“Faith Means Believing the Unbelievable”
Mark 2:1 - 12 & Mark 5:21 – 43
4 Myths, “Faith Means Believing the Unbelievable”
In the 1947 film Miracle on 34th Street, a department store Santa Claus is put on trial to be committed to a mental institution, because he claims he is the real Father Christmas.
His lawyer, a nice man named Fred Gailey, sets out to prove that he is the genuine article, and so, in order to convince the judge that that believing in unlikely things, is important some times, he says at one point, “Faith is believing in something, when common sense tells you not to.”
It’s not so different from American author Mark Twain’s famous comment, “Faith is believing what you know ain’t true.”
When I talk with my friends about faith,
When faith is discussed in the media, I often hear that understanding of faith being put forward.
And maybe that’s the kind of picture of faith that you’re working with.
Maybe you’re not a Christian, and at least part of the reason for that, is that you think faith means believing the unbelievable.
And if you are a Christian, you will almost certainly know people, who think that’s what faith is/
And so occasionally, someone might say to you, “I wish I had your faith”, which, when I hear that, what I think my friends are saying to me is, “I wish I could believe, even though it’s unbelievable”
“I wish I could believe, even though common sense tells me not to”,
“I wish I could believe, what I know isn’t true.”
I meet lots of people, who find some part of the Christian message attractive.
The promise of forgiveness,
Peace with God,
The hope of an eternity free from pain and suffering and the hurts of this world,
The sense of meaning and purpose that my Christian friends seem to have in spades,
Whatever it is, something about trusting in Jesus looks good, I wish I could have that, I just wish I had your faith, I just wish I could suspend my logical faculties, my desire for proof and evidence long enough, to believe.
You might have heard that,
You might be there right now.
But the way the Bible presents faith, is considerably different.
Real Faith – Convinced by the evidence and living according to it.
The faith that the Bible talks about, the faith that Christianity depends on, is being convinced by the evidence and living our lives according to it.
And so this morning, we’re going to look at these two snapshots from Jesus’ ministry, captured by the eye-witnesses, and written down for us by Mark, and that’s really the one thing I want us to take away, that faith is being convinced enough by the evidence, to live our lives according to it.
And these two snapshots, or 3 really, because the second one is 2 episodes woven together, make that same point. And since we’re really just trying to take away one point, we’ll look at the first snapshot in more detail and then move more quickly through the last two.
But also, at each point, we’ll contrast faith as it’s presented in the Bible, with a common misconception about faith.
Our normal pattern on Sundays is to work our way through sections of the Bible, But because in this series we’re asking questions that aren’t necessarily answered neatly in one particular place in the Bible we’re jumping around a bit, and talking perhaps a bit more philosophically about some of these issues.
So flick over if you will, to Mark chapter 2.
Encounter 1 – Jesus and a paralysed man
A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. 2 So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them.
Setting the scene, Jesus is teaching, and the things that he says,
The things that people have seen him do prior to this,
The God that he makes known,
People just can’t get enough.
So many people are crowding around, that when these men bring their friend, carried by four of them, they can’t get to Jesus.
I don’t know if you’re the sort of person who gives up easily, you know, “If at first you don’t succeed, destroy all evidence that you ever tried”!
Well not these guys, they don’t give up even though getting their friend to Jesus requires some minor demolition work on the house! they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on.
Whatever it is they’ve heard about Jesus,
Or witnessed for themselves, they’re convinced that he offers some kind of solution to their friend’s problem.
They know enough about Jesus to realise he has something to offer their friend, and they act accordingly.
False faith 1 – Alien Faith
See the faith of this man and his friends, isn’t like the popular misconception of faith, that is believing without any evidence.
Sometimes we’re told that understanding and knowledge falls into 2 categories,
There is science, and facts, all the things we can be sure of.
And on the other hand, there are some things that we can’t know for sure, and so to believe these things, requires faith, because there is no evidence, so we’re told.
Lots of my friends, lots of your friends, I’m sure, think of the world in those 2 categories.
So, in the journal Philosophy, Anthony Kenny, one of Britain’s leading philosophers defined faith as “a commitment in the absence of adequate evidence.”
This so-called “faith”, I call “Alien Faith”
As far as I can tell, there is no evidence that aliens from other planets have ever visited earth.
But the fact that there’s no evidence doesn’t stop people from believing that it’s happened.
Of course, the Internet is the best friend of these people, and if you read their stuff, they say you just have to believe, you have to take it on faith, despite the lack of evidence.
Thinking of these blokes in Mark 2, do you destroy someone’s roof, when there’s no evidence whatsoever, that Jesus can do anything for your friend?
Well, one would hope not, and you certainly wouldn’t be commended in the story like these men are!
