Today we come to the end of our series of Big Questions. (Nine barriers that stand in the way of people believing the Christian message.) We’ve looked at topics like suffering, abuse in the church, Science, the reliability of the Bible. And the goal’s been to help people TO THINK THROUGH THE EVIDENCE. Because that’s the thing with belief in God. (Belief in the Christian message). It’s about investigating evidence. And thinking it through. And then BASING your belief on the evidence.
And that’s very different from what lots of people think Christian faith is like. They see it as a CHOICE between BELIEF or BRAINS. Belief when there IS no evidence. Or worse, belief DESPITE the evidence. But that’s BLIND faith, not BIBLICAL faith. Like Richard Dawkins. The atheist, who wrote The God Delusion. Here’s how he defines faith: “Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.”
That might be how HE chooses to define Christian faith. But when the Bible uses the word, it’s more about TRUST, or RELIANCE, or CONFIDENCE.
And it’s BASED on evidence. Not PROOF. But investigating what you CAN know. And then RELYING on that for what you CAN’T be sure of.
And it’s no different from the way all of us trust ANYTHING. For example, you need an operation. You can’t be CERTAIN it will be safe or successful. So you do your research. You ask the opinion of people you trust. They recommend a surgeon. You check her credentials, and her experience. You talk to her. She explains what she’s going to do, and what the risks are. And then you weigh up all the evidence. (It’s not PROOF the operation will be successful). And then you make your decision. You choose to TRUST the surgeon, or not, on the basis of the evidence. And then you SHOW that trust by allowing her to operate.
And it’s the same with Christian faith. (With trusting the Bible. Relying on the claims of Jesus.) It’s about investigating what you DO know, and then choosing to trust what you can’t prove on the basis of that evidence.
In fact, it’s the sort of thing JESUS HIMSELF did. We read about it Mark 2. A paralysed man is lowered through the roof. His friends have gone to a huge effort for him to meet Jesus. When Jesus sees him, he says, “Son, your SINS ARE FORGIVEN.”
The Jewish teachers scoff, “Who does he think he is? Only GOD can forgive sins?”
Do you see the problem? Jesus MIGHT be able to forgive sins. With the authority of GOD HIMSELF. Or he might NOT. It’s easy TO SAY. But hard to PROVE.
And so Jesus gives them some EVIDENCE. Something they can SEE/ to help them trust what they CAN’T see. V10. He says, 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins . . . .” He said to the paralytic, 11 “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” And the paralysed man gets up, takes his mat, and walks out. IN FULL VIEW OF THEM ALL. The evidence is there for EVERYONE TO SEE!
And Jesus’ point is THIS. We don’t have to BLINDLY trust that he can forgive sins. He gives us EVIDENCE WE CAN SEE – legs that work again – to help us trust what we CAN’T see. And it’s evidence to help us trust that he forgives OUR sins, TOO.
And John, the gospel writer, was aiming to do the same thing. He picks out certain VISIBLE things to help his readers rely on what CAN’T be proved. At the end of his gospel. Ch 20 v30, he concludes, 30 Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But THESE ARE WRITTEN that you may BELIEVE that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by BELIEVING you may HAVE LIFE IN HIS NAME.
Lots of OTHER things Jesus did. But John picks out SPECIALLY those events that HIGHLIGHT who Jesus is.
And he calls them SIGNS. Things you can SEE that POINT TO something. And as readers observe and analyse and investigate the signs. It helps them TRUST the person they POINT to.
And THAT helps them trust God’s promise. That Jesus gives them life when they TRUST him. (He forgives their sin, restores them to knowing their Creator. And defeats death on their behalf.)
And that’s the purpose of THIS SERIES, TOO. (The last nine weeks.) To help people THINK THROUGH the EVIDENCE. To move them TOWARDS BELIEF.
I believe, help my unbelief
Now, I don’t know where you’re at. (What you BELIEVE and what you DON’T). Perhaps you’ve made some progress. Perhaps there are STILL some hurdles in the way.
So, if you’re NOT a Christian. And you’ve sat through a few of these topics. Let me ask a rather blunt question. What’s STOPPING you?
Don’t just leave things the way they are. (Somehow hoping that there’ll be some miraculous change). Stop and ask yourself. What’s STOPPING me from trusting Jesus?
WHATEVER those barriers are. Write them down. NAME them. And then do something about ADDRESSING them. INVESTIGATE. Ask questions. Read some books. Move from where you are. It’s WORTH it.
