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Fringe Benefits

Mark 5:24-34

I read to you now from the 5th chapter of the Gospel of Mark. I shall begin to read at the 24th verse. This is the Word of God. 

“And a great crowd followed Jesus and thronged about Him. And there was a woman who had had a flow of blood for twelve years and had endured 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 shall be made well.’ And immediately the hemorrhage ceased and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 

“And Jesus, perceiving in Himself that power had gone forth 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 Jesus looked around to see who had done it.

“The woman, knowing what had been done to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth. And Jesus said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your disease.'”

Soli Deo gloria. The God alone be the Glory.

Let us pray. Now may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen. 

Rebecca Brown fell from the Fremont Canyon bridge twice. And both times, she died. The first time Rebecca Brown fell from the Fremont Canyon bridge was nearly 20 years ago. She was 18 years old at the time. She and her younger sister, Amy, who was 11 at the time, went to a grocery store near where they lived in Casper, Wyoming. There they were abducted by two hoodlums. They were thrown into a car, driven 40 miles to the south to the Platte River, to the bridge which spans that river, the Fremont Canyon bridge. There Rebecca Brown was beaten and raped. She managed to convince her attackers not to do the same thing to her younger sister Amy.

But she could not keep her attackers from picking Amy up and throwing her over the side of the bridge. She fell to the riverbed far down below and died instantly. When these molesters had finished their cruel games, they then seized Rebecca Brown and pushed her over the side of the bridge as well. As she fell, her body hit an outcropping of rocks, causing her to bounce a bit farther out so that she landed in the deeper waters of the river. As a result, though she was terribly injured, she survived the fall. Although, while she did not die physically that day she fell from the Fremont Canyon bridge, something died inside of her. Eventually her molesters were found, arrested, sentenced, and locked away in prison.

But for the next 20 years, Rebecca Brown’s life had no life to it at all. And consequently, one morning just this past July, Rebecca Brown went to the Fremont Canyon bridge and fell from that bridge a second time. The first time, her heart was broken. The second time, her neck was broken. You see, for 20 years Rebecca Brown could never get over the trauma of that day on the bridge. She never got over the loss of her sister Amy. She never got over the shame, humiliation, degradation of the rape.

She never got over her fear that her attackers would someday be released from prison and come after her as, in fact, they had vowed they would do. She couldn’t sleep at night because of the anguish that was ripping her apart inside. And so she moved through every day in what could only be described as a stupor of exhaustion. Because her spirit was so diminished within her, other people found it difficult, if not impossible, to relate to her. She went to one psychiatrist or counsellor after another seeking help, all to no avail. The nightmare of her life would not end. And one morning last July, Rebecca Brown picked up the morning newspaper and read in the paper that the two men who had brutalized her would be released from prison on parole. She climbed into her car and, all alone, drove down to the Fremont Canyon bridge, climbed up over the side, she let go, she fell, and for the second time, Rebecca Brown died.

I suppose that I’m not telling you something you don’t already know when I tell you that there are Rebecca Browns in every city and that there are Fremont Canyon bridges in every community. But I may be telling you something that you don’t already know when I tell you that there are Rebecca Browns all the way through the pages of Scripture. And in fact, there is one woman whose story is portrayed on the pages of Scripture whose experience somehow seems to summarize them all, where it almost seems to me that maybe all of the hurt and all of the heartbreak of life were dumped upon this one single woman. And yet out of the horrors of her experience, we learn one of the greatest lessons about Jesus that we can ever learn. And that lesson is this: when we reach out to Jesus, Jesus reaches out to us. I want you to listen again to the words Mark writes.

“A great crowd followed Jesus and thronged about Him. There was a woman who had had a flow of blood for 12 years, who had endured much under many physicians, had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse.” I suppose there are no more tragic words in all of Scripture than those. She was no better but rather grew worse. Understand please, that in those days the condition this woman endured was the most debilitating and humiliating condition any woman could endure. It was difficult enough she had been bleeding and hemorrhaging, it says, for 12 years. She had bankrupted herself trying to find medical help. And as if that were not bad enough, the religious customs of the day decreed that because she was bleeding, she was ritually unclean. That meant she could not remain in a normal marriage. She could not bear children. Her condition kept her weak, anemic, and chronically fatigued. She could not even do the most basic of tasks like prepare a meal or wash the dishes or clean the clothes. She was rejected by people around her because people could not have anything to do with her because of her so-called uncleanness. She experienced a rejection like the rejection experienced by those who had leprosy.

