Tuesday, August 1, 2023

I Believe Lord; Help my Unbelief!

“In college I was asked to prepare a lesson to teach my speech class. We were to be graded on our creativity and ability to drive home a point in a memorable way. The title of my talk was, "The Law of the Pendulum." I spent 20 minutes carefully teaching the physical principle that governs a swinging pendulum. The law of the pendulum is: A pendulum can never return to a point higher than the point from which it was released. Because of friction and gravity, when the pendulum returns, it will fall short of its original release point. Each time it swings it makes less and less of an arc, until finally it is at rest. This point of rest is called the state of equilibrium, where all forces acting on the pendulum are equal.

I attached a 3-foot string to a child's toy top and secured it to the top of the blackboard with a thumbtack. I pulled the top to one side and made a mark on the blackboard where I let it go. Each time it swung back I made a new mark. It took less than a minute for the top to complete its swinging and come to rest. When I finished the demonstration, the markings on the blackboard proved my thesis.

I then asked how many people in the room BELIEVED the law of the pendulum was true. All of my classmates raised their hands, so did the teacher. He started to walk to the front of the room thinking the class was over. In reality it had just begun. Hanging from the steel ceiling beams in the middle of the room was a large, crude but functional pendulum (250 pounds of metal weights tied to four strands of 500-pound test parachute cord.). I invited the instructor to climb up on a table and sit in a chair with the back of his head against a cement wall. Then I brought the 250 pounds of metal up to his nose. Holding the huge pendulum just a fraction of an inch from his face, I once again explained the law of the pendulum he had applauded only moments before, "If the law of the pendulum is true, then when I release this mass of metal, it will swing across the room and return short of the release point. Your nose will be in no danger."

After that final restatement of this law, I looked him in the eye and asked, "Sir, do you believe this law is true?" There was a long pause. Huge beads of sweat formed on his upper lip and then weakly he nodded and whispered, "Yes." I released the pendulum. It made a swishing sound as it arced across the room. At the far end of its swing, it paused momentarily and started back. I never saw a man move so fast in my life. He literally dived from the table. Deftly stepping around the still-swinging pendulum, I asked the class, "Does he believe in the law of the pendulum?" The students unanimously answered, "NO!"
-Ken Davis, How To Speak To Youth, pp 104-106.

We can say we have faith as much as we want. But we really find out about the kind of faith we have when trouble strikes, when we have to actually put it into action. Like the pendulum swinging from side to side, the man didn’t believe as much as he thought when his own nose was in danger.

What about us, when we face persecution or when we go through trials? Will our faith stand the test? That is the challenge. And I hope and pray we all would stand the test in the face of difficult circumstances.

After the three disciples Peter, James, and John experienced the great mountain top experience of seeing Jesus glowing with the power and glory of God, they return from the mountain and immediately they find themselves in a new situation.

It says in Mark 9:14-15: “When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. 15 As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.”

They find the other 9 disciples arguing with a group of pharisees, and around them is a large crowd observing the whole thing.

In verses 16-18: Jesus asks…

16 “What are you arguing with them about?” he asked.

17 A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18 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.”

So here we see the problem, the disciples had tried to cast out a demon in the authority of Jesus Christ. But, for some reason, it didn’t work.

So this has left the disciples in a situation where the power of God has been limited. There is some problem here, that the disciples are not able to cast out this impure spirit. And this has caused a controversy, and given an opportunity for the pharisees to pounce on the disciples.

Then we see the father of the son who is possessed explaining to Jesus what is happening.

Here is how Jesus responds:

19 “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.”

The Lord is deeply upset with the unbelief of his disciples. He may be speaking to the whole crowd, or to the disciples specifically, but Jesus is greatly upset with their lack of faith.

It’s a good reminder that faith is more than trust, it’s believing that miracles can happen. It’s believing that God is really real and active in the world. It’s trusting the scriptures, and what God says about us over what the world says about us.

The disciples couldn’t deal with the situation. So now the master himself must deal with the situation.

The scene is similar to when Moses came down from the mountain and found the Israelites worshiping a golden calf, Moses found unbelief. And Jesus, after the transfiguration comes down to find strife and unbelief. And he is rightly frustrated by what he finds.

In verses 20-22 it says, “20 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.

21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”

“From childhood,” he answered. 22 “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.”

The world is filled with demons and angels, at work in various ways, and in this case this boy was possessed, controlled by one for most of his life. The natural question is why would God allow that?