And, by way of encouragement, let me tell you about someone ELSE who wasn’t completely there yet. But who wanted to be there. Who WANTED to believe. And who Jesus worked with BECAUSE of that desire. It’s over in Mark ch 9 v14. Jesus and three of the disciples come down from a mountain retreat. Back to the others. And they step right into a major disagreement. The teachers of the law are arguing with the disciples. And there’s a large crowd standing around watching all the action.
Jesus asks the disciples what’s going on. But instead, a man in the crowd answers. V17. An evil spirit’s stopping his son from speaking. (A bit further on we learn he’s deaf as well). But it’s the symptoms like epilepsy that REALLY trouble him. And so he brought the boy to the disciples. But when they tried to cast out the demon/ nothing happened.
Now, it’s important to remember that only a few chapters before/ they actually HAD cast out demons and healed people. Jesus sent them out two by two. Back in Ch 6. But NOW when they tried it … NOTHING. But Jesus knows exactly what’s gone wrong. Nothing happened because the disciples weren’t acting IN FAITH. Look at v19. He’s talking about his disciples. “O UNBELIEVING generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?” He’s exasperated with the disciples. They’ve seen everything he’s done, and STILL don’t trust him. And he commands them to bring the boy to him.
But when they do, the evil spirit doesn’t it, and does the only thing it can – tries to harm the boy. Something it’s been doing for the whole of his life. Because Satan is always about destroying whatever’s GOOD. Verse 20. It threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.
The father’s DESPERATE. Because at any moment, his son might drown, or burn to death. So he PLEADS with Jesus. (And those of us who are parents can understand a little of his desperation. Because we’d do almost ANYTHING to help our children.) V22, But if YOU can do anything, take pity on us and HELP us.”
There it is. That’s the invitation. “Take PITY on us. And HELP us.” Not just help the SON. But help the FATHER. Because he’s suffering TOO.
But Jesus picks up on three of his words. Words that show this man’s got the same problem as the disciples. A lack of faith. Look at what Jesus answers. Verse 23. “‘IF you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who BELIEVES.”
The man thought it all depended on JESUS – whether HE had the power to make it happen. Which, in a way, it DOES. But instead Jesus turns the question around. The crucial question isn’t whether JESUS has the power. But whether the MAN has the FAITH. “If YOU believe/ EVERYTHING is possible.”
Jesus has a limitless supply of power to do ANYTHING. But it takes FAITH to TAP INTO that. And once you DO, Jesus says ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE.
And immediately the man responds with a great answer. One that sums up OUR situation so often, too. Verse 24. “I DO believe. Help me overcome my UNbelief.” He asked for Jesus’ help with the evil spirit IN HIS SON. And now he asks for Jesus’ help with the UNBELIEF IN HIS OWN HEART. “I DO believe. Help me overcome my UNbelief.”
That’s a GREAT prayer if you’re not SURE about Jesus. If you’re investigating the truth. “I know a LITTLE. I believe A LITTLE. But I’ve got questions. Doubts. So HELP me. GROW my faith. Show me evidence that will SUPPORT it. PROVE yourself reliable. And trust-WORTHY.” Because it’s LESS about YOU. And MORE about JESUS doing something.
But it’s not just a prayer for those INVESTIGATING Christianity. It’s a prayer for those of us who’ve been Christians for DECADES. Like the disciples, we doubt Jesus’ power, and try to do things on our own. “I DO believe. Help my UNBELIEF. God, I THINK I believe you’re in control. I THINK I believe you’ll provide all my needs. I THINK you’ve got plans for tomorrow. I THINK I believe nothing can separate me from your love. I THINK I can trust you with my child, or my future, or my cancer.” “I DO believe. Help me overcome my unbelief.”
But what’s so great about this/ is that Jesus never expects PERFECT faith. (Or complete faith. Absolute faith). He can work with faith THE SIZE OF A MUSTARD SEED. He’s THE ULTIMATE MICRO SURGEON. Working with things SO SMALL you need a microscope to see them.Have you got faith THAT big? Enough to ask Jesus to step in, and HELP your unbelief?
The man DOES. He’s got SOME faith. He MUST have, because Jesus does his work again. Verse 25. He rebukes the Spirit, it comes out of the boy, and Jesus helps him to his feet. Healed and whole. Jesus MEETS us where we are. Do you have enough faith to ASK for faith?
Christianity is about Christ
But there’s something ELSE interesting in this passage. It’s the role of the CROWD. V15. Jesus arrives, and the crowd are overwhelmed with wonder and RUN to greet him. What do they WANT? If you jump back a page or two, you can see the last two public events were Jesus feeding the four thousand, and the healing of a blind man. So it’s likely they want a FEED, a SHOW, or a HEALING. And as THIS event unfolds, it looks like they’re going to get at least a SHOW, and A HEALING. Jesus has COMPASSION on those in pain. And he wants to HELP. But notice what happens in v25.
