Don’t Stop Believing

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Don’t Stop Believing


Matt Nestberg


March 14, 2021


Mark, Mark 5:21-43


Mark chapter 5 is where we are going to be today as we continue our study in Mark. My name is Matt. It’s good to see you. It’s good to be worshiping with you today and continuing our study here in Mark.

Before I do that, I wanted to mention one thing. Just a personal thing that I wanted to share with you that I hope will encourage you, for those of you who have struggled with similar things. Over Christmas and New Year’s, COVID-19 swept through our family. Everybody was fine except me. I went down pretty hard for two or three weeks and took a long time to recover and get my energy back from being sick. And something happened to me that’s never happened in my life before, while I was down and like down on the sofa for so long. And I would never and have never used the word depressed about myself. I’ve never felt like I’m wired that way. I’ve never struggled with that. But I did then. I felt a darkness come over my soul that I had never felt before. I had deep, dark thoughts and struggles in my heart. I would find myself crying over nothing, like relatively nothing. And I was like, “Katie, what is going on? I think I’m depressed.” And I say that to share that with you because since then I’ve shared that with a couple of people and they go, “Me, too.” I was like, “Really?” Yeah, and then somebody else, “Me, too.” And I shared that this morning in the first service and somebody came up to me afterwards and said, “Me too. That darkness came over me.”

And so I say that to you because if you have been there or are there, I just want to tell you you’re not crazy. Unless you think I’m crazy. But I don’t think you’re crazy, and it’s a very real effect of what we are going through. It doesn’t happen to everyone, but it has happened to a lot of people. And so, brothers and sisters, I want to tell you that if that’s you, if you’re there now or has been you and you’re like, “I don’t think … I think this is just me.” It’s not just you. It happens to a lot of people. And brothers and sisters, there are people in this church that would love to encourage you on your way and to walk through that with you. So, I just want to encourage you to reach out and ask, and the body will be there to serve you.

Okay, let’s pray and jump in Mark 5. Jesus, as we open the Word now and begin, I pray that you would guide the things that I say, and that everything I say would both be helpful and beneficial for your people at this time. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Well, everyone who knows music and enjoys music knows that the decade of the 1980s was the best in the history of music. Thank you! And that is a truth. Some might say the 60s and 70s, nobody says the 90s. I lost a lot of people just now. But everybody deep down in their hearts knows that there has never been music or hair like there was in the 1980s. Some of the best songs were there. One of the most well-known bands of the 80s was the band Journey. In 1981, Journey came out with their album called “Escape.” It’s got several songs on that album that you have heard or that you know. The song, “Don’t Stop Believin’,” which is one of the most iconic Journey songs that they’ve ever come out with, actually came from their keyboardist, Jonathan Cain, from a conversation that he had with his dad in 1976.

In 1976, Cain was a struggling musician in Hollywood trying to get into the business and not being successful, and so discouraged one day he called his dad, talked to him on the phone and said, “Dad, should I just come home back to Chicago?” And his dad said this to him. He said, “No, son, stay the course. We have a vision. It’s going to happen. Don’t stop believin’.” And so, Cain took his spiral notebook that he kept, and it was so encouraging to him, that he wrote it down and then held onto it. In 1980, Journey’s producers came to him when they were producing their new album “Escape” and said, “Do you have any song ideas?” He pulled out his spiral notebook, remembered the words that his dad had said and said, “Actually, yes, I do.” And Cain and Steve Perry put the song together to what you have now as “Don’t Stop Believin’.”

Now, as I was studying and reading Mark chapter 5, that song popped into my head. In part because there’s always a 1980s song playing in my head, but also because when I was reading this passage, it sounds like what Jesus said in the very central verse — the heart of these verses in verse 36, is the central verse of these two stories. Now, of course, the differences are important. I understand that. I’m not saying Journey’s a Christian song that was trying to sing the words of Jesus. None of that. Christian band, rather. None of that. But what I am saying is that what Jesus is communicating kind of overlaps there, even though it’s infinitely more important. What Jesus says, the object of it, is way more significant and the impact of the kind of believing that Jesus is talking about is significant.

