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Touching the garment of God

Dr. Jim Denison is the CEO of Denison Forum.
His Daily Article and podcast globally reach over 160,000 subscribers. Dr. Denison guides readers to discern today’s news—biblically. He is the author of multiple books and has taught on the philosophy of religion and apologetics at several seminaries. Prior to launching Denison Forum in 2009, he pastored churches in Texas and Georgia. He holds a Ph.D and a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Jim and his wife, Janet, live in Dallas, Texas. They have two sons and four grandchildren.

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Topical Scripture: Mark 5:24–34

Delivered February 23, 2020

A woman finished shopping, went to her car, and found four men sitting inside. She dropped her bags, pulled her handgun, and yelled: “Get out of the car. I have a gun and know how to use it!” The men scrambled out of the car and ran off.

Relieved, she set her bags in the back seat, sat down behind the wheel, and pushed the button to start the car. But it wouldn’t start, no matter how many times she tried. She then looked around and realized this was not her car. It was the same color and model as hers, but four cars down the row.

Chagrined, she got in her car and drove straight to the police station to turn herself in. She explained to the sergeant what had happened. Laughing, he pointed to four men at another desk who were reporting that their car had been stolen by a lady with a handgun.

No charges were filed.

The woman thought the car was hers when it was not. This is a parable for creatures who think that the creation belongs to us when it does not.

Self-reliance is the path to success in our culture, or so we think. We are rewarded for initiative and self-sufficiency. The more we can do for ourselves, by ourselves, the more our culture applauds.

By contrast, the Bible commends the person who trusts God to be God, the sheep who follow their Shepherd, the sick who seek the Great Physician.

Why do you need to believe that “the deepest desires of your heart will be fulfilled” when you trust them to the Lord? Is there a problem you’ve been trying to solve yourself? Pain you’ve been trying to heal? A burden you’ve been trying to carry?

Today we’ll meet a woman who turned to everyone she could find before she turned to the one Person who could heal her.

Let’s learn how to make her faith our own.

“I will be made well” (vv. 24–28)

Our story begins: “A great crowd followed [Jesus] and thronged about him” (Mark 5:24). In their midst was “a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years” (v. 25). “Discharge of blood” translates rhysei, the typical word for menstrual flow. Hers had not stopped in more than a decade, however, leaving her anemic and severely weakened. Mark will later describe her condition as a mastix, which means “scourge, whip, lash, torment” (v. 29).

In addition, she “had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse” (v. 26). She “suffered much” (polys pascho, to experience much evil) and “spent” (dapanesasa, to waste, destroy, wear out) all her money, but her health continued to decline. The cures prescribed in the Jewish Talmud—carrying the ashes of an ostrich egg in a cloth, for instance—only made things worse.

In addition, her condition rendered her ritually unclean (Leviticus 15:19–27). She had not been to a house of worship in twelve years and likely had never been able to marry or have children. Imagine her feelings of isolation, helplessness, and hopelessness.

While she could not go to the temple of God, she could go to the God of the temple: “She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment” (v. 27). Some see this as a sign of humility, not wanting to stop or disturb the Master. More likely, it was the only way this “unclean” outcast thought she could approach a noted rabbi and healer.

She was confident in Jesus’ abilities: “For she said, ‘If I touch even his garments, I will be made well'” (v. 28). Her intention was to touch just the edge of his garment (Matthew 9:20; Luke 8:44), perhaps one of the four tassels at the corners of his prayer shawl (the tallit). She knew that by touching Jesus, she would defile him as well (Leviticus 15:26–27); perhaps she believed that she could brush the hem of his cloak in the crowd without detection.

The unnamed woman did the right thing—she brought her pain to Jesus. Like any physician, he can heal only those who submit to him. James warned us that “you do not have, because you do not ask God” (James 4:2 NIV). What pain is he waiting to touch in your life today?

“Your faith has made you well” (vv. 29–34)

Mark’s narrative continues: “And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease” (v. 29). “Immediately” (euthys) is one of Mark’s favorite words, indicating the swift action for which his Gospel is known. The woman’s “bleeding” (pege, spring, menstrual flow) “stopped” (exeranthe, dried up, withered, analogous to a spring drying up) and she “felt” (ginosko, knew, comprehended, understood) that she was “freed” (iaomai, cured, healed) from her “suffering” (mastix, whip, torment). Mastix was used to describe the whip which Paul endured (Acts 22:24).

The woman probably wanted to fade into the crowd, but “Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my garments?'” (v. 30).

Interpreters over the centuries have wondered about the meaning of this question. Some suggest that the Father healed this woman without the knowledge of the Son, whose knowledge of some issues (such as the timing of his return; cf. Matthew 24:36) was limited during his incarnation. More likely, he asked the question in order to engage the woman in further ministry. Just as God asked Adam and Eve questions to which he knew the answer (Genesis 3:9, 11, 13), Jesus asked for the woman to identify herself.

In a moment, we’ll see why.

His disciples did not understand his motives, however: “And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?'” (v. 31). Perhaps they were remarking at his sensitiveness in feeling a touch in such a crowded situation, but more likely they were objecting to the logic of his question. With so many pressing around him, why would he ask his question?

Jesus ignored their response, perhaps indicating that his question was not directed at them: “And he looked around to see who had done it” (v. 32). He “kept looking around” (periblepo, looking after, to hunt) for the person who had touched him and been healed.

As a result of his persistence, “the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth” (v. 33). She was “trembling with fear” (tremousa, to quiver with awe) as she fell at his feet and told him what she had done. Perhaps she was afraid that he would be angry with her for touching him and rendering him ritually unclean. Perhaps she was even more afraid that he would take back her healing.

Now our Lord came to the gift he had wanted to give the woman: “He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease'” (v. 34). “Daughter” translates thygater, found only here in the New Testament. Her faith had “healed” (sozo, to save) her; whenever this word is found in conjunction with “faith” (pistis), it conveys spiritual as well as physical healing (cf. Luke 17:19) and is the normal word for saving from sin.

Jesus had healed her body, but he wanted to heal her soul. When she came to him in honesty and humility, her faith positioned her to receive the eternal gift he wanted to bestow.

Note that the spoken Hebrew and Aramaic term translated by Mark into sozo was yashaw, a variant of Yeshua, Jesus. He had fulfilled his name, the One who would “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). He then told her to “go in peace,” a blessing which meant that she was right with God, others, and herself. After twelve long years, she had been restored to life in all its fullness.

The woman’s faith did not save her. Rather, it positioned her to receive what Jesus intended to give by grace. This pattern is repeated throughout Scripture: The priests’ faith in stepping into the flooded Jordan River (Joshua 3:15–17) did not cause the river to stop; it positioned them to receive the miraculous grace of God. The Jews’ marching around Jericho did not cause the fortified city to collapse; it positioned them to experience the power of God in its destruction (Joshua 6:20).

So it is with us: we are saved not by faith but by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8–9). When we bring our pain and problems to God, believing that he can help us, we then receive all that he intends to give.

Is God waiting on a step of faith in your life today?

Five obstacles to God’s best

So long as the woman trusted in the doctors or in herself, she remained sick. When she turned to Jesus in faith and dependence, she received his best for her.

What is keeping you from bringing your pain to him today?

One answer is pride, our desire to do for ourselves what we need done.

From the proverbial men who won’t ask for directions when we’re lost to the patient who trusts a self-diagnosis based on the internet rather than her physician, we all want to solve our problems ourselves. We don’t want to admit that we need what only God can supply.

Conversely, shame is a second answer.

We’re not sure God would want to hear us or help us. Especially when our suffering results from our own sins and failures, we’re not sure that God wants to forgive us and heal us.

A third obstacle is a lack of faith.

Perhaps God doesn’t work miracles anymore; perhaps he never really did. We live in a scientific day that dismisses the supernatural. It’s easy to wonder whether God will do what we cannot.

A fourth problem is a lack of persistence.

Perhaps we’re different from the woman in that we’ve been touching the garment of God for days and perhaps even years, but he doesn’t seem to have helped us. Power has not gone out from him yet. He hasn’t turned and taken notice of us. Or so we think.

A fifth obstacle is insistence on our way.

Perhaps God’s best for us is not what we wanted. Rather than healing our body, he seeks to heal our soul. Rather than give us what we want, he is giving us what we need.

When the Apostle Paul prayed three times for God to remove his “thorn in the flesh,” the Lord refused. Instead, he taught Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul testified: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Sometimes God calms the storm, and sometimes he lets the storm rage and calms his child.

The solution is to do what this unnamed woman did—bring our pain to our Lord and trust him for what is best. Keep praying, trusting, and depending. And know that he hears us and loves us and grieves with us and will always do what is for his glory and our good.

His timing is seldom ours, but his grace is amazing and his love is undefeated.

Conclusion

An anonymous Confederate soldier wrote:

I asked God for strength that I might achieve; I was made weak, that I might learn to serve. I asked for health, that I might do great things; I was given infirmity, that I might do better things. I asked for wealth, that I might be happy; I was given poverty, that I might be wise. I asked for power, that I might earn the praise of men; I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.

I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life; I was given life, that I might enjoy all things. I got nothing I asked for, but all I hoped for. Despite myself, my prayers were answered. And I am, among all men, most richly blessed.

So can we be. This is the promise, and the invitation, of God.