Does God care? Really care?
In Mark 9 we get a powerful and liberating story about a dad in dire desperation. His son had been berated by the demonic his whole life, throwing him into epileptic seizures. He tried to get the disciples to heal the boy, but they couldn’t. So in a panic, he broke through a crowd to beg Jesus for help….
And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”
23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.”
24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
This dad asks for two things:
1) Have compassion. It isn’t enough for God to be powerful, we need to know that he deeply cares for us. Not just generally for the “world” but for me. For my problems. For my hurts. For my fears amidst my faithlessness.
2) Help. It also isn’t enough for Jesus “just” to care. He has to be able to do something about it. There’s plenty of folks in my life that care about my problems, but don’t have the power to truly and practically do anything about them.
So I need both. A God who Cares and a God who Helps. And both of these desperate needs became incarnate and displayed in the person of Jesus. Because God has a perfect Fatherly compassion (a deep, gut-level ache for us), he denied himself and sent his Son. He put us over himself; our needs over his position; our life over his. And intermingled with his love is the ultimate powerful help. First for our very souls and relationships (foremost our relationship with Him). But secondly for our lives this side of heaven. Jesus didn’t just tell them to suck it up and focus on heaven. He met them in their mess and healed the son by driving out the darkness that oppressed him.
And ultimately that’s exactly what the cross is about. The Father perfectly drove out our darkness by absorbing it and “being thrown down” like the boy…only to the point of death, so that death and the demonic will no longer have control over us. Yes, we will be die. And yes, we will be influenced by the demonic. But all believers have the Holy Spirit inside of us, replacing any other spirit that wants to get in. And this indwelling Spirit doesn’t cast us down but lifts us up; doesn’t try to destroy but successfully resurrects, which is the word used of what Jesus did to the boy.
Repent and Believe.
Repent. Well that word has got a lot of baggage. It has virtually been manifested into a literally club used to beat people over the head. We’ve been conditioned (brainwashed?) like Pavlov’s dog to hear that word and begin to cringe in guilt and shame; or bow up and resist the humiliation of admitting we are somehow wrong, or somehow offended somebody (or some god).
But this is mostly because we have a misunderstanding of God, ourselves and what repentance is.
First off, God. As I talked a little bit about in “Dancing King”, Jesus is the eternal dancing God that dances with the Father and the Son. For eternity they have been revolving gracefully, graciously and lovingly around each other forever. When Jesus came to us he essentially invited us to join The Three in the divine dance.
But what about us? We were scooped up off the dance floor and given legs to dance with the King. But we keep going back to our old dance partners, giving them our adoration, love and rhythm.
So repentance is the continual wooing of God that melts our hearts to see that we are cheating on our True Dance Partner. Repentance is literally to “Change Your Thinking.” Repentance is seeing and admitting that we are believing in a different gospel (Gospel is “the good news that a king has come and won”). “Sin” means that I am believing (followed by my “doing”) in something besides Jesus. I’m not dancing with the one that brung me. To repent is to re-callibrate my beliefs. To admit that I am believing wrong, and then to begin to believe the Truth.
That’s why Jesus begins his sermon here with “Repent and Believe.” They go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other. Repentance is not “say you are sorry for doing something bad” but agreeing with God that you have believed a false gospel, and then believe the Truth that God is your hope; that he has scooped you up off the floor and now says “This is my son, whom I love and in him I am well pleased.”