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Faith and doubt?

April 19, 2013

Read Luke 8: 40 – 56

This is one of those stories. If you were brought up going to Sunday School, this story would have been heard often. This was one of the really big stories of Jesus. On a Jesus miracle scale 1 to 10, this was an ELEVEN. There were many amazing miracles and healings recorded in the gospels but there were three that stood high above the rest. The ultimate. Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter and that other chap. These were the big ones. Raised from the dead. You don’t get any better than that.

We could almost have managed without reading this passage. We could have relied on all the old Sunday school pupils here who would have reeled off the details.

Jairus

Synagogue ruler

Daughter dying

Interrupted by a sick woman

The touch of Jesus clothes

The sense of power going out of Jesus

The disciples telling Jesus not to be stupid

The fact that she died before Jesus got there

The mourners who cried and then laughed

Jesus saying she was only asleep

The fact that this girl with no name was 12

That the first thing she needed to do was have something to eat

This talk is another in our series with the title growing to maturity: testing of faith. So what is it we learn from this passage about faith and how it operates?

Different Christians have different perspectives on faith it seems to me. At the top end of the faith spectrum, faith is the total absence of doubt. It is bold brash total certainty. Those of this persuasion will look at today’s passage and say “Jesus raised the dead – go and do likewise!” Let this week be a catalogue of miracles for everyone you come into contact with, with your faith strengthened by today’s lesson in Jesus’ power.

There is clearly an emphasis on faith in this story, but it is not there where the story ends. Mark does not comment in any way on how these miracles affected the faith of the woman or Jairus and his family. They must have felt like they could do anything, with Jesus on their side. Faith is not shown as the end result, but rather the key to unlocking Jesus’ miracles.

Let me say straight away, without wishing to sound like Hot Chocolate, I believe in miracles. I believe God is in the business of healing. We follow an almighty God. I am convinced we can trust him to work miracles in and through us, but I believe that in this passage the emphasis is not on miracles, even the most spectacular of all, but is on the faith of the people involved. And that faith is not bold and brash and without doubt, but it is faith that makes a difference.

Jairus and the woman who was healed faced different but difficult circumstances and in both cases they saw the answer in Jesus. The story is full of people. Jesus is surrounded by crowds of people but the focus is on the faith of one man and one woman.

Both came from the direst of circumstances. Jairus was clear that his daughter was dying. The woman had tried everything to sort out her medical problem. No national health service. She has spent all her money on the private specialists and nothing could help. Jairus had little time, the woman had no hope. But for both there was Jesus. Their last hope, but hope there was.

Jesus specifically mentioned faith as vital to the unfolding events, certainly as far as the woman was concerned and I am sure that Jairus too demonstrated his faith by his actions. Faith is something that will express itself, it is not a private thing. It is not just an idea or a belief. Jesus said it plainly “Daughter, your faith has saved you”.

What can we learn of the faith of these two people?

It showed itself when it counted. In the moment of their greatest need, they reached out to Jesus. It is invariably in the darkest times of our lives that our faith is tested. Sometimes there can be a feeling of peace in the face of suffering, sometimes faith can just as easily be a sense of holding on in desperation, when everything is telling you to give up. Both Jairus and the woman had good reason to resign themselves to the worst but they still dared to believe. It is when we are up against it that our faith can crumble or it can rise to the occasion.

It showed itself, without fear of the reaction. There are some questions you should never be foolish enough to ask in life. Would a Man City fan cheer for United in his spare time? Would David Cameron vote Labour in the council elections? Would a synagogue ruler go to Jesus for help? Of course not – the very idea is nonsense.

For the synagogue rulers Jesus was public enemy number one. He needed getting rid of. There was nothing good about him. Jairus would be ridiculed and would potentially become an outcast, but he was desperate and somewhere in him was a small germ of faith. His peers didn’t worry him. The crowds surrounding Jesus did not put him off. “Jesus, my little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live”. A desperate situation demanded a simple prayer of simple faith. Sometimes as for Jairus faith is spelt R I S K.

It showed itself in simple quiet faith. The brisk walk to Jairus’ house is interrupted by the woman. She does not call out and confront Jesus as Jairus did. For her it is quiet, perhaps slightly fearful. Her faith is certainly not loud, but it is real. Quiet, but actually believing “If I just touch his clothes I will be healed. Nicky Gumbel recently tweeted a definition of faith which I believe could well have fitted this woman “Feeling afraid I trust Him”. Not bold and brash but quiet trust. Perhaps you are not sure if Jesus can really help. But where else can you turn? Jesus promise is to be there for you as you call to him.

It showed itself in spite of religious prejudice. The fact was that, due to this woman’s medical condition, according to Jewish laws, she was unclean. She should not have been coming into contact with people, let alone Jesus. She faced disapproval and being shunned by the religious people if they knew her problem. But she came and she reached out in faith, through the barrier. She didn’t want to share her story but in the end she had to. For Jesus the healing was not enough. She was not just going to slip away there was something that needed to be said. “Your faith has healed you”. She went away healed and with a new peace. You may feel that religion is not for you. You may feel that religious people will look down their noses at you. Sadly Jesus followers are often not the people they should be. Jesus longs to meet your need.

It showed itself when all hope was gone. The delay was fatal. The girl was dead. Nothing Jesus can do now. Just thank Jesus for his time and willingness to help and go home to arrange the funeral. But Jesus spoke words, surprising words to Jairus. “Don’t be afraid, just believe”. Jairus could have said “Believe what? What can you possibly do now? But somewhere deep down he knew that all was not lost. Even in the face of death itself Jairus welcomed Jesus into the situation, not knowing what the outcome would be. It occurs to me that in the darkest of times it can never be a bad thing to welcome Jesus into your home. Whether ultimately you experience his power in healing or not.

It showed itself as a response to the voice of Jesus. Jesus had spoken so Jairus believed. A belief I am sure mixed with doubt. But synagogue ruler had come a long way. Pressing on through the crying, laughing mourners Jesus did the ultimate and told a dead 12 year old to come back to life. A reward for a father’s faith that literally gave up at nothing.

And so the story ends quietly. A meal and an order to the parents to tell no one. But surely you’ve got to tell everyone. Imagine what this will do for the neighbours – imagine even more people following Jesus. But as so often for Jesus the emphasis was not on the miracle. To follow Jesus is not simply based on the extraordinary deeds of a miracle worker it is a matter of faith. Jesus never wanted people to follow him because of his miracles, but be simply to follow him as saviour and Lord. Ultimately his way was not the way of the miraculous, but was the way of sacrifice and death.

And faith expresses itself not in the highs of life but in the lows. It shows itself when times are hard. We may cry out, we may grit our teeth, but we keep walking Jesus’ way. We keep following him for all we’re worth. For all He’s worth. Sometimes the rewards of our faith will be to see the miraculous answers to our prayers. Sometimes the darkness will not be lifted but it will be enough for us to know that Jesus is with us. For as this story reminds us, death is not final. Jesus by his sacrificial death and resurrection has won an eternal future for us. Now that is someone who deserves to be the object of our faith.

 

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