Rediscovering Jesus – Part 7 – Learning Dependence - Hope 103.2

Rediscovering Jesus – Part 7 – Learning Dependence

Our Bible reading today is from Mark chapter 9, and we are reading from verse 14. This is the incident in the life of Jesus where a man is in terrible trouble because his son is in terrible trouble and the father has another problem on his hands, and that is he is not sure […]

By Simon ManchesterSunday 22 Oct 2017Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 22 minutes

Our Bible reading today is from Mark chapter 9, and we are reading from verse 14. This is the incident in the life of Jesus where a man is in terrible trouble because his son is in terrible trouble and the father has another problem on his hands, and that is he is not sure whether he can trust Jesus with such a big problem.

Our sermon, therefore, this morning is called “Learning Dependence” because I don’t know if you notice this, but it is God’s wisdom to teach us to depend on him – sometimes by bringing into our circumstances such difficulties that we have no option but to lean on him and he also will close down some of our other options, so we have no help but his. And we learn to put our confidence in him, and we find that he is worthy of our confidence. That’s really what we are looking at.

And that’s why “Learning Dependence” is our subject and independence which we are taught from our childhood is so wonderful and valuable. We are taught to be independent, and there is a part of us which needs to be independent, and there is another part of us where independence is dangerous.

I see in California not too long ago that a tortoise aged 100 years made a bid for freedom and ran away from its owner – someone that it had been with for 55 years. I was impressed that after ten days this tortoise had covered 6.5 miles. But you could imagine it’s not too difficult to track down a tortoise and catch up with the tortoise – it hasn’t the speed to escape, and it had no security out on the road. So in the case of the tortoise, independence is a dangerous thing. I think you will agree – independence from God is a dangerous thing – I hope you agree.

We’re wandering through Mark’s Gospel, or we are pilgriming through Mark’s Gospel and the disciples are at the stage in chapter 9 where they are grappling with trust issues themselves. And they are grappling with trust issues because it is not so difficult to trust a powerful Messiah – and they have been watching a powerful Messiah for quite a long time, but now they are being asked to trust a dying Messiah. Jesus is teaching them that he is about to die. And the reason we know that he is about to die is that he needs to pay for sin. And the reason he needs to pay for sin is that we have no alternative unless we pay for it ourselves. So Jesus is planning to die, and it’s difficult for the disciples to trust a dying Messiah.

Of course the final destination for disciples is going to be wonderful and he has just taken 3 disciples up to a mountain and given them a wonderful preview of the glory which is in front of them – yes – the ultimate destination is going to be wonderful but the immediate walking is difficult because it’s following a Messiah who will die on the cross and it is taking up the cross of discipleship ourselves.

In chapter 9 is a man in serious trouble and he is also struggling to believe. And I suggest to you that he becomes a lesson to the disciples about trusting and is a lesson to us as well. He learns that trusting Jesus is a very wise thing to do and a very effective thing to do and that holding back from trusting Jesus is a very foolish thing to do and a very hopeless thing to do.

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So what I want to do this morning instead of going through this passage sort of sequentially I want to draw out three lessons from the passage.

The first thing is that there is a serious problem and fundamental to know that we should trust Jesus in knowing that there is a serious problem. We are not going to go near Jesus unless we know that there is a serious problem.

The second thing which emerges from the passage is that this father is being taught that all the other options are dead ends and we need to learn as well that in, especially in the case of salvation, other options are dead ends.

The third thing which we see in this section is that when the father puts his faith in Jesus which he struggles to do – it turns out to be wise and wonderful.

So we are going to think about those three things. And I wonder whether for you this morning – you haven’t got to the point where there is a certain issue or two or ten which are really just beyond you and all the other options for solving it are not working, and you are being taught slowly but surely that you have to actually come in humility and confidence to Jesus Christ and to look to him for the resources.

I wonder whether this isn’t the case for St Thomas as well. Are we not being taught as a church that advancing the gospel, changing the city, seeing the unbelief is completely beyond us? And we need to be those who look to him.

Well first of all – God teaches genuine need. The father in this situation has a demon-possessed son. I suggest that if we could move into the home for a year or five, we would appreciate the awfulness of this situation – the fact that it would be so exhausting and so frightening.

Look for example at chapter 9 verse 25 – Jesus describes the boy as “deaf and dumb”. So it doesn’t matter what the father says to this boy, he doesn’t hear it. And the boy is not communicating anything to the father, so this is a relationship of non-communication.

