Mark 5:21-6:6 Where do you turn? The role of Faith in the Christian life

I remember teaching each of my kids to swim and the natural reaction when you have a child on his or her back and the waves wash up over the face is to freak out, flip over and wildly grasp at any part of you they can reach.  There is fear in their eyes and panic in the breath.  Very few adults have I ever seen with that reaction to water, most of us learned to swim.  We learned to trust in the midst of the waves and to float gently over the turbulence.  But let me ask this question– where do you turn when life throws you a curve ball?  What do you reach out and grasp when you feel the waves of life crashing about you and the current of the river about to drown you?  When you feel the difficulties of life pressing in, what do you grab? 

The answer might vary, depending on the issue or how big the wave.  Some grasp at medicine when the news of health issues break over them.  The cancer patient may cling to the hope that more chemo or radiation or some other treatment is their only hope.  Others may grasp the bottle, a little alcohol to wash away the pain of past abuse or present circumstances. Some grab for science to assuage the conscience and present a solution to the problems they are facing – maybe its economics for financial concerns, political science for governmental concerns, law for legal concerns, psychology for inner personal struggles and counseling for interpersonal difficulties, etc…  These fields of study become the hope upon which future joy and peace rest.  And when we grasp at these things, just as the child learning to swim, but feeling like they are drowning, they become our savior.

 

If you doubt that, all one needs to do is try to remove that life line from a person’s life and watch the response – the anger, the bitterness, the entrenched refusal to budge.  All of these serve to display the utter dependence a person has placed upon his or her chosen life vest.  The first thing one grasps at in times of need reveals an awful lot about what he or she believes to be powerful and in control of the world.    And the one common thing that all of these examples share is this: They are not God.  These things and countless others in life serve to illustrate the myriad of ways we run to other things for the salvation and healing that only God can provide.  But this morning we are going to learn about two people who turned to God.

 

Suffering people need to come to Christ for healing.  No matter what the issue is from which we are suffering, Jesus can heal whether it is a sickness that morphs into death or a chronic hemorrhagic ailment.  No matter how long the issue has been in progress, Jesus can heal from the immediately onset illness of Jairus’ daughter to the 12 year old bleeding of the woman.  The time length and the size of the issue are irrelevant.  Our Lord can heal them all.  But it gets even better than that. Jesus can heal far more than just physical ailments; take for instance the woman who has been bleeding for 12 years.    The illness has brought her more than just physical pain and discomfort.  We are told  in verse 25 that she had spent all she had.[1]

 

But as great as physical and financial pain are, the truly debilitating effects of the disease were the emotional and spiritual.  Leviticus 15:25 “‘When a woman has a discharge of blood for many days at a time other than her monthly period or has a discharge that continues beyond her period, she will be unclean as long as she has the discharge, just as in the days of her period.”  Everywhere she would go, she would have been ostracized. No one would have wanted to touch her for fear of becoming ritually impure.  Furthermore, she wouldn’t have been able to enter into the synagogue or the temple to worship.  The loneliness would have been unbearable.  Consider living life without ever feeling the touch of another person.  The toll would have been immense.  Psychological studies performed by Harry Harlow in the 1950’s and 1960’s on Rhesus monkeys showed that primates deprived of contact suffered greatly.  Let me read you a short quote from one of his studies,

“No monkey has died during isolation. When initially removed from total social isolation, however, they usually go into a state of emotional shock, characterized by … autistic self-clutching and rocking. One of six monkeys isolated for 3 months refused to eat after release and died 5 days later. The autopsy report attributed death to emotional anorexia. … The effects of 6 months of total social isolation were so devastating and debilitating that we had assumed initially that 12 months of isolation would not produce any additional decrement. This assumption proved to be false; 12 months of isolation almost obliterated the animals socially…”[2]

 

If that was the result of 12 months of social isolation, consider the emotional toll that this woman had suffered after likely enduring 12 years of no physical contact and generally complete isolation from others.  It is no wonder that the woman fell at Jesus feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth (Mark 5:33).  Her entire life had been one of being eschewed, chastised, ridiculed, and probably totally beaten down never touching another for then they would become impure like she was impure.  In the act of touching Jesus, she had broken every social convention of the day, she had come out into the streets, and wasn’t walking down the road calling out impure as Lev 13:45 instructs the Leper to do, and she was touching everyone along the way making them all unclean.  This woman has just single handedly infected the entire crowd and made them unable to worship for the day.  When we understand all of that background, it makes her faith stand out all the more doesn’t it?  She believes that simply touching Jesus will unleash the power of God to cleanse her from everything that has troubled her – the health issues, the social conditions, the religious taboos, the emotional strain, even the financial degradation.  She is casting herself, completely and totally upon Jesus.