The faith of these men is not leaping off, where the evidence stops, and just kind of taking it “on faith.”
They’re convinced enough about who Jesus is, and what he can do, to rain dirt and timber and sticks down on the crowd gathered below.
Evidence that gives us reason to believe
But what’s interesting about this episode, is not just that we see the faith of these men, real faith, that works itself out in action, but we also see the evidence that shows us, that faith in Jesus is reasonable and entirely justified.
Verse 5, When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7 “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Imagine you come to me and you say you need to go in for a heart operation, they’ve told you that you need a double bypass, and I whip out my pocket knife and say “That’s great! Let me do!”
Just carve a bit of artery out of your leg,
Crack open your chest,
Stick it all in there,
Cut, stitch, staple, easy!
And if you haven’t passed out at that point, from the thought of me performing surgery on you, you’re starting to wonder if I even have a theology degree, let alone something to do with bypass surgery!
You can’t do that surgery without the right training, the right accreditation!
That’s the reaction of the religious leaders in verse 6 and 7. “Forgive sins?! This is blasphemy! Who but God can forgive sins?!”
And according to their Scriptures, they were right. Forgiving sins is God’s job.
Now you might say, well, hang on, a minute, I can forgive someone if they sin against me.
How can these religious leaders say only God can forgive sins?
But the Bible tells us that the things I do wrong against you,
The things you do wrong against me,
They’re not the real issue, they’re symptoms of the real issue.
Painful symptoms, sure, that’s the thing with symptoms, isn’t it?, but they’re a sign of a bigger problem, the problem of sin, a our rebellion against God.
Perhaps you had chicken pox as a kid, and had those little red dots all over you,
The little red dots weren’t actually what was causing the problem. Sure they itch like nothing else, but they were just a symptom of the virus that was in your body.
You can cover the spots, are you better?, No, you’re still sick aren’t you
It’s the same when we hurt others; Wwe should ask them to forgive us, but the hurt we cause is really just a symptom, of the fact that we’ve wronged God, and rejected his pattern for life.
So if you hit Andy, Andy will forgive that offence, I’m very sure about that. But I can’t forgive you, for hitting Andy, can I?
Andy would be rightly perturbed if I start offering forgiveness to everyone who hits him!
And since sin is an offence against God, only God can forgive.
For Jesus then to say “your sins are forgiven” is what?
He’s going God’s job, isn’t he?
He’s equating himself with God, that’s why the religious leaders got mad, Jesus is claiming to be God.
Now of course, that’s an easy claim to make isn’t it?
Anyone can claim to be God.
I can claim to be God.
I can claim to be able to forgive sins.
It’s an invisible promise isn’t it?
You can’t tell by looking whether Jesus really can forgive this man’s sin.
It’s like if I were to say, “I can make you live longer.” That sounds good, doesn’t it?
But there’s no way you can tell whether I really can make you live longer, is there?
Even if you died tomorrow, I could still say, “Well you were going to die today, but I made you live longer!”
Jesus could have said “your sins are forgiven” and picked up where he left off in his little sermon and no one would have been able to tell one way or the other.
But see in this episode, Jesus makes 2 claims,
One that no one can see if it’s true or not,
And one that everyone can see if it’s true
No one can tell if Jesus can forgive,
But everyone will know straight away if Jesus can heal.
So Jesus says, I’ll give you evidence to believe the thing you can’t see, by showing you the thing you can see.
Verse 11 “Stand up, take your mat, and go home.”
And the paralysed man gets up, walks out, the mat that had carried him, he now carries, and everybody is amazed.
This kind of healing, instantaneous, with just a word, and this kind of forgiveness, they’re both the work of God, aren’t they.
If Jesus acts with God’s power when it comes to healing, there’s no reason at all to doubt he acts with God’s power when it comes to forgiveness.
So episode is about real faith, demonstrated by actions, but also about the evidence for faith in the first place.
Encounter 2 – Jesus and a sick woman
So now come over to Mark chapter 5, where we see the same thing, that real faith is being convinced by the evidence and living according to it.
In the midst of this story of Jairus, the synagogue ruler, we meet a woman who also seeks Jesus out, convinced that he offers a solution to her problem.
Verse 25, And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse.
This is a desperate situation, she’s an outcast.
She shouldn’t be in this crowd. Anyone she touches is ceremonially unclean, but, When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29 Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.
Her knowledge: Jesus can heal people.
That’s what she’s heard, that’s what she’s seen, that’s what people have told her.
She knows that all she needs to do is touch him, verse 2, If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.
False faith 2 – head-only “faith”
But before we see this knowledge, what she’s convinced of, overflow into her life, let’s think about another intellectual position that’s often confused for faith.