Look at verse 22 – it’s a spiritual problem, and it’s also physical, but it’s a spiritual problem. We are told quite specifically that he had an evil spirit – something demonic.

Again look at verse 22 – the effect is terrifying, more than epilepsy this demon is causing the boy or pushing the boy to dive into the fire or the water. In other words, he is seeking to destroy him.

And then in verse 21 – this has been going on for years. The boy we might assume is perhaps becoming a teenager or something like that – but he has had this demonic trouble since childhood.

And you can imagine if you are a parent, the trauma of trying to protect a child like this. Again no communication, the symptoms are terrifying, and the possibility is that any hour of any day he is going to find himself diving into something that is fatal. And to live with this would be to put a parent at their wit’s end.

Now I think we will make a foolish mistake this morning if we dismissed the details of this as if this is way beyond anything which we experience because the principles of this particular event are yours and mine and I want to prove that to you.

First of all, you will notice that Jesus has left the mountain (the glorious Mountain of Transfiguration) and he is back in the real world. Moses you remember had to come down Mt Sinai to an absolute disaster, and Jesus comes down the mountain to an absolute disaster and we, of course, may not be facing the same kind of situation but we certainly cannot accuse Jesus of living some sanitised life.

If I might put this a little bluntly – “he is not the sort of fat god who sits with his arms folded and his eyes shut”. Jesus is very much in the real world. When my alarm clock goes on in the morning and invariably now, I just hear bad news, bad news, bad news – that’s the world that Jesus understands. It doesn’t shock him to walk into any street of any city and know exactly what’s going on.

The second thing is although the spiritual battle is very obvious here that does not mean that the spiritual battle is not real everywhere. In fact, there are advantages when it’s obvious because nobody can miss the spiritual battle in this particular situation. But friends do you think the spiritual battle is non-existent when your son or your grandson is doing very well at school and doing very well in the tennis competition and is thinking of going to University and doing Economics – the spiritual battle is at work there. Because you may be tempted as a parent to adopt secular categories and say –

‘This is what life is all about’ –
‘My child is doing well’ –
‘My child is planning great things’ –

And yet if there is no turning to – interest in – or a following of Jesus Christ – the spiritual battle is a crisis in that situation, isn’t it? It’s a crisis.

I was very struck when the father says to Jesus – “the spirit, this demonic spirit is trying to destroy my son”. And I remembered those famous words of Jesus in John 10 where he says ‘that the wolf comes to destroy, but he has come that they might have life and have it to the full.’ And whenever the devil is doing a destructive work of somebody’s spiritual life, there is a destruction which is more serious really than any other.

I was talking with a couple this week – they have got one son and their one son has turned away from Christ. They are both in very key vital ministry (the couple) and they said as we sat with them this week that this decision of their son to turn away from Christ pre-occupies them. She said it is like a thunder cloud that just sits above us all the time.

And I tried to encourage them, and I tried to remind them that there are many children who go on a kind of a drift like this and that their love and their prayers will not be wasted and that God is bringing people back all the time and sometimes more keenly than they were before. But the point I am making is that this couple could see the spiritual battle. And when a couple cannot see the spiritual battle, they do not see things well.

The third thing and the real point here is that the father is completely out of his depth – he is utterly helpless. And this is something we desperately we need to hear ourselves. We are out of our depth. In so many ways we are out of our depth. Personally, we are out of our depth corporately, we cannot advance Christianity, we cannot advance the Gospel corporately, and we are out of our depth.

I often wonder how quickly atheism – especially among people of the lower North Shore of Sydney who are wealthy, successful, drinking their various coffees and they have got nothing to think about their home, their travel, the empty sort of television shows – I wonder how much of that atheism would just fly out of the window if North Korea just flew some bombers across our country?

I do not wish they would – but God has been so kind to us. And the result of his kindness has not been that we have turned to him and said we are so grateful we are now going to be even more devoted to you – it has turned us into a kind of a completely independent and foolish nation. In fact, we might say it makes us ‘deaf and dumb’ doesn’t it? We are deaf to the Word of God as a nation, and we are dumb in our praise. The spiritual battle that we are reading about here is very real. And God tells us that our need is very great. That is why so many of you put your faith in Jesus because you have learned that there is a day when you will come face to face with the judge of all the earth, that your sins will not be just wiped or pushed under the carpet but have to be dealt with and that you have realised that before you meet the Judge of all the earth – you must turn to the Saviour and ask forgiveness so that you might meet the Judge without fault and with great joy.

