What’s wrong with a “Jesus Plus” kind of faith?

July 7, 2018

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Last Sunday’s scripture, Mark 5:21-43, is often called a “Markan sandwich.” The top piece of bread is Jairus’s meeting Jesus on the shore to ask him to heal his daughter and Jesus’ accompanying him to his house, in vv. 21-24. This plot line gets interrupted by the hemorrhaging woman. Her story, in vv. 25-34, forms the middle part of the sandwich. Finally, the bottom piece of bread is the resumption and conclusion of Jairus’s story in vv. 35-43. This literary device is characteristic of Mark’s gospel: See Mark 2:1-12; 3:1-6; 3:20-35; 6:6b-31, among many other examples.

Mark tells his story in this way for two reasons: Not only because this is the way these events unfolded, but also because he wants the reader to see the interconnectedness of these two plot lines. As I said last Sunday, everyone, including the hemorrhaging woman, would expect Jesus to fulfill the request of a powerful, wealthy, credentialed, and respectable leader of the community: Jairus seems like a worthy candidate for a healing miracle of Jesus, whereas this ritually unclean poor woman does not.

Jairus is, as far as his fellow Jews are concerned, an unassailably “righteous” man. Mark doesn’t imply for a moment that he’s a hypocrite; he has no ulterior motive in coming to Jesus; his faith, such as it is, is sincere, as v. 23 makes clear: he “implored him earnestly.”

And yet, is Jairus really so different from the woman—social status notwithstanding?

At first, it seems like it. While they’re both desperate for Jesus to perform a healing miracle, the woman has nothing to lose: She’s lost everything already. She’s exhausted all her options. She has nothing in her favor. And even if Jesus heals her, what credit will she deserve? She doesn’t even have the courage to ask Jesus for help. She intends to steal a miracle from him.

Jairus isn’t like her. When he meets Jesus, he still has something working in his favor: time. In other words, he hasn’t lost everything yet because his daughter is still alive. So long as he gets Jesus to his daughter’s bedside before she dies, his labor will not have been in vain. How wise, how clever, how resourceful he will have been! “Well done, Jairus! Once again, you’ve saved the day—with Jesus’ help, of course. Still… apart from your quick wits, your good reputation, and your initiative, your daughter would have died! So, good job!”

I said in my previous post that Jairus’s faith is far from perfect, and we can see why: Until the messenger delivers the fateful news in v. 35, he isn’t trusting completely in Jesus or depending on him completely. He’s also trusting in his favorable circumstances: “As long as my daughter is still alive, it’s not too late! I still have reason for hope!” Jairus’s faith was not in Jesus Alone: it was in Jesus Plus these other things.

Jesus, of course, wants Jairus—and, by extension, us—to have a Jesus Alone kind of faith, not a Jesus Plus kind of faith. He wants to bring Jairus to the same place in which the hemorrhaging woman finds herself: a place of complete dependence on Christ. And so Jesus (that is, God) “rigs” Jairus’s circumstances to make sure this happens! By taking time to heal the hemorrhaging woman, God knows that final thread of Jairus’s misplaced faith—in himself and his circumstances—will be broken: “Why trouble the Teacher any further? Your daughter is dead. There is no longer any hope, Jairus. Give up.”

To this Jesus says, “Do not fear, only believe.” In other words, Jesus says, only believe in me! I am the Lord of all circumstances. I’m the One who looks at the storm raging all around and says, “Peace! Be still!”

Easier said than done! I prefer to have a Jesus Plus faith rather than a Jesus Alone faith. I like being able to depend on myself, my circumstances, my vain belief that “things aren’t as bad as they seem.” In fact, what often passes for “Christian faith” for me is belief in my own power: the thought that I haven’t exhausted all my options; I haven’t worked all the angles; I haven’t called in all my favors—in which case my prayer isn’t that Jesus would save me—even if I mouth those pious words—so much as these favorable circumstances would save me, or these people who are well-disposed to me would save me. While Jesus often saves through circumstances and people—by all means!—I can easily forget that it is Jesus who does the saving; he is the One in whom I need to trust.

And isn’t that the hard part?

Not to worry, though: as I’ve learned from experience, Jesus will often test me until I remember that I have nothing and no one else to depend on except him. This is the “severe mercy” that Jesus shows to Jairus when he learns that his daughter has died. This is God’s discipline, and as painful as it often is, it is good for us!

The words of the author of Hebrews couldn’t be more fitting:

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

I’ve heard no one put it better than C.S. Lewis on this subject. (He uses the word “punishment” for “discipline,” but same difference.)

I am beginning to find out that what people call the cruel doctrines are really the kindest ones in the long run. I used to think it was a “cruel” doctrine to say that troubles and sorrows were “punishments.” But I find in practice that when you are in trouble, the moment you regard it as a “punishment,” it becomes easier to bear. If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable: think of it as a place of training and correction and it’s not so bad.[1]

Think of this world as a place of training and correction and it’s not so bad. This is classic English understatement, perhaps, but I can only say, Amen!

1. C.S. Lewis, “Money Trouble” in The C.S. Lewis Bible, NRSV (New York: HarperOne, 2010), 1123.

5 Responses to “What’s wrong with a “Jesus Plus” kind of faith?”

  1. bobbob Says:

    several years ago one of our preaching staff gave a great message on this exact scripture and it generally lines up with what you have written here. With one significant difference: the personal to me application. You see that sermon was delivered on Palm Sunday after my daughter and granddaughter had both had these exact problems: my daughter had a miscarriage that nearly killed her, and my granddaughter had, at two-and-a-half years, appendicitis, a burst appendix which, in 24 more hours, might have put her in real mortal danger. So, as his message unfolded, I was absolutely stunned. Humbled. Relieved. Both recovered nicely, but it was not without some worry, angst. It is very discomforting to visit your daughter in hospital to see an IV bag delivering concentrated red-blood cells and hear that it is one of two! She was getting the equivalent of four pints of blood!! That was a close one! To visit your granddaughter and see that tiny child getting IV and really not wanting to get poked (IV installation on a small child is the highest medical art form) any more. Poor thing. That sermon was delivered several months after both events and was exactly the thing I needed to hear. Yours and his are slightly different in slants and are each very good. Well done, Rev B.

  2. Tom Harkins Says:

    “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” “Seems painful” may be the “classic understatement,” as you reference Lewis’s comment! Also, I cringe at the last part–“trained by it.” What if you’re not? In other words, what if you DON’T “learn your lesson” and don’t change your bad behavior as a result of the discipline? What then? It’s not made clear. I think there is a verse in Psalms that says, “If you, O Lord, were to regard sin, who could stand?!” Perhaps at some point God would say, “Well, I will just count that against you when it comes to rewards on Judgment Day, and we will move on.” In some matters, I must say that may be my only hope! 😦

  3. bobbob Says:

    Tom,
    I know the Scriptures say that we will be held accountable on JD, but they also say that faith in Jesus’ perfect life, perfect death, and perfect resurrection is enough. The first lead to a works mentality and the second lead to a kind of spiritual laziness. Thus the tension in many peoples’ lives. Just like the tension between predestination and free-will. I cannot reconcile either of these two strained relationships to my satisfaction. But I have said, probably in this space, my take on one of them: God is the ultimate multi-processor, in that He knows how all the decisions, decision-by-decision, of all His creatures affect each other and the course of history. Yup, His clock-cycle is in the order of zeta-hertz and faster.

    • Tom Harkins Says:

      Good comments, bobbob. It really is astonishing how God can know everything at once, past, present, and future, when we can hardly focus on one thing at a time!


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