There’s a well known story in the Bible, about a woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years. She came to Jesus from behind, secretly touched the hem of His garment, and was healed. It seems like a simple story, but there’s much going on beneath the surface that you might not be aware of. When we examine the story, we find that both Jesus’ and the woman’s behaviors seem strange, until we understand the religious and cultural context of Israel back then. And in finding that key, we will come to see what is really the most important part of the story. First let’s take a look at what actually happened.
And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him.
And 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.
She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.”
And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.
And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?”
And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’”
And he looked around to see who had done it.
But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth.
And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” – Mark 5:24-34
The scene is one of near chaos, as crowds throng around the Savior. Just previous to our excerpt, a Jewish synagogue leader named Jairus had come up to Jesus and fallen at His feat, pleading with Him to come and heal his young daughter who was dying. The girl was fading fast, and Jairus was uptight and in a hurry, so Jesus tells him “fear is useless; only believe”, and they start off to the girl. But then this woman with a chronic bleeding problem comes up from behind, touches Jesus’ cloak and is healed. Jesus senses that power has gone out of himself, and, despite Jairus’ desperation, stops and makes an issue of it. The disciples are incredulous – with all the people thronging around, many of them must have been touching Jesus. So what’s the big deal? But Jesus is intent on finding the person who was healed. Finally, the woman comes in great fear and falls to the ground trembling before Jesus, telling all. Jesus blesses her and continues on His way with Jairus.
There are some interesting questions here. Why did the woman come up to Jesus from behind? If she wanted a healing, why did she even from the outset intend on only touching Jesus’ garments rather than His person? Why did Jesus make an issue of this healing, when almost certainly many people in this vast crowd must have similarly been coming up, touching Him and being healed? And lastly, why did the woman finally come forward in fear and trembling, rather than with joy and exaltation at being healed of her long-standing disease? Indeed, the Gospel of Luke expands on why the woman even come forward at all:
And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. -Luke 8:47
According to Luke, the woman was not merely lost in the crowd, she was actually hiding in that crowd! What then was this woman so afraid of?
I always tended to be an intellectual type. And though my parents sacrificially provided everything we kids needed – it wasn’t always easy, I know, and I will bless them forever for that – there really wasn’t much sense of affection, belongingness or guidance as I grew up. As humans, we tend to project our earthly experiences onto God, especially family of origin issues, and because of that, I’ve often had a hard time trying to relate to God’s love. I saw that love written in the Bible, I heard it preached, and I’ve certainly even had wonderful times of communion in prayer and worship, but generally I’ve not understood or even had a functional belief in God’s love for me.
Instead, the motivation I could relate to for God saving us was the one I had seen in my parents – a commitment to high principles and ideals, to doing what was right. God was going to see through what He had started. It was His duty, as the one whose idea Creation was, to put an end to the evil and chaos that had spoiled it. And after all, He had His reputation to restore. He had been slandered in the Garden, when the devil charged Him with withholding good from humans and ruling over them for His own selfish pleasure. That had to be set right.
So the most I could relate to was that God saved us in order to do the right thing, but in my heart’s thinking, love and intimate interrelatedness had no place in it. He remained aloof from us.
But I hadn’t followed through the ramifications of one foundational point far enough. God knew everything that was going to happen before it occurred. He so easily could have avoided placing Himself in the position of having to do the right thing, and having to preserve His reputation, all at such a high cost, merely by not creating in the first place.
But create He did. Now God, the Self-Existent One, is perfect is every way and has no needs, so why did He do so? It boggles my mind, but He whose joy is already perfect takes joy in being a “cheerful giver”, in giving us life and happiness. He did not have to do it. But in order to give us a life of unending bliss, He committed to a path that would lead to Jesus dying a horrible death on the Cross. He esteemed it all to be worth it, so that He could share his glorious nature and have communion with us
Not duty, not vindication, but Love – love is why He made us, and love is why He paid the price to redeem us.
