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(Chp 16) The Living Faith

April 21, 2008, More from this speaker 更多关于此讲员: Pastor Daniel Tan (Mark 5:24-34, Luke 5:12-16) For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: The Jesus Creed
Preached at a Bilingual (Mandarin-English, Sunday) service

Tags: Jesus Creed, Luke, Mark

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Sermon based on Chapter 16 of Scot McKnight's Jesus Creed

Passage: Mark 5:24-34

A preacher was preaching to coal miners in England. He asked one man, “ What do you believe? ”
“ Well, I believe the same as the church.”
“ And what does the church believe? ” “ Well, they believe the same as me.”
Seeing he was getting nowhere, the preacher said, “And what is it that you both believe?”
“ Well, I suppose the same thing.”

So, brothers and sisters, will your answer be the same as the coal miner if I would ask you the same question this morning: “ What do you believe? ” My point is as Christians, we must be very clear as to the content of our belief or the content of our faith. In ordinary times we get along surprisingly well, on the whole, without ever discovering what our faith really is. But during difficult times, is your faith a comfort and a source of strength for you?

C. H Spurgeon, the 19th century England famous preacher, claimed that 98% of the people he met--including the criminals he visited in England’s prisons—told him that
they believed the Bible to be true. But the vast majority had never made a personal, life changing commitment to Jesus Christ. For them, “believe” was not an active verb. Yes, brothers and sisters, as Christians not only we must know very well the content of our belief or our faith, we must also practice our belief, our faith in our daily lives. In other words, for us Christian faith is to believe rightly and to act accordingly. The two passages we read just now concerning the healings of the woman with a hemorrhage and the leper provide us an important teaching as to the meaning of what faith is and the consequences of acting out our faith. I therefore entitle my sermon: The Living Faith.

(1) The living faith is the recognition that despite a hopeless situation we can still reach out to Jesus
From the two healing incidents that we see, the first point I want to make is: the living faith is the recognition that despite a hopeless situation one can still reach out to Jesus. Let us now look at the first incident, the healing of the woman with a hemorrhage.
This woman was just one of the large crowds that had gathered round Jesus. Mark described her as a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. The text does not specify the nature of her loss of blood, but it is common to think of chronic hemorrhaging from the womb, which would make her ritually unclean in Jewish society. According to the law of Moses, when a woman has a continued discharge of blood from her womb, she will be unclean as long as she has the discharge, just as in the days of her period. And anyone whom she touches will also become unclean. In other words, she becomes a transmitter of uncleanness to all who come in contact with her. If she has ever been married, she is almost certainly now divorced from her husband. She is ostracized from the society and debarred from worship in the synagogue and the Temple. Her desperate situation has driven her to pursue medical help. Mark has a vivid description of her condition: she had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors, she had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. So, we see that this woman suffers physically as the blood essential for life continues to drain from her body day by day. She also suffers socially and psychologically, knowing that she is a contaminant. Her plight is compounded because she has become impoverished after wasting her living on the fruitless cure of many doctors. So, this woman, desperate for health and restoration to normal life, has heard about Jesus. Mark in earlier chapter 3:10 tells us that many who suffered diseases pushed forward to touch Jesus for He has healed many. And in 6:56 Mark again reports that people beg Jesus to let them touch the hem of His cloak, and all who touch Him are healed. So, this woman is not the first to do so. After hearing all these reports, she may well have believed that her only chance for healing is to push through the crowd and touch Jesus. Thus, fearful of the crowd and yet secretly pressing through to Jesus, she sneaks up from behind so that she will not be observed. And she hopes that after touching Jesus’ garment she can slink back into the anonymity of the large crowd without anyone knowing of her unlawful contact. Knowing that she is unclean, she nevertheless wants to reach out to Jesus for healing. It is her faith that brought her into the crowd, recognizing that only Jesus could meet her desperate need. She is convinced that if she can only touch the garment of Jesus, she will be healed. But this woman’s faith is at its core an ignorant faith. In fact, her faith is presumptuous and superstitious as well. Based on what she had heard from others, she is seeking a cure that is essentially magic-secured just by touching the garment of Jesus. Nevertheless, her faith is real, and Jesus honors her imperfect faith.

