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Help for faith and for hurting people

By Dr. Thurman R. Hayes Jr.

Almost 53 years ago, on Sept. 15, 1963, at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., four little girls sat in their Sunday school class, learning about Jesus.

No one knew that the Ku Klux Klan had planted a bomb that would tear their little bodies apart, and tear the hearts of their grieving parents to shreds.

Recently I saw a program about this event, and what tore me apart as a dad was the heartbreaking grief of these parents. As the father of three, including two precious daughters, it hit close to home.

During his ministry, Jesus often encountered desperate, heartbroken parents. They would bring their suffering children to him.

We see such a case in Mark 9:14-29. A father approaches Jesus, and says that his boy “has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid.”

This was a severe form of epilepsy, as Matthew makes clear in his account, but it was more. A demonic spirit was using epilepsy as a front to torture this boy.

The father went on to explain to Jesus that the demonic spirit had sought to hurl the child into fire to burn him and into water to drown him.

The heart of Jesus went out to this father and his son in tenderness and compassion, and he asked, “How long has this been happening to him?” Jesus’ question was one of deep concern. He was entering into this father’s pain.

One of the most compelling things about Christianity is that we have a God who understands our pain. In fact, not only does he understand it, but he became a human being and entered into it. And not only did he enter into it, but on the cross he took it on himself.

God knows what it is like to lose a child to a violent and unjust death.

This father said to Jesus, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus responded, “If you can! All things are possible for one who believes.”

The man responded, “I believe; help my unbelief!” There is a wonderful authenticity and honesty here. The father was saying, “I am struggling with my faith, but I believe. Help me trust you more.”

Imagine that you fall off a cliff, and as you are falling, you look and see a limb sticking out. Instinctively, you grab ahold of the limb, and you find that it is strong. It holds you. It saves you.

Would your salvation be due to the strength of your faith, or the strength of the limb?

Obviously, the strength of the limb.

So it is with Christ. When we place our frail faith in a strong Savior, we discover that he is mighty to save.

That’s what this father was doing. He was taking one wobbling step toward Jesus, and he found that Jesus was running toward him with compassion and power.

The story ends with Jesus casting out the demon and healing the boy. But it really doesn’t end there.

The man and his boy met a Savior who could hold them for life and eternity. Friend, he can hold you, too. Take hold of Christ today.

Dr. Thurman R. Hayes is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Suffolk. Follow him on Twitter at @ThurmanHayesJr.