The distinction between love, as against principle, being God’s motivation toward us is beyond enormous. It is the difference between a personal and impersonal God. It is the difference between having an arrangement and having a relationship. It is the difference between being alone in a crowd, and really belonging. In short, it is the difference between just existing and being gloriously alive.
Over in 2 Corinthians, Paul gives us a compelling graphic image:
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. - 2Cor 3:18
The right person could probably write a book on this one verse, but basically it tells us that as we gaze upon Christ’s glory, that glory fills us and transforms us into the very image of Christ that we are beholding. And it tells us that there is no end to it. As we keep beholding the glory, we keep being filled with more glory.
We can do that because we are “with unveiled face”. Anyone who has entered into covenant relationship with God through Christ the Lord has given Him the right to apply Christ’s holy blood as payment of our sin-debt. Just as the veil of the Jewish temple was torn in two when Jesus accomplished His vicarious, sacrificial death, when we trust Jesus for salvation the veil that separated us personally from God is torn away. We now have the right to behold our glorious God and Father in all His holiness, not through the keeping of law, not through external religion, not through any works of our own, but through the merits of His Son, our mediator.
Jesus the “only-begotten” Son of God has through His resurrection become the “first-born of many brothers”. We are adopted into the family of God, not as servants, being mere cogs on the wheel, but as brothers and friends. It is not a cold business arrangement we are called to, it’s a loving family unit. Mere principle is not the glue that holds it all together, and neither is vindication of God’s name. Rather, God’s unfathomable perfect love, lavishly poured out on us, is the very substance of our shared union.
Oh, how glorious heaven is going to be! That is why Paul could speak of all the woes and sorrows of this fallen world as a relative “momentary, light affliction”! It’s hard to see that sometimes, when troubles and sorrows come roaring in, but we need to keep reminding ourselves of it, because the beatific vision of God is where His “zoe” life is found.
Scripture warns us that God’s people perish for lack of prophetic vision. I’ve found that when I lack vision and can’t find my way through a situation, I need to repair back to the one central vision that drives the whole life in God. And that is the vision of who He is, what He has done and is going to do, and what ultimately drives His wonderful plan for us.
And the reason for that plan, and for the great and precious promises He has given us, and for the amazing introduction to grace that we already enjoy, is that He loves us eternally, with a limitless love beyond our ability to understand.
Praise be His glorious Name, forever.
I was talking with a friend recently who told me of a chance she missed to avoid a whole lot of woe that has since befallen her. She felt that if she had only been stronger or wiser back then, her life would have taken a different and better course. There was a grim sense of having missed God, that now she was on her own, left to her own meager devices to solve her escalating problems and make something of her life.
I’m no stranger to feeling that way myself. Somewhere deep in the bowels of this blog I have shared how my first church rapidly went from being “on fire for God” to being just plain “on fire”, due to leadership failure. The devastation to the church was immense, but even worse was my own personal loss. I lost faith in man, in church, in myself, and ultimately even in God. I did transfer to another church, and was a very active contributor there, but my heart was no longer fully sold out for God. When serious difficulties arose in the new church, I stopped attending there as well. I had become a spiritual dropout. 1
Satan uses our mistakes, failures and missed opportunities as weapons against us, in an attempt to destroy our faith and effectiveness. For this reason, it is essential that we understand God’s perspective on these things, because His perspective is much better than ours.
We need to understand that nothing takes God by surprise. God exists outside of space and time. He is all-powerful and He knows everything – even the end before the beginning. Our trials, our failures, our falls, do not cause Him any worry. He knew they would happen, and He knows how they will end. And he also knows how to use them for our good, if we will let Him.
David Wilkerson points out that when the disciples encountered a brutal storm on the Sea of Galilee one night, it actually was Jesus who had caused their plight. Jesus had sent the disciples ahead in the boat, and then He had gone up to a mountain to pray in solitude. Surely in prayer the Son of God knew exactly what was going on on the sea below, and was in complete control of the situation even from his mountain overlook. But he let them go into the storm, and then at the right moment He showed up and calmed the sea.