She was not even permitted to go into the temple to worship God. Her condition was impure. Her body was impotent. Her situation was impossible. Her bank account was impoverished. Her problems were immovable. But her faith, her faith was incredible. You see, in the end, all she had was a hope and a prayer. But in the end, that is all she needed. From her we learn that Jesus knows the hurting heart. You know, I think there is something very helpful about knowing that Jesus knows how we hurt, being aware that Jesus is aware of what we feel. Somehow that helps us to keep on keeping on in life. And I would think, therefore, that maybe if you are experiencing some deep pain or some overwhelming fear in your life that the word you need to hear today is this: God in Jesus Christ knows the hurt that is in your heart.

Jesus knows the hurts that are hurting you. He knows the fears that are frightening you. And there is something about just knowing that Jesus knows how we feel that makes us feel just a little better. Some time ago, in a little town out in West Texas, the man who was the postmaster there received word from the Postal Service that he was going to be given early retirement and he was, in fact, going to be replaced by a machine. A machine that would dispense the stamps and weigh the packages. And so he called together all of the townspeople and he explained to them what was going to happen, how he was going to be replaced by this machine, and he explained to them how this machine was going to work. And then he said, “Does anyone have any questions?” 

An older woman piped in. She said, “Well, I’d like to know something. Is this machine going to ask about my rheumatism?” Do you get the point? It was so important for somebody to ask, somebody to know, somebody to care. That’s what this woman found in Jesus. Someone who cared. When she reached out to Jesus, she discovered that Jesus knew the hurt that was in her heart. In other words, it is in our time of great need that we see the Lord as we’ve never seen Him before.

In the first church that I served, it was out in the oil country of Texas. There was a man in that church, his name was Ben Laird. He was a tough, crusty old bird. He was very difficult to get along with. He made a bucket load of money in the oil field, but he made no friends along the way. Even his family couldn’t stand to be around him. The one thing that Ben Laird wanted was for his children to be home at Christmas. But his children didn’t want to be home with him at Christmas, so he had an idea. He knew that his children needed his money to live. And so he put them on an annual allowance, $10,000 a year. In those days, that was a lot of money. There was a catch. They had to show up at his house on Christmas to get their check. Needless to say, it worked. They came home every Christmas. Well, you know, in a strange sense, the same thing is true of us in the faith. I mean, it is when we have great need that we go to God.

I want to say something very clearly at this point. I do not believe that God causes pain, but I do believe that God uses pain to bring us closer to home. Closer to Him. And so if you are experiencing some deep pain or hurt or fear in your life, then it just may be that God is going to use that to let you see Him as you have never seen Him before. That’s what we learn from this woman in Mark 5. She learned that Jesus always knows the hurts that are in our hearts and Jesus always responds to the sincere prayer. It doesn’t have to be much of a prayer, just sincere. This woman said, “If I just touch the fringe of His garment, then I will experience His power.” It wasn’t much. I mean, yeah, that was really a rather puny little gesture, wasn’t it? I mean, to do nothing more than just as He passed, just to reach out and brush the fringe of His garment, that wasn’t much.

But then you know, prayer itself isn’t much, is it? Just a few little words. You know, our mutterings to the Lord are so frequently so puny, aren’t they? I mean, there’s not much to prayer when you stop to think about it, but when she touched just the fringe, she felt the power. You see, here was a woman who believed that while she could do just a little, God could do a lot. Here was a woman who believed that if she could muster up just a little tiny seed of faith, that from that, God would produce a great oak tree of grace. She could do a little, but God can do a lot. I’ve always loved the story of the little girl who was walking down the street one day with her father and she looked up at her dad and she said, “Daddy, would you hold my hand? Because I can only hold just a little bit of your hand, but you can hold all of my hand.” That’s the way it is with God. He can hold all of our hands. He can do it all. He never runs out. He never runs down. He never gives up. He never gives in. He never has a bad mood. He never has a bad day. He is always ready to respond to the sincere prayer.

We serve and love a God who is inexhaustible. So that when this woman reached out and just brushed the fringes of His garment, Jesus immediately felt the power flowing out of Him. Reminds me of a clock I had when I was a little boy. It was a clock that stood on the table right next to my bed. Wasn’t a very attractive clock, it was kind of a boxy clock and it was a wind-up clock. Boy, it was old fashioned, wasn’t it? And that clock didn’t do any of the things that clocks do nowadays. Oh, I have to tell you. I have a clock right next to my bed now that makes the sound of rolling waves. And you can hear the faint distant call of seagulls all through the night. And it helps you to sleep and it really works. But this clock that I had when I was a little boy didn’t do all of those things. It didn’t even have digital numbers, for heaven’s sake. It had two hands, had a minute hand and an hour hand. But you know what that clock did? All during the day while I was gone, that clock was getting ready for my night.

