Failing faith - Mark 5:24-34
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
One of the advantages of being born in the TV age is that it makes it easy to date us. For example, anyone who was a child when B.A. Barracus was on the small screen, that gentle giant of the 'A' team, was born in the late 70's early 80's. The game is simple: correlate the childhood memory with the date of the TV programme and you can guess what generation that person belong to. Well, let me give my age away by saying that when I was glued to the box in my early years a new character hit the screen advertising white chocolate, called 'The Milky Bar Kid'. Here you had a blond haired 7 year old with national health specs, who rode into town to arrest some nasty looking bully, on the strength of eating Milky Bars. Now, I was too slow to appreciate the mismatch between the way this kid looked weak and anaemic- and the song of the commercial which claimed 'The Milky bar kid is strong and tough.' That didn't matter it did the job in getting me hooked on Milky Bars. What is more, there was the added attraction of being able to send off for two Milky Bar badges by collecting the sweet wrappers. This I did. And just to show how simple things please simply minds, one of my prize possessions was the Milky Bar Nightrider badge, which actually glowed in the dark: great stuff for 1960. Each night I would climb into my bunk bed and there beside me would be the soft, green glow of my badge. Not much light, but enough to offer comfort to a little boy in a room which seems so dark.
And I guess it was like that for the woman who met with Jesus in the passage we are looking at this morning- having a little light which was just enough for her dark world. So do turn with me to Mark chapter 5 and verse 24 as we look at it under three headings, a desperate situation, a daring faith and a divine response.
To describe her situation as desperate would be something of an understatement-v 24: 'A large crowd followed and pressed around Jesus. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 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 delicate was of saying that she suffered from an acute menstrual disorder. There was a perpetual flow of blood and this had been going on for 12 years would you believe? Now this would be difficult for a woman living in any age, but especially for a Jewish woman living at the time of Jesus. There would be no part of her life which went unaffected. Physically she would be drained. Sexually she could not touch her husband. Maternally she could not bear children. Domestically everything she came into contact with was considered 'unclean'. Socially she was avoided for fear of contamination, and spiritually she was excluded from worship in the temple. This is a woman physically exhausted, socially isolated and spiritually bankrupt. Now do you see why to call her situation 'desperate' is an understatement?
So little wonder that she had done the rounds of the doctors' surgeries in search of a cure, no matter how remote or painful. And the treatments she had been subjected to had been just that, appallingly painful. Notice, 'She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors.' The Jewish writing called the Talmud prescribed no fewer than eleven so called 'cures' for such a condition. No doubt she had tried them all however bizarre or humiliating like the one which involved carrying the ashes of an ostrich egg in a linen cloth. But when you are desperate you will do that sort of thing won't you?
But then to add insult to injury, financial strain was dumped onto physical strain- for we are told, 'she had spent all the money she had'. The result? 'She grew worse instead of better.' There was no light at the end of the tunnel for this woman. The tunnel was getting darker by the hour and seemed endless.
But there was one faint glimmer of light, and that was the man who had just come into town on an errand of mercy- Jesus. And so steadily, she made her way towards him. After all had not the prophet Isaiah said that when God's servant came a 'bruised reed he would not break.'? And if ever there was one who qualified for that description, here she was.
Now there are those, and there are some Christians amongst them, who think that it is somehow unworthy or inferior to approach God on a 'need only' basis like this woman. They somehow think that God has more important things to be bothered about than their concerns, as Jesus here had something more important to do, namely to get to a young girl whose life was rapidly ebbing away- Jairus's daughter. The thought is that such prayers for help are selfish and it is better to struggle on alone, keeping up a brave face. But when you stop and think about it for a moment, you soon realize that such thoughts are entirely misplaced. There is nothing selfish or unworthy about a road accident victim asking for an ambulance, even though there may be other more serious cases around. Well, neither is there anything unworthy about recognizing our need and coming to the one who alone can supply that need- God- however he may choose to meet it. And is not often the case that those who think they have it all health, wealth, fame and fortune, hardly ever give God a thought for they don't feel a need of him? When I was in Australia a couple of years ago and speaking to Phillip Jensen, he was saying how hard it was to evangelize Australians for the simple reason they feel they have no need. They have a good income, a great social service network, a marvellous climate, and so who needs heaven when you die when you can have it all on earth while you live? And that is where our society is heading too: people being spiritually anaesthetised by materialism. Why else does Jesus say that those who mourn are in fact the blessed ones, the happy ones, for they are the ones who will be comforted. It is the poor in spirit who will see God, says Christ, not the rich. It is when you are in the darkness that you will look for the light. That is why difficulties can be amongst some of God's tenderest mercies in that they draw us close to him which is exactly what happens here. And so the focus moves from a desperate situation to a daring faith, v27 'When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, "If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed." Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.'
By the time she gets to Jesus he is surrounded by people. He is on his on his way to help the daughter of Jairus, a pillar of the community. Now what are the chances that he will interrupt such an urgent mission involving such an important person for the likes of her? Not all that much. On the other hand what are the odds of her surviving if she doesn't get help and quick? Even less. And so she decides to go for it.