Let us now turn our attention to the healing incident of the leper. What kind of faith has he demonstrated? This poor man who came to Jesus was desperately ill. Luke describes him as “covered with leprosy”. By this we understand that the disease had run its course. According to the law of Moses, the person with such an infectious disease must wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of his face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ (Lev 13:45-46) As long as he has the infection he remains ritually unclean. We can hardly imagine the humiliation and isolation of a leper’s life. He is to be cut off from all normal contact with the society, compelled to live apart from his family members. If this is not bad enough, the disease is often thought by people as association with some great personal sin. So, whenever a leper comes in range of the normal population, he has to assume a disheveled appearance and cry, “Unclean! Unclean!” Think about how you would feel shouting this while entering a shopping mall, and the pervasive sense of worthlessness and despair you would experience. Lepers at that time were typically beggars because there was no way they could support themselves. Sometimes their families deposited food in remote places. The lepers normally lived in bands—with the fellow outcasts in remote areas.

So, obviously this man violated the law of isolation by approaching Jesus. He violated it not only due to his desperation but of his belief in what he must have heard, that Jesus could help him. Thus, for this man to approach Jesus was not only brave, it put his entire self-esteem at risk. Whatever hope that he might have about a return to normal life was wrapped up in Jesus’ power. That Jesus could help him seems not to be a question in the leper’s mind; the question is, will He? Luke tells us that “When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged Him, ‘Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.’” The leper knelt flat on his face before Jesus in humble prostration. He was fully aware of his hopeless, leprous condition, and yet he believed Jesus could heal him. Here we see a perfect faith of this man as compared to the hemorrhaging woman: “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”

Yes, brothers and sisters, what have the hemorrhaging woman and the leper demonstrated to us concerning living faith? Firstly, their faith shows persistence in overcoming any obstacles. The woman works her way through the crowd and overcomes any sense of shame she might have had. So is the leper, it does not matter to him the convention thinking of the crowd who hate lepers and are always trying to stone them away. He is determined to break through all the barriers that have kept lepers so utterly apart from the society. Both take great risks, throw their whole destinies on Jesus. They trust Jesus to rescue them from their torments of pains and rejection. Their persistent faith to overcome any obstacles thus opens the door to the power of God.

Secondly, despite showing different level of faith by the woman and the leper, be it imperfect or perfect, Jesus honored both of them as long as they are real. In fact, God does the same thing today. Our beginning faith is often uninformed or ignorant and mixed with many errors. Just like the woman, our faith can be selfish. She wanted health, but she did not especially care about the Healer. Likewise, many times we only want what we want, but we do not especially care about God’s will for us. In other words, sometimes we do not possess a faith which pleases God. Nevertheless, God still wants us to reach out to Him even with our stumbling, imperfect faith. In His wisdom, God is able to transform even our ignorant faith to foster a closer relationship with Him. And through this continuing process, we will one day be like the leper, saying to Jesus: “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” “God, if you are willing, you can help me.” So, our faith can be imperfect; it can be bold; it can be halting; it can be brave; it can even be laced with fear, but never let fear prevent us from acting in faith. What count for our faith to be effective is for it to be directed rightly to Jesus and to God.

(2) The living faith is the belief that the touch of Jesus would bring cleansing and wholeness to us
From the woman’s story, we know that she wants to seek healing in secret. As soon as she touches Jesus, she realizes that she has been healed of her torment. And Jesus at once realizes that healing power has gone out from Him. As for the leper, Jesus answers his request with a gentle touch. And immediately the leprosy left him. So, the second point I want to highlight from these two stories is that: The living faith is the belief that the touch of Jesus would bring cleansing and wholeness to us.

