Faith in Action
“Faith in Action”
So far in our study in the Gospel of Mark, we have witnessed the appearance of the Son of God into the world of human beings. Mark is unique from the other gospels because he has chosen not to include the stories of Jesus’ birth or childhood, but begins with his initiation into ministry. Some, including John the Baptist and Jesus’ first disciples have accepted him and followed after him. Jesus has been pursued by the handicapped and diseased and demon-possessed. He has also been pursued by the crowd and overtaken by them. Their curiosity and their selfish ambitions have hampered his ministry. He has been correctly identified by the demonic realm and yet Jesus has silenced them so that he would be able to complete his mission. And ironically, he has been challenged, rejected, and opposed by the religious leaders of their day.
One thing that is clear this far is that an encounter with Jesus demands a response. He seemingly does not leave people unaffected. You either believe in his person, claims, and deeds or you reject him. We talked about the parable of the sower, the seeds, and the soil. In the midst of that parable, Jesus teaches us the purpose of parables and indicates that only those that are insiders can understand them – those who have faith in Jesus. And you recall that it wasn’t the mass crowds that he shared this information with. It was those who pursued him to learn more about his teaching. There was a requirement to act on what they believed.
Throughout history, there have been discussions regarding the relationship between faith and works. In some traditions, it has been held and taught that the actions of people somehow merit the favour of God. Much of this came to a head during the Reformation when Martin Luther challenged the established church regarding their teachings of penance, purgatory, and other false doctrines. It was revealed to him through a study in the Book of Romans that the only thing that merits favour from God is the sacrifice of Jesus, the Son of God and our trusting in his provision by faith. We cannot earn salvation but trust in the One who has attained it for us.
On the flip side, I think many Christians have over-emphasized the mental component of faith and have minimized the role that works have for the Christian. There is a danger in assuming that if we merely ascribe to a set of beliefs that this is sufficient for the Christian life. I would counter that an accurate understanding of the gospel coupled with saving faith will result in a fruitful life. A fruitful life consists of growing in spiritual maturity and outward service to the body and the world.
In the current church climate, there is discrepancy as to how these concepts play out for the Christian. There are many who care minimally (if at all) for the authority of God’s Word and correct doctrine and would claim and teach that the church’s priority is social action – caring for the poor and disenfranchised, social justice, and environmental. Among evangelicals this also occurs when we engage the world and are compromised by it. Perhaps with good intentions, the church finds itself watering down its message so as to gain a greater audience and not offend anyone. But then there is a danger that we can pursue truth so vigorously and become so separate from our world that we reach no one. And yet these need not be in conflict.
Within the breadth of Scripture, there is clear teaching on the necessity of sound doctrine and warnings against compromise. The other side of the coin is that the Lord Jesus commands us to make disciples of the nations. This requires that we engage the world and introduce them to Christ. All that to say is that we, as Christians, need to ensure that we continue to hold fast to salvation by grace alone through faith alone. And… when we are converted to Christ there will be significant changes within us pertaining to our character. And there will be changes in our outward behaviour.
What we are going to see this morning touches on the relationship between faith and works. This story is primarily about Jesus and I don’t want anyone to miss this. Rather, what we want to see is how the person and work of Jesus affects those he encounters. We are going to see Faith in Action. Let’s pick up the text in Marks gospel, chapter 5 verses 21 to 34.
First, there is a Faith that Hears. In our text this morning, we encounter two different people – very different. Initially, we encounter a man name Jairus who is identified as a synagogue ruler. He was responsible to conduct the synagogue worship, to select those who were to lead the prayer, read the Scriptures and to preach. Jairus was a man with great responsibility and position within the local synagogue.
Secondly, we come across a woman who is down-and-out. She represents the opposite end of the spectrum. This woman suffered physically for more twelve years. Because of her condition, she was also poor and hopeless. What is common between them is that they had faith to hear.
Though it is not spelled out explicitly in the text, I believe it is safe to say that Jairus had heard about Jesus. Jesus has apparently gone back and forth to the shores of the Sea of Galilee. People and crowds appear immediately because his reputation has preceded him. The same is true here. Jesus crosses again in the boat (most likely back to Capernaum) and he is once again greeted by a great crowd – including one Jairus. The verse here suggests that Jairus met him immediately with his request. And beyond this, he believes that Jesus is capable of healing his daughter.
Apparently, Jairus had “ears to hear.” Within the parable of the sower and the seed, it was those who had ears to hear that were given understanding. They were given the secret of the kingdom of God. But for those outside, they were unable to perceive or understand. It would seem as though many of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day would have fallen into this category. They were most concerned with their fabricated rules that they did not consider Jesus to be the Messiah. They were expecting something, someone else. They did not humble themselves and consider that they got it wrong. Jairus was able to consider Jesus. The text does not indicate whether or not Jairus had any previous contact with Jesus, only that he believed Jesus could heal his daughter.
