The Power of Faith

Series: The Gospel of Mark

Sermon by David Strain on Apr 7

Mark 5:21-42

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Please open your Bibles with me to Mark's gospel; Mark's gospel chapter 5. Page 840 in the church Bibles; Mark chapter 5. We've been working our way through the gospel of Mark Sunday nights, and tonight we've come to two intertwined stories that deal with Jesus' power to heal. Jesus has been preaching and teaching around Capernaum and he has crossed over the Sea of Galilee to the Gentile region of the Gerasenes. And now in verse 21, we're told He and His disciples have crossed back again over the lake, the Sea of Galilee, and it's not long before there's a great crowd jostling them once more demanding Jesus' attention. And in the middle of all of this, a man called Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue, comes to Him. He has a sick daughter, asking for help. While He's on His way to provide help to Jairus' daughter, He has this encounter with a poor woman desperate for Jesus' mercy and healing. She's been bleeding for twelve years.

You’ll notice in these two stories that Mark wraps the second story inside the first story so that we have to wait till Jesus deals with the woman before we find out what’s going to happen with Jairus’ daughter. It’s a technique Mark uses in several places throughout the gospel. It’s designed to heighten the tension; make us want to know what’s going to happen next. And we have to wait to find out so we stay engaged in the story. It’s a masterful piece of storytelling. But these two events are intertwined in our story by more than historical coincidence or literary technique. They share a common message and they repeat common themes.

And as I was thinking about how best to communicate them to you, the simplest way I could get at them was to offer two headings under which we will consider the message of our passage - chapter 5, verses 21 through 43. The first heading - there is a clean contagion in our passage. A clean contagion. That is to say, Jesus is clean and He makes other people clean. His cleanliness, His holiness, His purity is infectious. A clean contagion. And then secondly, this clean contagion is spread by a transforming touch. Not a touch of the woman’s trembling hand that touches the hem of Jesus’ garment, but actually the touch of faith. Faith is what takes hold of the power of God and brings lasting change to our hearts and lives. So a clean contagion and a transforming touch. Before we consider the passage under those headings, let’s bow and pray and ask for God’s help. Let’s pray together.

O Lord, please now would You wield Your Word in our hearts like a surgeon wielding a scalpel, cutting out all that is dead and wicked and poisonous. Wounding and healing, wield Your Word, the sword of the Spirit, like a conquering warrior King, defeating and subduing all His and our enemies, even in our own lives. Wield Your Word like a cup of water in a desert place because like the deer in the desert, we long for streams of water. Please, O Lord, work by Your Word in our hearts and lives for Your glory. Bring us, all of us, each of us, to meet anew with Jesus as He comes to us through His holy Word. For we ask it in His name, amen.

Mark 4 at verse 21. This is the Word of God:

“And when Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him, and he was beside the sea. Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet and implored him earnestly, saying, ‘My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.’ And he went with him.

 

And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, ‘If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.’ And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my garments?’ And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’’ And he looked around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. And he said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’

 

While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler's house some who said, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?’ But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe.’ And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. And when he had entered, he said to them, ‘Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside and took the child's father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her, ‘Talitha cumi,’ which means, ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise.’ And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.”

Amen, and we praise God for His holy, inerrant Word.

These two interconnected stories, along with the story in the first half of the chapter, verses 1 through 20 where Jesus delivers the demon-possessed man, they all deal with ritual uncleanness which is a strange category for us; not a category we are particularly familiar with. As I was thinking about ritual uncleanness though, the child’s game of tag came to mind. The person who’s been tagged is “it” and when you’re “it” everybody has to avoid you, right, lest simply by their touch you become “it” now and everybody has to avoid you too. This status is transferred from one to another by touch. It actually makes me wonder if the origin of that child’s game had something to do with training children about the plague or infectious disease or something like that. But you get the point. Just by touch, this status is transferred from one to another so you have to avoid physical contact.

A Clean Contagion

Whatever the origins of the child’s game, in Jesus’ context, according to the law of Moses, ritual uncleanness was a bit like that. Hardly a game and not fun at all, the status “unclean” excluded you from regular society, barred you from corporate worship on the Sabbath Day. It could be spread from person to person, even from a person to things simply by touch, by physical contact. In the law, a woman was unclean during her monthly period. A flow of blood made you unclean, so this woman in the story, she’s unclean. Contact with dead bodies, so this little girl makes anyone who touches her unclean, having died. And the demon-possessed man in the first part of the story, he’s unclean. He has an unclean spirit; he lives in an unclean region. There are unclean pigs feeding nearby. He is the epitome and embodiment of uncleanness. Now it is Mark’s purpose to highlight the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, the greatness of Jesus Christ. That’s where he wants our attention to be riveted. And his point in these two stories is really very simple. While everyone and everything is made unclean by contact with the unclean thing or unclean person, in Jesus’ case, the contagion works in reverse. In Jesus’ case, there is a clean contagion.

