When Your Faith Falls Short

Today we are going to continue in the series for the month, called Encounters with Jesus. This message begins with the transfiguration, one of the more spectacular events in the life of Jesus, and involves three of his closest men. Then, what follows the transfiguration story is of particular interest because hopefully we will identify with this man who had a son with an unclean spirit. So turn to Mark chapter 9 where we can find a little background to our encounter with Jesus.

The Preliminaries– Mark 9:14-16

  1. The Disciples – Mark 9:14-15 – The disciples were not allowed to stay on the mountain, holding on to that experience. In the valley below was hurting and suffering mankind. A world of need lay at their feet. When Jesus and the three disciples reached the base of the mountain, an animated discussion was going on among the scribes, the crowd, and the other nine disciples.
  2. The Discussion – Mark 9:16 – Perhaps they were debating the reason WHY this boy had a demon.  Maybe the scribes were taunting the disciples about their failure, calling into question the authenticity of their conversion, or their commitment to Jesus. As always, Jesus is the one who steps in to solve a problem. As soon as Jesus appeared, the conversation broke up and the crowd rushed to HIM. Jesus then inquires, “What are you discussing with My disciples?” Then the crowd starts telling him what has been going on.

The Particulars– Mark 9:17-29

  1. The Victim– Mark 9:17-22
    1. The Helpless Father – Mark 9:17a – A distraught father excitedly told Jesus about his son, who is possessed with an unclean spirit.
    2. The Hopeless Son– Mark 9:17b-18a, 20-22
      1. The Source of his Problem – Mark 9:17b – he is demon-possessed, which makes him mute.
      2. The Symptoms of his Problem – Mark 9:18a, 20 – the evil spirit cause fits and convulsions, seizing him, throwing him to the ground, foaming at the mouth, grinding his teeth and he stiffens out. This must have been a pretty horrible sight.
      3. The Span of his Problem – Mark 9:21-22 – he has been possessed since childhood. This was a father searching for relief, for his son and for himself. He says, “IF YOU can do anything, take pity on US and help US.” We find TWO people in need in this story..
      4. The summary of his problem – The disciples had failed and this man was NOT SURE that Jesus could do anything for them. I like the honesty of this father, admitting that he had doubts and unbelief. How often have you allowed doubts keep you from totally trusting Jesus, for your salvation, but also for your future? We often are not convinced that Jesus actually has our best interest at heart. We believe that WE know better and don’t have the confidence that following God will lead to fulfillment, joy, peace, healing, restoration or contentment.
    3. The Hapless Disciples – Mark 9:18b-19 – the disciples are miserable and unfortunate, they are unable to help this father and his son, and Jesus appears to be frustrated with them, “How long shall I put up with you?” It’s like, “My time is short and you’re not catching on. I’m not going to be with you for much longer.” Jesus had given the disciples the authority to cast out demons (Mark 6:7, 13) so no wonder Jesus was grieved with them. So what about YOU? How often do we grieve God by not using the spiritual resources that he has already given to us? We try to do things in our way and in our own timing, with self-effort rather than Spirit-led power. No wonder we epic fail in our walk with God, because we don’t really have the power of God working for us. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is available to us today. We are not second class followers of Jesus; he is not holding back on us… but we often hold back from HIM.
  2. The Victor– Mark 9:23-29
    1. Jesus Reassures the Father– Mark 9:23-24
      1. The Strength of Faith – Mark 9:23 – “If you CAN!? All things are possible to him who believes.”
      2. The Struggle for Faith – Mark 9:24 – the father declares, “I DO believe, help me overcome my unbelief.”  He is basically telling Jesus to help him when his faith falls short. We all want to believe, yet we find ourselves filled with doubt. We hate this inward, unreasonable contradiction, yet seem to fight it in vain. How often is the statement of the father what we cry out to God? The positive part is that when we cry out to God, he does not scold, but reassures the father.
    2. Jesus Rebukes the Spirit – Mark 9:25-26 – As the crowd was gathering, he wanted to take care of this quickly and commanded the spirit to come out of him and not return. In dramatic fashion, the demon causes a scene and then the boy was still as a corpse, and the people thought he is dead.
    3. Jesus Restores the Son – Mark 9:27 – Jesus takes the boy’s hand AND RAISED HIM.
    4. Jesus Reveals the Secret – Mark 9:28-29 – Later when Jesus was alone with His disciples in the house, they asked Him privately why they hadn’t been able to help the father and his son. Jesus said that certain miracles require prayer and fasting.

The main lesson for this miracle is the power of faith to overcome the enemy (Mark 9:19, 23-24, Matthew 17:20). Why had the nine disciples failed? Perhaps they had been careless in their personal spiritual walk and neglected prayer and fasting (Mark 9:29)? The authority that Jesus had given them was ONLY effective if exercised by faith, and cultivated through spiritual discipline and devotion.

