Facing the future - Mark 5:21-43
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
I am sure that you will appreciate that one of the occupational hazards of being a Vicar is receiving the 'odd' (not odd-occasional, but odd-funny peculiar) phone call. Well, a few weeks ago I had one. A lady phoned me saying that she held clairvoyancy evenings and a friend of hers who did Tarot card readings had suggested that she should try St John's which might be happy to help out on room hire. I suggested that she must have made a mistake since we were a church and that the Bible made it quite clear that such practices were wrong and dangerous and we shouldn't have anything to do with them. She said that she thought it strange too, but her friend was sure quite it was St John's. Then she mentioned a street on which this 'St John's' was located-it wasn't Clough Road. It appeared she was looking for a St John's ambulance hall. You would have thought that if clairvoyancy was all it was cracked up to be such mistakes would be avoided, they would be foreseen. But the fact that clairvoyancy evenings are being held does show that a desire to know what the future holds is still very strong. The plethora of adverts for such things as clairvoyancy, mediums, tarot card readings and the subsequent take up indicate that with the abandonment of traditional Christianity, occultism, for that is what it is, begins to fill the vacuum. But why? Why is there this incessant desire to know the future and why should the Bible be so implacably opposed to it? Well, it is all to do with fear and power. We are afraid of what we cannot see- the fear of the unknown, and what we can't see is the future. We can look back to the past with hindsight. We can look around us in the present. But the perpetual blind spot is what lies ahead. As a result we feel helpless- vulnerable and especially so if we live in a world which is impersonal at best and hostile at worst. And so if only we can have a handle on the future, we think it gives us some sort of power. But of course it doesn't. And this brings us as to why such attempts to peer into the future by such means are condemned by Scripture. First, it is a repeat of the original sin of wanting to be like God for only God knows the future; he is the one who 'sees the end from the beginning' and who's wisdom, goodness and power steers that history to the goal he wills. Second, it opens us up to the demonic world- the cases of mental illness and oppressive and strange happens associated with such activities are so well documented that only a fool would choose to ignore them. But thirdly, it cuts the nerve cord of the basis of our relationship with our Maker which is trust. If the world is at rock bottom, nasty and dark, subject to the whims of Fate and the like-then one can see how such activities have an ill conceived logic about them. But if the world, though broken because of our sin, is still ruled by a wise and good sovereign Creator, then our proper response as creatures is to trust him for the future. And sometimes that is a very difficult lesson to learn. And one person who had to learn it was Jairus. And we read all about him in Mark chapter 5. So let's take a look at this heart rending chapter under three headings: a call for help, a call to trust and finally a call to hope.
First of all, a call for help- 21 'When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. Then one of the synagogue rulers, named Jairus, came there. Seeing Jesus, he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him, "My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live." So Jesus went with him.'
Jairus, we are told, was a synagogue ruler, a fact which is stressed repeatedly throughout the story.. That may not mean much to you, but it meant an awful lot to Jairus and the people around him. This was the most important man in town. The synagogue was pretty well the centre of everything-the centre of religion, the centre of education, the centre of civic leadership, the centre of social activity. That is why it was such a terrible thing to be excluded from the synagogue; it was the ultimate sanction for it meant you were a social leper. So this is a man who wields an awful lot of power. He is Mr Mover and Shaker. He is the highest ranking professor, Bishop, and Mayor all rolled into one. So if you were to see Mr Jairus walking down the street you would look on in awe and say, 'He has got it all'. Job security. A guaranteed free meal in the local restaurant. Terrific pension plan. Golf every Tuesday. Foreign travel and all expenses paid. You see, Jairus is the kind of man who gives favours not the kind who asks for them.
But not this day. For the man who had it all, would give it all at the drop of a hat for the one thing he cherished above everything else- his sweet twelve year old daughter who lay at home dying.
As we look at Jairus as he hurriedly makes his way to Jesus with his breathing ragged through fear and whose voice is choking with anxiety- we don't see the oh so nice, neatly groomed , self- confident leader, the man who had all the answers- we see a blind man begging for a gift. He falls at Jesus feet with his knees in the dirt. Now that would have been a first. And he 'pleaded earnestly with him', a better rendering would be 'he pleaded again and again, my little daughter is dying' my little daughter is dying, oh, my little daughter is dying.' And between the muffled sobs, straining through tear filled eyes he looks up at the carpenter and asks 'Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.'
