The 23rd Sunday after Pentecost November 1, 2015
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Grace, mercy, and peace be yours in the sure knowledge that Jesus has destroyed the power that death held over you; and there remains, therefore, an eternal rest for the people of God. Amen.
Dear fellow Christians:
It is harder for some than for others, that momentous declaration that something is “beyond repair.” I confess that I am solidly in the “next to impossible” camp. Whether a result of nurture or nature, some of us just find it harder to give up on something and discard it. In fact, it is often true that those of us who are at times in the junk collection business are perfectly content to give something away to someone else even when we know full well that the recipient will probably throw it away. What someone else does is beyond my control. The point is that I am not the one doing the “wasting.”
Obviously, this tendency toward “waste not” can get to be a problem. I remember once seeing a vehicle that had caught fire and burned until there was nothing left to burn. Still, in looking at that charred lump of smoldering scrap iron, I found myself wondering if there just might still be a salvageable part…
This whole discussion can be sort of amusing and inconsequential until a human soul becomes the object of our evaluation. That’s where the declaration of “beyond repair” takes on a whole new significance. Who is ever able to make the pronouncement that an eternal human soul is beyond salvage?
Today’s text actually speaks to such things, if we will but look and listen with the eyes and ears of faith. The text on which we base our study is found in Mark’s Gospel account, the 9th chapter:
And when He came to the disciples, He saw a great multitude around them, and scribes disputing with them. Immediately, when they saw Him, all the people were greatly amazed, and running to Him, greeted Him. And He asked the scribes, “What are you discussing with them?”Then one of the crowd answered and said, “Teacher, I brought You my son, who has a mute spirit. And wherever it seizes him, it throws him down; he foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth, and becomes rigid. So I spoke to Your disciples, that they should cast it out, but they could not.”He answered him and said, “O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him to Me.” Then they brought him to Him. And when he saw Him, immediately the spirit convulsed him, and he fell on the ground and wallowed, foaming at the mouth.So He asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. And often he has thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”Jesus said to him, “If you can believe,all things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” When Jesus saw that the people came running together, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it: “Deaf and dumb spirit, I command you, come out of him and enter him no more!” Then the spirit cried out, convulsed him greatly, and came out of him. And he became as one dead, so that many said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. And when He had come into the house, His disciples asked Him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” So He said to them, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.
Here ends the precious Word of God that we are considering today for our instruction and growth. With the reminder that these are God’s words and that God Himself promises great blessing to those who treasure His words, so also we pray: “Sanctify us by Your truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth!” Amen.
The first knife-blade of Law that our text draws slowly across our hearts is the revelation that you and I, consciously or not, have made that terrible declaration in connection with human souls: We have, in one way or another, declared them to be “beyond repair.”
Consider the demon-possessed boy in our text. How many in that boy’s circle of life had written him off as beyond salvage? Humanly speaking, it would be hard to fault them. Perhaps for a decade or more the boy had been chained inescapably to a dark malevolence. In his body he no doubt bore the marks of his demonic captivity, for we read that his captor had at times “thrown him into fire.” [v.22] In your mind picture a filthy, scarred, terrible-to-behold creature. How difficult to look upon such a spectacle and to separate captive from captor, human boy from evil occupant.
One, we know, did not give up. One in that crowd that Jesus approached was still able to see the beloved human being in that pile of human wreckage: the boy’s father. Love was, of course, the thing that gave such understanding to his vision. When the man looked on his son, he undoubtedly did not see what was, he saw both what had been and what could be again. He did not see the demon, he saw his boy.
Those that didn’t look or see with the eyes of love very likely saw something altogether different. They saw human debris, something obviously beyond salvage. They saw something to be tossed on the scrapheap and forgotten. The man who saw differently brought his beloved child to Jesus’ disciples. You can imagine his desperation, his impassioned plea: “Fix him. I beg you. This is my son.”
We cannot know—and it really doesn’t matter—if Jesus’ disciples agreed to try to help because they saw the boy or because they saw the demon. They had, after all, been given the special power by their Lord to cast out demons, and so they tried…but they failed.
After their failure an argument broke out—the unbelieving scribes, no doubt, taking opportunity by that failure to condemn both the disciples’ effort and their power. The scribes and Pharisees were very good, after all, at making that declaration of “beyond repair” over against human beings. Their mantra was not “save” but “discard,” not “help” but “avoid.” Jesus Himself once told His disciples that they must honor the authority of these men, but that they were not to do what they did, for “they tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger” (Matthew 23:4 ESV). Sin, in the Pharisees’ eyes and by their definition, rendered a human being “beyond repair.” In a way, it stands to reason. When a salvation plan depends upon a superficial keeping of the Law, they found it easy to discard those who had failed their program by sinning.