It could be that the absence of Jesus, who had gone up the mountain with Peter, James and John, and the fact that they were left behind, had dampened their spiritual passion and had diminished their faith. THAT too is a danger for us today. When we neglect gathering for worship and small group interaction, our spiritual passion WILL diminish, and we will lack faith to make a difference in the lives around us. The sad fact is that these disciples had no clue why they were so powerless. When people slip away from the church and from God’s presence during worship, they wonder why their lives lack power and passion for God’s kingdom.

Not only had this failure embarrassed the disciples, it robbed Jesus of the glory he deserved and gave the enemy an opportunity to criticize God, (his ability and his willingness), and the people of God (who are Ambassadors for Christ). Remember that it is our faith in him that glorifies God (Romans 4:20).

Which of us is not faced at times in our Christian service with a sense of defeat and frustration? We have labored tirelessly and conscientiously, yet there has been no evidence of the Spirit of God working in power.

Perhaps these disciples had been arguing about ministry styles or the proper way to help this boy and his father, all the while helpless to do anything that brought relief. Maybe this is a challenge for each of us to focus on strengthening our faith. Is it your desire to ask that God help you when your faith falls short?

I believe that our faith will be strong in the valley ONLY after we have experienced God’s glory on the mountaintop. Oswald Chambers says that,

We are not built for the mountains; those are for moments of inspiration. We are built for the valley, for ordinary life. When you think about it, it is spiritual selfishness that wants repeated moments on the mountaintop. God calls to us to make a difference in the lives of people, down in the valley. It is in the valley where we grow and learn. The mountaintop is not meant to TEACH us anything, it is meant to MAKE us something (like becoming holy, grateful, and dependent). We LEARN only in the valley.

As we participate in the life of the church, we hope to SEE God’s glory, here on the mountaintop, but we are never supposed to LIVE for His glory there. We are to make a difference in the valley.

As we close for today, now is the time to make decisions that will affect the rest of your life, don’t put it off another week.

Let’s pray: This is the time that we confess to you that our faith often falls short, but right now, today, we declare and submit to you our request for you to help our unbelief, help us when our faith falls short. I pray that no one will leave this place with unfinished business with God. All things are possible with God, and we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength. As people are making decision to make a difference in the valley, Father, we ask for your power to experience a life well lived for your glory and kingdom. AMEN

NEXT STEPS: You’ll notice two questions at the bottom of your outline, which are designed to make this lesson practical. How are you going to respond?

  1. How will you evaluate the connection between your mountaintop experiences and life down in the valley?
  2. How will you exercise and increase spiritual disciplines in your life?
    1. Prayer
    2. Fasting
    3. Bible reading
    4. Solitude
    5. Scripture memory

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[Go to Part 1, The Transfiguration] [See the Video]

The Transfiguration

Today we are going to continue in the series for the month, called Encounters with Jesus. This message begins with one of the more spectacular events in the life of Jesus, and involves three of his closest men. Then, what follows the transfiguration story is of particular interest because hopefully we will identify with this man who had a son with an unclean spirit. So turn to Mark chapter 9 where we can find a little background to our encounter with Jesus.

ASCENDING the Mountain – Mark 9:1-2a

  1. The Prophecy – Mark 9:1 – Some would not taste death until they saw the kingdom of God, after it has come with power. This would be a reference to the next event which was the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain. It was sort of a mini-kingdom vision of Jesus in his glorified state.
  2. The People – Mark 9:2a – Six days later, Jesus selects his three closest men, Peter, James and John to accompany him up to a high mountain. This was likely NOT Mt. Hermon, which has a snowy peak that rises 9,232 feet, and is the highest point in the Promised Land. Perhaps it was one of the foothills surrounding Caesarea Philippi, where Peter made his great confession of Jesus’ identity, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” This transfiguration event evidently made a huge impact on Peter and John, since they refer to the transfiguration in their writings (John 1:14, 2 Peter 1:16-18)

ON the Mountain – Mark 9:2b-8 – he was transfigured before them; so what did they see?

