Sunday, May 6, 2012

When Not to Call the Doctor

Restoration and Resurrection

Gospel Reading: Mark 5: 21-43

People can be demanding. Any mother who has had several small children at home at the same time knows that. One needs her diaper changed. Another needs his shoes tied. Another must have immediate attention, because he just fell off the chair he was using to get to the cookies. And the littlest is crying because she needs to be nursed - now!

When life goes like that, it is easy to become stressed. Someone always needs something; you are the only one that can meet the needs. Sometimes you don’t know where to turn. You feel like screaming, and maybe sometimes you do, though it doesn’t make you feel any better. No wonder when the dad returns to his castle, expecting to be warmly welcomed and to recover from his hard day at the office, you throw the whole brood at him and lock yourself in your room.

Of course, life is like that for lots of us – when you are responsible for aging parents, when you are the lead on the project that keeps growing but still has the same deadline, when you’ve got baseball and band and the teacher loads on the homework. It seems that someone always wants you and wants something from you.

We saw Jesus in a like situation in today’s Gospel Reading, when we read about His walking near Capernaum. On this occasion, all the jostling of Jesus and the demands put on Him led to two miracles, one of restoration and one of resurrection.

I. Restoration

As Jesus walked, a very large crowd surrounded him. But, an important man made his way through the crowd to Jesus. His name was Jairus, and he was a ruler of the synagogue. The rulers of the synagogues were the elders. They had responsibility both for the care of the building and for the arrangement and oversight of the services. He was prominent in both the religious and social life of the town.

However, on this occasion he did not stand on his dignity. He fell down at Jesus feet and began to beg. He said, “My little daughter at the point of death. Come lay your hand on her so that she might be made well.” Those of us who have children know that there are few more helpless feelings than to watch our children suffer with an illness. How much worse it must be when the illness threatens death. His desperation made him ready to forget his status and to do anything that would help his daughter who was already on death’s door.

He knew of Jesus. He had probably been there when Jesus preached and cast out an evil spirit in that synagogue. He was familiar with Jesus’ preaching and His miracles carried out in and around Capernaum. He believed, if anyone could help him, Jesus was that person. So he implored Jesus to come to His house and heal his daughter. Jesus agreed, and they set out.

They must have walked as briskly as they could, but the thronging crowd kept them from moving as fast as they wanted. You know how worked-up crowds can be. The group excitement is so great that they do not yield way even for emergencies. But then, in addition to the hassling of the crowd, a new impediment confronted them.

Mark tells us that there was a woman in the crowd. Unlike Jairus she was not an important person in any sense. But she had a problem. She had suffered from a “discharge of blood” for twelve years. She had not been passive, but active, in trying to deal with it. She had seen many physicians. She had seen so many and undergone so many treatments that she has spent all her resources on medical care. But, despite all the physicians and all the money she spent, she had not improved. In fact, she was worse than ever.

Now this condition from which the woman suffered had not only physical consequences – for instance she must have been chronically anemic. It also had religious and social ramifications. The Old Testament ceremonial law said: “If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days…all the days of the discharge she shall continue in uncleanness” (Lev. 15: 25). This woman was always in a state of ritual impurity. She was not to have contact with others, for, if they touched her or she touched them, they would become defiled also, and have to go through ritual purification. By law, this woman was cut off from both religious and social life. She should not have been in the crowd – who knows how many people contracted impurity from her and did not even know it? And she surely should not have had any contact with Jesus. He was a teacher and a holy man. What right did she, in her condition, have to touch Him?

But she did. She, too, had heard about Jesus - His teaching, His exorcisms, His miracles of healing. So she sought Him out, thinking to herself, “If only I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” She managed to touch His clothes.  Immediately the flow of blood stopped, and she felt inside herself that she was healed of the disease.

She wasn’t the only one who felt something. Jesus also sensed that power had gone out from Him. The power that Jesus had, and exercised as the Messiah, was the power the Father had given to Him. It remained the Father’s power, and in this case, the Father honored the woman’s faith and granted her healing without any conscious intent on the part of Jesus. But Jesus sensed that something had happened – that the power the Father had given Him had gone out.

Jesus turned around and asked, “Who touched me?” While the Lord always had access to the His omniscience as the Son of God, He did not usually draw on it. So, His question is an honest human question, “Who touched me?” His disciples were amused at the question. With the throng around Him and so many people touching Him, how could He could ask, “Who touched me?” meaning to find a single individual? Jesus was not going to let her go away with her miracle. He was going to find her and have direct and personal dealings with her.

