Wednesday after Reminiscere - Mark 9:17-29 - Februrary 24, 2016
Office of Matins - pg. 32Hymn #528 “If God Himself Be For Me” St. 1-5
O God, Who seest that of ourselves we have no strength, keep us both outwardly and inwardly that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
Sermon on the New Testament Lesson
Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1) Today we see the power of Jesus over the Devil as a man brings his demon-possessed son to the disciples for healing. When they cannot cast the demon out, the man petitions Jesus directly. We learn that the unclean spirit which afflicts this young man is mute. It also seizes the boy, throws him down, and causes him to foam and mouth and gnash his teeth and paralyzes his entire body with rigidity. This is a terrible physical torment for the boy. A few moments later the man will add that “Often he has thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him.” The demon had not yet succeeded in the destroying the boy. Perhaps the father was ever vigilant, guarding his son so that when the demon attacked he would be there to pull the boy out of the water, or steer him away from fire. But even more so, perhaps the demon refrained from physically destroying boy, choosing instead to tease the boy, toy with him, and make sport of him. The Devil, you see, isn’t simply wanting to murder men’s bodies, though he is a murderer, Jesus says in John 8:44. And although Satan cannot destroy anyone’s soul, he can do all he can to tempt you into despair and unbelief, which will destroy your soul, for Jesus says in John 3:36, “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” Faith in Christ saves. Unbelief damns. If Satan can lead this boy’s father to despair God’s mercy, he will eventually disbelieve God’s mercy and forfeit his salvation. The boy is just the Devil’s tool for grinding this man’s faith down to nothing.
2) In the Large Catechism, Dr. Luther explains how temptation comes from one of three sources: the sinful flesh, the Devil, and the world. After describing the temptation of the flesh he writes, “Then comes the devil, inciting and provoking in all directions, but especially agitating matters that concern the conscience and spiritual affairs, namely, to induce us to despise and disregard both the Word and works of God, to tear us away from faith, hope, and love, and bring us into misbelief, false security, and obduracy, or, on the other hand, to despair, denial of God, blasphemy, and innumerable other shocking things. These are indeed snares and nets, yea, real fiery darts which are shot most venomously into the heart, not by flesh and blood, but by the devil.” (Large Catechism III.104) The Devil wants this boy’s father to despair of God’s mercy so that he thinks God does not want to help or that God is not able to help him. The Devil wants to warp this man’s conscience so that he sees God as his enemy who out to smite him, afflict him, and torture his soul. The man is not entirely given over to unbelief though, for he has faith enough to flee to Jesus.
3) But it is just faith enough. After the disciples cannot exorcise the demon, the man turns to Jesus. “But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” This is the prayer of a desperate father whose hope is hewn down to just a few fibers. The Devil has his hooks in the man, for he approaches Jesus in doubt. Doubt is different than unbelief. Doubt is being double minded. Doubt is a lame man limping back and forth between his crutches. Unbelief is the child of doubt when doubt has been nurtured for too long in the soul. This man approaches Jesus, hoping that Jesus can do anything. Jesus responds to teach the man faith, and not only teach the man faith, but strengthen the fragile faith that exists in the man’s heart. “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” All things are possible to the one who believes, not because faith is an active agent or a hidden power in the universe. It is not the power of positive thinking, nor is faith a cheery, never-give-up disposition. Faith makes all things possible because faith receives Jesus, His Word, His promises, and His gifts. Faith makes all things possible because faith clings to Jesus, the Only-Begotten Son of God. Faith is the thing that receives Christ and holds onto His Word about God which says, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26) The angel Gabriel tells his to Mary, as she contemplates that she will bear in her womb the sinless son of God. “For with God nothing will be impossible.” (Luke 1:37) This word ought to cheer us in doubt, despondency, and despair, for our God can do anything, for all things are under His power.
