16th Sunday after Pentecost - September 12/13, 2015 - Mark 9:14-29
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
When Moses had gone up onto Mount Sinai to get the Law from God, it went poorly for the folks down at the foot of the mountain. He took too long, they made a golden calf, had a wild party - it's so bad that when Moses comes down and sees it, he breaks the 10 commandments, literally. He throws the tablets to the ground and shatters them - it's a mess. Now - just before our Gospel lesson, in the beginning of Chapter 9 - Jesus had been talking with Moses on a mountain - it was the transfiguration. Jesus was on the mountain and He glowed, shown forth with holy light - and Peter and James and John were there, and they saw Jesus talk with Moses and Elijah; they heard the voice of God. Well, what happens when Jesus, Peter, James, and John come down the mountain? They come across chaos.
When they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. And immediately all the crowd, when they saw Him, were greatly amazed and ran up to Jesus and greeted Him. They get to where the other 9 disciples were, and it's a free-for all. There's shouting, fighting, crowds pressing in to see - it's a mess. And why? A fellow brought his son, who was possessed by a demon, to the 9 disciples in order to cast it out... and they couldn't. And when they couldn't, the scribes attacked, mocked, in your face, disciples. And when the argument starts, an even bigger crowd gathers - it's like a fight at the schoolyard, folks gather around, whoop and holler. Which is why Jesus, who just gets more and more consternated as Mark goes on, says, "O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? Bring him to Me." Good night, they still haven't learned. I'm getting ready to go to the Cross, and My disciples don't get it, the crowds don't get it, and the scribes certainly don't get it. So Jesus shifts the focus back where it should be - onto Himself and what He will do - not upon how great or lousy the disciples are, not onto fights and arguments - but let's look at Jesus.
And they brought the boy to Him. And when the spirit saw Him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. When, when the demon looks at Jesus, the demon is none too pleased. And please understand, think in your head just how violent this is. This isn't a girl sitting in bed with green pea soup - this is violent. This is truly freaky and terrifying. Yet, Jesus is calm. He turns to the dad and asks quite simply, "How long has this been happening to him?" You guys have been to the doctor - you all know what Jesus is doing. Just quite calmly going about making His diagnosis - any recent change to the symptoms here? And the dad answers... maybe a little more than he should. "From childhood. And it has often cast him into fire and water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us." Did you hear it? Oh faithless generation! If? IF? IF YOU CAN? That's doubt. That's unbelief, right there. Guy forgot who he was talking to. You don't throw "if you can" questions at God. It's never a question of if God can do something, it's a question of His will being done - what is His will. This is why we pray "Thy will be done" and not "If you can, help a brother out." And poor, exasperated Jesus - "If you can! All things are possible for the one who believes." You're dealing with the might of God - not the strength of man. This is a Divine thing, a holy thing - of course God can do it. Why are you acting like it would be impossible!
And then we get the crux of this section. Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, "I believe; help my unbelief." And there, there we get a beautiful statement of faith, of the reality of our faith and life in this sinful fallen world. I believe, and I also struggle with unbelief and I need you to help me with that Jesus. One of the things that Luther noted is that as Christians we are both sinner and saint at the same time - as Paul writes in Romans we are at war with ourselves - our lives are a constant struggle against sin and unbelief and hatred and all that other junk. Even James in our Epistle marvels at this - with the same mouth we bless and curse - this is where Paul would say "wretch that I am, who will save me from this body of death?" I believe; help my unbelief. That's an interesting word there - help. It's a bigger word in Greek, a military word - it's not an "I'm five cents short on buying this candy bar, can you give me a nickle" sort of help. It's the "help" he asked for his demon possessed son - it's help that breaks a siege in war, it's help that rescues. You could have translated this "rescue me from my unbelief." I'm in a bad way Jesus - just as my son is hounded by a demon, I'm hounded by unbelief, and I can't do anything about it. Rescue me. Deliver me. Free me. And my son as well. It's a beautiful statement showing the sad reality of our lives.
