36 Jesus overheard what the messengers said but ignored it. In an effort to encourage Jairus, he said, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” Jesus’ word of assurance must have been just what Jairus needed. He in no way tried to dissuade Jesus from resuming his journey to the child’s bedside.
5:36 Don’t be afraid; just believe. Jairus is utterly devastated by the terrible news that while he was beseeching Jesus for help, his daughter had died. Everyone assumes that it is too late and so naturally concludes that there is no use to “bother the teacher anymore.” They need mourners now; it is too late for healers. Jesus is a great “teacher” but has power over illness only as long as there is life. Jairus had shown a modicum of faith when he had thrown himself at Jesus’s feet earlier. Now he needs more faith—the woman’s faith commended by Jesus in 5:34. He must “believe” like she did. As in 4:40, fear is the antithesis of faith, an earth-centered rather than God-centered reaction to life’s tragedies. As David Garland says, Jairus must realize “that faith is something that trusts in the midst of hopelessness.”
36. Ignoring what was being spoken, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, Fear not, only believe. Though Jesus hears the words of the messengers (Luke 8:50), he pays no attention to them. With majestic calmness he refuses completely to lend an ear to the heralds of doom, the messengers of despair. He wants Jairus to do the same.
Jairus is afraid. Now it is not easy to drive out fear. There is only one way to do it, namely, by firmly believing in the presence, promises, pity, and power of God in Christ. It takes the positive to drive out the negative (Rom. 12:21).
Throughout the history of redemption it has ever been thus. When it seemed that all was lost, believers placed their trust in God and were delivered (Ps. 22:4; Isa. 26:3, 4; 43:2). This was true with respect to Abraham (Gen. 22:2; James 2:22), Moses (Exod. 14:10 f.; 32:10, 30–32), David (1 Sam. 17:44–47; Ps. 27), and Jehoshaphat (2 Chron. 20:1, 2, 12), to mention but a few. When the need was highest help was nighest.
This was true also in the case of Jairus. The word of encouragement was not in vain. He took it to heart (Matt. 9:18) and was heard.
36. And so to Jairus as well as to the disciples comes the command to abstain from fear and, instead, to only believe. The one condition of God’s working is that we trust him: this is not an arbitrary demand, but a demand necessarily springing from the very nature of the relation between Godhead and humanity. We are called to trusting, dependent love and obedience, for this is the biblical meaning of faith, not merely intellectual assent. Such faith is the only fitting expression of our helplessness, and the only fitting acknowledgment of God’s power; and so it is an essential to salvation, though it is only the means of God’s working, and not the source. This is what distinguishes the miracles of Jesus from so-called ‘faith healings’ brought about by mechanical psychological means alone: this is also what distinguishes them from mere magic, with no moral or religious content.
Ver. 36. Be not afraid, only believe.—
Only believe:—The circumstances in which our Lord uttered these simple but memorable words … Did He say this for the sake of Jairus alone? Nay, surely not! I take these precious words of our Lord, and now especially apply them to one who is seeking forgiveness, but who feels as if he need scarcely hope, as if he could never be a child of God, &c. If you have some such feelings, it is just to you I say, “Be not afraid, only believe!” 1. There are some, many, alas! and the Bible scarcely contains a word which I should not sooner think of addressing to them than, “Be not afraid!” O that I could make them be afraid! Who are they? Persons who are not, and perhaps never were troubled with fear about their souls. God is too merciful to cast them out, or they are not wicked enough to be lost, or they are sure to be converted before they die, or they can make up for past defects by good living for the future. 2. But to thee who like Jairus art troubled in heart and seeking help from Christ, and over whose hopes dark feelings pass, as if it was all in vain, all too late—to thee I say, “Be not afraid!” While a man remains indifferent as to his soul, the great deceiver seeks to persuade him that nothing is so easy as salvation; but the moment conscience becomes awake, and the man begins in earnest to ask, What must I do to be saved? the deceiver changes his voice. Now, nothing is so difficult, so impossible, as salvation. Before, it was too soon; now, it is too late. “Be not afraid, only believe!” (1) Be not afraid that the day of grace is past. Why are you thinking upon your soul? Because God is still calling you, &c. While you have one desire in your heart to say, “Lord Jesus, if Thou wilt have mercy on such as I, here I lay me at Thy feet, O save me!” your day of grace is not, cannot be, past. (2) Be not afraid that your sins are too many. I do not believe you have any idea how many they really are. But you must not think that they are greater than the mercies of God. 3. When He said to Jairus, “Only believe,” what idea did it convey? Simply, trust to Me. You are not walking with Him side by side; you cannot look into His countenance or hear the unearthly power of His words. But He is as close to you as He was to Jairus. When He said “Only believe,” the hopeless father had no alternative but either to feel He is not trusted, or to feel He will save her after all. Had he looked down to the ground, probably he would have felt the first. If he looked full into the face of Jesus, he would feel, He cannot lie: it seems impossible, but I must trust Thee. So with you. (1) Believe that He is able to save thee. Make out as bad a case against yourself as ever you can. In full knowledge of this, fix your helpless soul upon His atonement, upon His intercession. (2) Believe that He is willing to save you. The Lord has sealed His willingness with these words, “Him that cometh to Me, I will in no wise cast out.” (3) Believe that He is ready to save you. “But I am not prepared”: He is. (4) Believe that He will save you. This you must do. The woman came saying, “If I may but touch the hem of His garment, I shall be made whole.” It was this faith that saved her. (William Arthur, M.A.)
