MARCH 24th, 2019 PASTOR DON PIEPER
Right on the Mark Mark 9:2-13; 9:14-29
“WHERE THE POWER LIES”
At the first church I served I had the honor of serving with Tom Householder... Due to the fact that Tom was of Norwegian descent I heard a lot of Swen and Olga jokes. As Tom told it, Swen and Olga had 'issues'. “Swen, you make me so mad! You’re the most disagreeable, orneriest old cuss that ever lived! I don’t want any more of it, but the Good Book says divorce is a sin so let’s pray the Good Lord to take one of us home......,, and then I can go and live with my sister in Wichita!”
I think it’s safe to say that Olga’s prayer life was in need of a little tune-up. The same could be said for many of us as well. For some, it just feels so awkward. John Wimber put it best when he wrote that praying felt like he was talking to the ceiling tiles. Many of us can relate to that largely because we feel inadequate, inexperienced or embarrassed about praying out loud, as was articulated a few years ago by Christian comedian, Michael Jr....:
[YouTube video, “Funny Prayer”, from Thou Shalt Laugh, 2009]
Can anyone relate to that? If that’s you, if you find yourself feeling inadequate or embarrassed to pray aloud over someone, or even to pray at all, I've got just the guy for you! He’s a parent with an aching heart, a Dad with a difficult, tormented son. The prayer he offers isn’t much, to be sure, but the response he receives reminds us that the power is not in the prayer, it’s in the one who hears it!
Imagine his pain, if you will. Other dads watch their children grow and prosper; he can do nothing but watch his son suffer. While others were teaching their sons to thrive, he was just trying to keep his son alive. He couldn’t leave his son alone for a minute! He was on call 24 hours a day. Who knew when the next attack would come? He was desperate and tired, and his prayer reflects it: “If you can do anything for him, please have pity on us and help us!” (Mark 9:22)
Question: Does that prayer strike you as particularly courageous or confident...? Me neither.
The word, “if”, reeks of fear and uncertainty. The word in the original Greek, ________ , is even more emphatic. The tense implies fear, doubt and hesitation. It’s as if the man were saying, “This one’s probably out of your league, but if you think there's anything that can be done – do it, please!”
To be sure this prayer isn’t destined for a worship hymnal. It’s never appeared in any book I’ve ever read on prayer. It certainly isn’t likely to be included in the prayers of the Saints hall of fame!
Wait - Is there a Prayers of the Saints Hall of Fame....? Yet, even still, Jesus responded. But he responded not to the eloquence on the man's part but to the love of a father’s heart.
As we heard, this story immediately follows Jesus transfiguration on the mountain. Talk about your mountain top experiences! Two of the greatest figures in biblical history, Moses, the law-giver and Elijah, Israel's greatest prophet, suddenly appear beside Jesus, and Peter, James & John get to see it
Four fun facts leap off the pages. One, the location. Mark informs us that he is transformed on a mountain. Why there? The mountain is historically, biblically, where God's power and presence is revealed. It's on the mountain that God revealed himself to Moses and gave him the Ten Command-ments and it’s on the mountain that God passed by Elijah and spoke to him. Mark notes that this event didn't just happen to occur on the mountain, Jesus, made sure it did: “Six days later, (after Jesus spoke of the soul), Jesus took Peter, James and John, and led them up a high mountain.” (Mark 9:2)
So one, location; Two, reputation. It's not just anyone who appears with Jesus on the mountain, its Moses and Elijah! These two guys are the greatest heroes of Israel. They were and are pillars of the Jewish faith. That these two men are seen talking to Jesus reveals the nature of Jesus' significance. They represent the law and the prophets, verifying something Jesus had said of himself, a mission statement he'd made: “I have not come to abolish the law and the prophets but to fulfill them!” (Matthew 5:17)
One location; two, reputation, and three, mission. This event gives us a glimpse of Jesus at work training his inner core of disciples for the mission ahead. Throughout the gospels we see Jesus investing in the twelve, and in particular, this core group of three from within the twelve.