There seem to be certain rules in place that allow angels and demons to do certain things in the world, certain things they may do, other things they may not do. But it’s all part of a much bigger scheme and system, things bigger than we fully understand.

But this boy has suffered his whole life, possessed by this impure spirit. It’s causing him to go into convulsions, to be thrown into fires and water, to try to harm him.

The dad says, if you can do anything, then please help us.

Then the Lord brings a powerful statement that is a great reminder for us today.

Jesus says, “23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

It’s one of the mysteries of the scriptures, just how important belief is.

The word for believes is “pisteuō” in the original Greek. It carries a range of uses in the original tongue, some of which are…

I. to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place confidence in

A. of the thing believed

i. to credit, have confidence

B. in a moral or religious reference

i. used in the NT of the conviction and trust to which a man is impelled by a certain inner and higher prerogative and law of soul

ii. to trust in Jesus or God as able to aid either in obtaining or in doing something: saving faith

iii. mere acknowledgment of some fact or event: intellectual faith

II. to entrust a thing to one, i.e. his fidelity

A. to be entrusted with a thing

It’s a verb. It’s an action that we take. To take faith. To have faith. To put faith in.

In verse 24 we get the response, 24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

It’s a good prayer request to the Lord, “Lord I believe, Lord help my unbelief.”

First, commit to the belief you currently have.

Second, ask for God’s help to grow your faith even stronger.

Or, replace unbelief with faith.

More and more people are gathering to this scene, so Jesus quickly takes action before the crowd gets too large.

In verses 25-27: 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.”

Jesus gives two commands here:

1. Come out of him
2. Never enter again

It’s interesting that the Lord evicts the spirit, but also indicates a permanent block on re-entry. Never come back.

The command is followed in full.

What’s interesting is that the disciples have that same authority. To bind, to cast out, to block from re-entry. That is part of the authority of the Christian in the world. We carry the authority of Christ.

Part of becoming part of the salvation army was being granted access to FEMA disaster areas for service work. With the badge I can get into areas others cannot. It’s similar with being a Christian, we carry the mark of Christ, the badge of Christ, and with that kingdom authority we can enter and command and guide events in the world in Jesus name, through the power of prayer. And through doing the same works Jesus did.

In verses 26-27:

26 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.

It took a moment for the boy to recover, he looked dead at first. For this boy he came to the end of himself, the end of his strength, and the impure spirit was too strong.

It took Jesus coming in and commanding it to come out. Only Jesus could help him. That’s the same for all of us here, and for every person in the world today. Only Jesus can change them. Only Jesus can help them. Apart from Jesus they are doomed.

In verses 28-29 we get the conversation Jesus has with only his disciples after these events have taken place.

It says, “28 After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

29 He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.””

Now its important to note that some ancient manuscripts say “prayer and fasting.” What exactly that means is a mystery. Jesus didn’t pray before casting out the demon. But apparently for certain impure spirits to come out Christians must pray, or fast and pray for the person in question.

Prayer and faith are linked of course. If we don’t pray, it’s because we lack faith. We don’t really see the spiritual world as real. We don’t really see the value of prayer. So we don’t pray.

If we have faith, we pray, because we know it’s all real, the spiritual world is real, angels and demons are real, God is real, and we are commanded to pray, so we pray, because our faith is strong.

We have confidence that God is real, His word is real and it all really matters. So it’s linked together. Faith and prayer. Belief is linked to obedience, if we believe, we obey God’s instructions. If we have unbelief instead, we disobey, we reject God’s guidance.

Faith leads to greater faith.

Unbelief, leads to greater unbelief.

Practice faith, you’ll gain more faith.

Practice unbelief, you’ll gain more unbelief.

“Important lessons are given by this alternation of the two ideas of faith and unbelief, obedience and disobedience. Disobedience is the root of unbelief. Unbelief is the mother of further disobedience. Faith is voluntary submission within a person's own power. If faith is not exercised, the true cause lies deeper than all intellectual reasons. It lies in the moral aversion of human will and in the pride of independence, which says, "who is Lord over us? Why should we have to depend on Jesus Christ?" As faith is obedience and submission, so faith breeds obedience, but unbelief leads on to higher-handed rebellion. With dreadful reciprocity of influence, the less one trusts, the more he disobeys; the more he disobeys, the less he trusts.” -Alexander Maclaren.

How is your faith today? It’s a been a common question in the gospel of Mark. Faith is key. Ask God to help your unbelief. Ask God to build your faith. And also, pray right now, and express your faith to Him. Pour out your faith to Him. This will bring forth greater faith, as you express the faith you already have. Amen. God bless you today.