As I get better perspective on my own life, I’m beginning to see that God does indeed work all things for good for those who love Him – and that He allows things to befall us in order to accomplish deep things that would not occur were we to live our lives on a smooth “business-as-usual” basis. our failings are not inherently good things, but God can and will use them for His purposes if we will turn to Him in faith.
In my case, because of the call to leadership on me, and my monumental ill-preparedness for it, I needed to experience the failing of the church. I needed to learn not to trust pastors, religious fads, man’s approval, or my own abilities. I needed a major lesson in trusting the Lord when things go wrong.
Jeremiah explains why: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord.” Make no mistake, trials would not be trials if they simply were little intellectual exercises. They are designed to hit us where we live, and to cause us to give ourselves to the Lord in a very real way. That church trial nearly killed me, but I found it to be true in the Lord that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.
That storm brought up a treasure trove of self-righteousness, unforgiveness and bitterness issues that were beneath the surface when the waters were calmer. But when the water got choppy, the issues became visible indeed. Thus the Lord used deep offense and betrayal to lead me to the crucifixion of my flesh, the only way the negative attitudes that were killing me could be removed. As the skilled master craftsman that He is, He creatively used evil to work good.
Oh, how painful it was to go through this process, and how long it took! But if I have one regret, it is not that the evil befell me, or that I had to go through the pain to be purged – the freedom and power that resulted is too precious for me ever to give them up. No, my one regret is that it took me so long to place TOTAL, UNCONDITIONAL TRUST in the Lord in the darkest hours of the trial, when nothing made sense. The Divine fellowship and spiritual growth that I missed! It is in the dark hours that our greatest opportunity for advancement is presented, and they are to be cherished.
The Lord has dealt with me exactly as was needed, including exercising infinite patience while I found my way back to Him, in order to bless me with His maximum blessing. He has used my weaknesses, my flaws, my lack, to guide me into situations where turning to Him was the only possible way out. And that is exactly what had to happen, for at the time I was not capable of doing better. Despite ourselves, He is going to perfect that which concerns us, and He uses our weaknesses to do it.
If you are racked by regret or remorse regarding past decisions, now is the time to put them to rest for good. Paul told the men of Athens: “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). He explained to Timothy, regarding his own violent past: “Formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief” ( 1Tim 1:13). And peppered throughout the New Testament (and even the Old) there is plenty of support for Paul’s assertion that ignorance mitigates culpability:
Sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. -Rom 5:13
These verses and others teach that God is categorically unconcerned with the failings of our past, except as He can use them to help build us and others up now. It is absolutely crucial that we stand on the Word in this matter, because satan wants to devour us.
We do not confess our sins in the manner of pagans who scourge their backs – as if they could even begin to pay for their own sins or prove their worthiness of God’s forgiveness. It took the holy Blood of the Son of God to redeem Creation. We could never earn our own salvation. We confess in simple childlike faith that He will forgive and cleanse, just as according to 1Jn 1.9.
The time is short, and opportunities are precious. God wants each one of us free and empowered to fully represent His Kingdom of grace, truth and love. Let’s get all our issues behind us, and in faith let’s press forward into the glorious destiny the Lord still has for us – for all of us.
1. John Bevere deals with this “cruise-a-matic” phenomenon, which he calls “spiritual vagabonds”, in his book The Bait of satan. While that book is a powerful warning about letting offense keep you from God’s purposes, it is seriously flawed in placing responsibility on the person offended to reconcile with an unrepentant authority figure).
Update, 7/8/10: I’m adding a link to a powerful video about a modern-day Mary Magdalene from The Stranger series. Here is Part One; you can cycle to the other two parts from there.
An excellent message received via the ElijahList, dealing with different ways we can be hurt, and how to find the power to overcome and turn stumbling blocks into stepping stones.