  1. The Apparel of the Savior – Mark 9:2b-3 – When Jesus was born on this earth, his glory was veiled or hidden. At that time he came in humiliation, he was a Man of Sorrows, and acquainted with grief. But He will one day return in glory and no one will mistake Him then. He will be visibly the King of kings and Lord of lords. THIS transfiguration event was a foretaste of things to come.
  2. The Appearance by Elijah and Moses  – Mark 9:4
    1. Elijah is mentioned in Malachi 4:5-6 in connection with the future coming of Christ. I believe THIS is why people in the gospels asked John the Baptist if he were Elijah (John 1:21).
    2. Moses was the lawgiver and liberator of the Hebrew people, while Elijah was the first of the great prophets. The presence of these two men, representing the Law and the Prophets, confirmed the reality that Jesus is the Messiah of Peter’s confession.  We read about Peter’s confession in Mathew 16:16 (You are the Christ, the Son of the living God) which is then followed but the Transfiguration story in Matthew 17.
  3. The Assumption by Peter– Mark 9:5-6
    1. The Title – Mark 9:5 – We often have the same story in different gospels, but there are slight variations in what we read. The synoptic Gospels use three different words for Peter’s addressing of Jesus. Rabbi (Mark 9:5), Master (Luke 9:33), and Lord (Matthew 17:4) are separate Greek translations of whatever Hebrew or Aramaic word Peter used to address Jesus on the mount. Mark’s emphasis is on Jesus’ respected position among the disciples as their leader, so he used the term Rabbi.
    2. The Tents – Mark 9:5 – Three tabernacles (or booths) suggests that he wanted to STAY on the mountain and continue to enjoy this mountaintop experience. But this experience was not to be savored, but to prepare him to carry his cross and live out his faith in the day-to-day world, down in the valleys of life.
    3. The Terror – Mark 9:6 – As you know, Peter often blurted out words without thinking them through. Here, he likely was putting Jesus on the same level as Moses and Elijah when Christ is clearly in a class by himself. “Let’s make three tents” likely all the tents would be the same kind. THAT is something that should bother us as well. How often do we say that Jesus is our “buddy” or use some other term of familiar endearment to describe him? We must always remember that Jesus is the Creator of this universe, and the Sacrifice that was made in order to bring our salvation. He is much more than a causal relationship; Peter might have forgotten the awe and wonder of who Jesus really was.
    4. The Truth – what can we learn from this event? How about this… How many times do we have some wonderful spiritual experience and our desire is to stay here and never leave? Perhaps the worship was great, the music was wonderful, the retreat was insightful, the conference was uplifting. When we leave the event to go back down the mountain, we can’t wait for the time when we will have another powerful experience to keep us sustained in life. How about THIS for a lesson? Don’t desire to remain on the mountain in memory of a past vision. While we encounter God through our worship experiences here, Jesus needs us to be active in THIS world, OUTSIDE the church walls. Jesus does not intend for us to stay on the mountain, so don’t seek to build a tabernacle or tent so you can stay there. Mountaintop experiences are great, but we belong elsewhere, and I’ll get to THAT in a moment.
  4. The Approval by the Father– Mark 9:7-8
    1. Peter speaks, at an inappropriate time, and a cloud forms. The cloud may have been the shekinah (or glory) cloud which stayed in the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle and temple in OT times. It was the visible expression of God’s presence. The text indicates the very same thing, the Father shows up; his presence is right there on the mountain.
    2. The Father speaks, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him!” It was as if God was telling Peter to “shut up and stop speaking, THIS is my beloved Son, listen to HIM.” He is NOT just one of the boys along with Moses and Elijah, he is MY SON. So for us, when we come into the presence of God, we should NOT be the ones with all the words. Don’t just blurt out something in an awkward moment of silence, but listen.
    3. Here’s a fun fact: Did you know that the voice of God the Father was heard audibly three times during the life of Christ? The other two occasions were at Jesus’ baptism (Mark 1:11) and during His triumphal entry into Jerusalem (John 12:28).

DESCENDING the Mountain – Mark 9:9-10

  1. The Command – Mark 9:9 – On the way down the mountain, Jesus gives the three disciples specific instructions to NOT tell anyone about what they have seen until after his resurrection from the dead.
  2. The Confusion – Mark 9:10 – I love this next verse, that they seized upon the statement, discussing with one another what rising from the dead might mean!

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Why is Jesus Unique?

Why do we think that Jesus is the only Savior?

Because of all the people who have lived and ever will live, Jesus alone qualifies, in his person and work, as the only one capable of accomplishing atonement for the sin of the world. Consider the following ways in which Jesus alone qualifies as the exclusive Savior.

Christ alone was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 1:26-38). This alone qualifies him to be the Savior. Why does this matter? Only as the Holy Spirit takes the place of the human father in Jesus’ conception can it be true that the one conceived is both fully God and fully man. Christ must be both God and man to atone for sin (see below), but for this to occur, he must be conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a human virgin. No one else in the history of the world is conceived by the Spirit and born of a virgin mother. Therefore, Jesus alone qualifies to be Savior.