So, these two stories that we have in Mark chapter 5 combine into what’s called a Markan Sandwich. Mark, Markan Sandwich. Mark uses this literary technique throughout the book where he takes two stories and sandwiches them together. He starts a story, interrupts himself with the meat or PB&J of the story, and then comes back to the bread. That’s how he does it over and over again, so much so that scholars have named it the Markan Sandwich. Mark does it differently than the other New Testament writers. For example, Matthew has these two stories together as well. But Mark seems to be intentionally drawing the stories into one another. He ties them together. And in Mark, the central story, or the middle story, provides the key to understanding the combined stories. So, in our stories today, it’s the story of the woman in the middle that’s the key to understand both stories.

Okay, so here’s how he ties the stories. Let me give you some examples of how he ties these two stories together today. In both of these stories, the story of Jairus’ daughter and the story of the woman, there is a healing touch from Jesus. In both stories, both people, both women, are ceremonially unclean. If you touch them, you become unclean. And Jesus does that. A dead woman and a hemorrhaging woman — both are unclean, and Jesus touches them both. In both stories you have groups of people that mock Jesus or give him a hard time. The disciples say, “Jesus, what do you mean somebody touched you? Of course, somebody touched you.” And when Jesus goes and says, “She’s not dead, she’s only sleeping,” people laugh. The mourners laugh at him. In both stories Mark specifically mentions twelve years. The woman has been hemorrhaging blood for twelve years. The daughter, parenthetically, is 12 years old, he says. He points these things out. And then lastly, in both stories, the word “daughter” is used strategically, verses 34-35. Jesus calls the woman, “Daughter,” and then, “Your daughter is dead.” So, all this serves to show that Mark is tying the stories together. It’s not just telling the story as one happens. But he’s tying these two together and showing that the middle story functions as the key to understand both.

So, let’s take a look. I know you’ve heard it read, but I’m going to read it again and go through it as we go here. Take a look at 21.

“And when Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him, and he was beside the sea. Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet and implored him earnestly, saying, ‘My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.’ And he went with him. And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. And there was a woman who had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse.”

Here are the characters in this story, these stories. The first is Jairus. Jairus was the head of the local worshiping community, the synagogue. He would have been a lay leader, but he was well-respected, well-known. He was probably a Pharisee. Now in that day, that was not an insult. If you say, “You’re such a Pharisee” to somebody, that means hypocrite, and they’re going to be offended. But in that day, if you said, “You’re such a Pharisee,” the person would be like, “Really? Thank you!” This is a well-respected person who attempted to follow the law of God. That’s Jairus. And the other character is a woman, a sick woman — an unnamed, unclean woman. And that’s it. That’s all it says about her. We don’t know her name like we know Jairus. We don’t know what she does, like we know what Jairus does. We just know she’s sick. She’s unnamed and unclean.

But both are desperate. Jairus says that his daughter is what we would say is “at death’s door.” He says “at the point of death.” It’s just a saying. At death’s door, hospice has been called in. She’s dying. It’s over. We’re just waiting. We’ve done everything we can to save this person’s life, and now we’re just waiting until she dies. The woman has been hemorrhaging blood for twelve years, and as a result she is unclean and should be isolated. She actually has no business being in that crowd because she was unclean like a leper and isolated as such.

Now, perhaps there’s no better time in the last hundred years to understand the impact of isolation than right now. Up until now, reading and studying the story in the last hundred years, we might go, “Yeah, that sounds bad, but not that bad.” But it’s bad. There are people that have struggled being sick or trying to stay well with COVID-19 in the last year and have been isolated. Story after story says we have seen the physical and medical impact of COVID-19, but we have not yet seen the emotional and spiritual hit. And it’s going to be huge, because people being isolated and cut off from other people is not good. It’s not good.

