Fighting Fear With Faith

Sunday Service was led by Pastor Matt Price and the Sermon was titled “Fighting Fear With Faith”.


Don’t be afraid, just believe, Jesus tells us today. If there is any command in Scripture that is more easily said than done, then I’m not sure what it is. Don’t be afraid, only believe. Those words sound pretty good to our ears, I think, but when it comes down to it, they also sound a little bit naive to our ears.

What do you mean, Don’t be afraid, Lord? Because after all, we only have to turn on the television and see probably about a dozen or more reasons to be afraid each and every day. Whether we’re going to fear terrorism abroad or violence and drug addiction and racism, all that here at home, this world gives us plenty of reasons to be afraid, plenty of reasons to fear. In fact, with a crying newborn baby in the house, I worried this past week of whether I’d have time to finish my sermon without telling you not to worry. [LAUGHTER] Not many people can say they worry about how to tell others not to worry.

But I was worried about that this past week. So I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes these words of Jesus do sound a little bit unrealistic to me. Sometimes they do sound to me and I think to all of us like one of those supernatural things in the Bible that maybe Jesus was capable of. That’s just too far beyond us mere mortals.

How can we live our lives without being afraid? What keeps me from dismissing Jesus’ words here completely is keeping in mind who it is that he speaks those words to. In fact, it’s a situation that’s all too real to us. In fact, I think that for a text written 2,000 years ago, today’s scripture is remarkable for presenting us with two people whose lives and whose suffering is very realistic to us. It’s something we can all identify with.

we can understand their fear and their desperation. The first of these, as I shared with the children, is a man named Jairus, who’s the leader of the local synagogue, we’re told. Now, Jairus is a man of means. He’s somebody who’s very respected in his community.

He’s used to telling other people what to do. He’s used to having other people ask him for favors. Yet here, we’re told that Jairus falls down on his hands and knees and is begging Jesus to help him. Of course, that’s because Jairus’ little girl is very sick and is at the point of death.

So just like parents today who’ve had to see their children sick or in the hospital, Jairus is making a last ditch effort here to find someone, anyone, who can help him, who can heal his little girl. And that’s what leads him to Jesus’ feet. And now the second key character in today’s passage is somebody who couldn’t be more different from Jairus, whose pain and whose distress is just as much as real. It’s just as every bit as real.

We don’t even know this woman’s name, which is kind of fitting if you think about it, because not many in our society would have known her name either. That’s because she’s a woman on the margins. She’s a woman who’s been suffering for 12 years from a bleeding disorder that’s left her very worn down. It’s worn her down both physically as well as spiritually.

What we have to understand here is a bit of the Old Testament background. According to the Old Testament law in Leviticus, during their menstrual cycle, women were not allowed to go to the temple with the rest of their community for the sacrifices and for the prayers. Since this woman has a disorder that leaves her in a continual state of bleeding, She’s been an outcast for about 12 years, 12 long years of loneliness and pain, seeking a cure for this terrible condition she has. And I’m sure she spent a lot of time asking God to heal her, praying for relief.

It’s for that reason when she hears that this new healer named Jesus has come into her town that she determines she is going to seize that opportunity. She pushes into the middle of a crowd that probably didn’t want her there in the first place. And she hopes against hope that even reaching out and touching Jesus’s cloak will be enough to heal her, will be enough to make her whole. And so it’s to these two very frightened, desperate people that Jesus speaks that memorable line, Do not fear, only believe.

And it’s because these two people, like us, are so consumed by fear already when they meet Jesus, that one translator gives us that line as stop being afraid and go on living by faith. Stop being afraid and go on living by faith. And of course that remains Jesus’ message to us here today just as much as it was to Jairus and to that woman with the hemorrhages. Jesus calls us all to fight our fears with faith, with trust in Him.

So for the rest of this sermon, we’re going to look at three ways I think this passage helps us to do that, to fight our fears with faith. We’re going to see how it teaches us to do that by showing us three different things about Jesus himself. So I want us to see first how this passage shows us that Jesus cares for us as individuals, in our individual circumstances, our individual pains. And it doesn’t matter who we are or what our station is in life.