Jesus always saw the human being, however. In perfect, sinless love He always saw the soul that must one day stand before the divine bar of Justice on the Day of Judgment. How slow He was to ever declare a human soul “beyond repair.” He even reached out to Judas up until the bitter end, He wept for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and He prayed for the soldiers as they drove the nails into His hands and feet. Never once did He lose sight of the eternal nature of every human soul. His greatest heartache was always centered on the death of the unbeliever, and His life’s work was to provide a means of escape.
Understand that Jesus also saw a reality that others could not see. Obviously, He could see the pitiful spectacle of the demon-ravaged boy that lay in front of him. Obviously, He could see the torment of the boy’s father. Everyone could see such things. What Jesus also saw was the equally appalling state of all the godless—even those who on the outside were prosperous, well-dressed, well-fed, and outwardly healthy, clean, and happy. Even there He recognized the stench of death and the impending calamity that is eternal damnation . Even there, where everything looked shiny and new, He recognized the need for salvage.
The question we must ask ourselves is: “How do we see those around us?” Are we fooled, both ways? Are we quick to discard those ravaged by sin and unconcerned about those who seem to be doing well, despite their unbelief? Both kinds need the sort of salvage that only the Gospel can afford.
This is the first “beyond repair” lesson in our text and the one that is the easiest to identify. The second is not so easy. From our text: “Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’” [v.24] It is certainly not difficult to feel for the dad in this situation. He was obviously in great pain. As with most fathers I know, I have little doubt that he would have, if given the chance, gladly traded places with his tormented son. Wouldn’t you do the same for your own child? We would, therefore, gladly and wholeheartedly commend such a man to Jesus, begging Him to help this suffering human being by helping his child.
But what do you understand by his statement: “I believe; help my unbelief!”? Specifically, how was Jesus to help the man’s unbelief? Was he asking Jesus to repair that unbelief? What exactly was he saying?
The man asked Jesus to help his son “if you can.” His confidence has been shaken by the failure of Jesus’ disciples. Jesus, however, pounced on those words: “’If you can!’ All things are possible for one who believes.” [v.23] Jesus attacks the root of the problem which is the failure of all present to believe with utter certainty that absolutely nothing is impossible for Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And there is more to that truth than just casting out a demon. That truth applies also to the salvage of human souls —beginning with yours and mine. Jesus derides the very notion that His power is in any way limited. “If I can? Of course, I can! The question is not My power, but your faith.”
The man was not asking Jesus to salvage, recondition, or repair his unbelief; he was begging Jesus to help him despite his doubts and lack of faith. “Help me, Jesus, even though I have such terrible doubts and weaknesses,” and Jesus does help.
Though you and I wish and pray that things could be different, we will very likely always be tormented by doubts. Satan sows them liberally and daily. Faith itself is not provable. It is unverifiable, based always and only on “the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). There will never be a point on this side of Heaven, when we will be unencumbered by such baggage, try as we will. The supremely comforting message from our Savior is simply this: “I will help you anyway. You are weak, but I am strong. You have doubts, I have none. You cannot rescue yourself, but I can rescue you. In fact, I am even now doing just that. That’s exactly what I came to earth to accomplish.”
Humanly speaking, all humanity was “beyond repair,” “beyond salvage,” but not for the One with whom nothing is impossible. How amazing to recognize just how broken and worthless we were—in the condition we brought on ourselves by our own sin—and yet how our Savior loved us anyway. He recognized, not something good in us because there was nothing, but He saw us as the pitiful creatures we really were and yet loved us enough to redeem us, restore us, forgive us.
The disciples in our text asked the Savior why they were not able to cast out the demon. His reply: “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.” [v.29] The disciples had trusted too much in themselves and their own power. Jesus told them. “Instead, access My power through prayer.” Here again, is purest, sweetest Gospel. Here again, God’s divine arrow points not to us for the solution, but to our Savior. The only real power we have is God’s. The only hope we have is not in own solutions but in trusting the power and goodness of our Savior. He did all things for us and provided all necessary goodness as our substitute when He offered His perfect life as the full and complete payment for our otherwise un-payable debt of sin. And doubt. And weakness of faith.
Our simple prayer is: “Thank you, Jesus, for not dismissing us as ‘beyond repair.’” Amen.
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