There is a poignant scene in the gospel of Mark when Jairus, one of the synagogue officials, fell at Jesus’ feet and begged that Jesus would come and lay His hands on his daughter, who was near death. Immediately, of course, Jesus went off with the grief stricken man and a great multitude traveled with them. In this mass of people was the woman who had had a hemorrhage for 12 years. She reached out, with faith, and touched the “hem of His garment” and was instantly healed!
The moving part of this story happens next, as, in the intervening time, the little girl has now died! You and I both know it is one thing to ask Jesus for healing but quite another to ask for resurrection.
While He was still speaking, they came from the house of the synagogue official, saying, “Your daughter has died; why trouble the Teacher anymore?” But Jesus, overhearing what was being spoken, said to the synagogue official, “Do not be afraid any longer, only believe.” (Mk 5:35-36)
I love what Jesus did to keep faith alive, and unbelief out, in the heart of Jairus. We can’t believe that He “overheard what was being spoken” for Himself. He refused to listen to the report of the little girl’s death for the father’s sake, for Jairus!
The NASB Bible says Jesus was “overhearing what was being spoken”. The word in Greek for “overhearing” is parakouo. It is a word used only 3 times in the NT, and means to mishear, (by implication) to disobey — neglect to hear. The other use of this word brings this out more clearly:
“If he refuses to listen [parakousē] to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen [parakousē] even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Mtt 18:17 NASB)
Jesus refused to listen to — or better said He neglected to even hear — the report of her death and sought to strength Jairus in his faith walk: “Do not be afraid any longer, only believe.” By keeping faith alive in the heart of Jairus and by purposefully refusing to hear a bad report, Jesus kept unbelief out as well. Jesus knew that the little girl would arise! He needed Jairus to keep on believing for the miracle to take place.
“Because of your unbelief”
Remember when the disciples asked Jesus privately why they couldn’t cast the evil spirit out of the young boy? (Mtt 17:19) Jesus didn’t say that they didn’t have enough faith; He said that they had too much unbelief! In a show of good faith they had made the attempt to drive out the demon in the boy and had seen success before in their other efforts. But this time they failed!
Jesus pointed to their unbelief, possibly stemming from the great (physical) disturbances the demon was producing in the boy – such as foaming at the mouth, slamming him to the ground and leaving him there stiff, or throwing the boy into the fire or water to kill himself!
Jesus said unto them, “Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.” (Mtt 17:20 KJB)
Jesus declares that the issue isn’t a lack of faith; He even tells them that if they had just a “little faith” that would do – the faith of a mustard seed. It was an unbelief issue, a doubt-in-their-hearts issue. Tragically, we in the western church have been told that it was their faith that was too small: “Because of the littleness of your faith.” (NIV, NASB, Holman). This is a poor translation and really points us in the wrong direction. We beat ourselves over the head trying to produce MORE FAITH and forget about the unbelief running rampant in our hearts.
To help you see this I offer this commentary:
The Revised Version adopts the reading, “little faith”, in accordance with the best authorities; but it looks like a softening of the original term “unbelief,” which corresponds better with Christ’s own censure, “O faithless generation.” Mtt 17:17 (Pulpit Commentary)
“Faith comes by hearing” and so does unbelief – you need to get this! It comes from us hearing (and fixating on) the report that the little girl is dead! Unbelief comes from listening to the tests and clinical reports of the Doctors, who I might add, are paid to give us the worst case scenarios. (If you doubt that one just ask my wife!) Actually, unbelief is crouching at our front door everyday through media, neighbors and even well-meaning Believers.
You might be asking, “Jeff, what difference does it make for me personally whether my translation reads ‘little faith’ or ‘unbelief’?” Well, it matters hugely when it comes to the practical application in our own lives while we are praying and believing for healing, for ourselves or a loved one. The things we think upon, focus on, mediate upon, listen to and speak out can either grow our faith or grow our unbelief.
Do I meditate upon the facts of my illness, the predictions of the doctors or the truth of the Word of God? Can we put our faith to work in the things the Spirit whispers to us, even if they might stand in total opposition to reason? Do I listen to the negative report of the “men coming from Jairus’ house” or do I stubbornly say to my heart “Do not be afraid, only believe”?
The difference seems small but in my understanding it is enormous. Here’s to great faith and less and less unbelief! AMEN.