But it is a decision full of risks. You see, to touch Jesus means she has to touch other people. And if anyone recognises her then that could well be the end there is no way they want to be ritually tainted by the likes of her and so they would naturally give her a wide berth and a sharp rebuke. But what alternative does she have? She has no health, no money, and precious few friends. However, she does have one thing, a belief, however faint, that if only she could touch Jesus- no, just the hem of his cloak- then it could be the answer to all her agonised prayers.
And it could well be that is all you have- all hurt and a little hope. You a here this morning and deep down you would just love to make contact with this God in Jesus Christians are so fond of speaking about. That is why you have summoned up the courage to cross the threshold of the church- and let's be frank that does take some guts to do that. It can be a scary thing coming into an unknown and unfamiliar place like this. But then you discover as did this woman other people around him. They seem so clean and neat, so respectable and healthy in their faith, not like you. You are worried that you might not fit in or worse still, suffer more of the same rejection you have for so long been subject to. So you are hesitant. Is that you?
If so then take a leaf out of this woman's book and reach out. Only one person was commended for their faith on that day. It wasn't a wealthy giver. It wasn't a loyal follower. It wasn't a well dressed Vicar. It was a shame struck, penniless outcast acutely aware of her need. These are the types of people Jesus always responds to; those who believe he can and hope he will.
And when you think about it that is a pretty good definition of faith. Believing God can and hoping he will. Faith isn't a mystical feeling, it is a reasoned choice. It moves from inner knowledge about the character of God and the nature of his promises and out into the public arena of action. This woman wasn't absolutely sure Jesus would respond, but she knew enough about him to hope he would. That is faith. It is not believing that God will do all that you want, but that he will do what is right.
But faith does mean doing something. Here it is making the way through the crowd and drawing close to Jesus. Then it is that stretching out of the arm with fingers straining just to catch for a fleeting moment the hem of his garment. Jesus is near, but we have to draw to him. It is no good complaining, as we sometimes do, that God seems far from us if we neglect to come to the place where his means of grace are to be found- the church. This is where the Bible is taught and so where we hear his words of forgiveness and strength. This is the place we receive the sacraments of his blessing and enjoy the ministry of his love through the hands of his people. You see, we do have a part to play. The fact that Jesus was in the same street as the woman made no difference to her well being. She had to touch him. And God will always honour the outstretched arm of faith- always. 'It is those who seek', says Jesus, 'who will find.' And if you want that this morning, maybe to come to a personal trust in Christ for the very first time, or to deepen that walk with him, then you are in exactly the right place at the right time. For, as we come to him, Jesus stops and we experience a divine response, v29 "Immediately, her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, "Who touched my clothes?" "You see the people crowding against you," his disciples answered, "and yet you can ask, `Who touched me?' "But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering."
There are two things which happened that day which happen no where else in the Bible.
First, Jesus heals before he knows it. The healing power of Christ left him immediately and automatically. It was if the system had been short circuited so that the divinity of Christ was ahead of the humanity of Christ. The woman's need simply brought about a response. Just as the dark brought out the light of my badge, so our dark world brings out the light of God. There was no razzle dazzle or fanfares, just a quiet and complete recovery- 'her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.' But encountering Christ can't be kept private, there must be a public acknowledgement of him- v32 'But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth.' And it may well be that that is what you need to do; to stop hanging on at the edges of the Christian faith, and to come right in and submit to Jesus and telling him the whole truth about yourself; to stand before the crowd and become an open follower of him.
Because when you do you will discover the second thing that happened to this woman. Did you spot it in v 34? Jesus called her 'daughter'. Jesus never addresses any other woman in that way anywhere else in the Gospels. Just imagine how that made her feel? She was no longer 'that woman' pathetic and tainted, she was someone of value and dignity. Jesus actually called her 'daughter'. After years of rejection, she finally finds acceptance.
Leo Tolstoy tells of the time when he was walking down the street and passed a beggar. Tolstoy reached into his pocket to give the beggar some money, but found his pockets empty. Tolstoy turned to the man and said, 'I am sorry, my brother, but I have nothing to give.' The beggar brightened and said, 'You have given me more than I asked for- you have called me brother.'
But there was one other thing the woman went away with on that day and it is there in verse 34, 'peace.' It is a word which indicates 'wholeness'- 'restoration.' Yes, her body has been restored to health, but her soul has been restored too. No longer is she an estranged member of God's people, she is included again- she is a 'daughter' of Abraham. She is restored to a proper relationship with God.
You see, the miracles of Jesus in the physical realm also act as pictures of the greater miracles he performs in the spiritual realm. The plain fact is that the condition of this woman is the natural condition of all of us before God. We are caught up in a fallen world and haemorrhaging badly because of our sin. As a consequence our relationships are damaged, we feel isolated and excluded, especially cut off from God. But Jesus came to reverse all of that. He came to bring us in to God's family. All that defiles us he cleanses as we come to him, telling him the whole truth as this woman had done, asking for his forgiveness and healing touch. Could I ask whether that is something you need to do this morning? You feel lost, seeking, bleeding. Then let me urge you to come to the one who can meet you exactly where you and so lead you on to where he wants you to be- a daughter, a son of the living God. Let us pray.
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