Faith and Rejection
“Faith and Rejection”
I hope that you are prepared this morning. I hope that you have taken the time this week to investigate our text. This is one of the reasons we provide you with the questions in your Spiritual Swordsmanship. We want to come to this service already primed for what God would teach us in this passage in Mark. Do you know where I get most of my understanding in Scripture? It doesn’t come primarily from Greek language tools, commentaries or dictionaries. Though these tools definitely help, it is mostly reading, re-reading, praying and meditating on Scripture. I usually read through the passage in its context, spend some time looking at it in the original language, consulting commentaries and such. Then I go back and I meditate some more and God, through his Spirit, enlivens the text and enlightens my heart and mind to understand. I challenge you to do this every week and see if God doesn’t graciously give you a passion for his Word and growing in your faith.
This morning we are in Mark 5 and 6 beginning in verse 35 of chapter 5. Last week we witnessed a couple of interactions between Jesus and people in need of him. It all began when Jesus came to the shoreline and got out of the boat when he is immediately approached by a synagogue ruler named Jairus. Jairus approaches Jesus regarding his daughter who is dying. After leaving with the man to help him, the crowds follow and throng about him and he is approached by a woman who touches his garments and is healed of an illness she has had for twelve years. Though she merely wanted to slip away undetected, Jesus confronts her and sends her on her way healed and in peace. We left off without discovering what happened to Jairus and his daughter. And this is where we pick up the account today.
In fact this passage is so interconnected, verse 35 begins with “while he was still speaking.” Jesus was concluding his conversation with the woman as our account begins. Let’s read the first portion of the text – verses 35 to 43. READ. This brings us to our first point – Believe the Impossible. In this first portion we are looking at, I want you to try and get inside the thinking of Jairus. Track the account from his perspective. To this point, we know that Jairus had faith that Jesus could do something for his daughter for he came to Jesus and implored him to help. It now seems as though Jairus has to proceed from believing the difficult to believing the impossible.
In your reading of the text in Mark, did you find yourself asking why it is structured like this? Did you wonder why Mark puts this account of the woman smack dab in the middle of Jairus and the daughter? I have a suspicion. It is almost as though God graciously provided Jairus an opportunity to learn about faith through the woman and to trust Jesus despite everything to the contrary. It’s as if God is trying to get across, “ok. You just witnessed a miracle because of the faith of the woman. Let’s take what you just learned and put it to the test.”
I don’t know about you. But I find some experiences in my spiritual growth that are pretty consistent. It seems as though when God shows me something new in principle, he will graciously impress these things in practice. So when I begin to better understand what it is like to love my enemies, be patient with people, love and care for my wife, or trust God, he very frequently give me the “opportunities” to apply these principles. Anybody else know about this?? Have you ever prayed for patience?
And so this is why, I believe, the story of the woman is sandwiched here and verse 35 begins with “while he was still speaking.” At the conclusion of his interaction with the woman, some folks from Jairus’ house come up to him, put their arm around him, and tell him, “I’m so sorry. Your daughter is dead.”
Do you get the sense that, to this point, perhaps his household isn’t thrilled that Jairus has left everyone behind to pursue this radical teacher and healer? I cannot help but think that those associated with Jairus shaking their head at him and think he is humiliating himself. He is a man of importance and he is seemingly casting his reputation aside as he pursues this Jesus. Perhaps they have talked among themselves and thought that maybe the news of his daughter will bring him back to his senses. “Why trouble this teacher anymore. I am truly sorry for your loss but let’s try to put things back to how they used to be. Let’s give up all this religious stuff.”
Have you ever had something like this happen to you? Perhaps you trusted in Jesus while you were in a struggle with addictions or divorce or depression. God can get your attention in such times. But then you begin to hear the voices from those in your circles. “I know this Jesus helped you quit drinking or get through your divorce. But come on. Let’s go back to the good ‘ol days when we used to…”
Notice what happens next. Verse 36 begins with “but overhearing what they said.” I think Mark picks out a great word here that you don’t really see on the surface. The word for “overhearing” has three distinct meanings. It can mean “1) to overhear something not intended for one’s ears, 2) to pay no attention to or ignore, and 3) to refuse to listen or to discount the truth of something.” I agree with one of the commentators who suggests that all three of these meanings apply to Jesus here.
Jairus was invited to believe the impossible, despite the circumstances. Jesus must have heard the whispers – perhaps whispers of doubt. Jesus looks Jairus in the eyes and says, “Do not fear, only believe.” If you were to focus on circumstances here, things may not look so good. What Jesus is asking is for Jairus to stop looking at the circumstances and focus on Jesus. It would only be natural for one to despair at such a time. Jairus may have had enough faith for Jesus to heal his daughter. But now she is dead. Jairus has likely heard the reports of demons being exorcised and illnesses being healed. But now hope must be lost. What can be done for the dead? And Jesus says, “do not fear? Believe?”
