Help My Unbelief
Sunday, September 24th, 2023
Christ Covenant Church – Centralia, WA
14 And when he came to his disciples, he saw a great multitude about them, and the scribes questioning with them. 15 And straightway all the people, when they beheld him, were greatly amazed, and running to him saluted him. 16 And he asked the scribes, What question ye with them? 17 And one of the multitude answered and said, Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit; 18 And wheresoever he taketh him, he teareth him: and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and pineth away: and I spake to thy disciples that they should cast him out; and they could not. 19 He answereth him, and saith, O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him unto me. 20 And they brought him unto him: and when he saw him, straightway the spirit tare him; and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming. 21 And he asked his father, How long is it ago since this came unto him? And he said, Of a child. 22 And ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us. 23 Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. 24 And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief. 25 When Jesus saw that the people came running together, he rebuked the foul spirit, saying unto him, Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him. 26 And the spirit cried, and rent him sore, and came out of him: and he was as one dead; insomuch that many said, He is dead. 27 But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up; and he arose. 28 And when he was come into the house, his disciples asked him privately, Why could not we cast him out? 29 And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.
Father, kiss us with the kisses of Your mouth. Give us Your divine Word, He who is the very kiss of peace. Breathe into us Your Holy Spirit, that we might have our faith, our hope, and our love increased. We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.
When Moses ascended Mount Sinai to receive the Law of God, it says in Exodus 24:18, that “Moses went into the midst of the cloud…and was in the mount forty days and forty nights.” We are also told that while he was there the “sight of the glory of the Lord was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel.”
- So for forty days and forty nights, Moses and Joshua are up on this fiery mountain. And while they are there, God speaks to Moses and gives him the architectural blueprints for constructing the Tabernacle (Ex. 25-31). And then He inscribes with His own finger on two stone tablets, the law of the covenant, two tables of testimony (Ex. 31:18).
- And while this climactic and glorious revelation is being given up on the mountain, meanwhile down below, the people are losing faith. They are starting to doubt whether Moses and Joshua will ever come down.
- Exodus 32:1 says, “Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, ‘Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’”
- We all know what happens next. Aaron makes a golden calf for the people, he builds an altar for them to worship before, and the people offer sacrifices unto it, they commit idolatry.
- So at the same time that God is gloriously revealing Himself to Moses and revealing how Israel is to approach him and worship Him at the Tabernacle, the people down below are doing exactly what God forbids. They are worshipping a lifeless golden image as if it is God, when it is no such thing.
- Our text this morning follows a very similar pattern to this apostasy at Sinai. While Jesus is up on the mountain, being transfigured before Peter, James, and John, and talking with Moses and Elijah, the other disciples are down below, with the crowds, trying to cast out an evil spirit from a boy.
- We are told specifically that it is a deaf and dumb spirit, a spirit that prevents the boy from hearing or speaking. And this deaf and dumb spirit causes seizures and casts him into the fire and the water, it is trying to kill him.
- And when Jesus comes down from the mountain, like Moses did, his response is a strong rebuke. He says in verse 19,“O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him unto me.”
There are three questions I want us to consider as we work through this passage. And as we do I want you to keep the scene at Sinai in the back of your mind. Note some of the parallels between the golden calf apostasy and this demonic possession. So there are three questions I want to ask and answer:
- Why does the son have a dumb spirit in the first place? How is it that this child became possessed?
- What does Jesus reveal about Himself by the way he casts out this demon?
- Why couldn’t the disciples cast this evil spirit out?
Q#1 – Why does the son have a dumb spirit in the first place?
- In verse 21, Jesus asks the son’s father, “How long is it ago since this spirit came unto him?” And the father says that it has harassed him since he was a child. Sometimes it would cast him into the fire, sometimes into the waters, this spirit has been trying to kill his son for years but has not yet succeeded. Despite this great affliction, there is a certain resiliency this son has shown. He has these recurring seizures, he does not seem to be able to hear or talk, and yet somehow, he’s still alive. But how did he end up this way? How does someone become possessed?
- In the Bible, there are a number of instances where God pulls back the veil, and shows us how the spiritual realm interacts with the earthly realm. One such occasion of this is when King Saul disobeys the Lord, and he goes from being filled with God’s spirit, to being troubled by an evil spirit.
- 1 Samuel 16:14, 23, “But the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him…And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, that David took an harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.”
- Another example would be in Judges 9 where God sends an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem as an act of Divine Justice. It says in Judges 9:22-24, “When Abimelech had reigned three years over Israel, 23 Then God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech: 24 That the cruelty done to the threescore and ten sons of Jerubbaal might come, and their blood be laid upon Abimelech their brother, which slew them; and upon the men of Shechem, which aided him in the killing of his brethren.”
- So one of the reasons why people become possessed by evil and demonic sprits is because they have done something very wicked, and therefore God removes his hand of protection, and allows evil spirits to harass them. This was the case with Saul, this was the case with Abimelech and the men of Shechem, and there are other examples of this in Scripture.