As I have mentioned before, the woman may have enough faith to believe that Jesus might heal her, but she has been superstitious enough to think that a personal transaction between herself and Jesus is not necessary, only a touch of a garment. But Jesus can not allow the woman to recede into the crowd still entertaining ideas tinged with superstition and magic. He therefore turns around in the crowd and asks, “Who touched my clothes?” The disciples appear a bit stunned that Jesus should ask who touched Him in the midst of such a crowd. In spite of the reaction of the disciples, Jesus insists in knowing who touched Him. Unable to evade Jesus’ searching gaze, the woman fell at His feet, trembling with fear and told Jesus the whole truth. The woman is not afraid because she has been healed, but because she has been discovered and must now present herself to Jesus in public. Why would Jesus want to make a private, secret healing into a public event? Has she not suffered enough public embarrassment in her twelve years of illness? But it is precisely that this woman’s humiliation has been a public knowledge, her healing must be a public knowledge as well. If her healing is not made public, it would be a huge challenge for her to persuade anyone afterward that she managed to sneak into the crowd, experience healing in the presence of Jesus, and sneak back out without being noticed. No one is going to believe her healing experience. She would continue to be shunned and excluded as unclean. But most importantly, Jesus is not content to dispatch a miracle, He wants to encounter a person. This woman just wants a cure, a something from God; But Jesus desires a personal encounter with someone. Jesus forces the issue so that when she leaves healed, she will leave knowing that the one who healed her knows her and cares for her. She is a person who is worth taking time with and addressing to. Furthermore, the woman needs to be clear that it is her faith that makes the difference, not the physical contact with the garment, certainly not any magical properties in it. Faith is the conduit through which Jesus’ power could flow to her need. So, what she has done needs to be exposed in the crowd, not because it was wrong, but because it was right. Jesus wants to make clear to everyone that it was the grasp of her faith rather than her hand that had secured the healing she sought. Her touch had brought together two elements—faith and Jesus—and that had made it effective. In short, the turning point in her healing experience is her faith in Jesus and her contact with Jesus.
As in the leper’s case, the touch of Jesus is significant, since such contact would render Him ritually unclean. People avoid lepers, but Jesus touches him. Think of what this touch means. It means that for the first time in his diseased life, this lonely man felt the sympathy and love were at last reaching him again. Jesus entered into this man’s isolation and shame. It also means that this leper knew that now he was not alone in his desperate seeking to break through all the barriers that condemned the lepers so terribly, for here was Jesus who was willing to break through the same human’s barriers to meet him and heal him.

Yes, brothers and sisters, living faith is the belief that the touch of Jesus or the encounter with Jesus would bring cleansing and wholeness to us. It is true that Jesus is no longer with us in bodily form for us to lay hold of His clothes as tangibly as did this woman. But after His ascension to heaven, He sent His spirit to take the place of His bodily presence. So, we can enjoy the same fellowship with Him as did the followers of Jesus time. In His spirit, Jesus touches us in the same way as He did to the leper. Do you know the church Sacraments—The Baptism and the Lord’s Supper—are the two means whereby He really touches us today? They are His own special signs to remind us of His presence with us, so as to unite us to Himself, and to bring His love and compassion to us. Indeed, for Christians, the personal encounter with Jesus is vital for our faith to become real faith, for imperfect faith to perfect faith. When Jesus forces the woman to shed her anonymity in the crowd and to acknowledge her cure in public, it becomes a transforming personal encounter, not just a get-healed-quick scheme. Jesus is not here just to fulfill our needs only, He wants to encounter us personally for He cares for us. So, in a sea of a million hands, Jesus will see the one that is raised in faith, though it be infantile and imperfect. By God’s grace, exercise it. It will not go unnoticed by Jesus. This poor woman represents humanity—all of us. We are ill. We have spent all our resources trying remedies to make our lives whole but of no avail. So, we need to touch Jesus by faith. Do not fear that He will not respond. Do not fear that you are too ignorant. Fear only one thing—that you will let Jesus pass without reaching out in faith to Him. This woman in fact serves as a model for Christian discipleship: She heard, she came and she touched!

Let us also not forget the faith of the leper: “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus touched the leper, and His touch made everything different. When was the last time you allowed Jesus to touch you? If our Christian faith continues to seem irrelevant to us, that is simply because we are not allowing Jesus to touch us. We nurse our worries, anxieties and wounds in isolation from Him even though all the time Jesus wants us to know the power of His hand touching us, and His willingness to share our troubles with us. We also nurse our sense of guilt apart. We allow our unconfessed sins and moral sores to fester away in their dark hiding places, when all the time, if we would bring them into the light of Jesus’ presence, His cleansing touch would cure us and liberate us from them. And the saddest thing of all is that some of us have listened so little to His words and looked so little in His face that we still think Jesus is too holy, too good, too high and mighty ever to come near to us. Let us never forget that Jesus’ hand is always stretching out to touch us whatever our state or need. All we need to do is to come to Jesus in faith to touch Him and be touched by Him.

