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Faith Out of Failure

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Jesus keeps us grounded (Mk 9:14-16)

And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them… Now it might be helpful to get some context as to who “they” is. Just before this passage Mark wrote of the Transfiguration where Peter, James, and John were up on a high mountain with Jesus, away from the other nine disciples. And on this mountain, they experienced what was probably the most incredible and amazing experience of their life up to that point. Jesus began to glow. His clothes began to radiate white light. And not just an absorption and reemission of photons, because his clothes were shining whiter than the sun. Two men appeared, and Peter, somehow recognizing them as Moses and Elijah. Then a cloud overshadowed them and they heard a voice from the cloud say “this is my son, listen to him”. And then it was all gone. And Jesus was like, ok, lets go… And on their way down Jesus is says hey fellas, um…lets keep all this to ourselves, don’t tell anyone ok…at least not yet. And as they are approaching the disciples, and yet still at a distance they hear yelling and shouting, and they see a large crowd has gathered and that there are scribes there. I love Mark’s juxtaposition of these incidents and how he uses this one little detail of an argument to capture the feel of the situation. Peter, James, and John are coming down from a figurative and literal mountain top experience. They just had one of the most amazing times of worship where Peter didn’t even want to leave. He wanted to remain in that experience of peace and preserve that moment. And they were coming down the mountain I can imagine the whole encounter was welling up inside them an exuberance and ecstaticism for what they are a part of. To then reach the bottom and immediately be confronted with reality, an argument with the teachers of the law. It’s like coming back from a conference where the worship was amazing and the teaching and workshops were at 100 to getting back home with the laundry and dishes, and back to work with the day-to-day grind. It’s like leaving church on Sunday morning where you feel refreshed and connected to getting in the car and instantly getting complaints about being “hungry” or about “he won’t stop looking at me”. This coming down off the mountain is Mark setting the scene for Jesus keeping us grounded. In fact, that is our first point you can write down this morning. Jesus keeps us grounded. Some of you out there might be faithfully and diligently writing that down on the outside but thinking on the inside that it wasn’t really Jesus who grounded their expectations, but the scribes. Well, take a look at what happens next. Here in verse 15 we read “immediately all the crowed, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeting him. And he asked them, what are you arguing about with them?” Jesus keen to recognize this moment and looks to ground or anchor not only Peter, James, and John, but also the others. He asked, “what are you arguing about with them”? This question cut through all the clutter. But who was he talking to? Who is “you” and who is “them”? We saw in verse 14 that there were the 9 disciples, the crowd gathered around them and the scribes. To answer this question, Mark gives another interesting and vivid detail as to what they did when they saw Jesus. He wrote that they were greatly amazed. This greatly amazed is a word that can mean overwhelmed with awe or fear. Given the reaction of running towards Jesus it would seem that awe was more of the effect. It is a word used to describe encounters with divine manifestations, that is often translated “afraid”. There is a sense of loosing all rational thought and response. So, when they saw Jesus, they were overcome with a desire to be near him, and they took off running. It’s like Jesus is some sort of rock star here and there are people screaming and fainting and everyone pressing in to get closer to him. As you read through the Gospels, you’ll see this is not an uncommon occurrence, in fact it happens again in our passage later on. When people see Jesus, they just want to be near him. They want to be where the action is. They want to be present and involved and a part of what is happening. And what better place to be then to be where God is yeah? To quote Henry Blackaby, to see where God is working and join him. Their desire to be with Jesus isn’t wrong. Our desire to be with Jesus isn’t wrong. To be a part of a small group that earnestly prays for one another. To serve together in Harvest Kids. To have late night Deacon meetings doing tours of the facility so as to run thoughts by one another and invite God’s wisdom to intervene through the collective ideation. Sometimes, we do want to go where everybody knows our name, and what better place to go then where God knows our name. So here this crowd is chasing Jesus and we at least know they were close enough to Jesus for him to ask this question. And as far as the argument goes, maybe they joined in on the side of the disciples, or maybe they came to the aid of the scribes. Chances are there was probably both reactions. Yet Mark specifically tells us that the scribes were arguing with the disciples. So, he must be asking one of