As we continue in our new series, A Heavy Load, this week we are talking about another load we bear when trying to do life apart from Jesus. Appropriately, given the day, this week we are talking about fear. When we try and do life without Jesus, we can quickly and easily find ourselves in a place where fear is controlling our lives. How do we handle this and what can we do instead? Keep reading to find out.
Shaking in Your Boots
If you’ve got young kids at home, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve at least heard of the movie The Croods. In my house we’ve made a point of watching both the original and the sequel, The Croods: The New Age. It falls pretty well into the pattern of a lot of animated movies of late. The plot is insane, the characters are over the top, there’s tons of slapstick to keep the kids laughing and engaged, and a few Easter eggs just for grown-ups who have committed to enduring it. I guess the writers feel like if parents are going to let their kids drag them to go see it, they might as well include a few fun moments for them too.
In any event, the movie is about a caveman family trying to survive the world. The opening sequence of the original movie hilariously shows the family working together to get breakfast on an average morning. They track down an animal that looks like a cross between an ostrich, a dodo bird, and a ram, and proceed to attempt to steal its egg. After a tussle for the egg with about a dozen other creatures in what appears to be some sort of a crazy football/rugby match, they just manage to make it back to their cave where they each get a swallow of whatever was inside the egg as a reward for their efforts. What got me thinking about the movie this morning is what the dad, Grug, voiced by Nicolas Cage, shouts to the group just before they get started on their quest. As they all line up like an insane offensive line, he shouts, “We do this fast! We do this loud! We do this as a family! And never not be afraid!”
Indeed, if there is one lesson Grug tries to teach his family throughout the movie it is to be afraid of everything. The simple reason for this is that everything can kill you. There are dangers lurking around every corner. Some of them are large and easy to see. Others are so small you wouldn’t notice them if they drifted past your face. Some are obvious, others are things you couldn’t even imagine. For instance, although earth has been pretty fortunate in this department on average thanks to our moon, at any moment a meteor could streak through the sky, hit you, and you’d be dead where you once stood. We’re starting to inch toward the season of winter. Although icicles aren’t a huge threat around here, did you know they are responsible for the death of more than 100 people in Russia each year? More relevantly: We are in the season of everything pumpkin spice. No, seriously, everything. Well, pumpkin spice contains nutmeg. In large quantities, nutmeg can cause hallucinations, induce psychosis, and even kill you. It seems totally rational to me that we get rid of pumpkin spice altogether just to make sure. Who’s with me? Even something as simple and mundane as cleaning your toilet can be deadly if you accidentally mix the wrong chemicals together to do it. The truth here is that our world would seem to have much to fear in it. There’s enough to fear we have a whole holiday to celebrate it! But fear gets heavy over time. I want to talk with you this morning about a better way.
This morning we are in the second part of our new teaching series, A Heavy Load. As we go through our lives, it is both easy and tempting to try and manage things all on our own. After all, most of the things we face are small business. Why bother God with that kind of stuff? And, when it comes to the bigger things, if we can figure out how to navigate them on our own, look how cool that will make us. We’ll be able to walk around knowing we’ve got what it takes. All the poor suckers around us will just wish they were as amazing as we are. Now, maybe all of that is a conscious thought, maybe it’s not, but it is what we try to do. All of us. We all try to do life without Jesus. If you’re not someone who would claim the title “Christian” as your own, this is just life for you. But even if you would acknowledge being a follower of Jesus, you still fall into this pattern a whole lot more often than I’ll bet you wish you did. The trouble with this is doing life on your own gets heavy over time. The weight of it all starts to drag you down and everything gets harder than it feels like it should be. You may not notice it at first, but over time the effect can become pretty detrimental to just about everything.
Last week we started things off by looking at one of the heaviest burdens we try to bear: anger. As we talked about, anger is a natural reaction to injustice. Being mad about one injustice isn’t a big deal. In fact, it’s a good thing. Especially if that injustice is something we can address to relieve. But when we are bombarded by an endless stream of them, whether from social media or the newspapers or broadcast news, our anger wells fill up and start spilling out on the people around us, making a huge mess. The solution to this is to turn to Jesus who has promised to right every injustice when the time comes, and who gives us the strength of kindness in the meantime. Your anger doesn’t solve problems; God’s kindness does.
