Proper 19 · Mark 9:14-29 · September 13, 2009
By Tim Saleska
The question that presses the characters in this text is the same one that often presses modern Christian readers of this text. It is the question that the preacher himself must face and answer: What authority does Jesus really have? Put more simply: Can Jesus help us or not? The question hangs in the air while Jesus and a desperate father discuss the condition of the child writhing in the dirt in front of them (v. 20). “How long has he been like this?” Jesus asks, doctor-like. “From childhood,” the man answers, and after describing the symptoms he pleads: “. . . If you can do anything, help us! Have compassion on us” (w. 21-22).
The father had his doubts about Jesus. He didn’t know what Jesus could deliver! Jesus’ disciples were powerless (v. 18). The “silent spirit” was the one in control (w. 17-18). So, in the middle of all the unbelief and strife, Jesus claims authority! He responds to the man’s plea: ‘”If you can‘ (Jesus echoes the man’s utterance to rebuke it, as if to say: O f course I can! Why would you even question that?’)! Everything is possible to the one who believes (this could refer both to Jesus and the father)” (v. 23)!
Jesus’ utterance is a bold call to trust him and take him at his word. The father’s paradoxical reply reveals his weakness: “Lord I believe! Help my unbelief‘ (v. 24)! In his poignant response, the father was not praying that his faith be helped until it was “strong enough” for Jesus to do something. Rather, he was confessing his weakness and asking that his son would be healed anyway. And Jesus demonstrated that the man’s faith or lack thereof, was no obstacle to him. He commanded the unclean spirit to get out and never come back! And the spirit obeyed (v. 25). (He had no choice.)
So, “What authority does Jesus really have?” The father found out that with God all things are possible! And in the NT, this event was not unique. In the NT, Jesus was the “go to guy” for doing the impossible! He was the one in charge. Even Death left a person when Jesus wished it. So, he raised ordinary people like Lazarus from the dead. And he HIMSELF rose! The full significance of the events of the text, especially w. 26—27, is seen in the light of Christ’s resurrection! There was no “if you are able!” In the NT, Jesus “was able.”
But we are a long way from the NT. Things are different now. Jesus doesn’t walk among us now. So the question presses us: “Can Jesus help us or not?” Does he have any authority at all over what most afflicts me, and will he wield his authority in my favor or not? The temptation is for us to doubt. We see few dramatic demonstrations of God’s power. (People die like flies and don’t rise!) The cry of the father is personally familiar: “Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!” (That is: “Demonstrate your authority! Show us your power!”)
(Here the preacher begins to move to proclamation. His goal is to speak so as to create faith in hearts filled with doubt. A direction to do that follows.)
Well, as the preacher, I need to answer that question—that plea! Remember that I am here on the authority of the resurrected Jesus, the Jesus who now lives and reigns from heaven, in whose name and in whose stead I speak. And so it is his authoritative word I bring when I tell you that he has forgiven your sins! He has the authority to forgive you and he has! You were given that promise in your Baptism, you receive it as from our Lord himself in Holy Communion, and here and now you hear his decision again.
So, your sin cannot separate you from God. Jesus has done away with it. That means that your weakness, your troubles, your sorrows, only have a short season to live. They do not reign. Christ reigns. The Lord and King of all, when he returns, will transform your fleshly bodies into spiritual ones (1 Cor 15). “There will be no more death or sorrow or pain…” (Rev 21:4). No other authority in heaven or on earth will stop him. This Jesus is Lord. And he is your Lord, Lord for you. “Nothing will separate you from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:37-39). This is the promise of the one who rose from the dead and who has power over all things. Let not your hearts be troubled. Neither let them be afraid!