He still cares for us in the midst of that. And then secondly, we’re going to see– if you could back up one second, Rachel– we’re going to see, secondly, that Jesus calls us to persistence in prayer and seeking his will. And then finally, we’re going to see that he calls us to do that because he wants us to trust him as the one with our best interests at heart. And that’s even when we don’t understand him, even when we can’t see the road ahead.

And in fact, we’re going to see today that Jesus is the only one we can truly trust when we’re struggling, when we’re in pain, because he’s the only one who loved us enough to give his life for us, to die in our place on the cross at Calvary. So we’re going to look, then, at three ways that we are called to fight our fears with faith. Now, the first thing, as we see on the next slide, about this passage is this passage shows us Jesus’s deep compassion for two people who are suffering, two people who are in a lot of pain. We know the word compassion literally means to suffer with.

And I think we do see Jesus suffering with these people here, empathizing with them, feeling their pain. But of course, he does more than just feel compassion for them. He puts that compassion into action by doing what he can to relieve them of their pain, to make them better. And I’m sure we all paid attention to the physical healing that took place here, two physical healings that took place in this passage.

But there’s a spiritual component here to these healings that we don’t want to miss. Because for example, what I’m talking about– recall what I said about the bleeding woman. This is a woman who is an isolated outcast to the people of Israel. So she was cut off from the family of God.

But of course, when Jesus looks at her, of this woman who had been rejected by her community, he looks her in the eye and calls her daughter. Think about how powerful that would have been. He calls her daughter. He lets her know that even though the world has rejected her, even though the world has said she is not valuable, that she is a valuable part of his family.

This is a woman told by society that she is worthless, yet here Jesus is assuring her that she is a valued member of the family of God. She is a person of infinite worth. And in God’s eyes, she’s every bit as much as worthy of Jesus’s time as the respected leader of the synagogue, Jairus. And so this passage is a reminder of one of the great truths of our faith at the heart of scripture, at the heart of Christianity, which is that every single person on this planet is made in the image and likeness of our creator God.

And so they deserve dignity. They deserve to be treated with respect. I think almost everything that’s wrong in our world and our society can be traced back to forgetting that fact, forgetting that all people are made in the image of God. I talked some last week about that terrible terrorist attachment at the church in Charleston, South Carolina, the African Methodist church.

And of course, that came from a racist ideology, which says that some of God’s creatures are more valuable than others based on the color of their skin. Of course, as I also shared last week, even the existence of the African Methodist Church owes itself to the fact that white Methodists didn’t want to worship with black Methodists. The AME Church, the African Methodist Church, had started in Philadelphia when white Methodists physically threw black Methodists out of their church when they wanted to go down to the altar to pray. If we think about that today as Methodists, and if that fact doesn’t make us cringe, doesn’t make us ashamed, then I’d I suggest that you go to the Gospels.

You do some soul searching about how Jesus calls us to treat all people. How Jesus calls us to treat people who are different than us. We know that racism is an attack on the heart of the Gospels. An attack on the heart of God.

Because God made all of us, each and every one of us, in His image and likeness. So we as Christians always have to reevaluate whether we’re living our lives. we’re keeping church in such a way that we truly are open to people of all ages and nations and races, just as God is, just as we vow in our baptisms. Do we treat everyone we meet with respect and dignity, remembering that they are precious in God’s eyes? And if we don’t do that, it’s time to repent and to change our ways.

We have to remember that Jesus’ perfect love for us casts out all fear. That includes our fears of welcoming people that may not look like us, that may be from a very different background than us. For my second point though, I want us to see that this passage is not just about Jesus’ love for two individuals, about how much Jesus loves two suffering people. It’s also about the kind of creative ways that these two people seek Jesus out.

The way they are persistent in seeking Him and asking Him for help. Because both Jairus and the bleeding woman in this story are nothing if not persistent, doing whatever it takes to get Jesus’s attention. So for the synagogue leader Jairus, that took the form of him probably doing something he wasn’t used to doing, which was getting down on his hands and knees, humbling himself, and saying, I need help here. I need you to help me and to heal my daughter.

