"Dare to Reach for Jesus when Hope is Gone"
She was on top of the world. Or beyond.
Last Monday, an Iranian-American woman named Anousheh Ansari blasted off in a Russian rocket bound for the International Space Station, achieving her dream of becoming planet earth's first female space tourist. She reportedly paid $20 million for the privilege. As she entered the rocket, she commented, "I'm just so happy to be here." Asked his opinion about the propriety of sending tourists into space, the NASA flight director admitted, "My personal feeling is I wish it could be me."
How many people would echo those sentiments! How cool it would be to ascend above these earthly strata into the heavenlies - to see the beauty of our planet from above and float about in the weightlessness of space! But what a price to pay for the experience...we might consider a regular cruise for $2,000; but you could send 10,000 people on a cruise for $20 million. Is that responsible stewardship? The news article notes Ansari said she expected seeing Earth from space would alter her view of the planet. "You'll see how small and how fragile the Earth is compared to the rest of the universe," she said. "It will give us a better sense of responsibility." Perhaps she could start to improve that sense by using the resources more wisely.
Another woman made the headlines that same day. But in contrast to the hitchhiking astronaut, this woman was neither rich nor powerful. An Italian nun at a children's hospital in Somalia's capital was shot and killed on Sunday, hours after a leading Muslim cleric condemned the Pope for his remarks on Islam and violence. The nun was shot in the back at a hospital which serves mothers and children. The nun's bodyguard and a hospital worker were also killed. The nun, about 60 in age, spoke fluent Somali, and had been working at the hospital since 2002. So sad! Such a senseless and needless crime! Yet, in view of Christ's kingdom, whom would you rather be - our high-flying space tourist, or the unidentified devoted nun helping the poorest in need? Which life is more fully lived and full of meaning? Would the telecom millionaire or the humble nun be experiencing the most wholeness, peace, and fulfilment?
In our Bible reading today, both a socially important and powerful person and a mostly-unknown "nobody" discover that faith in Jesus releases God's healing power, when we humble ourselves and yield totally to Him.
It's not enough today to affirm the statement, "So-and-so is a person of faith." Faith can be a bit of a weasel-word unless its object is identified. It's always faith-in-something: so you must ask, a person of faith IN WHAT? People can have faith in a nameless Higher Power, or Nature, or Buddha, or just in themselves - but none of these are commendable in the Biblical sense of faith. In New Testament thinking, Faith seeks the right source. The Bible warns against putting our trust in money, our own wisdom or strength, our military might. So in today's culture it's essential to clarify what a person's faith is IN...One person puts their faith in 'the system', that their social assistance or pension cheque is going to arrive on time and the health care system will cover all their medical needs. The sign outside the corner store screams at us to put our faith in "X million dollars" to be won in the next lottery. The media lure us to trust in those who've given their lives over to success in politics or the entertainment world - that's why we call them "stars" or "idols". Our fallen natures tempt us to look to sex or pleasure as a source of ultimate fulfilment, or maybe the opposite of consumption such as trusting in the latest diet to make us feel more worthy. Some people even put their trust in superstition, fetishes like a lucky rabbit's foot or horseshoe, other good luck charms, or more directly occult items such as crystals or horoscopes. Whatever you devote your time and resources to, what guides you in your day-to-day decisions and priorities - that becomes your idol. It's got to do with what your heart considers precious. Jesus warned, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Mt 6:21)
V22a, "Then one of the synagogue rulers, named Jairus, came there." Jairus sought the right source: he risked putting his faith in Jesus. His daughter's serious illness drove him to swallow his pride and turn to this new-on-the-scene unschooled itinerant preacher, who happened to be out of favour with the Jewish leaders and viewed with suspicion and criticism by the Pharisees and other "synagogue types". Recall that in small communities before modern times, the place of worship was often the hub of community life; if you had a place of leadership there, you were a very important person. The Life Application Bible notes, "Jairus was the elected ruler of the local synagogue. He was responsible for supervising worship, running the weekly school, and caring for the building. Many synagogue rulers had close ties to the Pharisees. It is likely, therefore, that some synagogue rulers had been pressured not to support Jesus. For Jairus to bow down before Jesus was a significant and perhaps daring act of respect and worship."
