Encounters With Christ: The Nobody Who Became Somebody
From Chapter 5 of the Gospel according to Mark, I wish to read these words. This is the Word of God:
“When Jesus had again crossed over by the boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around Him. While He was by the lake, one of the synagogue rulers named Jairus came there. Seeing Jesus, he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with Him. ‘My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.’ So Jesus went with him. A large crowd followed and pressed around him.
“And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for 12 years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had. Yet, instead of getting better, she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind Him in the crowd, touched His cloak. Because she thought, ‘If I just touch His clothes, I will be healed.’ Immediately, her bleeding stopped. She felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. At once, Jesus realized that power had gone out from Him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ ‘You see the people crowding against you,’ His Disciples answered, and yet, you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at His feet, and trembling with fear, told Him the whole truth. He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.'”
May God bless to us the reading and the hearing of this portion of His Holy Word.
Pray with me, please.
Give me Jesus, Lord. Give me Jesus. You can have all the rest. Just give me Jesus. Amen.
Jesus was interrupted. Ah, but Jesus was always being interrupted. You could actually write a whole life story of Jesus using nothing more than just the interruptions. People were forever breaking in on Him, breaking in on His public times, His private times, His quiet times, His mealtimes, His rest times, His travel times, His teaching times, even his dying moments on Calvary were interrupted by the request of the repentant thief on the adjacent cross. Jesus’ whole life was one long series of unscheduled interruptions. Today we look at one of those interruptions.
The Bible tells us that Jesus was making his way slowly through the streets of the City of Capernaum, slowly because there was an enormous crowd around Him. And that crowd was there simply because Jesus was there. They were pressing in upon Him, we’re told, hoping upon hope that they might see Him work one of his wanted miracles, or failing that, hoping upon hope they might catch some gem of wisdom he might choose to impart as he walked along.
And then suddenly, in the crowd, there was this woman, sick and tired and timid and afraid. A woman who reached out and just touched the edge of his clothes, and suddenly the whole procession stopped, and Jesus cried, “Who touched me?” I want us to look at this astounding encounter between Christ and the woman of Capernaum. Understand please, she was just a nobody. I mean, she wasn’t even prominent enough to have her name recorded on the pages of the Bible, and yet, she has earned for herself a place in the hearts of Christians everywhere because of what happened on the day that she interrupted the Master. She was a nobody whom Jesus made a somebody in a way so wonderful that I wish I could tell everybody. Here is her story.
Notice, first, that her illness was incurable.
The Bible says, “She had been subject to bleeding for 12 years.” Twelve years. And yet, I have to tell you, I don’t believe that those simple words can begin to capture the awesome depth of her personal tragedy. You see, back in Jesus’ day, there was no condition more debilitating or more humiliating than the condition she endured. It meant that she could never have a normal marriage. It meant that she could never have children. It meant that her body was always weak, anemic. She was chronically fatigued. And given the customs of the day, because she was bleeding, she was regarded as being unclean. That meant she could never prepare a meal or wash the dishes or clean the clothes. She could never be in the presence of another person, even in the privacy of her own home. And if she ever dared to go out in public, she was always shunned. That’s why she actually had to sneak her way into this great crowd of people around Jesus. And then maybe what’s worse of all, she was never ever permitted to set foot in the Temple or the Synagogue in order to worship God. Her life was one long unending nightmare. Oh, she tried to find a cure. It says that she went to doctors, not just one but many. She spent every last dime she possessed trying to find some relief. All to no avail. The Bible says, “Instead of getting better, she grew worse. Her illness was incurable.” It’s a terrible thing to have an incurable illness.
My guess is that most of us here at one time or another have known someone with that particular affliction, some incurable condition or illness, and always but always our hearts ache and break for them. But there’s something we tend to forget. It is that illness cannot only afflict the body but also the soul. You see there are incurable illnesses of the soul. I mean, we are surrounded by evidence of people who are in apparently good health physically but spiritually they are sick down in the depths of their soul, and they are spending gobs of money trying to find a cure. They spend hours and hours on a psychiatrist couch, or they surround themselves with all kinds of grown-up toys, or they take extended journeys traveling the world over, or they dip into a bottle trying to find solace for their condition, or they keep changing things, changing jobs and changing houses and changing friends and even, God forbid, changing marriage partners, all in the hope of finding the happiness that eludes them. And yet that happiness still eludes them. They remain diseased, discontented, depressed, disillusioned, disenchanted with life. And like the woman in the story, they cannot be healed by anyone. On the outside they appear to be fine physically, but down inside spiritually, they’re caught in the grip of a slow, slow death, and they cannot be cured by anyone. Their illness is incurable. And as if that were not tragedy enough, the greater tragedy still is that so many of them never encounter the one we call the Great Physician. Ah, but this woman in the story did encounter Jesus.