Flow of Blood

Think about the flow of blood first of all. Mark gives us her background. Presumably, the whole story came out in verse 34 when she fell down on her knees before Him after having been discovered, and she told the whole truth Mark says. Verse 25 tells us she had been hemorrhaging for twelve long years. We don't know why. It seems reasonable to connect this with her monthly cycle. Leviticus 15:19-30 declares such a person ritually unclean. A condition that normally lasted for seven days, in her case, her medical condition has meant she has been bleeding every day for twelve years. So it's been twelve years, twelve years of uncleanness, of exclusion and isolation. Leviticus 15 says anything she sits on - her bed, her clothes - they're all unclean as well. And anyone who touches her or touches any of the garments or her bed or furniture, they too become unclean. So it's made her a pariah, you see, isolating her for twelve years. Can you imagine? And so it's not difficult to understand when Mark tells us that she has gone to physician after physician with some desperation. She's spent everything she had, Mark says. She's bankrupted herself trying to fix this awful circumstance, and we get why. But instead of feeling better, verse 26, she suffered much at the hands of her doctors and it made her worse and worse.

So here, at the end of twelve years, she is at her lowest point. She has been down and down and down. Her suffering has been escalating. Her circumstances are getting worse and worse. She’s tried everything. She’s seen every doctor. She’s spent every penny, attempted every remedy. And twelve long years later, she’s worse off than ever.

Witness

But verse 27 - she had heard reports about Jesus. She'd heard His message, something of who He is, what He came to do, what He stands for. She's heard reports about Him. We don't know who told her, how she's heard. Has she been, perhaps, in the crowd, on the edges of the crowd listening when Jesus was preaching in the region earlier in the gospel? We just don't know. It seems likely that someone has shared with her Jesus' message and something of His deeds. Just as an aside, that should be an encouragement to any of us who are trying to witness to friends. We're wondering if we're making any headway, if our words are getting through. She heard a report from some nameless person somewhere and the report she heard is a turning point in her life. Everything is changed because she heard a report about Jesus. Speak for Christ. Press on and bear witness in your Savior's name. Who knows if perhaps your reports about Jesus will be the turning point in someone else's life. Certainly, it was for this woman.

She has hope now and she comes to Jesus. Unlike all the others, you see, this Jesus is not a quack. He’s no charlatan, peddling cheap parlor tricks for the gullible. He’s something else entirely. She seems instinctively to realize that about Him. Having heard about Jesus, she resolves to put her faith, her trust in Him. She’s at the end of herself, you see. All she can do now is turn to Him. And so look at the text. She came up behind Him in the crowd and touched His garment. And immediately, Mark tells us, the flow of blood dried up and she felt in her body she was healed of her disease.

Notice carefully what we are told about her reasoning. Here’s why she did what she did. Here’s what she was thinking, saying to herself as she did this. Verse 28, “If I touch even His garments I will be made well.” Now to be sure, her thinking there is muddled, even superstitious. I think we can see why she might think this way. After all, her garments were unclean and they could make other people unclean because of their contact with her uncleanness. So she thought maybe Jesus’ cleanness, His holiness, His dignity, His grace, His power - “Somehow it can imbue His clothing with His peculiar grace so that merely a touch of His cleanness will make me clean and undo all my uncleanness after all I’ve been through.” There’s a logic to that; a certain coherence to her reasoning. We can see it. Can’t we?

Now, of course, there's no special virtue, no holy juice infused into Jesus' garments that makes them special. That's where she's confused. But the idea that cleanness might flow from Jesus to her, in much the same way her uncleanness flowed from her to everything and everyone she touched, that was right on the money. Wasn't it? She gets it - cleanness can flow. "Jesus is unlike anyone else I've ever met. Cleanness flows from Him to me." Jesus can make us clean.

