We live in a world that celebrates self sufficiency and independence. But what happens when our lives are shattered? We dissolve from dynamic into desperado in the blink of an eye. Our systems of control make us feel safe and in control. For the competent and privileged, self reliance gives us predictability and make us feel effective and successful. But everything we depend on can be annihilated by news of a terminal illness, an untimely death, retrenchment, devastating betrayal or crushing sorrow over someone we love. That’s when it suddenly dawns on us how weak and helpless we are. I used to think I was invincible, but as I get older and my life is more profoundly intertwined with those I love, I feel more vulnerable, more conscious of how brutal life can be. Strength and self sufficiency are illusions propped up by wealth and success, but not for long.
In Mark 5:21-43, a wealthy synagogue ruler who has everything a man could wish for, watches helplessly as his sick 12-year old daughter slips towards sure death. By the same lakeside, is a disgraced woman who has suffered with an incurable disease for 12 years. This is no ordinary sickness which can be treated by medicine. She has been turned away by every doctor. Her illness is particularly cruel in that it subjects the woman to constant bleeding in a first century culture that isolated as ‘unclean’ anyone who came into contact with blood. She is a hopeless outcast.
Yet, despite the obvious differences, the respectable man named Jairus and the unnamed woman have much in common. Both are desperadoes….Both know they have a serious problem they cannot fix. Both hear that Jesus is in town. Both come to him in desperation. Both instinctively reach out for His healing touch. Both encounter Jesus face-to-face and receive the healing they long for. Both receive a much deeper healing they never bargained for. Their lives are changed irrevocably from their encounter with Jesus.
When we have heard Bible stories over and over again, it is easy to overlook details in the text and to miss the treasure at our fingertips. That is why I will ask you to read the whole text rather than splitting it up into two stories. As we shall see, the miracles are intertwined and must be read together. Let us pray before we read, that our hearts may be soft and attentive as the Holy Spirit applies this God-breathed word to our lives:
Mark 5:21-43 (NIV)
Jesus Raises a Dead Girl and Heals a Sick Woman
21 When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. 22 Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. 23 He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” 24 So Jesus went with him.
A large crowd followed and pressed around him. 25 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 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. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29 Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.
30 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”
31 “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”
32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
35 While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”
36 Overhearing[a] what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”
37 He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. 38 When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. 39 He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” 40 But they laughed at him.
After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”).42 Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. 43 He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.
A desperate father encounters Jesus
Every parent can relate to the anguish of Jairus, the helpless father whose 12-year old daughter is dying. Jairus hears that Jesus is in town and falls at his feet, pleading for the miracle worker to touch his precious daughter so that she will be healed and live. There is nothing pompous or casual about him. Jairus is a prominent ruler of the Synagogue and his daughter is on the brink of death, yet Jesus, who knows all this, allows himself to be distracted by an unclean, haemorraging woman who reaches out to touch Jesus’ cloak.
The audacity of a desperate woman.
The two stories of healing are like twin wheels held together by an axle in the middle. The woman’s thoughts in verse 28 form the axle: “If only I may touch His clothes, I shall be made well.”
The woman is too ashamed to come boldly to Jesus like Jairus did. Instead, she approaches him from behind, timid and fearful, not daring to make eye contact or speak to Him. Firstly, she is a woman in a culture which forbade women from going out in public alone or talking to strangers. Secondly, being permanently unclean, she didn’t have the right to mix with people or even worship in the temple, let alone make her way to the lakeshore and touch the clothes of a Jewish rabbi. Yet, she is desperate enough to break all taboos and touch the Saviour. What does she have to lose? She has already lost everything: her dignity, the love and fellowship of community, her hope and all her money to failed treatments.
Shamed and unnamed, a nobody.
Yet, Jesus does not see her as a diversion. He doesn’t despise her desperation. In fact Jesus gives her audacity a name– he calls it faith– and He rewards her faith. The instant her fingers touch Jesus’ garment, the bleeding stops and she knows she is permanently free from her suffering (verse 29). The healing is unequivocal and her relief is instant and total. The disease is gone forever as though it never existed. This is no cheap magic trick that Jesus performs, no sleight of hand or illusion. It is an example of the emphatic nature of all Christ’s healings–Total, instant, obvious, irreversible and unmistakable. (The only exception is the blind man who was healed in stages, perhaps to illustrate the gradual nature in which we gain spiritual insight. Mark 8:22-26). No one in Jesus’ day ever disputed his miracles and wonders.
Despite the pressing need of a dying girl, Jesus refuses to leave until the woman owns up to the touch. She has been healed. Surely Jesus could have left it at that, avoided publicly embarrassing her and moved on quickly to Jairus’s house? The unnamed woman had been bleeding nonstop for 12 years, yet Jesus delays his healing of a little girl on her deathbed to personally speak to this woman and patiently listen to her life story. The delay results in the girl’s death. It seems awfully like a fatal distraction, a misjudgment on the part of Jesus. Surely the Son of God should have prioritised the daughter of a powerful man and excused himself from the ramblings of an emotional, nameless woman who has just made Him unclean with her touch? After all, she has already been healed. Surely public figures need to focus on the task at hand? If He is God, doesn’t He know her life story anyway?
What is striking throughout the Gospels is that Jesus is nothing like the average public figure! He doesn’t rank people according to status, how moral and upright they are, or how urgent their needs are. He is never too busy with “important” work to deal with an individual, especially a desperado. Jesus turns around and asks, “Who touched my clothes?” Of course He knows the answer to his question, but he insists on pursuing this woman.
