Fear Not! Only Believe!
A sermon on Mark 5:21-6:6 by Coty Pinckney, Community Bible Church, Williamstown, MA 10/24/99
Please turn with me in your Bibles to Mark chapter 5. We'll begin reading with verse 21:
21 ¶ And when Jesus had crossed over again in the boat to the other side, a great multitude gathered about Him; and He stayed by the seashore. 22 And one of the synagogue officials named Jairus *came up, and upon seeing Him, *fell at His feet, 23 and *entreated Him earnestly, saying, "My little daughter is at the point of death; please come and lay Your hands on her, that she may get well and live." 24 And He went off with him; and a great multitude was following Him and pressing in on Him. 25 And a woman who had had a hemorrhage for twelve years, 26 and had endured much at the hands of many physicians, and had spent all that she had and was not helped at all, but rather had grown worse, 27 after hearing about Jesus, came up in the crowd behind Him, and touched His cloak. 28 For she thought, "If I just touch His garments, I shall get well." 29 And immediately the flow of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction. 30 And immediately Jesus, perceiving in Himself that the power proceeding from Him had gone forth, turned around in the crowd and said, "Who touched My garments?" 31 And His disciples said to Him, "You see the multitude pressing in on You, and You say, 'Who touched Me?'" 32 And He looked around to see the woman who had done this. 33 But the woman fearing and trembling, aware of what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him, and told Him the whole truth. 34 And He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your affliction."
35 ¶ While He was still speaking, they *came from the house of the synagogue official, saying, "Your daughter has died; why trouble the Teacher anymore?" 36 But Jesus, overhearing what was being spoken, *said to the synagogue official, "Do not be afraid any longer, only believe." 37 And He allowed no one to follow with Him, except Peter and James and John the brother of James. 38 And they *came to the house of the synagogue official; and He *beheld a commotion, and people loudly weeping and wailing. 39 And entering in, He *said to them, "Why make a commotion and weep? The child has not died, but is asleep." 40 And they began laughing at Him. But putting them all out, He *took along the child's father and mother and His own companions, and *entered the room where the child was. 41 And taking the child by the hand, He *said to her, "Talitha kum!" (which translated means, "Little girl, I say to you, arise!"). 42 And immediately the girl rose and began to walk; for she was twelve years old. And immediately they were completely astounded. 43 And He gave them strict orders that no one should know about this; and He said that something should be given her to eat.
1 ¶ And He went out from there, and He *came into His home town; and His disciples *followed Him. 2 And when the Sabbath had come, He began to teach in the synagogue; and the many listeners were astonished, saying, "Where did this man get these things, and what is this wisdom given to Him, and such miracles as these performed by His hands? 3 "Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James, and Joses, and Judas, and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?" And they took offense at Him. 4 And Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his home town and among his own relatives and in his own household." 5 And He could do no miracle there except that He laid His hands upon a few sick people and healed them. 6 And He wondered at their unbelief. And He was going around the villages teaching. (NASB)
Four weeks ago we began looking at Mark 4:35-6:6, a section which focuses on the place of fear in our lives (see sermon). In the first half of this section, we delineated four types of fear:
We also saw that some of these fears are right and proper, while others are not. All those who have not received Christ as Lord and Savior should have a proper fear of judgment, for it is certain. All believers should have a proper fear for the power and majesty of God, as Isaiah, Daniel, and John exhibit when they witness God on His throne. But the other two types of fear are wrong. God's people need never fear circumstances; God is in control of all, and will turn to good purposes even what men intend for evil. And the proper response to recognizing that we cannot control God is to fall down at his feet, rather than to tell him to leave us alone, as the Gadarenes did.
In Mark 5:21 to 6:6, which we've just read, the evangelist provides us with three additional examples of these fears: The people of Nazareth, the woman subject to bleeding, and Jairus the synagogue ruler. We will consider them, in that order, shortly. But let's begin this morning by returning to The Narnian Chronicles, where once again C.S. Lewis provides us with an insightful picture of proper fear of Aslan, the lion who symbolizes Jesus.
