This morning, after a two-week break, we are back to the Gospel of Mark. Scholars divide Mark into halves. The first 8 chapters are the first half. The first half establishes who Jesus is. In the second half Jesus is moving toward the cross.Augus
Note, the first half is bookended with the voice of God.
Mark 1:10-11 And when Jesus came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opening and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased."
Mark 9:7 And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, "This is my beloved Son; listen to him."
Jesus is the Son of God who is pleasing to the Father. We should listen to him. We should listen to Jesus as he explains that…
Mark 8:29,31-34 And he asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Christ." And Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man." And he called to him the crowd with his disciples and said to them, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
“Yes, I am the Christ.” Jesus teaches, “But that is not what you think it means. The Christ is to go to the cross. The Christ conquerors through his death.” The power of the kingdom of God is the power of sacrificed lives! We join Jesus in his power when deny ourselves and follow Jesus to the cross!
Bam, that is the conclusion of the first half of the Gospel of Mark! Jesus is the Christ who is victorious in his death on the cross.
The second half of Mark begins with Jesus descending from Mount Hermon; the mountain of Transfiguration. As Jesus gets down from the mountain, he immediately is confronted with a crisis; a crisis of faith.
Mark 9:14-19 And when Jesus came to the disciples, he 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 him and greeted him. And he asked them, "What are you arguing about with them?" And someone from the crowd answered him, "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." And he answered them, "O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me."
The crowd is amazed… perhaps Jesus is still glowing some. There may be some residual transformation whiteness still leaking out of Jesus. Maybe not, but, for whatever reason, the crowd is amazed as Jesus shows up.
But the return to this realm; the return from the glories of the mountain, to the reality of the valley… for Jesus wasn’t… pleasant.
--Jesus comes down from the mountain to find bickering. The Scribes are arguing with the disciples. “We told you this Jesus is not anything. His power does not even work. You can’t even help this boy. Jesus is a fraud. You all are frauds.” “We are not!” “Yes, you are!” “NO, we Aren’t” “YES you ARE!” “NO, WE AREN’T” “Then, prove it!” The world, back off the mountain, is a world of bickering.
-- Jesus comes down from the mountain to see a little boy captured by the Evil One. Jesus knows the world; his creation; is supposed to be this beautiful place of harmony and love and beauty and health… but it has been invaded with evil. Satan has perpetuated the brutality of the world. Satan has sent his minions to invade the world; invade his beautiful world. The world, back off the mountain, is one of brutality.
--Jesus comes down from the mountain to a father’s desperation. Jesus feels the desperation in this Father’s face. Jesus connects to the love this man has for his son. Jesus feels the hurt this man feels every time his son is seized; every time his boy foams at the mouth; the sound of grinding teeth; the thud of his son hitting the ground. Jesus hurts for this Father… “the world is not supposed to be this way!” The world, down off the mountain, is a world of suffering.
--Jesus comes down from the mountain to his disciples’ failure. Jesus has taught them. Jesus has trained them up on how to cast out demons. Jesus has even sent them out on a training mission. They were successful on their own, before. But the disciples failed to help this boy. The world, down off the mountain, is one of failure.
You can read Jesus’s emotions either as… anger (read) or as discouragement… (read)
"O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me."
Jesus comes down from the mountain back to a broken world! Put a brain-marker on that thought. We are going to use it metaphorically in just a moment.
Let’s continue the story.
Mark 9:20-22 And they brought the boy to Jesus. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. And Jesus asked his father, "How long has this been happening to him?" And he said, "From childhood. And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us."
This is fascinating. As soon as the evil spirit recognizes Jesus -maybe still shining- the boy is thrown into a fit. This tormenting spirit has been destroying this boy’s life. It is not going to give up without a fight! Bam, the boy goes down. The unclean spirit is going to wring every drop of joy from the father’s heart. This spirit is obviously more powerful than most. There is going to be a fight. (not really)
Trivia Question… How many other parents are there in Mark who have brought their kids to Jesus?
--Remember the Syrophoenician woman? Her daughter was also possessed.
--Remember the synagogue ruler? His daughter dies before Jesus can get there.
Here is the thought. Back up on the mountain God the Father has just said…"This is my beloved Son; listen to him." I think we are supposed to understand the love of the Heavenly Father for his children? We supposed to see ourselves as broken by evil yet the Father still advocating for us. A parent’s love for a hurting child is the best metaphor for the love of God!
In this story, the possessed boy’s father is not sure whether Jesus can help. His disciples have failed. The Scribes are arguing that Jesus is a fraud. But the father asks for help, anyway…
Mark 9:22-24 “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us." And Jesus said to him, "If you can! All things are possible for one who believes." Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, "I believe; help my unbelief!"
