Why Are You So Afraid?
In Singapore there is a Ferris wheel which is the largest in the world called the Singapore Flyer. On Amazing Race last Sunday one of the teams took a fast forward and had to take the Singapore Flyer to the top and then they were to go outside the capsule which holds passengers and walk from one capsule to another. One of the brothers who did this was terribly afraid of heights and it took all his courage to do it. What are you afraid of?
Fear of heights is called Acrophobia, but there are many other fears and some rather unusual ones. Did you know that Alektorophobia is the fear of chickens; Ergophobia the fear of work; Lachanophobia the fear of vegetables and Peladophobia the fear of bald people? What are you afraid of?
Psychologists and psychiatrists classify most phobias into three categories Social phobia which are fears involving other people or social situations such as performance anxiety; specific phobias such as fear of a single specific panic trigger such as spiders, snakes, dogs, water, heights etc. and Agoraphobia which is a generalized fear of leaving home or a small familiar 'safe' area. What are you afraid of?
I have two aunts, my dad’s sisters. One lives in Winnipeg and one lives in Annapolis Maryland. The later is a pretty good amateur photographer. Last summer they went to Banff for a summer vacation and one day they took a hike up to a high mountain lake which involved about two hours of walking. They enjoyed the area and just when they were about to leave they saw a Grizzly bear walking towards them. The photographer aunt was very excited and began taking pictures. The other aunt was terrified and began singing hymns. The bear came near, saw that they were there and walked away and so they got away safely and with some great pictures. What are you afraid of?
We have just spent the last 6 weeks examining the Easter story and have been amazed at what Jesus did in his death and resurrection. On Easter Sunday, we asked the question, “What does it mean to live in the resurrection?” The answer we came up with was that it means to follow Jesus. Discipleship is the obvious next step when we recognize the great gift of God we have received in Christ. But what does it mean to live as a disciple? What are the details of following Jesus? That is the question we will begin to study as we examine the rest of Mark. Today we will look at lessons on fear and faith from the stories in Mark 4:35-5:43.
These four stories are connected to each other. Some of the connections we see are that the story of Jesus calming the sea is connected with the story of the healed demoniac in the mention of the sea. The sea was perceived as a place of turmoil and the abode of demons and it was the place where the demons ended up. The story of the demoniac and the sick woman is connected in that both of these stories have to do with persons who had suffered deeply for a long time. The story of the woman and the girl are connected in that the story of the healing of the woman is inserted within the story of the raising of the girl. So let us take a look at these stories.
Jesus had been teaching his disciples through parables and near the end of that day Jesus suggested to the disciples that they should cross the lake. It almost seems as if Jesus was going to an appointment. While they were on the way a serious wind storm came up. Apparently this is not uncommon on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had been teaching and ministering to the people and was tired and so he was in the back of the boat sleeping. By this time it was likely dark and the storm was getting so serious that the waves began to crash over the sides of the boat and the boat was in danger of swamping. It was so serious that, as Geddert says, “Even experienced fishermen consider it life-threatening, but not Jesus; he sleeps.” The disciples woke Jesus up with what seems to be a rebuke asking Him, “Don’t you care if we are destroyed?” One wonders why they woke him up. Did they want him to help bail? Did they want him to pray like the sailors wanted Jonah to pray to his God? It does not seem as if they expected him to calm the sea but, Jesus woke up and told the wind and the waves to quiet down and they did. The great storm became a great calm at the word of Jesus and the disciples were amazed at what Jesus did and even more amazed at Jesus.