Uncleanness

Now just think about this for a moment with me. According to Leviticus 15, even after being healed she was still ritually unclean for seven more days. So presumably very few, if anyone in the crowd that day, knew her personally or she’d never have been able to get close to Jesus. She was taking quite a risk to brush the hem of Jesus’ garment. She could have contaminated everyone around her. When she finally told Jesus her story in front of all these onlookers in verse 24, you can just imagine the horror on their faces when they hear the tale that everyone draw back. She was still unclean, albeit having been healed wonderfully by the grace of God in Jesus Christ, but she’s still unclean. She can make them unclean too; she’s risked their contamination by her very proximity to them all. Did they all shrink back? Did they start to look at her with disgust? We know for sure, whatever the crowds thought, however they reacted, Jesus did not draw back. Jesus was not in the least bit offended. He was not distressed at all by her touch. Even though in the eyes of the law of Moses - now listen to this - in the eyes of the law of Moses, now Jesus is ritually unclean. She touched Him. She’s unclean; she makes everyone she touches unclean. Now He is unclean. He’s confessed in front of everyone, “She touched me. Who touched me?” Why isn’t He upset? Why isn’t He offended?

Because that's the Gospel. Sin makes us all unclean, not ritually but really. In the judgment of God, we're unclean. We're alienated from God and alienated from His people. But Jesus can make us clean and He does it by taking our uncleanness. Her touch made Him unclean and He made her clean. That's the Gospel. There's an exchange - do you see it? That's the Gospel. God reckons our sin, our uncleanness to Him, and His cleanness, His righteousness, His purity comes to us.

Or think about Jairus’ daughter for a moment; the other story intertwined with this one. The contrasts and the similarities are significant. Let’s think about them for a few minutes together. Unlike this woman, Jairus, Jairus is an important man. He came to Jesus openly and boldly while she comes covertly, hoping to slip in and slip out unnoticed. Jairus starts, doesn’t he, he starts on his knees in front of Jesus, and the woman ends there. The woman touches Jesus and is healed after twelve years of suffering. A beautiful providence sounds in verse 42. Do you see it? When this woman first became unclean and began to bleed, that was the year that Jairus’ daughter was born. This woman has suffered every single day for those twelve years. Jairus’ is suffering, however, comes suddenly at the end of twelve years with his daughter’s death. This woman has lived and suffered; Jairus suffers in the wake of the death of his little girl. The woman’s condition is reversed by her initiative. Something we’ll come back to a little later on. She touches Jesus. In the case of Jairus’ daughter, her condition is reversed by Christ’s initiative. He touches her. In fact, actually He has to insist once the news has arrived that she is dead, He has to insist that He continue on to the house and get to see her and touch her at all.

In the case of the woman with the flow of blood, when Jesus asked, "Who touched me?" the disciples are amazed because He is being jostled by the crowds on every hand. When Jesus wants to go in and speak to the little girl and He says, "She's not dead but sleeping," the mourners who have all been hired as was the custom for the occasion, so they're all weeping and wailing, their weeping and wailing turns to mockery and jeering laughter and open scorn. They're all sorts. Do you see them? They're all sorts of connections, comparisons, and contrasts in these two stories that bind them together quite strikingly and beautifully.

Jesus is Willing

But for all the connections and the contrasts, the message is exactly the same in both. They both drive home the same fundamental point. Whether it's the unclean woman who's bleeding has been such a burden all these years, or the dead body of the little girl which to touch renders anyone unclean, the point is the same. Jesus is willing to take on that status under the law to communicate from Himself to them His cleansing power. Of course, it's not just a ritual cleansing that He gives them. Is it? It's not just a change of ceremonial status that He provides. Is it? She receives her life back. Alienation is over. She is reconciled. She now belongs in the bosom of her people, in the assembly of the people of God on the Sabbath Day. And in the case of Jairus' daughter, it's not just the reversal of uncleanness, it's life itself Jesus gives her; new life that He gives her.

The two words that are transliterated in Aramaic, “Talitha cumi,” verse 41, and then translated into Greek, “Little girl, I say to you, arise” - “arise” there has more to it than simply the suggestion of a change of posture. He doesn’t mean, “Little girl, stop lying down and get up.” Because what happens isn’t merely that she was reclining and now she’s standing. What happens is, she was dead and now she’s alive. “Arise” here is the vocabulary of resurrection. In fact, the word Mark uses in verse 42, “She got up,” is the same word used for Jesus Himself in Mark’s gospel for His resurrection. You see, the touch of Jesus Christ, the cleansing power of His grace, does more than simply change your status. It gives you new life. Jesus gives new life. When power goes out of Jesus to you, He takes your uncleanness and He makes you clean. He takes your death and He gives you life. There’s an infectious grace in Jesus, a clean contagion that we all need to catch. Isn’t there? We all need to catch it.