Now multiply that times twelve years. She’s alone, she’s isolated, she’s sick. In verse 29, the word “disease” means whip, lash, scourge, torment. That’s the word Mark uses. Be healed of your torment. And that’s her life. In verse 25 and 26, he uses what’s known as compounding Greek participles. It’s not as obvious in the ESV translation, but this is what it says (25 and 26) — having a blood flow, having suffered from many doctors, having exhausted all her wealth, having not improved but having gotten worse. This compounding intensity. She’s suffered. She’s exhausted. She’s not improved. She has suffered from many doctors, exhausted all her wealth, and not improved, but gotten worse. It’s a mess, and she’s desperate. Both of them are desperate and saw Jesus as the potential remedy. They are victims of those desperate circumstances with no hope apart from Jesus. So, let’s zero in on the woman, verse 27.

“She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, ‘If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.’ And immediately [that’s one of Mark’s favorite words] and immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my garments?’”

Woops! I don’t think she saw that coming. She hoped that maybe if she touched his garment, that she could touch him because she was not supposed to be there. And then maybe she could sneak away. And if it didn’t work, it didn’t work, but at least she tried. And if it worked, great. But either way, she could just touch his garments. I mean, there’s people everywhere, but she’s busted.

Have you ever been busted? Like, really busted? I have. Some time ago, I was driving out here in this area of town. And while I was driving (stay with me), I realized that I had a nasal obstruction. You know what I mean? You know what I’m saying? And don’t judge me, don’t judge me. A medical doctor would tell you how important it is to keep the breathe-way free, okay? So, I decided that I needed to remove this nasal obstruction, so I proceeded with the medical emergency. And about the time I was really, you know, taking care of business, my phone rings. I answered it and the person, it was a friend of mine. I knew he was in the area as well. And all he said was, “Did you get it?” And I was like, “What? What? What do you mean?” He’s like, “Did you get it?” And I promise, my head was whipping around.

But that moment, you know, when you’re like, “Woops! I just got found out.” That had to have been what she felt like only significantly more important. Busted! By the way, he was talking about something else. He didn’t catch me, so my secret is still safe. But this woman is busted! She just touches, and Jesus is like, “Who did that? Who did it?” Verse 31 says,

“And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing around you, and you say, “Who touched me?”‘ And he looked around to see who had done it.”

This woman came to Jesus to get a something, a cure, but Jesus wants to have an encounter with a person. Augustine said that “Flesh presses, faith touches.” That’s from verse 31. You see the people pressing around you and you say, “Who touched me?” There’s a difference between pressing on Jesus and touching him. There are a lot of people that run into Jesus, but it is the heart of faith that reaches out for him.

Verse 33, “But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. And he said to her, ‘Daughter [this so beautiful. Unnamed, until Jesus calls her Daughter.] Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease.’”

It’s beautiful. He says, “well, peace, and healed.” It’s emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being. “Shalom. Shalom, woman.”

I like to think in stories. Imagine Jairus at this point. He comes to Jesus. “Jesus, come see my daughter.” Jesus is like, “Sure, I’ll go.” They start walking, and then this woman… And all the sudden Jesus stops. He’s like, “Who touched me?” Jairus is like, “Who cares? Let’s go. My daughter’s dying.” Jesus is like, “No, no, no, no. Somebody touched me.” And then he starts having this conversation. I imagine Jairus is probably thinking, “She’s going to be here. You can come back and talk to her. Let’s go.” And then he hears the words that he’s afraid to hear. Verse 35,

“While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?’”

It’s over. There’s a great and terrible contrast. Jesus says “Daughter, your faith has made you well,” and the next verse, “Your daughter is dead.”

Now, here’s the central verse in the story. Verse 36, the central verse in the story.

“But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe.’ And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly.” [And you know what happens, verse 41] “Taking her by the hand he said to her, ‘Talitha cumi,’ which means, ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise.’ And immediately [There it is again.] the girl got up and began walking (for she was 12 years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement.” [And then he says,] “Give her something to eat.”

And that’s the end of the story.

