It has been said the three most challenging things to say are, “I am sorry,” “I need help,” and “Worcestershire Sauce.” The third one is difficult because of the syllables and pronunciation. However, the first two are not difficult due to pronunciation but because we rarely want to verbalize our weaknesses. We might speak of our weakness humorously, making light of the situation. However, to confront our weaknesses in the face is quite a daunting task. To see our failures, flaws, faults, and feebleness and is never a delightful thing. Not only acknowledging them to ourselves but to others can seem like an enormous burden to bear. However, we should not be afraid to ask for help. We would never shame or judge someone for asking for help. Why then do we assume that others will do the same? This week we see a man come to Jesus and ask for help. Jesus and his three disciples return from the mount of transfiguration. Luke explains it was the next day (Luke 9:37). Jesus comes to see a face-off. The scribes are arguing with his nine disciples, who are left—the crowd around them. The Pharisees previously had come to argue with Jesus, demanding a sign. This is when he sighed and left them (Mark 8:11-13). Often the disciples find themselves in trouble when Jesus leaves them (Mark 6:45-52).
I. Warm welcome, strong rebuke (15-19)
The crowd sees Jesus coming, and they are delighted to see him. They are usually greatly amazed after Jesus has healed someone, yet they are pleased to see him this time. Maybe this debate had been going on for a couple of hours, and they are pleased that Jesus the teacher has taught with great authority, unlike the scribes is here (Mark 1:27). They came running to greet him. Jesus asks the question about what they are arguing over. Neither the scribes nor the disciples but one many out of the crowd. The man who speaks up is the reason this argument is taking place. This father brought his son to Jesus’ disciples, but they were unable to cast out this unclean spirit. Mark’s account is about twice as long compared to Matthew and Luke. This, I believe, comes from the eyewitness account of Peter. We also see Matthew and Luke focus on the miracle; however, Mark tends to focus on faith and discipleship. We find out a lot about this man’s son. We are told eight things about this boy and the spirit. 1) makes him mute, 2) seizes him, 3) throws him down often into fire and water, 4) his mouth foams, 5) grinds his teeth, 6) becomes ridged or paralyzed, 7) he has had it since childhood and lastly that it tries to destroy him. Luke adds another detail that this is the man’s only son (Luke 9:38). Only glancing at this list, you could imagine being the parent not knowing when it would come and the tremendous pain it would be to watch your son go through this. The many times when you would have to snatch your child from the fire. This boy is most likely 10-12 years of age. This man hears of Jesus and his disciples and brings his son to them. Like Jarius and the lady who suffered from hemorrhaging for 12 years, they have exhausted all they can do, so they come to seek help from Jesus. However, Jesus is not there, but his nine disciples are, who have been given authority from Jesus to cast out spirits (Mark 6:7). Yet, the disciples were unable to cast the spirit out.
Jesus speaks not to the man but the crowd and even directed at his disciples. He utters a strong rebuke, “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). We see here one of the main words in this passage, faith, and unbelief. They come from the same root word. The problem with the disciples is not they did not utter the right words or even try hard enough. Their problem was unbelief. The disciples who at this point might have been with Jesus for two to two and half years still have difficulty. Throughout the Bible, you see God is longsuffering, slow to anger, and abounding in love. Jesus knows what is coming. He knows he will have to leave his disciples and are not ready. However, Jesus does teach them and does help them. As Paul instructs Timothy, Timothy should preach the word and do so with “complete patience” (2 Tim 4:2). Jesus instructs them to bring the young boy to him.
II. Short Request, Strong Response (20-23)
They brought this boy to Jesus, and immediately the spirit convulsed the boy. Jesus does not seem phased about it but asks the boy’s father how long this has been happening. Again, we are reminded of the toll this would have had on the boy and his parents. The emotional and physical toll. As the boy gets older, I am sure it is more difficult to save him from the fire and water. The father ends with a plea for help, “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Our English translation reorganizes the word logically, but the Greek emphasizes the cry for help. “Help us, and have compassion on us.” Christ who had compassion on the crowd, like sheep without a shepherd, surely had compassion on this boy as he convulsed before him. This desperate father asks for two things; if Jesus is able and to help his son. Jesus responds to the boy’s father with a strong rebuke. This is another example that did not turn up in WWJD statements. Jesus rebukes the man for questioning his ability to be able to help his son. “All things are possible for one who believes.” Jesus homes in on one word the father utter, “if.” Jesus had just rebuked the disciples for their faithlessness. The father then has unbelief about Jesus’ ability. Unbelief does not need to mean complete opposition, but levels of doubt which can creep in. Jesus explains later in Mark that with man, it is impossible, but not with God (Mark 10:27).
We need to take some time to explain what this statement means. I have heard people explain that you are not getting better because you don’t have enough faith. You are stuck in a wheelchair because you do not have enough faith. If you had more faith, then you would be healed. This is terrible theology. Often the person teaching this theology has never had something like this happen in their life. It takes on a level of dualism in the world in which it is faith versus Satan. We could delve more into this error but let me explain two things. Firstly, this is not a biblical view of faith. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). Faith is not a wish, dream, or emotion. Faith is forward-looking but founded today. Faith is assurance and conviction; both of these are here today. Yet faith has the assurance and conviction today for things that are certain in the future, things hoped for, and things not seen. Founded but fixed in the future. To explain, you need more faith today to attain the things today, says the opposite. If you have the strong foundation today, you can get the future today. I have also seen many of these false teachers need glasses; if their faith is not enough to fix their eyesight, how do they expect you to have enough faith to heal yourself.