Faith seeks the right source. Jairus turned to Jesus - whatever the fallout might be. Note here the implications for evangelism: everyone has problems, even those most opposed to Christianity. Everybody has hurts or stress of some kind. If they see Jesus followers as potential means of finding help and hope, that may nudge even the stiffest opponent to inquire about what the Lord may do for them.
Often what people profess to believe in and what they really put their faith in are two different things; the distinction may not become apparent until hardship comes. Then watch what they actually turn to. You discover what a person really believes when they 'hit the wall' - when they realize their own powerlessness to change the situation.
As we've said, Jairus was likely a "VIP" in his home community. But his interaction with Jesus shows how desperate he is to get help: by his gestures and his words, he signals how submitted to and dependent upon the Lord he is in order to find assistance. Vv22b-23, "Seeing Jesus, he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him..." NRSV has "begged him repeatedly"; in the Greek literally it has "called upon him much" (same verb as paraclete). Jairus really humbled himself, falling down, repeatedly begging and pleading for Jesus to intervene before his daughter died. Here we see Faith relinquishes all confidence in one's own means and humbly rests solely on God's ability.
In the same crowd, as they head on their way to the ruler's home, is a lady who's so low-profile she's practically invisible. For 12 years she's suffered bleeding, a constant haemorrhage and loss of blood that must have left her feeling tired and perpetually weak. And besides, the doctors have been giving her the run-around, with no effect other than to exhaust her financially. V26, "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." No medicare or OHIP or health plans back then; when the money was gone, that was the end of the road treatment-wise. "She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors..." The medical art in Judea in that age was in a very crude condition. From the Rabbinical books, Lightfoot notes the remedy for a female haemorrhage: "Let them dig seven ditches, in which let them burn some cuttings of vines under four years old. Let her take in her hand a cup of wine; let them lead her away from this ditch and make her sit over that. Let them remove her from that and sit her over another. At each removal you must say to her, 'Arise for thy flux.'" You call that a 'treatment'?! This is an illustration of what this woman suffered. Maybe in that sense, Jesus for her really was a 'last-ditch effort'...
True faith requires that we recognize our own powerlessness, and cast ourselves entirely upon God's resources. In Alcoholics Anonymous, the first step on the road to recovery is to admit we need help.
Medical troubles have a way of forcing us to come to grips with our helplessness. William Willimon writes, "Sickness has a way of pushing us to the margins. When we are ill, sick in bed at home, life passes us by. Everyone is going places and doing things - everyone but us. We put our sick away in institutions. There they tend to languish far from active life...Another thing about sickness - sickness is losing control. Suddenly we are in the hands, like this woman, of 'diverse physicians'. We become not a person, but a patient. We are forced to take off our clothes, to wear odd hospital garments. We go through the indignity of having our bodies poked at and prodded. Needles are stuck in us, blood is drawn [if they can find a vein!]. We spend hours lying on a gurney, waiting for the doctor to come and give us a test. People come in and tell us to take this, drink that. We are out of control...Sickness reminds us that we are creatures. We are not immortal. Our lives have limits. The greatest limit we face is death."
Have you been there? Then you start to know a little of what this woman felt. Add to that the fact that even ordinary menstrual bleeding made a woman "unclean", cutting her off from society. This woman would have found herself, like the lepers, in the rejected part of society - lonely and isolated. But like Jairus, she humbly comes to Jesus. Both of them acknowledge their lack of power, their need and lowliness.
Pamela Reeve put it like this: "Faith is resting in the fact that God has an objective in leaving me on the scene when I feel useless to Him and a burden to others."
If you really truly believe something, it may lead you to be daring in pursuit of God: to act strangely and take steps that others find irrational. Even though the woman was supposed to be isolated, she ventured from the margins right into the centre of the swarm that was jostling and pressing around Jesus. V28 she was thinking, "If I just touch His clothes, I will be healed." So she came up behind Him in the crowd and touched His cloak (27). V29, "Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering." Hallelujah!