Notice that he doesn't barter with Jesus 'You do me a favour and I'll make sure you will be well taken care of for the rest of your life.' He doesn't negotiate with Jesus- 'I know the rich and powerful back in Jerusalem are giving you some trouble. I tell you what- you handle my problem and I will call in a few favours.' He doesn't make excuses to Jesus- 'Normally Jesus I am not this desperate, I can usually take care of my own, but I do have one small problem for you to look at.'
No- he just pleads.
And which father wouldn't? The love of your life is suffering. The one you have tenderly cared for and seen take her first few steps and slowly grow, now looks as if she will never fully reach womanhood. No coming of age. No prom night. No graduation. No marriage. No grandchildren- in short no future.
And it may well be that is exactly the situation you find yourself in this morning. You too are being eaten away by anxiety and fear-fear of the future. It is just not knowing that is the killer. How will the children turn out? What will the diagnosis be? Will my marriage survive? Is unemployment just over the horizon? We are so blind when it comes to the future and it can drive us to distraction isn't it? Just like Jairus in fact.
But notice what he does. He comes to the one who does know the future, who shapes that future and asks for help. And Jesus, who will not break a bruised reed or snuff out a smouldering wick, gives it. V 24 'So Jesus went with him.'
The sense of relief which swept over that man at this point must have been immense. The nightmare may turn out to be dream after all. And then would you believe it? Jesus stops half way and will not budge until he finds out who has touched him! Touched him! Why there is a whole crowd of people touching you Jesus- my daughter is dying and all he can be bothered about is who touched him. And to top it all he then decides to have a conversation with the woman responsible. An outcast, a nobody, someone who at least has had a life- not like my daughter whose life is rapidly ebbing away.' Can you imagine the intense agony of that interuption? The clock is ticking and Jesus is stalling.
But again is that not true to experience- even as a Christian? Your prayers seem to be answered and then boom! The unforeseen interruption knocks you sideways and you are back to square one. And so you ask: 'Just what is going on? Why is God doing this to me?' Well, we see here in this story just what God is doing as we come to our second heading- a call to trust.
Look at v 35-36, 'While Jesus was still speaking, some men came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. "Your daughter is dead," they said. "Why bother the teacher any more?" Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, "Don't be afraid; just believe."
Now it is at this stage in the story that everything gets turned on its head. Jesus goes from being led to doing the leading, from being convinced by Jairus to convincing Jairus, from being admired, to being laughed at, from helping people out, to throwing people out.
First of all notice how Jesus takes charge. When the delegation arrives they tell Jairus not to bother Jesus anymore, after all it is too late, what can he do? But notice how Jesus ignores them. And in so doing underscores an important principle when it comes to faith. To go with the unseen rather than the seen, you sometimes have to ignore people. Those who say it can't be done, that God has given up on us, that society has gone to the dogs and all we can do is sit around and wait for the second coming. The question is: who are we going to listen to? The crowd or Christ? You have to make a choice.
And so Jesus turns to Jairus to plead with him 'Don't be afraid,' he says, 'just believe.' There is the negative- don't allow what you see and hear to overwhelm you. Don't give in to your emotions-fear. Then there is the positive- 'believe' or put more simply trust. That's what faith is. Replacing cowardice with confidence. Turning your gaze from the circumstances to the one who is Lord of those circumstances-The Lord Jesus Christ. Trust.
A father in the Bahamas cried out a similar plea to his son who was trapped in a burning house. The two storey structure was engulfed in flames, and the family father, mother, and several children were on its way out when the smallest boy became terrified and ran back upstairs. His father, outside, shouted to him, 'Jump son, jump! I'll catch you." The boy who was scared witless, cried out, 'But daddy I can't see you." "I know" his father reassured, "but I can see you."
The father could see, although the son could not. And it is like that with God and us- our heavenly father who can see the future when we can hardly cope with the present.