This father will do anything for his child. He has faith. But he doesn’t have faith. He believes. But he has been disappointed before. He wants it to be true. But this unclean spirit is powerful. He has prayed since the boy was a child. But, his own prayers have failed. The father is hung between belief and doubt. "I believe; help my unbelief!"
With the boy convulsing in front of them, the crowd begins to gather around to see what is going to happen.
Mark 9:25-27 And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, 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." 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.
As the spirit comes out of the boy, it rips him one last time. The father has to be thinking, “No, no, no what have I done? Jesus has just killed my son!” The boy is dead?
Did the boy die? Or, was he in a comma? Was he dead or just mostly dead?
Maybe, the demon killed the boy and Jesus raised him back! Or maybe, back from mostly dead. In either case, this was a powerful unclean spirit but Jesus is victorious over evil!
The story concludes with Jesus in private with his disciples…
Mark 9:28-29 And when Jesus 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."
When the disciples asked about their failure, all Jesus would say, was that this kind takes prayer. Obviously, prayer is involved. So, I am not sure what Jesus means. Maybe, something to do with a constant connection to the source of power. Maybe, the disciples should have been in prayer with God prior to the confrontation. I don’t think the problem was too few prayers or the wrong kind of prayers. It is not one’s expertise but connection to the power that is important.
So, as Jesus comes down from the mountain the first thing he encounters on the way to the cross is a hurting world. We need to explore why this story is the first step on the way to the cross.
The way to the cross is all about faith and doubt. To be a disciple who lives the cross is a constant battle between faith and doubt. The father’s words… “I believe. Help my unbelief!” Are the words we must speak on our way to the cross. Our own journey to the cross is a mixture of faith and doubt. There are mountain top times when our faith soars… “I believe!” There are times in the valley when our prayer is… “Help my unbelief!”
That is life. That is the struggle. That is where I live! You? “I believe. Help my unbelief!” Some days the mountain. Some days not so much. You?
Wow, the scene of this story is so real. What Jesus found as he came down off the mountain is the same thing that causes our unbelief…
1) Jesus came down to find bickering. Wow, fussing kills faith. Conflict with other Christians; people who are supposed to be family in Christ being hateful with each other; mindless criticism of ignorant know-it-alls kills faith; meanness; accusations… bickering drains the faith out of me. Fussing kills faith. You?
2) When Jesus came down from the mountain he found brutality. There is evil in the world. There are principalities and powers in this world whose goal is to brutalize us. Why does God allow brutality in the world? How can God be love and let evil run rampant over the innocent? Why is there evil? Wrong in the world drains my faith. You?
3) Suffering brings doubt. Jesus connected to the pain of the father. When those we love, hurt, our faith is challenged. The father’s cry of,
--“I believe. Help my unbelief!” is the cry of every parent of their kids in the cancer wards.
--“I believe. Help my unbelief!” is the prayer of every grandparent whose grandkid is crippled.
--“I believe. Help my unbelief!” are the worlds of every spouse who watches their other faith deteriorate into droll asks.
“Help my unbelief.” Faith debates with doubt with every unanswered prayer. You?
4) The disciples failed. Failure leads to doubt; then doubt to quitting.
--Expectations of what you were supposed to do with your life… that doesn’t happen… makes you ask, “Why bother?”
--The moral failure of persistent sin leads to “Why bother?”
--Relationships, precious relationships destroyed, failure leads to “Why bother?”
Failure erodes faith. You?
Wow, this first step toward the cross off the mountain is so very real. Satan confronts Jesus with a crisis of faith. "O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?”
That’s the real part of the sermon. Now let me offer some hope from this same story.
Here is/are some advice/suggestions/things to do when in the valley of doubt.
1) Ignore the bickering. Jesus ignored the bickering. Don’t get caught up into arguing with idiots. Just keep on doing good.
2) Acknowledge doubt. Doubt is okay. Jesus acknowledges the father’s doubt. "If you can! All things are possible for one who believes." Doubt is faith revaluating itself. Doubt can be a good thing. Doubt challenges us to rework our faith. Doubt is not a bad thing. Jesus helps us with our unbelief!
3) When in the valley of doubt keep walking. The disciples kept on being disciples despite their failure. Jesus kept on loving despite his discouragement. Pray more and keep going.
4) Remember the mountains. Jesus remembered the mountain! That was the point of the Transfiguration. It kept Jesus going to his cross. Remember those moments of faith.
5) The Father is our loving father. God knows the world is broken but He is fixing it. Trust in the love of our Father. One day all will be made to right.
The first step off the mountain toward the cross was a crisis of faith. When we commit our lives to living as sacrifices… there will be challenges of faith. The prayer that keeps us going toward our crosses must be… say it with me… “I believe. Help my unbelief!”
August 6, 2017
Los Alamos Church of Christ