Sermon 07-11-2021: “Do Not Fear, Only Believe”

July 16, 2021

Scripture: Mark 5: 21-43

I’m a fan of Alfred Hitchcock, the “master of suspense.” My favorite movie of his is Notorious, from 1946. It’s set just after World War II. Cary Grant plays an American secret agent who is trying to uncover a secret chemical weapon, which is hidden in the wine cellar of a Nazi played by Claude Raines. Raines is conspiring with other Nazis to use this new weapon to revive the Third Reich—unless Cary Grant, the spy, can stop him.

So Grant gets himself invited to a party at Claude Raines’s house. And at some point during the party, Grant sneaks down into the wine cellar in order to find the chemical weapon.

The only problem is… as he’s downstairs in the wine cellar, the guests at the party are drinking a lot of wine—specifically champagne! And they’re drinking it fast! They’re running out upstairs, and pretty soon, the host of the party, Claude Raines, will have to go down to the wine cellar and get more! Will Cary Grant get caught? 

In case you don’t know, Hitchcock always makes a cameo in his own movies. And in this movie, we see him as a guest at the party. And as the suspense is building, Hitchcock grabs a glass of champagne glass off a tray, gulps it down quickly, and put the empty glass on the tray. A commentator on a DVD that I watched points out that by drinking the champagne himself, Hitchcock is making Cary Grant’s problem worse… because now they’ll run out of wine even sooner! Hitchcock is heightening the suspense!

I share this because today’s scripture is a suspense story… a man named Jairus is in a race against the clock. He’s frantically trying to get Jesus to his house, so Jesus can heal his daughter before she dies. Meanwhile, like Hitchcock gulping down that glass of champagne, someone else is making Jairus’s problem worse… I’m referring, of course, to this woman, who’s been suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years. Her plans disrupt Jairus’s plans, making it far less likely that Jesus will get to Jairus’s house on time.

Like many of you, I watched a lot of M*A*S*H growing up, and I know that in emergency situations doctors have to perform triage before doing anything else… they have to determine which are the most urgent cases and treat those cases first. Jairus must have been thinking, “This woman has already been dealing with this problem for twelve years. Will it kill her to wait another hour so that Jesus can come and save my daughter?”

Why was Jairus so worried? 

Because his faith in Jesus was far from perfect. And the woman’s faith in Jesus was far from perfect, too. And I want to talk about some ways in which each one had a faith that was far from perfect, but before I do, let me share this illustration from pastor Tim Keller. Three men are running through a snowy forest. It’s very cold, below freezing. They’re being chased by a hungry tiger. But up in front of them there’s a steep bank and below that is a lake. The first man has done some quick calculations in his head. He’s almost 100 percent confident the lake will be frozen over with ice—three feet thick—easily enough to support his weight, and the weight of his two friends. The second man hasn’t done the math, and he’s worried. “Sure, it’s below freezing now, but I don’t know…” Let’s say he’s 50 percent confident. The third man is a pessimist by nature. He always expects that things are going to end badly. He’s 10 percent confident the ice will support his weight. “But, he thinks, “what do I have to lose at this point?” So all three men, with different degrees of faith that the ice will support them, jump on to the ice to escape the hungry tiger.

Are the second and third man, who had much less faith than the first, any less saved than the first man, whose faith was much stronger?

Of course not… They’re all equally saved. Assuming, of course, that the tiger won’t also jump down on the ice. Who knows? Let’s assume that it doesn’t. 

My point is, matters is not how strong their faith is; what matters is what they’re placing their faith in.

And so it is with Jairus and the hemorrhaging woman: Their faith was weak and far from perfect, as I’m going to show, but guess what? They still had enough faith for Jesus to give each of them a miracle! Because what matters isn’t so much how strong their faith is; what matters is the One in whom they have faith! So I’m being critical of Jairus and this woman, but they still had enough faith to for Jesus to work a miracle.

And so it is with us!

So how did their faith fall short? Let’s start there.

For one thing, each of them believes that Jesus helps, heals, saves, and works miracles for people who are worthy… people who deserve it… people who earn it in some way.

When Jesus agrees to accompany Jairus to his house to heal his daughter, here’s what literally everyone, including Jairus himself, would be thinking: Jesus is helping Jairus because, as a ruler of the synagogue, he is a very important person. Jairus has a reputation for personal righteousness. He is well-respected and well-loved. He’s a powerful, generous, public-minded citizen. He’s given so much of himself to his fellow townspeople—including Jesus, who worshiped in the synagogue that Jairus helped to build and maintain. And so it’s natural that Jesus would perform this kind act for Jairus… as a reward for his many good deeds. 

If anyone deserves Jesus’ help, it’s Jairus.

Nobody would dispute that! Certainly not the woman with the hemorrhage!

