The new years eve CNN headline read – “Americans less hopeful about the future”
At the close of the year in 1999 a poll was taken of Americans as to their level of hope for the future, an astounding 85 % thought their lives would get better in the coming year and 68% thought things would get better in the world.
Now 10 years into the millennia those percentages have dropped nearly 20 percent. Just under 70% percent of those polled thought their own life would improve over this next year. And only half of those polled thought the world situation would improve.
We live in the midst of discouraging times. The discouragement that is felt is because of two things in particular, first, there are problems both in the world and problems in our lives. And 2nd, because many of these problems have no easily solution and seem to be taking a long time to get better.
I think this is true for most of us. We can easily be discouraged as we survey the landscape of the world and see the conflicts, the wars, the economy and the decline. When we look at our own lives, each of us knows we carry some baggage, have some issues, and some relationships which seem hopeless. If it isn’t our job situation, its our marriage, if we’re not married it’s the fact that we’re single, if we don’t have money that’s a problem, and if we do have money, it’s how do we use it and what’s going to happen if we lose it. There are so many things that can just drain the joy out of our lives.
It is easy to become discouraged in the midst of the problems we face. We need hope to move forward, we need hope to experience joy, and we need a good reason for having hope in the midst of our broken world, and our broken lives.
I’d like to talk to you today about faith, hope, and how Jesus touch in our lives can make all the difference in the coming year.
I’d like to talk to you today about a woman who brought problems much like the ones we face to Jesus and discovered what a difference he can make. We’ll find her story in Mark 5:25-34, which is on page 698 in your bibles. It reads
A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 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. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ” But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
Have you ever had a bad week, maybe a bad month, or a bad year. Well this woman is having a bad decade. Before we look at her encounter with Jesus I’d like to get at some of the challenges she faces as a result of her sickness. Besides the physical issues, there was financial, social, and spiritual difficulties that plagued her.
The physical issue she had was just the beginning of her problems. Can you imagine being sick for 12 years straight. At that point she was not only sick, she was sick of being sick. She was willing to go through anything to receive a cure. And yet she found herself getting sicker. Her disease was gaining on her and she was declining. She was finding herself weaker and weaker with dawn of each day. Her physical situation would have given her no reason for hope.
In addition, the doctors she went to for healing added to her suffering. Mark only tells us she has suffered much at the hands of many doctors, but can you imagine the discouragement of treatment after treatment failing.
I know this struck home with me personally. My mom has a chronic condition, and I know from watching her attempt various treatment plans with each one she gets her hopes up, only to find them dashed against the floor by the sickness of her body. This takes a huge emotional toll.
As I look at my own life, at the areas of struggle for me personally, at the relationships I have that I wish would improve, and in the issues of injustice and brokenness in the world. The lack of improvement I see brings me great discouragement, it makes me wonder if God cares, and if God will do something. It makes me ask the question is there any reason for hope.
Financially, the cost of the many failed doctors and their treatments brought her to the brink of financial disaster. In addition to all this, it is very likely because of this woman’s problem that she would have been unable to find a husband and in ancient middle eastern culture, her only option would have been to beg for aid. She would have been that person on the side of the freeway with a cardboard sign, hoping to scrape enough together to keep from becoming homeless. Her financial situation is desperate.
Socially, her particular ailment would have left her in a permanent state of being unclean. If she touches anyone, or anyone touches her they would become unclean as well. This extended to the touching of clothes. This woman socially was indefinitely banished from society, not only that but any who touched or she touched would be separated out for a day. She likely had no friends, and no expectation for being included in the community. The loneliness and rejection she felt would have been devastating. I think loneliness can be the worst of all trials. Feeling alone and rejected is one of the worst experiences a person can had, and she had a lived 12 years this way, with little hope for any change.
Spiritually, her disease also would have excluded her from worship at the churches of her day. She was denied access to receiving the forgiveness of her sins through the temple offering system, to celebrating with the community God’s faithfulness, and to being included with family and friends in special holidays and festivals. She couldn’t even come see Jesus as he taught in the temple square.
Now I now not many of us have faced a chronic disease that devastated our life so completely. That said, all of us have experienced some portion of what this woman lived. We have struggled with her against the discouragement of life not going our way with little hope for change. We have felt the sting of rejection and the loneliness that follows it. We have tasted the fear of financial insecurity. We have trudged through the valley of doubt wondering if God is there for us too. We have waded through swamp of discouragement wondering if something can actually change for the better. If we look into our own hearts and we hear the way we speak, we’ll find that each of us has areas of our lives where our very life is flowing out of us. It is the place that diminishes our vitality, takes away are shine, drains our energy, and sucks our enthusiasm out of us.
The issue where we need Jesus’ touch may be for salvation, but it might be healing for our body, for our relationships, or for our ministry.
This woman is a wonderful picture of faith of great discouragement. She has somehow heard of Jesus healings. She is completely convinced that if she can get to Him, his power will transform her life. The way she comes to Jesus however is interesting. She doesn’t call out his name from the side of the road as he travels, she doesn’t wait for him to come to her, instead she squeezes through the crowd that is following Jesus, hoping that no one will recognize her. She quietly and timidly nudges here way through the crowd. She knows that if she is recognized every person she has pushed up against will be declared unclean. She believes that Jesus if he sees her may call out her status to the crowd, and that through touching his robe she would make him unclean. She is hoping to touch his clothes rather than meet him, so that she can slip away anonymously. She is fully aware of the Lord’s power and ability to heal her, but she is unsure of his care and his love.
I think most of us, when we come to believe in God, understand that God has immense power. We know that God is great, that He’s strong and mighty, and that God can do miracles. What we find ourselves wondering about is whether God will enter into our trouble.
