My friend, Valerie, is a housewife in Richardson [Texas], and the mother of four young children. Recently she went to see her physician because she was experiencing headaches and dizziness. When the x-ray came back, she nearly passed out as she looked at it. There on the film she saw a tumor the size of an avocado in the center of her brain.
Initially, of course, she and her family reeled from the shock. Valerie is younger than I am. What will happen to her kids? Will she live to see them graduate? Will she live to see the next Christmas?
But after that initial shock settled down, Valerie began to do some intense spiritual searching. She's a believer and she wants to please God in how she responds to Him as she now faces brain cancer. So she was asking the question, "What does God expect of me?" She told me she had begun to yell at her kids and justify it by telling herself, "I can act this way; I have brain cancer. What do they expect?" She was irritable with her husband. And she justified it by saying, "I have brain cancer."
What did God expect of her? She decided to find out. While perhaps it may have been more difficult for her than for others, she discovered that the same principles still applied. To receive God's commendation when facing an impossible situation, she needs to exercise faith. And the same is true for us.
What in your life looks impossible? Maybe you or someone you love faces something as serious as brain cancer. But perhaps for you, it's the knowledge that unless God does a miracle your marriage won't survive seminary. Or perhaps you have a secret sin in your life that if you don't get a grip on, it will disqualify you from finishing here—or ever making it into ministry.
As those who want to follow Christ as his disciples, when we face impossible situations that threaten to destroy us, to receive God's commendation we need to exercise faith.
Lots of people through history have asked the same question Valerie asked. "In the middle of my crisis, how can I respond in a way that pleases God?" One person stands out in particular. She lived in Jesus' time and she is known as the "woman with the issue of blood." Here we're going to consider four things she did that demonstrated the kind of faith that God commends.
We find her story in Mark 5:24–35, and as you read, notice how her trust drives her to respond to Jesus.
A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve 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 and touched his cloak, because she thought, "If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed." Immediately her bleeding stopped and 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."
We see in this story that, in the middle of an impossible situation, to receive God's commendation we need to exercise faith. In fact, this woman teaches us four things about what faith looks like.
First we see that faith takes us to Christ when we're at the end of ourselves. Look at verses twenty-five and twenty-six. The text says this woman had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. What were you doing twelve years ago? What shows were on TV? Who were the big names in the news? Twelve years …that's how long this woman had been suffering.
The text says she has a flow of blood, and it's the same word used in the LXX to refer to a menstrual flow. That means this woman had been a social outcast for more than a decade. According to Levitical law, everywhere she sat became unclean. Everything she touched became unclean. She could not participate in the faith community because God wanted emissions of any kind to remain completely unassociated with any sort of community worship.
And what would cause something like that? I spoke with a gynecologist who said there are a number of medical conditions that could cause this, but he felt one real possibility would be uterine cancer. Now, a woman who has had uterine cancer for twelve years would be in a lot of pain and near death. So not only has she been a social outcast, but her resources are spent and her physical life is nearly gone. This woman was at the end of herself. She was out of resources.
What about you? Have you come to God and acknowledged your brokenness? We read in John 15 that Jesus says, "Apart from me, you can do nothing." Are you operating under the illusion that you can fix your own problems? Faith takes us to Christ with a recognition that we're at the end of ourselves.
The second thing this woman shows us about faith is that faith drives us to Christ in trust. Look at verses twenty-seven through twenty-nine. She comes inconspicuously and touches his garment because she believes he can heal her. This woman's faith involved more than mental assent. She was so sure of what she believed that it drove her to get off her feet and go find Jesus. It resulted in action. She pursued him.
Do you believe Christ is able to help you to the point that you pursue him? If you're carrying a heavy burden, have you prayed about it—I mean really prayed—before asking for prayer support? Do you really believe he can handle it?
I have a friend whose brother was a rebel. And she told her pastor, "Even God couldn't change his heart." Today that brother is a youth pastor who works with the Josh McDowell organization. God specializes in doing the impossible. Do you believe?
He certainly does the impossible for this woman. Consider what happens: "Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering." Now, usually when a woman has a menstrual flow, she cannot “feel” blood, any more than you and I can feel blood flowing when we scratch our fingers. But if this woman had uterine cancer, she would have been in immense pain. Whatever it was she felt from her disease stopped, and she knew instantly that she had been healed.
And look at Jesus' response. He realized that power had gone out from him. That doesn't mean it drained him of power. He felt it proceed, perhaps in the same way you feel power proceed from you when you smack a baseball with a bat. At any rate, he kept looking to see who had done it.
This is not what the woman was hoping for. And now her faith is going to require obedience. This is the third thing she teaches us. Faith responds to Christ in obedience. Look at verses thirty through thirty-three. The text says, "Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth."
Imagine this. It says she is terrified. This is not what she wants. But Jesus is looking for her, so she knows she has to do it. She came and fell at his feet. We read about people falling at the Lord's feet in scripture and perhaps you have the idea that this was an everyday occurrence. But it wasn't. It was more like a once-in-a-lifetime deal. Have you ever fallen at someone's feet? I did once. When I was thirteen and my boyfriend broke up with me. I thought my life was over, so I grabbed his feet and begged him not to leave me. It was an act of utter and humble desperation. So don't let your kids date at thirteen. It's too young to have any pride! But that's not the point...the point is, this is the body language of a person whose life is over unless the person who has power to intervene does something. That is the stance she takes. And she tells him all. How humiliating: to talk about your menstrual problems in front of a huge crowd! But that is what the Lord asked her to do. And she obeyed.
Faith obeys. What has God told you to do? Sometimes we look for a word from God when we're not even doing what he's already told us. Faith is more than just belief. It's obedience.
And what happens to the person who comes to the end of him- or herself? To the one who believes Christ can do anything and puts feet on that faith—a faith that obeys? That sort of faith receives God's commendation. Look at verse thirty-four.
Jesus says, "Daughter." It's the only place in the entire New Testament where we read about Jesus saying that to anyone. And lest there be any doubt about just how precious a daughter is, Mark goes on in the next section to talk about Jairus’s daughter who was twelve years old—she'd been alive for as long as this woman had been sick. Daughter! What an affirmation.
And Jesus goes on to say, "Your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering." Not only does he affirm her for her faith, He sends her home healed. And while the physical healing is instant, the social and emotional healing has just begun. Jesus tells her to be freed from her suffering...an ongoing process.
You can receive Jesus' commendation and affirmation, too. In Hebrews we read that without faith it is impossible to please God. But with faith—faith like this woman had—we too can receive his commendation.
My friend Valerie now has that kind of faith. Her disease has brought a lot into perspective for her. And there's something that's now more important to her even than seeing next Christmas with her husband and four kids. And that important thing is driving her to exercise faith. It's her desire—whether she lives or dies—to hear, "Well done good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master." The way to receive that kind of commendation is to exercise faith, especially in an impossible situation.