In The Silver Chair, Jill Pole is whisked away from her boarding school in England by magic. She is very thirsty, and begins to search for water. Hearing a stream, she starts to approach: but sees an enormous lion blocking her path, directly between herself and the stream. Let's read:
It lay with its head raised and its two fore-paws out in front of it . . . . She knew at once that it had seen her, for its eyes looked straight into hers for a moment and then turned away -- as if it knew her quite well and didn't think much of her.
"If I run away, it'll be after me in a moment," thought Jill. "And if I go on, I shall run straight into its mouth." Anyway, she couldn't have moved if she had tried, and she couldn't take her eyes off it. How long this lasted, she could not be sure; it seemed like hours. And the thirst became so bad that she almost felt she would not mind being eaten by the lion if only she could be sure of getting a mouthful of water first.
"If you are thirsty, you may drink."
. . . For a second she stared here and there, wondering who had spoken. Then the voice said again, "If you are thirsty, come and drink," and . . . [she] realised that it was the lion speaking. Anyway, she had seen its lips move this time, and the voice was not like a man's. It was deeper, wilder, and stronger; a sort of heavy, golden voice. It did not make her any less frightened than she had been before, but it made her frightened in rather a different way.
"Are you not thirsty?" said the Lion.
"I'm dying of thirst," said Jill.
"Then drink," said the Lion.
"May I -- could I -- would you mind going away while I do?" said Jill.
The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realised that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.
The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.
"Will you promise not to -- do anything to me, if I do come?" said Jill.
"I make no promise," said the Lion.
Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step closer.
"Do you eat girls?" she said.
"I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms," said the Lion. It didn't say it as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.
"I daren't come and drink," said Jill.
"Then you will die of thirst," said the Lion.
"Oh dear!" said Jill, coming another step nearer. "I suppose I must go and look for another stream then."
"There is no other stream," said the Lion.
It never occurred to Jill to disbelieve the Lion -- no one who had seen his stern face could do that -- and her mind suddenly made itself up. It was the worst thing she had ever had to do, but she went forward to the stream, knelt down, and began scooping up water in her hand. It was the coldest, most refreshing water she had ever tasted.
Does Jill fear this lion? Should Jill fear this lion? Yes and yes. The lion is capable of eating her; the lion has eaten up both girls like her and those who are much more powerful. So she fears both his power and majesty, like the disciples, and his uncontrollable nature, like the Gadarenes. She, in fact, tries to respond like the Gadarenes: she asks the Lion to go away, to leave her alone. But the lion doesn't move, and Jill, in the end, must respond positively to the lion's invitation to come and drink. She approaches in faith, drinks -- and is satisfied.
The Nazarenes: Excessive Familiarity
Like Aslan confronting Jill, Jesus confronts the people of Nazareth. Mark does not record the teaching of Jesus in the synagogue, but we can assume it is similar to what has been recorded in the last few chapters: "You can be part of my intimate family! The truth is here, the good news so long awaited by the people of Israel! But consider the sower sowing his seed: If you have ears, let them hear: respond to the truth, or you will lose even the small bits of truth you already have."
Upon hearing this teaching, the people are astonished by his teaching, his wisdom, and his miracles:
Where did this man get these things, and what is this wisdom given to Him, and such miracles as these performed by His hands? (Mark 6:2 NASB)
How should they respond to Jesus? It was a miracle -- the calming of the wind and waves -- that caused the disciples to fear Jesus' power and might. That was the right response: to revere him.
But the Nazarenes respond differently, as we discover in verse 3. They say:
"Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James, and Joses, and Judas, and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?" And they took offense at Him. (Mark 6:3 NASB)
They are thinking, "This Jesus is just the boy who grew up next door. We know him. We know all about him. We don't understand where all this is coming from, but he can't be anything too important: He's just a carpenter, Mary and Joseph's kid, James' and Joses' brother."
The phrase translated here "they took offense at him" means literally "they stumbled over him." Jesus uses this same expression in Matthew 11:6: "Blessed is he who keeps from stumbling over Me."