You see, the hands on that clock were made out of a luminescent material and all during the day, they would soak up the light of the sun so that then at night when my bedroom would grow dark, those hands on that clock would shine brightly. Two great sticks of light in the darkness. When my world got dark, the clock got bright. That’s the principle we see here. When this woman’s world was the darkest, Jesus was the brightest. Remember that principle, please. When your life is at its darkest, Jesus Christ will be at His brightest. This woman reached out and just brushed the fringe of His garment and she immediately felt the benefit of His bright, energizing and healing power. And when Jesus learned the full story from the woman, a remarkable thing happened. And by the way, this is the only time in the Bible that Jesus did this. Jesus looked at this woman kneeling before Him and Jesus said to her – and this is the only time in all of the Bible where Jesus ever said this to anyone – Jesus looked down at this woman and He said to her very lovingly, “Daughter.”

Can you imagine what that word would have meant to her? I mean, can you imagine how many years she had not heard a term of endearment of any sort? Her condition had caused her to be cut off from everyone else. Whenever other people saw her coming, they turned and went the other way. And now suddenly Jesus reaches down to her and with great love He says to her, “Daughter.” There is something so wonderful about being addressed by a term of endearment. Do you understand that one of these days you will stand in the Kingdom of Heaven before the throne of God? And then when you stand there, Jesus is lovingly going to call your name. That’s what He promises in Matthew 10. You can read it for yourself. He says, “If you acknowledge Me on this earth then I will acknowledge you before My Father.” That’s His promise, that if you and I confess His name in this life, if you and I claim Jesus as our own and tell others about Him, then one day when we get to heaven and stand before the throne of God, Jesus will come and put His arm about our shoulder and He will turn to the Father and He will say, “This is My daughter. This is My son.”

What an incredible moment this was. Because this woman acknowledged Jesus, Jesus acknowledged her. He’s always ready to respond to the sincere prayer and Jesus is always ready to honor the trusting touch. Whenever, my beloved, we reach out to Jesus, Jesus reaches out to us. That’s the principle. Mark it down and never forget it. It’s right here in the story. Did you hear it? When this woman reached out and touched Jesus, Jesus wanted to know who touched Him. Whenever we reach out to Jesus, He reaches out to us. I cannot get Rebecca Brown out of my mind. Do you understand that she never should have gone alone that day to the Fremont Canyon bridge to look at her sorrows all by herself? She needed to take Jesus with her.

The woman in the story didn’t try to look at her sorrows alone. She looked at them with Jesus. Do you understand that that’s what faith really is? Faith is not just inviting Jesus Christ into our hearts. It is also inviting Jesus Christ into our hurts. Faith is inviting Jesus Christ into our hurts. You see, when we encounter pain and hurt in life, we can either cuss or we can trust. We can either be plunged into despair or we can courageously declare, in spite of my pain, I believe that God is on my side. Yes. And I will give my life to Him. That’s what faith really is. And that’s why today I want to call you to faith in Jesus Christ. Let me see if I can wrap it all like this. I want to share with you a rather wonderful legend about this woman whose story we are told in Mark 5. I don’t know if the legend’s true.

The Bible never mentions her again, at least as far as we know, and so I don’t know if the legend is true or not. But according to the tradition, there were some early second century historians who declared that this woman’s name was Veronica. And that after she had been healed by Jesus, she went on to become a very prominent and in fact ultimately a very wealthy woman in her community. In fact, at one point she had commissioned an enormously magnificent statue of Jesus Christ. It was sculpted and placed at the center of the community where she lived and there it stood, according to the tradition, for many decades. There is another dimension to the legend. We are told – I don’t know if it’s true or not – we are told that she was there that day when Jesus was forced to carry His cross along the Via Dolorosa in the city of Jerusalem. And that at that moment when Jesus fell under the terrible weight of that cross, that it was Veronica who stepped out of the crowd, and with a handkerchief, wiped away the blood and the sweat from His eyes. You see, because He had touched her, now she could touch Him. That’s the way it always works, my beloved.

When we have been touched by the power of Jesus Christ in life, then we can touch others with that same healing power. I love the way the poet puts it: “The healing of His seamless dress is by our beds of pain and when we touch Him in life’s throng and press, we’re made whole again.” Tuck that away in your heart. Please. Let us pray. 

Almighty God, let us experience now the powerful touch of the spirit of Jesus Christ upon us. Amen.

 

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