Now, I say verse 36 is central. Here’s why. In that moment, Jesus must shift Jairus’ focus from the circumstances that he has just been made aware of, from those circumstances to Jesus himself. From the circumstance to the Savior, from the bad news to continue to believe in the Savior, in Jesus. And Mark shows us what he does. He says that Jesus (verse 36) “overhearing what they said…” The word “overhearing”, if you have the New International Version of the Bible, it says “ignoring.” It could mean overhear, ignore, or to refuse to listen to or to discount the truth of. It’s like when somebody says something, you’re like, “Yeah, that doesn’t matter. This is what matters.” And that’s what Jesus is doing. Your daughter’s dead. Jesus was like, “Don’t fear, only believe.” Death is nothing to him.

I picture it this way. It’s as if you have this chaos around the two of them. There’s people everywhere — disciples, people, the woman — and in this chaos it’s like time slows down and Jesus is locking eyes with Jairus and saying, “Keep believing. You started to believe, keep believing. Don’t let fear rob that from you.” That’s the story.

Now I want to make three observations on this story and kind of unpack it a little bit. Okay? You ready? Three observations, I’m going to kind of start broad and then narrow it in. That will help us grab this story a little bit more. Here they are. Number 1, desperate circumstances ignite fear. Desperate circumstances ignite fear. You can feel the desperation in these stories. Circumstances come upon us, and fear can be ignited so quickly, so fast. It comes out of nowhere.

It was four years ago this week that our son, Andy, who was 6 at the time, got sick with a persistent high fever that wouldn’t go away. Now you would just go, “Oh, that’s COVID.” Well, there wasn’t COVID then. He had this persistent high fever. We took him to the doctor. The doctor said, “I think it’s flu.” A couple days later, it’s not changing, persistent high fever. He started to develop other symptoms. Doctor said, “You need to take him to the emergency room. I think he might have spinal meningitis.” Took him to the emergency room, did a spinal tap, not spinal meningitis. We think it’s strep. Put him on medication, it’s not strep. He’s getting worse every day. We’re sleeping in his room. We’ve never done that with our kids. Well, that’s another story. But anyway, we’re sleeping in his room because he is sick like we’ve never seen him. And we’re like, “What is going on?” The fever just keeps going up, persistent. Nothing will stop it. He’s developing a full body rash; all these things are happening.

We take him back to his doctor again, and his doctor is like, “I don’t know what’s going on, but he’s getting worse.” And he stands there with his doctor partner, and they’re both looking at my son, and my doctor goes, “Oh, I know what it is.” He’d only seen it one other time in 30+ years of medicine. He said, “I think he’s got Kawasaki Disease.” Which, look it up. Google it. It’s a relatively rare, highly treatable, or it’ll kill your kid. Starts having heart attacks and kills them. But it happens. He’s like, “I’ve seen it one other time, but you’re going to hospital.”

So we came to the Children’s Hospital, and things started. Okay, we’re at the hospital now. They’re like, “Yeah, we think it’s Kawasaki Disease. We’re running tests, and we think that’s what it is. We’ll treat it, no problem.” Except, Andy’s not getting better. He’s getting worse, and his blood pressure is dropping, and they cannot get it under control. So, they upgrade him to the next level. At first, we’re like, “Oh, great, we’re glad we’re here.” And now we’re like, “Hey, it’s not getting better, and he’s developing more and more problems.”

And finally, they look at us and they say, “You’re going in the ICU.” And in a moment, it goes from, okay, we think it’s going to be okay to he’s going into the pediatric ICU. And all of a sudden there are doctors and nurses everywhere putting gowns on backwards and masks on their face, carrying my boy, who looks lifeless onto the bed in the ICU. We go in there, they look at us and say, “You’ve got to get out. We have to take care of him now.” And we just start weeping. That’s our boy. He’s 6. What is happening?

And in that moment, there are these circumstances that are setting fear on fire in our hearts. And it comes on us fast. Praise God, our son is fine. Dopamine is a wonderful thing, popped his blood pressure right up where it’s supposed to be, and they treated him with IVIG and 48 hours later he was great. It’s amazing. But brothers and sisters, when circumstances come on us, it ignites fear so quickly. And here’s what I want to say from this story. In those moments when desperate circumstances ignite fear, I believe Jesus is right there. He’s right there in the middle of them too.