So while her illness was incurable, her spirit was indomitable.
The Bible says, “She heard about Jesus. She heard.” Apparently, in Capernaum, people were talking about Jesus. They were excited about Jesus—reports about Jesus were circulating about the community, reports about the withered man whose limb Jesus had healed, reports about the four men who tore a hole in the roof in order to lower their sick friend down into the presence of Jesus, reports about Matthew, the hated tax collector for Heaven’s sake, who was so transformed by the power of Jesus that he wound up becoming a Disciple of Jesus. These reports were circulating about in the community. Capernaum was excited about Jesus. People were talking about Him. And that’s why this woman heard about Jesus.
So let me ask you: Do people hear you talking about Jesus? Are you spreading reports about Jesus? Remember, please, that you and I as Disciples of Christ are never called to be the reservoirs of God’s grace. No, we are called to be the rivers of God’s grace carrying that grace out to parched people and parched places. You and I are never called to hoard the power of Christ for ourselves. We’re called to be spendthrifts in the Spirit, recklessly giving away all that we know to be true about Jesus. Leonard Griffith put it this way, “The Spiritual sufferers of our day need to be told about Jesus. They do not need to be propagandized by vague theological theories about Him. They do not even need to be bombarded by Bible verses. They simply need to hear His name.” Oh, that’s so true. They simply need to hear His name. And yet, so many times today the only way people ever hear the name of Jesus if it’s used as a curse or a swear word or a term of blasphemy. Why is it that so many Christians are hesitant to simply say the name of Jesus, to say it joyfully, to say it without one word of apology?
Not long ago I had a man come up to me and he suggested that Christians were way too aggressive in sharing Jesus with others. Now, if he meant by that that there are some Christians who lack common decency and grace in sharing Jesus with others, well, he may have a point. But if instead, he meant, and I think this is what he did mean, if he meant that Christians need to think twice before mentioning the name of Jesus in every possible opportunity and in every conceivable circumstance, if that’s what he meant, let me tell you something. He was wrong. He was dead wrong. I happen to believe that there is no situation, there is no circumstance where it is wrong to mention the name of Jesus. I happen to believe that there is no person we can engage in conversation no matter the time, no matter the place, there is no person for whom it would be a bad thing to hear the Savior’s name. Jesus doesn’t need to be argued. Jesus doesn’t need to be propagandized. Jesus does not call us to be high-pressure salesmen for his cause. He asks us only one thing, that we mention His name, and that we never stop mentioning His name because in His name there is the power of God for salvation.
That’s the way it was for this woman in Capernaum. She heard. She heard about Jesus, and that so buoyed her spirit that she found the courage to leave her home and to sneak into that crowd just to get close to Him. And so while her illness was incurable, her spirit was indomitable, and as a result, her faith was unstoppable. The Bible says that she thought to herself, “If I could just touch his clothes, I would be healed. That’s not much, just touching the edge of His clothes.” But she had faith enough to believe that that would be enough, and so she reached out and with her fingertips, she brushed the edge of His clothing. And Jesus stopped and said, “Who touched me?” And the Disciple said, “Lord, You must be kidding. I mean, give us a break. Look at all these people pressing in upon You. How do we know who touched You?”
In that moment, Jesus could well have said to this woman, “Lady, there are a lot of people here. There are a lot of needs to be met. Besides that, I’m on my way to answer a distress call. You’ll just have to wait your turn.” He could have said that, but no, no, no, no, no, no, not your Jesus, not my Jesus. He didn’t say that at all. He turned to this woman. She was just one among many, just one. But in that moment, Jesus gave Himself to her. He loved her as if she were the only one in all the world to love. Do you know that’s what the great Saint Augustine said about Jesus? He loves each one of us as if each one of us were the only one in all the world to love. What a beautiful, beautiful thought.