But she had to reach out and take a risk in order for it to happen. Those who are saved do not necessarily always 'play it safe'. God's constantly stretching us to grow into conformity with the beauty and excellence of His Son. Be prepared for growing pains and the discomfort of teething! Faith has somewhat of an 'edgy' nature to it. We're to be obedient to revelations God shows us. Even when those next steps lead others to question whether we're a bit crazy.
Scott Jones in a dream workshop at Stratford shared how the Lord used a dream to prepare him to quit his previous job in house construction to devote more time to ministry. He had a cell phone and saw phone numbers of houses he was working on, and in the dream it seemed he was robbing the houses instead of fixing them up. At the same time, God was preparing Scott's wife for the transition. But although in the long run they can look back and see how it was the right thing, at the time it seemed crazy, and they hated giving up the steady source of income.
Chuck Swindoll notes, "Your faith ought to get you in trouble at times. If everybody thinks you are nuts, you may be. It's OK if some think you are. You're probably in trouble if no one thinks you are."
What happened after the woman touched Jesus' hem is really interesting. See how He senses her contact and seeks her out. Vv30-32, "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 [being the logical sensible types they were], "and yet you can ask, 'Who touched me?'" But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it."
Faith is our response to God's invitation into relationship. When Jesus didn't see the woman at first, He didn't continue on His way, but kept looking all around to find out who'd received the flow of healing power. The miracle was only half complete; there was more to be said. Jesus wanted to find and address the individual face-to-face.
All healing, even miraculous healing, is only temporary in that eventually we die and our bodies decay. What matters more to God is that we encounter Him and receive Jesus as our ultimate Helper and Director. The healing miracle in the woman's case was only an entry point or introduction to the bigger issue of eternal life. So Jesus needed to address her, talk with her, know her. Eduard Schweizer comments: "Faith comes to fulfilment only in a personal encounter with Jesus, in dialogue with Him. Without this there is no value in miracles which stagger the imagination...Faith arises which leads from the "looking" on the part of Jesus that seeks and establishes fellowship, to dialogue with Jesus and then to His word by which one is dismissed in the peace of God. In this experience the believer learns that this indicates God's acceptance of him, and that God has entered into a fellowship with him which death will not terminate." So, if God gives you a miracle - don't waste it! Use it as a gateway to know Him more completely.
Once the woman comes forward, trembling with fear, and falls at His feet, Jesus' words to her pack much into a couple of lines. V34, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering." Break it down slowly. "Daughter" - part of the family, in close and dear relationship, no longer an outcast and reject as she has been for 12 years. "Your faith has healed you" - literally "saved" you: keep safe and sound, preserve from destruction, make well or whole, restore to health. There are two other words Mark could have used to describe the healing of a disease but he chose not to use them. Jesus is referring to healing in a more comprehensive sense. "Go in peace" - the Hebrew equivalent would be 'shalom', wholeness and soundness of body and soul. "Be freed from your suffering", your scourging - how wonderful she must have felt to have that constant energy sink closed up after 12 agonizing years! Free with energy to be productive and generative again, feeling well and eager to live and work and dance again! Complete and functional and sprung free to experience life fully and with joy before Her Maker.
Which of the women - the space tourist or the nun - was most "free" and "at peace"? Tragic as the shooting of the nun is, if she loved Jesus, one might argue she was making the most practical difference for God in the world, and might even welcome an unexpected dispatch to heaven. The news article notes the astronaut made her millions with her husband manufacturing signal-switching software for phone networks. "In 2000, at the height of the telecommunications boom, they sold their suburban Dallas company to Massachusetts-based Sonus Networks Inc. for $550 million US in Sonus stock.The value of those shares slid from $40 US to under $5 US as the telecom industry collapsed but her husband said they had 'enough opportunity to sell enough shares to earn financial independence.' The timing of some stock sales led to shareholder suits against Sonus and nine people, including Anousheh Ansari. The plaintiffs accused her of illegal insider trading in the sale of $26.3 million US in Sonus stock..."