Mark informed us back in chapter one that Peter, James and John were his first disciples called to follow him. Later when Jesus raises a little girl up from the dead, “Jesus wouldn't let anyone go in with him except Peter, James and John, and the little girls' father and mother.” (Luke 8:51) And again, when he prays in the Garden of Gethsamane just prior to his arrest, Mark reports, “Jesus took Peter, James and John with him, when he went to the olive grove called Gethsamane.” (Mark 14:33)
Their mission ahead is made clear here at his Transfiguration. “As they went down the mount-ain, he told them not to tell anyone what they'd seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” (Mark 9:9) They weren't to tell anyone because A) no one would understand, B) at that moment they didn't understand, and C) because it was only after Jesus had risen from the dead would they come to understand and be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit for the expressed purpose of telling others. As he told them just before ascending: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere...!” (Acts 1:8)
So one, it’s about location; two, reputation; three, mission; and four, glorification. Mark tells us that in that moment on the mountain, Jesus’ face and clothes become as bright as a flash of lightning! As Mark puts it: “As the men watched, Jesus' appearance was transformed, and his clothes became dazzling white, far whiter than any earthly bleach could ever make them.” (Mark 9:2-3)
Mark's comment about earthly bleach makes it clear, these guys were being treated to a glimpse of heaven – of Jesus as he will appear in all his glory. In his book, Imagine Heaven, John Burke shares a number of near-death experiences and what they have in common, one of which is an encounter with a being of intense light: “I met a being who was pure light! His brightness was before me, around me, and in me. He's brighter than the noonday sun but we can still look at him in Heaven. Jesus is more beautiful, wonderful and glorious than I can explain and his love is so personal, it just lights you up!”
(from John Burke's book, Imagine Heaven)
In his Revelation vision, John, one of three, wrote this: “The city in heaven does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.” (Revelation 21:23) Likewise when the apostle Paul encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus, he said, “It was about noon when a very bright light from heaven shone down around me..., and I heard a voice saying to me, 'I am Jesus the Nazarene, the one you are persecuting...” (Acts 22:6)
So imagine what that was like to have seen Jesus in this way. It was the ultimate mountain top experience, but as exhilarating as that moment on the mountain was their return to the moment must’ve been that much more disheartening. I mean, look at the chaos that greets them as they return. Their friends & the religious leaders are arguing, a crowd of bystanders is gawking, a boy is flopping around, foaming at the mouth and his father is despondent, wondering why no one can help.
Ever experience something like that, to have a mountaintop experience only to be followed by severe disappointment and failure – or a direct spiritual attack? Me too. To be sure the enemy is ever active trying to burst our bubble, cause us to question whether it was worth being on the mountain.
Have you ever been in such a spot? Ever ask for help and got nothing but trouble? Ever been provoked, or criticized, or floundered, or argued, or simply wandered away in the shadow of the mt? Ever question the goodness of God? Ever pray such a timid prayer: “If you can do anything - help!” (Mark 9:22) Can such a prayer hope to make a difference? Mark has a clear vantage point…:
After Jesus cast out the demon his troubled disciples took Jesus aside and asked him, “Why couldn’t we cast out that evil spirit?” “This kind of spirit can only be cast out by prayer.”
Wait a minute, what prayer is Jesus talking about? What prayer made the difference? Was it the prayer of the disciples? No, obviously not. They apparently hadn't thought of praying...
Maybe He’s talking about the religious leaders. No, they were arguing not praying. Well, then Jesus must be referring to the people in the crowd, right? Wrong! They were gawking and gossiping – they were looking on, not praying on! Then which prayer is Jesus referring to? If this kind of spirit can only be cast out by prayer, and this kind of evil spirit was clearly cast out, who was praying?
There are only two options left – Jesus and the boy's father. Jesus commands the evil spirit out of the boy. It's the kind of prayer that his disciples would later pray. It's the prayer of authority, the kind of authority Jesus passed on to his disciples and teaches us to pray over others as well. But many of us may feel too uncertain and anxious to pray such prayers yet. What about us?
Well, there is another prayer mentioned in this story. It’s the one attributed to an honest and hurting man: “If you can do anything for him, please have pity on us and help us!” (Mark 9:22) He knew his faith was lacking and so he made a second request: “Help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)
Fact is, both prayers were answered. It seems God is more moved by our humble admittance of our need than by our eloquence. So Jesus responded... I find that encouraging. We can all do that, starting where we're at, in humble admittance of our need for God to do what we cannot.
Derek Redmond was favored to win in the 400 meter race in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics but halfway into his semifinal heat, Derek crumpled to the track with a torn hamstring.
His coaches and medical team raced out to him but as Derek rose to his feet he pushed them away in a crazed attempt to finish the race. When he hobbled into the stretch a man wearing a hat that read, “Just Do It”, pushed thru the crowd and dashed on to the track. Fighting off security men the man wrapped Derek’s arm around his shoulders and helped him hobble home across the finish line. The crowd erupted in a standing ovation, many sobbing with emotion, as Derek’s Dad helped him finish the race, wearing a T-shirt that read, “Have you hugged your child today?”
(as told by Max Lucado in his book, Bruised Reeds & Smoldering Wicks)
What made Derek's father do it? What made him risk it all to meet his son on the track? Was it the strength or savvy of his child? No, it was the pain of his child. His son was hurting and fighting to complete the race so the father came along side to help him…
Your Heavenly Father does the same for you. Your prayers may be awkward. Your attempts may be flawed, but since the power of prayer is in the one who hears it and answers it, not in the one who utters it, your prayers can and do make a difference – even to the point of casting out evil spirits!