What do you think is going through the mind of Jairus here? “What’s done is done. Perhaps I should seize the moment and regain my dignity and reputation.” Maybe he could have claimed temporary insanity and the people around him would have forgotten the whole thing.
How often do we also become paralyzed by circumstances? Do we fear or believe? This is another one of the areas that God so graciously impresses upon me time and time again. You want more faith? God says, “I’ll give you more practice. You’ve read about it and you’ve seen how powerful and faithful I am. And yet you doubt? Here’s another opportunity to trust me.” A commentator notes, “This is the challenge before Jairus, and before everyone who meets Jesus: to believe only in what circumstances allow, or to believe in the God who makes all things possible? One thing only is necessary — to believe.”
Momentarily, it appears as though Jairus chooses to trust Jesus. For Jairus followed him. It is indicated that Jesus only allowed a few to go with them – including Peter, James, and John. If you’re familiar with the life and ministry of Jesus, you would know that he frequently allowed these three men to experience some of the more intimate experiences in his life. These were the men that were present at the transfiguration where Jesus provided a slight glimpse of his glory in Mark 9.2. They were separated from the rest in the Garden of Gethsemane near the end of Jesus life in Mark 14.33.
So Jesus, Jairus, Peter, James and John arrive at the house of the ruler of the synagogue – Jairus. Jairus is also called to believe the impossible, despite people. There is a commotion and people weeping and wailing loudly. Jesus comes into the house and asks a seemingly ridiculous question, “why are you making a commotion and weeping?” “Alright. Who invited this guy? A little girl is dead and he’s wondering why we are crying?” And Jesus says, “The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. Did Jesus get it wrong? What does he mean that she’s only sleeping? Do you remember the story of Lazarus?
In John 11, Lazarus was the brother of Mary and Martha of Bethany. Lazarus became ill and the sisters came to Jesus to tell him. Jesus responds by saying, “this illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” So Jesus departed right away to help his good friend. At least that’s what you might think should happen. But verse six indicates that when he heard Lazarus was ill he stayed two days longer! Then he says, “let’s go to Judea.” Listen to verses 11-15: “After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” 12The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. 14Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” You remember the story. After four days in the tomb, Jesus goes to the opening and commands the stone be removed. He calls Lazarus by name, commanding him to come out. And so he does!
Jesus didn’t get it wrong. Those in Jairus’ house got it wrong. They didn’t realize that, standing in their very presence was the Creator, the giver of life – the resurrection and the life. And they laughed at him.
You continue to feel the tension for Jairus though, don’t you? Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Let’s put that into practice, shall we? Everything that you see around you would suggest that this is impossible. “My daughter is dead. My friends and family have told me to leave the Teacher alone. I come home to weeping and wailing. This guy I just met seems to think that my daughter is sleeping. And now everybody is laughing in mockery!”
How does Jesus respond? He puts them all outside. It actually means, “he cast them all outside.” This verb almost always has the connotation of force in Mark. And the rest went with him to where the child was. Consider this thought: It was the unbelief of those who mocked who were shut out from seeing this miracle. Think on the deeper reality of this exchange within the context of Mark. Jesus has been describing the kingdom of God. He has used language of insiders and outsiders – how some are given the understanding of parables while others are left in the dark. It is those who have ears to hear that pursue after Jesus and become insiders. They rest remain outside. The lack of faith expressed by these that mock the King of kings has resulted in their being cast outside. Do you see it? They did not recognize or acknowledge the Lord. They did not express faith in that which was unseen. Finally, they went so far as to mock him. And they were cast outside.
Was he angry? Grieved at their unbelief? He quickly exercises his compassion as he reaches down to this little girl, his child, and takes her hand. The Aramaic expression is a loving phrase with an affectionate tone. And he tells her to arise. Immediately, the girl responds to her Maker and starts walking around. And everyone was overcome with amazement. Jesus truly is the resurrection and the life! To prove her total restoration, Jesus tells them to give her something to eat. And Jesus tells those present not to tell anyone about it. It is pretty obvious that it would not remain a secret for long – perhaps only to allow Jesus enough time to move on. Jairus was called to believe the impossible – despite circumstances and despite people.
For some, however, it is impossible to believe. That’s our second point: Impossible to Believe. And we find this in the first six verses of chapter six. READ.
James Edwards summed up the transition well between these sections of Mark’s gospel. He writes, “With the change in location comes a change in the tenor of the narrative. In the preceding stories Jesus has displayed lordship over nature, demons, and death. But among his own people in Nazareth he encounters misunderstanding and rejection.”