Verse 25 says that 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. Anyone familiar with this condition and the ceremonial laws would see the issue most clearly. As much as this is a health issue, it is also a spiritual one. One commentator notes, “Menstruation made women ceremonially unclean and cut them off from any fellowship with God’s people for a part of every month. This woman’s sickness had meant that in her case the exclusion had been for twelve long years.” She had not been a worshiper in community for twelve years! Can you imagine? She had been ostracized because of something beyond her control.
She had heard the reports about Jesus. Here too was a woman who considered the person of Jesus. She listened to the reports and decided to act on what she had heard. She heard, she came, and she touched.
Jairus and this woman had both heard the reports about Jesus. Prior to these instances, they likely had no connection with him before. But somebody told them about him. The question for us this morning is this: Have our friends, neighbours, and co-workers heard the reports about Jesus? Have they had the opportunity to consider who he is? Have they had the chance to respond to what they know? People need to hear about the Son of God. And what better time of the year for us to do this??
There is also a Faith that Seeks Jesus. Hearing demands a response. And this is what happens in our cast of characters in this text. Jairus must have heard that Jesus was able to heal and so, in his desperation, he immediately confronts Jesus at the shoreline. He was not skeptical but believed that Jesus was who he claimed to be and that he had the power over death. Jairus implored Jesus earnestly and confidently asserted that should Jesus come and lay hands on his daughter, she would be made well and live. When confronted with the person of Jesus, there is a response. We recall that others accused Jesus of operating within the power of Satan. They did not accept him, but rejected him. From chapter 4, it was not the crowd that was in on the secret of the kingdom, but those who pursued after Jesus.
Verse 27 indicates that because she had heard the reports about Jesus, the woman came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. She too exhibited great faith. Verse 28, “for she said, ‘If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” Based upon what she knew of Jesus, she pursued him in great faith. You can almost see and hear the struggle within her as she contemplates approaching this Jesus. She seems timid and yet desperate. In her talking to herself, the verb is in the imperfect tense which literally would be rendered, “she was saying.” She was trying to muster up the courage. Her faith won out and she did what she set out to do.
We see also that this is Faith that Humbles. In the first interaction, we see a synagogue ruler who hears the reports about Jesus and demonstrates faith that seeks him out. Remember that to this point, the synagogue hasn’t been overly accommodating to Jesus. The last time he entered a synagogue, which may have even been in Capernaum, Jesus healed the man with the withered hand – on the Sabbath. And we remember how that went. We considered that perhaps Jesus was being set up as the Pharisees watched to see if Jesus would heal the man. And this so that they might accuse him. Jesus, knowing their thoughts, healed the man and spoke against those in their presence. That was all that the Pharisees needed. They went out and plotted how they would destroy Jesus. Could Jairus be from the same synagogue??
Now picture the scene. Jairus is a ruler of a synagogue. He approaches Jesus at the shoreline immediately upon his arrival. He sees Jesus and drops to his feet and begs him for his help. This is a faith that humbles. It would seem that to this point, the religious leaders had largely rejected Jesus. Jairus, a synagogue official casts his lot with Jesus at this moment. He cannot be numbered with those who are plotting against Jesus to destroy him. In this moment, he has identified with Jesus Christ. He has dropped to his knees and does not consider his reputation or the fear of man. This occurred in the middle of this great crowd that has gathered. This would have spoken volumes to those who were present.
Perhaps the woman did not have as much to lose as she approached Jesus. Her desperation allowed her to gain courage to come up behind him. Her act of faith resulted in her healing. There is an interesting thing that happens in this encounter. Verses 30-32 states, “And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments? 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’ ” 32 And he looked around to see who had done it.” Some have suggested that Jesus knew who it was and was merely wanting the person to come forward to identify herself. Others suggest that this was evidence of Jesus’ self-limitation by taking on humanity. I think that the latter is correct where Jesus voluntary laid aside his attributes to become man. But I also believe that Jesus wanted to engage the woman and make the encounter more personal.
And at the same time Jesus humbles her. She did not want to be made a spectacle of. She wanted to merely disappear into the crowd it would seem. Jesus first introduced the situation by asking who had touched his garments. The disciples remark quite sarcastically by saying, “are you kidding me? Can you see all these people here? And you want to know which one touched you??” But Jesus didn’t give up. He looked around… The Greek verb has the force of “he kept looking around.” Was it the question that Jesus asked or the look that caused the woman to become fearful? Maybe both. Can you picture this scene? The woman hopes to fade away into obscurity and Jesus, the man of the hour so to speak, says, “Alright. Who touched me?” And then his eyes meet the woman’s eyes. He knows at this point, I think.
She is filled with fear and trembling. Why? Could it be that, like the disciples in the boat that day, she now understood who it was that was in her presence? Or was it that she, in her unclean state, has just defiled this holy man? Did she think that she delayed his mission? Perhaps all these things were going through her mind. Though she was afraid, she fell down at his feet and confessed to him the whole truth. Why else would she tell him the whole truth unless she knew who he was? This humbled the woman.
In this passage, it is also Faith that Heals. With regard to Jairus and his daughter, we will have to wait until next week to see what happens to them. This is how we keep you coming back. But then again, of course you are continuing to read ahead in Mark’s gospel.