The woman knew what had happened. Her life had been restored.  She had got healing power from Jesus, and now she was well. But she was afraid. So, trembling, she came to Jesus and fell down on her knees and told Him the whole truth. She told Him of all her years of illness, of her treatments that had all failed, of how she had impoverished herself trying to get well, of how her case was incurable and hopeless. Of how she had heard about Jesus, of how she had got the idea to go to Him, and of how she got it in her mind that, if she touched his clothes she might be healed, of how she had nothing to lose, of how she touched Him and now she was well!

Jesus said to her, “Your faith has made you well.” Jesus makes it clear that her healing is the result of faith, not magic, and not just a general faith but a faith in Him. Her faith was far from perfect faith – but it was genuine faith in Him, and Jesus accepted it. However, He would not let her go away with just her physical healing, for He had not come primarily to heal diseases. He had come to make peace between God and man, and so He sent her away in peace. She had her life back again. Jesus had restored her to normalcy. She was healed of her disease and living in the peace Jesus gives to those who trust in Him.

The woman’s case has something to do with us. The physical condition the woman had was used by the prophet Isaiah to tell us about our sinful condition. “We have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment (Isaiah 64:6).  Our condition is worse then the woman’s ritual uncleanness, for we are by nature morally polluted. We don’t like that fact, but fact it is. And our case is as helpless and hopeless as the woman’s. Neither we nor anyone else can heal our condition.

 I may be speaking today to someone who has never come to Christ, but you have come to church today, and you are acutely aware of your sinfulness and your inability to stop sinning or to make up for your sins. Or, perhaps I am talking to a Christian, who has fallen back into the pollution from which once you escaped. You are either hard and cynical or you are broken and despairing.

Whatever may be your situation, you need Dr. Jesus. Jesus will receive you. He will listen as you pour out your heart and tell Him the whole truth. And He will say to you, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Go to Jesus only and take with you nothing but faith, and you will be whole. Do you want your life back? Go to Jesus, and He will restore it. 

II. Resurrection

While Jesus was still speaking to the woman, bad news arrived from Jairus’ house: “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” Jairus had come to Jesus when he was facing the “greatest crisis in life” (Ferguson). As the hymn says death is “shad’wing us and ours.” Now the shadow had swallowed Jairus’ little girl. Now there was no hope. Death is final, and no one can do anything about it.

What thoughts must have gone through Jairus’ mind? I expect a lot of “what ifs.” What if the crowd had opened up and let them walk faster? What if the woman had not touched Jesus? What if Jesus had not stopped to talk to the woman? A lot of valuable time had been lost. Now his daughter was dead. And Jesus had delayed.

Sometimes we find ourselves in truly desperate circumstances, and we call out to Jesus for help, and it seems He does not come. When that happens, we must not think we are the first or only believers who have experienced one of God’s delays. The Psalmists frequently ask, “How long, O LORD?” They are calling upon Him, and they need Him now, but He does not help them as they ask. Later in Jesus ministry, when He delayed going to the bedside of His sick friend Lazarus, Lazarus’ sister, Martha, said to Him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11: 24). Perhaps Jairus was tempted to say, “Lord, if you had hurried, my daughter would not have died.” How do we understand these delays? In the cases of Lazarus and the little girl, it was because Jesus had something greater in mind than to heal them. But, for us, we may not know the reasons for His delays. But, we can be assured He has a purpose. What we must do is to learn to trust the Person, even when we do not know the reason.

Jesus overheard what the people telling Jairus that his daughter had died and that there was no further need to trouble Jesus. But Jesus’ said to Him, “Do not fear, only believe.” What Jesus says may seem almost cruel. The man has lost his daughter to death. One of the things he most feared in life has happened to him. And Jesus said, “Do not fear, only believe.” What does He mean? He means: In the face of death, do not give in to desperation and hopelessness. Do not let your heart be so gripped with fear that you are driven by panic. Rather, believe, exercise faith. Jesus is not just calling for a general faith in anybody or anything, but for faith in Him. He was in effect saying to Jairus, “You came to me in faith when she was sick and very near death. Now that she has died, don’t turn away. Keep trusting in me.”

