Feeds:
Posts
Comments

The literary structure of Psalm 139

We’re back again in Psalm 139. Last week we covered the first 18 verses highlighting the theme that God knows all about us. The first thing I want us to do today is step back and take a big picture look at the Psalm as a whole – all 24 verses. And I want us to think about why it was written, or what the point of the Psalm is.

You have a handout that shows how it’s put together. I won’t go into this, but I do invite you to keep this at hand as we look at

The purpose of Psalm 139

Let me give you the situation that I think is going on here right up front. David has been accused of not being loyal to God. Why? I don’t know. Maybe someone thought he was too sympathetic to someone they saw as a wicked person. Just a speculation.  In any case, there’s an accusation and it’s one that David considers false. And from reading this Psalm, this accusation  must have been a painful thing for him to deal with.

What does he do? He takes it up in prayer with God:

  • 1 – “Lord, you have searched and known me.”
  • 2-3 – God knows all that he does and thinks, his thoughts and ways.
  • 4 – God knows all his words.
  • 5 – God is all around, with his hand on him.  God knows all that goes on in his life.
  • And then in v. 6 – he pauses to ponder such knowledge that is beyond him.
  • In vs. 7-12 – he points out that even if he wanted to “flee” and hide somewhere and secretly sin, he can’t. God would see and know him everywhere, for God is everywhere.
  • In vs. 13-16 – he points out that God formed him and his days from beginning to end. Nothing is hidden from God.
  • In vs. 17-18 – he again pauses to ponder the amazing sum of God’s thoughts

– So in all this, in vs. 1-18, David offers up an appeal to God, God you know whether I am loyal or not.  You know all about me, right? You know my commitment to you.

– And then starting in vs. 19-22 David offers up several expressions of his loyalty to God. This section is key to understanding this Psalm because it’s here we see that his loyalty has been challenged.

First in v. 19 – he prays, “Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!” And he says, “O men of blood, depart from me!” Then we have the words of the wicked in v. 20, which obviously disgust David – “They speak against you with malicious intent; your enemies take your name in vain!” And then we have some clear statements of David’s loyalty to God in vs. 21-22 – “Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies.”

We’ll talk in a moment about his language, but the point here in context is that – “Hey God, I’m on your side.” I hate evil and I love the good. From his point of view there is no question about his loyalty to God.

– And then finally, in vs. 23-24 he gives an open ended invitation for God to keep searching and knowing him. He wants to make sure that he’s right before God in his heart and actions; that he’s not guilty of the accusation made against him; that he’s not missing something.

So the purpose of the Psalm is David’s prayerful working through of an accusation made against him. And as we see at the end, even though he’s open to God’s searching, he believes that his loyalty is clear. And let me just say that this is a good practice for us to emulate – processing things in prayer with God: accusations, difficulties and hardships – whatever we are facing. We see this all the time happening in the Psalms as the writers struggle with God and find faith and peace.

This brings us to what I’m calling –

The problem of Psalm 139: David’s prayer of hatred

It’s David’s expressions of loyalty to God, and specifically his prayer in v. 19, so central to the Psalm, that cause Christians discomfort. And, I believe, rightly so.

The prayer is straight forward, v. 19 – “Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!” Kill them, God. And this prayer springs forth from his heart-felt and self-confessed hatred of God’s enemies, found in vs. 21-22 – “Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies.”

Now, this is certainly not the only place in Scripture or in the Psalms where there are expressions of hatred for enemies and calls for God to judge enemies. Let me give one other brief example from Psalm 109:8-9. David prays this concerning his enemy, “May his days be few . . .. May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow!” He prays for his enemy’s death. Then he prays that the man’s children, now orphans, would be beggars and that no one would help them. And he goes on to pray that all his resources would be seized by creditors, and that the man’s parents would be judged by God. I could give you more examples, but this will do.

The problem for Christians in all this should be clear:

  • We are called not to curse, but to bless – Luke 6:28; Romans 12:14; 1 Peter 3:9
  • We are called not to condemn, but to give mercy – Luke 6:36-37; Romans 2:1-5
  • We are called not to hate, but to love enemies – Matthew 5:44; Romans 12:20
  • We are called not to return harm for harm, but to return good for harm – Romans 12:17, 21; 1 Peter 3:9

We are agents of God’s grace, not judgment.

