Jesus Insists On Full Salvation
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?
The key to understanding both the woman’s behavior and Jesus’ response here is to recognize that under the Covenant of Moses, given by God to the Jews, a woman with a flow of blood was unclean. The Book of Leviticus describes what that means:
If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, not at the time of her menstrual impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond the time of her impurity, all the days of the discharge she shall continue in uncleanness. As in the days of her impurity, she shall be unclean.
Every bed on which she lies, all the days of her discharge, shall be to her as the bed of her impurity. And everything on which she sits shall be unclean, as in the uncleanness of her menstrual impurity.
And whoever touches these things shall be unclean, and shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening. -Leviticus 15:25-27
Women already had a low social position back then, but being unclean for a significant period of time was a far worse, drastically life-changing event. It would affect relationships, marriage, employment, finances, self-esteem, and ultimately one’s relationship with God . The state of uncleanness was taken so seriously that lepers, who had the highest degree of uncleanness, had to cry out “Unclean! Unclean!” when they walked about in public, lest anyone accidently touch them, and they had to dwell outside the camp (Lev 13:45-46).
The consequences of uncleanness from a flow of blood weren’t as bad as they were from leprosy, but there still would be a severe negative effect, especially over an extended period of time. A woman with a discharge couldn’t go into anyone’s house, or to a public meeting, and sit down. Her husband couldn’t lie with her without becoming unclean himself. Employment, even self-employment, would be difficult at best. People would stay away, afraid of becoming temporarily unclean themselves. Most of all, people would be afraid of catching whatever disease the woman had, and becoming permanently unclean themselves. And what people fear, they ostracize and attack.
Imagine this going on for twelve years. Imagine being an outcast and the butt of gossip, taunts and jokes. The person who was unclean on a long-term basis would eventually find solitude to be her best, and perhaps only, friend.
But as bad as all that was, the worst part of being unclean was not being rejected by man, it was being separated from the life of God. For it was not mere laws of man that separated the unclean from the congregation of the living, it was the covenantal decree of Almighty God that did so. For the unclean, there would be no participating in the religious life of the nation – no entering the synagogue or temple, no Sabbath services, no Day of Atonement rites to take away sin. Without being able to fulfill these requisites, how could a Jew expect to enter heaven? It would have seemed that God Himself had rejected such a one. After all, it was God Himself who in plain words had said:
Thus you shall keep the people of Israel separate from their uncleanness, lest they die in their uncleanness by defiling my tabernacle that is in their midst. – Lev 15:31
God is saying here that the presence of the unclean defiles that which is holy. This was the crushing blow to anyone with a qualifying condition. You can see why, after twelve years of disease, someone would carry around deep rejection, shame and inferiority, and a fear of being caught where she ought not to be.
Back to the story
With that understanding, we can return to the story of the woman and Jesus, and see what was really going on. The woman approached from behind so as not to be seen or recognized, lest anyone stop her and humiliate her. Even from the outset, she only intended to touch the tip of Jesus’ garment, because it would have been a grave offense for someone unclean to touch someone’s person, all the more so that of a famous holy man. Merely touching the garment was bad enough, really. She would still be breaking the Mosaic Law and all kinds of social norms.
This woman was so desperate, and so hopeful about Jesus, that she dared to take all these chances. But afraid of the very real consequences of being caught, she intended on doing so surreptitiously.
Now here’s where it really gets beautiful. I always thought it was awesome that Jesus felt healing virtue leave him and pass to the woman. The transference seems to have happened automatically, without Jesus commanding it, yet with Him aware of it. But I no longer believe it is credible that the mere power transfer is what caused Jesus to stop and demand to know who had touched Him. As the disciples themselves said, everyone was touching Him. Spontaneous healings must have been a frequent occurrence. After all, we are informed that the mere shadow of Peter had healing power in Acts 5.15, so how much more would this type of thing be happening with Jesus?
That’s why I believe that Jesus knew more than He was saying. It wasn’t merely that power had gone out of Jesus that made Him stop and turn. He sensed in His spirit that the healing wasn’t finished, that a deeper work was needed. A daughter of the Most High carried within herself rejection and shame, so much so that she was afraid to mingle in a crowd, and was afraid to touch anyone, least of all this man of God she had placed her hopes in. Worst of all, under the imperfect covenant that this woman labored under, the covenant of law, she had an erroneous view of God and doubted His love for her. She would not be totally healed and set free until that erroneous view was corrected.
And so Jesus forced a confrontation with the woman. Now exposed, in fear and trembling, the woman comes forward and falls at his feet. “I am the one. I am unclean. I broke the law. I touched you when it was not permitted me to do so. I’ve been separated from the people for twelve years, and I heard of you, and I was desperate. You were my only hope. And I dared to touch your sleeve. And the instant I did so I was healed.”
Can you see the utter emptying of herself in front of everyone? The desperate casting of her fate upon Jesus, in fear that the man of God would probably say, “Daughter, you have broken the law in order to do this thing. Your healing therefore is illegal and must be taken away, and you will be punished accordingly”? It’s no wonder she was terrified.
