It has been said – and then disputed – that the phrase ‘Don’t be afraid’ occurs 365 times in the Bible, one for each day of the year. Whether there are 365 or not doesn’t really matter – for every day we can remind ourselves that God says ‘Don’t be afraid’.
Some days we will need that message more than others. Perhaps New Year’s Eve is one of those days. While some of us are glad to leave the past behind and impatient to embrace the future, others of us will be more hesitant, wondering what the future will hold and perhaps feeling somewhat fearful as we step into the unknown.
One of the biblical passages where we find the command ‘Don’t be afraid’ is in Mark 5:36. It is the story of Jairus’s daughter. Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue, had come to Jesus and asked him to come home with him to heal his little daughter who was at the point of death. On the way, Jesus was thronged by the crowds who were pressing in on Him and among them was a poor woman who had been ill for 12 years. She wanted to touch the hem of His robe for she knew that only a touch would heal her – and so it did. But all of that took time – and time was of the essence for Jairus and his daughter.
Messengers arrived from his house to tell him that his daughter had already died and it wasn’t worth bringing Jesus home after all. But when Jesus heard that, He turned to Jairus and said ‘Do not fear, only believe’.
What? A father has just been told that his daughter has died and Jesus says…….what? ‘Do not fear, only believe’.
I wonder what Jairus was fearing in those moments? The fear of death is strong in each of us. It is our last enemy. It is our common enemy. Rich and poor, educated and illiterate, young and old – we are all touched by the fear of death. It respects no boundaries – of race, of education, of geography, of time.
Jairus had just received terrible news – perhaps the worst news he could have ever received – and Jesus says ‘Do not fear, only believe’. Why did Jesus say that? Was He negating Jairus’s fear, invalidating his emotions? I remember once, in the midst of great discouragement, a well-meaning friend saying ‘Don’t be discouraged’. I felt like a cup of cold water had been thrown over me. It did nothing to help me feel better – because my friend was helpless to make anything different.
But Jesus continues His journey to Jairus’s house, where he takes Jairus’s daughter by the hand and raises her from her sleep of death. In the Presence of Jesus, everything changed: death turned to life, grief turned to joy. (I love the end of the story where Jesus tells them to give the little girl something to eat – it is as if they are so overcome with amazement that they forget to do that.)
So, as we step into 2013, God is whispering to each of us ‘Do not fear, only believe’. What are your fears for the New Year? They will be different from mine. ‘Do not fear, only believe’. Believe what? Not that there is nothing to fear, not that God will somehow protect us from all evil and suffering – but that as we face our fears with Him, we will find that His Presence changes everything. Whether we get bad news, whether the worst happens that we could possibly imagine, the Presence of Jesus makes the difference. In His Presence, death gives way to life; despair is replaced by hope; darkness is extinguished by light; sorrow turns into joy.
Jesus is saying to you and me, on the threshold of a New Year, ‘Don’t be afraid. Trust Me. Take Me with you – I will make all the difference.’