Jan Kubelik, the great violinist, was scheduled to play a concert in the Queen’s Hall in London. The tickets for the concert had been sold out for months. There was in London a struggling young violinist named Evelyn Bell. Kubelik was her idol. She longed to hear him play. She tried everything she knew to secure a ticket, but she couldn’t. Finally, in desperation, on the afternoon of the concert, she went to the hotel where the great master was staying. And she sent a message to him asking if he had access to a ticket that she could buy. He came down to the lobby to answer her request. He said, “I’m sorry. I have no access to tickets.” Moved in disappointment to the point of tears, she stammered out the words, “Then I guess I shall never get to hear you play.” And the great Jan Kubelik said, “Oh, but my dear, yes, you will. Please take a seat, and with that, the great master violinist picked up his violin and he proceeded to play the entire concert from beginning to end for an audience of one. Evelyn Bell never forgot that day just as I’m sure the woman at Capernaum never forgot the day when Jesus stopped the whole parade to play the melody of hope and healing just for her.
Do you realize that Jesus loves you the way he loved that woman? That He loves you as if you were the only one in all the world to love? And in that moment after she touched his clothing and suddenly realized what had happened, she heard Jesus say to her, “Daughter”—Do you know that that is the only time in all of the Bible where it is recorded that Jesus called anyone by that beautiful name, Daughter? “Daughter, your faith has made you well.” Here was this woman—her illness was incurable, her condition was impure, her body was impotent, her situation was impossible, her purse was impoverished, and her problem was immovable. And yet, her spirit was indomitable and her faith was unstoppable, and as a result, she encountered the Christ who was, is, and always shall be incredible. She was a nobody whom Jesus made somebody. And oh, how I wish everybody could see that.
Would you please permit me a word from my heart? There’s one line in this story that strikes so close to home for me. It says after she touched Jesus, at once He felt power go out from Him. Hear that. Whenever Jesus ministers to someone, it costs Him something. The power goes out from Him. Think what that means. Here He was day after day after day, morning until evening, surrounded by people in need, and every time He ministered to them, the power went out of Him. It cost Him something. George Bernard Shaw once said, “I want to be thoroughly used up when I die.” Well, here is Jesus using Himself up. Every time He ministered to someone it cost Him something. To a certain extent, I understand that.
My beloved professor, James Stewart, of Scotland, used to say, “Every sermon well preached will cause you to die a little.” You see, what makes a sermon a sermon is the anointing power of the Holy Spirit, and when the Holy Spirit touches the sermon, he sets it on fire. And when He sets it on fire, it burns something down inside of you. Take to the pulpit in the grip of the Holy Spirit, and it will cost you something. It will use you up. It will shorten your life a little bit. Every worship service there comes a point when I finish the sermon and I step away from the podium and I wonder what is going on in your hearts and your minds. I wonder if there’s someone here who made some resolution with regards to sin that will inject new power into their everyday experience. I wonder if there’s someone here so burdened down by cares and fears and anxieties that they can barely even hear what I’m trying to say. I wonder if, God help me, I wonder if my own errors and insensitivities keep people from hearing the Gospel of Christ. I wonder. I wonder if there is someone here so touched by the power of Jesus Christ that they will never ever forget this day as long as they live. They will never forget this moment in this place in this church in this service of worship, not for as long as they live. I know what it is to pour yourself with all of the passion you possess into proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the hope that those to whom you preach may be drawn to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, and I know the cost of wondering if it happens at all.
But what I want you to understand is that what matters to me more than anything in all the world is helping you to understand that you matter to Jesus Christ. What I want to do more than anything in all the world is to convince you that Jesus loves you, every single one of you, loves you as if you were the only one in all the world to love. And therefore, no matter the cost, I’m going to keep taking to this pulpit Sunday after Sunday after Sunday in the grip of the Holy Spirit. I’m going to keep telling you about Jesus. I’m going to keep calling you to commit your life to Him, nothing held back. I’m going to keep preaching no matter the cost. I’m going to keep preaching Christ and Christ crucified, so help me God.
Soli Deo Gloria.
To God alone be the glory.