Read the early chapters of Romans, and there is God at pains to show us that there is nobody in the world who has an excuse. We have all been given enough information to seek him and find him – our spiritual problems are very real.

And that’s why God so often turns our “ease” into “disease” or even trouble or fear. It’s not because he doesn’t love us but because we will go in almost any direction but him and so he very graciously brings us back to himself the hard way. And we have learned that we are frail and we are mortal, and we are helpless and we are sinful we will turn to Jesus – that’s the first thing – there is a serious need. God teaches us our serious need.

The second thing is that God teaches that other solutions are non-solutions or that other roads are dead ends. And I don’t know if you notice as the details were read for us but the father has obviously tried some options for getting his son to be made well.

Firstly we might say – is the boy himself. The father has probably waited and waited and waited hoping that the boy might come good – would he grow out of this? And it’s obvious from chapter 9 verse 21 that the boy is now under the influence of this demonic spirit for years and the answer is NO. Somehow in his childhood, this began for the boy – now he is a slightly older boy, and it’s just not changing.

Another dead end must be the father looking for adult helpers. He must over the years have looked to other people to help his son. He must have looked to the local doctors or the equivalent of psychiatrists, and he has obviously had no solution.

One of the things I think God teaches very powerful men in the world today is that for all their power and for all their money they often cannot control their children. A man who is a great leader in the world or who is a billionaire can often find that his son or his daughter turns against them, betrays them, attacks them and there is nothing that that very wealthy powerful person can do. All the people who normally do exactly what they tell them are not in the same category as a son or a daughter who turns away. And this father has not been able to solve the problem and his friends have not been able to solve the problem – no adults in all the years have been able to solve the problem of this boy.

A third dead end for the father is the disciples. He comes to the disciples (chapter 9 verse 18), and we read – “I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not” – literally they had no strength. In other words, they were helpless, and they were hopeless.

Now asking the disciples to solve the demonic problem was not as dumb as it sounds because the disciples had previously on a Mission been given authority to drive out demons and had done it. We are told in Mark chapter 6 that for a specific mission, Jesus gave his disciples authority to deal with evil spirits and they dealt with the evil spirits. But that was for a specific mission – it wasn’t as though Jesus gave the disciples superhuman powers that would work wherever they went. It was for a specific context.

And now these disciples turn out to be empty, and again I think this is such an important issue because is not one of our greatest mistakes as Christian people seeking to help other people to learn the lesson that we are not personally filled with the resources that we need. It’s one of the reasons why we desperately pray (isn’t it?) before we go off to meet somebody who has turned their back on the gospel for 85 years. We need to recognise, don’t we, that we do not have the resources to ourselves.

And is it not also true that when we look to other disciples to solve the problems that only Jesus can solve, we will also be desperately disappointed. One of the problems of coming to a church, a local church, is when you start to look for the people to meet the needs that the people are not able to meet. It’s when you look to the people to solve your problems that only Jesus can meet – and often we have to say to people, don’t we, when they are looking for the church to do things that only Jesus can do, “Look to Him”. “Look to Him” – and he will give you what you need which will then enable you to be a person of usefulness as well.

And then this man has found another dead end or at least it is a possible dead end – can you believe it? He is not sure whether Jesus is going to be up to the job.

The boy has no answers.
The father has no answers.
The friends have no answers.
The disciples have no answers.
And now the man struggles to know whether Jesus can do the job.

And in verse 22 he makes what I consider to be a very dishonourable comment and he says to Jesus “if you can do something” and “please have some compassion”.

Now you might think this is a very reasonable comment to make given the circumstances, but I suggest to you that it’s full of unbelief. And the whole passage seems to be about unbelief. That’s what Jesus says in verse 19 “O unbelieving generation” – the whole world is unbelieving –

The disciples don’t understand properly.
The man doesn’t understand properly.
The crowd and the Scribes do not understand properly.

Jesus is very much on his own, and that’s why he says I think these very heartfelt words – “How long shall I stay with you? How long must I stick with you?”

One old commentator says this –

“All that men have ever felt of how hard it is to keep working when not a soul understands you, when not a single creature believes in you, when there is no one that will accept your message, no one will give you credit for pure motives, Jesus felt in altogether singular degree – he really was on his own”.

