The reliability of Jesus - Mark 5:21-43
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~~The Reliability of Jesus
In contrast to the great politicians of the past, what is noticeably absent from today’s politicians is great rhetoric; speeches which stir the soul and fire the imagination. Sound-bites just don’t do that- and Tweets definitely don’t! Well, it was in the midst of the great depression of the 1930’s which brought many of the Western nations to their knees, including the United States, that the then President Franklin D Roosevelt spoke these words, ‘This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.’ ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.’ You see, Roosevelt was tapping into a very real and common emotion- ‘fear’ in order to overcome it with what in effect was faith. Fear does have all sorts of dreadful effects on us as individuals and communities. Fear makes us lose perspective and question the value of the fight. Fear can make Christians doubt God. And this is especially the case when we are afraid of losing someone we love, surrendering to the fear of death.
And that is certainly what we find with the man in our Gospel episode this evening- Jairus. Here was a man for whom life was fairly predictable and to be frank, quite comfortable- as it is for most of us. But then something happened which saw the bottom fall from his world. And it is in situations like that you find yourself asking is there anything or anyone to whom we can turn who will prove reliable when everyone else fails? Well Jairus was about to find out the answer.
First we see 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 (v22; 35; 36; 38). That may not mean much to you, but it meant an awful lot to Jairus and the people around him for it meant that this was the most important man in town. You have to understand that the synagogue was more or less the glue that held everything together in Jewish culture-it was the centre of religion, the centre of education, the centre of civic leadership and the centre of social activity. As a consequence what we have here in Jairus is a man who wields power. He is Mr Mover and Shaker. He is the highest ranking professor, the Bishop, and the Mayor all rolled into one. So if you were to see Jairus walking down the street you would look on in envy and think to yourself, ‘He has got it all’. Jairus was the kind of man who gives favours not the kind who asks for them.
But not this day. No, the man who had it all would have willingly given it all in a heartbeat for the one he cherished above all else- his little twelve year old daughter who lay at home fighting for her life. That is the language being used to describe her condition: she is as good as dead and that is how she will end up unless she can get some serious, miracle moving mountain kind of help.
As we look at Jairus hurriedly making his way to Jesus, his breathing ragged through physical exhaustion, his voice choking with fear and anxiety- we don’t see the oh- so- nice, neatly- groomed, self- confident leader who had all the answers- we see a beggar asking for a hand out. In desperation he falls at Jesus feet with his knees in the dirt. And it is from this undignified posture we are told he ‘pleaded earnestly’ Jesus; a better rendering would be ‘he pleaded again and again and again. What did he plead? ‘My little daughter is dying’ –my little daughter is dying- Jesus!’ And between the muffled sobs, straining through tear filled eyes he looks up in desperation to the carpenter and begs, ‘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, Jesus, but I tell you what- you handle my problem and I will handle yours.’ 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 with Jesus.
And which father wouldn’t? The love of your life is slipping away. The one you cradled in your arms as a baby and seen take her first few steps as a tiny toddler and slowly grow into a beautiful young girl now looks as if she will never reach womanhood. No coming of age. 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 evening. You too are being eaten away by anxiety and fear. 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? Can I survive this job? We are so fearful when it comes to the future and it can drive us to distraction just as with Jairus in fact.
But notice what Jairus does. He comes to the one who is able to shape that future and asks for help. And guess what? Jesus gives it. V 24 ‘So Jesus went with him.’
The sense of relief which swept over that man at this point must have been overwhelming. The nightmare may turn out to have a fairy tale ending after all. And then would you believe it, Jesus stops half way and will not budge until he finds out who in the crowd has touched him! ‘Why, everyone is touching you Jesus, what’s the big deal? My daughter is dying and all you can be bothered about is who is doing the touching.’ And then when he does find out who it was who touched him, Jesus decides to have a conversation with her there and then. This is beyond irritating it is irresponsible. Imagine an ambulance team who has just picked up a heart attack victim on their way to A&E, seeing someone they picked up earlier that week for a routine examination, and then deciding to pull over to enquire how they are doing! You don’t do that sort of thing! Can you even begin to imagine the gut wrenching agony of that interruption for Jairus? The clock is ticking and Jesus is talking!
But again is that not true to experience? Your prayers seem to be being 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- the girl is dead? And what does Jesus do? He totally ignores them. And in so doing underscores an important principle when it comes to faith. To go with Christ you sometimes have to ignore the crowd. 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? Sometime the choice is that simple.
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. Then there is the positive- ‘believe’. That’s what faith is. Replacing cowardice with confidence; turning your gaze from the circumstances to the one who is Lord of those circumstances.
Let me tell you something- 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 – was 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 him, “but I can see you.”
The father could see, although the son could not. And it is like that with God and us- we have a heavenly father who can see the future when we can hardly cope with the present. We may not be able to see him but he can see us.
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 God who is unseen- the 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 in 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. In addition to the uncontrollable grief of the family and neighbours, in this culture professional mourners were hired to enable people to express their grief. They would turn up with pipes and drums-the lot and make this unholy racket. So the whole atmosphere would have been one of abject despair, with people beside themselves wailing with grief. 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 some people. Their response? ‘They laughed at him’. Big mistake! You do not laugh at Jesus- ever. The pain of this family is serious and that no laughing matter. And just to show how serious Jesus is, we discover by looking at what he 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? 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.’ ‘Get real, she is dead.’ And you know what? 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 colleagures 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, it 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. For those who are trusting in the Lord Jesus 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. This is such a delicate picture Mark is painting here as related by Peter who is standing there watching this extraordinary event unfold.
Jesus kneels down, and takes the girl’s little hand between his hands and says two things which are deeply significant. First of all he says, ‘Talitha’. This is a pet name, a term of endearment, like when we say ‘Little darling’ or ‘Sweetie’. This is then followed by the command, ‘koum’ –‘get up’, not ‘come back from the dead’. It is a phrase her Mum or Dad would have used pretty well every morning as they knocked on her bedroom door, ‘Sweetie, it’s time to get up and go to school’. Do you realise what this means? It means that Jesus power over death is as easy as waking a little child from her sleep. Do you not think it is worth trusting someone who has this kind of power; someone who shows this kind of tenderness- who, in short, is this trustworthy?
But this story is more than an amazing healing it is a foreshadowing of the cross as God’s way of defeating death. This is the way Dr Tim Keller puts it: ‘There is nothing more frightening for a little child than to lose the hand of the parent in a crowd or in the dark, but that is nothing compared with Jesus’ own loss. He lost his Father’s hand on the cross. He went into the tomb so that we can be raised out of it. He lost hold of his father’s hand so we could know that once he has us by his hand, he will never, ever forsake us.’
Let me ask you: is there something in your life you want resolved and resolved quickly? Is there a burden which you want lifting and lifting soon? What Jesus is saying to you tonight is this: ‘Let me take you by your hand and let me lift you up, in my time and in my way. I love you- I really do. Will you simply trust me?’`
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