Well, while we can easily turn to anger when we are confronted with an injustice of some kind, sometimes we turn to anger not because we are really angry, but because we are using anger as a mask to hide what we are really feeling. And what feeling might anger serve as an effective mask for? Fear. Just like a frightened animal can lash out violently if provoked, sometimes our anger is a fight response to our being afraid. And, given just how much there sometimes feels like there is to be afraid of in our world, it’s easy to understand why. But while fear can be a good thing where it leads us to take seriously genuine threats to our health and safety, if we try to manage that fear on our own, it can become an incredibly heavy burden that makes everything else we do much more difficult than it would otherwise be.
There are many things that induce fear in us. Some of them are obvious and common–snakes, spiders, mice–but some of them don’t very often register. One of the things that can push us to fear that we don’t often think about is the thought of losing someone we love. Early in Jesus’ ministry, He encountered a man in just such a place. As Jesus interacted with this man and did for him what only Jesus can do, He said something to him that is a powerful antidote to the fear we often face. This man’s name was Jairus, and you can find his story in Mark’s Gospel. If you have a copy of the Scriptures with you this morning, find your way to Mark 5 with me.
Jairus’ story opens with Jesus’ and the disciples’ returning to the Jewish region of the Sea of Galilee after visiting the Gentile side of the Sea and there healing a demon-possessed man in pretty dramatic fashion. As Jesus arrived back on the other side of the Sea, a crowd gathered around to hear Him teach as was becoming a pretty regular state of affairs. All of a sudden, the crowd parted and a man everyone clearly thought was pretty important made his way to the front to talk to Jesus. If he was supposed to be regal and dignified, though, he wasn’t hitting that mark very well. Something was clearly wrong. Look with me in Mark 5 starting at v. 21.
“When Jesus had crossed over again by boat to the other side, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the sea. One of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet and begged him earnestly, ‘My little daughter is dying. Come and lay your hands on her so that she can get well and live.’” Have you known this kind of fear before? Some of you I know have. There aren’t many fears that rank as terrifying for a parent as the prospect of losing a child. Jairus was desperate and afraid. Whatever personal dignity he was supposed to have given his position had been thrown to the side as he threw himself in the dust at Jesus’ feet to beg Him for help. In all likelihood, Jesus was his last resort. They’d tried everything else and nothing was working. You know, in some ways, Covid has helped us understand Jairus’ fear better than we did before. In that day, lifespans were short and mortality was a truly fragile thing. Bugs we don’t even think about were terrifying diseases for them. And in a day without any kind of medical testing or an ability to accurately diagnose a problem, people got sick and died and their family had no idea why or what could have been done about it…kind of like Covid has done.
For Jairus, however, while there may have been many things he didn’t know about, and those, no doubt, scared him, what he did know was enough: His daughter was sick, and if he didn’t get her help, she was going to die. The moments between when he threw himself at Jesus’ feet and begged his help and Jesus’ opening His mouth to respond had to feel like hours to Jairus. Certainly Jesus had a reputation as a healer, but Jairus had interrupted Him. Maybe He would come. Maybe He would teach him a lesson by making him wait until He was done teaching. Time slowed to a crawl. And then Jesus nodded and said, “Let’s go.” Verse 24: “So Jesus went with him, and a large crowd was following and pressing against him.”
Just because Jesus wasn’t going to teach anymore, didn’t mean the crowds were going to go away. Now Jesus was going to do a miracle for this man who was well-known around the region. Not only did this bring with it the promise of a show, but if Jesus was healing people, He might heal them and their sick loved one as well. So they went. All of them. The thing about journeying into the unknowns of fear, though, is that you don’t know what they will bring. Jairus was desperate to get Jesus to his home and desperately afraid of losing his daughter before they arrived there. That’s a heavy load to bear.