So Jesus has left with his disciples for Nazareth – the town that he grew up in. Nazareth was southwest approximately 25 miles from Capernaum. It was a rather obscure city. What we will see is that no matter how many miracles are performed, some will not accept Jesus Christ. Apparently, it will consist of those who were in close proximity to him. A commentator notes: “The powers of the kingdom seem to have had very little effect on some of those who saw them or heard of them, to judge from the next story. This shows that signs in themselves will never produce faith, for faith is a personal commitment and choice. Perhaps that is why Jesus gave signs so sparingly, and only in answer to faith. He was not trying to convince the unbelieving, for that would be impossible.
It is quite interesting that it was Jesus’ custom to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath. And he does so here, doing what he does best – teaching. We don’t necessarily know what he spoke about, but the results are recorded for us. Mark indicates that many were astonished at his teaching. In fact, those who listened began questioning the origins of his wisdom.
In this day, it would have been commonplace for teachers to have been mentored by a rabbi. James Edwards helps us with the line of questioning that Jesus receives when he writes, “The field in which Jesus distinguished himself as a teacher was, in other words, crowded and competitive. His prestige caused a dilemma for those acquainted with him, however, for he had not been apprenticed to a famous rabbi, nor could his wisdom be accounted for at home.”
Somebody in the room must have recognized him for this was small-town stuff. Mark 6:3, “3Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” People likely knew his family well. Interestingly, they do not mention Joseph, his father. And this has led many to think that calling him a son of Mary would have been derogatory. Most were identified by their lineage through their fathers. There could have also been an insinuation of illegitimate childbirth. The reference to a carpenter would have confirmed the fact that he was an unlearned man – unlike themselves of course!
And they took offense at him. Because of their proximity and familiarity with Jesus, they took offense. The word for “offense” is the Greek word, “skandalon” and is the word elsewhere translated “stumbling block.” This recalls for us the Scriptures including 1 Corinthians 1:22–24, “22For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” In the same way that the message of Christ crucified causes people to get tripped up, so did the fact that they were familiar with Jesus and his family. It led Jesus to note that a prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his household.
In his statement, Jesus goes broad to specific – Nazareth, relatives, and even family. A commentator notes, “Jesus thus takes over a piece of wisdom current in his day and applies it to three concentric social circles in Nazareth: to his hometown, relatives, and his own house. Each of the circles becomes more restricted and more personal, extending to his own home. According to John 7:5, Jesus’ own brothers did not believe in him during his ministry, and we hear of only James (and perhaps Jude) coming to faith after his death and resurrection.”
Can you imagine the Son of God is rejected by his own hometown, extended family and even those within his household? He has already indicated this in chapter 3 when his family tried to seize him and suggested that he was out of his mind. Jesus then included that it is those who do the will of God who are truly his family. Those closest to Jesus have rejected him and remain outsiders. Exposure to Jesus and the gospel is no guarantee of faith; indeed, apart from faith, exposure to the gospel inoculates as often as it enlivens.
Verse 5 gives the impression that Jesus is defeated and rejected. Rather than viewing the occurrence as Jesus leaving town in defeat, it serves an important teaching moment. This does not indicate that God was powerless in the situation, rather that he acts in response to faith and not to impress.
The text concludes with the fact that Jesus marveled because of unbelief. Usually, “to marvel” has positive connotations. Not so here. The people of Nazareth were so familiar with Jesus that they enjoyed no blessing. We are again confronted with the mystery of the kingdom of God. Edwards notes, “some of those who have every opportunity to believe do not, and some who, like the Gerasene demoniac, would never be expected to believe do. No one can predict who will be insiders and outsiders, perhaps not even Jesus, ‘who was amazed at their lack of faith.’”
Like we learned from the parable of the sower and the seed, we never know on what soil that the message of the kingdom lands. We are never to judge the soil, only to spread the seed. We see some of the most unlikely folks embracing the message of Jesus and his kingdom. As mentioned, there are those demon-possessed who come to Christ, unclean women, and synagogue rulers who demonstrate unshakeable faith in him. And we have also seen many, many religious leaders in Jesus day oppose him, reject him, and plot to destroy him.
In our churches we need to beware that familiarity breeds contempt. It may be that there are some here that attend service every week and are in close proximity to Jesus – and yet remain outsiders. We need to exhort one every day to ensure our right standing before God.
We also need to caution against judging the soil. We do not withhold the gospel from the outcast or disenfranchised because in the spiritual world, this is precisely who we were before coming to Jesus. We were on the outside until Jesus interjected and called us family. This Christmas season, let’s strive to increase our family because there is greater joy in numbers. And we want to bring Joy to the word because the Lord has come.