“Give what thou commandest, and commandest what thou wilt.” —St. Augustine
“While he yet spake, there came from the ruler of the synagogue’s house certain which said, Thy daughter is dead: why troublest thou the Master any further? 36 As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, he saith unto the ruler of the synagogue, Be not afraid, only believe” (Mark 5:35-36).
Having performed a miracle of healing in the midst of a multitude, the Lord continued His movement towards the original ministry of intention. A father in anguish had appealed to Christ for help, and Jesus had committed Himself to that cause. The Lord’s delay had heightened the need for his help, reflected in the message of the servants from the house of the Ruler of the Synagogue. In simple, but shocking terms, the man’s daughter had died. While the Lord lingered, the child perished.
When Jesus heard the report, the Bible says that He spoke quietly, but quickly to the Ruler of the Synagogue. “Be not afraid,” said the Lord, “only believe.” Only five words were spoken, and yet they conveyed a mighty message. Sometimes the best sermons are the shortest. Consider if you will the words of Christ.
Observe first Who spoke the words of exhortation and comfort; it was Jesus. Had a friend or relative uttered the exact same thoughts, the significance would have been mystical, and spiritual, but less meaningful. It was because Jesus spoke these words that they take on a miraculous overtone. The implication is that if the Ruler of the Synagogue does not lose faith in the Person and power of Christ, His daughter will be all right.
Then second, notice when these words were spoken. At the point of his greatest sense of helplessness, the greatest words of strength and security were given to the Ruler of the Synagogue.
Sometimes when we are in a difficult situation, we wonder if the Lord really cares. We have prayed, we have pleaded, we have longed for help from heaven, but a Divine solution is delayed. The temptation comes to lose faith.
Many years ago, Corrie Ten Boon faced a struggle for personal faith, and spoke about it with her father. Mr. Ten Boon was a wise man. “Corrie,” he asked, “when I go on a train trip, when do I receive my boarding pass, and when does the conductor validate my ticket?” Corrie answered, “You get your boarding pass just before you get on the train, and soon thereafter the conductor validates it.” “And so,” taught Mr. Ten Boon, “will God give His children the grace they need, but at the right time, when they need it the most.”
The prophet Isaiah understood the principle of sufficient grace at the appropriate time, and wrote, But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. (Isa. 40:31) In spiritual matters a patiently waiting on God to act as He pleases is part of the process of faith.
Then third, notice what was said to the Ruler of the Synagogue. Two commands were given; one was negative, and the other was positive. The negative command instructed the man “Be not afraid.” It is not the will of the Father that His children be afraid in the midst of the most trying circumstances in life, but they often are, because sin has come into the world.
In the original creation there was no fear in the heart of man of nature, or nature’s God. Adam played with the tiger as well as the monkey. He watched the dinosaurs eat with great interest, as he cultivated the garden God had given him to keep. Each day there was a time of special fellowship with the Lord. There was no fear in Paradise, until the day that sin was discovered.
On that dark day the universe was changed, and man learned to fear. He learned to fear public exposure. He learned to fear the face of God. He learned to fear the consequences of his actions. And he learned to fear death.
Death is a dark door, and we wonder what lies beyond it. Alfred, Lord Tennyson captured the thoughts of many when he wrote,
“Ah Christ, that it were possible
For one short hour to see
The souls we loved, that they might tell us
What and where they be.”
We want to know what is beyond life on earth, for we are afraid. We know all too well whether or not we are prepared to meet a righteous God. And we wonder if He will have mercy.
For those who are afraid of the power of sin to pull the soul towards a certain self-destruction, for those who are afraid of the punishment of sin, for those who are afraid of the finality of death, and the eternal darkness it brings, Jesus said, “Be not afraid, I can help.”
Christ is in a position to help desperate souls, because He has come to tell men that the goodness and grace of God is greater than sin, more powerful than death, and able to sustain the heart through the circumstances of life.
Of course, the mercy and goodness of God is not something that is to be taken lightly, but in relation to the Cross-of Calvary. God does not ignore sin in the soul of man. God does not approve of it.
The Cross is the ultimate expression of God’s judgment upon sin. Nevertheless, there is still no situation too great for God’s redemptive power, and individuals need the power of God. Faith in God becomes the means by which the power of the Lord is unleashed, manifested in the positive command “Only believe.”
Ah, but that too becomes a problem. “Believe, Lord? Believe what?” And the answer is this from the lips of Christ “Believe in me to help you. Believe in my power to heal. Believe that I am sovereign over every situation.”