When they arrived on the other side, one assumes that it was morning. The area was identified as the area of the Gerasenes. It was primarily an area in which Gentile people lived. We also know this because of the presence of a herd of pigs, which would not have existed in an area where Jews lived, because they considered pigs as unclean animals. Almost immediately a man who lived in that area noticed Jesus coming and immediately ran towards Him. This man lived in the tombs. When we think of these tombs we have to remember that in those days tombs were not neat rows of 6 foot deep graves covered by flowers or granite markers. Most likely it was an area of some kind of caves and so the man would have found shelter in these caves which were also occupied by bodies or at least bones. What a terrible place to live! He was a deeply disturbed man who was uncontrollable and also in so much inner turmoil that he did himself harm by cutting himself. We still read about this today and one web site commenting on self harm says, “Cutting is a way some people try to cope with the pain of strong emotions, intense pressure, or upsetting relationship problems. They may be dealing with feelings that seem too difficult to bear, or bad situations they think can't change.” That is where this man was at.
It is a little confusing to know exactly who is speaking when. Did the man come toward Jesus even though he was possessed by demons? Who was in control when the man knelt before Jesus – the man or the demons? What was the meaning of his kneeling? When Jesus addressed the man, it was the demons who spoke indicating that the man was possessed by many demons. These demons recognized Jesus and His authority and requested not to be sent out of the area and Jesus permitted them to be sent into the pigs. I believe that the demons were out to destroy the man, but they could not completely destroy him because he retained a little of his own mind and will. When the demons went into the pigs, they had complete control and destroyed the pigs and themselves. Even though they did not want to be sent out of the area, most would have understood that being destroyed in the sea also indicated their going to the place of destruction.
As a consequence the man was completely changed. No longer wild and uncontrollable, as he had been before, we read three important statements about him which indicate the tremendous change which had taken place. In Mark 5:15 we read that he was sitting, he was dressed and he was in his right mind. The people from the surrounding area were astounded and asked Jesus to leave the area. The response of the people is interesting and Geddert asks, “Do they really prefer to cope with demons than with a power great enough to expel them? Or do they just love their pigs more than the life that was saved when the pigs were lost?” Jesus does not stay where he is not wanted.
The man asked to go with Jesus, but was sent back to his home town to tell what God had done for him and he went back to his home town and told what Jesus had done for him.
When Jesus got back to the other side of the lake again he had a very different reception. Here people wanted him around and wanted to experience all that He could do for them. While he was once again ministering and teaching, a synagogue leader came to make a request of Jesus. With all of the conflict Jesus had with such people it is interesting that this man was ready to accept help from Jesus. His daughter was so seriously ill that she was dying and he requested that Jesus come and heal her and Jesus began to make His way to his home.
But on the way he was interrupted. A woman, who had had a medical problem for a long time became aware that Jesus was around. The text doesn’t say what the cause of her bleeding was, but we have enough information to know that she was uncomfortable and unwell, probably anemic and weak and certainly unclean. She would not have been to worship in the synagogue for a long time because of her problem. So her problem was not only that the doctors had made her poor or that she had to constantly deal with her bleeding. She was also probably shunned by others.
Because of all her problems, she was too ashamed to come up to Jesus and identify herself and ask for healing. She did, however, have enough courage to quietly, and she hoped unnoticed, sneak through the crowd and touch Jesus. She believed that if she could only touch His garment, she would be healed.
So that is what she did and when she did, she noticed within herself immediately that she was healed. At the same time, Jesus noticed within himself that power for healing had gone out of him and he asked what seemed to the disciples to be a foolish question. He asked, “Who touched me.” The disciples grasped the ridiculousness of the question and mockingly asked Jesus, “What do you mean? You are surrounded, pressed in on every side. Everyone is touching you.” But the woman knew that the gig was up and confessed that she was the one who had touched him. Jesus addressed her as daughter, with this compassionate, personal touch He assured her of healing – not only physical healing, but healing of her social situation and also healing of her soul. She was given complete healing.
Meanwhile Jairus was beside himself. He knew that his daughter needed help quickly or there would be no hope. This delay was not helping and sure enough by the time all had been sorted out, people from Jairus’ home came and told him not to bother Jesus anymore because it was too late, the girl had died.
Jesus, however, encouraged the man and they kept going. When they got to his home, they noticed that a crowd of mourners had already gathered. It was common to hire professional mourners to assist in the grieving process and that is why these people who appeared to be so sincere in their grieving, so quickly turned to mocking when Jesus suggested that the girl was not dead, but sleeping.