Second thing, fear threatens faith. Circumstances ignite fear, and fear is a threat to faith. Now, this is a theme that Mark keeps circling back to. Like in the boat with the disciples, the storm is going crazy. The disciples are like, “What’s going on?” And Jesus looks at them and says, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith in me?” There’s fear on one side and trusting Jesus on the other. I’m sitting in the boat with you. What do you think is going to happen? But circumstances can allow us to believe things or lead us to believe things that are neither true nor helpful. The disciples are like, “Do you not care?” They know Jesus cares, but the circumstances have come on that’s so fearful and seems to be world-shattering that it’s like, “Oh, well Jesus doesn’t care.” But brothers and sisters, in the middle of that fear-threatening faith, we are experiencing that, we have experienced that.

Over the last year with COVID-19, there has been so much fear, so much fear. I mean, legit fear. I’m not talking about made up fear, legitimate fear. And lest you think this is a right or left political statement, fear on all sides. Whether you’re afraid of the disease or afraid of the government and the media, it’s fear. And no matter where it comes from, it’s a threat to faith. There’s so much fear. And then you throw an election in there. Why not? Throw an election in there, and depending on your perspective, the last four years may have been so fearful or the next four years seem so fearful. What are we going to do? Fear attacks faith, trusting in Jesus. And if we sit there and stoke fear and kind of keep that going, it is not a friend of faith.

You know, it made me think of Mark’s original audience. Mark wrote the gospel for an audience, for an original recipients in the mid 50s. Do you know who came on the throne in the mid 50s? It makes Trump or Biden look like child’s play. Nero. Nero killed his family to get there. Nero burned Christians in his courtyard to light it. And Mark writes this to an audience who is experiencing that and says, “Don’t fear, only believe.” That’s profound, isn’t it? That’s something.

So, suffering comes on us — whether it’s fast, like your daughter’s dead, or slow twelve years of hemorrhaging — it’s there, and it threatens faith. Fear is faith’s enemy. We have to remember that. I think of that time-stopping moment in verse 36, because I think if you kind of connect the pieces of what Mark’s already said — just a couple of chapters ago, he talked about the different kinds of soil. And the second kind of soil is the one where the seed comes and begins to produce. And then it says, “Trouble comes, and it withers away.” And I think that’s Jairus. I think he’s begun to show faith. He said, “I’ve got to get Jesus.” And he comes to Jesus, and the circumstances pounce on it. And I think Jesus in the moment is saying, “Hey, that was faith. It just started to come up. Don’t wither. Don’t wither under trouble.”

He says, “Do not fear, only believe.” That phrase, “only believe,” is a present imperative in Greek. It means “Keep on believing,” or “Don’t stop believing.” Keep on. You started to believe, keep on believing rather than giving in to despair. Jesus says, “Hey, you got terrible news just now. Don’t go there. You believed for a while, keep on going.” When circumstances create fear, which threatens faith, we must cultivate the practice of trusting Jesus despite everything to the contrary.

Last point, faith is the antidote to fear. Fear threatens faith, but faith is the antidote to fear. Why is the woman the model of faith? Jesus is saying to Jairus… He does this like, “Woman your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be healed of your disease.” Your daughter has died. “Jairus, look at her. That’s the model of faith.” He sandwiches it that way, so we say the center story is the point. Why? Because her faith wasn’t that great. It was superstitious, it was ignorant, it was presumptuous, it was selfish. It’s not like we’re like, “Yeah, that’s perfect.” No, it wasn’t perfect. There were a lot of things about it that weren’t good. But isn’t that the way it is? When you read Hebrews, and you go to Hebrews 11, and you read about all the people of faith. Some of those characters you’re like, “They made it in there?” And you know what? There’s going to be some people in heaven that look at us and go, “You made it in here?” Right?