those two groups. Now, given the apparent hostility of the scribes, who are often lumped in with the pharisees, it seems odd for them to chase after Jesus in some fanatical sort of fashion. Therefore, it would make more sense that Jesus is asking his disciples, what were you arguing about with the scribes? But then, where is their answer? After Jesus question, Mark tells us that someone from the crowd answered. Why were the disciples quiet? We will see as we go on that this whole circumstance revolves around a son who is afflicted with an unclean spirit. And this man who spoke up stated that Jesus’ disciples could not cast out the spirit, even though Jesus empowered and commissioned the disciples to do that very thing. If we turned back a few pages we could read Mark 6:7, where Jesus “called the twelves and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over the unclean spirits”. This is something they should have been able to do, something they should have done. But when this father asked his son to be cured, the disciples offered silence…silence from God, silence for help, silence in the place of hope. And when their teacher, their mentor, their Lord asked them about what was going on, there was no response, only silence. Silence in shame, silence in anger, silence in doubt, silence in confusion. The silence of failure. We can feel that at times too can we not. When it seems things should have turned out different. A prodigal child that should have followed the path laid before them. We feel defeated in failure through that do we not? Or when we muster up the courage to talk to someone about Jesus and they respond with good for you. We can feel a sense of letting Jesus down. (PAUSE) So, for those who like the comfort and security in life and to stay in those moments, Jesus keeps us grounded by reminding us conflict is inevitable. For those who seek after being where the party is, Jesus keeps us grounded by pressing us to go deeper in our interactions. For those dedicated to action and mission, Jesus keeps us grounded by reminding us it sometimes takes more than what we have available. And for those of us who need and thrive on order and following laws, like the scribes, Jesus has not forgot about you either. It might make sense the scribes did not follow, but Mark stated all the crowd. And just as the disciples were silent in answering Jesus question, so were the scribes. So, Jesus keeps those of us trying to keep things right grounded by showing us sometimes we learn more through the experience than we do through a rule book.

Jesus is our desperate hope (Mk 9:17-24)

It’s not only through the mountain top experiences that we learn of Jesus grounding us, but also in the spiral of self-doubt and the abatement of delusions concerning our own capabilities. In these moment’s Jesus grounding actually lifts us up. Jon Guerra came out with a new song called Tightrope where he sings Sometimes I feel like I'm walking | A tightrope from Heaven to Earth | Walk steady, walk straight, don't grumble, don't be late | Get better or you're going to get hurt | So I try to walk balanced and healthy | I say I'm fine, wobbles and all | But some things I can't fake, it's a curse I can't break | No, the tightrope's no match for the fall | No, the tightrope's no match for the fall. Guerra sings “teach me to fall in your direction” pointing us towards looking at Jesus in these failures. He goes on You danced on the tightrope like nothing | Made all of the walkers look stiff | You forgave the sinner and you condemned the winner | So they took that rope and hung you with it | But on the third day something happened | You rose up and looked for your friends | You told them you forgave them and that you'd always be with them | And that falling is how you ascend | You said falling is how you ascend. Teach me to fall in your direction | When I can't go on, teach me to climb | When I can't get up, teach me to rise | And when I fall, teach me to fly. It is in the moments where we feel the utter failure of our efforts that Jesus becomes our desperate hope. You can write that down as our second point this morning. Jesus is our desperate hope. Looking back to our text in verse 17 we read “And someone from the crowd answered him, ‘Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grids his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” Now I want to point out a few things that are unique to Mark’s writing and discuss the description here which seems to be someone who lives with epileptic seizures and appears to be non-verbal. In our western naturalistic culture this would seem to be someone who has life challenges and is probably in need of communal support. Mark does not equate the two. In his writing he never communicates Jesus to have healed people when dealing with “unclean spirits”, but he does communicate Jesus’ healing when dealing with mental and physical challenges. Therefore, we have to let this reality of Mark’s process and perception guide our understanding of the Spirit’s inspiration. We need to accept that this circumstance lies outside of the hubris of our own culture’s naturalistic framework. We must not equate this to some antiquated view of mental disorders, and we certainly should not think to mean the Bible equates all mental disorders to demonic efforts. Now, that