It’s what we might call “head-only faith”
I heard on the radio once about a well-known South Australian who did a theology subject at university, and had come top of his class in Scripture Knowledge. He got 100% in the exam.
Now I don’t think I ever got 100% for an exam at college, so this guy knew more about the Bible than I did,
But, he was an avowed atheist,
He had no trust is Jesus,
No faith in God,
No belief that he could be forgiven for his rebellion against God, or anything like that.
But his knowledge of what God had said,
What God claimed to be like,
What God wanted from his people, At an intellectual level was second to none.
He even had the university transcript to prove it!
It just never made the movement from his head to his life.
In contrast, Professor James Kugel, who used to teach a course on the Bible at Harvard that was regularly the most popular course in the whole university, with over 900 students enrolling each time, he wrote a book a few years ago, The Great Poems of the Bible, in
Kugel argues that simply knowing the stories, and even understanding the literary structure of the Bible is not the point. The Bible is God’s Word, the purpose of which is to make God known as a communicating, relating God.
Any understanding other than that, is a failed understanding.
You sometimes hear people talking about “head-knowledge” don’t you? And what I think they tend to mean is that someone has gained information up here (HEAD), but what they’ve learned hasn’t gone any further than that.
“Head-only faith” is nothing like Christian faith, is nothing like the faith this woman has, is it?
If she didn’t get any further than “head-only faith”, then on this day in Mark chapter 5, she would have been sitting at home,
Far from Jesus,
Far from the crowd,
Thinking “I know Jesus can heal, What a powerful man!”, but with no thought at all, of throwing cultural conventions to the wind, and reaching out and touching him.
She’s not content with just knowing, is she?
“Jesus can heal people.
Jesus can heal me.”
She takes the next step and her knowledge becomes faith when it drives her to action, when she’s so convinced that he can heal her that she’ll stop at nothing and she pushes through the crowd and touches Jesus.
She’s not intrigued by Jesus, because of what she heard about him on Oprah,
She’s not here in the crowd just to try something new,
She’s not having a new experience,
Or ticking something off her bucket list.
What’s her first conversation with her friends after this event going to go like?
“Ooh, he stimulated my thinking, he opened my mind to new horizons for self-empowerment.”
No, her understanding of Jesus moved from here (head) out into her life.
“I believe this man can heal me” So off she goes.
Despite the enormous crowd pressing around, Jesus is aware of her step of faith and he turns to her and says, verse 34, “Daughter, your great knowledge of me, and of my words and deeds has healed you.
Your knowledge of me is unsurpassed, go in peace”
Your faith has healed you!
The way you’ve lived your life, the steps you’ve taken because of the evidence,
Your absolute conviction that I can heal you, which took you to the point that you stepped out and touched, That’s what’s healed you. Go in peace.
Encounter 3 – Jesus and a desperate father
So finally, encounter 3, Jesus and a desperate father.
At the beginning of this section, we meet this synagogue ruler named Jairus.
His daughter is dying, and yet, what do his words and actions tell us?
Verse 23 he fell at Jesus’ feet 23 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.”
He knows that Jesus can help her,
Again, somehow he knows that Jesus can heal people,
It’s a small town, news travels fast, there is evidence circulating in the village, that Jesus can heal people.
This man believes that Jesus can heal his daughter, and is compelled into action.
Here is a religious leader in the community,
Well thought-of and respected by everyone,
A man who enjoyed a position of dignity and honour in the town, and he throws himself in the dirt, at the feet of a homeless, itinerant preacher, and begs for help.
What’s the Bible’s picture of faith, hopefully we’ve got it clear enough in our minds as we’ve seen it repeatedly, being convinced by the evidence and living according to it.
False faith 3 – Flat earth “faith”
See the 3rd thought process that is often called faith, and often confused for faith, is what we could perhaps call “flat-earth faith”, that is, believing something despite all the evidence to the contrary.
Have you ever heard of the International Flat Earth Society?
They believe the earth is flat. Or at least a cylinder, that maybe goes on forever. I couldn’t quite figure it out!
But they have conferences, they’ve got websites, www.theflatearthsociety.org, You can buy merchandise, a T-shirt with a flat earth on it!
Now, I made a quick but thorough review of the available scientific research this week, and all the evidence I could find, demonstrates that the Earth is roughly spherical, with a few bumps, and lumps.
But the members of the International Flat Earth Society, maintain their belief despite that evidence, They just ignore it, try to explain it away.
They’ve become such an example of this kind of “faith”, that the term “Flat Earther” is often used to for anyone who believes something despite all evidence to the contrary.
