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Unbelieving Believers

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August 31, 2014

Intro – Did you ever have a teen-ager explain your phone to you? I guarantee you it won’t be long before you say, “I didn’t know it did that!” The truth is that modern mobile phones have monstrous capabilities that most of us never tap. But guess what? God also has monstrous capacities and capabilities that most of us never tap. The trouble is we are unbelieving believers to one degree or another. And our unbelief ties the hands of God.

Every worry is a declaration that God is not big enough, powerful enough or loving enough to take care of me? Every outburst is a declaration that I am better able to defend my rights than God. Every disobedience is a declaration that I know better than God. And so, without meaning to, I trim His sails; I limit His scope. With each such instance I drop anchor in unbelief, and live like who I was, instead of who I am. We all do it; we do it every day; we do it without even thinking. Our text today urges us to tap a big God – by faith.

Context. The disciples just had the ultimate mountaintop experience! Peter says they were “eyewitnesses of his majesty.” But while we need mountaintop experiences we cannot live there. We are needed in the valley. But look at Lu 9:43: “And all were astonished at the majesty of God.” That was the reaction to Jesus healing one of the worst cases of demon possession in the NT. And the word majesty? – same word Peter used. Peter saw it on the mount in Jesus’ person; the crowd saw it in the valley in Jesus’ work. The majesty of God wsa in both places. Meaning – it is possible to bring the majesty of the mountaintop to the valley. We used to sing, “Heaven came down and glory filled my soul.” It can happen. It is intended to happen. It is only limited in scope by – guess what? Our UNBELIEF! We have a big God; we believe He can do anything – except what touches our lives. Then, we either believe He can’t or He won’t. Or we lost heart because He won’t do it the way we think it should be done. We are walking, talking oxymorons – believers who do not believe. Unbelieving believers.

Just like the disciples! When Jesus says in v. 41, “O faithless [without faith] and twisted generation” He’s not talking to the crowd. His disciples are the culprits. In their unbelief, the glory would never have descended. Thankfully, Jesus was there and it did, and it still can. Here’s what we need to know.

I. Our World is Bound

V. 37, “On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38 And behold, a man from the crowd cried out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. 39 And behold, a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly cries out. It convulses him so that he foams at the mouth, and shatters him, and will hardly leave him.” Luke is putting up flashing, neon lights saying, “Note the difference!” The contrast between the mountain and the valley is stunning. Glory on the mountain; tragedy in the valley. God’s majesty on the mountain; Satan’s cruelty in the valley. A God-pleasing Son on the mountain; a demon-possessed waste of a son in the valley. A sovereign Father on the mountain; a helpless, tortured father below. One son a destroyer of demons; the other destroyed by demons. The 2nd son restored to his father, delivered by the1st son. What contrasts. Without Jesus you live in the valley without hope.

The boy below is a shattered wreck. He cries out, convulses, foams at the mouth. Some have suggested he is an epileptic. But the Bible clearly indicates demonic possession. Matt adds the demon often threw the boy into open fires or pools of water trying to destroy him (Mt 17:15). Mark adds that he was deaf and mute. Covered with scars; unable to hear or speak; his eyes betray his terror at every new attack. It is about to destroy the boy; it is about to destroy the father also. They are helpless in the face of this relentless enemy. God is picturing for us a world in bondage. We’re not demon-possessed, but even as we enjoy the good life, apart from Christ we are hopelessly enslaved to sin. Jesus said to His comfortable, middle-class audience in Jn 8:34, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” In our fallen, broken world right is declared wrong and wrong is declared right. Apart from Christ, our bondage is every bit as real as that of this boy. And sin will take you down just as surely without Christ.

But sin’s bondage is invisible. We expect comfort as the norm. Trouble surprises us: “This isn’t supposed to be happening to me! Lord, why are You letting this happen to me?” We wonder if God is in control. If He is in control, “This shouldn’t be happening to me.” God shrinks in proportion to our misguided expectations that life here should be like life there.