Jesus took only three disciples and the parents with him into the house and the little girl was healed. The detail of her age was added to let the reader know that the girl was old enough to walk. Having been weakened by the process of dying, Jesus encouraged the parents to give her something to eat. They and the disciples were astonished that Jesus had raised this girl from the dead, but were told to speak to no one about this. This command was probably given because Jesus was careful not to draw thrill seekers, but followers, which brings us to the question of discipleship. What do we learn about following Jesus in this passage?
I mentioned as I began telling these stories that there are connections between them. I would invite you to open your Bibles to examine another connection which I have not yet mentioned.
Please notice that in Mark 4:38 we read that the disciples feared the storm. It was a terrible storm and when they addressed Jesus, they manifested their terror when they declared that they were afraid that they were about to be destroyed.
Jesus speaks of fear again in Mark 4:40 when he asks them, “Why are you so afraid?” But then Jesus introduces another concept when he also asks them, “Do you still have no faith?” When they observed that Jesus calmed the storm we read once again about fear when it says that “They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this?”
Fear appears again in the next story in the response of the people to what happened. When they saw the man who had formerly been demon possessed sitting and listening to Jesus in his right mind, Mark 5:15 says, “They were afraid.” As we read on we notice in Mark 5:17 that they were so afraid that they asked Jesus to leave their region.
Fear is also present in the woman when she is found out. We read in Mark 5:33 that the woman, “…fell at his feet and trembling with fear, told him the whole truth.” In this verse, fear is emphasized by the use of two words for fear, “trembling and fear.” But in this story Jesus once again speaks of faith when He tells her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
Fear is also present in the heart of the father when he hears that his daughter is dead. But he really has no time to feel or experience that fear because Jesus immediately calms him by telling him, “Don’t be afraid…” and also immediately pointing to faith when He tells him, “…just believe.”
Fear and faith are present in this passage as a lesson on following Jesus. Two particular verses bring these things together. In Mark 4:40, Jesus says to the disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” and in Mark 5:36, Jesus says to the synagogue ruler, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”
We notice in these stories that there are two kinds of fear. There is the fear of scary situations. When the waves began to crash over the side of the boat, the disciples were afraid. Well, we can understand that kind of fear. When the woman was found out and was in danger of being exposed and possibly judged for her bold foray into the crowd, we can understand why she was afraid. When the father heard that his daughter was dead, we certainly understand why he feared. This kind of fear makes a lot of sense to us and we can identify with it. We also fear many situations – natural disasters, illness, shame, death. They are terrifying things and we can hardly fathom not being afraid of them.
But there is another kind of fear that is present in these stories and that is the fear of the manifestation of divine power. When the disciples saw that the wind and the waves obeyed Jesus, they “were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this?’” They were aware of being in the presence of someone with power way beyond anything they had ever seen before. They feared, but not in the positive sense of “fear of the Lord” but in a sense of terror at the great power of Jesus. A similar type of fear is seen in the people in the area of the Gerasenes. They observed that Jesus had power over a power which none of them could control. They could not control this man. He had been among them for some time and had probably done terrible things, if not to them, at least to himself. I suspect that even though they knew him, no one would have suggested, “let’s go for a walk in the tombs because it is such a beautiful day.” They knew he was there and likely avoided the area. But now they met someone how could control this uncontrollable man, which meant that Jesus had even more power than the demons did. They feared, again in a negative sense, the power of God which was present among them. That fear is called theophobia.
But both kinds of fear are overcome by the same answer and that is faith. When Jesus asked the disciples why they didn’t have faith, he was surprised that after all that they had seen about Jesus, they still didn’t get it. His question implies that if they believed in Him, they would not fear – not even when their boat was in danger of being swamped. We see that faith is the answer again when we hear that it was through faith that the woman was healed. Geddert says, “Faith was the conduit through which Jesus’ power could flow to her need.” It was also through faith that the daughter of Jairus was healed.