What truth are they stumbling over? The incarnation! The central truth that God took human form, and became fully human! Jesus really was a baby; he did all the things little babies do. He really was a little boy. He really was a youth. The Nazarenes saw all that, and let that hinder their faith. They did not revere him, because they knew all these details about his humanity; they did not have a proper fear of him and his power, because they used to watch him kick a ball around the neighborhood.
There are two errors of extreme we can make in responding to Jesus' power and might:
American culture today rarely leads us into the first error; we are much more prone to the second: excessive familiarity, not taking proper account of Jesus' might and power.
Syndicated columnist George Will, writing about his daughter's high school graduation last June, addresses this issue with regard to children and parents:
We parents know our daughters regard us as faintly ridiculous. There was a medieval pope who once a year walked Rome's streets wearing a ludicrous hat, to discourage excessive veneration. The excesses of today's young women do not include excessive veneration of parents, who always, as it were, wear silly hats.
Regardless of whether or not you think your parents wear silly hats, Jesus does not. He is not a clown. He is not a genie from a bottle, come to do your will. He is not your buddy, here to make you laugh and ensure that you have a good time. He is not your indulgent grandfather, turning a blind eye to your sins, and giving you sweets.
No. Jesus is the king of the universe. Jesus is the one through whom all worlds were made. Jesus is perfectly holy, and will refine us with fire so that we too become perfectly holy. Jesus describes himself to us as the one with flaming eyes, with a sharp sword coming from his mouth, before whom every knee will bow.
This is our God. Do you fall on your face before him? Do you have a proper fear of his might, his power, his holiness?
Jill had a proper fear of Aslan: yet she still approached him and accepted his offer of water to drink. So should we.
The Woman with the Flow of Blood: Faith Over Fear
Let us now turn our attention to the woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years. She had tried every avenue of human assistance she could find, but none were of any help. Instead, they simply drained all her resources.
But like the leper in chapter 1 (see sermon), this woman's problems go far beyond poor health and poverty. Consider Leviticus 15:25:
When a woman has a discharge of blood for many days at a time other than her monthly period or has a discharge that continues beyond her period, she will be unclean as long as she has the discharge. (NIV)
This woman had been unclean for twelve years. This meant that she was cut off from the most important activities of the Jewish people: She could not enter the temple courts, she could not participate in any of the annual feasts. Furthermore, her uncleanness was "infectious;" people would avoid her because, as explained later in Leviticus 15, if anyone were to touch something she had sat upon, he too would become unclean.
So this woman is now poor, outcast, and sick. She doesn't feel worthy of approaching Jesus in her state, or asking him to become unclean by touching her. Afraid of what he might say, afraid that he, too, might turn away in disgust and rebuke her, she decides she cannot approach him directly. But like Jill, desperate for help, believing that he is the only possible help, she decides to approach him indirectly, surreptitiously, thinking, "Even the touch of the hem of his garment will be sufficient to heal me." She doesn't want his attention, only his healing.
She inches up to him, reaches out . . . and succeeds! With the brush of the material against her hand, she immediately feels something change inside her: Healing! She has what she wants, so tries to slip away into the crowd.
But much to her horror, Jesus turns around and says, "Who touched me?" The disciples can't believe he's asking such a question with so many pressing around him, but the woman knows that he is looking for her. Her first thought is to run, but even that will draw attention to her. Then she thinks she can simply stand still and be overlooked. But when Jesus persists in looking for her, she takes the only sensible course of action: with much fear and trembling, she approaches Jesus, and falls down before him, not knowing what he will do. Will he punish her, perhaps by taking away the healing? Will he rebuke her?
But as she begins to speak, everything gushes out all at once: her tears, her sorrows, these long twelve years of isolation and frustration. She pours out her heart to Jesus, telling him the whole truth.
Jesus looks into her eyes, and speaks tenderly to her, saying:
Daughter(the only time Scripture records Jesus using this word), your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your affliction." (Mark 5:33 NASB)
Or, as the NIV puts the last phase, "Go in peace, be freed from your suffering." Or, more literally, "be made whole."
Jesus did not let this woman sneak away because he was not interested in solving only her physical problem. As we have seen, Jesus is interested in the whole person, and especially in proclaiming the gospel message of intimacy with God on the basis of forgiveness for sins. He wants a relationship with this woman, not simply to be the wearer of a magic garment.