She knows she doesn’t deserve to have Jesus do anything for her! That’s why she approaches Jesus from behind, while he’s walking, while he’s preoccupied! The last thing she wants is for Jesus to find out what she did! Her plan is simply to run up, touch Jesus, and—she hopes and believes—to be healed. And to remain anonymous. No one will know—not even Jesus… or even if he does know, there will be too many people around for him to stop what he’s doing, to single her out, or to draw attention to her.

She wants to be healed in secret. She wants to remain anonymous. Why? Because this woman knew—she just knew—that if she walked up to Jesus, face to face, and asked him to heal her, he would say no. He would reject her. Because she’s a nobody, or even worse than a nobody: she’s an outcast! Her chronic bleeding made her ceremonially unclean.1 She wasn’t allowed to be in crowds with other people in the first place, for fear that, by touching them, she would make them unclean. She wasn’t allowed to worship in the temple or synagogue. It’s not that the Bible says that having a physical disease makes you morally unclean. Not at all! But those categories, ceremonially unclean and sinful, tended to get blurred in people’s minds. We see this, for instance, in John chapter 9, before Jesus heals the man born blind. His disciples ask him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”2 And Jesus was like, “He doesn’t have this physical ailment because of his sin!”

My point is, this woman felt like a nobody. She felt worthless. She felt like a loser. She probably had as low an opinion of herself as these others had of her.

But then Jesus does, and says, the unthinkable. He stops. He talks to her. He isn’t angry. In fact, he’s compassionate and loving.

And this is another place where the woman’s faith falls short. While it’s true she believed Jesus could heal her, physically, she doesn’t believe that Jesus would do so because he actually cares about her, or loves her, or wants to have mercy on her, or—even more—wants to be in a relationship with her! Because notice… that’s what Jesus does! He won’t let her remain anonymous. He won’t let her hide in the crowd.

I worry that there are even some of you in the congregation who believe that you can be a Christian and remain anonymous to Jesus Christ… that you can be a Christian and hide from Jesus in this crowd of your fellow churchgoers… that you can be a Christian and get a little bit of grace, a little bit of mercy, a little of forgiveness, a little bit of healing, a little bit of help in order to get out of whatever crisis you’re currently facing, a little bit of salvation and then… have the rest of your life to live as you please. 

Jesus says, “No!” Jesus says you have to be in a personal relationship with him! If you don’t have that personal relationship, you’re not a Christian at all! And maybe you’re thinking, “But my wife… she knows Jesus. She’s at church all the time! Isn’t that good enough?” No! “My parents, they know Jesus, they have a relationship with him—and I’m their kid, after all! That’s good enough, right?” No! No one can believe for you! No one can have a relationship with Jesus on your behalf! No one can be saved for you. If you don’t know Jesus, chances are there are people in your lives who are praying for you, that you would get to know him—if they could, I’m sure they would love to be saved on your behalf. But only you can make that decision. Only you can receive his grace and have that relationship with him!

He’s waiting for you! Why not let today be the day you make that decision? 

Are you afraid that Jesus will reject you because you’re not good enough? Guess what? You’re not! This woman wasn’t good enough, either! Her physical disease wasn’t caused by sin, but she was still a sinner, just like the rest of us. 

Yet here’s the good news: through suffering and dying on the cross, Christ made this woman “good enough,” he made her worthy! Because on the cross a great exchange took place: God took this woman’s sins and placed them on his Son, Jesus. Jesus paid the penalty for her sins; he suffered and died for them. And then Christ’s righteousness was placed on her… so she can stand before God as if she had never sinned—as if she were perfectly holy. 

Jesus says, “I’ll take all your sin, all your uncleanness. And now you take my righteousness in return. It’s yours. It’s free.”

This healing was an advance sign of what Jesus would soon accomplish on the cross.

And as if to make this crystal clear, look at what Jesus says to her in verse 34: “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

Jesus calls her “daughter.” This is literally the only time in the gospels where Jesus calls a woman “daughter.” Why? Because… now… because of her faith in Christ… far from being an outcast… far from being unclean… far from being a sinner… far from being rejected and scorned and ostracized… far from being judged and punished and condemned to hell because of her sins… this woman is now a child of the King! A daughter of Almighty God!

Did you know that you can be a daughter of the King, too… or a son of the King?

Last year I was talking on the phone in my backyard, and I mindlessly walked to the sidewalk on the other side of Doyle Street. I wasn’t even thinking about it. I was distracted by this conversation I was having. And I wasn’t thinking about the fact that my springer spaniel Ringo so badly wanted to be with me that he walked through the invisible fence in our backyard, suffered the inevitable shock from his shock collar, and walked out onto the street, in order to follow me. And by the time I noticed what he was doing, there was a car fast approaching! And Ringo is dumb! He doesn’t know to look both ways when crossing a street. He trusts me to keep him safe. And so I saw this car coming, and without thinking I ran out into the street and put myself between the oncoming car and this dog whom I love—as if to say, “If you’re going to run over my dog, you’re going to have to run over me first!”

I’m not saying this was wise or a I made the right decision. I’m just saying I didn’t give it a second thought. 