With regard to the woman, we see the result of her interaction with Jesus. In verse 30 we have the interesting statement that Jesus perceived that power had gone out from him. It seems as though it cost Jesus something. It also seems involuntary on the part of Jesus. It’s as if God was the one who chose to heal her because of her faith. I believe that it has less to do with the touch of the garment and more to do with the faith she exhibited. One commentator adds, “Underlying the physical contact is a ‘transaction’ at a deeper level. It is this which takes the woman herself by surprise, when she finds that what she had planned as a secret one-way contact proves in fact to be two-way, and is thus brought into the open.”
We know from verse 29 that the woman was healed immediately when she touched his garments. The disease that had plagued her for twelve years was no longer. Jesus explains further what has happened in verse 34. After calling her to account, Jesus indicates that it was not the touch that was responsible for her healing, but her faith.
In this case, as well as elsewhere in the gospels, we see that people are healed of their physical infirmities. There are also passages where God has determined that people are not healed. So, contrary to some televangelists and preachers, not all people are healed based upon faith. God often uses these weaknesses to bring him more glory. Think of Joni Erickson Tada or some of you are familiar with the story of Rachel Barkey in Vancouver who ministered powerfully to many people as she died at a young age from cancer. She testified powerfully to her life’s purpose of glorifying God in the midst of her struggle.
More important than physical healing is spiritual salvation. And I think that this it included in our passage here. Faith in Christ always brings spiritual healing. This woman who had suffered for so long came to Jesus in faith. And Jesus words in verse 34 are literally rendered, “your faith has saved you.” If this doesn’t at least hint at salvation, consider the obvious redundancy by then including, “and be healed of your disease.”
Consider this almost identical language that comes from Luke 7:47–50. Recall the story of the sinful woman from the city who sat at Jesus feet and wet them with her tears. In a teachable moment to the judgmental Pharisees, Jesus talks about the significance of being forgiven of sins. He says, “47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Identical words and sentence structure.
Lastly, this is a Faith in Jesus. We have looked predominantly to this point of the actions of Jairus and the woman. Let’s note a few things about Jesus specifically now. Jesus has been ministering from one end of the Sea of Galilee to the other. Do you see his compassion and love for people? He barely stepped out of the boat and again people are clamoring for him. When Jairus implores him to help his daughter, Jesus goes with him.
Even as he is on the way with a great crowd following him pressing in on him, a woman approaches him. Jesus does not throw his hands up in desperation and exasperation at the needs of all the people. Once again he acts by engaging the woman, assuring her of her healing and sending her away in peace.
Now recall that the woman was ceremonially unclean, banished from the worshiping community and from contact with others. Not only does Jesus not shy away from this woman and her condition, he engages her. Craig Keener states, “Jesus has the power to overcome the defilement of ceremonial uncleanness; Jesus' ministry shows that God's holiness is unaffected by human impurity when it comes in contact with it.” Jesus was in the midst of crowds of sinners and unclean people.
This is of particular relevance to the believer. In emulating the ministry of Jesus, we are to likewise engage a lost and unclean world in order to redeem it. Remember there is a bit of tension here. When we interact with the world for the gospel, we need to ensure that the world is the one affected by our interaction and not the opposite. Sinners are to be led to Christ and not Christians to worldliness.
Jesus is no respecter of persons. All are equal in his sight. Both ends of the spectrum are represented her. Jesus reaches out to the man in a prominent position as well as to the nameless woman who was an outcast. Both have access to the kingdom of God. We can see glimpses of this in local churches as well. We are comprised of those in different social and economic classes and have Jesus Christ as our common identity.
James Edwards writes this, “Discipleship is not simply getting our needs met; it is being in the presence of Jesus, being known by him, and following him.” Jesus made a powerful point when he did not allow the woman to escape unnoticed. The woman’s healing does not come free; Jesus forces her to step out in faith and be identified; she must publicly acknowledge her debt to Jesus, that he is the source of her healing. This act necessitate being identified by Christ and with him, and following after him. Many people believe it is merely a touching of the garments and going off to do our own thing. In essence we are saying, “I think Jesus can do something for me. So I’ll just sneak up and have as little contact as possible and then retreat back to my life.” Jesus says, “I need to know who you are. And you need to come to me.” Jesus makes it much more personal.
I don’t know about you but I look at the faith exhibited by these two and I am ashamed at my own faith. Jairus and this woman acted on very little information. They sacrificed their reputation in pursuing Jesus. We now have a much greater understanding of Jesus because we have the Word of God which provides much more detail. Yet, at times, my faith is so weak at times. Jesus desires that we step out in faith. It shows our dependence on him and his sufficiency in all things.
This morning, I hope and pray that you have bowed the knee to Jesus – that you have acted on what you know of him, that you have humbled yourself before him, caring little for what others may think. I pray that you have identified with him and surrendered your life to him. And if not, I implore you to have a faith that hears the Word of God and a faith that seeks after Jesus, a faith that humbles and ultimately heals your sinful condition. Please talk to me or somebody else here if you don’t know this Jesus.