I heard a preacher on TV one night say, “If you’re a Christian, you should have something to show for it. Now, you ain't gotta have what everybody else got, but you should have a life where you're comfortable." Where does the Bible teach that? It doesn’t! A lot of Xns are not comfortable this morning – many not even safe. Why? Because we live in the valley, in a fallen world. In that environment, God allows adversity for 1,000 reasons – sometimes discipline, sometimes to help us focus, sometimes to benefit others. Sometimes to grow us. When God is big in our eyes, He can get His purpose accomplished. But when He is small, we’ve tied His hands.

To unleash a great God, we must do what Jesus said to the father in v. 41, “Bring your son here.” He invites us, too. Bring me your children, your job, your vile temperament, the grudge you hold, your finances, your marriage. Bring it to me. It’s either a big problem or a big God. Why not a big God?

II. Our Ability is Bounded

The disciples forgot, as do we, when we go into battle alone, we’ve already lost. V. 40, “And I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” They did not fail for lack of trying. But they had forgotten the source of power. Look at the sequence at 9:1, “And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases.” Jesus had given them power over how many demons? ALL! And according to v. 6, it worked. They had some success under their belt. But that was their undoing. They had come to believe in the power, not in the source of the power. They believed in magic, not Jesus. So they went thru their normal ritual for casting out demons, but this time, nothing happened. Why? They were trusting in the method rather than the Master. They were unbelieving believers.

How do we know? Jesus tells us. V. 41, “Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you?” Jesus is in the disciples’ face here. They’d begun to assume His power was their power -- they could handle it on their own. When they took their eyes off Him, they failed, like Peter walking on the water. They were trusting self, not God. We know that because Jesus tells them in Mark 9:29, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” That means, they had not even prayed about this -- assumed they could handle it. A sure sign of Unbelieving believers.

We all get deceived – thinking we can handle life. But spiritual warfare is difficult. In WWII you knew who and where the enemy was. In Vietnam you were never sure. There were no clearly defined lines; friends and enemies looked and sounded alike. You could never be sure. Spiritual warfare is like that. We don’t see the humanistic philosophies as spiritual warfare that they are. We don’t see the innocent office flirtation as spiritual battleground. We don’t see our out-of-control busyness as spiritual warfare. Comfort, ease and affluence blind us. We don’t pray; we’re self-sufficient; ignore God. When disaster strikes, we can’t cast the demon out. Unbelieving believers.

We are easy targets when we drop the spiritual disciplines of prayer and Bible study and live on our own resources. Easy targets. We don’t see our spiritual life is on the line every second. We must develop a tenacious faith. Not long ago in Bear County, SD, a 120 pound mountain lion leapt thru the open window of a motor home and attacked 18-month-old Jason Cowden. Grandma somehow got a butcher knife, stabbed the lion, twisted hard and the lion fell dead. She said, “I knew I had pierced the heart. I said a prayer that the good Lord would give me the strength and the right spot, and He did.” Beloved, that’s the kind of ruthless faith we need in every day living. Peter learned. He later wrote, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (I Pet 5:8). He wrote that to believers, folks. If our eyes are not constantly on a big God, eventually we will be devoured. Our ability is bounded.

III. Our God is Boundless

V. 42, “While he was coming, the demon threw him to the ground and convulsed him. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit and healed the boy, and gave him back to his father.” This is the God, Beloved, who is on your side – the One who will take on your children, your financial difficulties, your impossible work situation, your medical issues, your lack of confidence, your addictions – this is the God who is on your side. Note:

A. His Passion: He Reaches Down

You don’t have to run after God to find Him. His hand is already out to you. V. 37 again, “On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him.” God’s only Son came down. He could have, had He chosen, gone right back to heaven from being transfigured on the mountain. Instead, He comes down. And amidst the whole crowd, He comes to the only son of a broken father. Had He not come down, it was curtains for that boy.

And that same only begotten Son of God came down to earth to redeem the person that matters most to you – you. Had He not come, we’d all be without hope. But He did come. Isa 49:15-16 promises, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. 16 Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” Would a nursing mother abandon her baby? God says that would happen before I would ever forget you. “You are engraved in my palms. Every time I look, there you are.” Every good and even every bad thing in our life shows the love of God, hard as it is.