And some of you are like, “There you go again, talking about Ringo! Don’t you love your kids more than Ringo?” And I do! But I’ve never come that close to getting run over for my kids! I’ve never come that close to laying down my life for my kids! I certainly would if I had to!

But just think: Your Father loves you as much as that… except infinitely more so… because he paid an infinite price—the death of his Son on the cross—in order to make you his beloved son or daughter! And now that you’re his son or daughter through faith in Christ, what wouldn’t your Father do for you? What wouldn’t he give for you? He’s not just going to leave you alone to suffer. He’s going to help you! He’s going to always, always, always do what’s in your best interest for you! That’s a rock-solid guarantee from God’s Word!

Do you believe this? 

Please don’t tell yourself, “Well, God’s probably mad at me or disappointed in me because I’ve committed sins X, Y, and Z. Who am I that God should love me so much, that he should take all the time and trouble for someone like me? I’m no one special. I’m just a sinner.” 

Are you kidding? If you are his child through faith in his Son Jesus, our Father loves you absolutely as much as he loves his Son Jesus! That’s what the Bible says!3 God literally could not love you more than he does right now! I love my kids more than anything in the world, but I’m still a sinful human. My love even for them wavers… based on my mood, based on whether or not I’m hungry, based on whether or not I’m well-rested. God’s love for you, his son or daughter, doesn’t waver like that; it doesn’t change; it never diminishes!”

That’s what God’s Word promises!4

His love for you doesn’t diminish even when your Father makes you wait for something that you think you need. The fact that the Lord makes you wait is not a sign that he doesn’t love and care about you perfectly, to the fullest extent possible. He made Jairus wait. He wanted Jairus to wait. He planned for Jairus to wait! It’s no exaggeration to say that our Lord arranged these events so that Jairus would have to wait.

Why? Because the waiting was good for him. 

Until the messenger delivers the fateful news in v. 35—that his daughter has died—Jairus isn’t trusting in Jesus completely, or depending on Jesus completely. And this is another deficiency with Jairus’s faith. To some extent, he’s also trusting in himself—in his reputation, his power, his influence. He’s trusting that he’s righteous enough for Jesus to perform this miracle. Finally, he’s trusting in his favorable circumstances—he’s trusting that time is still on his side: “As long as my daughter is still alive, it’s not too late! I still have reason for hope!” 

But hold on… Jairus had reason for hope, regardless of the circumstances! Because Jairus had Jesus! When you have Jesus, there’s always reason for hope!

But Jairus hasn’t learned that yet… What’s that old saying? “You don’t know that Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have.”

Jesus, of course, wants to teach Jairus—and the rest of us—that all we need is Jesus. He wants us to learn to trust in Jesus alone. He wants us to have a Jesus Alone kind of faith, not a Jesus Plus kind of faith. He wants to bring Jairus and the rest of us to the same place in which the hemorrhaging woman found 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 the 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 Lord of life and death. I’m the Lord of this or any other storm raging all around, and I can always say to that storm, “Peace! Be still!”

So… Do we have a Jesus Alone kind of faith?

When we’re afraid of financial problems, for instance, that’s a sure sign that we don’t trust in Christ alone to supply every need of ours.5

When we’re afraid of things going wrong in our relationships, that’s a sure sign that we don’t trust in Christ alone to give us all the love and security that we need—so we don’t have to depend on the love of other people to meet our deepest needs.

When we’re afraid of what other people think of us—how they judge us—whether they accept us or not—that’s a sure sign that we don’t trust in Christ alone when he tells us not to be afraid of other people,6 what they can do to us… and that there’s only one person whose opinion of us, whose approval of us, whose acceptance of us really matters—the One from whom we long to hear these words: “Well done, good and faithful servant!”7

When we’re afraid of getting sick and dying, that’s a sure sign that we don’t trust in Christ alone when he shows us that he’s defeated death through his resurrection—and that our own death is a transition to a better kind of life.

Through this painful experience Jesus moved Jairus from a Jesus Plus kind of faith to a Jesus Alone kind of faith. And Jairus got the miracle he wanted. In fact he got a miracle greater than just the resuscitation of his dead daughter—however great that miracle is!

And I believe that our Lord wants to work that same miracle in each one of us, if only we—like Jairus—can move from a Jesus Plus kind of faith to a Jesus Alone kind of faith… What miracle am I talking about? Listen, speaking from personal experience, if God enabled me, through faith in Christ alone, to face anything that comes my way without fear—well… that itself would be a pretty big miracle! Because without Jesus I’m afraid of a lot of things. I’d be embarrassed to tell you all the things that frighten me!

That’s what Jesus wants for us: to trust him alone and to not be afraid… “Do not fear, only believe.”

  1. See Leviticus 15:25-33.
  2. John 9:2
  3. See, for instance, John 17:23 and 26.
  4. See, for instance, Romans 8:38-39.
  5. See Philippians 4:19
  6. See, for instance, Matthew 10:28.
  7. Matthew 25:23

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