I have offered that disclaimer, lets look back at this father and Jesus’ response. In verse 19 we read that Jesus answered, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” (PAUSE) You know, I love me a happy smiling Jesus much better than a somber emotionally stoic Jesus, but can you see Jesus’ frustration here? You can almost hear the sigh before he responds. Full of compassion, yes. Full of love, yes. And full of a desire to see people grow and improve and learn to love God and his people more. But here the failure of the disciples to cast out the spirit, the failure of the father’s doubt (notice he does not have his son with him anymore), the failure of the crowd and the scribes to truly follow Jesus and not just chase after him, are surely trying his patience as well. And he says they all are without faith, a generation that is unreliable and untrusting. But despite their failures, Jesus still says, “bring the boy to me”. Then they all witnessed firsthand what happens to the boy. Look at verse 20, “And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him [saw Jesus], immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. And Jesus asked his father, ‘How long has this been happening to him?’ And he said, ‘From childhood. And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything [if someone would do something], have compassion on us and help us.” Do you feel the weight of the father’s sense of failure in all this? For years he has been unable to fully protect his child while simultaneously unable to let his kid go about life and play like all the other children? Yet, here is his child, trauma, burn scars and all. And for probably most of his time as a father he has been asking for someone to be able to do something. And when he finally has a chance to take his child to Jesus, to be set free Jesus then asks, if he can... Look at verse 23 where Jesus said to him “If you can! All things are possible for one who believes” If he can believe… But he knows in his heart he is failing at this too and cries out “help my unbelief!” Jesus is our desperate hope. When we come face to face with our faithlessness, Jesus is our desperate hope. When that dirty temptation is paraded in front of us that we might fail in resisting again, Jesus is our desperate hope. When injustice and greed align against us Jesus is our desperate hope. When the enemy is seeking to destroy us, Jesus is our desperate hope. When you get a check in the mail for $1500.00 that is actually a predatory loan, Jesus is our desperate hope. There was a time for my family that a 1500 dollar check was a months pay. When you’re a single income family making $9 an hour, every bill hurts, every month there is a decision on who isn’t getting paid. When needing to go to a pantry for food because we literally had no money to buy it. Getting a $1500.00 check in the mail feels like provision, but it is a trap from the enemy looking to bring more bondage and more brokenness. Haven’t seen one of these in years…We’ve gotten two this week. Jesus is our desperate hope. (PAUSE) But you know, I feel like I need to say a few things here to counteract some unhealthy views regarding Jesus’ response “All things are possible for one who believes”. Mark wrote three times the saying “all things are possible”. Here in chapter 9, again in chapter 10 when Jesus told his disciples that with man it is impossible, but not with God for all things are possible with God. And lastly in chapter 14 when Jesus prayed for the cup of suffering, the way of the cross may be removed from him, because “all things are possible for God”, but he followed up that prayer with submission to God’ regardless of the outcome of that prayer. Jesus is not teaching that if we believe hard enough, that if your faith is strong enough then we will receive what you ask for. As long as we have the “right” kind of faith. We haven’t gotten there yet, so spoiler alert, Jesus does what he asks, he casts out the spirit and restores the boy to health. But look at the father’s desperate prayer “I believe, help my unbelief”. That does not sound like strong faith, does it? With these three instances of Jesus saying “all things are possible” in, with, through God and specifically giving the conditional submission to the Fathers will, any answer to prayers of faith are not a result of our performance but a result of God’s purpose. On the flip side, this does not give us clearance to abdicate our responsibility to live by faith. Jesus’ chastisement in calling them a faithless generation applies to the father, the crowd, the scribes, and the disciples. I can confidently tell you that if this father had not brought his son to Jesus, his son would have died still having been affected by this spirit. God does many things for us, many things that we are unable or unwilling to do. But he also invites us into covenantal relationship where we both exercise faithfulness towards the other. This isn’t to mean God helps those who help themselves, that statement, that philosophy is trash. It does mean our faith, as James would put it, works, it does. It has visible and definable substance to it. Even if that substance is a prayer of desperate hope to Jesus to help our skepticism, to remove our untrusting heart, to dissolve our faithlessness with the power of his purpose.