When Abraham was called upon by the LORD to sacrifice, his only son, the son he has waited for so long, the son he loved more than he could say, he did what God asked of him. Why? Because, as the writer of Hebrews says, “He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead…(Hebrews 11: 19). As Christ called upon this man not to give in fear but to believe in Him, so, in the crises of our lives, He calls on us not to panic but to put our trust in Him, believing that He can do whatever He wills and that He will do what is best.

Jesus, accompanied now by only Jairus and His three closest disciples, Peter, James, and John, went on to Jairus’ house. There Jesus saw a commotion. The mourning had begun. People were weeping and wailing loudly. Some of those were relatives and close friends. Some had witnessed the girl’s death, and some had hurried there when they got the news. They were sincerely expressing their deep sorrow and great sense of loss. Possibly, also the professional mourners had arrived, for the Jewish practice was to bury the dead on the day of death. Directions for a first century Jewish funeral said even the poorest should try to hire two flute players and one wailing woman for a funeral. Jairus’ family was prominent, so they would have had more who came to wail. It is interesting that one of the effects of the influence of the Christian faith has been the way Christians act at death, and at the funeral home, and at the funeral and burial. There are tears to be sure, as there should be. But seldom do you see Christians, facing the death of their loved ones who died in the Lord, making a commotion and wailing inconsolably. As Paul later said, we weep but not as those who have no hope.

When Jesus confronted the mourners, He said, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” What was He saying – that a mistake had been made and she was not really dead? No, He was saying how they should view her death. She was like a person sleeping. He condition was not permanent but temporary. She would awake in due time. We find often in the New Testament that believers who have died are described as asleep. This testifies to the hope of resurrection. Their bodies are asleep. Asleep longer than the little girl was, but asleep nevertheless.

If you go to an old cemetery, you may find a grave marker that says of the person, “asleep in Jesus,” a powerful testimony to what faith can say in the face of death. Jesus said at another time, “Truly, truly I say to you, an hour is coming when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and live” (John 5:25). And to believers He gives this promise: “For this is the will of the Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6: 40).

Jesus’ statement that the girl was asleep was met by laughter on the part of the mourners. To them this was utterly impossible. It deserved to be dismissed in derision. Such is the way of unbelief. And Jesus put them out. Someone might ask, Why did He not allow them to stay and witness the miracle that He was about to perform? Surely that would have overcome their skepticism. But that is not the case. As Dr. Sinclair Ferguson comments, “Those who will not trust Jesus’ words will not trust his deeds.”

That is why, for Jesus and for us, the Word is always primary. Jesus told a story. A rich man died and went to hell. A poor man to whom he had been indifferent died and went to heaven to be with father Abraham. From hell the rich man asked that Lazarus be sent back to earth to warn his brothers, but Abraham said that they would not believe even if someone were raised from the dead. So it continues to be – in the face of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, many continue stubbornly in the darkness of unbelief.

When Jesus was alone with the parents and His three disciples, He went in to the room where the girl lay. There He took her by the hand, and said, “Talitha cumi.” Those are the words Jesus spoke in the Aramaic language of His day, and they mean, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And she got up immediately and began walking. She was dead, and by the word of Jesus she was not alive.

When we die our souls go to be with the Lord Jesus, while our bodies go into the grave, where as the Westminster Confession so beautifully says, they are still united to Christ and waiting for the resurrection day. I’ve  had a few surgeries. When one has surgery one goes to sleep and the next thing you know you are awake and people are talking to you. So it will be with our bodies. They go into the grave and the next thing they know is the voice of Jesus calling them forth from the grave. Listen, Christian, death does not have the last word. It is not the victor. It is the last enemy that will be defeated by our Lord, and, when that happens, we will be raised up with Him to be with Him and the whole host of believers in the eternal kingdom.

The story closes with a nice touch. Jesus told the parents to give the little girl something to eat. That shows the awareness of our Lord of her need, but it also shows that that when she was raised life returned to normal. She got up and had something to eat. Sometimes when we think about the eternal kingdom and compare it to what we know, we are not so sure we will like it there. It seems too unreal, too ethereal, too airy. But, when we are raised from the dead, we will be raised with souls and bodies that are beyond the touch of sin now united forever. But we are not going to float on clouds in white robes playing harps. We are going to rise and go about normal life, only normal will be something far happier and more fulfilling than anything normal in this fallen world.

I have two promises for all those who put their trust in Christ. He will restore your broken life now, and on the last day He will raise you up to immortal life.


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