Clearly fear and faith are mutually exclusive. Either of these two kinds of fear, which we see in these stories are not responses of faith. Faith overcomes the fear of circumstances and the fear of God’s mysterious power.
These stories encourage us. Jesus asked the disciples, “Do you still have no faith?” Even though they lived in the presence of Jesus they didn’t always get it right away. We also struggle as they did. But this does not let us get off the hook. Jesus still invites us to have faith and not to fear.
Why can we respond in faith? We can respond in faith when we know Jesus and these stories help us get to know Jesus.
The first encouragement to faith is presented when we observe that Jesus was sleeping in the back of the boat. Some may suggest that He was just a deep sleeper because He was so tired, but I believe the story is intended to show us what Jesus was like. He was not overcome with fear by the presence of a great storm. Even when they woke him up and screamed in his face that they were going to die, He was calm and did not fear. The example of Jesus encourages us to also have faith.
We may be tempted to say, “yes, but that was Jesus” but I don’t think we can really say that. Jesus is our example and so we need to follow that example. If He did not fear, we are also encouraged not to fear. Furthermore, we have Jesus right with us at all times in the person of the Holy Spirit, so we have every reason to follow His example.
These stories also give us another reason to have faith instead of fear. They demonstrate the power which Jesus had over each of the four different situations.
Jesus has power to overcome the wind and the waves. If we rest in dependence on Jesus, we rest in dependence on the one who can calm the storms. Whatever the storms, whether physical storms involving real wind and real waves, or the storms in our mind or soul, we can rest in His power to do what needs to be done in these situations.
He also has power over demonic forces and can change a man who is out of control into a person in control. John Calvin writes, (2:436) “Though we are not tortured by the devil, yet he holds us as his slaves, till the Son of God delivers us from his tyranny. Naked, torn, and disfigured, we wander about, till he restores us to soundness of mind.”
Jesus also has the power to heal long term illness and restore wholeness. The woman had been suffering for a long time and was broken in so many ways, but Jesus was not deterred by this long term problem. He had power over it.
Finally, we see that Jesus has power over life and death. That is why he speaks of death as sleep. Because of Jesus and now even more because Jesus has conquered death, we can all speak of death not as an ending, but as sleep with the confidence of waking.
So Cole says, “We are called to trusting, dependent love and obedience, and this is the Biblical meaning of faith...”
There is one other powerful idea in these stories and a connection between at least three of them that also encourages us to faith.
There is a common bond between the demon possessed man, the woman who was bleeding and the dead girl. Not one of them would have been touched by any religious person in Israel. They were all unclean and would all have been avoided. The demoniac was not only demon possessed, but also likely a Gentile – don’t touch this man. But Jesus went across the sea in a terrible storm to touch him and make him whole. The woman with the bleeding problem could not be touched and would have avoided others, as they avoided her. But Jesus allowed himself to be touched by her and was not bothered by that at all. A corpse was by definition unclean. If a family member died, it brought not only the grief of death, but also the religious necessity to deal with uncleanness. But Jesus went into her room and “took her by the hand.” He was not afraid of touching her or any unclean person, because He was able to cleanse them.
In Jesus we see such compassion. What is the uncleanness in your life? Is it a sin you have not dealt with? Is it a terrible thing you have done? Is it a depth of sin so awful you cannot speak to anyone about it? Jesus is not afraid of your sin and if you put your faith in Him, He will cleanse you.
When you have a test at school, what is the purpose of the test? Is it not to see what you have learned? Jesus had been teaching the disciples through the parables about the need to see with eyes of faith and hear with ears of faith. Had they learned? When they got into the boat it was time for a test and we learn that they failed the test. But the test became another opportunity to learn.
So we also experience many tests in life. Jesus asks us, as he did the disciples in Mark 4:40, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” But He also encourages us as he did Jairus in Mark 5:36, “Don’t be afraid; just believe!”