By Rosie Moore.
In last Sunday’s sermon, Roydon Frost described faith as the beggar’s bowl by which we receive the gift of God. It’s a perfect picture of the three desperate people who came to Jesus for redemption in Mark chapter 5: A man tormented by so many demons that he was chained up and left to wander alone among the tombs. A woman with a chronic bleeding disease that left her ceremonially unclean, isolated and bankrupt. And the distraught father of a dying daughter. Yet, the Lord Jesus reached out to these two daughters and a son, and made them completely whole and well. By his touch, Christ became unclean and brought health to the sick, cleansing to the unclean, and life to the dead. He literally gave them their lives back.
These three interactions have really strengthened me in my faith this week. They’ve helped me remember that in these days of social distancing and isolation, there’s one person we must not stay away from and there’s one touch we all desperately need. It’s the touch of the Lord Jesus.
Please read the whole of Mark 5 on your own. We’ll focus today on Mark 5:24-34:
So Jesus went with him (Jairus, the synagogue ruler). 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.”
“If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed”
The story of the hemorrhaging woman is wedged between the redemption of Legion (the demoniac), and Jairus’s little daughter, who is on death’s door. In fact, Jesus is on his way to the synagogue leader’s house to attend to the girl, while the teeming crowd is pushing and shoving to catch sight of the healer. Like keen fans, they’re hungry for a piece of the action.
The bleeding woman was in the crowd, but she wasn’t just a sign seeker. For as long as Jairus’s little daughter had been alive (12 years), this woman had been hemorrhaging from a disease. Not only was it physically crippling, but it was also humiliating and isolating. She was permanently unclean, which meant that her family couldn’t eat the food she cooked, couldn’t sit on the chair she sat on, or sit around the table with her at meals. They couldn’t even touch or hug her, without becoming unclean themselves (Lev 15:25-31). She wasn’t even able to worship with God’s people in the synagogue.
For a Jewish woman, can you imagine this extreme form of social distancing? This woman had been isolated, not for 21 days, but for twelve long years, and there was no prospect of healing. She had spent all her money on human help and was now bankrupt. She grew worse every day and her great suffering touched every part of her — physically, emotionally and spiritually. We all know the story, but let’s not miss the details of this outcast’s pain, as she pushed through the crowd to the famous Jewish Rabbi. Her desperation and determination overtook her shame and fear.
Perhaps this woman was emboldened to touch Jesus’ clothes by something she’d heard about Him. Perhaps she’d heard that from His touch, lepers were fully cleansed (Matt 8:3; Mark 1:41; Luke 5:13). The blind received instant sight and the mute could speak (Matt 9:29; 20:34; Mark 8:22; Mark 7:33). The sick were healed by touching Jesus as he walked by (Matt 14:36; Mark 6:56). Perhaps the woman was also superstitious and believed that there was something magical about Jesus’s robe.
Luke adds that she just touched the fringe or edge of Jesus’s garment. It was a silent thought and a tentative action, but enough faith for Jesus to instantly stop the chronic flow of blood and reverse the ravages of her disease. She was perfectly healthy and clean again. And all it took was a finger of faith brushing Jesus’s robe. No more, no less.
A finger of faith
Isn’t it encouraging that Jesus didn’t treat this woman as a nuisance or distraction as he made his way to Jairus’s house? She wasn’t just an unclean “God-botherer”! Rather, Jesus responded instantly to the transfer of his healing power, and stopped to ask, “Who touched my clothes?” He wouldn’t let the woman experience physical healing without a heart-to-heart encounter with the living God. Christ refuses to be a miracle-dispenser. That’s when the woman, “knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth”.
Telling him the whole truth
What I love most is Jesus’s loaded response to the truth of her messy life:
“Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
Those words were even more soothing balm than her physical healing. Jesus was pleased by her small gesture of faith. He even called her ‘daughter’, the first and only time Jesus gave a woman this title.
The woman had held out her empty begging bowl, and Jesus had filled it with wholeness and health, so generously and so mercifully.
