This Monday, I had the opportunity to preach at a men’s rescue mission in downtown Birmingham. Below is an (edited) transcript of my sermon, a consideration of what we learn about who Jesus is from Mark 5:21-43, the story of the raising of Jairus’ daughter and the healing of the woman with bleeding.
If we could distill the gospel of Mark down to just one question, it would be this: who and what is Jesus of Nazareth? Who is Jesus that we should still be talking about him at Brother Bryan mission in Birmingham Alabama in 2017? If you look at the bare facts of his life, he isn’t impressive: he was a poor carpenter who became a traveling teacher and a miracle-worker. He was executed shamefully by the Romans. His teaching was impressive and he drew crowds, but we have had lots of teachers since then. Why is he special? Who is Jesus? That is the question I want you to have in mind as we look at our story tonight, because this is the most important question we can ask. This is the turning point question for every man in this room: who do you say that Jesus is?
I think we can make three observations about Jesus from this text that help us to answer our question.
1) Jesus has the power to heal us from sin and suffering
Consider again the story of the woman with bleeding. She had been suffering profoundly for twelve years. Twelve years! Consider how long that is: if we met her today, and today was the day she was healed, she would have been bleeding since before iPhones came out, before Nick Saban became coach at Alabama, before Obama was elected. It would be as though she had started suffering when Hurricane Katrina hit, and had never stopped until this day. That’s a long time to suffer and bleed, brothers. And it wasn’t just physical pain. She had been put out of the community. She was unclean, untouchable. For 12 years. Before her pain she may have had a family and friends, but no more. Not after 12 years of bleeding and uncleanness.
Mark also tells us she had suffered much under many doctors, but had gotten no better--in fact, the doctors had made it worse! She spent up all she had, looking for healing. Looking for some way out of the pain and the sorrow and the shame of her situation. All she got for all her money was more pain and abuse from the very doctors who were supposed to heal her.
So imagine the tiredness weighing down the shoulders of this woman as she slips through the crowd to get close to Jesus. Maybe you don’t need to imagine it because you’ve felt it yourself. That exhaustion of pain that squeezes your heart out dry like a wasted old sponge so that you can hardly see any hope for relief. The kind of tiredness that hunches your shoulders in and makes your steps shuffle slowly and makes you want to do nothing but lie down and sleep to forget all your weariness and all your sorrow. That’s the kind of tiredness this woman had after 12 years of bleeding.
So the woman is slipping in and out and around trying to keep from touching anyone but trying to get close enough to Jesus. She has tunnel vision because after 12 years, she only has one hope: if I can just touch Jesus, all will be well. Just the hem of his robe, the very edge of his robe, the little tassels hanging off the corners. Jesus is her final hope. She has tried everything else. Every other option has only brought her more suffering, and so she draws close to Jesus, and touches the hem of his robe. And immediately, immediately, she feels sweet relief! Immediately, the bible says, “the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.”
Jesus has the power to heal. That’s what we learn from the story. And anyone who comes to him, no matter how long they have been suffering, how deep is their pain and their sorrow, and how hopeless their sickness--Jesus can heal it. And the message of the gospel is that all of us, every single man in this room, is as desperate for Jesus as that woman was. We all need him. We are all sick in our souls and in our bodies, sick with sin and with the consequences of sin. Brothers, we need a healer. Now some of you are thinking, “Tom, I don’t need a healer. I’m doing alright. I’m getting my feet underneath me here, I’m getting cleaned up and making good choices.”
Well praise God that you’re making good choices. That’s his grace. But Brother, I’m here to tell you that you need Jesus. He’s the one who heals us ultimately and makes us whole. He’s the one who lifts our burdens. He’s the one who forgives us and brings us to God. So trust in Him, like the woman did when she reached out for his robe.
2) Jesus has the power to restore us to community
Right after the woman gets healed, Jesus stops in the middle of the crowd, and he says, “Who touched my garments?” That’s a silly question for anyone to ask in the middle of a crowd. You can almost imagine the disciples replying, “Jesus, we are in a mob of people who all want to get near you. Who hasn’t touched your garments?” But Jesus knew what he was asking, better than his disciples did. Lots of people touched Jesus’ garments, but only one person reached out to Jesus for healing. Only one person reached out to him in faith. So Jesus looks around at the crowd.
Jesus turns around and stops and looks at the crowd. The crowd falls quiet as they realize Jesus is looking for a specific person who touched him. Think of the terror of the woman as she realizes Jesus is looking for her. She is caught. So she comes out into the open and throws herself at Jesus’ feet and lays out the whole truth to Jesus. With fear and trembling she brings all the sorrows of her heart in addition to the pain of her body. She confesses them all to Jesus. And Jesus does something amazing. He doesn’t reject her. He restores her. She was an unclean woman who dared to touch Jesus! She touched him with her unclean hands! Can you imagine the gasps in the crowd when they realize it was that woman who touched Jesus? Everyone knew her! She was the outcast woman who had been bleeding for years. She was the hopeless case that everyone had given up on. And she had touched Jesus, the great teacher!
Under the law, since she was unclean, and she had touched Jesus, Jesus should have been unclean too. But he wasn’t. The cleanness runs backwards, like spilled milk flowing back into the jug on its own. The fact that Jesus is clean makes the woman clean. She is restored by Jesus. Not just healed physically of her disease, but restored right in front of God and everybody as Jesus, that tender, kind restorer, says to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” Having healed the woman, Jesus brings her back into the community publicly. Her shame and suffering would no longer cling to her like a bad smell. She was free.
Maybe you’re here and you’ve been trusting Jesus for healing from your sins, but your heart is still tender. You think maybe Jesus is willing to heal you but he doesn’t really like you and doesn’t want to be near you. Brothers, Jesus loves you. If you are trusting in Jesus he says to you, “Son, your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be healed of your disease.” You are restored to community with Jesus and with his people.
3) Jesus has the power of life and death.
At the end of the drama with the woman, a messenger comes running up from the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. Remember at the beginning of the story, Jairus asked Jesus to heal his only daughter, because she was sick and dying. It was as Jesus went with the crowd to Jairus’ house that the whole healing and restoration of the woman happened. But this delayed Jesus, and now the daughter of Jairus is dead. You can hear the sorrow and the hopelessness in the voice of the messenger: “Do not bother the teacher any further. The girl is dead. She is beyond help.”
It’s hard to get through life very far without experiencing the death of someone you love. Most of you know what it’s like. The message comes through and the words don’t make sense, but it feels like someone just punched a hole right in your gut. The words feel impossible and jagged-edged, like broken glass and gravel in the mouth. That is what this father experienced just then, for his only daughter. There is no more time to hope, only time to mourn.
But Jesus hears the message and comforts Jairus, “Do not fear, only believe.” They go back to the house and Jesus puts all the mourners outside, then goes to the room with the body of the little girl, with her mother and her father. He kneels down beside her sick bed, and he takes her hand. This is the second time in a day that Jesus does something that should have made him unclean. The first time he is touched by the unclean woman, and instead of becoming unclean, he makes her clean. This second time, Jesus himself reaches out and touches the dead girl. He takes her by the hand, and he raises her to life.
Jesus heals us of sin and suffering. He restores us to community. And in the last day, he will raise all those who trust in him to new life. Mark prompts us to ask, “Who is Jesus?” and provides the answer for us: who else but the Son of God could have authority to heal, and to restore, and to reverse the curse of death? So with Peter, our response must be to confess: “You are the Christ.”