And that’s this woman. It’s messed up. But here’s two things about it that are big. Number 1, the object of her faith was right. The strength of her faith was really rough, but it was in Jesus. And here’s what you’ll find over and over again in the Bible. People, it’s important to grow in your faith. But if we get too caught up in, “I just don’t know if I have enough faith, I just don’t know if it’s strong enough.” I’ll just tell you right now, it’s not. You don’t have enough, and it’s not strong enough. But Jesus is. Jesus is. So, look to him, trust him. Our faith is impure and weak, but his is pure and strong. He’s got it. The object of faith matters more than the strength of it or the purity of it.

And secondly, her faith included action. Verse 27, “she heard … she came … she touched…” And in Mark, to act on what one hears about Jesus (we hear it, and we act) is always a sign of a true disciple. Not just hearing but hearing and acting on it. That’s what she does. She’s a beautiful picture. Self-focused faith, yes. But Jesus applauds her because when she’s getting pressed down, squished by circumstances, she reaches out and move towards Jesus.

And [Jesus] says, “Man, circumstances are squishing you into the mud right now, but go on believing.” And that’s true for us, brothers and sisters. Circumstances — hardship, isolation, fear — press on us and they threaten faith. We have fears and for good reason. Your daughter has died. And those times when fear and darkness is on us, Jesus is there, too. And he’s saying fear and faith can’t peacefully coexist. Fight fear, and don’t stop believing. Or don’t stop believin’, if you prefer.

Let me end with this one story. Last Sunday, The Atlantic Magazine published an article by Pastor Tim Keller, in which he describes his battle against fear and for hope in the resurrection, when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last year. It’s a great article. I recommend you Google it, read the whole thing. Atlantic Magazine, Tim Keller. I’m going to read a part of it to you, a couple of paragraphs that he writes, because I think it’s so helpful the way he connects fear, hope in the resurrection, fighting fear with trust, with faith. Here’s what he writes.

“When the certainty of your mortality and death finally breaks through, is there a way to face it without debilitating fear? Is there a way to spend the time you have left growing into greater grace, love and wisdom? Most particularly for me as a Christian, Jesus’s costly love, death, and resurrection had become not just something I believed and filed away, but a hope that sustained me all day. I pray this prayer daily: And as I lay down in sleep and rose this morning, only by your grace, keep me in the joyful, lively remembrance that whatever happens, I will someday know my final rising, because Jesus Christ lay down in death for me, and rose for my justification.”

That is such a beautiful little prayer that connects suffering, fear, sleep, Christ’s death and resurrection. It’s beautiful. He goes on:

“As this spiritual reality grows, what are the effects on how I live? [He’s going from, I know these things to be true, this is a reality, but how does it affect how I live?] One of the most difficult results to explain is what happened to my joys and fears. Since my diagnosis, Kathy and I have come to see that the more we tried to make a heaven out of this world, the less we were able to enjoy it … The 18th century hymn writer John Newton depicted God as saying to the human soul, ‘These inward trials I employ from pride and self to set thee free, and break thy schemes of earthly joy that thou would find thine all in me.’”

Keller ends this way:

“I can sincerely say, without any sentimentality or exaggeration, that I’ve never been happier in my life, that I’ve never had more days filled with comfort. But it is equally true that I’ve never had so many days of grief … When I take time to remember how to deal with my fears and savor my joys, the consolations are stronger and sweeter than ever.”

I think that is a picture of somebody who in the middle of fear found Jesus there and just pressed into him, reached out and touched him in the middle of that terrible circumstance. And Jesus draws us in, brothers and sisters, and says, “Don’t fear. Keep believing.”

Let’s pray. Jesus, I pray that you would give us your grace, regardless of the circumstances. I know there are people sitting at home watching this livestreamed. And some people are wrestling with that fear, wrestling with the circumstances that you have dealt. And I pray, Lord, that you would be with our brothers and sisters at home and in this room, you would turn our eyes to Christ, we’d find Christ in the middle of the fear that could debilitate us, and instead we would keep holding on to him to keep believing. We ask you, Lord, to guide us to keep our eyes on Jesus who founded and is perfecting our faith. Amen.


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