So Jesus tells her to "go in peace." The concept of shalom -- surely what Jesus and this woman would have in mind -- goes beyond the ideas we associate with the word "peace." Jesus makes her clean, but not only in the ceremonial sense. She now is fit to approach the very presence of God. Like the leper in chapter 1, this woman too is cleansed and made whole in her spirit.
We too suffer from diseases for which there is no cure, apart from Jesus. We too are unfit to approach God in worship, apart from His making us whole. So I ask you this morning, not only:
Do you have a proper fear for God?
Are you willing to throw yourself at Jesus' feet, knowing you are unworthy, and beg his mercy? For that is your only hope.
If you do, he will say: Be made whole!
Jairus and his Daughter: The Most Wrenching Fear
Let us turn finally to Jairus, a synagogue official.
I'd like to suggest that there is no fear more wrenching than the fear of the loss of one's little child. You have held this dear one when she was helpless, totally dependent on you; you have sustained her, cared for her, protected her: yet now she is in danger, and there is nothing you can do.
On a Sunday morning in August of 1995 Beth and I had a taste of that fear. About 7AM, Beth was nursing Joel, who was 8 months old at the time. Our oldest five children were still asleep; we were enjoying a quiet, and all-too-rare moment with the three of us together. Suddenly Joel stopped nursing, and went limp. Beth called out, "Coty! Something's wrong with Joel!" Thinking he must be choking on something, I picked him up and opened his mouth. Not seeing anything, we desperately tried to get him to respond to some stimulus, any stimulus. Nothing seemed to work. The previous evening I had held our guinea pig in my arms as he died; I now prayed, "Oh, Lord! Is this precious boy going to die in my arms also?"
I have never experienced such gut-wrenching pain; afraid of losing my son, I would have done anything to bring him back: but there seemed to be nothing I could do: I was helpless.
This was the case for Jairus: His daughter is dying, and there is nothing he can do. He undoubtedly tried the local doctors, like the woman with the flow of blood, but they had not been able to help.
Recall that there was already considerable opposition to Jesus among the religious authorities. Jairus must have been aware of that. If it were known that he had fallen at the feet of Jesus, he would be labeled as a follower of Jesus, and quite possibly would lose his position.
But once he is convinced that Jesus is the only hope for his daughter, Jairus forgets his own pride, forgets his own position, and pleads with Jesus to come heal his daughter. Jesus agrees.
Consider Jairus' response to the woman with the flow of blood. Mark gives us no details, but he must have been exceedingly restless. He knows his daughter is about to die! Surely he must be thinking, "Come on, Jesus, we don't have time!"
But then his worst fears are realized: Even while Jesus concludes his interaction with the woman, some men come from his house with the dreadful news: "Your daughter is dead."
So it is all for naught: his demeaning himself, his putting his position in jeopardy. Now the dearest person in his life is gone. He failed her.
The men continue, "Why trouble the teacher any more?" Now, why would these men from Jairus' house be concerned about Jesus' troubles? I think it much more likely they were concerned about Jairus' troubles! They are really saying this, in a polite manner: "Please, get out of his presence before too many more people see you here. It's no use now; maybe you can still keep your position in the synagogue if you clear out quick."
But Jesus overhears them; he has just been looking into the eyes of the woman. He now directs his gaze at Jairus, saying: "Fear not! Only believe!"
Sensitive to Jairus' needs, Jesus dismisses the crowd; he dismisses even the majority of his disciples. Amazingly, upon Jesus' word the crowd disperses, and the small group proceeds to the house.
At the house we find the world's response to physical death. Mourners are crying and wailing in the courtyard. Jesus says to them:
"Why make a commotion and weep? The child has not died, but is asleep." (Mark 5:39 NASB)
They laugh at him. Why?
Jesus exercises his authority again, putting them all out. Note it is not Jairus who gives the command, but Jesus. He and the small group go up to the little girl's room. Jesus touches her and says, "Talitha cum!" Decades later, Peter tells Mark the exact words Jesus used; they are ingrained in his memory.