But then the unthinkable happened: Jesus stopped. You see, someone had touched Jesus’ clothes, triggered His healing powers, and He wanted to know who it was. Now, this is one of those places where trying to get your mind around how Jesus was both fully God and fully human will make your head hurt. There are a ton of entirely natural questions to ask about how exactly this worked, but we’re going to set those aside for today. What happened here was that a woman who was sick from her own issues had managed to slip in close enough to touch the edge of Jesus’ robe. When she did, her faith that doing this would heal her paid off and she was healed. Jesus’ stopping to sort out what all had happened no doubt caused a terrible foot-traffic jam. Mark’s record of the disciples’ fussing at Jesus for it is rather humorous. Verse 30: “At once Jesus realized in himself that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ His disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing against you, and yet you say, “Who touched my clothes?”’” What Mark left out was when Peter followed this up by shouting with exasperation: “Everyone touched your clothes. Let’s get on and heal this poor girl!” Jairus didn’t say anything like that, but you know he was right there thinking it, his fear growing by the minute. His daughter was dying and Jesus has stopped to talk to someone who is not dying to have a conversation with her. Let’s get on with the show or we’re going to miss the final curtain call!
And then his sense that this interruption was unnecessary and wildly unhelpful was proved entirely correct. Verse 35: “While [Jesus] was still speaking, people came from the synagogue leader’s house and said, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why bother the teacher anymore?’” They were too late. It was all for naught. He’d tried and failed. His precious little girl was gone. In an instant, his load finally crushed him and grief began to overwhelm his fear. Perhaps you can imagine how he felt. But then something happened. Jesus paused His conversation with the woman, looked Jairus straight in the eyes, and spoke six words in English, four in Greek. Look at v. 36: “When Jesus overheard what was said, he told the synagogue leader, ‘Don’t be afraid. Only believe.’”
Don’t be afraid. Only believe. On the one hand, those words may fill you with hope. It sounds awfully inspiring, doesn’t it? Don’t be afraid of anything. Just believe and you can overcome it. That’s bumper sticker theology at its finest. In fact, that sounds like an idea Christians could give to the world. Think about where our culture is when it comes to religion. It sounds like a thoroughly modern rallying cry against the encroaching darkness. Something like that could have come from Oprah’s lips. On the other hand, and as we travel further down that path, if you put yourself in Jairus’ shoes, it sounds like something that would make you want to scream in frustration. “Don’t be afraid and only believe? What? Am I supposed to just believe my daughter back to life? You stopped to help this worthless woman whose life was not remotely at risk and my daughter paid the price for your inability to budget your time appropriately. Don’t tell me to believe. You were supposed to show me what you could actually do.” Just given how many directions you could take this statement that are not even close to what Jesus could have possibly meant by it, maybe this is just one of those embarrassing things Jesus said we should ignore.
I submit to you it is none of those things. Instead, what we see here is an antidote to the burden of fear we carry when trying to do life apart from Jesus. In order to understand why, though, we need to understand a little bit more about why we fear and what fear is in the first place. At its most basic level, fear comes from feeling like we don’t have any control over something in our environment. I remember reading an article about fear by Stephen King in a literature textbook in middle school. He made a convincing case that we don’t fear the monster lurking behind the door. We fear the idea of the monster lurking behind the door. The scariest moment in a movie is the split second before the curtain is pulled back to reveal the monster. In that moment, our imaginations fill in the gap in our knowledge with all of the worst possible scenarios. The unknown is almost paralyzing. Once the door opens, and we see what’s actually there, sure we’re scared by it at first, but now we know. The unknown is gone. We can begin to make a plan for dealing with whatever it is. Before then, though, things are entirely outside of our control. That lack of control introduces an element of uncertainty and unknown into our potential interactions with whatever this thing is. Fear is the body’s and mind’s way of preparing us to confront something unknown. It heightens our senses, tenses our muscles, and our brain and body both go into a kind of hyper-awareness state. We are preparing to either engage or run, depending on our split-second analysis of the first contact we make with the unknown.
Let me give you an example. One of the things I fear is being lost. You can ask my wife about it…actually, don’t do that. When I am in a setting where I am unfamiliar with my surroundings, I just almost come unglued. It’s actually pretty embarrassing. If I don’t know where I am, then I might not be able to find my way back to where I’m trying to go. I could wind up getting myself into a mess in a place where I can’t find any help. I could be lost forever. Now, are any of those thoughts true? Of course they’re not. I’m overreacting because of the way I’ve built up this particular mix of emotions and situations in my head into something entirely more threatening than they really are. But that’s what fear does. And if we’re not careful, it can take control of us. We gradually begin to filter other experiences and potential future situations through that lens. We arrange our lives to avoid having to be in circumstances where our fear could be triggered. We get edgy and even angry when people unknowingly push us in that direction.