Many people in the crowd are touching Jesus, yet only this woman has been transformed by his touch. Why? Perhaps the answer lies in the next part of the conversation which I am quoting in the King James Version:
33 But the woman fearing and trembling, knowing what was done in her, came and fell down before him, and told him all the truth. 34 And he said unto her, Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace, and be whole of thy plague.
The language of the KJV is bursting with significance and emotion. Jesus has given the woman far more than she bargained for! She is deeply affected by her encounter with Jesus and confesses all to Him. She told him all the truth (verse 33). She comes forward and literally falls down before Him as her Saviour.
Not long ago I read many passages from the Bible about the importance of remembering and sharing our stories of redemption (eg, “Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story”, Psalm 107:2), and I felt the Holy Spirit pressing in on me to recall my life story and write it down as a way of remembering what God has done for me. I divided my life into eras of seven years and it culminated in a personal encounter with Jesus, my Saviour, at the age of twenty-one, which transformed my life forever. (Before I turn 50, you are my witnesses that I am going to record the next four eras to remember the great deeds of the Lord!) As I wrote my biography in the form of five devotionals, I prayed and cried and told Jesus my story all over again. Did he know my story? Of course He did, as He was part of every scene! But telling Jesus all the truth about my life, including my hurts, shame, regrets, emptiness and longings gave me a freedom and blessing I didn’t expect. Nor did the woman.
After the woman has told the Saviour her life story, Jesus speaks an amazing blessing over her:
“Your faith has made you whole. “
What a blessing to come from the mouth of the Messiah!
1) The woman came to Jesus because of a debilitating need. 2) She expected healing from Him. “If only I may touch His clothes, I shall be made well“. 3) She fell down at the feet of her Saviour. These three acts of faith led to a personal encounter with the Son of God that would change her life forever. Transformation would not have happened if this woman had stayed at home or if she had allowed her fears to throttle her in reaching out to touch Jesus. It would also not have happened if Jesus hadn’t insisted on a personal encounter. Falling down at the feet of Jesus was like lifting the white flag of surrender. It was no mere religious experience for the woman. Jesus knew that she needed much more than physical healing. She needed inner transformation, wholeness and peace and that is exactly what Jesus gave her. This was the purpose of the diversion.
The miracles of Jesus always point to a greater inner miracle, which is what Jesus, the Saviour, promises to do in the heart of anyone who puts their faith in Him. His death and resurrection offer us spiritual redemption and healing from the fatal plague of sin which makes each of us an enemy of a holy God. I love the word “plague” used in the KJV because sin is an incurable plague that kills us. Like the healing of the woman, healing from sin is total and irrevocable because it is based on the perfect life of Jesus, not on anything we do or earn. This woman came to Jesus with empty hands and an empty heart. She had nothing to offer Jesus but a worthless life of desperation, shame and suffering. But her bold act of faith brought her to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, the Messiah Himself. He removed her sin and shame, restoring her dignity and making her whole. It was not just a fatal distraction– it was a faithful attraction, a personal encounter with Jesus, and an invitation to each one of us to come to Jesus in faith, as the woman did.
Go in peace!
Disease masks a much deeper spiritual problem that afflicts us. The politically incorrect teaching of the Bible says that our problem is sin. We cannot be at peace with God, or our neighbour, or ourselves, because of our sin. We are deeply fragmented. Since Genesis 3, humanity has lost its moorings from the God who made us (our Source), and the result has been emptiness, hatred, disease and death, failed relationships, suffering and every other form of brokenness of mind, body and spirit. If we are honest for a moment, this lack of peace is what we witness every day in ourselves and in the world. The woman came to Jesus in her desperation and He made her whole and gave her his peace.
Faith and Peace
Faith is the missing link that brings us back into fellowship with our heavenly Father and peace with God. It is not just “faith” in the abstract, but faith in the person of Jesus Christ, God in the flesh. It is not just a peaceful feeling, but true Shalom. True shalom comes only from God, as Paul explains,
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. . . . But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Romans 5:1–3, 8–10).
If we put our faith in Jesus as our Saviour, we are no longer God’s enemies, but He has made peace with us through the blood of Christ. We are reconciled to Him. Jesus is called the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) and he is available to each and every person who comes to Him as Saviour, as the 1st century woman showed us by the lakeside.
What about us?
Jesus delays His visit to Jairus’s house to gives us a real life lesson on what faith looks like. Faith is an action. It is coming to Jesus in humility and speaking the truth to Him, confessing our brokenness and sin. That’s what He requires of us if we want his healing touch and true Shalom. Only true desperadoes can have faith. Faith requires that we stop masking our brokenness with systems of control and instead recognise our desperate situation, putting our trust in the Saviour, Jesus Christ. Do you relate to the pain, shame and suffering of this woman? Then step out in faith and come to Jesus as she did, empty-handed, desperate and honest. It’s no use hiding anything from the One who knows it all anyway. Why run from the only source of wholeness and peace? It is only when we get beyond our own resources, when we are true desperadoes, that we can say, “If only I may touch His clothes, I shall be made well.” We shall be made well indeed.
Or do you relate more to the anguished father, Jairus, the man who has everything except the one thing he needs most– the life of his precious daughter? Then you must come back for the next blog…This one is important!
“We need a Saviour not just to cap off our good deeds, not just to forgive our sins. We need a Saviour because we are spiritually dead and helpless without him, no matter how good we look on the outside.” John Piper, http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/why-we-need-a-savior-dead-in-sins.