Secondly, it is man-centered. The question is not how much faith you have, but what you have faith in, or more importantly, who you have faith in. Any doctrine that emphasizes for you to do more to earn more is a dangerous doctrine. This is a works-based system that never ends well, either in pride or shame. Pride that you have done enough, but in reality, placing your faith in your works is nothing more than a pile of rubbish. Or shame, which that you can never do enough, and in reality is a dark and depressing path with no way of escape. The error in both of these views is that faith is equal to works.
Faith is something you do. However, faith is not something we do but something we are given. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:8–9). Jesus explains what is impossible for man is possible with God. Faith is impossible for man. No man can have the assurance of things hoped for and conviction of things unseen without God. If it was left to man-centered faith, then we don’t need God. Which is the whole point of this passage, but sadly many people will take this verse and explain you need more faith. But the point is that the man is helpless, the scribes and disciples are bickering and arguing, the point is not you need to have more faith, but without God, it is impossible. You need Jesus.
III. Weak faith, Strong Christ (24-28)
As the words left the mouth of Jesus, Mark records that immediately, often Mark uses this word to show a change in time or scene. However, in this instance, he shows the cry of the father’s heart bursting out in his words. The father cried out, and some manuscripts explain that he cried out verbally and with tears flowing down his face. The words he utters are some of my favorite words in scripture. I love many scripture verses because they help me think of God and what has done for me. “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want…” “But while we were still sinners Christ died for us…” However, this verse speaks of our need for God. As a desperate cry and plea. The Bible is filled with people who struggled and doubted. Not perfect people with strong faith, but ordinary people with ordinary faith. This man here is one of them. He comes to Christ with one request, help me. Plain and simple.
Help me because I need help. Without hesitation or thinking about a response, this father cries out with tears streaming down his cheeks, “I believe, help my unbelief.” A strange statement of bold proclamation and timid hesitation. This theme of faith is summed up in this verse. “I have faith, help my faithlessness.” As Jesus told another despondent dad looking for Jesus to help his daughter, “Do not fear, only believe” (Mark 5:36). This dad in Mark chapter 9 cries out, “I have faith, but it is only a small amount. Help me!”
The ordinary-ness of the men and in the bible often amazes me. When you read most books, they have a hero—someone whose character is one of integrity and strength. Children dress up as superheroes because they generally face adversaries fighting for evil while standing up for justice and good. However, men and women in the bible are not written about as heroes. Just a quick read through the names in Hebrews chapter 11 shows prostitutes, murderers, adulterers, a man who sacrificed his daughter because of a foolish oath, a deceiver, and the list could go on. However, they are not in the hall of sin but the hall of faith. They are not heroes because they had earned their way in there, but because of their faith. The emphasis cannot even be on ‘their’ faith, but faith. Before the great faith chapter, the author of Hebrews explains how we have full assurance (Heb 10”19-39). Hebrews 10:22-23 says,
“Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (Heb 10:22–23).
We draw near not because of our strong faith but because of who we have faith in. It is not if our faith is strong or weak, but that we have faith in Jesus Christ, who is strong. The man utters, I have faith, but it is not much. I cannot pay full price, but all I have is a penny. I need help. We might go through walks in our lives where our faith seems to be a thread barely holding on, yet this thread is attached to Christ is not going anywhere. You might find yourself like this man, coming to Christ thinking your faith is not big enough. It doesn’t matter. This bold proclamation is enough. But it also is a timid hesitation. This man has a request, which Jesus welcomes and is the mark of a true disciple, dependence on God. Help my unbelief; we come to Christ hoping to grow in faith and grace. We seek to strengthen our faith only in Christ. Again, the author of Hebrews explains following the great chapter on faith,
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and the sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:1–2).
Christ is not only the founder of our faith, but he also perfects it. I believe, helping my unbelief should be a heart cry from the new believer to the mature Christian.
IV. Weak disciples, strong God (25-29)
What the disciples could not do, Christ accomplished. Mark explains that Jesus commands the spirit to leave the boy, and then after some more convulsing, the boy lay there on the ground. The crowd was getting bigger every moment. Yet, Jesus walks up to the boy and lifts him up, and the boy arose. The disciples questioned Jesus, “what does it mean that he will rise from the dead?” (Mark 9:10). Here Jesus made this boy rise seemingly from the dead. This time they had another question, as they went privately, and asked Jesus, “why could we not cast it out?” Jesus answered them and said, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” With all of this discussion about faith and faithless generations, why does Jesus mention prayer? We might make a false connection to the false faith I mentioned before, that faith is a wish. Therefore prayer is making you wish to God. However, faith and prayer are extremely important, as we will see in Mark 11:20-25. For now, we will briefly see what the Heidelberg Catechism explains prayer,
“Question 117. What belongs to such prayer, as God is pleased with and will hear?
First, that from the heart we call only upon the one true God, who has revealed Himself to us in His word, for all that He has commanded us to ask of Him; secondly, that we thoroughly know our need and misery, so as to humble ourselves before the face of His Divine Majesty; thirdly, that we be firmly assured, that notwithstanding our unworthiness He will, for the sake of Christ our Lord, certainly hear our prayer, as He has promised us in His word.”
This shows us the connection to prayer and faith, as we have seen in Hebrews. Faith is not hoping for something in the sky but built upon a foundation and conviction. The Heidelberg explains three things, call upon God’s name, 2) we come humbly, and 3) that Christ hears our prayer despite our weaknesses. Prayer based upon the promises of God is praying in Faith that God will accomplish what he has said he would do. Prayer is dependence on God. That is what faith is, trusting not in your own foundation or conviction but in God, who is strong. J.C Ryle explains, “Faith is to prayer what the feather is to the arrow: without it, prayer will not hit the mark.” Jesus explains you don’t have faith. Then you don’t pray. You need help. Christ is the help we need, our ever-present help in our time of need.