Perhaps our wealthy space tourist isn't having quite as much fun as we thought. Lawsuits are stressful (even if they weren't guilty of insider trading). And if I were one of those stockholders who saw their portfolio plummet to 1/10, I might resent how she seems to think she has 'money to burn'. Faith, not financial wealth, is a surer path to peace and eternal freedom.
Willimon says: "Christians have a deeper understanding of healing...A central image for us is not cure but care, not wellness but wholeness. Wholeness is not simply having a body that is no longer diseased. It is also to be at peace with God and neighbour, what Jews called shalom - that all-embracing peace which means that we are at home in God."
Faith is a capacity God gives to see reality as He sees it - including complete awareness and allowance for His almighty creative power and purpose at work. For this last point, we'll switch back to the synagogue ruler. See how Jesus' actions counter the world's view and accept as reality the supernatural process God's about to unveil. V35, messengers come to say, "Your daughter is dead: why bother the teacher any more?" Or, "It's no use...too late." Jesus won't accept that. He counters with v36: "Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, "Don't be afraid; just believe."" Have faith, Jairus; trust Me. V37, Jesus doesn't let anyone follow except His closest disciples. He's starting to create the environment that fosters faith and will facilitate God's dimension breaking through. They arrive at the house; there are the usual wailers and hired flute-players pumping out mournful melodies. See how Jesus pushes away these norms in 39: "Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep." What's often the reaction when people start operating on a faith basis? 40, "They laughed at Him." They thought He was being unrealistic, a morbid joke. Once again, does He entertain that view for a moment? No: 40, "He put them all out..." Perhaps without being too genteel about it!
Finally, still acting on faith rather than what was plainly obvious to the senses, Jesus takes the girl by the hand and says to her tenderly just a couple of words, "Maiden, arise!" (Braid Scots has "Lassie, waken.") And the words of Jesus, echoing the awesome voice in Genesis 1, create the reality to which they refer. Astonishingly, the girl stood and walked around - hungry as a normal teen.
Sometimes, when God's involved, it's better to never mind the facts. Faith perceives the reality of what God is bringing about, and proceeds accordingly - however crazy or laughable this may seem to some. Faith gives us eyes to see what God's doing. That clashes with the way the enemy would have us look at things. Schweizer observes that Jesus "views the child in the same way that God does. For Him the coming resurrection is so certain that even now it is more real than the testimony of human eyesight. In the same way Jesus views the future kingdom as already active in the present."
Sometimes in LWCF I feel like I'm living a miracle. God is still at work, producing a new creation - in people and our community. Not long ago the Youth Park was merely an inspiration amongst some Prayer Warriors; this week it's becoming concrete (literally). When we set out to buy some land, we were pursuing less than 2 acres until the Lord intervened and blessed us with over 4 acres. What's the next wonder? Are you ready for it? Are you receptive, or going to react like the hard-nosed disciples and say something brilliantly obvious like, "You see the people round you on every side, and you say, Who was touching me?"
Chuck Swindoll tells this story about the amazing power of God when we rely on Him in faith.
We were in seminary in Dallas in 1959. And, boy, it was hot. Cynthia and I said, "We really need an air conditioner," since we didn't have one in this little apartment. So I said to Cynthia, "I'll tell you what let's do. Let's not tell anybody about our need; let's just pray." You do a lot of strange things like that in seminary, you know. You just trust God and you don't say anything to anybody. And so we did that.
Winter passed. Spring came. Still praying. We went home for a quick visit in Houston. We were staying with her folks. And out of the clear blue a phone call came from a guy who lived across town who had known us years before. He said, "Chuck, we've got an air conditioner. It's almost new. Could you use it?" I thought, Walk around a wall six times and then seven times. Is it really impossible? That's the way God operates.
He brought it over, put it in our car trunk, and we took it back to Dallas, stuck it in the window and it worked all through those four years there. It was fantastic. Impossible situation which we didn't announce and God met it in an impossible way. Just like God told Joshua to take Jerich. Faith would win the victory.