And this father in verse 22 has questioned whether Jesus has the power or the compassion. I mean he is not rude. He is not saying ‘you don’t’ – ‘I don’t trust you’ but he is not saying ‘I trust you’ – he is caught somewhere in between.

And Jesus challenges him in verse 23 by basically saying to him – the problem is not on my side, I have the power and I have the compassion – the problem is on your side. I am not sure whether you are asking me – I am not sure whether you are calling me – I am not sure whether you are seeking me.

And back comes this famous reply (verse 24) “I do believe, help my unbelief”. In other words, I am in between. There is a part of me that believes, and there is a part of me that doesn’t believe.

Now I would love to ask you to break up into groups of two or three at this point and just discuss for a few minutes whether you think this is an honourable position.


Because of course there is a part of this, isn’t there, which we do sympathise with. There wouldn’t be any of us here this morning who don’t say there are certain times in the Christian life where we say I believe, but I am not very confident. And Calvin (dear Calvin) who was much warmer and more pastoral than many people realise says “you know, strong faith is very rare – most people have little faith”.

But I consulted Spurgeon’s sermon on this and I kind of like what Spurgeon says because Spurgeon says “we shouldn’t sympathise with this. When a person says ‘I believe, but I don’t believe’ they are failing to look at the person they should be trusting and they are failing to remember that they have no options.”

And so there is a part of this ‘I believe, but I don’t believe’ which we shouldn’t sympathise with. If it appears in our hearts, I think we should challenge it. We should say to ourselves something like this. Is there anything in Jesus which is faulty? And is there anything in ourselves which is wonderful? And if the answer is NO and NO – well then we should go to him, and we should look to him.

So I am not sure whether this is as wonderful a sentence as many people think it is. I think it is a faulty sentence because the man is failing to appreciate Jesus’ power and compassion and he is failing to realise that he has no other options.

It’s like the person who says “I am an agnostic”. Agnostic is a very sophisticated word today, isn’t it? But the question that we need to ask people is when they tell us they are agnostics – are you closed or are you open? If you are closed – well, of course, you are not an agnostic, you have put your head in the sand. But if you are open – what are you doing with this piece of information and this piece of information and this piece of information and then you work out whether there is any integrity in the agnosticism.

So the third things we come to this morning is God teaches people to have faith in Jesus. And you’ll forgive me for saying something which I have said many times over the years but for some of you this morning it may be quite a new couple of sentences for me, and that is this –

That when we normally talk about faith in normal circles of life, we are thinking about somebody else.

So imagine over the morning tea I say to you today “yes, I am off to the Dentist this week, but I have great faith in my dentist”.

Where does your mind go as I say that? Your mind says “I wonder who that dentist is or I wonder why that dentist is so good or can I get the phone number of that dentist” – you begin to think of that other person.

Or I say to you something like this “we have had a bit of a tough week, one of the walls of our house fell down, but we have great faith in a builder friend”.

And your mind says “obviously the builder friend can restore and renovate and I wouldn’t mind getting the phone number of the builder because some of our walls have fallen down as well” – and your mind begins to the person who I am speaking about.

In other words, when we talk about faith in normal sentences, we think of the object of that faith. Because faith is confidence in someone else, that’s what faith is except in weird religious circles. So I say to you “we are going through a bit of a tough time in our family at the moment, but our faith is in Christ.”

And where do you go at that point – you say “Good for you”. “How nice for you”. You see somehow in religious circles faith goes back to the subject instead of going on to the object. Now I don’t know why this is but all I am saying to you is that faith is not a mystical, weird experience, it’s working out that there is somebody out there who is more capable that you and you trust them.

There is a builder who can solve the fallen wall, and we are going to call him. We have confidence he is a genius.
There is a saviour who can forgive sins, and we are going to ask him. He is a genius, that’s how faith works.

And that’s why I think there is nothing honourable about saying to Jesus “can you do this or I am struggling to make a telephone call”. What would be more honourable would be to say something like this –

“You have the love, and you have the power
And I have the need, and I am going to ask
Which is not, of course, to say you will do whatever I tell you
But I know that you are not only powerful but you are compassionate, and you are wise
And I am going to lift up my voice in pray, and I am going to ask you
I am going to trust you”.
That’s what faith is.