In Betrayal – “I Love You”
While He was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss Him, but Jesus asked him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”—Luke 22:47-48
“Beloved one, I am Love that will not let you go. To those of you who have walked in the pain of betrayal from dear ones you have trusted and loved, I release the grace to overcome such pain and crushing disappointment. My Love is more than you will ever need to forgive betrayal. Reach deep inside of Me and find a place of forgiveness from which to draw upon. Rest your souls in Me. Let Me cover the scars of betrayal with the healing power of My love. Be not battle weary, but allow Me to kiss away the effects of the lies, the greed and the fear from others that led to your betrayal.
“You have shared in My cup of suffering, so that you might also share in My cup of Joy. My heart overflows with love for you. My love is freedom, My love is unchanging and all-powerful in the pulling down of strongholds that would keep you from flowing fully in My grace. My love is your storehouse in times of great need. Child of My heart, I love you; betrayal is overcome by the Cross.”
In Denial – “I Love You”
My personal Grace Awakening continues apace, but the past two days have been characterized by rest.
Rest is new to me, and not natural to my old nature. I’m a confirmed Type A, driven, entrepreneurial sort, so don’t blame it on me – I simply do not know HOW to rest! But that is changing.
A couple of times in the past few days I have seen in my mind some thing I thought of doing, and then distinct from it I simultaneously saw my motivation for doing it. And the motivation was rooted in gaining the acceptance of man.
That’s what a person does when he grows up without such acceptance, and it’s understandable. But it’s not something that God can bless, because it’s not holy. Our source – our only source – must be Him. If we rely on the whims of fallen man to justify ourselves, we build on shifting sand indeed.
The problem is how to free oneself of this bondage. That’s where the Word and the Spirit come in. And the Word and the will of the Spirit of the New Covenant can be summarized in one word: Grace.
Can it be that God really grants forgiveness independent of our worthiness? That is the Gospel, yet I suspect that many Christians have not inculcated that truth into their souls in a practical way. I know that despite all my study, I hadn’t by a long shot.
We are like the unjust servant in Mt. 18 who, completely forgiven of a huge debt by his king, goes out and beats his fellow servant over a far smaller sum. It may not have been greed that motivated him. It’s quite possible that the truth of being FULLY forgiven didn’t really sink in, and that he still felt pressured, perhaps by pride, to pay back what he could.
I’ve observed that the fellow slave we beat on the most is usually the one that is most convenient. And when no one else in around, the guy that is left turns out to be oneself. How ironic that the torturers mentioned in that parable actually can be the very one being tortured. When we’re not in a state of grace we become our own worst enemy.
But God has a solution. Completely independent of our works or worthiness, He lavishes debt forgiveness upon us. There is only one condition, but that condition is so outlandish, so unthinkable to the flesh that it can be the hardest thing for us to accomplish: we must humble ourselves to accept the offer.
Another amazing irony is how even the Gospel can be taken as law. As we know, above all, law makes sin manifest and brings condemnation. If we don’t forgive we won’t be forgiven. Am I loving my enemies enough? Doubts are bred, we try to fight the battle in the mental and emotional realms, and we become like a dog chasing its tail. All the while we’ve lost sight of the Giver of all good gifts, His kindhearted will that we live freely, and His power to deliver us to that state.
Instead, God’s forgiveness is freely given up-front. “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more”. The absolution comes first, then the power to conquer sin. The order is critical to our spiritual health,. Otherwise, we will be futilely fighting this battle in our own strength, as the New Covenant simply degrades to another Old Covenant, appealing to Pharisees but destroying those of honest conscience.
I took a break from reading The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life1 today. But I’m filling in with Tozer’s delightful The Pursuit of God. It is beautifully written, but more importantly, it has a rare anointing for drawing one close to God. I was tempted to post the second chapter, The Blessedness of Possessing Nothing, and I will do so if someone requests it. Meanwhile the whole book can be downloaded at ProjectGuttenberg.org. After I download these things I format them for Word, where I can add my own footnotes, mark-up, etc. I can save you that step if you contact me.
1 BTW, Smith’s use of the term “Happy” is legit. The happiness she directs us to is borne of holiness, and that holiness is a product of grace, not works. This is not a man-centered gospel, but the true Gospel of grace that she so wonderfully advocates.