And for the woman, that took the form of pushing her way through a very large crowd that would have looked down on her, that didn’t want her there in the first place, and reaching out and grabbing Jesus by the cloak. It says she was very afraid to do this, but she did it anyway. We have to recall that this was after 12 very desperate, painful years of seeking a cure for her illness. She’d probably been praying fervently during those years.

Most people probably would have given up and said, well, prayer doesn’t work after all, if they’ve waited so long for a cure over these 12 years. But in both cases here, the persistence pays off, and these people find what they are looking for. So that’s a lesson to us about being persistent, not giving up in our prayers, in our Bible study, in seeking God’s will for our lives, seeking God’s healing presence. That healing that Jairus and his bleeding woman find through persistence, it reminds me of a story that was recently sent to me by somebody at our Hilltop Church.

It’s about a Minnesota man named Greg Thomas. And in 2009, Greg was diagnosed with what was considered an inoperable head and neck cancer when he was 56 years old. I put a picture of him up on the next slide. After this diagnosis, Greg was laid off from his job.

He had a job delivering propane. He was basically told to start planning his funeral because there was nothing that could really be done for him. He actually went through 40 sessions of radiation and lost about 66 pounds. There was no cure in sight all of that time.

During this time, Greg tried to stay as active as possible. He took his dogs on long walks through this rural country around the town he lived in in Minnesota. As it happened, during these walks, Greg would oftentimes sit for a rest on the steps of this country church, which was pretty worn down at the time. As he sat on the steps, he would talk to God.

and he would pray and say, Lord, I’d like to do something for you during the time I have left on this earth. And as he prayed, of course, he was looking at a church which was very run down. It was about to be condemned, actually. It had a peeling paint, leaking roof, worn down steps, and rotting floorboards.

But as he prayed, he got an idea. He thought he might as well spend what little time he had left on this earth doing whatever he could to make that church look as good as possible. This wasn’t even his church, it wasn’t even his home church, it was just a church he found in the middle of that field. And so he approached the church council there with a plan and said he would prepare the church on one condition, that he be given a key so that he could go in to pray and to worship whenever he wanted to, whenever he was on those walks with his dogs.

And so they agreed with that and that’s what he did. And over the course of many months he scraped paint, he replaced boards there, there. He worked just as hard as his body could, even though his health was failing. And here’s where the story gets very interesting.

As Greg was working on the church, he actually found his body getting stronger. In fact, the more he worked, the better he felt. His oncologist was actually absolutely amazed at this, because working on repairing this church was doing for him what no medicine had been able to do. during that time he had the cancer.

And she even told him, the oncologist said, whatever you’re doing, keep it up. So as Greg continued to work on this church, rehabilitating the church, the cancer scans actually showed that his cancer was receding. His cancer was going away. His tumors were shrinking.

And four years and 23 days after Greg’s diagnosis, his doctors were able to remove the feeding tube that his doctors had said would be there for the rest of his life. And now today, his tumors are actually gone. He went into full remission. He no longer needs follow-up tests.

Not only is Greg better, but the church is actually back to its former glory as well. The church is fixed. This took many months, I think years. But it’s back to a good condition.

So I think this story is a powerful lesson for us about persistence in prayer, persistence in realizing that as long as we’re here in this life, God has a purpose for us being here. We can’t give up. In fact, God wants us to be persistent in seeking His will. He rewards that.

That’s what allows us to face our fears with courage and to maybe find that God is doing something in our life that He couldn’t have done before we faced the challenge, before we faced the struggle. So like Greg Thomas did, and like that emerging woman in our story, we have to be persistent in prayer, And we have to be persistent in seeking God, even when the obstacles we’re facing look unbeatable, look insurmountable. Of course, as we all know, not everyone gets the healing. Not everyone gets the cure that we’re left there looking for, even in this– at least not in this present life.

Not everyone gets the miracle of Greg Thomas or the healing of the bleeding woman, or of course the raising the life of the little girl who had died. But even so, I think Jesus does look at us, each one of us, and say, don’t be afraid, only believe. The same words he speaks to Jairus when Jairus’s little girl dies and all hope seems lost. And Jesus can speak those words to us because he’s the one who holds all of life and death in his hands.