B. His Patience: He Responds to Faith

What was the problem here? No faith! V. 41, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” The disciples had forgotten that it was Jesus’ power, not their performance that succeeded. When we rely on our strength, it gets ugly fast. Jesus calls them a “twisted generation”. The word “twisted” means “deformed”, “perverted”, “distorted.” It describes how easily we are twisted out of shape when we look at circumstances instead of Him.

The only cure is faith. Trust the healing and timing to Him. The disciples had authority, but they didn’t believe it. Neither do we! Rom 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” How many things? All things. Do you believe that? No – I mean really believe that? Are you a believing believer or is there a point where you become an unbelieving believer? Do you believe financial loss is working for good? Is your spouse’s critical nature working to your good? Find the point of your greatest frustration and you will know where you are an unbelieving believer. And the only cure is to give it to God.

J. C. Ryle says of this passage, “There are many Christian fathers and mothers at this day who are just as miserable about their children as the man of whom we are reading. The son who was once the desire of their eyes and in whom their lives were bound up turns into a spendthrift or a prodigal, and the daughter who was once the flower of the family becomes self willed and worldly minded and a lover of pleasure more than a lover of God and their hearts are very well near broken. Now what should a father or mother do in a case like this? They should do as the man before us did. They should go to Jesus in prayer and cry to Him about their child. God’s time of conversion may not be ours. He may think fit to prove our faith by keeping us long waiting, but so long as a child lives and a parent prays, we have no right to finally despair about that child’s soul.” Whatever your concern, Beloved, bring it to Jesus. We talk a good talk about faith, but we do a lot more worrying and complaining than we do praying and trusting. We do a lot more hating and feuding than we do loving our enemies in faith as Christ commanded. We do a lot more whining than believing.

Mark 9:23-24 gives wonderful insight into this father: “And Jesus said to him, ‘If you can! All things are possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” We are all a mix of belief and unbelief. None of us have it altogether. So this should be our daily prayer, triggered by whatever worries us the most right then. That’s where the unbelief is living. We must ruthlessly root it out. God responds to faith; unbelief ties His hands.

C. His Power: He Restores Broken Things

V. 42: While he was coming, the demon threw him to the ground and convulsed him. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit and healed the boy, and gave him back to his father.” This man brought his son to Jesus, so – instant healing, right? Well, not quite. First the demon took another shot. He threw him down and convulsed him. It was like an invisible linebacker drove that boy to the ground and convulsed him. Mark 9:26-27 tells us, “And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.” God is teaching us restoration is not always instantaneous. Sometimes things get worse after we bring them to Christ. Sometimes faith unleashes all the power of the enemy as never before. Sometimes we look more dead than alive for a time. Sometimes the wait is not minutes or days or weeks, but years. Sometimes the answer does not look at all like we think it should. Faith isn’t getting what we want; it’s getting what we need. Faith doesn’t dictate the results; faith trust in God whatever the result. Look at v. 42 again. Jesus “gave him back to his father.” And so He will do for us. It is faith that taps into the resources of a big God.

Conclusion – So what must we do? We must ruthlessly root out unbelief. It shows when we disobey God’s commands. It shows when we are worried and frustrated. It shows when we act without prayer. Ladies used to worry about their slip showing. Believe me, wherever unbelief resides, the slip is showing. We must root it out, kill it and turn the issue over to Him permanently. Like the woman who was stopped for a traffic violation. As she searched her purse for her license, the officer noticed a conceal-carry permit and asked, “Do you have a weapon in your possession?” She answered, “Yes, I have a .45 automatic in the glove box.” “Any others?” “Yes, a 9 mm Smith and Wesson in the center console.” “Is that all?” “No, I have a .38 special in my purse,” she admitted. The officer asked her, “What are you so afraid of?” Looking him straight in the eye she replied, “Absolutely nothing!” She was armed and dangerous and fearless. Just like we ought to be in Christ. People whose faith can’t be touched.

So where is your slip showing this morning? Is it children, work, marriage, finances, temperament. Where are you an unbelieving believer? Let’s take a few moments to take inventory, bring it to Christ, untie His hands and watch God’s majesty be revealed. Let’s bring the majesty of the mountaintop down into our valley – by faith. God is way bigger than we give Him credit for. It’s time to tap some capabilities we never knew existed – by faith! Let’s pray.

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