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The Man Who Had Three Ears!

Mark 5:22-24, 35-43

The scene bristles with a sense of drama…

Two men are striding, side by side, across the countryside in a race against time. One was a young, Galilean carpenter/preacher named Jesus. The other was the older, distinguished ruler of the synagogue named Jairus. Earlier Jairus had come rushing up to Jesus and said to Him: “My daughter is at the point of death, will you come to help her?” And Jesus, who never disappoints any of us, didn’t disappoint Jairus. The two of them set off together to see if they could outrun death to the little girl.

While they were on the way, they encountered messengers from the house of Jairus. The messengers quickly pulled Jairus aside and said to him: “Your daughter is dead. No longer is she at death’s door, she has crossed the portal from which no one ever returns. Don’t bother Jesus any longer. He might have helped earlier, but now it is too late. Come on home and weep with your family and your friends. Death is decisive. It’s all over. It’s the end. It’s finished. There’s nothing else to say, nothing else to do. Call it quits and come home.” That was the message they delivered to Jairus.

What did Jesus do at that point? Did He proceed to offer condolences? Did He extend a word and a gesture of sympathy? No. Mark says that He ignored what they said. Why? Well, because Jesus understood that Jairus had two ears on his head, and with those ears he had heard the message of death. But Jesus also understood that Jairus had a third ear. The ear of the heart—and Jesus wanted Jairus to hear with that ear the deeper message of life. Jesus then directed two imperatives to the ear of Jairus’ heart. He said: “Do not be afraid! Keep on believing!” That’s all Jesus said in answer to death. “Don’t be afraid; keep on believing!”

Now imagine the predicament of Jairus. In the ears on his head, he had heard the word of death spoken, and death is final. But in the ear of his heart, he heard Jesus say that death is not final, that faith has spoken, and that life is supreme.” It’s almost as if at that moment, Jairus stood at the precipice point of human existence. It’s almost as if he were on the razor’s edge of eternity and the watershed of faith. It’s almost as if he were being forced to make the ultimate choice in life. “Will I believe the words of the messengers—’death,’ ‘come home,’ ‘weep,’ ‘it’s over’?” “Or will I believe the words of Jesus—’life,’ ‘hope,’ ‘faith,’ ‘God’?” Which would he do? Which would you do? Yes, the scene bristles with drama.

Before we leap toward an answer, I believe that we need to realize that this little vignette from Scripture captures the very essence of our existence. You see, all through life, a thousand times a day, people are whispering in our ears the message of death, while in our hearts, Jesus is whispering the message of life. That’s the ultimate choice, the decisive decision in life. Are we going to live on the assumption that death is final, that decay and extinction finally win? Or are we going to live on the assumption that life is hope, and God will finally prevail? Are we going to listen with the ears on our heads and give up? Or are we going to listen with the ear of our hearts and keep on believing?

Let’s spell out the choice in three areas of our lives…

First of all, listen to what we hear from the physical world of which we are a part.

So many times when we look at the world of nature we see and hear death. We look where there were once great forests, but now instead of virgin timber, we see only the scalped surface of the earth. We look at fields with their furrowed brows of erosion and we remember that what used to be fertile has now been swept away and taken to the sea. We look at once-crystal-clear springs and see them polluted where no fish can swim. We drive through rolling hills once covered with the rich, royal green of citrus groves, but now after killer freezes, they are like wastelands with barren, twisted trees stuck like ghostly antlers into the earth. Yes, so many times the world around us seems to be groaning and convulsing in what appears to be the tremors of death.

It happens to our own bodies. Before we put on the paint and the powder and the polish, we look into the mirror and every little wrinkle and the crow’s feet around the eyes whisper a message to us—telltale signals that we are in a long 60, 70, 80 or 90 year process of dying. And there are so many people who are unnerved by the message. Marlene Dietrich, a movie star, is well into her seventies. And I suppose that if the lights are right and the make-up is in place, then you could probably say that she looks young. In any case, there is no doubt that she tries to look young. She was asked by a reporter what she fears most in life. She replied instantly: “Death.”

No one has expressed it more clearly than Simone de Beauvoir. With her keen intelligence and great sensitivity she spent the whole second half of her life rebelling against the fact that it was all downhill. At age 57, she wrote: “The most important thing in my life now is that I am growing old. How is it that time which has no form or substance can crush me with so huge a weight that I can no longer breathe. Long before the carcass is sloughed off, I will have died a thousand times.”

So the messengers came to Jairus to say: “Everything physical, everything natural, everything earthly—it’s all going to die. Call it quits, Jairus; give up. Death has the last word.” But then Jesus, ignoring what the messengers said, spoke to the ear of Jairus’ heart and said: “Do not be afraid; keep on believing!”

Yes, keep on believing for the Gospel of Jesus Christ declares that life, not death, has the last word. Over against the messengers to Jairus and Marlene Dietrich and Simone de Beauvoir, I would set a man like Frank Needham. When I served as his pastor a few years back, he was well up into his eighties. He wore his silver hair as a badge of honor and he wore his faith as evidence of the power in his life. On one occasion he said to me: “Howard, I wouldn’t trade this delicious vintage of maturity for all the twenty-year-olds in the world. I can’t wait to see what the years will yet bring.” He had heard the message of Jesus in his third ear—the ear of his heart. Because of that, he was not afraid. He was ready to keep on believing.

