Monday, April 19, 2010

The Touch of Faith

[This entry follows a sermon preached at Gray Road Baptist Church, entitled "Jesus: Lord Over Disease and Death." Click on the title to get the audio.]

Reflecting back on the message of Mark 4:35-5:43, it is amazing to see Mark's repetitious teaching of hopelessness, Jesus' power, and faith. The men who were called to be His apostles (3:14) would eventually go out to preach two by two (6:7). To prepare them for this task, Jesus taught them about the kind of responses their message would receive (4:1-20), the way the kingdom grows (4:21-34), and the power of God's kingdom (4:35-43). Even in displaying His power over nature, demons, disease, and death, Jesus' ministry points His disciples back to the gospel they will proclaim...that man is hopeless, that Christ is powerful to save hopeless humanity, and that those who experience Christ's power must believe.

It is on this third concept...the necessity of faith...that I want to focus. A brief glance through the pages of Scripture allows us to see the necessity of faith. Consider the following texts:
1. Genesis 15:6 - "And [Abraham] believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness."
2. Habakkuk 2:4b - "...the righteous shall live by his faith."
3. John 3:14-16 - "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."
4. Acts 16:30-31 - "Then he brought them out and said, 'Sirs, what must I do to be saved?' And they said, 'Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.'"
5. Romans 1:16 - "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek."
6. Romans 5:1 - "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."
7. Hebrews 11:6 - "And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him."

Of course, many more could be listed, but I hope you get the idea. From the Old Testament to the New Testament, faith is necessary for our very is necessary for pleasing God. Faith is necessary. In Mark 5:21-43, we see this emphasis of faith clearly. Jairus comes to Jesus believing that his daughter's healing is dependent on Jesus' intervention. When Jesus is delayed and his daughter dies, Jairus is encouraged to continue believing (v. 36). The woman with the 12-year discharge of blood comes to Jesus as well. Having heard the reports about Jesus, she believes that the healing power she needs resides in the person of Jesus. Both a synagogue ruler and a bloody, unclean woman demonstrate faith in Jesus.

One part of this passage stands out to me. Here are verses 30-31: "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?'" I can see the scene in my mind, can't you? In verses 21 and 24, we see that the crowd 'gathered about him' and 'thronged about him.' Jesus is back on the west side of the Sea of Galilee, where the crowd had pressed in so strongly that previously, Jesus had the disciples secure a boat. He would teach from the boat instead of the shore to avoid being crushed (Mk. 3:9; 4:1).

Apparently, the crowd was pressing in again because the disciples say Jesus' question is unusual. They basically say, "Jesus, everyone is touching you! We can't keep them off you, and you want us to identify exactly which person in this vast crowd touched you?" The difference Jesus perceived, though, was not that an additional person touched him, but he received a different type of touch. This touch resulted in 'power [going out] from him' (v. 30). This was not incidental was a touch driven by faith. The woman who touched him believed the reports about Jesus. She heard the message of Jesus and His power, and she believed. "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ" (Rom. 10:17).

All of this makes me think about how we gather in our places of worship each week. Many who gathered as part of the crowds in Mark's gospel were strictly interested in the signs and wonders...the 'wow factor' of Jesus. Fewer came with this woman's attitude of faith...seeking to encounter Jesus and receive what He had for her.

How do we approach the gathering of God's people on the Lord's Day? What are our expectations? Are we just pressing into a crowd to see what will happen this week (i.e. - looking for the wow factor)? Are we seeking to exalt God and experience the unleashing of God's power through His Word? Which one reveals a heart of faith as we come together? What needs to change about the way in which we gather to worship the Lord? I think Mark would have us take a faith lesson from the woman with the discharge of blood, and since it is God the Spirit who inspired the words written, I also believe God would have us learn from her.

Read this challenging application of Mark 5:30-31 from J.C. Ryle: "Many followed Jesus from curiosity, and derived no benefit from him. One, and only one, followed under a deep sense of her need, and of our Saviour's power to relieve her, and that one received a mighty blessing.
We see the same thing going on continually in the church of Christ at the present day. Crowds go to our places of worship and fill our pews. Hundreds come up to the Lord's table and receive the bread and wine. But of all these worshipers and communicants, how few really obtain anything from Christ! Fashion, custom, form, habit, the love of excitement, or an itching ear are the true motives of the vast majority. There are just a few here and there who touch Christ by faith and go home 'in peace' (verse 34). These may seem hard sayings, but they are sadly too true!"