Jesus gives success over the enemy (Mk 9:25)

Where were we in our story…Yes, verse 25 “And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit saying to it, ‘You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again’.” Go ahead and write this down as our third point for today and then we’ll walk through how I got there together. Jesus gives us success over the enemy (repeat). Now, I said walk through together and I meant it. I want you to read verse 25 a few times over and then I’m going to ask some questions. These won’t be rhetorical questions so if you feel you have the answer speak out. This first question is key… Why did Jesus command the spirit to come out? (a crowd gathered) The black text in the bible is not just filler to get to more red letters. It means something. Mark connects the timing of the crowds running together to Jesus rebuking the spirit. (PAUSE) Now this question might cause you to look a little outside of verse 25, but did this spirit leave because of Jesus’ authority? (No) I mentioned earlier that in Mark 6 we read of Jesus giving the disciples authority to cast out unclean spirits. If it was based on Jesus’ authority than the disciples would have that authority and would have been able to remove the spirit when the father asked them to. Their failure came not in how they were gifted but in how they were using their gifts. (PAUSE) What caused the spirit to leave, according to Jesus? (Prayer). Now that we have established Jesus’ verbal rebuke of the spirit was because of the presence of the crowd. Let me ask this (and this one might be rhetorical): Why did the presence of the crowd matter? Mark has already shared stories of when Jesus removed unclean spirits, he already shared how Jesus delegated authority to others to do the same. Mark already shared stories of how Jesus healed those who could not hear and speak, moreover Matthew’s writing shows people back then understood what an epileptic condition is. For proof of that you can see Matthew 4:24 which separates oppression by demons and those having seizures as two different things Jesus was dealing with. So then, I think it is reasonable to assume that Mark is not just sharing another instance but is looking to communicate something very specific with this one. Namely, that the personal triumphs of Christ in our lives are not dependent upon our performance but upon his purpose. This passage of text is completely centered around the public display of Jesus power over sinister and destructive forces. It begins with an argument between the scribes and the disciples, to which Jesus is very interested in finding out what the argument was about. When we learn it has to do with a diminishing perspective of his power through public debate, Jesus indicts the people as faithless. And then here when Jesus has a chance to reclaim his fame in the presence of the crowd gathering again, he displays triumph over evil. Not in some self-seeking manor, but so that people will believe. So that people will have faith. Mark has sandwiched the transfiguration and this encounter in between two statements Jesus made to his disciples about going to the cross. Much of what Jesus did was giving people opportunities to trust and believe in him, so that when the cross and the resurrection happened, they would know without a shadow of a doubt that he is God. We can read through the Gospels and learn from Jesus what it means to love our neighbor, what it means to care for the poor, what it means to be a good steward with our finances. We can learn what it means to live holy lives and maintain postures of righteousness. But the kingdom of God much more than a pathway of morality. The gospel is so much bigger than being a good person. Let’s pretend you were able to obtain perfection in morality. And pretending it would definitely be. But let’s say that you were able to be good enough to earn your way into heaven. That you were so generous and kind that you not only took care of your own responsibilities, but you provided for the poor. You aided those who were destitute. You came to the side of those who suffer injustice and are marginalized. You lived a virtuous and honest life. For all your good, you have still yet to help the one who is unwilling or unable to do any of these things. Your personal morality, as good as it is, does nothing to correct the brokenness of humanity and is ultimately only a positive mark for your life alone. You may have successfully proved yourself as a good person, but your goodness cannot and will not save another. Sin, suffering, and injustice remain in the world and no amount of effort you give will remove it. For this, all your efforts are chasing the wind, and in truth are only a means by which you aim to convince yourself, that you are ok. But in that aim, in that justification, you leave another on his path, destined for hell, unhindered and speeding towards destruction. No, the ultimate and true goodness in this world is to offer an escape from humanities brokenness. And this offer is only available through Jesus Christ. And this is the purpose of Jesus power over evil. The apostle Paul seeks to get us to have the same viewpoint when he wrote to the Ephesians that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (ESV, Eph 6.12). The single most pressing reality in our world is the fight against evil. And victory in this fight only happens through Jesus Christ. This battle may not manifest itself in our circumstances the way it did here in our text but make no mistake about it there are forces of darkness that seek to dishearten, derail, and destroy your life all in an effort to say God has no power here. But when we continually submit to the loving will of the Father at every turn, we prove God’s presence and power remains. (PAUSE) I normally do not like telling stories where I might be perceived as having it all together, because I have not figured out everything in life just yet. I like the apostle can claim I have not yet obtained perfection, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took