O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
I Have Doubts
"I Have Doubts"
Based on Mark 9:14-29
Preached on September 16, 2012
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Fellow baptized saints, how often do you have doubts about God? Does He really exist? Does He really love me? Can He really take care of me? When your mind gets going you can even begin to doubt your faith itself, do I really believe? Do I even have faith? Am I a Christian?
In the Gospel reading this morning, Jesus encounters people asking the exact same questions. Having the exact same doubts. He has just come down the mountain from the transfiguration. Only moments before His face shone brighter than the sun, and now at the base of the mountain He meets a defiant demon, an anxious father, an astonished crowd and despairing disciples. The contrast is great. He was only up on the mountain a short time, and in His absence what might have began as simple doubts has mutated into full-blown despair. Chaos has broken out down below, and in comes Jesus.
Yet, you know the doubts this panicked group is experiencing, we all do, because we have them all the time. How could God let this happen? Why haven't things got any better? Why is this happening to me? All these questions say the same thing: God doesn't care about me.
But that is not what we see from Jesus. When He sees the young boy convulsing on the ground, He immediately asks his father, "How long has this been happening to him?" Jesus is not looking for a chance to show-off His power like He did on the mountain, He actually cares about the boy. In fact, He purposefully heals him before the crowd gathers so as not to draw attention to it.
Beloved, when "bad" things happen in our lives, it is not because God doesn't care. Christ has come down from His glory to save us from this chaotic world, and He is working to give us what we need to survive. Faith. Your faith is what Christ works to keep alive, not your immediate sense of happiness. God wants what is best for you eternally, and He is willing to withhold short-term pleasures for you to have it.
Parents do this with their children all the time. My son Caleb would eat an entire package of cookies before dinner if I let him. But it would spoil his meal, and he wouldn't get the daily nutrition he needs. But I could never explain this to him, he is too young. I make this "bad" thing happen in his life, not because I don't care about him, but precisely because I do care about him. I want what is best for him in the long-run, and I even promise that he can have a cookie when he finishes his dinner. Our heavenly Father cares for us in the exact same way. He provides us the "faith nutrition" we need to survive this chaotic world, and He promises there is a cookie - even heaven itself - waiting for us at the end. We don't like the trials that keep our faith strong, but they are not worth comparing to the joys we have waiting for us in heaven.
Ok, God does care. The troubled father from our text certainly recognized Jesus' compassion, but that didn't make his doubts disappear. Instead, it seemed to bring more to the surface. He said to Jesus, "If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us." Not exactly a statement of faith, is it? "If you can do anything..." Sure, God might care, but can He really help me? Can He really take care of me? Jesus sets him straight, "All things are possible for one who believes." Faith sets no limits on God's power. It is not a question of God's ability. God can. And when it is in our eternal best interest He does help us, as we see when we look at the cross, but without faith we receive no benefit. Faith receives what God is already providing.
Well then I must be a bad Christian because while I want to have faith, I have doubts. First of all, there is no such thing as a "good Christian" or a "bad Christian" - you are not a Christian because of anything that you have done - you are a Christian because Christ says you are - Christ makes Christians, and Christ made you a Christian in Holy Baptism - In those waters His Words poured faith into you that it might fight against the doubts of your flesh - You are not the one to thank for your faith. Faith is not a virtue - not a work that you do - it is a gift from God - a gift that He works in you by the power of the Holy Spirit - you cannot increase your own faith - you cannot try harder to believe - Instead, you cry out with the troubled father from our text, "Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!"
These beautiful words are true Christian confession. Lord, I believe, help my unbelief! Confession of faith, and confession of failure. And this is most pleasing to God - it is acknowledging the doubts He knows you have, and it is trusting in what He has promised you. It is getting down on your knees before Him and asking Him to have mercy on you, asking Him to increase your faith. In the moment these words are spoken, God's name is being hallowed, His will is being done, and His kingdom has come - for these words speak only of one's eternal well-being.
But there is always that one final doubt that is impossible to shake. You know the one I mean. God is not going to forgive me because I don't have true faith. Let us set the record straight. God does not forgive you because you have faith. God forgives you. Period. Believe it. Christ died to forgive the sins of the whole world, including yours. He has already paid for them. Now He declares this to you, that by faith you may receive the benefits of His forgiveness. Faith receives the benefits of what Christ has already accomplished for you. The freedom, the peace, the rest. These benefits are yours by faith. Yes, even eternal life and salvation.
But this doesn't mean we no longer have doubts. As much as we shouldn't have doubts, brothers and sisters in Christ, while we are on this side of heaven, we are going to have doubts - for our flesh is weak - even the truest faith is tested by the weakness of our flesh, and has great difficulty believing. Remember, all of Jesus' disciples abandoned Him in His final hour. We often become so weak and tremble in temptation that our faith itself needs the remission of sins.
But God knows this. This is why He came in the flesh. It is why He didn't stay up on the mountain basking in the glory of His divine nature, but graciously descended to a world of despair and doubt that needed His human body to deliver them. (pause) Christ's blood forgives even your doubts. And He has instituted a special faith-strengthening meal to ensure His blood is always available when your faith feels weak. When you cry out Lord, I believe, help my unbelief, He puts the chalice to your lips and pours the strength of His eternal blood in your mouth. You are forgiven. For the worthiness has never depended on the strength of your faith, but on the strength of your Saviour. He fights against your doubts and whatever has become weak with His Word and Sacrament. And He will continue to provide for this struggle until the day you die - until the day your struggle ends and you are finally safe with Him, free of doubt, free of sin, and free of the power of the Evil One.
God cares for your eternal life. His power works to secure you with His gift of faith. But He has already forgiven you. Believe it.
Having doubts? It is time for Word and Sacrament. It is time to say, "Lord, I believe, help my unbelief." It is time to be strengthened by God's gifts. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr