Jesus And Faith

And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” Luke

We’re starting this new year of grace, 2013, by drilling down into the obvious basics that will help us all year long. Jesus and community, Jesus and fullness, Jesus and risk. Now today, Jesus and faith.

Why faith? Because Jesus talked a lot about faith, and we rarely talk about faith. Jesus said,

“Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” –Matthew 8:26

“According to your faith be it done for you.” –Matthew 9:29

“O woman, great is your faith.” –Matthew 15:28

“Whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” –Matthew 21:22

“Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” –Mark 4:40

“Where is your faith?” –Luke 8:25

Jesus talked about faith as the essential ingredient he is looking for in us. Was there something wrong with his theology? Did he not understand the sovereignty of God? Or is it we who are missing something?

We are uncertain about faith – what it is, why it matters. We know what biblical faith is not. We know true faith isn’t wishful thinking or a blind leap or intellectual suicide. But we’re not sure what real faith is and how it fits into the ways of God. If we don’t find out, we risk treating God as mechanical, treating the gospel as automatic, treating grace as some kind of cosmic machine that grinds on and on and we can take it for granted. And how could we make Jesus non-ignorable, if we ignore what Jesus treated as essential?

There are basically three responses to Jesus: yes, no, maybe. What complicates it is, there are two kinds of maybe. One kind of maybe is on its way from a blunt no to a clear yes. It is a no in transition to a yes. The other kind of maybe is a dishonest no, a no that won’t own up to what it really is. But a heart-level yes to Jesus is faith in him. A heart-level no to Jesus is a yes to some other savior. (Everyone has faith in something.) A maybe, in transition to yes, is a heart turning away from its false saviors to Jesus. A maybe, that’s really a no, is hypocrisy, and the worst heart-condition of all. This morning, as we see how people respond to Jesus here in Luke 8, we will also see ourselves. And we want to live by faith together in 2013, like this woman in Luke 8, because that’s where God’s power enters in.

Some people make contact with Jesus, but it isn’t faith

As Jesus went, the people pressed around him. Luke 8:42

In the narrow streets, it isn’t surprising that people would have crowded in and bumped up against Jesus. He didn’t mind a crowd pressing in on him. But neither did power flow out of him to help them. I wonder if it’s like this on Sunday mornings in some churches – lots of people in some kind of contact with Jesus, but they’re not experiencing his power.

A man named Jairus, a leader in the community, had just asked Jesus to come save his daughter. Why did Jairus ask him for that? Because Jesus has already healed other people, even dramatically. That’s also why the crowd was there waiting for Jesus. Wherever Jesus showed up, there must have been a kind of magic in the air, a sense that something exciting might happen at any moment. These people couldn’t wait to see what Jesus might do next. So when he turned to go with Jairus, they were eager to follow. They even crowded in on him. But what he felt from them was not faith. And what they experienced from him was not power.

There is big difference between speculation over what Jesus might do for someone else and desperation over what he must do for me. It is the difference between curiosity and honesty. It is the difference between “Jesus is interesting to me” and “Jesus is essential to me.” It is the difference between giving Jesus a try and giving myself to Jesus. And the difference is so obvious to Jesus he can feel it.

When I taught at Trinity and went to the chapel services, I noticed something about myself that was wrong. It’s a temptation built into a leadership role. I would sit there in chapel services thinking, “This is really good for these students. They need this. I sure hope they’re listening.” It was a mentality of detachment. God was there. He was moving in power. But I was an onlooker, not a participant. It’s easy not to notice how detached we can be, because we’re present and involved at some level. It is easy to be near Jesus, even bump up against him, when it isn’t faith. Then we walk away and think, “It didn’t take. It didn’t work for me.” Of course not. He is the Savior of the
world. Without him, we die. With him, we come alive. If you’re not coming alive, your problem is not Jesus but your own standoffish neutrality, which the Bible calls not neutral but unbelief, actively dishonoring him.

What is the opposite of faith? Not atheism but a wait-and-see attitude. That’s what all these other people crowding around Jesus were doing. “Will Jesus really heal Jairus’ daughter? Let’s see!” They were interested in Jesus, but they were trusting in themselves as much as ever. Not this woman. She was thinking, “I’m a hopeless case. But Jesus will not let me down. He is so full of grace, all I need is a touch.”

Other people touch Jesus, and he considers it faith

She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, and immediately her discharge of blood ceased. Luke 8:44

You’ve got to hand it to this woman. She did not resign herself to her miserable existence. She’d been disappointed so many times. But she heard about Jesus, she came to him in the way she knew, and Jesus liked it. What do we know about her? For twelve years she had been suffering in a way that made her ritually unclean, according to the Old Testament. For both men and women, if they had running sores or any bodily discharge, they could not enter the holy place to worship God. And anyone who touched a person in that condition also became unclean. Why? The idea was prophetic. God is taking his people into a renewed universe, where we will be whole in every way in the presence of God forever. Worship at the tabernacle and the temple back in the Old Testament was a foretaste of that eternal happiness. So if the integrity and wholeness of anyone’s body was breached, as this woman’s body was, that person was unfit for God’s presence and had to go through ritual cleansing in order to re-enter the worshiping community. All of this was meant to awaken our longings for our perfected humanity when Jesus brings in his eternal kingdom. So this woman, for twelve years, could not enter a worship gathering. Her friends could not touch her. She was someone to avoid.

Luke, who was a doctor, tells us that she had spent all her money on doctors, to no avail. She must have made many appointments and explained her symptoms many times. She had a long-standing problem, it was embarrassing, it put a social stigma on her, and it wasn’t going away.

But then she comes to Jesus. She doesn’t make an appointment. She doesn’t explain her symptoms. She doesn’t have to pay for his services. She just touches him, even the fringe of his garment, and she was healed freely and immediately. Four times in the passage, Luke emphasizes that she touched him. Many others pressed in on him. But she touched him, and he felt the touch of faith. It was only a touch, in itself very inadequate. Jacob wrestled with God (Genesis 32), but she was too weak for that, and too timid. All she could do was touch the hem of his clothing. She was not thinking of herself. She was not aware of herself. She was thinking only of Jesus and his grace and power. It didn’t matter who she was; it only mattered who he is. She believed that and acted on it. And he said, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace” (verse 48). She did not make him unclean by her touch; he made her clean by his power. Everyone with every sin and affliction should notice that. We do not defile Jesus with our uncleanness; he makes us new by his grace.

Jesus told her how much it meant to him that she trusted him: “Your faith has made you well.” Not that it was her touch that healed her. Verse 46 is clear: “I perceive that power has gone out from me.” What healed her was his power. But her touch was her faith in his power reaching out to him, connecting with him, and that intentional faith is what he wants her to notice. He could have said, “Daughter, my power has made you well; go in peace.” But he made her faith the issue. Why? She
already knew it was his power and not anything in herself. She had no confidence in herself. She worked her way through the crowd to touch him. He was her objective. But what wasn’t obvious to her was wonderfully obvious to Jesus – that she just stumbled into biblical faith. Jesus wants her to understand that, from now on, moment by moment, everything in her new life will work this way. She is not like everyone else in the crowd, whose contact with him was involuntary and accidental. She reached out for him because she believed he was her only healing, and so he proved to be. She has passed from a Jesus-deprived existence to a Jesus-filled life and future. She will always be free to draw upon him the way she had just done – by bringing her need to his supply, her weakness to his strength, her guilt to his grace. He is saying to her, “Remember this moment. You did not treat me as a passing curiosity. You treated me as your only hope. And that is what I call faith. And that faith is where my power pours out. Remember this, and go in peace, with every confidence I will always be close enough for you.”

Jesus doesn’t care about protocols, he does care about honesty

And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him and how she had been immediately healed. Luke 8:47

What this woman did to Jesus, sneaking up on him, was strange. Where did the Old Testament teach this? She made it up on her own. Touching the hem of his garment was borderline superstition. But he healed her, because what motivated her was real confidence in him.

I’m grateful that Jesus did not say, “Daughter, I’d like to heal you. But we need to back up and do this right. Here are the protocols I expect you to follow: step one, step two, step three.” He healed her as she was, because what he looks for is faith. Think of all the different denominations and traditions that people use to come to Jesus. And he blesses them. He doesn’t require one single perfect approach, in terms of outward behavior. What he does require is a heart of faith in him. Then the healing power of God flows out on the unworthy.

You can see how he guides this woman into a whole new life. He asked who touched him. She came forward and admitted it. She told him everything – what was wrong with her, and what she was thinking, and why she touched him, and that she was healed now. She poured it all out, right there in front of everyone. Why did Jesus call her out? To embarrass her? No. The very opposite. He wanted everyone to know that she was no longer unclean but very acceptable. In fact, he wants everyone to know, “This woman’s faith is what I’m talking about! This is what I want from all of you.” She was honest with him. She opened up. And Jesus wants everyone to know – that faith is how people experience his power, even if they don’t quite know what to do.

The gospel does not say, “Here is the perfect ritual to follow.” Neither does the gospel say, “Wait and see how things might turn out.” The gospel says to us all, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). [Hebrew words for faith.] He is the only confidence who won’t let you down. He is the only refuge that won’t leave you exposed. He is the only solid ground that won’t give way. He is the only hope that won’t be crushed by this world. Stake your everything on Jesus, and don’t worry about anything else. This is the call of the gospel.

Jesus talked about faith, because it’s the only way we can connect with him. The gospel is not a cosmic force that works even when we’re indifferent. The gospel is the power of God, who is a person, engaging with us, who are persons. And the ground of the relationship is our faith in his faithfulness. If someone broke into your home and stole something, that wouldn’t be good for the relationship, but you might be able to work it out with that person. But if someone says to you, “You’re not really the way you represent yourself. You say you’re my friend. But you’re a liar. I don’t trust you” – that destroys any possibility of a relationship. Someone stealing your property does not discredit your character. It only robs you of your things. But if someone refuses to trust you and they stand back and fold their arms in skepticism and treat you as if you were someone other than who you really are, they are casting doubt on you very personally. If we do not trust Jesus, we are dishonoring him very personally. And how can the power of God flow with the slander of God?

The Bible says, “God is faithful” (1 Corinthians 1:10; 10:13). The Bible says, “Faithful is he who calls you” (1 Thessalonians 5:24). The Bible says, “The Lord is faithful. He will establish you” (2 Thessalonians 3:3). The Bible says, “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins” (1 John 1:9). The Bible says Jesus “is called Faithful and True” (Revelation 19:11). And since faithful is who he is, faith is what he asks for.

What then do we do with this today? Stop worrying that you don’t know just the right words to say in prayer. Stop treating the gospel as relevant to everyone else. Stop thinking that just being in church somehow gets Jesus rubbing off on you. The truth is this. Jesus Christ is here for you in your sin and weakness and embarrassment. That’s who he is. Reaching out to him is what your heart does in response to who he is. Faith is your heart saying to him, “I have long-standing problems. I feel sluggish. I feel depressed. I am fearful. But you are brimming with power. You are enough for my need.” And the whole Bible promises the blessing of God on that faith in him.

There are three responses to Jesus: yes, no, maybe. Your response to him is the question of your life today – not meeting that payment by the end of the month, not even resolving that relational conflict with a friend. The question before you is this: Can Jesus be trusted with everything in your life that’s unclean and embarrassing and unchanging? Will you put yourself in his hands? If your heart is saying Yes, no matter what else you might not understand, he is rejoicing over you today. Even though you’re coming to him as a last resort, he is not offended. Come as you are, and he will receive you. Come empty-handed, and he will enrich you. Come guilty, and he will forgive you. Come trembling, and he will reassure you. He will keep every promise in the Bible, and he will do it freely and personally for you, because he is faithful to everyone who has faith in him. Do not jostle him today. Do not miss him by your indecision.

May God take away all neutrality, so that we fix ourselves on Christ by the merest faith in his mighty power.