The boy’s convulsing on the ground, the father’s pleading for Jesus’ help. And then v25,
25 WHEN JESUS SAW THAT A CROWD WAS RUNNING TO THE SCENE, he rebuked the evil spirit.
The spectacle’s attracting an even GREATER crowd. And now, THEY’RE running towards him. Rushing over to see what all the fuss is about. And Jesus wants to avoid too much of the wrong SORT of attention. (People coming to Jesus to have THEIR OWN NEEDS FIXED).
It’s something he’s done all the way through Mark. Back at the end of Ch 1, he heals a leper, and commands him not to TELL anyone. Instead, he goes and tells EVERYONE. And we read in v45. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.
He wants to TEACH. About himself and repentance and forgiveness. But the crowd want HEALING. Which Jesus DOES, because he CARES. But it distracts them from his TEACHING. So much NEED, but no EARS TO HEAR.
Same thing again in Ch 5. He raises a dead girl to life. And then GIVES STRICT ORDERS NOT TO LET ANYONE KNOW ABOUT THIS. (Which I would have thought was a bit difficult with anyone who knew she’d DIED!)
Or Ch 7, he heals a deaf and mute man, and he commands them not to tell anyone. V36. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it.
And even here in Ch 9. After he’s healed the boy with the evil spirit. V30, we read,
30 They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, 31 because he was TEACHING his disciples. TEACHING is what the people REALLY need.
We see it in ch 4 where Jesus talks about the different types of SOIL. Different reactions people have to hearing about Jesus. And those who DON’T produce fruit, (who don’t believe), are those who let TROUBLE or PERSECUTION, or WORRIES, or the desire for other things CHOKE OUT JESUS’ MESSAGE. Our NEED can STOP us from believing. Whereas the GOOD SOIL. Are those people who… HEAR THE WORD. Who don’t let their needs or problems distract them from LEARNING. Learning that leads to belief, and forgiveness, and LIFE. And his conclusion is, He who has EARS TO HEAR, LET HIM HEAR.
Because, ultimately, Jesus didn’t come to satisfy people’s needs. He came to show people HIMSELF. To teach about HIMSELF. Because that’s what people REALLY need. They might come to Jesus for healing, or help with a problem or a relationship, or with guilt. And Jesus will often DEAL with our pain and struggles.
But what we need MOST is Jesus. We need to know the One who came from the Father. Who shows us what he’s like. And who shows us what WE’RE like. And then who dies in our place to restore our relationship with our Creator. And who defeats death, and demands our loyalty and service. And gives us LIFE.
We saw it in chapter 2, the crippled man is brought by his friends to Jesus. What do they want? It’s obvious – HEALED LEGS! But what does Jesus do instead? FORGIVES HIS SINS! Because that’s what WE ALL need most.
So, as you think about investigating evidence, and growing in your belief. As you think about what you might GAIN from coming to Jesus. (Your needs, or problems, or questions). Just remember that, in the end, what you need MOST is JESUS HIMSELF.
Look at what Jesus’ priority was. He takes the disciples off, away from the crowds, and their needs. And he teaches them about HIMSELF. V31. he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.”
Ultimately THAT’S the Big Question we all need to consider MOST. As much as all these other questions might be real issues. Who is JESUS? What did he DO? And what should YOU DO in response to that? And we get a great answer to that question if we look at the events described just BEFORE the boy’s healing in Ch 9. Where Jesus and the other disciples had been. They’ve been up on a mountain, and Peter and James and John get a vision of Jesus’ eternal nature. His TRUE IDENTITY. God’s eternal Son. V2 says,
There he was TRANSFIGURED before them. 3 His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. 4 And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
And the point of Moses and Elijah was that they were two prophets with EXPERIENCE at speaking to GOD/ on a mountain. And they’re TALKING TO JESUS. JESUS IS GOD. Glorious and eternal. Pure and holy and powerful.
But there’s more. Not just VISIBLE evidence. AUDIBLE evidence TOO. V7. Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” God himself speaking up for his Son. Declaring his love for his obedient, victorious Son. And then speaking a command to the three disciples. But also to US. “LISTEN to him.” Will you DO that?
Will you consider the evidence? Trust it? And then trust Jesus? That you might believe that he is the Christ. And that by believing, you may have LIFE in his NAME?