a hold of me. But afford me this one time, because I remember how it made me feel to be victorious when there was a clear effort to do damage to me. Shortly after I got promoted to a manager, I got in a car accident while driving to a client’s location. It had begun to slightly rain and the car in front of me applied it’s breaks. I assumed it was slowing down because of an apparent accident with a police car already on sight. I let off my gas pedal, looked around and then looked back at the car in front of me and realized it was stopping in the road. I put on my breaks, but the antilock-brake system on the vehicle kicked in and prevented me from being able to stop in time and I struck the vehicle in front of me. It was one of those times in life where it feels everything is going in slow motion and yet you cannot move fast enough or do anything other than just watch it happen. I could see the driver in the other car in her mirror and she was staring at the person on the side of the road, and I could see that the person on the side of the road was talking to her. As, I was moving towards her vehicle with my breaks pressed as hard as I could and as I was staring at her face in the mirror and saying over and over move, move, move it all just still happened. After I bumped her car, we pulled over and I walked to the police car and told the officer that we had an accident. When he was finished with the first one, he came and talked to the other driver than me. When I told him what happened, he said he must write me a ticket since I technically struck the other vehicle, but that he would not press the ticket and I could go get it dropped. I went about my day, informed my employer since it was a company vehicle and met with the client. Now, I got a call a few days later from a prosecutor looking to see if I wanted to take a plea bargain. Even now looking back on this it seems a little aggressive for a fender bender. But, based on what the police officer told me, I figured it would be like when I was a teenager and that if the officer did not show up to court, the tickets would simply be dropped. So, I told the prosecutor, no I would not be taking a plea bargain. And then some legal threats ensued. On court day, I was confident that the officer would not be there, the judge would have no recourse except to drop the case and I would go on my way. My assumption was wrong. The prosecutor had the officer and the other driver present to testify against me in this case. And when the judge asked if I had counsel, I had to say no, I’ll be going it alone today ma’am. But I knew I wasn’t alone, and I offered up a quick prayer, “Lord Jesus help me”. I had no idea what I was doing. So, I listened as the prosecutor asked the officer about his credentials. I sat under the examination questions of the prosecutor, and I again listened as the other driver answered questions as well. And I did my cross-examination questions. I don’t think I have ever felt more nervous and under-qualified in my life. But when the judge stopped my questioning and asked the other driver directly, “you were stopped in the road”, I figured things might be going my way. And sure enough, I was found not guilty. I posted on Facebook that day Psalm 9:3-4: "My enemies turn back; they stumble and perish before you. For you have upheld my right and my cause, setting enthroned as the righteous judge”. I felt, loved, and protected by God that day, and that certainly plays into how God goes about accomplishing his will. But I too need to let the theology of Mark influence my understanding of what God was doing with this situation in my life. There are some things in the periphery surrounding this event that has contributed to a long process of getting me more in line with God’s purposes than simply feeling loved and cared for. Purposes that surround building and edifying the church. Purposes around living in and for the kingdom of God. It is in these purposes that we see Jesus giving us success over the enemy.

Therefore, our faith must be in Christ (Mk 9:26-29)

This does not mean that Christ is without compassion, nor does it mean that God does not offer us kindness and mercy simply for the sake of our own peace of mind. I would think the command for the spirit to leave the boy was for the crowd but the command to never return was out of compassion for the father and for the son. Furthermore, lets look back at our story to see how this plays out in the end with verse 26. “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.’’. But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. Not only did Jesus remove the spirit that had affected this boy’s development from childhood, Jesus restored him completely unto the community in which he lived, for it was as he was dead, but through Christ he was made alive. This is the same for us in that “Every time I am willing to break out of my false needs for self-sufficiency, and dare to ask for help, a new community emerges – a fellowship of the weak – strong in the trust that together we can be a people of hope in a broken world” (Nouwen 35). Nouwen, Henri. Walk with Jesus: Stations of the Cross. Orbis, 1990. This is the lesson the disciples needed to learn as well. For even though they were given the authority to cast out unclean spirits, they were not to do so in their own power and strength. Look at verse 28, “And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, ‘Why could we not cast it out?’ And he said to them, ‘This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.’.” In the end of the matter the working of the enemy is thwarted by the power and purpose of Christ whereby Jesus displays triumph over evil and teaches the proper pathway for victory is dependence upon God. For our last point, write this sentence. Our faith must be in Christ. Therefore…because of everything we have seen here regarding Christ’s power over the darkness present in this world, our faith must be in him, and in him alone. Our faith must be in Christ.
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