Sunday, August 31, 2008

Go In Peace! A Sermon preached in St Elizabeth's Dundonald on Sunday 31st August 2008. Luke 8:40-56

How do you cope with interruptions? If you’re in work and you’re waiting to speak to the manager, then someone else butts in just as he’s about to help you, how do you feel? If you’re anything like me, you can be slightly impatient at times. But as we’ll see, for Jesus, there is no such thing as a distraction or an interruption. Rather, what seems like a distraction is in fact the opportunity for a troubled woman to receive his peace and his wholeness.

If you were with us last week, you’ll remember that Jesus had crossed the lake of Galilee with his disciples, calming the storm on the way. On the other side, he had met the man named Legion, afflicted with many demons. But when Jesus had healed the man, the people of that region were afraid, and asked Jesus to leave. Imagine it, asking Jesus to get out of town!

What a contrast to the scene when Jesus crosses the lake again. The crowds are standing waiting on him. They’re glad to see him. And no one more so than Jairus. He’s the first of two people Luke introduces to us in the passage today. Jairus, we read, is an important man in the local community. He is a ruler of the synagogue, so he’s a religious man, responsible for services, inviting people to speak and read the Scriptures. But despite his lofty position in the community, he falls at Jesus’ feet, begging him to come to his house. His situation is a truly awful one – his only daughter is dying. Such a young life, aged about twelve years of age.

Perhaps he had watched out especially for Jesus’ return – his situation was desperate. Even the going for help would be agony, away from his daughter. Jesus agrees, and sets off, following Jairus to his home. The crowds come too, pressing in.

But then, suddenly, Jesus stops, and asks who touched him. Can you imagine it? There’s a huge crowd of people around, and Jesus wonders who touched him. Probably one of the biggest crowds I’ve been in was 80,000 people after a football match between the Republic of Ireland and Brazil earlier in the year. One of the guys in college got us tickets for it, and off we went. Never have I seen so many people – leaving the stadium, it was as if your feet weren’t even touching the ground – carried along by the crowd.

So when Jesus asks who touched him, Peter almost tells him to wise up – of course he’s going to be touched, when the crowds surround him, and are pressing in on him. But Jesus doesn’t relent. “Someone touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out from me.”

As we read the passage, we already know who it was had touched Jesus. The woman is the second person Luke introduces in the passage. If you were looking for a complete opposite to Jairus, then this is it. Jairus was a man of standing in the community. The woman was probably an outcast. Jairus was a religious man, observing the Law read and preached in the synagogue. The woman probably hadn’t been to the synagogue for years. You see, her discharge of blood made her ceremonially unclean. Jairus was probably a man of means, financially secure. The woman, on the other hand, had spent all her money on doctors bills, getting second opinion after second opinion, but without success or cure. Notice, even, that Jairus is named, whereas the woman is simply described as ‘a woman.’

The woman had thought that if she could just touch the edge of Jesus’ garment, then she would be all right. That’s exactly what happened, verse 44 – immediately her discharge of blood ceased. Perhaps she thought she could touch Jesus and go, slip away into the crowd again. But that’s not what Jesus plans.

He knew that power had gone out from him, that the woman had been powerfully affected. Eventually the woman realises that she can’t remain hidden, and – full of fear – trembling, declares what had happened. Notice that she appears in the same position as Jairus had done earlier – falling down before him. What a powerful testimony of what Jesus had done for her – her life changed around, and made whole again.

But more than that – the people who knew this woman would have known about her affliction. They would have known her shame at being ceremonially unclean all the time – this had gone on for twelve years. Being forced to come and tell was the way that she could be received back into the life of the community. Jesus was being kind to her as well, when he brought her out to tell of what he had done.

Look at verse 48. These are Jesus’ words to her: “Daughter” - This is the only person that Jesus describes in this way – daughter – a word of tenderness and compassion. But his next words are words that we have encountered before. “Your faith has made you well; go in peace.” If you have your Bible open, look across to the top of the opposite page, to Luke 7:50. Remember the woman who had come into Simon the Pharisee’s house and anointed Jesus’ feet? Jesus says the same thing to her – ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

While the phrases are translated differently, the Greek words are exactly the same in 7:50 and 8:48. The woman has been saved, made well – this complete word picture of wholeness and healing and salvation suggested by the word. This is the complete salvation that Jesus still offers today - the call is to be saved, and made whole. And how do we achieve this salvation, this wholeness? The answer is the same as ever – only by faith – faith alone in Jesus alone.

One commentator has said that Jesus’ words seek to show that it’s not a superstitious touch or action that saves the woman – but that it is her faith. Obviously today we can’t touch Jesus’ cloak, but we can approach him in faith, taking hold of his promises.

As Jesus has been dealing with the woman, you might have forgotten that this was only a distraction. Remember, he was on his way to the house of Jairus, where the dying daughter lay. But now someone comes from the house to break bad news. The daughter has died. It’s as if the messenger is considerate of Jesus – don’t trouble him any more. There’s not point taking up his time any more, seeing the girl is dead. What the messenger is really saying is that there must be limits to the power of Jesus – as if he could only heal, but not raise the dead. All hope is gone.

Perhaps Jairus was thinking the same. He maybe even thought that it would have been all right if Jesus hadn’t been distracted by the woman. He had been on the way, after all. But look at Jesus’ words to him. “Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well.”

Do you see the key words in this sentence? Where have we found them already today? Believe (literally, have faith) and she will be well (healed, made whole, saved). It’s as if the lowly woman, the outcast, is held up as a sign of faith for Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue.

So when they got to the house, already it was a scene of mourning. Loud wailing – perhaps even professional mourners. A scene without hope. And look what Jesus does – tells them not to weep because the girl is not dead, only sleeping. Instantly their tears turn to laughs – they know better than Jesus – of course the girl is dead!

In the presence of just five other people (parents and Peter, James and John), Jesus takes her by the hand, and says, “Child, arise.” Arise. That’s the same word that’s used of Jesus when he is raised from the dead. Remember that Jesus had said to Jairus to have faith, to believe, and she would be well? It’s as if she has arisen – the word picture becomes more complete for us again – wholeness, completeness, life, salvation, health.

I always find it interesting that Jesus made the woman come forward and tell what had happened, but here, at the end of the passage, he tells the parents to tell no one what had happened. Of course, it would be obvious – for those who were planning a funeral, the girl was up and walking around again. No funeral needed. The testimony was truly alive.

So what can we take away with us today? How will this Scripture impact on us? For me, it reminds us again that all of us need a Saviour, the one who restores, no matter who we are or where we come from. Jairus and the woman were from different backgrounds, social groups, standing in the community. Yet both needed Jesus.

More than that – the only appropriate approach was one of faith. It doesn’t matter if you have been coming to church all your life, or if this is the first time you have been here – the important thing is having faith in Jesus.

Perhaps you have never trusted before. You have your share of shame, like the woman who had been in shame and distress. Reach out today, and take hold of Jesus by faith. If you do, then these words are for you as well – ‘your faith has made you well (has saved you); go in peace.’

Or maybe you’ve been part of the community of faith for a long time. You’ve come to Jesus, you’re trusting in him. But you’re wavering. God seems to be taking his time in coming to your aid. Things are tough, and you see others advancing but you seem to be stuck. Or you’ve been going through a hard time of illness or sadness, bereavement or unemployment. Jesus’ words to Jairus are for you today – ‘Do not fear; only believe.’ Stick in there – keep trusting.

Your faith has made you well; go in peace.

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