And then Jesus gets it in gear. And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together (because this surely will be interesting and the crowd wants a spectacle) He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, "You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again." Jesus doesn't want a mob around - so He just dives in. You, you're gone. Get out, never come back. And what happens next is horrific, horrifically violent. 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. You know what - the crowd might be right. Kid might just have been dead. That's how violent this was. But living or dead, either way, Jesus walks up to him, picks him up, and he - arises. Did you hear it? That's the same word for the resurrection, the kid "rose again - arose". Because that's really the great big point of the text - was the kid hounded by a demon? Yep - but the story ends with Jesus defeating the demon and the kid rising. That's what Jesus' help, that's what His rescue looks like. Oh, and by the way, dad - that's what your help and rescue will look like as well. Jesus' help, ultimately looks like death and resurrection. Because that's ultimately what the cure is - death and resurrection.
Understand this - it's all about Jesus' death and resurrection. He's not just play acting there upon the cross - rather He is changing the way the world works. See, the way it used to work was... you died. That's how the story goes. Genesis is great for this - you have the genealogies - they all end "and he died." It's the refrain, over and over and over. It's why Matthew and Luke include genealogies in their gospels - they are lists of people whose apparent story ends "and he died." And then comes Christ Jesus into the world, and He goes to the Cross... and He dies. But that is not it - on the third day, He rises. The story now goes "and He died and then He rose." It's what we see with the kid - fell down, good as dead, and then Jesus comes in, picks him up, and He rose.
This is why Jesus says "take up your cross and follow Me." That's not primarily a call to hard work - it's reality. Yeah, you're going to die, but because I have taken up My cross, and because I will rise - take up your own - you're going to die, but you are going to rise. It's what Jesus means when He says that He is the Way - how do you come to the Father - no way but by Christ... and His way is to die and to rise. This is even small catechism stuff, Lord's Prayer stuff. But deliver us from evil. What does this mean? We pray in this petition, in summary, that our Father in heaven would rescue us from every evil of body and soul, possessions and reputation, and finally, when our last hour comes, give us a blessed end (that is, a blessed death) and graciously take us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven. Death and resurrection guys, that's how it's going to be. While you live, it is going to be a struggle - you are going to have to put up with sin and doubt and all that junk. But the reality is this - Christ has changed the world. The only certain things in life are no longer death and taxes -- now its death, taxes, and resurrection. Because Christ has risen, and He's going to raise you. That's just how it's going to be.
And then, our text ends with a poignant point, that we can miss the point of. And when He had entered the house, His disciples asked Him privately, "Why could we not cast it out?" And He said to them, "This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer." Oh, my dear friends, this is one of those verses that gets twisted into an ego trip - you got to pray hard, and if it doesn't work you've got to pray harder and harder and harder... poppycock. The disciples are a bit forelorn, sheepish. When they get Jesus alone - why couldn't *we* cast it out? Do you see their focus? We? Me? What *I* do. There's no focus on Jesus - and that had been the disciples problem. You weren't focused upon God - you didn't leave it up to God's will and God's timing - you made it about what *you* did. So no, Jesus is not telling us that if we just pray the right way we can do anything - He had just gotten mad at the dad in the text for the "if you can" question. If and can aren't the right things to ponder. Rather this - when will God work? When will Jesus act? When will God's will be done? And the answer is in God's good time - so rather than trying to control everything or thinking it's about how wonderful and powerful you are - commend everything to God in prayer, because it's about what God does, not what you do, disciples. And if you think that perhaps I am pushing a point I shouldn't - let me note one thing. Jesus says, "This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer." Did Jesus pray when He cast the demon out? He prays often before miracles - He prayed in our text last week before healing the deaf guy - He prays at the feedings - but he doesn't this week. No prayer - just "get out, don't come back." Why? Because Jesus is God. He's God Almighty - and the point is He does it, He fixes stuff - not us. Jesus doesn't have to call upon God to act, because He is Himself God. Now, He will teach *us* to pray - because we aren't God. It's not about what we do - it's about what God does for us. Jesus is saying, "Don't you see, disciples - it's not about you and what you do, it is what I do for you and for the whole world -- and this is I die and rise so you will too."
Heady stuff, eh? This text shows us what our life and salvation is. In this life there is fighting, struggle, temptation, unbelief - a mess. But down comes Jesus, and He enters into this fallen world... and He doesn't stop all this junk right away. Rather - He gets in the middle of it - even to where He Himself is beaten, suffers and dies. But then He rises. And because of Jesus, so shall you. Jesus brings resurrection and life. Amen. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +