17 A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”
19 “O unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”
20 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.
21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”
“From childhood,” he answered. 22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
23 ” ‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.”
24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the evil spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”
26 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.
28 After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
29 He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”
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. 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.” 32 But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.
The Reality of Faith
The second element that I want to highlight within this passage is the short conversation between Jesus and this father. Jesus challenges the father by reminding him that everything is possible for he who believes – this challenge reminds me of Jesus’ conversation with the Syro-Phonecian woman. As before, Jesus doesn’t always give simple “yes” or “no” responses to our requests. Sometimes he challenges us, trying to draw more faith and boldness from us. Too often, our response in that situation is to give up, to stop asking, to stop believing, but we have to be more like the father here – to cry out and ask again! And this is what the father does, responding, “I do believe – help me overcome my unbelief!”
Now, the father’s response seems contradictory – how can you believe and yet have unbelief? To understand this, we have to understand something about faith:
First, you don’t have to be a perfect “I believe with 100% of my being” kind of person to have faith. We have a misconception that when we doubt God a little, we have no faith. But remember that Abraham laughed at God when he was told he would have a son – that definitely is not what you would call perfect faith. So a measure of unbelief is okay, and doesn’t mean that you don’t believe – it just means that you are human, and God works very well through humans.
Instead, what is more important about faith is not just believing something is true, but acting upon that truth. Sometimes when it comes to faith, we think it is a mental thing – that you believe something is true. This is definitely part of the story, but remember that James tells us that demons believe there is one God – obviously faith is more than just believing in something. But true faith is acting upon what you know is true – this is what James concludes in James chapter 2, and this is what Jesus tells us in the parable of the wise builder, that a wise builder is one that hears Jesus’ words and acts upon them.
This helps explain the father’s response. No, he didn’t believe 100% that Jesus would or could heal his son. But what’s more important is that with the imperfect, incomplete 50% faith that he has, he acts upon it and brings his son before Jesus. You may not have perfect faith either – maybe it’s an 85% faith, or 50%…or 10%. That’s not what’s important. What’s important is that you take that small faith, that mustard seed, and you act upon it in some way. And remember what Jesus tells us about a mustard seed faith:
“I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
1. Has there ever been a situation in your life where you really doubted God could do anything about it, and yet he did nonetheless?
2. What is one current situation in your life where you know you don’t have enough faith?
3. We learned above that more important than believing something 100%, is acting upon what little faith we have. In regards to your answer above, in what ways can you act with the little faith you have?