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 anymore?” Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” (Mark 5:35-36)
This morning’s passage is the continuation of an encounter that began in vs. 22: 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. (Mark 5:22-23)
On His way to heal this little girl Jesus was delayed by a woman with a serious blood disease. As a result He didn’t arrive at Jairus’ home in time. The good news is, when Jesus did arrive, He took Jairus’ daughter by the hand and raised her from the dead! His knowledge this was going to happen is why He said to Jairus’ men, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”
The misinterpretation of this statement has been the cause of much spiritual mischief. Perhaps you have known those who were suffering from a fatal disease and you have prayed for God to heal them. You were doing a good thing. God hears our prayers and intervenes in our lives to change our circumstances.
The problem comes when people treat the words “just believe” like a magic wand. When we face insurmountable trials, it is only natural for us to try to control our environment. This includes the tendency to control God with perceived promises He has given us. The logic goes something like this: Since Jesus said “just believe”, and a little girl was raised from the dead, if we “just believe”, there is nothing we can’t convince God to do for us.
But this logic has some important weaknesses. First, God never promised He would give us whatever we want if we just believe strongly enough. Instead, He wanted us to have faith in His ability to do what we ask. There is a difference. The reason Jesus was often frustrated with His disciples is because their expectations were too low and they tried to manage too many things when the power of the universe was standing before them.
Secondly, this logic ignores one specific reality revealed in scripture: “Man is destined to die once.” (Hebrews 9:27) This is why virtually every servant of God who has lived has died (with the exception of Enoch and Elijah who were taken up into heaven without dying a natural death). Therefore, we should not assume something is wrong with our faith if someone we loves dies, because the Bible tells us this is inevitable, and God never promised He would change this reality if we just believe.
In the case of Jairus’ daughter, God had a plan, and He did choose to raise her from the dead to demonstrate the power of Jesus. But just because this was the case here, doesn’t mean it is the case everywhere or at all times. In fact, just as it is a sin to take matters into our own hands and ignore God’s power by refusing to ask for help, it is also a sin to do the same thing by trying to control God with belief. Believing is how we step into God’s will, not a means of forcing our will on God.
Dear God, I believe. Help me when in my unbelief. In Jesus’ name, Amen.