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What Saves Us?

Mark 5:21-43

Markan Sandwich #4

David Collins

6/25/2023


Today we are looking at the story (two stories really all sandwiched together) of the day that Jesus healed one woman on the way to healing another and then ended up raising a young girl from the dead. It’s an incredible story for many reasons. But studying it this time around, it struck me that it answers a big theological question that I think is vital for us as Christians to wrestle with:


What saves us?


What is it about our faith that saves us? That heals us? Heals us not only where we know we need healing, but saves us, healing what ultimately needs healing about us, even if we’re not aware of it.


Today we’re looking at our fourth Markan sandwich, a day in the life of Jesus that contains the whole gospel if you know where to look. Kind of like how one drop of water is the whole ocean in miniature. It’s the same way with this one incredible day Jesus lived. Let’s get right to it. Mark writes:


21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side,


Jesus had just taken a visit into Gentile country and done some amazing things there before they politely asked him to please leave. So he came back into his home territory.


a great crowd gathered round him; and he was by the sea.

These crowds keep getting bigger and bigger as word spreads through the grapevine about everything Jesus has been doing and teaching. We’ve seen that while his healings and miracles have made him very famous with the common people, that many of his teachings have made him very unpopular with religious leaders. But not all of them.


22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 and begged him repeatedly, ‘My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.’


We don’t know exactly what a synagogue leader was. Perhaps he was elected by the congregation, or maybe he was the patron and his name was engraved on a big brass plaque above the door. What we do know is that he was an important man, which is possibly why the crowd gave way to let him through. But he doesn't behave like an important man. He is a desperate man.


The reason why is that his daughter is at the point of death, Jairus says, only he doesn't say "my daughter," he says "my little daughter." We learn later that she is twelve years old, going on thirteen, so she wasn't all that little really, but to Jairus she would presumably always be his baby girl.

She is dying—he says it more than once, dying, dying—and then he says, "Come and lay your hands on her," because he's seen it done that way before and has possibly even tried doing it that way himself, except that it did absolutely no good at all when he tried it, and for all he knows it will do no good now either. "Lay your hands on her, so she may be made well, and live," She’s my baby girl and hasn’t lived at all yet. Don’t let her die before she’s lived.


24 So he went with him.

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him.

So what saves us? The first thing that starts to save us is the recognition that we can’t save ourselves. We can’t pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. You know that’s impossible right? That phrase originated in a science text book in the late 1800’s as an example of something that was impossible due to physics. But somehow it’s now considered solid advice for how to get ahead in life.


But people get help, get saved, by asking for help, by asking to be saved. Because we can’t save ourselves. And sometimes, often, we can’t even help the ones we love the most.

So Jesus goes off with the desperate father, and the crowd goes along with him, to see what’s going to happen. But there’s someone else in the crowd with a special need of her own.


25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse.


That verse just breaks your heart, doesn’t it? We’ve all known someone like this, or least known of them. When you don’t have your health, you will do anything, spend any amount, to get it back. Not only was this a debilitating condition, it also meant that she couldn’t have children, was excluded from worship in the temple, and that anyone she touched would be ritually unclean as well. She was a lonely, desperate and poor woman. If you saw her on the street, you’d roll up your window.


27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.’


There was a belief in the ancient world that items that were touched by a magic person could contain some of their power. It’s a belief that hucksters exploit today. Remember Benny Hinn? He would send people handkerchiefs that he touched…for a price. And who bought them? People who were desperate. People who were easy to take advantage of. This woman had been through a long line of doctors who probably saw her that way, as an easy mark.

Now she sees this man she’s heard about, a man who heals people in extraordinary ways, who isn’t afraid to touch people like her, lepers and other unclean people. But still she doesn’t want to bother him. Maybe she’s afraid of the crowd. Maybe she’s steeling herself against another disappointment. So she sneaks up and touches his cloak.


29 Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.


Sometimes, you just know that something’s wrong. And sometimes, you can just feel that everything is better. She felt it in her body. But look at what comes next…Jesus felt it in his body, too.

30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him,

In the middle of this crowd of pressing, desperate, hurried people…two people share a connection that isn’t from any of their five senses. They both feel something similar in their bodies.

Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ 31 And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, “Who touched me?”’


Everybody touched you, Lord! But Jesus knew something special happened, and he keeps looking around to figure out who he just had this shared connection with.


32 He looked all round to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth.


Now, a lot of magical thinkers have used this woman’s story to spin that old yarn that if you believe hard enough, if you’re true enough, and don’t doubt and don’t sin, that whatever you dream will come true. Their proof text for that is about to be spoken by Jesus, but I think they’ve got him wrong, and I’ll show you why in a minute. But they make this poor woman, before she touched Jesus, the hero of the story. They say that she believed so strongly that touching his cloak would work, that it did. And it will work for you too, if you just believe hard enough. If it works, it’s because your faith was strong.


If it doesn’t work, that’s your fault too, because you didn’t do it right, or you must have some secret sin, or some undisclosed doubt.


It’s a con. It’s gas-lighting. And it’s a bad reading of this story.


You see, Mark doesn’t say that the woman had faith before she was healed. He says, “She had heard about Jesus and came up a touched his cloak” She was desperate and would try anything. If it didn’t work, she was no worse off than she was before.


It’s only AFTER she feels in her body that she has been healed, and AFTER she hears Jesus say “Who touched me?” that Mark describes the signs of faith in her. And they are the classic Biblical signs of faith. Fear and trembling. Falling down before him in worship. Telling him the whole truth about who she is. We call that confession of faith. When Jesus says what he says next, that is what he’s referring to.