But Jesus wasn’t going to rescind the woman’s healing, He was going to complete it. By demanding that the woman step forward, Jesus was saying, “You’re important to me. I value you. You don’t have to sneak up behind me and steal this healing, I give it to you openly and freely, face to face. And worry no longer about the restrictions of the old law. I’ve come to bring a new covenant, with a truer revelation of who God is. He loves you and He accepts you. And His power is greater than your sin and disease.”
Then Jesus tells her that it was her faith that has healed her, and that she should go in peace. He emphasizes this because now she must walk in her new life of freedom, against any detractors. To reemphasize that she is fully accepted and that her healing is legitimate, Jesus openly articulates “be healed of your disease”. The woman’s new life has now official begun, with Jesus’ blessing.
What seemed like a simple story turns out to give amazing insight into the Savior’s heart. He is not content with merely healing a woman’s broken body, but He is insistent on also healing her emotions, her relationships, and her understanding of God, resetting the entire course of her life in the process. In this story we get a small glimpse of the boundless compassion that Jesus has for us all.
There are a few things we should take note of here. First, the superiority of the new covenant of grace in Jesus Christ. The covenant of law had no power to heal, it could only reject and separate. Under that economy, that which was unclean defiled that which was holy. Jesus blatantly supersedes that, reaches out to the unclean outcast and heals her. Under the covenant of love, the touch of the holy sanctifies the unclean. This incongruity is why the caretakers of the Mosaic Law, the Pharisees, ultimately conspired to put Jesus to death. They failed to appreciate what is written in their very own law and prophets, that their covenant was an imperfect placeholder that would be superseded in the fullness of time. Their hearts became hardened and their religious sense encrusted, and they focused more on preserving form and tradition –and their own positions as religious gatekeepers – than on tuning in to the wonderful life-giving nature of the God they claimed to serve. In their eyes Jesus was assaulting everything they believed in and had devoted their lives to.
Jesus paid a high price to free us from the legalism of the Old Covenant, yet sadly many of us have failed to walk in this radical reality. Instead of seeing the brokenness that often motivates those in fallen lifestyles, we too often live as though we are under the old Law: we separate ourselves. Separation is appropriate when sin is wilful, but the Light that has come into the world is not to be hidden under a bushel. We should always be looking for an opportunity to shine that Light in broken places.
There’s something else here that we should take note of. The spiritual healing was not the woman’s intent. She was just going to slink away, happy with her physical healing. But Jesus would not allow it. He demanded that the woman face her giants of rejection, inferiority and shame, especially with regard to her relationship to God. He demanded that she come out of hiding.
This was no easy experience for the woman. She had to get real honest before Jesus, and even before the crowd. She was trembling with fear. But under Jesus’ steady hand, the payoff was glorious. When she got up off her knees, she was a new woman, inside and out. She was healed and accepted. She had gotten much more than she had come for. And because she had poured herself out before the crowd, everyone knew it and benefited from the new and greater revelation of God’s love and glory.
We’re a lot like the woman, aren’t we? We come to Jesus for our immediate specific needs, but when it comes to deeper, painful and scary issues that we don’t know how to handle, we would rather let sleeping dogs lie. We sneak up on Jesus, as it were, quickly making our requests, but avoiding a real face-to-face encounter. Inside, we’re like the woman – we avoid the face-to-face, because we’re afraid that if Jesus knew who we really are He would reject us.
Jesus hasn’t changed, and neither have His purposes. He brings not merely an external forensic salvation, by which we make it to heaven unchanged. He saves to the uttermost. In fact, He insists on saving to the uttermost, with a salvation that transforms us, from our very innermost core to the outward fragrance of our lives, into His image. He is determined to “bless us indeed”, even if that blessing for a while seems well-disguised to us.
And all this while, poor Jairus was standing by, dying of anxiety! Then someone arrives with the crushing news that it was too late, his daughter had died after all. One can only imagine Jairus’ bitter thoughts. “Did the delay caused by the woman make the difference? In any case, all was lost. What of “fear is useless; only believe” now?” But Jesus simply goes and raises the girl from death. Jairus, too, received far more than he bargained for from Jesus. In the end, the delay made more of God’s glory manifest than would have occurred had everything gone smoothly.
For us the lesson is this: walking close to Jesus is not an easy thing. He does things that do not seem to make sense, that require levels of faith that test us beyond what we expected. But it is all worth it, because Jesus is already operating on that higher level, and He intends a measure of glory for us that we cannot yet imagine. If we stick close to Him, we will see testing of our faith, yes, but we will see that full measure of God’s glory in our lives.
And seeing God’s glory in our lives is what the Kingdom is all about! We owe the woman is our story, and others like her on the pages of Scripture, a debt of gratitude for showing us the true nature of Jesus’ compassion and grace toward us. Because of her forerunning, we know that we do not have to shrink back from approaching Jesus with even our deepest needs, however painful they may be to us. Jesus wants us to do so, He insists that we do so, in order that we establish an intimate face-to-face relationship, which is His greatest purpose.
So let’s approach Jesus unreservedly, with full confidence in His love and ability toward us. And let’s cooperate with His plans for a deep impartation of healing power, a power that will flow both in us and through us. As sons of the glorious covenant of grace, the perfect covenant, this is our heritage and birthright. The only shame would be in not availing ourselves of all Jesus already has purchased for us by the blood of His magnificent cross.
In His love,