Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ
Mark 9: 14-29 14 And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. 15 And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him. 16 And he asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” 17 And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. 18 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.” 19 And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” 20 And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. 21 And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” 23 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!” 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.” 26 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. 28 And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” 29 And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”
We pray in one of the Church’s Collects that “we live in the midst of so many dangers that in our frailty we cannot stand upright.” How true and needful this petition is we know from our own experience in a world where we are beset by temptation, knocked around by forces that are beyond our control, and finally overtaken by death itself.
In our text, we have examples of those who cannot stand upright.
There are the disciples who just three chapters earlier in Mark’s account (ch 6) were sent out by Jesus and were casting out demons and healing the sick. But now, they are unable to cast out this unclean spirit who so violently entangled this boy, throwing him down and causing him to foam at the mouth and grind his teeth. When the Lord Jesus, just down from the Mount of Transfiguration, comes to them, he finds his men engaged in a scribal disputation. They are unable to give answer for their powerlessness. They cannot stand upright.
The nameless lad can hardly stand upright. Mark is graphic with his description of a kid whose tongue and body are seized by a spirit that convulses him, causing him to roll around on the ground, even plunging him into fire and tossing him into water. With a body as rigid as a corpse, he is unable to stand. He cannot by the power of his own will think himself out of this life-threatening predicament. His limbs and life flay and flop around in the dust as one for whom it would appear that death would be a relief and mercy.
Then there is the poor father, who has watched his son since childhood endure this demonic agony. Who has suffered more—the son or his father? Helpless to alleviate the shame and pain of his son, the father cannot stand upright under the weight of this affliction. He brought his son to Jesus’ disciples, but this demon was apparently too strong for them. The disciples disappoint. And at first it appears that Jesus isn’t going to be of much help either. After all, he laments their lack of faith: “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?” (v 19).
In our own lives we sit by helpless and watch as Christians are being beheaded, churches burned, and our own government empowers those who would do evil and do away with all morality. More than that, we can do nothing to stop old age, disease, and degeneration of body parts as death encroaches upon even the healthiest. Like the father of the boy, we are powerless to stand against Satan and his forces.
Jesus says, “Bring him to me” (v 19). They bring the boy to Jesus. The unclean spirit reacts to the Lord’s presence, causing the boy to tumble around on the ground and foam at the mouth. The father makes a rather iffy petition: “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us” (v 22). Jesus responds, “If you can!All things are possible for one who believes” (v 23). These words of Jesus open the man’s lips for another prayer. It is a prayer that is, in fact, a one-sentence summary of the Lord’s Prayer: “I believe; help my unbelief!” (v 24). That is the prayer not only of this desperate father but also of every Christian. It is your prayer, for we cannot stand upright.
When we pray the words of the Third Article’s explanation in the catechism, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him,” we are not merely making a statement about our conversion, our coming to faith. We are, in fact, confessing that it is only by the Spirit at work in the Gospel that we believe now, in the present tense. “I believe now! Help my continuing struggle against unbelief!”
This is what you pray for when you call God “our Father” and petition that his name be kept holy among us, that his kingdom come as he gives us his Spirit so that by his grace we believe his Word. That is what you pray as death gets nearer and nearer every day in the aging process.
This is what you are praying for when you ask that his will be done even as he breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature. That is, when you ask regarding those in society who seek to undermine marriage and do away with the family.
This is what you are praying for when you implore to receive daily bread with thanksgiving and when you petition him not to look upon your sins or on account of them reject your prayer. That is, when you implore him regarding your failing health and increasing pains and suffering with age.
This is what you are praying for when you call upon him in the face of temptation, asking him to guard and keep you, that the devil, the world, and your sinful flesh may not deceive you or mislead you into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice, and that finally he would rescue you from every evil of body and soul and bring you to himself in heaven. That is, when you call temptations that pull at your flesh and want to lead you into sin.
“I Believe; Help My Unbelief!” Is the Prayer
That Those Who Cannot Stand Upright Pray.
We can pray this prayer because the One who heard it from the lips of a desperate father went to Calvary as our Savior, and in his resurrection from the dead, he stands upright as our great and everlasting High Priest, whose righteousness enables us to stand before him forever. Faith confesses, “I believe; help my unbelief!” Amen.