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God’s Word for You

Mark 9:24-27 Help me with my unbelief

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, April 1, 2020

24 The child’s father immediately cried out and said,  “I do believe. Help me with my unbelief!”

Responding to Jesus’ words, “Everything is possible for the one who believes,” the father cried out (some manuscripts add “with tears” to this phrase), and he said, “I do believe!” There is no “overcome” in the Greek text (cf. NIV); it was an attempt at understanding the dative case of “Help with (in/with) my unbelief.” The question is, help me to do what with my unbelief? Or, help me despite my unbelief? The latter is impossible in context, since the father had faith. But his faith was imperfect, as our faith is always imperfect. The trouble with adding “overcome” (besides injecting a verb into a verbless clause) is that it implies that overcoming unbelief is something we can do with God’s help, and never be troubled by any doubt ever again. Such a notion might drive a sinful man with human doubts into despair, and the gospel is all about overcoming despair. Leaving the phrase alone to say, “Help me with my unbelief” or “help me in my unbelief” is a wiser translation decision (1) because it stays closer to the Greek phrase, and (2) it does not impose a doctrinal bias onto the text. We all need to have this man’s prayer on our lips. As Werner Franzmann said, “Too often we fail to trust in a promise of God fully. Or we rely implicitly on one promise; in regard to another our faith wavers woefully.”

Luther said:

“If you cannot believe, you must entreat God for faith. This too rests entirely in the hands of God…. You must no longer contemplate the sufferings of Christ (for this has already done its work and terrified you) but pass beyond that and see his friendly heart and how his heart beats with such love for you that it impels him to bear with pain your conscience and your sin. Then your heart will be filled with love for him and the confidence of your faith will be strengthened.”

25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was rushing up to see, he rebuked the unclean spirit. “O you mute and deaf demon,” he said, “I command you: Come out of him and never enter him again!”

Mark tells us that as Jesus was speaking to the father, the people “ran together” or rushed up to see what Jesus was going to do. The Greek word syntrecho (ἐπισυντρέχω) is unique to this verse, but it’s unlikely that Mark coined the word for our passage. Perhaps it was a term used in slang at the time, or something you might hear at the Olympic games but not in everyday speech. At any rate, the word tells us that the crowd behaved like metal filings to the sudden appearance of a magnet. With all of these people listening and watching, Jesus addressed the demon.

“O you mute and deaf demon (spirit)!” he called. Jesus spoke directly to the enemy, one of the devil’s minions who fell along with him when the first sinful rebellion occurred and who will be thrown into the eternal fire of hell in the end (Matthew 25:41). Jesus commanded the demon, and the demon had no choice but to obey. Notice the Lord’s carefully chosen words. Not only does the Lord say, “Come out of him,” but also, “Never enter him again.” The Lord was taking this boy under his care permanently, for the rest of his life.

26 It screamed, shook the boy in a violent convulsion, and came out. The boy looked so lifeless that many of them said, “He’s dead!” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand, raised him up, and he stood up.

In a sinful show of defiance, the demon shook the boy one last time. This is a reminder that the devil and his demons are always the enemies of man and God, even when they seem to submit to God’s commands. They are never our friends; they never have any good in mind for man. If a demon seems to be doing something for the benefit of a man wrapped horribly in a sin, we must remember that the demon has the man’s destruction in mind; that he might simply be holding out the illusion of a benefit or a seeming blessing, but in fact it will all disappear in the end like so much dust and ashes.

Once the demon fled, the child’s body was limp like a corpse, and the people feared he might have died, but in this case the child was stricken with nothing more than exhaustion. Jesus took him by the hand, and raised him up, giving him the strength to do what otherwise he would not have been able to do.

The devil is better at recognizing the effects of the gospel in us than we are. He is threatened by the flame of faith in man; his kingdom in this world (Ephesians 2:2) is under attack when the gospel does its work. He attacks a Christian with everything he has at his disposal. He threatens you, Christian, with anything that will lead you away from Christ and become lost in the world: earthly pleasures, the endless labyrinth of intellectual pursuits, worries, blight, disease, and whatever else he can muster. Therefore, it is dangerous to live carelessly, without thinking of what effect there will be on your faith if you stay away from worship or from the means of grace for a time. During a time like this, when we are kept from meeting together in worship by health guidelines, it is especially tempting to let worship slip past. But don’t forget the benefit of the weekly confession and absolution. Listen to your pastor assuring you that you are forgiven, that you are at peace with God, and let the devil’s screams echo in his dungeon where it won’t bother you in the least as you are cared for and tented by Christ, our Good Shepherd.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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