And he has a plan for our good, even though sometimes we can’t understand what that is. Sometimes we can’t see the road ahead. And sometimes we can’t see what Jesus is doing in our lives. Nonetheless, I believe that Jesus is worthy of our trust.

He deserves our trust, even when we have no idea what he’s up to. And that’s the lesson I take from the life of a woman named Elizabeth Elliot, who was one of the great Christian saints who died only two weeks ago in her late– one of the great Christian saints of the 20th century, I should say, who died only two weeks ago in her late 80s. And if you don’t know the story of Elizabeth Elliot and her husband Jim, you should look it up because it’s an amazing story. You see, in 1956, her husband Jim Elliot, along with four other men who were missionaries in Ecuador, he was murdered with a spear during an attempt to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to these Aka Indians in Ecuador who had never even known the name of Jesus.

He was killed almost immediately as he stepped off the helicopter there. And of course, his wife, Elizabeth, and his young daughter, Valerie, they were there in Ecuador as well, although living in a separate place at the time. And when her husband died, Elizabeth was told she was urged to take her daughter away from Ecuador and go back to the United States where they were from. But Elizabeth, who was a missionary herself, believed that there must have been a purpose behind her husband’s killing.

And she said if she left Ecuador then, she may never have discovered what that purpose was behind it. And amazingly, it wasn’t long after her husband had died that Elizabeth, who was living in a camp with other missionaries, they saw a woman coming into their camp. And she was a woman named Diouma, who actually was one of the Aka Indians, who left her own people behind to join the missionaries in their camp. And she ended up teaching Elizabeth, along with the other missionaries there, the tribal language of the Aka Indians, helping them know how to write.

in that language so they could translate the Bible for them into their own tongue. And Iyoma, this Indian woman, was instrumental in making a connection between the missionaries and the native people. And eventually, Elizabeth Elliot would go on to live with, and then to instruct and become friends with the very people who had murdered her husband. And she would see many of them coming to repent of their sins and accept the gospel of Jesus Christ.

These were the people who had killed her own husbands. So her witness is an amazing, miraculous testimony to the power of the gospel. And of course, in Elizabeth Elliot’s writings, she freely admits that she would much have preferred that her husband had never died. She prayed over and over for Jem when he was gone, when he was absent from her, that he would make it back to her safely.

And Elizabeth Elliot writes that her peace at that time We can’t hang from trusting that even though God doesn’t promise us that He’s going to answer our prayers exactly the way we want it, He does promise us His presence. His presence through whatever we’re going through in this life. And Elizabeth says she clung to the promises. She clung fiercely to the promises of Isaiah 43.

That when you pass through the waters, I will be with you. And through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you. walk through fire, you shall not be burned, neither shall a flame burn you, for I am the Lord your God. Elizabeth goes on to ask, How could I have proved the truth of that promise if there had been no waters? And what rivers could overflow but the deep ones? She realized that God truly was working for good in her life, and in the lives of those who so urgently needed to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ.

even if He was doing so in ways she never expected and would never even have wanted if she was left to her own devices. You know what? Her life teaches us that we have a God who is absolutely trustworthy. And we know God is trustworthy. We know we can trust Jesus with our fears because we have a God who passed through the waters and the fire of this world Himself when He died for us on the cross.

Jesus knew the pain of sickness, the pain of grief, the pain of losing those He loved. When it came time for Him to face death Himself, He didn’t shrink back and run from that. But He instead endured in our place, dying for the sins of the whole world, when He stretched out His arms for us on the cross. And so I don’t know about you, but I believe I can trust Jesus with my pain.

I can trust Him with my doubts and my struggles. And I can trust Him with my fears, whatever those fears might be. Because I know that He loves me, and I know that He loves you. And He gave His life for you.

So I pray that His love would cast out our fears today, would help us in our struggles. And whatever obstacles we are facing, that Jesus might use them to transform us into the faithful disciples that He has called us to be. Amen.