March 10, 2019
In our story for today, Jesus is still with his three closest disciples, Peter, James, and John. And they are coming back down the mountain where they just witnessed the Transfiguration. We read that story last week. And as they walked along, they’re asking Jesus about Elijah, who they just saw on the mountain, and who we now believe was embodied in the man se know as John the Baptist. And Jesus talks a little about that here.
That was very important to the story of Jesus. Because the Jews believed (and still do) that Elijah would return to herald the coming of the Messiah. To this day, they still set a place for Elijah at their Passover table, and during the meal, they ceremonially open the door to see if he has arrived.
So with all that swirling around in their heads, they come back to the other disciples, and they walk right into the middle of an argument! The other disciples are arguing with the scribes, and we soon find out why. Because a man steps forward and says, “Teacher, my son has an evil spirit, and I asked your disciples to cast it out and they couldn’t.” You see, by now, Jesus had given that spiritual power to his disciples! We don’t always remember that! But he did. And right now they were having trouble with this particular spirit.
This man goes on to describe the kinds of things the spirit does to the boy. And I love it that Jesus shows some of his “human” side here. “O faithless generation,” he says, “How long am I to bear with you!?” I sometimes wonder how often he might want to say these words to us!
So then, the boy is brought forward, and sure enough, the evil spirit convulses him and throws him to the ground. I don’t know if we can imagine what this was like. But I don’t think we can’t begin to imagine this man’s anguish over this! So he says to Jesus, “If you can do anything, please help us!” And Jesus then shows a little more of his human-ness. He says to the man, “If I can?!” “If I can?!” Then these important words. “All things are possible to him who believes!” Those are the words I used for the title of this message. “All things are possible.”
I love the man’s response here. And I think this is one of the greatest prayers ever spoken! “Lord, I believe!” he cried out. “Help thou my unbelief!” Don’t we want to cry out those very words sometimes? We believe – to an extent. But our faith is weak. And we need more faith to be more believing! That’s a great prayer!
Again, I love this story, because it shows us the “human side” of Jesus. But I also love it because of this man’s struggle. And I love his honesty – his desperation. And I love it as a story that tells us about the power of God.
Jesus says these words which I used for my title for today. “All things are possible.” I want you to think about what that means! Sometimes I think we say certain things, because they sound good to us, and we take some comfort in that. But do we think about what they mean?
What does it mean that “All things are possible”? Well, let me just say one thing that it doesn’t mean. All things are possible does not mean all things are certain. I think you’ll agree with me that God doesn’t always do things the way we want him to – or the way we ask him to. And that can be troubling to us, can’t it? It can be frustrating to us. As you’ve heard me say before, sometimes we think that if we ask in just the right way, we can get things the way we want them. But that’s not the case. And it’s also not the case that if we don’t get something, it’s because we didn’t have enough faith! (I don’t want to go down that road at all!)
All things are possible does not mean that all things are certain. But let me also say that just because things do not happen, does not mean that they are not possible! Did you get that? Just because things sometimes do not happen, does not mean that they are not possible! I say that because we can easily get into thinking like that, can’t we?
I have known people who have denied God’s power based on his action – or his inaction, that is his “performance” to them. They would say, “God didn’t so something, therefore he can’t do something.” Do you see? I think I once told you about a conversation I had with a woman in Seminary, a woman who said that she didn’t believe that any of the miracles stories of Jesus really happened. And she didn’t believe them because God didn’t miraculously heal her father.” Her thinking was, “God didn’t, and therefore he can’t.”
If we’re not careful, that kind of thinking can easily sneak up on us, and “worm its way into” our thoughts. And that can make us doubt God’s power, and even doubt God himself!
Let me just say that I know that God doesn’t always do what we want him to. But at the same time, I also know (and I hope you do!) that he has the power to do them! And this is what I want you to hear today! If God does not do things, it doesn’t diminish his power to do things one tiny bit!! Let me say that again. If God does not do something, that doesn’t diminish his power to do things one tiny bit!! We’re talking the power of God here. And his power is not dependent on us, but on him! And I for one am glad about that!
Sometimes we try to make God a formula. We say, “When we do some something, God will do something.” “If we ask a certain way, God will give.” “If we use certain words, God will respond.” It’s as though we were in control. Let me just say that God is never a formula. If anything, we are God’s formula! We seek him. We look for his perspective, his vision, his will!
At the same time, I believe that God wants us to tell him our hearts! He wants that interaction. He wants us to pour out our hearts to him. That’s what David did so well in the Psalms. He poured out his heart! That’s why God called him “a man after my own heart.” God wants us to do that, too! He wants us to tell him our wants and needs. “God I really want you to end the stress at work.” “God I really want you to help my son or daughter.” “God I really want you to help me get that promotion!” “God I really want you to heal my friend.” God wants us to pour that stuff out before him. He may not do all of them for us. But again, that doesn’t diminish one bit the power he has.
So think again about this prayer, this petition made before Jesus, the Son of God himself. “Lord, I believe. Help thou my unbelief.” Maybe we can think about those words and what they mean. We believe in a God who has the power to do all things. That doesn’t mean he does all things, at least from our perspective. But he has the power. Let us seek to know that God – more all the time. And let us know that, in him, all things are possible!
Eternal God, your power is beyond our comprehension, your love is beyond our understanding. Help us, even in our weakness, to know your strength. Help us even in our times of faithlessness to know you have the power to do all things. Help us to see with your eyes, to know your heart, to seek your will, and to rest in your grace and mercy. For we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.