(3) The effect of our living faith and the encounter with Jesus is to restore us to God and to others
Brothers and sisters, what are the consequences of our living faith and for Jesus to encounter us? This is the third point I would now like to suggest: the effect of our living faith and the encounter with Jesus is to restore us to God and to others. Do you think God or Jesus is in the show-off business or in the convincing business by performing the healing miracles? Miracles are not done just to prove the truth about God or about Jesus. Yes, they may reveal plenty about the identity of Jesus or about the nature and power of God. But there is also another important intent of healing miracles. Any glance at the many records of Jesus’ miracles in the Gospels will easily tell us what this intent is: they are done to restore people. Miracles are performed by Jesus out of love and are done to restore humans to God and to others.

In the healing case of the hemorrhaging woman, after confessing what she has done by secretly touching Jesus’ garment, Jesus said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” But was it Jesus’ power that healed the woman, or her own faith? Clearly, it was Jesus’ power. Faith itself is powerless in term of healing but it is the channel through which Jesus’ power can work. What Jesus wants to point out to her is that it is not her physical contact with the garment that healed her, nor the magical property of His garment, it is her faith that makes the difference. In other words, her faith is the mean that opens the door to Jesus’ power, not her superstitious touching. And at this point of time, Jesus did something that is not repeated elsewhere in the Gospel of Mark. He called the woman daughter. Jesus had not even addressed the Twelve as members of His family. By calling her daughter, Jesus’ healing is beyond physical, but restores her to the family of God. The daughter is the term of endearment, acceptance and relationship. In this woman who had suffered so much and who had violated the law of Moses, Jesus found a daughter. Imagine the impact on this woman who has been shunned, excluded, and cut off from any relationship. And Jesus did not stop here. His final words to her are: Go in peace and be freed from your suffering. ‘Go in peace’ speaks of her well-being in the future. In other words, Jesus dismisses the woman into a new life ahead, a life of well-being, right relationships and peace with God. For her, go in peace signals the beginning of a journey out of hopelessness into wholeness.

As in the healing incident of the leper, Jesus instructed him to show himself to the priests and offer the sacrifices for his cleansing according to Moses’ law as a testimony to them. By doing so, he can then be officially declared to be clean. As I have mentioned before, the touch of Jesus on this man is significant. By touching the leper, Jesus is not only showing his compassion for the outcast. His healing touch is a deliberate act as a commencement of a process of reintegrating this man into the Jewish society. In other words, Jesus is also initiating a journey for this man back into societal acceptance and involvement, to be formerly completed by his visit to the priests as prescribed by the law of Moses. So, once again, we see that the faith of this man has created an opportunity for Jesus’ healing, thus restoring a meaningful life to the former outcast.

Yes, brothers and sisters, Jesus heals to restore humans to God and to others. With the march of centuries, there are still walls that separate humans from God and from each others. There are walls that separate the rich from the poor; the healthy from the people suffering from aids; one particular race or one country from another; and walls erected even within family members and in the church communities. But Jesus wants to break them all. He heals to knock down walls between humans and God and between all humans. In other words, Jesus’ healing touch always has a spiritual and social dimension as well. Jesus is indeed the bearer of God’s grace and cleansing power. However unworthy we are and whatever desperation we face, we can always come to Him for healing and for help. As such, there are no excuses for us not to come to Him in faith to encounter Him, knowing that His touch is able to cleanse us, to help us and to heal our broken relationships with God and with others. But, we must first be made whole by Jesus’ healing touch, letting Him to touch us at work, at home, in church, in school, and at our leisure. Only then can we begin to commit ourselves to the ministry of restoring humans to God and to others. So, by God’s grace let us exercise our living faith in Jesus Christ and our commitment to His restoring ministry. Our faith and our commitment will certainly not go unnoticed by God.

Mark 5:24–34 (Listen)

24 And he went with him.

And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. 25 And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, 26 and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. 28 For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” 29 And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’32 And he looked around to see who had done it. 33 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. 34 And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

(ESV)

Luke 5:12–16 (Listen)

12 While he was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy. And when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” 13 And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him. 14 And he charged him to tell no one, but “go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” 15 But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. 16 But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.

(ESV)