‘Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief.”’ Mark 9:24
When would we appeal to Jesus as the man who first said, ‘I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief’? v24 Have you ever prayed a prayer like that? This particular account of a man approaching Jesus with his child who had been subject to severe fits since early childhood, that endangered his safety, even his life, will have resonance with many who are believers and those who feel they would like to be a believer and are standing on the threshold of faith.
One doesn’t ask God a question like that unless there is some turmoil going on in one’s mind. For the man in question he was terrified for his child and he was also afraid that he would fail his child by his insufficient faith. At that moment he had been concentrating on his personal capacity and believing it was down to him to have enough faith. He was struggling to work up faith as if faith is something that is derived from concentrated effort.
This passage is about mercy, it is also about faith. The source of faith and in whom or what do we have faith. The disciples who Jesus had left at the bottom of the mountain were faced with a large crowd, who wanted Jesus not them. However, in Jesus’ absence they sought the same things from the disciples as they hoped to gain from Jesus, healing and teaching. Mixed in with the crowd were teachers of the law who were there to challenge and argue with them. It was a difficult situation for the remaining disciples. When there are competing challenges happening in stressful circumstances and the demands being made of you are at the limit or beyond your abilities then you are probably at the point of failure. Many of us will have had times when that was true for us. The disciples could not deliver the boy of the evil spirit.
At that point Jesus appeared. The crowd were awestruck. Whether an aura of glory still surrounded Jesus in a similar way to how Moses’ face shone after he came down from the mountain meeting with God we do not know, but there are comparisons with Moses descending from seeing glory to find an unbelieving generation. However, this time the crowd ran to Jesus rather than away. Exodus 34.30
Jesus’ response was one of anger born of frustration. ‘“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 disciples had previously been able to drive out impure spirits but their authority had always depended on Jesus. This spiritual failure implies that their relationship with him had been seriously compromised by their failure to embrace the newly revealed cross-bearing path of true discipleship.’ (NIV Study Bible 2015)
In contrast the father recognized his own lack of faith and turned to Jesus the source of faith. Faith is the gift of God. Paul reminded the Ephesian church, ‘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.’ Ephesians 2.8-9 When the disciples questioned Jesus about their own lack of sufficient faith, Jesus spoke of the need for prayer. v29 Not prayer at the moment of need but in preparation. Prayer time spent with God that builds our relationship with him.
Jesus again taught the disciples that he would be killed and in three days be raised. v31 The disciples still did not grasp the implications of Jesus’ words and showed their lack of spiritual understanding by arguing about who would be greatest, completely missing Jesus’ exemplar of sacrifice and service. To ram home the point about humility and faith Jesus, ‘took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”’ vv36-37
Whether we are in the place of someone who wants to believe but finds it difficult to make that commitment step or someone who has trusted Jesus for some time but is struggling with active faith we need to simplify things to that of a childlike faith. Just come to him and ask. Ask for the gift of faith. We have become so used to struggling for success and it all being down to our efforts we find it difficult to humbly ask. Jesus’ way is the way of the cross, where we die to be raised again.
King’s College Choir – Jesus Christ is risen today