4) The Word stirs faith in the man’s heart and He replies, “I believe. Help my unbelief.” That is a favorite prayer of Christians, for its brevity and honesty. “Lord, we know all things are possible for you! But unbelief nags at our hearts as to whether or not you desire to do anything about my situation!” It is one thing to believe that God CAN do anything. It is quite another to believe that He WANTS to do good things to you. There is a big difference between ability and will. The man admits this, that unbelief clings to His flesh and afflicts his heart so that he cannot shake the doubt. And don’t we find this true of ourselves? As Paul says in Romans 7:21, “I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good.” Unbelief gnaws at our hearts, for we often know that the Lord can do whatever He desires. We’re just not sure if He desires to help us. This is the old evil foe at work in our hearts and minds once again. It isn’t enough for the Devil to throw us into water or into fire to destroy us. He most grind us to powder through doubt, despair of God’s mercy, and the despondency that claims, “God must not be for me, but against me.” All the Biblical knowledge doesn’t matter if you’re God isn’t for you.
5) But this man has the honesty to admit this and now includes Himself in His petition. Originally his petition was “have compassion on us and help us,” by casting out the demon. Now his petition for help has gone deeper to the heart of the matter. “Help me against the unbelief that gnaws at my heart. Come to my aid against my adversary who seeks to mislead me into false belief about you, namely, that you are cold, sluggish, and ambivalent towards me. Help me in this temptation of the Devil, which is just as wicked as being bodily possessed by the Devil, for if my unbelief takes root and spreads, I will surely die in my sin. Help my unbelief.” And “help” Jesus doth give. It is written in Psalm 93:18, “If I say, "My foot slips," Your mercy, O LORD, will hold me up.” Isaiah fortifies us, “Surely the Lord GOD will help Me; Who is he who will condemn Me?” (Isaiah 50:9) Each Divine Service opens with the words of Psalm 124:8, “Our help is in the name of the LORD, Who made heaven and earth.” Throughout the Scriptures the Lord promises help to those who belief in Him, for “the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.” (1 Timothy 4:10) The Psalmist remains true when He sings, “Behold, God is my helper; The Lord is with those who uphold my life.” (Psalm 54:4)
6) So Jesus heals the boy. He drives out the demon, commanding it never to return to this boy again. This man’s fragile faith is upheld, edified, and built up. Though He comes to Jesus in great weakness, Jesus is He of whom it is written in Isaiah 42:3, “A bruised reed He will not break, And smoking flax He will not quench; He will bring forth justice for truth.” And so Christ our Lord invites us to Himself even in our great weakness of faith. He does not discourage us from approaching Him in moments of doubt. Those are the moments we need Him the most, for He gives faith and strengthens faith through His Word. This is why we ought never to abandon the means of grace, for it is only through the means of grace that Jesus gives grace to us. He will not cast us aside, for He says in Matthew 11:29, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” He does not chastise the father of the demon possessed boy. His chastisements are directed to the disciples, for unbelief clings to their hearts yet they act as if it doesn’t, for in St. Matthew’s account of this miracle, when asked why they couldn’t exorcise this demon, Jesus says, “Because of your unbelief.” (Matthew 17:20)
7) So we must be on our guard against unbelief, that wicked work of the devil. When we doubt the Word, promises, and sacraments of Christ, we must not flee from Christ, or hide our doubts and despairs from him. Neither are we to embrace them and say “doubt is just a part of the Christian faith.” We are to flee with them to Jesus and ask for aid and petition for help against the unbelief in our hearts. For He has promised to be our helper. He even sends THE Helper into our hearts through the means of grace to create faith and sustain that faith in our hearts, no matter how mightily the prowling lion seeks to devour us. He as promised help and gives it to us in His Word and Sacrament. All things are possible for Him. You believe this. He desires to give you all good things as well, for He loves you, has compassion on you, and shepherds you as your Divine Helper. Our help is not in men, not in positive thinking, nor is our help anywhere in ourselves. “Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 124:8) Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.