- In the language of Romans 1, this is God giving people over to what their sinful hearts want. They don’t want to worship God, they don’t want to obey God, they want to serve idols and worship creatures, and so God lets them. He says, if that’s who you really want to worship, I’ll show you what that gets you. You can have a taste of the wickedness you so desire.
- So when God is said “to send” an evil spirit upon someone, this is periphrastic or a metaphor for Him simply withdrawing his protection. He is giving them over to their sinful desires and the domain of the devil.
- God does this with individuals, with families, with tribes, and whole nations, and He does this as both punishment for sin, and also so that they will repent. So they will see just how miserable it is to have Satan and demons for your gods.
- This is also why Paul commands the church to excommunicate those who are unrepentant. He says in 1 Corinthians 5:5, “deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”
- So God punishes and disciplines people by giving them over to the domain of the devil, and the hope is that they will not like it, and so repent.
- Now what about this man’s son? Why is he possessed? What did he do if anything to deserve this demonic affliction?
- Well we are not told what was in this boy’s heart. We do not know if he had committed murder as a child (παιδίον), or some other grave sin in his youth. But what the text does call our attention to, and what Jesus rebukes the people for, is being a faithless generation.
- Jesus says in verse 19, “O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him unto me.”
- This is a rebuke to everyone standing there: the boy, his father, the disciples, the scribes, the crowd, they are together a faithless generation. God has come and visited them in the flesh, but they do not believe.
- Remember that Israel was God’s adopted firstborn son. God says to Pharoah in Exodus 4:22-23, “Thus saith the Lord, Israel is my son, even my firstborn: 23 And I say unto thee, Let my son go, that he may serve me: and if thou refuse to let him go, behold, I will slay thy son, even thy firstborn.”
- So the nation of Israel, of which these people standing there are a part, have broken faith with God. They have been rebellious sons.They have chosen to worship idols instead of the LORD, and because of this, the whole region is full of evil and unclean spirits. We saw this earlier with Jesus’ casting out demons even in the synagogue. So the whole land of promise, the holy land, has become unholy because of their faithlessness. And this son is suffering the effects of living in such a wicked place.
- In a spiritual sense, this son, is a living parable (a picture) of what Israel has become. Mark has been showing us thatIsrael is unable to hear, unable to speak, they are suffering under demonic oppression and none has been able to deliver them. Israel has become like the deaf and dumb idols it worships.
- We see this principle set forth in Psalm 115, that we become like what we worship.
- Describing the idols of the nations the Psalmist says, “They have mouths, but they do not speak; Eyes they have, but they do not see; They have ears, but they do not hear; Noses they have, but they do not smell; They have hands, but they do not handle; Feet they have, but they do not walk; Nor do they mutter through their throat. Those who make them are like them; So is everyone who trusts in them” (Ps. 115:5-6).
- Israel had put its trust in idols, and therefore had become as dumb and deaf and senseless as the idols. The temple had become a den of thieves. The places that God had erected for justice had become places of oppression. And so God gave Israel over to their desires. He withdrew his hand of protection, and He allowed them to be conquered, subdued, and oppressed by the surrounding nations, all because they wanted to serve those other nation’s gods.
- And so in this son, you have Israel. From the time of his youth, this spirit of deafness and dumbness had afflicted him. He refused to heed the voice of God at Sinai, he refused to make true confession before the nations. And no sooner had God adopted Israel into His house, and given them his law, that they are stripping off their clothes and dancing before the golden calf. Exodus 32:6 says, “the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.” When you worship things other than God, you become less than a man.
- Jesus asks the boy’s father, “How long is it ago since this came unto him?” And he said, “Of a child.”
- Do you remember what Moses did to the golden calf when he came down from the mountain. It says in Exodus 32:20, “Then he took the calf which they had made, burned it in the fire, and ground it to powder; and he scattered it on the water and made the children of Israel drink it.”
- The deaf and dumb idol is cast into the fire and then the water. And Israel is made to drink that judgment into itself.
- What is this deaf and dumb spirit doing to this son? It is casting him into the fire and the water, and trying to drown him.
- You become like what you worship, and this is what faithlessness, this is what worshipping false gods gets you.
- So why did this boy become possessed? Because he lived in a nation and household of idolaters. He had no faith of his own, nor his father’s faith to protect him, (no baptism, no church) and therefore he was vulnerable to demonic possession.
- It is spiritually dangerous to live without faith amidst a faithless generation, and we see the effects of this all around us.This brings us to our second question, How does Jesus deal with such faithless people, and more specifically…
Q#2 – What does Jesus reveal about Himself by the way he casts out this demon?
- Notice that in verse 20, it says, “and when he saw him, straightway the spirit tare him; and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming.” So the young man starts having a seizure, an episode, and is convulsing on the ground.
- And Jesus does not intervene. He does not immediately heal him. Instead, he turns and has a conversation with the father, “how long has this been happening?” The father says, “from childhood,” and then he pleads with Jesus, that if he has the power, “have compassion on us, and help us.”
