Last year, my wife and I had an amazing time traveling to Ireland. It was the first time we had been on a big trip without children and without seeing extended family. We ended up being gone almost three weeks traveling to and exploring the Emerald Isle. But like any holiday, the reality of what awaits when you get home looms in your mind.
Before you leave, you scramble making sure you are caught up with everything that needs attending. All the paperwork on your desk is done, appointments covered; holiday voice and email setup… it is hard work getting ready for taking holidays! When I finally get away it usually takes me a week to unwind, a week to enjoy the time away and a week thinking about all I have to do when I get back.
In some ways, big trips like the one we took are like mountain top experiences. They usually blow any expectations away. You come back craving more. For us, when we arrived home, we began planning our next trip back!
In Mark 9, we find the story of the disciples experiencing an incredible and amazing event. They got a glimpse of Moses and Elijah with Jesus. But now they are down from the mountain and things change. In many ways, this has become a story of great disappointment.
After coming down the mountain, Jesus and His disciples encounter a large crowd of people including many teachers of the Law. A man from the crowd confronts Jesus about his son’s well-being. This man’s son was possessed by a spirit since childhood and he brought him to the disciples to be healed but they were unable to help him. He now comes to Jesus, their rabbi and teacher, asking Him to help his son. In the end, Jesus heals the man’s son but not without helping the man first by rediscovering his faith.
The thing most gripping about this story is not the miracle, as marvelous as that is, rather it is in all the disappointment. Everybody in this passage, it seems, is disappointed with somebody. The boy’s father is disappointed with Jesus because His disciples were unable to help him. He was probably disappointed with Jesus for not healing his son right away. Jesus is disappointed with the disciples, and the disciples are disappointed with themselves.
Disappointment happens all the time in our lives. We seem to get let down all the time. Think about the hype of many of the new movies from Hollywood. You spend your hard-earned cash and the movie turns out to be a dud. Think about a new restaurant that touted the best food around. You set aside time to book a reservation and it turned out to be overrated and a waste of money and time.
Almost everything in life can and does bring us disappointment. Our children, our spouses and ourselves. Maybe even God hasn’t met our expectations? In his book “Disappointment with God”, Philip Yancey asks the questions, “Is God silent?”, “Is God unfair?” and “Is He hidden?” The fact is, most people are disappointed with God. But their disappointment is not in the miracles God does, but the ones He doesn’t. You end up with disappointment which often leads to disillusionment.
And that leads down to people becoming disappointed with their faith… this Christian thing! In the end, it all boils down to the same basic problem… this Christian thing just doesn’t seem to be working. How many of us know people who have fallen away because of this? How many of us have felt this way? How many of us feel this way today?
And maybe that’s how these disciples felt listening to this father’s bitter disappointment; they’re wondering why this Jesus thing isn’t working like it’s supposed to. So the disciples failed at this task and this put a dark light on Jesus’ credibility, His teaching, His authority and His very character! Jesus seems to agree with them because apparently, this story could have been different.
In Mark 3, we find the story of when Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to Him those he wanted, and they came to Him. He appointed twelve—designating them apostles—that they might be with Him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. But on this particular occasion in Mark 9, things didn’t work out as planned.
So what do we do when this Jesus thing doesn’t seem to measure up to your expectation? What do we do when the church falls short and those who claim to be God’s people, fail? It is at this point we need to put wishful thinking aside and get back to reality.
The failure of God’s people often seems to put God in a bad light and people draw conclusions about God based on the behavior of those who belong to him. In essence, we are accused of being hypocrites. And the truth is, we are. We are not perfect; we fail; we make mistakes; we still sin.
Jesus makes it clear that the failure of God’s people is not the same as the failure of God himself. Unfortunately, we are the physical presence of God in our world and when we fail or fall short, people look at God as also falling short.
In our story this morning, Jesus is interested in helping the boy, but the father also has a problem. In verse 24, the father responds to Jesus with, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
Jesus, being a good doctor of souls, gives this man the only thing that will really help him at this point. Physical healing, deliverance, prosperity – all these things are good, but what this man really needs is faith!
More often than not, people are always looking for an excuse to not believe. The Pharisees were always quick to try and minimize Jesus’ miracles and teaching. In this case, by pointing out this man’s need, Jesus also assures him that doubt does not diminish God’s potential. Doubt is ours – the power to act is God’s!
When those who should help you don’t; when those you thought could help you can’t, and when you know what you need but don’t have the strength to reach for it, you turn to the only one who really can help—you turn to Jesus.
All things are possible for the one who believes because the one who believes has set his hope on the only one who is truly able. In Luke 1, Mary becomes pregnant without having sex. She questions the angel, “How can this be?” The angel responds, “Nothing is impossible with God!” What was true of this father, is also true of us: the fact that we struggle with doubt does not put us beyond God’s reach.
Author Henry Drummond said, “Doubt is ‘can’t believe.’ Unbelief is ‘won’t believe.’ Doubt is honesty; unbelief is obstinacy. Doubt is looking for light; unbelief is content with darkness” and Jesus never failed to distinguish between doubt and unbelief.” So what does Jesus have to say to those of us who “can’t believe?” Bring it to me.
Clarence Edward Macartney said, “What word is so mighty that it can conquer God? What is the word that turns captivity captive? What is the word that unites far separated souls around one common mercy seat? What is the word that brings man’s storm-driven ship into the haven of mercy and peace? Prayer.”
Our lives are filled with uncertainty and things that need fixing. And we struggle because we have expectations of how we think our lives are going to turn out and when they don’t turn out the way we think, disappointment creeps in. What is the answer when we are disappointed with God?
I think the answer for us is the response the boy’s father gave to Jesus: “Lord we believe; help us in our unbelief!” This man’s cry should be our prayer in those times of uncertainty. Trusting God always comes back to trusting His character and promise. Psalm 20:7 says, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” Trust God because in the end, He will work out His glory and our best for our lives.