can? Everything is possible for the one who believes,’ pray positively, confidently, as this faltering-faith father prays, ‘Lord, I do believe. Help my overcome my unbelief.’
What will strengthen, what will restore faltering faith every day? Jesus’ presence, Jesus’ power; Jesus’ promises! Asking about his son’s history – not for information, but allowing the father to remember & reiterate Satan’s attacks on his son’s life – Jesus orders, ‘Bring the boy to me!’ Is his son needing some medical miracle? No, his body is not simply battling bacteria. His boy is being attacked, as our souls & bodies are interminably attacked today by ’spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.’[EPH 6] When Satan attacks us – whether sickness, setbacks at work or fallible Christian friends are outward factors the devil uses to make us doubt God’s protecting, prospering love — will the Lord Jesus leave us alone? Will God disappear, force us to battle Satan by our self? Never! Jesus, who said, ‘Bring the boy to me,’ assures us, ‘I will be with you always, to the very end of the age.’[MT 28] God promises, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’[HEB 13]
If faithfulness fades, when sin frustrates us, what will strengthen our faith every day? Jesus’ presence, Jesus talking to us in his Word as we regularly read the Bible for ‘faith,’ we are assured, ‘comes from hearing the message… through the word of Christ.’[ROM 10] Faith flowing from the Scriptures, faith trusting every word of the Bible as God’s unchanging truth is built up block by block as our Lord promises, ‘The blood of Jesus, God’s Son, purifies us from all unrighteousness.’[1 JN 1] God also reassures us we will face ‘No temptation except what is common to mankind;’ God promises, ‘he is faithful; he will not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear. But when we are tempted, God will also provide a way out so we can endure it.’[1 COR 13]
What will strengthen; what will restore our faith today? Jesus’ assurance, ‘Everything is possible for one who believes’ stresses the fact God can answer every prayer we pray. No sickness is too severe, no illness is actually incurable …not for the Lord who ‘is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.’[EPH 3] More than physical miracles preserving & prospering our life in this world, the Lord is able to walk us away from every temptation; the Lord can strengthen us to faithfully cling to Jesus Christ, no matter how difficult, how distressing an evil we may be asked to endure for who knows how long…assuming we do not rely upon our faith, we do not trust our own power or wisdom to resist Satan or to retain our own righteousness. Trusting ourself, we will fall flat on our unsanctified face – like disciples who could not cast that evil spirit out of this boy. Relying upon Jesus, however; trusting God’s all-powerful Spirit to preserve & increase our faith as we listen to God’s Scriptures guiding & giving us life, we will be kept firm & faithful in Christ.
Jesus’ power, you see, cannot be defied by the devil. Satan can neither ignore nor contradict our Lord’s orders. While he will never willingly do what Jesus desires, Satan is always forced to follow God’s orders. As Jesus ‘rebukes this boy’s impure spirit, “You deaf & mute spirit, I command you, come out of him; never enter him again,” the spirit shrieks, convulses the boy violently & comes out. While he looks so much like a corpse many say, ‘He is dead,’ Jesus takes him by the hand, lifts him to his feet & he stands up.’
A father’s once faltering faith is, no doubt, firmer than ever as he takes his boy home. Jesus, as anticipated, is not only able but is also willing to free us from Satan’s power. Whenever we today, like this father & his boy, are being attacked by Satan, by sin; by sickness, look to Jesus, keep listening to his Word; confidently pray, ‘Lord, I do believe. Help me overcome my unbelief.’