A Transforming Touch

How do you catch it? How do you get it? How do you receive it for yourself? How is this clean contagion transferred? Well, it's communicated, the story tells us, from Jesus to us by a transforming touch. That's the second thing to think about - the transforming touch. A clean contagion. A transforming touch. Here's the truth. You're not clean. Naturally, in yourself, you're not clean. Me neither. We're sinners. Worse than that, we're powerless. We're powerless. We can't fix it on our own. Both Jairus and the bleeding woman, they seem to understand that. Don't they? That's why they've come to Jesus in the first place. For Jairus, the prominent synagogue ruler - he's a man of standing - to kneel right there in the middle of the crowd in front of Jesus like this, it's a dramatic declaration of how he views himself in relation to Jesus Christ. He's willing to come begging. He's bankrupt and Jesus is the one that he needs. And her low status - she doesn't even have a name in the story. Notwithstanding, the woman knows the same thing. "I'm empty. Only Jesus can fill me. I'm unclean. Only Jesus can make me clean. I'm bankrupt. Only Jesus will do."

And Jesus, for His part, highlights the same note in both cases. Both stories sound this same theme. What is it that elicits from Jesus this cleansing power, the touch of His grace. Look at verse 34. “Jesus said to the woman, ‘Your’” - what? “Your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be healed of your disease.” When news reaches him of his daughter’s death, Jesus says to Jairus, verse 36, “Do not fear, only believe.” What is it that gets ahold of Jesus so that this clean contagion that He brings can become ours? It’s not a trembling fear-filled hand brushing the fringes of His robe in the middle of a crowd. That’s really not what changed this woman’s life. It’s faith. The touch that draws from Christ the power of God to change and heal and cleanse and give life, it’s the touch of faith; it’s a hand of faith. “Do not fear, only believe” is the Word of God to you as you ask, “How can I be made clean?” “Do not fear, only believe.” How can I be forgiven? How can I really live at last? Only believe. Only believe.

There's so much in that word, "only," isn't there? Faith alone grasps the power of Christ. Only believe. It's the simplest thing in the world. You merely trust Jesus to rescue you when you can't rescue yourself, and He will. You might be mighty, significant, powerful, someone everyone wants to be around - like Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue. You might feel you are a nobody from no place, a pollutant, unwelcome in the company of others like this woman. The story is saying Jesus fits you both. Jesus fits us all. Whether you are one of the great and the good or one of the weakest and the worst, Jesus is for you. He's for you. And you take Him simply by trusting Him. You take Him with the outstretched hand of mere faith. Only believe.

Sovereignty

And I just want you to see two things before we close in relation to this. These two stories I think highlight two different emphasizes that go together. The first, the story of Jairus' daughter, that she is dead emphasizes that all of the initiative in this case belongs to Jesus. Right? She's dead and He acts. It's not that she's doing anything, saying anything, acting in any way. It's all Him. All His intervention, His initiative. He gives new life by His grace. That's what He does. He loves to break in and make the dead live, the blind see, the deaf hear. He loves to shower His grace upon us, freely and sovereignly. So that story emphasizes the sovereignty of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Our Response

But the second story, the story of the woman with the flow of blood, emphasizes her initiative. She comes to Christ. And we need to hold both together. No one has ever been saved by the grace of God apart from the sovereign intervention and initiative of Jesus Christ. You are a Christian today because Jesus broke in upon you when you were spiritually dead. Praise God that He did. And yet every one of us who follows Jesus Christ knows they were called by the Gospel to believe and they responded. You responded to that invitation. You responded! She came, she trusted, she acted, she came and fell on her knees before Him. And that is what you must do, what I must do, to take hold of the clean contagion, the power of grace that flows from Christ to us. We must hear His call and invitation and we must run to Him. Run tonight to Jesus, tonight, run to Him. Do not fear, only believe! Trust in Him. He is a fountain of grace and peace, of pardon and cleansing. He is all that your heart needs. Go to Him. Do not fear. Only believe. Jesus is saying to you, “Just trust Me, will you? Just trust Me, will you?” I wonder if you’re listening. Let’s pray together.

Lord Jesus how we praise You. You are the One who knew no sin and were made sin for us. The clean one who makes us clean. We bow like the woman in the story, like Jairus in the story, now we come and bow before You. How we long for a touch of Your power, of Your grace, of Your mercy. We need You. Every one of us, we need You. Forgive us when fear has excluded faith. Fill our eyes again with Your beauty and worth and sufficiency. Bring us to the end of ourselves, like You did the woman in the story, like You did Jairus. Bring us to the end of ourselves and then bring us to You. Some of us have been wandering off. Bring us back. Some of us don’t yet know You. Bring them home for the first time. Bring them to Yourself. Please, by Your sovereign grace, grant us a touch of Your cleansing power, for Jesus’ sake, for Your own name’s sake, Your glory. Amen.

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