Next, listen to what we hear from the flow of history around us.

On the one hand, history has a thousand voices saying: “Things are dying.” There are whole nations which once boasted of great accomplishments in civilization, but which now exist only on the pages of history books. Arnold Toynbee, the historian, catalogued twenty-one civilizations which reached a pinnacle on this earth and then faded away into oblivion. What will the number ultimately be? Forty or eighty or one hundred? Nations die, movements die, civilizations die. That’s the word history whispers in our ears.

Christianity knows something about that. It is built upon One whose existence is historical fact. He came and lived and worked and played. He had scarcely begun His ministry—three years at most—when history tragically cut Him down. In a week—a terribly, bloody week—it was all over. History had impaled Him on a cross. Once again, the message of history seemed to prevail. The message is this: “Life, sooner or later, always grinds out the fairer things. Therefore, you had better get what you can. You had better compromise where you will. You had better cut your losses and go home. For history is winding down like an old clock. It will all come to naught.” That’s the message we hear in our ears.

But on the other hand, we have the ear of the heart. There we hear a different message. It says that history is not what Gibbon called it, “a record of the crimes and follies and misfortunes of humankind.” History is not “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, but signifying nothing.” History is not one long sob of despair. No! Remember the One whom history ground under its heel on Calvary? Three days later there was an empty tomb. What does that mean? It means that history doesn’t just die. It comes alive.

Look at the history of the Church. Every time it has appeared to be on the verge of being buried by its critics, a new surge of life seems to come from nowhere. People we never would have expected rise up to reclaim the faith and to seize the promise and to live again. Christianity has not proved that it knows how to grow old gracefully after 2,000 years of history. Instead, the Church has proved that it knows the secret of being born again and again and again in generation after generation—to live—not die—to live as long as the Lord intends.

Therefore, do not be afraid of the swirling threat of international tension. Though it may seem that things are dying out in this world, keep on believing in your heart. Keep on believing that “this is our Father’s world; the battle is not done; Jesus who died shall be satisfied, and earth and heaven will be one.” Keep on believing.

Then listen to what we hear from the experience of our own lives.

There are those dark nights of the soul in our experience. There are those shadowed moments in life. There are those times when the problems and the difficulties of life mount up and threaten to overthrow us. There are those times when we mutter, if only to ourselves, “I wish I were dead.” And what we are saying is that we are up against a blank wall, a dead end. We don’t know what to say or what to do. We are immobilized by the difficulties and we are ready to give up. That’s what those messengers said to Jairus. They said: “Your daughter is dead, the mourners have gathered, the family is weeping, give up. There’s nothing else you can do.” And we know the feeling, don’t we?

Yet we also know, don’t we, that what happens is in a surprising moment—maybe it’s in the words of a sermon, maybe it’s in a quiet moment of prayer, maybe it’s when you read a particular book, maybe it’s at sunset on the crest of a mountain, maybe it’s when someone you love holds you close—something comes alive in you. You can’t manipulate it or coerce it or control it. It’s the God-given will to live. It’s the voice of Jesus in your heart giving you an indomitable determination. And in the moment, you know that no matter what may happen in life you will keep on believing. You will never give up.

I am learning that all over again from my Dad. My mother, as many of you know, is a victim of Alzheimer’s Disease. Her mental capacity is now so completely destroyed that she cannot communicate. She has returned to an infant stage where she cannot tend to her own needs. All she can do is cry. My dad is with her at meal time. He feeds her each bite just the way my mom used to feed me. Then he sits awhile and talks to her—just talks—she cannot respond. Oh, sometimes she speaks but the words are nonsense, just words, no meaning. I have watched him in the midst of it all and I have seen what it is doing to him. I asked: “Dad, how can you keep doing it? Don’t you feel like giving up?” He looked at me with that fire of faith that’s always burned in his eyes and he said: “I love her and I have faith. I don’t understand it all, but I still believe.”

That’s the message I want to speak to the ears of your heart. Stake your belief upon Jesus Christ. Write it upon your heart. Build your whole life around it. And never—I repeat, never—let it go. No matter what anyone may say, no matter what circumstances may befall you, keep on believing.

Well…

Look again at Jesus and Jairus. The messengers said to Jairus: “It’s too late, your daughter is dead.” But Jesus ignored the message and He said to Jairus: “Don’t be afraid; keep on believing.” And Jairus chose to listen not to the messengers, but to Jesus. The Bible says that Jesus then went to the house of Jairus. The people there laughed at Him, ridiculing Him for having faith in the face of the hard reality of death. Jesus wouldn’t be stopped. He put everybody else outside the house—and catch the drama of this—and He took the child’s parents and three of His disciples with Him. They walked into the little girl’s room. Jesus then went to her bed and He picked up her now lifeless little hand and He cried out: “Talitha Cumi”—”Little girl, get up!” And the little girl rose.

Keep on believing. My friends, no matter what you may encounter in life, no matter what hurts or hazards, no matter what trials or tragedies, please remember that you can never be beaten unless you surrender. You can never be finally defeated in life unless you give up.

So… Keep on believing.

Keep on believing.

KEEP ON BELIEVING!

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