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.
Joseph Prince brought out some great insights in his devotional today. It was about the Syro-Phoenician woman who sought Jesus’ help for her demonized daughter. This passage can be hard to understand, and many skeptics have used it to paint Jesus as uncaring and even racist, or at the least, temperamental. For anyone who really knows the Gospels, those charges are impossible, but they have been used to sow doubt in those unfamiliar with the Savior’s character.
And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon
And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.”
The Prince piece started me conjecturing what was really going on. First, he pointed out that the woman, though a Gentile, approached Jesus using his Davidic messianic title, Son of David. Why did she do this? Desperate for her daughter, she sought to incur Jesus’ favor by pretending to be a Jew herself, or at least by showing that she knew and respected the Jewish religion.
But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.”
And what did trying to massage Jesus get her? Silence! Hmmm. The woman gets persistent (just as Jesus teaches us to be), but now the disciples want to get rid of her! From the woman’s perspective, things are going downhill, fast.
He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
Finally Jesus answers. But how does He answer? He further stonewalls the woman. This is the story’s crisis point. Everything the woman had planned to do had now been done, to no effect. Out of ammo, the woman was either going to have to give up on her miracle or do something unplanned and desperate.
But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.”
Remember, the Jews would have nothing to do with these Gentiles, yet still the woman dares to cast herself before Jesus. It’s no longer the “Son of David” appellation from afar. It’s now “Lord”, in an intimate voice, up close and personal.
And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”
Jesus stills opposes the woman, but Prince points out that the Greek word used for dogs here signifies a little dog – we would call it a puppy. Though His words still say “no”, the tone of Jesus voice expresses tenderness toward the woman. She sees a ray of hope and is encouraged.
She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. – Matt 15:21-28
All the while Jesus seemed to be uncaring, and even adversarial, He was masterfully drawing the woman out of herself and towards himself. He wasn’t satisfied with distant, impersonal worship, and He certainly wasn’t impressed with religious titles or knowledge.
He pressed the woman to reveal her true self, not out of callousness, but so that she could enter into intimate relationship with her Savior. His actions were borne of love, not disdain. All the while that He seemed uncaring, He wanted her to take up the challenge and overcome the obstacles, and He was delighted when she did so.
As always, Jesus was in perfect control of the situation at all times, and He perfectly engineered the conversation so that the woman – His seeming adversary – not only could gain the blessing for her daughter, she could be forever changed in the process!
There is no one like our matchless Jesus, and there never can be. We can take an important lesson from this. Whenever the Bible presents a difficult passage, adopt the view that there is an explanation even if we don’t know it at this time. God is still in the business of drawing people out, to prove what’s in their hearts and to draw them close to Him.
And whatever our need in life, even when Jesus seems to be silent, even when He seems to be adversarial, He’s really on our side advocating for us the whole time. Never doubt the kind intentions of the Savior. Press in and receive the blessing!
I started using Twitter a week ago. They ask you to make a short statement that sums up what you’re about. I wrote:
God became a man. The only sane response is to follow Him. Read Jn 3.16: http://bit.ly/17pLjO
Pretty good, but it was from the head rather than the heart. My new statement:
God became a man and gave His life for us. How can you resist love like that? Read Jn 3.16: http://bit.ly/17pLjO
The past few days I’ve been reliving the Keith Green experience of so many years ago. Watch him sing Your Love Broke Through, and you will see his love for Jesus. Or watch a one-hour video of his life story and see his amazing dedication. He was immature in some ways, but he was growing. He gave up a lucrative record deal and instead gave away his albums. He opened his doors to the hurting and the seeking. He and his wife were pioneers against abortion. Read more…