So the next time someone in your house refuses to take an umbrella,
When the sky is black,
And the weatherman’s forecasting storms,
And the SES are sandbagging the street,
You can call them a flat-earther.
Or remember the former Iraqi Information Minister, Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf. He’d appear on TV “There are no American forces in Baghdad”, all the while in the background of the camera shot, you can see American tanks rolling through the city!
There’s another example, actually, where the shoe is on the other foot.
You see, some people refuse to acknowledge the mountains of evidence, archeological, documentary, textual, historical, for the life of Jesus.
So I heard, in conversation this week, a line I’ve heard countless times, “If you believe in Jesus, why don’t you believe in the tooth fairy?!”
People seem to think it’s the great knock down argument against Christianity. But in fact when people say that, they’re just showing themselves to be either incredibly silly, or incredibly ignorant.
If you want to say Jesus is just a figment of people’s imagination, you have to ignore the testimony of hundreds of eye-witnesses,
Literally tens of thousands of written documents from the era of the New Testament and immediately following.
Documentary evidence from Jesus’ followers and his enemies, all in agreement.
To say that Jesus didn’t exist, or that the New Testament doesn’t record the events as they happened, is akin to putting your hands over your ears and singing to yourself when someone’s trying to tell you something!
Don’t confuse me with facts! I’ve already made up my mind!
Imagine that Jairus had heard, Jesus has tried to heal lots of people, but he hasn’t managed it yet.
He got close a couple of times!
The heartbeat nearly kept going but it didn’t.
Or if Jairus knew that everyone Jesus touched actually got sicker?
Would he have thrown himself at Jesus’ feet then?
Jump down with me, to verse 35, after the delay where Jesus interacts with the woman, some men came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher any more?”
Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”
The “just believe” is the same as the “faith” word, it’s the noun form of the word in verse 34, and it’s the verb in verse 36.
Have faith, Jesus says. Consider the evidence,
Consider what you’ve seen, in me healing this woman, consider the evidence, and live according to it.
Jesus doesn’t say “ignore this terrible situation, ignore how things appear and everything will be better” That’s the best solution to pain and suffering that something like Buddhism will give you.
It’s not, “Jairus it’s time to learn a bit more about looking inside yourself and transforming your reality”, which is what pop psychology and the New Age offers you.
No, “Just Believe”
Believe that Jesus can do for you what you know he’s done for others.
Believe that Jesus is the Son of the most high God as we would have read if we’d started at the beginning of the chapter.
Believe the evidence that points to Jesus as the victor over death.
Believe the evidence that says Jesus is God come in the flesh.
Jairus does have faith.
He’s convinced enough by what he’s learned about Jesus, to continue home, even though he knows his daughter has died.
And he witnesses the object of his faith at work, as Jesus, brings his daughter to life before his very eyes.
And this is where we need to remember something very important.
Faith is only as good, as strong, as reliable, as the object of our faith.
If I have faith that my office chair will hold me up, but one of the other staff has sawed through the legs, then no amount of faith is going to keep me from ending up in a heap on the floor!
If I have faith that I can drive from here to the city with my eyes shut, well that’s obvious isn’t it! No matter how much faith I have, I’m not going to get out of Littlehampton, let alone down the Freeway.
If in Mark chapter 5, this man or this woman have faith that Jesus, can heal, can raise the dead, but Jesus is just an ordinary man, then no amount of faith is going to stop their hearts being broken when he can’t do what they so desperately want him to do.
Everything, about faith, depends not on how much you have,
How strongly you hold to it,
How long you’ve believed it,
Jesus says that even faith the size of a mustard seed is powerful and effective,
But everything depends on the object of our faith, on the thing we have faith in
And the Bible tells us,
History records for us,
The evidence lays out for us,
And human experience testifies for us, that the one true reliable object of faith is Jesus.
You may have heard the story of Charles Blonding, the French tightrope walker, who in 1859 crossed the gorge below Niagara Falls numerous times, on a 3 inch rope.
On one occasion, he asked the crowd, and up to 25,000 people gathered to watch him do these things, he asked, if people believed he could push a wheelbarrow the 330 metres across the falls.
“Yes, yes, we believe you can “, they said, and so with much cheering he pushes the wheelbarrow across.
So he turns to the crowd again, “Do you believe I can push the wheelbarrow, with a person in it, across the Falls?”
“Yes, yes, we believe you can”, And of course being the consummate showman, he’s whipped the crowd up into a frenzy!
And so he says, “I’m so pleased you believe I can push the wheelbarrow, with a person in it, across the Falls, now who wants to be the person in the wheelbarrow?”
Not a single hand!
That’s not faith, is it?
And neither is believing the unbelievable.
But what are you going to do in your life, in the light of who Jesus is, and the claims he makes on you?