Text: Mark 9:14-29
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The Lord God once described the work of His Messiah, Jesus, through the mouth of the prophet Isaiah. He said this: “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench.” The Lord described His chosen servant as humble, even humble enough not break a bruised reed or snuff out a faintly burning wick. And so, Jesus was. Yet, the Lord wasn’t speaking about the reeds in the swamplands or saying that Jesus never put out a candle. He was taking about people.
Jesus came not to beat down, tear down, or destroy; but to build up, care for, and die for all mankind – even, and especially, for those who are burdened by this life. We saw this play out in our text. Jesus cast a stubbornly mute and deaf spirit out of boy, but not before having a conservation with the boy’s father. In the conversation, the father revealed that he believed in Jesus but still found in himself some unbelief. He cried out to Jesus for help, and Jesus heard him. Our Lord has compassion for all people and heals even those who are weak in faith.
Our text this week takes place, perhaps, some time after last week’s Gospel reading. Last week, we were in Mark 7 and heard how Jesus cast a demon out of the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter and opened the ears and mouth of a deaf man. Since then, Jesus has fed the four thousand and healed a blind man. This week, we find Jesus just after He had come down from the mount of Transfiguration. At the Transfiguration, His appearance was changed to shine like the sun and Moses and Elijah appeared to speak with Him about His death and resurrection. When Peter suggested they remain on the mountain in glory, God the Father spoke from heaven that Jesus was His Son and they should listen to Him when He says that He must suffer and die.
Jesus, Peter, James and John, came down from the mountain and found the remaining disciples in an argument with some scribes and a crowd around them. Jesus asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” At this time, they were some distance from Jerusalem. So, the scribes must’ve come all that way to keep an eye on the disciples (and Jesus) and, in the course, got into a fight. Then, a man from the crowd said, “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 grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” Remember that this is after Jesus earlier sent the disciples out two-by-two into the villages to preach the Gospel. St. Mark wrote earlier that Jesus gave the Twelve the authority to cast out demons, and they did. This time, however, was different.
Jesus lamented the Disciples’ continued lack of faith. He told them later that the reason they couldn’t cast it out was because of their lack of faith and prayer. It’s possible that while Jesus was on the mountain, the remaining disciples became tempted and thought that the power to cast out demons resided within them and not in the Word of God. When they tried to cast out the demon by their own authority – without the Word of God and prayer – it didn’t work. Seeing the crowd was beginning to press in, and perhaps spark a panic, Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” The evil spirit cried out loudly, threw the boy to the ground, and came out. The convulsing was so violent that people thought he was dead, but Jesus took him by the hand and he got up.
There are so many things to learn from our text that it’s hard to pick just one. But, the aspect of the text that jumps out to me this week is the short conversation between Jesus and the father. Maybe, first, that the conversation happened at all. Jesus had just come down from the Transfiguration. He clothes had become brighter than any bleach could ever get them and God the Father Himself spoke from heaven. Were you or I to receive such treatment, we might be a little full of ourselves. Often, that happens after even much smaller accolades. But, not with Jesus. He saw the crowd gathered and stopped to see what was going on. Then, when the man brought up what was happening, Jesus inquired to see how long the boy had been suffering. This wasn’t because Jesus was a doctor and needed to make the right diagnosis – He asked because He cared.
The man had brought his son to Jesus’ disciples because he believed in who Jesus was. But, when they were unable to cast the demon out, he had become disheartened. He asked Jesus, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus said to him that all things are possible for one who believes, to which the man responds, “I believe; help my unbelief!” And, Jesus did. A bruised reed Jesus would not break nor a smoldering wick, snuff out. Jesus didn’t think it beneath Himself to help a struggling father who had witnessed his own son be thrown by a demon into fire and water. Instead, Jesus had compassion. He cast the demon out of the boy.
Sometimes we find ourselves in line with the father in this text. We are here because the Holy Spirit has brought us; most of us have probably been Christians for as long as we can remember – and before. And yet, because we are but flesh and blood, the Old Adam continues to claw away within our hearts. In our hearts, there is a constant battle between faith and unbelief. Sometimes we’re not aware of this, sometimes we are. And, sometimes, we doubt. To doubt is not to sin. If we entertain our doubts and begin to despair or disbelieve, then we are sinning. But, a doubting faith is still faith. And, a doubting faith, Jesus does not cast away.
Jesus is mercy, love, and grace – even to those who have doubts. For, He died for all mankind, to win forgiveness even for those who struggle. He did not say to the father in our text, “be gone,” because his faith wasn’t strong enough; He embraced him and strengthened his faith. It’s not how much faith you have that saves, it’s what your faith is in. Therefore, Jesus is able to have mercy on those who doubt, by forgiving them and strengthening their faith. Jesus shows this same compassion also to us.
First, He forgives us our sins. Jesus, out of His great compassion for all the world, suffered and died for us. Daily and richly, the Catechism says, He gives that forgiveness to us in our Baptism. By His Holy Spirit, He daily puts to death our sinful nature and leads us in His righteousness. Through the Word, the Holy Scriptures, the Spirit both brings us to repent of our sins and points us to Christ for forgiveness. In the Word, He daily teaches and reminds us of all Christ said and did for us. In the Lord’s Supper, Jesus binds up our wounded and broken hearts by feeding us His true body and blood for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of our faith.
In our text today, we witness again Jesus’ great compassion. Out of love, He cast the mute and deaf spirit out of that poor boy. He did not turn away the man because his faith was not great enough, but rather had mercy on Him, forgiving him and strengthening his faith. A bruised reed He doesn’t break and a smoldering wick He doesn’t put out. Through His Word and Sacraments, He forgives us also our sins and strengthens our faith until such time as we no longer walk by faith, but by sight.