All Things Are Possible FOR You
Rev. Kurt Lantz Proper 19 B Mark 9:14-29
September 12, 2021 Resurrection Lutheran Church St. Catharines, ON
Dear people who believe with unbelief,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus comes down from the mount where He was transfigured and His glory was revealed, and walks into the middle of an argument between His disciples and the scribes. The issue is the distressing inability of Jesus’ disciples to cast out an unclean spirit that has afflicted a child and made him mute (unable to speak).
We aren’t told how the argument started. It could be that the scribes were using the apparent inability of the disciples to declare that their faith in Jesus was misplaced or impotent. For the scribes, being experts in the Old Testament, would have known that the true Messiah’s coming would be accompanied by such miraculous signs as we heard in last Sunday’s Old Testament Reading: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy” (Isaiah 35:5-6).
It could be that the disciples had even responded to a challenge from the scribes by saying something like, “O yeah? Watch this!”, and then expected that they would be able to cast out the unclean spirit and heal the child as they had done repeatedly before when Jesus sent them out to do such things. If this was the case, then he argument would not be contained to the disciples against the scribes with the crowd looking on, but it would also have created a conflict within the disciples themselves, questioning whether they had somehow lost the gift that their Lord had given them, or diminished some way in their own capabilities or in the eyes of the God who had done such things through them before.
In any case, the root of the issue is “Who is Jesus?”, but the argument was staged on “What can Jesus’ disciples do?” We are quick to fall into that same argument on any number of fields, whether with the unbelieving world (Look at all the horrible things you Christians have done throughout history); or in contest with other Christians (I am holier than thou, I have more faith than you); or in battle with Satan (you are a wretched sinner, how can you call yourself a Christian); and even within our own selves when things get tough in life and we begin to despair (you are not strong enough to survive this; you don’t have enough faith to be God’s child). All of these arguments focus on what the believer is able or unable to do, and so take our eyes off of what Jesus can do for us.
“All things are possible for one who believes” (Mark 9:23). It is a despairing message when you find that you are not able to do something; unless it is not about your ability to do something, but is about Jesus and what is possible for Him to do for you. “All things are possible for one who believes.”
The disciples were drawn into an argument because they were not able to cast out an unclean spirit on the spot. The poor father of the afflicted child had been dealing with this for years. He had been unable to help his son as he watched him time and again be seized by an unknown force, thrown to the ground, and, in great strain and agony, foam at the mouth and grind his teeth. The father had to stare into the eyes of his suffering child over and over again and see the pleading gaze fixed with fear. His dear son was unable to speak and tell him how it hurts, what might make it better, whether it helped to be held down from thrashing on the ground or gathered up into the arms of a tight hug. There was so much that had been impossible for the father to do for his son. And the word of comfort Jesus spoke was “All things are possible for one who believes.”
As the son longed for the father to do for him, a the child who was afflicted and could not help himself, so the father longed for Jesus’s disciples to do something. And as the father knew it was not possible for him to do anything for his child, so the disciples were learning that it was not possible for them to do anything either. And this is what forced them all to look to Jesus who said in compassion, “All things are possible for one who believes.”
Is this a cruel rebuke or a promise full of hope for a despairing father? Are these not words coming from the tongue of one who knows how to sustain with a word him who is weary (Isaiah 50:4)? “Immediately the father of the child cried out, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’” If he believes, all things are possible for him, even if not all thing are possible by him. It is possible that his child will be healed for him and not by him. It is possible that deliverance will be provided for them, even if not by their own power, by their own endurance, by the amount or strength of their own faith, or by the disciples whom they had hoped had faith enough. All things are possible for them, only by Jesus, the one to whom faith looks for salvation.
“Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” It is as if the father had just come from reading Luther’s Small Catechism and its explanation to the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed. “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints,” and so on. “What does this mean? I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him.” I believe that I cannot believe.
Yet, in God’s grace “all things are possible for one who believes.” Those words coming off of the tongue of Jesus sustain those who are weary and they create faith where it has been exhausted and drained to the point of unbelief. It is from our unbelief that we believe “the Holy Spirit has... sanctified and kept me in the one true faith” when I couldn’t keep the faith myself. And with this gift of faith in the words of Jesus and in the One who spoke them, coming from the Holy Spirit and not from my own reason or strength, “All things are possible for one who believes.”