I often find when I offer to pray for people who don’t know the Lord, they don’t believe God cares unless it’s a really big deal. Like God is too busy to enter into their situation. He must have more important things to do. The idea of a God who is uninvolved in our lives is not only not scriptural it is totally discouraging.
We need to take a note from this woman about faith. Because this woman’s faith is so strong. She believes God’s power is available for her life and her situation. Her faith is strong enough to risk pushing her way through the crowd, rubbing shoulders with the people who judge her and reject her on a daily basis. And rather than letting her discouraging, hopeless illness keep her from the Lord, her sickness drives her to Him, trusting that He will transform her life. Oh, that we would be as bold to bring our troubles to the Lord.
As soon as this woman nudges her way through the crowd and her faith in the Lord’s power for her meet, she is healed. Mark throws an exclamation point on the story with the word immediately. She feels the change in her body right way. By the way the word for healing in the Greek is not the one we expect to see. It is the word saved. It has a spiritual connotation to it. As soon as her faith met with Jesus power, God saves her. That is how it is with us as well. As soon as our lives with its sin and brokenness comes into contact with the Lord through faith, we too are saved. An encounter with God, is not just an ascent to some truth about who God is, it is a life-altering experience.
The miracle of this woman’s healing is beautiful because of its immediacy. It shows that no matter how hopeless or discouraging our situation might be, God can overcome it. There is no situation not in our lives, not in the world, that God’s healing power can’t transform. What’s even more beautiful is what happens after the healing however.
Jesus asks the disciples, “Who touched my clothes?” The question makes no sense to the disciples, Jesus is in a crowd with many people pushing into him. The question does makes sense to the woman, she knows it is a call for her to make herself known to Jesus in the midst of the crowd. Jesus is inviting her to make herself known.
The text says the woman came to Jesus trembling in fear and admits the whole truth. She has stolen a cure from him she thinks. Have you ever been caught doing something you shouldn’t? I know I had that experience many times. I can still hear my mom’s voice ringing out “Christopher Dale Fulkerson, do you know anything about this broken vase in here?”
I’m sure this woman fears the worst. She is sure Jesus will point out how she made him unclean as well as a portion of the crowd. She believes that He will embarrass her and call her to account for her careless actions.
It is in the words he tells her next that we discover perhaps the greatest miracle of all. He says to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
Jesus will not let the woman or us leave his presence merely knowing God is a powerful savior, he wants us to be fully aware of His love for us, and the relationship he invites us into. Jesus calls her his daughter. By the way, it is in the only time in scripture Jesus calls someone his daughter. John says in his gospel that those who believe in Jesus become the beloved children of God, His sons and daughters, on whom he lavishes his love. This woman, and us, need to be reminded we don’t merely worship a God who is powerful, but rather one who won’t let us go through life without knowing that we are more loved than we could imagine.
Where we should anticipate receiving a punishment from God and an accounting for how we have done things wrong. Because of Jesus Christ, we instead are invited into a relationship with God as his sons and daughters, so that we can be made whole, receive salvation, and overcome the many things that keep us discouraged and lacking hope, purpose and joy.
Jesus also reminds this woman because of her healing, she has a wonderful future to live into. A future of peace with God, a future of inclusion with the community, a future with the possibility of marriage, and celebration of God’s faithfulness. She is fully restored on every level. Spiritually, emotionally, socially and physically. And God will not quit working in our lives until we are whole and complete as well.
Friends, when we come to Jesus in faith a life transforming journey begins. It is a life filled with living into the abundant life that God has for us. The brokenness, the trouble in our lives need not dominate us any longer. We too have been freed to live into an incredible abundant life. By receiving from God his peace, listening to and being empowered by the Holy Spirit, and living into the wholeness Jesus bought for us we are invited into a wonderful life with so much more than we have today. There is no area that is hopeless for God to change. There is no spot where the devil can lay claim on our lives and say, “This will be your problem as long as you live.” Jesus command to this woman and us in light of what he has done and is doing is to go in peace, knowing that we are free to live whole lives because of him.
This woman walks away with a new relationship with God and hope for a brighter future and so do we. Because of Jesus’ touch on our lives we can face whatever trouble, whatever discouraging situation that might come up, knowing that we are in the hands of a God who is dead set on bringing us healing and restoration.
There is one last reason I would like to point out for why Jesus calls this woman out. In the story before this one and after this one in Mark’s gospel Jesus is walking with a man whose about to find out his sick daughter has just died. Jesus wants this man, Jairus, to trust Him and to believe that Jesus can raise her from the dead. I’m not sure Jairus would have been able to do so unless he saw with his own eyes Jesus care for and heal this woman.
Whatever experience of wholeness and healing we might have received from Jesus, there are others around us every day who need to hear the stories of what God has done in our lives. As they see us live a restored life, as they experience the kindness and joy we bring with us because God has shown us grace, they too will find hope for the future. They too will find themselves touching the robe of the one that can heal them and being called God’s sons and daughters. God’s goodness toward us isn’t there just for our sake, it is there for the sake of the whole world.
We know this world is full of brokenness, and if we’re honest with ourselves we know from looking inside our own souls that there is are many and great reasons to be discouraged. There is much darkness in our lives and the world. But we also know there is a light that is so much brighter than all that darkness. His name is Jesus and it is He who can bring us healing and restoration. It is He who invites us to himself. He invites us as his sons and daughters to live into a bright future, empowered and led by His Holy Spirit. He calls us to share our stories of how he has shown us grace with others that they might receive his healing as well.
The news headline may read, “Less reasons for hope than ever before.” We may face trouble on every side, and even long-standing trouble that discourages us from ever believing that change can happen. But Jesus, through this woman’s story, reminds us that God can and God does enter our lives and as we touch him, he brings us hope and abundant life for the future.