A similar expression of trust in the God who can see, even when we can't, was found on the wall of a concentration camp. It read: 'I believe in the sun even though it doesn't shine, I believe in love, even when it isn't shown, I believe in God, even when he doesn't speak.' Tell me; what eyes could possibly see good in the midst of such horror? Well, eyes which could see the unseen- eyes of faith.
And that is the choice being presented to Jairus and, often to us- to see only the hurt or to see the Healer. To be overtaken by the fear of the future or to walk with Jesus into that future. Well, Jairus chose the latter. And that is when Jesus encounters a group of mourners v 38 'When they came to the home of the synagogue ruler, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, "Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep." But they laughed at him.'
Now you must try and imagine the scene here. It is one of complete pandemonium. You saw on TV those anguished scenes of Iraqi mothers screaming and wailing at the death of their loved ones- that is what this is like with the added fact that many of those present were professional mourners, hired to enable people to express their grief. And so they would turn up with pipes and drums-the lot. So the whole atmosphere would have been one of abject despair. And that is quite understandable isn't it? On the basis of what they could see, death is a disaster, but on the basis of what Jesus is going to do, it is going to be deliverance. And so when Jesus says, 'Why all this commotion? The child is not dead but just sleeping' that is just too much for the people. The response? 'They laughed at him'. Big mistake! You don't laugh at Jesus. He is serious. The pain of this family is serious and is no laughing matter. And just to show how serious it is, look at what Jesus does next, v 40 'After he had put them out' which is far too weak a translation. It literally reads 'After throwing them out.' He doesn't politely ask if they wouldn't mind moving into the next room so he and the parents can have a bit of privacy. He takes them by the collar and belt and sends them sailing. It is the same verb which is used 38 times to describe the casting out of demons.
Now why such force? Why such intolerance? The answer, I think, is simply this: when we are being asked to put our trust in Jesus at the moment of crisis, then the last thing we need, and the last thing this family needs, is the distraction of doubt. On the one hand Jesus bids-'trust me'. On the other hand you have the crowd saying, 'don't be a fool.' God is not going to allow the noise of the critics to distract those who are his. And you know what? He is still busy casting out the critics and silencing the voices which would deter us. The liberal clerics who would cast doubt on the reliability of the Bible are silenced by the work of godly scholars who tell us we can trust it. The sceptical work mates who tell us that Christianity is for the weak willed and feeble minded are silenced when it is their world and not ours which falls apart when all the pleasure has evaporated in the face of death or illness. It was G.K Chesterton who said that five times Christianity has gone to the dogs but in each case it was the dog that died.
And so we come to a call for hope-v40, 'After he threw them all out, he took the child's father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, "Talitha koum!" (which means, "Little girl, I say to you, get up!"). Immediately the girl stood up and walked around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.'
Why did Jesus say the little girl was only asleep when she was patently dead? Well,t was because from his perspective and the perspective of those who trust in him, that is all death is- sleep. It is a temporary condition and not a final state. Now this is when blindness to the future bites doesn't it? At death. What, if anything, lies beyond it? Is there hope? Is death something to be feared or welcomed? Well, what we see being enacted here is a living parable of Jesus mastery over our ultimate future. For those who are trusting in the Lord Jesus, and only those, as here, the experience of death is like the experience of waking up from a deep sleep and seeing Jesus standing before you, gently holding your hand. And so at this crucial point, Christians can see into the future, not through the twisted and misguided work of mediums and clairvoyants, but by the pure Word of God. It is this Word which tells us about the future, the future which really matters- our eternal future. And what it says is that it is secure. That heaven is a reality. That Jesus will return. That a new heaven and a new earth will be established from which death will be for ever banished and we shall be gathered to Jesus and his family as this girl was restored to Jesus and her family.
Now friends, I can tell you, that in a world like ours which has lost all sense of any certainty of life after death, where all thoughts of death are encrusted by a mix of sentimentality and fear, that is very good news indeed. I don't know what is going to happen to me in the next six years or even the next six hours, and neither do you. But this morning God invites each one of us, some for the very first time, to put their trust in him. Jesus hasn't changed. His power has not diminished and neither has his loving purpose for us which is to present us pure and holy to his Father, with great joy as he presented this daughter to her father. And so he says to us, as he said to Jairus, 'Don't be afraid; just believe.'
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