Christ alone is God incarnate (John 1:1-18, Hebrews 1:1-3, 2:14-18, Philippians 2:5-11, 1 Timothy 2:5-6). So, Jesus alone qualifies him to be the Savior. As Anselm argued in the 11th century, our Savior must be fully man in order to take the place of men and die in their stead, and he must be fully God in order for the value of his sacrificial payment to satisfy the demands of our infinitely holy God. Man he must be, but a mere man simply could not make this infinite payment for sin. But no one else in the history of the world is both fully God and fully man. Therefore, Jesus alone qualifies to be Savior.

Christ alone lived a sinless life (2 Corinthians 5:21, Hebrews 4:15, 7:23-28, 9:13-14, 1 Peter 2:21-24). Because of this, Jesus alone qualifies to be the Savior. As Leviticus makes clear, animals offered as sacrifices for sin must be without blemish. The animals prefaced the sacrifice of Christ who, as sinless, was able to die for the sins of others and not for himself. But no one else in the history of the world has lived a totally sinless life. Therefore, Jesus alone qualifies to be Savior.

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Paul’s Major Teachings

Aside from Jesus, the apostle Paul is probably the most eloquent and persuasive teacher in the Bible. Many of the doctrines he taught are considered the foundational for the Christian faith.

Born a Jew in Tarsus, he was a Roman citizen, tent-maker, and a Pharisee, responsible for persecution of Christians before his conversion on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1–9). He became a faithful follower of Jesus, a dedicated missionary, and a respected leader in the early church. Here are a few of his major teachings.

1. Justification by faith: According to Paul, God ushered in a new era through the death of his Son. Under the old covenant, people, such as Abraham, were justified by believing God, looking forward to the promise of the coming Messiah (Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:22). Now we are justified, or declared righteous before God, through faith in the Messiah, Jesus Christ, and His atoning death on our behalf. Our justification is based on the work of Christ, accomplished through His blood (Romans 5:9), and brought to His people through His resurrection (Romans 4:25).

2. Jesus Christ as the risen and living Son of God: From the moment Jesus appeared to Paul at his dramatic conversion, Paul never hesitated to proclaim Jesus as the mystery of the ages and the great Redeemer of sinful humanity (1 Corinthians 15:1–20). To Paul, Jesus was the Messiah, God’s Son, the center of the gospel, and the One through whom “all things were created” (Colossians 1:16).

3. The church as the body of Christ: The only New Testament writer who speaks of the church as a body, Paul emphasized this fact in such passages as Ephesians 1:22, 23; 4:7–16; and 1 Corinthians 12. He also reminded Christians that their various gifts were to be used in building up the body of Christ and that they should work together for the common good of the Christian cause (Romans 12:4-5).

4. The power and influence of the Holy Spirit in the Christian’s life: Paul taught that the Holy Spirit was a more effective power for holy living in the Christian’s life than the old Jewish Law had ever been. The Law told people what to do, but it could not provide the will or the power to do it. God’s Spirit could provide the necessary power and motivation (Romans 8:9–17; Galatians 5:16–25).

5. The second coming of Christ: This includes the consummation of the kingdom of God as the redeemed are received into God’s presence. Paul taught that Christ will return to earth at the end of this age and that all Christians will share in His glory in the age to come (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18; 1 Corinthians 15:20–28).

[print_link] [email_link] Notes from the Open Bible

How to Please God

This ought to be the primary focus of all authentic followers of Jesus Christ. How can we claim to one of God’s children if we don’t seek to please God with our lives? Let’s take a look at 1 Thessalonians 4:1–12 for some guidance.

Living a Life that Pleases God:

  1. What We Are to Do:
    1. Live your life choosing to please God in all you do. (1 Thessalonians 4:1)
    2. Live by growing in the knowledge of God’s ways, so study the Bible. (1 Thessalonians 4:1–2)
  2. How We Are to Do It:
    1. Live holy and pure
      1. Live a life that is holy, or “set apart” from the ways of the world. (1 Thessalonians 4:3)
      2. Live within God’s requirements for sexual purity. (1 Thessalonians 4:3)
      3. Live a life that demonstrates self-control. (1 Thessalonians 4:4)
      4. Live a life that is holy and honorable. (1 Thessalonians 4:4, 7)
      5. Live without ignorance of God and his ways, lusting like pagans. (1 Thessalonians 4:5)
    2. Live with integrity in relationships with others. (1 Thessalonians 4:6)
    3. Live knowing that when you reject the Word and ways of God, you reject God. (1 Thessalonians 4:8)
    4. Live with brotherly love toward others. (1 Thessalonians 4:9-10)
    5. Live a quiet life, minding your own business, work with your own hands. (1 Thessalonians 4:11)
    6. Live a life that gains the respect of others. (1 Thessalonians 4:12)
    7. Live a life that is dependent on no one except the Lord, earn your own living. (1 Thessalonians 4:12)