Jesus was not able to cast out the unclean spirit because His faith was strong enough. He is able to cast out any and all unclean spirits because He is God. He had just come down from the mount where He was transfigured and His divinity was revealed. By casting out the demon and healing the child, Jesus silenced the argument between the disciples and the scribes. He silenced the internal struggle of the father over the relationship between his faith and his inability to help his son. For the issue is not how much faith is needed, but who is Jesus. And He showed right then and there that He is the One for whom all things are possible and He is the One who is willing to do all things for those who believe in Him.
So the point is never how much faith you have. The point is who Jesus is. He is God. He is your Saviour. He is the Healer in whom we have resurrection to eternal life. He is the One by whom all things are possible and so He is the One to whom faith looks when you realize that your faith is not strong enough. He is the One to whom we pray, “Lord I believe; help my unbelief!”
When the disciples later asked Him why they could not cast out this unclean spirit, Jesus replied, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (Mark 9:29). What prayer? The only prayer that was uttered on that occasion was that of the father, “Lord I believe; help my unbelief!” This is the prayer to pray when things are impossible for you. This is the prayer that makes all things possible for one who believes. For this prayer directs us to Jesus, the divine Son of God who is our Saviour.
In Him, all things are possible for you. When you are caring for a loved one and you know there is nothing that you can do, this is your prayer. When you are looking into the eyes of the suffering and you cannot do anything, all things are possible for one who believes that Jesus has come to save the suffering, to cast out the unclean spirits, to deliver the afflicted, yes, even to save the sinner.
In this fallen world, with the curse of sin weighing heavily upon us, we see all kinds of suffering around us and we feel all kinds of suffering within us, some of which cannot be seen. The father of the child watched his son suffer for years. I am sure there were many times when all hope was lost to him. We have those times too. There are times when it seems our prayers are unanswered. It is especially in those times that we must remember this is not about what we can do. So there is no reason to give up hope. It is about who Jesus is and we know that He is able, He is compassionate, He is working all things together for the good of those who love Him. And so we pray, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.”
Then there is no ground for argument. There is no reason to despair of yourself, for it is really about who Jesus is and not about your capabilities, not even about the strength of your faith. There is no reason to give over to the devil’s accusations that you are too wretched a sinner to get out of this. That doesn’t matter at all, for it is really about how great a Saviour Jesus is. There is no reason to argue with fellow Christians about whose more holy or more spiritually mature, for it is really all about the Holy One who has covered us with His holiness. There is no need to argue with the world over what atrocities you or other Christians may have committed, for it is about Jesus who committed Himself to redeeming the world.
He helps our unbelief by revealing to us who He is. He is the one who saves those who cry out to Him. He is the One who gave His back to those who strike, and His cheeks to those who pull out the beard; He did not hide His face from disgrace and spitting when He was crucified for us (Isaiah 50:6). He is the one who gave up His own Spirit with His dying breath on the cross to forgive us for arguing about what we can and cannot do when we should be looking to Him who has done all things for our salvation. In Him we are forgiven. In Him we are saved. In Him is our healing and our resurrection.
Faith looks to Jesus, not to itself. While the disciples were arguing with the scribes about what they could not do, Jesus pointed this out to them: “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?” They were faithless because they were not looking at Jesus, even though He was standing right there. The solution to their problem was as easy as looking up into His face. And so He said, “Bring him to Me.” And then all was well. All things became possible for them because they looked to Him to do all things for them.
Jesus is right here for you, right where He promised to be: in His Word, where two or three are gathered, in His body and blood given for you for the forgiveness of sins. It is possible. It is possible for you to be forgiven. It is possible for you to be saved. It is possible for you to be healed and raised. No matter how long you have been suffering, how hopeless you have felt, how weak your faith has become, it is possible because Jesus is here for you. Bring your loved ones to Him in that prayer: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” Bring your sicknesses to Him. Bring your sins to Him. For all things are possible for one who believes. They are possible for you, when you look to Him to do what He has promised.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.