While no direct verbal response is recorded by the Ruler of the Synagogue, the Lord must have perceived that he did believe, for after arriving at the house, only Peter, James, John, along with the Ruler and his wife, were allowed to remain with Jesus in the room where the young girl rested. All of the professional mourners were put out of the room. Everyone who doubted the power of the Lord to help were removed.
“And then Jesus spoke in Aramaic to the young girl. And he took the damsel by the hand, and said unto her, Talitha cumi; which is, being interpreted, ‘Damsel, I say unto thee, arise.’ And straightway the damsel arose, and walked; for she was of the age of twelve years. And they were astonished with a great astonishment” (Mark 5:41,42).
In reflecting upon this narrative, and in contrast to it, I have remembered some young people who have died and were not brought back to life. I remember a little baby who was born in 1973 in the base hospital at Ft. Polk, LA. As a chaplain’s assistant, I went with the chaplain to the home of a distraught mother with the tragic news. Her baby was not coming home from the hospital. When told the news she cried out in misery, and collapsed in shock.
I remember Amanda. In December of 1985, Amanda was in the fifth grade in a Christian School in Rogers, Arkansas. As the principal of the school I was able to stand by my office door and say good bye to many of the children when they left the building for the day. It was Friday, and school was letting out for the Christmas holidays. I remember seeing Amanda, hugging her, and telling her goodbye.
That night Amanda sang in a children’s play. On Sunday morning tragedy struck. While riding to church with her sixteen-year-old brother at the wheel, there was a terrible collision. The brother had stopped the car in the middle of the highway to turn into the parking lot of the church. A man from Kansas did not see the car stopped in the roadway, and plowed into the back of the little vehicle. Amanda was violently thrown through the windshield. She died immediately of multiple wounds to the head.
There have been other children I have known who have gone to heaven, for the Lord is not pleased to protect or heal everyone. Even the young damsel of our passage faced death again, though in later years. I am confident that she lived to be a grandmother and had many things to tell her extended family, but she walked through the valley of the shadow of death again, and she stepped from time into eternity at the end of her life. So, if there is a great central truth to learn from this narrative, we must look beyond the momentary miracle itself, to the spiritual principle which undergirds it. When that is done, we find that the Lord is sovereign over every situation in life, including the power of sin that pulls souls towards death in the first place.
I say that, for I would like to make a practical application of our text to troubled hearts that struggle with morally complex issues in life. I want to say “Do not be afraid; only believe.” While some people are facing physical death, and must deal with that, others are facing a spiritual death of their soul; they are struggling to survive emotionally, and religiously. There is a private internal conflict between the righteous moral standards of the Law of God, and the pleasure and passions of immoral conduct.
There are countless hearts in turmoil over inappropriate personal behavior. In the privacy of the heart the soul has become a battle ground between the world, the flesh, the devil, and the will of God. And, if the truth were known, spiritual death is winning the contest, just as physical death claims its victims.
Is there any help for such tormented souls? The answer is yes. The divine solution comes, in part, when the following points are embraced.
There are situations in life that only God can deal with.
The Savior of men’s souls must be sought out in prayer, in personal conversations, and in the study of Scripture.
While the search for the Savior is made, faith must be exercised that He will be found, and when He is, He will have compassion, and move to help.
The Lord will come to help those in a desperate condition because He understands how helpless individuals are without Him. The Lord knows, and we know.
Good intentions avail nothing. Promises of reform are only broken. Self-help programs are of limited value. Religious activities, apart from the enabling power of the Holy Spirit, offer no permanent restraint against the motions of sin. A hundred weak efforts to break the chains of bondage have not helped. The soul needs a Savior. The soul needs Jesus. And He will come to those who call upon His name.
The Lord may delay coming to deal with a serious situation, until there are no human resources left, for then will He receive full glory. There is something about the human heart that desperately wants to claim some personal involvement in self-change. But God will share His glory with no man. And so some people are left to decline until there is no doubt but that God will be gloried—sometimes openly and sometimes privately (Mark 5:43). Even if there is no universal knowledge of the goodness and power of the Lord to save, those involved in the situation know who should be given all praise and honor.
Whatever desperate problem of life you are facing, Christ wants you to know that the Lord is still sovereign of the situation. Some people face a physical problem, others deal with marital concerns, while still others struggle with the moral implications of the gospel. The common element, is that Christ is the answer. If He is not, then there is no hope. But there is hope, for Jesus is the Sovereign of every situation.
“[So] Fear not, little flock, whatever your lot,
He enters all room, “the doors being shut;”
He never forsakes, He never is gone,
So count on His presence in darkness and dawn.
Only believe, Only believe,
All things are possible, only believe.”