Well, you’ll notice that Jesus deals with this man even though his prayer is so hopeless. I mean he offers a very strange prayer, doesn’t he? I believe – help my unbelief! It’s like ringing up a builder and saying “I trust you, but I don’t”. Ring the dentist and say “I know you are good but I am not sure you are that good”. It’s a weird sort of prayer, isn’t it?

Well, Jesus doesn’t hold it against him in a way. Verse 25 says he immediately goes into action even though the prayer has been so strange and he sees the crowd running, and he thinks we had better do something quickly. And verse 25 says he speaks to the evil spirit and verse 26 says the evil spirit comes out angrily.

When the disciples ask Jesus later in verse 28 why they could not expel the demonic spirit themselves, Jesus is not teaching them – you need to do advanced exorcism 603, he is teaching them that you should be looking to me. That’s why he says ‘this comes out with prayer’. He is not saying you need to be a hero at prayer, you need to be a giant at prayer, but he is simply saying ‘just as the father failed to trust me for the problem, you disciples were not looking to me for the solution’.

In other words, the father needs to come to me, and you need to come to me. Well, I wonder whether this comes home to us every now and again. I wonder if it comes home to us every now and again that we just don’t have the resources to a particular issue and then if you are like me you think – I’ll try almost anything but just getting down on my knees and giving this genuinely to him – I’ll make a phone call, I’ll make another phone call, I’ll think, I’ll ask somebody else’s advice. There is something weird, isn’t there, about moving away from the one person who it really should be committed to. And I wonder whether this is true for us as a church? Because in the end, one of the great marks of faith is that we turn to Jesus Christ in prayer and say – you are the key person I am looking to.

I was reading recently that in an African village where the gospel had come and brought great revival that all the members of the village would go out each day at certain points and they would sit on all the paths of the village, and they all had a particular point on the path and they would sit there reading their Bible and praying. And if people over the day didn’t take their place on the path, the people in the village would say to them “the grass is growing on your path”.

That’s a great sentence, isn’t it? Or what they are saying by that is “the grass is growing, probably because you are not growing and you need to come back and sit on the path, read the word and pray for you to spiritually grow.

And we as a church need to pray as well – we do. I am not asking you to do the impossible – I am just asking you to offer to Jesus Christ one real trusting prayer that you would go forward, that the church would go forward, and that the gospel would go forward.

Many years ago when we used to put the calendar out of St Thomas’ events, we put out a calendar, and we did it in a traffic light colour system

We would have things in RED – Stop this may not be for you.
You don’t have to come to this.
YELLOW – think about it, it’s an option
And then we decided we would have two things in GREEN.
Two things in GREEN were –
Sunday, gather together and hear the Word of God
And come to pray.

Six times in the year we would have the Prayer Meeting in GREEN. That was it. Sunday – come to pray. That’s because we recognise that unless we as a church do come together and I mean joyfully, I don’t mean grudgingly. If we don’t come out together and pray we are saying to the Lord – “we’ve got other options” and we don’t have other options. We need to come and give him our praise and our prayers.

Some of you will say ‘well you know I can’t do that’ but you need to think very carefully whether you are going out to functions and dinners and all sorts of things in the evenings but you could bring yourself to pray with us.

Well, all of this is in the context of trusting Jesus Christ. Trusting Jesus Christ who is the Messiah but is going to die on the cross and I wonder whether that’s why (as I finish this morning) verse 26 is such a significant detail that after this boy was delivered of his demon (isn’t it unusual in verse 26) that we are told that the boy looked as though he had dropped dead. But Jesus (and here is the resurrection word) raised him up – in other words, just lifted him up off the ground.

And I wonder if this unusual detail is saying to the reader of Mark’s Gospel and a reminder to the disciples as well that in the immediate things may look pretty weak but in the ultimate things are going to be very wonderful. And therefore we need to trust him because even in the immediate there is a struggle – in the ultimate God is going to raise his people to glory.


Let’s pray –
Our gracious God we thank you that we have this lovely section of your Word to remind us of Jesus’ complete mastery of a serious need. We thank you for those times that you teach us, even the hard way, to trust you.

We thank you for those times you teach us that other options are not the way and we ask that you would fill us Heavenly Father with such confidence in the Lord Jesus – his power, his compassion and such awareness of our need that we would be those who live trusting Jesus Christ.
We ask it in His Name – Amen.