 

But why did she have such a faith?  Where did it come from?  Verse 27 tells us that when she heard about Jesus, she gained faith. Rom. 10:17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.  Faith is born in people when the story of Christ is preached.  And when people cast themselves completely upon Jesus and the power of God working through him, like the woman did, then healing coming.  Complete healing, total healing for finally they experience the wonder of total love and acceptance, a love and acceptance that changes everything in life.

 

The stories of Christ led her to believe that God was acting through Jesus.  As a Jewish woman, she would have been familiar with the Old Testament teachings of God as thy healer. Psa. 103:3 asks, “who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases” and the answer is Yahweh.  When she makes the statement If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed (Mark 5:28), she is making a declaration of her faith that Yahweh is at work in and through Jesus and that is saving faith isn’t it.  The power of God raising Christ from the dead, healing the sick, freeing the demonic, controlling the forces of nature.  The same power does them all and so when she recognizes God at work in Jesus she also exercises the same faith that will be required to confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead and so be save (Rom 10:9).

 

And so when Jesus puts her on the spot, insisting that power has gone out from him, he is simply providing her the opportunity to express the faith that she has in the power of God and the Lord Jesus.  And so his response is to validate and affirm that faith as being sufficient to be healed.  Interestingly, Mark uses the word saved, swzw, throughout this story in place of the usual word for healing or cured, therapeuw.  Though the context obviously refers to physical healing, and I doubt if the woman was considering being freed from her sin, though she did want to be freed from her disease and all its side effects, Mark uses the word normally reserved for the result of faith, salvation to describe the whole process here.  And so this passage becomes a powerful passage about what salvation bestows upon the one who believes: peace and wholeness, complete health without agony any longer.

 

By Mark does another interesting thing.  The story of the woman is allowed to interrupt the story of Jairus and his daughter.  By telling the story as it happened, Mark has left the reader with a vision of saving faith, so when they return to the story of Jairus and find out that his daughter has died, they are forced to answer the question, “Are there any limits to what faith can do?”  To answer that, let’s remember how we have seen that time is irrelevant, and the size of the ailment is irrelevant.  We know from Matt. 17:20 “… if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, Nothing will be impossible for you.  We even noted that when faith is focused on the proper object, good things result, but is faith strong enough to triumph over death?  That is the question.

 

The story of Jairus’ daughter is meant to convey to us the truth that faith can even triumph over death.  Essentially, these two stories piggyback with one another in order to convey the fact that there are no limits to the power and effects of faith when one trusts in God’s power to work.  That is why Jesus tells Jairus, Dont be afraid; just believe (Mark 5:36).

 

Believe that your daughter’s situation isn’t permanent but temporary.  Believe that she will awaken like one from a sleep.  She may be dead, but she isn’t really dead, as in dead, dead, dead, never to awaken again.  She is dead, but the power of God will change all of that, just believe. Believe as Abraham believed when Heb. 11:19 [He] reasoned that God could raise the dead and so he was willing to offer up his son Isaac on the altar.  Believe that the power of God can overpower all of this.

 

I am guessing that Jairus, upon getting the news of his daughter’s death, would echo Paul’s words in 2Cor. 1:8-10 if they had been written: We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death.   But Paul goes on to give the reason for their experience and it also seems to apply equally as well to Jairus’ situation: But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us,  And so Jesus does deliver; he raises the girl with a few words and the touch of his hand.

 

And with that the words of Hebrews 11:1 come to mind, Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see  In the story of the woman who bled, we saw true faith at work, in the story of Jairus we see one being urged to faith even in the presence of great odds and in the 6 verses, which follow this story we find that those in Jesus’ hometown have no faith.  They are unable to believe that God is at work in Jesus.  They don’t deny the miracles, nor the wonderful teaching, but they can’t reconcile his humanity with the displays of God’s power that are at work in and through him and so they can’t believe that he is the one spoken of in the Scriptures – the Son of God, the bearer of the Spirit, the bringer of life.  And with their unbelief comes a lack of experiencing the power of God.