So then, what is the antidote to this? It is just what Jesus said: we believe. Let me be more specific. The antidote to fear is trust. If I’m driving somewhere unfamiliar and I’m all by myself, I am completely dominated by the unknown and am fearful because of it. But if I’m driving somewhere unfamiliar and have someone in the car with me I trust knows the way, I am completely at ease. I’m a different person. When it comes to your fear, when you have someone near whom you trust to be able to handle the situation in such a way that all the bad things you imagine might happen won’t, your fear abates. Even if the path in front of you is littered with unknowns, your trust in this person overrides your fear of those unknowns and fear doesn’t have anything to grab hold of to try and steer you in another direction.
Jairus was afraid of his daughter’s dying. Then the news came that she was gone. It would have broken his world. He was entering into a gigantic unknown–a future without his little girl–and he was terrified of it. He didn’t know how to think or act or do much of anything. Then Jesus called him to something different: believing (or trusting) in Him. If Jairus would only put his trust in Jesus, Jesus would lead him through the unknowns all across his path, and he would be able to navigate through them successfully. Friends, He makes the same call to us today as well. And the results in our lives if we will answer His call are just the same as they were for Jairus. Fear falls apart in the face of trust in Jesus.
Why? Because He’s always going to be with us. He Himself made that clear. I will never leave you or forsake you. I am with you always, even to the end of the age. And He can do that because when He did leave the scene physically, He sent the Holy Spirit to dwell in the hearts of all those who are willing to place their trust in Him. And He can do that because He rose from the dead. Listen: If death posed no threat to Jesus’ ability to overcome whatever unknowns lay before Him, then whatever it is you’ve got going on in your life that feels like a giant and terrifying unknown to you and which you don’t have any idea how to handle and so you are paralyzed with fear doesn’t pose any threat to Him either. If Jesus rose from the dead, then you don’t have to be afraid of anything because He can handle everything. Nothing is unknown to Him. If He could predict and pull off His own death and resurrection, then you can be sure He knows how to navigate whatever is going on in your life too. And because of that, fear falls apart in the face of trust in Jesus.
Without Him, I really don’t know what to tell you. You’re on your own then. And maybe you can figure out how to get through whatever it is, but maybe you can’t too. You don’t know. And if you’re not up to the challenge…what then? And before you go thinking you’ve got this or that and so you can handle it, life has a way of neutralizing our “thises” and “thats” just when we think they’re going to work for us. Maybe you’ve been there? No, fear is a heavy load. Trying to do life on your own is a heavy load. But fear falls apart in the face of trust in Jesus.
Don’t be afraid. Only believe.
It worked for Jairus. After Jesus heard the news of his daughter’s death and spoke those reassuring words. He told all of the crowd to stay put, took Peter, James, and John with Him, and went straight to Jairus’ house. When they arrived He asked what all the fuss was about since the little girl was only sleeping and was ridiculed for it. But He once again told everyone to go away, and went in the little girl’s room with her parents in tow. Verse 41 now: “Then he took the child by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha koum’ (which is translated, ‘Little girl, I say to you, get up’). Immediately the girl got up and began to walk. (She was twelve years old.) At this they were utterly astounded.” Yeah, you think, Mark? The unknown of death posed no threat to Jesus. When Jairus was willing to trust Him, his fears were relieved. Fear falls apart in the face of trust in Jesus.
Now, does this mean Jesus is going to neutralize your fear in such a dramatic fashion? Not necessarily. He certainly is capable of that, but I suspect cases like Jairus’ are the exception rather than the rule. The rule is no less comforting, though. The rule is that Jesus will help you navigate your fears so that you come out on the other side of them with your faith intact. He will give you the confidence to keep moving forward in spite of the terrifying potential of what lies before you because of your trust that He will help you overcome those obstacles when they arise. Again: If death posed no threat to Him, your fears don’t either. Fear falls apart in the face of trust in Jesus.
So then, what are you waiting for? You don’t have to live with fear a second beyond right now. You can move forward into any season of unknown with confidence. There are no more meaningful threats. Don’t be afraid. Only believe. Fear falls apart in the face of trust in Jesus.