- Well Jesus is overflowing with compassion. Love is who Jesus is. And yet, God’s love and compassion wants something more for this man and his son, than mere healing. What Jesus wants to give these men, and us who are watching, is a reason to believe (a motivation to trust Him). And so he challenges the man with a condition. He says, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.”
- Jesus is exposing the reason for all their troubles. They don’t trust God. They don’t worship God. They don’t love God. They don’t obey God. If they did those things, no such exorcism would be needed.
- And so in verse 24, we have a very honest confession from the father. “And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.”
- This father recognizes that his lack of faith has left himself and his son vulnerable. They are the faithless generation Jesus was rebuking.
- And so he cries out with tears of desperation, his son still wallowing on the ground, “I believe, help thou mine unbelief.”
- And then in verses 25-27, we behold the compassion of God.
25 When Jesus saw that the people came running together, he rebuked the foul spirit, saying unto him, Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him. 26 And the spirit cried, and rent him sore, and came out of him: and he was as one dead; insomuch that many said, He is dead. 27 But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up; and he arose.
- Jesus resurrects this son whom he loves, and notice that he does so apart from anything the son does. What was the son doing? The son was wallowing and foaming at the mouth. His father intercedes for him with a partial and weak faith, and yet the object of that faith was Christ and Christ is God and with God all things are possible to those who believe.
- Who is Jesus? He is the compassionate and omnipotent God. And He is more than willing to resurrect a nation if they will cry out to Him, even if someone else cries out to Him on their behalf. This is why our church intercedes for our nation every week. Because Jesus is more than willing to cast out the dumb and deaf spirits of our age, if we will cast ourselves upon his mercy. If we will just say to him, “We believe, help our unbelief.”
- Just as David played the harp, and the evil spirit departed from Saul, so now the voice of Christ is the music that casts down demonic strongholds. As it says in Psalm 91:1, “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.”
- That is to say that by faith in Christ, we come under the shadow of His wing (his protection). Whereas those who are faithless are made vulnerable to demons and evil spirits.
- So what kind of generation shall we be? Faithless, or faithful? And will we intercede on behalf our nation that is wallowing in its sin, and foaming at the mouth?
- Finally, we come to our third question.
Q#3 – Why couldn’t the disciples cast this evil spirit out?
- This is the question the disciples ask Jesus in verse 28, and Jesus answers saying, “This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.”
- Earlier in chapter 6, the disciples were given power over unclean spirits (Mark. 6:7). Mark 6:13 says, “And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick, and healed them.” Why is it that now their powers seem to not be working?
- There are a few reasons for this that we can conclude from Jesus’ answer. I will give you just one of them and leave the others for you to contemplate.
- 1. Not all spirits are the same. Jesus says, “this kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.”
- So when we survey the Scriptures, we learn that some evil spirits are stronger or more wicked than others. There is a demonic hierarchy just like there is a celestial hierarchy.
- For example, Jesus says in Matthew 12:43-45, “When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none. Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first. So shall it also be with this wicked generation.”
- So not all evil spirits are the same, and this kind in particular, Jesus says requires prayer and fasting.
- This principle applies equally to different kinds of sins that we struggle with.
- Some sins are easier than others to overcome and avoid (to expel from our lives), while other sins can seem impossible to get rid of. We call these more difficult sins, besetting sins, or vices. These are the sins that have become habitual for us. They can feel like an addiction. They can feel like part of who are and even come to define us.
- If that’s you, if you are feeling stuck somewhere, one of the remedies that Jesus gives us is prayer and fasting. You need to cut out the distractions, the reliance upon food or other carnal things, so that you can know deep down in your belly, how desperately you need God.
- What is fasting meant to teach us? It is meant to teach us to hunger for God more than we hunger for food. It exposes our overreliance upon the flesh and carnal things. It weakens our body so that we can become spiritually strong.
- As it says in Hebrews 13:9, “it is good that the heart be established by grace, not with foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them.”
- It is very easy to say that “man does not live be bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” It is a lot more difficult to go without physical bread, and feed only upon the Word. And so this is what fasting can help to teach us. That we are people with huge physical and carnal appetites and tiny spiritual appetites that need to grow.
- If you are feeling stuck, perhaps you need to fast and pray, “this kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.”
Fasting is a voluntary death. It is the choice to forego something good and lawful, in order to gain something greater and more glorious. And this is what Jesus has done for you.
- Jesus could have left you in your sins. He could have left you wallowing in the ground, foaming at the mouth, suffering the just penalty for your unfaithfulness.
- And yet, because of his great love and compassion, He chooses to undergo a voluntary fast, a fast fromthe very life that emanates from him. Jesus voluntarily dies on the cross, he lays his life down, and he did this because he wants something greater and more glorious. He wants you.
- Jesus wants to bring you home to His Father’s house, where there is no more pain, no more suffering, and joy everlasting. Jesus wants to give you eternal life.
- So believe in Him, and ask him to help your unbelief.
- In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.