Be not afraid, only believe:—This exhortation has two sides—the negative and the positive.
- In its negative aspect. (1) it does not apply to the reckless and the ungodly, for there is never a period of their lives in which they ought not to fear. They have to fear—life and death, present, past, and future, earth and heaven, time and eternity. The very breath they breathe may be charged with its mission of judicial punishment; (2) but to those who are striving to live in accordance with the requirements of the Divine will. When the soul has found her foundation to be the Rock of Ages, and her rest in God; when the earnest of the Divine Spirit is received and felt as a quickening power, then there is no need for alarm.
- In its positive aspect (1) it indicates a means by which we may obtain release from causes which justify fear. Christ is the central object of trust. He is able to save, and He is willing. Here is a strong and lasting foundation; (2) it is just the message needed by those who are turning away from the spirit of the world, who feel it cannot meet their wants when the heart stoops with grief, and when its fondest ties are being broken. It may be, that when they turn to God, great difficulties present themselves. Old habits are strong, the tendencies of the passions are earthward, and religion seems gloomy and unattractive. Besides, a deep sense of guilt and shame oppress the soul. Thus the trial of faith is severe. Still the remedy is simple. Trust wholly in God, and submit yourself to Him. “Only believe” is to acknowledge God’s power and one’s own helplessness. It is a thing of instinct and of reason. (W. D. Horwood.)
- Faith. It is faith that sends him on this errand; faith in Jesus as a healer, for at first his faith only reached thus far. But Jesus leads him on; and ends with realizing in Him the raiser of the dead. Faith often begins with little and ends in much; it begins with a trickling streamlet, and ends with a full broad river.
- Faith giving way. Does not faith often fail thus? We can go to Him for a little thing; not for a great. Instead of feeling that the worse the case the greater the glory to His power and love, we stop short, and cease to expect anything from Him.
III. Faith strengthened. “Fear not,” &c.
- Faith victorious. The victory is resurrection.
- Unbelief rebuked. Excluded from the glorious spectacle. (H. Bonar, D.D.)
- Concerning this fear. 1. Fearfulness is common in applicants to the Saviour, and it springs from such sources as the following: (1) Ignorance of the power and resources of the Saviour. We may believe that He can heal disease, but doubt that He can raise the dead. (2) From morbid imagination of danger and of mischief. These we exaggerate. (3) Hardness of heart towards Christ’s chief display of love, especially that manifestation of His mercy which He has given by dying for us. (4) Then there is the memory and the consciousness of sin. 2. There can be nothing in the circumstances of an applicant to Jesus Christ to justify fear. Jesus does not reject you for sin, weakness, sadness—nothing is difficult to Him. He will do all at the right time. 3. Fearfulness when cherished is positively displeasing to the Saviour. It is groundless, dishonouring, injurious to ourselves.
- Concerning trust. 1. Trust in Jesus is His due. 2. It is not always easy. 3. Are you all applicants to Jesus Christ? “Be not afraid.” Trust for the knowledge which is essential to life and salvation. (S. Martin.)
The charge of Christ under affliction:—1. When difficulties are numerous and complicated. 2. When temptations are powerful and malignant. 3. When sickness occurs and is continued. 4. When bereaving providences are experienced. 5. What is the character and influence of our faith under these painful circumstances? (T. Wallace.)
Faith:—Much is said in the Word of God of the principle of faith. The place that it occupies in the scheme of redemption is a very important one. It is essential to salvation. Without it we must remain destitute of all its blessings. This will be evident if we apply it—
- To the general doctrine of salvation. To every inquirer for salvation we say, “Only believe.” Not that faith is the originating cause of salvation, for that were to deny the free grace of God; nor that faith is the procuring cause of salvation, for that were to set aside the efficacy of Christ’s atonement; nor that faith is the efficient cause of salvation, for that were to set aside the agency of the Holy Spirit: but we say that faith is the instrumental cause of salvation, that without the exercise of which no individual can experience salvation. This is the doctrine of the gospel (Acts 16:31; 13:39; Eph. 2:8; Romans 3:20–28; 5:1). 1. This method of salvation conveys most glory to God. 2. This method of salvation alone produces real obedience. 3. This method is in accordance with the other parts of redemption. Let us apply the principle before us—
- To the case of the true penitent.