She rises! And, in this lovely last statement of concern, Jesus says, "Give her something to eat."
This is a marvelous story, isn't it? Two happy endings in only 23 verses! But what is the lesson for us? Why did Jesus respond the way he did? What promises are implicit for us?
Some of you may say, "Coty, Jesus told Jairus not to fear -- and then brought back his daughter from the dead. Even in your case, Joel was not really in any danger; you just thought he was, and now he is perfectly ok. But I really did lose a son -- or a daughter, or someone else dear to me. Other Christians have lost their whole families. So how can I believe and trust God, when I know such things happen? Mightn't they happen to me?"
Friends, Mark didn't record this incident to make us believe that God would avert every tragedy in our lives.
One of the greatest preachers of this century, G. Campbell Morgan, reflected on his own personal experience when preaching on this passage:
I can hardly speak of this matter without becoming personal and reminiscent, remembering a time forty years ago when my own first lassie lay at the point of death, dying. I called for Him then, and He came, and surely said to our troubled hearts, "Fear not, believe only." He did not say, "She shall be made whole." She was not made whole, on the earthly plane; she passed away into the life beyond. But He did say to her, "Talitha cumi", that is, "Little lamb, arise." But in her case that did not mean, "Stay on the earth level"; it meant that He needed her, and He took her to be with Himself. She has been with Him for all these years, as we measure time here, and I have missed her every day. But His word, "Believe only," has been the strength of all the passing years.
Jesus tells us that death is sleep. It is not the end of life, or the end of relationships for those who believe. As a character in a George Macdonald book puts it, "You have tasted of death now. Is it good?" "It is good," comes the response, "it is better than life." "No," the first speaker replies. "It is only more life."
We need not fear our own death or the death of a loved one. These circumstances that are out of our own control are controlled by God; and he will, in the end, wipe every tear from our eyes. He will right all wrongs, and overwhelm us with his power and love.
So how do we respond to frightening circumstances?
Listen to these words of David from Psalm 56:
3 When I am afraid, I will put my trust in Thee. 4 In God, whose word I praise, In God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid. What can mere man do to me? (Psalm 56:3-4 NASB)
Commenting on these verses, Charles Spurgeon writes:
To trust when there is no cause for fear, is but the name of faith, but to be reliant upon God when occasions for alarm are abundant and pressing, is the conquering faith of God's elect. . . . Whether the fear arise from without or within, from past, present, or future, from temporals, or spirituals, from men or devils, let us maintain faith, and we shall soon recover courage.
Let us in closing reflect once again on these three stories.
Consider the Nazarenes:
God calls us to intimacy with Him, yes, but he is also a God of overwhelming power, might, strength, and purity. He has swallowed up boys and girls, kings and emperors, cities and realms; in comparison to Him, our power is nothing. So do you have a right and proper fear of God?
Consider the woman:
Do you have faith that God is able to deal with your most desperate problem? Do you have faith that this most powerful, holy, and righteous God cares for you? Are you willing to approach Him, despite your proper fears, and throw yourself at his feet, begging his mercy?
Do you understand what death is? Do you believe that, for those who have received Christ Jesus, death is only sleep? Do you believe that all who die in Him will be raised to a new life in a glorified body, and that we will see them all again -- that dear grandmother who loved us so, that son or daughter we did lose to such great heartbreak, the husband or wife we loved so dearly. Do you believe with Paul that for you, to live is Christ, and to die is gain?
Whatever your fears may be, Jesus says to you: Fear not; Only believe! And may we all respond with David: When I am afraid, I will trust in you.
This sermon was preached at Community Bible Church in Williamstown, MA on 10/24/99. The G. Campbell Morgan quote is taken fromRay Stedman's sermon on this passage; if anyone has access to the entire original sermon, please contact me. The George Will quote is from his June 10, 1999 column, which I highly recommend. The George Macdonald quote is taken from George Macdonald: An Anthology, edited by C.S. Lewis, Macmillan, 1947. I understand this book of quotations has been reissued in 1996 by Touchstone Books, and, after a long hiatus, is presently in print. If you like, you can order the book from Amazon by following the link.
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