 

These stories raise two questions in me related to faith.  The first question is this: Is every sickness always healed if there is faith?  At first glance a passage like today’s might lead us to believe that faith should always be the cure for any illness we experience.  But we have the testimony of other Scriptures, which counter such a conclusion.  In 2Cor 12:7-9 Paul is speaking about his own situation in life and he writes, To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christs power may rest on me.

 

From this passage God makes it clear to Paul, a man of faith, healing isn’t the gift we are to seek, but a greater reliance upon God’s power.  And that is congruent with what today’s passage declared isn’t it.  When we recognize and rely on God’s power, we may receive miraculous healings, but we may also receive peace or patience or any other gift from God, which cast us back into the lap of our Lord.

 

The second question is, “How can one grow in faith, so that they are like the woman and not like Jesus’ hometown?”  I believe the scriptures teach a number of things in regard to growing in faith.  The first I already spoke about in today’s passage.  Rom 10:17 declares that Faith comes by hearing.  If we want to grow in the faith, we need to hear the gospel story frequently and often.  We need to read it to ourselves, and I would add that we need to read it aloud to ourselves so that we aren’t just seeing the words on a page but are also hearing promises with our ears.  We grow in faith when we study the word with others and hear them share their insights.  We grow in faith when we hear the testimonies of others reiterating the things God has done in their lives and how he has carried them through difficulties, just as he carried the characters in today’s stories.

 

Second, we also grow in faith by acting on what we know.  James 1:5-6 says, If any of you lacks wisdom he should ask God who gives generouslybut when he asks, he must believe and not doubt  Though the passage is talking about wisdom, it is equally applicable to faith.  In fact, aren’t the times we are most in need of wisdom, the very times when either our faith is lacking or we are in need of faith to step out in to the next thing that God has for us?  But notice what James say, when he asks, he must believe and not doubt.  He is saying, that if you want wisdom, or faith for that matter, you better be prepared to step out and obey what you already know and what you are about to receive. Rom. 1:5 Through him and for his names sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.

Heb. 11:8 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was goingFaith grows when we act on what we already know to be true and already have been taught.  If you want to grow in the faith, ask yourself the hard question, “Where am I not being obedient to something that God has already made clear to me?”  When you can identify that area of faithlessness, then commit to “Not being afraid, and just believe!” as Jesus told Jairus.

 

Third, faith also grows by asking for it. Matt. 7:7-11 Jesus declares:  “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. 9 Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”  Asking Jesus for the gift of faith is something good and wonderful and our Lord wants to answer that prayer, but we need to understand that asking for faith is like Popeye asking for Spinach.  The faith is like the spinach and it presupposes that events are going to happen which will require additional power to push you through.  So be forewarned, praying for faith will bring plenty of trying circumstances into your life which will throw you onto Jesus in complete reliance.  Why does God try us when we want to grow, the answer is really quite simple, 1Cor. 2:5 so that your faith might not rest on mens wisdom, but on Gods power.

 

Fourth, Faith comes by serving well in the church both evangelistically and as a leader. Paul tells Timothy that 1Tim. 3:13 Those who have served well [as elders and deacons] gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus and he tells Philemon that he is praying that he Philem. 6 may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.  So if you want to grow in faith, then serve the body in both of these ways.  I believe these two ways are highlighted by God because both of them center of declaring the Word of God and as the word is declared, the giver and receiver are hearing the Word, and as we already said, Faith comes by hearing.

 

Finally, I would be remiss if I failed to remind you that faith is a gift from God.  You can’t conjure it up.  You can’t make it happen.  But what you can do is ask for it and cooperate with it. Eph. 2:8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — a gift that brings salvation, a gift that brings healing, a gift that glorifies God as we live it out.


[1] According to the Talmud (a commentary on Jewish law and practices), the doctors of that time would have prescribed a number of remedies: wine mixed with alum and garden crocuses, or a drink made of onions boiled in wine. They may even have attempted to suddenly shock her (like we do to stop the hiccups) or perhaps had her carry a bag next to her body containing the ash from an ostrich egg.” (Lane, The Gospel According to Mark, 192.)

[2] ^ a b Harlow HF, Dodsworth RO, Harlow MK. “Total social isolation in monkeys,” Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1965. Accessed on 9 January 2013 1:01p.m. at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Harlow

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About Scott Roberts

pastor of Hope in Christ Church, Bellingham, WA
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