It’s the same with the other much younger ‘daughter’ in this story. Jairus’s little girl is dead by now and the mourners are crowding around the synagogue ruler’s house. Yet, Jesus reaches out to take the corpse’s cold hand in his own, knowing that touching a dead body would defile Him (Numbers 5). The sinless Messiah touches a second unclean daughter that day, and commands her, “Little girl, I say unto you, arise!” Immediately the little girl gets up, walks around and eats a meal as proof of life!
A posture of faith and a gift of grace
All three people in Mark 5 refused to keep their distance from Jesus, but held out their begging bowls to receive his gift of life. They approached Christ with a posture of faith, which unleashed radical restoration:
When Legion saw Jesus from a distance, “he ran and fell on his knees in front of Jesus”. He came to Jesus in torment and self-hatred, naked and chained, with not a shred of dignity left. But he left Jesus fully dressed, in his right mind, and ready to follow His Saviour (Mark 5:6; 15; 18).
The father of the dying girl fell at Jesus’ feet and pleaded earnestly with him to touch his daughter and save her (Mark 5:22-23). Jesus met a cold corpse and a house of mourning, but left the family with life and joy.
But Jesus’s gift to these three desperadoes was just a sample of a much greater cosmic healing. His miracles were pointing to the cross, where the Lord Himself would soon be bound and abandoned. He would suffer torment and indignity, and would bleed to death, to call us God’s sons and daughters. He would become unclean and shunned by His Father, to restore us to peace with our Father. Christ’s willingness not to distance himself from humanity would come at great cost, but his ‘touch’ would reverse sin’s curse— even the curse of death. The only way to receive this gift of grace is to hold out our empty begging bowls of faith, like Legion, like the woman, like Jairus.
Our begging bowl of faith
In mulling over these stories, I wondered what the begging bowl of faith looks like for us now, 2000 years later, when we are no longer able to physically reach out and touch the Saviour.
The Bible teaches clearly that Christian faith is not looking for holy relics or seeking signs and mystical experiences. Nor is it amazement at Jesus’ miracles, like the crowds of teeming fans who surrounded Him. Faith is not just believing and confessing that Jesus is Lord, as even the demons do that.
A great way to hold out our begging bowl of faith is simply to pray to be forgiven, cleansed and restored. It may sound undramatic and ordinary after such spectacular miracles, but prayer is how we call out to the Lord for what we need (2 Chron 7:14; Ps 38:18; Luke 11:4). And Jesus said it’s the way we commune with Him in a deep, daily, ongoing relationship (Matt 6:5; 6; Matt 7:9-11). Thank the Lord that Jesus’ touch is not a once-off event, but a perpetual supply of grace to those brought low by suffering, grief and their own sin.
“To pray is to accept that we are, and always will be, wholly dependent on God for everything. Prayer is awe, intimacy, struggle—yet the way to reality. There is nothing more important, or harder, or richer, or more life-altering. There is absolutely nothing so great as prayer” (Timothy Keller).
To pray in faith is simply to recognize who our Saviour is, and to tell him the whole truth about ourselves and those we love, just like the woman did (Mark 5:33). It is admitting that we are beyond human help, like Jairus and another desperate father who cried out on behalf of his demon-possessed son, “Take pity on us and help us…I believe, help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:22; 24).
To pray in faith is real and uncontrived, like the many raw prayers recorded in the Psalms: “Be gracious to me, Lord, for I am faint; O Lord heal me, for my bones are in agony, Turn O Lord and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love (Ps 6:2-4). Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble” (Ps 10:1)? Holding out faith’s begging bowl is letting go of pretences and simply telling Jesus the whole truth.
Finally, this story reminds me that for us who follow the Lord Jesus, the new life that came to us when we became a new creation will one day be complete. We will see heaven standing open and Jesus dressed in a robe dipped in blood, on which is written “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (Rev 19:13-16). Our own robes will be washed white as snow because of the death of Christ on our behalf (Rev 7:14; Rev 19:8). It will be the voice of Jesus that will wake up all God’s sons and daughters when He calls us to life in His kingdom. Somehow, He will transform our lowly bodies to be fit for the new heavens and new earth (Phil 3:20-21). And on that day, we will finally be able to reach out and touch our Saviour (1 John 3:2; 1 Thess 4:17). That’s the power of the cross! And what a day that will be!