34 He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’


“Your faith has made you well” refers much more to her fear and trembling, her worship, and her confession, than it does to her initial touch of Jesus’ cloak. Her initial touch may have been from a nudge of faith, but it is much more accurately described as magical thinking. That it worked isn’t a victory for magical thinking. It’s a victory for Jesus.


That’s the second way this story answers our question “What saves us?


It’s not the feeling of faith that does it. It’s the object of our faith that saves us.


This woman’s magical thinking providentially lead her to Jesus. The same thing has happen for millions of us throughout the centuries since. We come to church because we need something, maybe desperately, and by God’s grace, we didn’t end up buying a copy of Dianetics or the Secret, instead, by that Grace, we ended up in a church where we encountered the living Lord, the God of Israel, the Father of Jesus Christ.


It doesn’t matter how you got here, if when you did, you discovered that you are invited and called to be a part of the body of Christ. I’ll bet that even Benny Hinn’s hankies have been a part of a few people’s stories of discovering the truth about the God of the Bible for themselves. It doesn’t excuse the hankies. But if a terrible sign still points in the right direction, God can use it.


It’s the object of our faith that saves us. If that object is the one true God who became incarnate in Jesus Christ and sends his Holy Spirit into your life, then it doesn’t really matter how you got here, so long as your faith is in the one who found you, and not in your story of finding God.

God is the one who ultimately gives us faith. We see that in this story in the way that Jesus responds to this woman. Look at what he said again:


34 He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’


This woman was now fully aware that she was in the presence of God, with the requisite fear and trembling, confession, and wondering what Jesus was going to do, and the first thing he did was welcome her into God’s family by calling her “daughter.” He was on his way to heal Jairus’ daughter, and instead he stopped to heal one who was now his own adopted daughter.


It’s the same story for you. And for me. No matter how you got here, or what you need, the best thing you can discover is that Jesus calls you “My child”. We are not born into the family of God. We are adopted. That’s what saves us.


But how? The rest of the story shows us that.


35 While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?’ 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe.’


This interruption seemed to have cost Jairus and his daughter everything. His daughter had only minutes, and Jesus spent them with someone who’s need wasn’t nearly as urgent. They both hear the news at the same time, and Jesus turns to him and says, “Do not fear, only believe”.


What are you supposed to believe when your whole life has blown up in your face? When the worst thing you can imagine has just happened? Believe that somehow life still makes sense even in the face of a twelve-year-old's death? Jairus doesn't ask what he is to believe or how he is to believe and Jesus doesn't tell him as they stand there in the road, with the crowd pressing in on them both.


37 He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38 When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly.


These may have been professional mourners, or maybe they were just genuine people doing what we should do in the face of death, rather than cloaking ourselves in platitudes, more afraid of our own emotions than we are anything else.


39 When he had entered, he said to them, ‘Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.’ 40 And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was.


It’s a little odd, isn’t it, that when Jesus arrives at Jairus’s house he says that the girl is just sleeping? Matthew and Luke’s account of this story make it clear that Jesus understands she’s dead. She’s not mostly dead; she’s all dead.


If you haven’t been in that room, let me describe it. There’s a stillness to it. The mother with her face in her hands, Jairus on his knees at the bedside, the child laying there cold, hair brushed, face washed, hands folded one on top of the other on her chest. As dead as dead can be.


So why does Jesus say she’s asleep? The answer is in what Jesus does next.


41 He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha cum’, which means, ‘Little girl, get up!’

Jesus sits down beside the girl, takes her by the hand, and says two things to her in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke.


The first is talitha. It means “little girl,” but that doesn’t translate it well enough. The best translation is “honey.”


The second thing Jesus says to her is koum, which just means “get up.” It’s not some fancy magic word that means “the time of your resurrection has come” or anything like that. Jesus is doing exactly what this girl’s parents might do on any morning as she lays in her bed. He sits down, takes her hand, and says, “Honey, it’s time to get up. Breakfast is ready.”


Jesus is facing the ultimate enemy, the last enemy, death itself and because of who he is, he gently lifts her right up through it. “Honey, get up. It’s time for breakfast.”


We all wonder what happens when we’re dead, and we don’t know precisely. We have some images in the Bible, but this is one of my favorites. It’s the image of what happens when it’s time to stop being dead. “Honey, get up. It’s time to eat.”


What saves us? We’re not saved from anything, especially from death, because of any power, or goodness, or even faith, that’s in us. Like this little girl, we are saved because Jesus called us in the same way he called the universe into being. We can’t help it. We didn’t choose it. We were chosen. We were called from death to life. And the calling itself enlivened us.


42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.


Here’s the last thing we hear in this story about how we are saved, at least for today.


Jesus didn’t just save Jairus’ daughter. By saving her, he saved Jairus too. And his whole family. And their neighbors, and friends. He saved everyone who had been wailing and weeping. Not forever…but for then.


It’s not just one or two lives that Jesus came to save. Not just two daughters. And not just you and me. But every daughter, every son, every child. Jesus came to save the world, and one day will do it. Everything awful will be undone. Everything wrong will be put right. It’s not about God saving us while the world around us burns. God is saving the world, too.


But in this story, don’t we also see that there isn’t really “a world” to be saved. “The world” is just a bunch of children, like these two daughters, like you and me. Each one is just as important as the other. And each life saved, each person healed, is the world to someone.


So What saves us?


Getting over ourselves helps. It’s not just about us. It’s about everyone.


What saves us?


God saves us. And God will save the whole world one day. God will right every wrong, dry every tear, undo every mistake, raise every child and restore every family. God will do everything. But why wait? Let’s start now, and do what what we can do.


Amen,

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