III. To Christian believers.
- To the trials and sufferings of the Christian life. It is applicable—1. To seasons of temptation. 2. To seasons of afflictive providences. (W. M. Bunting.)
- The persons to whom the text is applicable. The case of Jairus. There was an evil he wanted to remove. A danger he wanted to prevent. A blessing he wanted to procure. 1. The first qualification of souls coming to Jesus is a sense of want, some evil to be removed, &c. 2. This sense of want brings us out of ourselves—out of dependence on mere external means. 3. The expression of our wants in earnest supplication. 4. Jairus came to Christ in faith.
- The nature of the delightful duty and privilege. 1. Fear is a painful feeling, arising from the apprehension of some evil. A man at the feet of Jesus need not indulge in tormenting fear, for there is no evil he is in danger of but he may be saved from—no blessing he needs but he may secure. “Fear not,” &c. 2. What is this believing—what is faith? Sometimes it is called looking, receiving, &c.
III. The right you have to all the encouragement in the text. 1. If you have the sense of need, and if you are at the feet of Jesus, then you have an absolute, personal, Scriptural right to appropriate the salvation of God as your own. You are just where a sinner ought to be, &c. 2. You have a right because you comply with the invitation. 3. You are at the central point of all the promises. All “yea and amen” in Him. 4. Will you still indulge in tormenting fear? “Yes,” says one, “You don’t know what reason I have to fear,” &c. Enumerate the various sources of fear, and show that no sinner need fear who is truly penitent and at the feet of Jesus. (W. Dawson.)
Only believe:—Mr. Moody was one night preaching in Philadelphia; near the pulpit sat a young lady, who listened with eager attention, drinking in every word. After he had done talking, he went to her. “Are you a Christian?” “No,” she replied, “I wish I was; I’ve been seeking Jesus for three years.” Mr. Moody replied, “There must be some mistake.” “Don’t you believe me?” said the distressed girl. “Well, no doubt you think you have been seeking Jesus; but, believe me, it don’t take three years for a seeking soul to meet a seeking Saviour.” “What am I to do, then?” “You have been trying to do long enough; you must just believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” “Oh!” said the young lady, “I am so tired of that word: ‘Believe,’ ‘believe,’ ‘believe!’ I don’t know what it means.” “Then we’ll change the word, and say, ‘trust.’ ” “If I say, ‘I’ll trust Him,’ will He save me?” “I don’t say that, for you may say ten thousand things; but if you do trust Him, He certainly will.” “Well,” said she, “I do trust him; but I don’t feel any better!” “Ah!” said Mr. Moody, “I see; you’ve been looking for feelings for three years, instead of looking to Jesus.” If the translators of the Bible had everywhere inserted “feelings” instead of “faith,” what a run there would be upon the book. But God does not say a word about feelings from Genesis to Revelation. With men “seeing is believing” but with the believer “believing is seeing.” An orphan child was once asked by her little friend, “What do you do without a mother to tell your troubles to?” “Mother told me to go to Jesus; He was mother’s Friend, and He’s my Friend too,” was the simple reply. “But He is a long way off; He won’t stop to mind you.” Her face brightened, as she said: “I don’t know about that, but I know He says He will, and that’s enough for me.” And should not that be enough for you and me? (Anon.)
|“overhearing what was being spoken”
|“as soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken”
|“overhearing what they said”
|“Jesus paid no attention to what they said”
|“ignoring what they said”
The Greek root means “to hear carelessly.” It can be understood as “ignore” or “overhear.” This term is so ambiguous that very early the scribes changed it to the term “hear” (cf. MSS אa, A, C, D, and K), which is found in the Lukan parallel, 8:50.
“ ‘Do not be afraid any longer’ ” This is a PRESENT IMPERATIVE with a NEGATIVE PARTICLE which usually means stop an act in process. The opposite of fear is faith!
“ ‘only believe’ ” This is another PRESENT ACTIVE IMPERATIVE. Such a simple, but crucial, statement (cf. Acts 16:31).
 Wessel, W. W., & Strauss, M. L. (2010). Mark. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, p. 775). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Utley, R. J. D. (2000). The Gospel according to Peter: Mark and I & II Peter (Vol. Volume 2, p. 66). Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International.