So this raises several very specific, and practical questions for us: What should we think of Psalm 139:19-22? Can we pray the prayer of v. 19 as it stands? And how should we pray regarding enemies?

Let me share several reflections with you:

It’s right to oppose evildoers and injustice. As we saw, in context, what David says is an expression of loyalty to God, “I’m on your side, God. I want what’s right.” This sentiment is correct. In this case David is speaking of people who are murderers, “men of blood” (v. 19). They despise God, possibly even using God’s name to accomplish their evil by swearing oaths to deceive people or to bear false witness against the innocent in court (v. 20).

It’s also true that in the end Evildoers must be judged, if God’s peace and justice is to be established. Those who refuse God’s grace cannot be allowed to continue to do evil indefinitely. There has to be a time of reckoning. The innocent must be rescued. Justice must be established.

But there are some differences between how David prays and how we should pray:

Difference #1 – Christian prayers must be governed by love. David’s prayer was rooted in “complete hatred” of enemies, as he himself says. Our prayers must be rooted in love for enemies. And this is really a difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament. This is Jesus – “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’” This is the Old Testament. “But I say to you, love your enemies” – Matthew 5:43-44. This is the new. In the Old Testament, God commanded love for neighbors, fellow people of the covenant. But not God’s enemies. In the New Testament, God tells us to have perfect or complete love – that is, love that includes everyone; the good and the evil, the just and the unjust, as Jesus said in Matthew 5:45. Our prayers must reflect this love and mercy for all people.

And since this is true, this leads us to Difference #2 – Christian prayers shouldn’t ask for non-redemptive judgment. What’s this? The clearest example of non-redemptive judgment is when God takes someone’s life. Because when this happens there is no more grace, no more chance to be redeemed. This is what David prayed for. I do not believe that Christians can pray for this. This would be an expression of harm for harm, hatred, cursing and condemnation – not love.

Indeed, Jesus rebuked his disciples for this when they sought to call down fire on the Samaritan town that rejected Jesus in Luke 9:54-55. As Jesus said in Luke 19:10, “the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Why then should we seek their destruction in prayer? And also, how could we ask for this since we are only able to stand before God by his grace? Can we ask God to act one way with others and another with us? Destructive judgment for others, mercy for us? Certainly not.

If we can’t pray for non-redemptive judgment, I do believe that we can pray for redemptive judgment. This is God’s judgment, but it still allows the person a chance to change. It’s judgment, but it’s also an act of grace, to wake them up to repentance, if they are willing. So yes, I can and have prayed that God would judge and stop an evildoer in this way. Maybe God would take away their political power, or use the legal system, or put difficult circumstances in their lives that cause them to stop. I believe that this is in accord with both God’s mercy and God’s justice.

But beyond this we have to leave things in God’s hands. Only God can decide when the time of grace is up and it’s time for non-redemptive judgment – in an individual’s life and for the world as a whole.

Let’s end with a responsive reading from –

Romans 12:14-21

– that demonstrates how we are to live our lives as followers of Jesus.

L: 14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.

P: 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

L: 16Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.

P: 17Repay no one harm for harm, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.

L: 18If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

P: 20To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”

All: 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

We’re beginning a series today on Psalm 139. There is so much in this amazing passage! Today we begin with how this Psalm teaches us that God knows all about us.

I encourage you to read this Psalm and meditate on it, let it permeate your thoughts and life, as we work through it together. Let’s begin by hearing Psalm 139:1-18.

God’s knows all about David

God’s knowledge of David is a central theme in verses 1-18. We are told that God knows him several times and in several different ways. And that God searches him, sees him, discerns him and is acquainted with him.

In the first part of the Psalm, vs. 2-3 we learn that God knows David’s thoughts and ways. In his own words,

  • God knows “when I sit down and when I rise up” – v. 2.
  • God knows “my thoughts” or it can be translated “intentions” – v. 2.
  • God knows “my path and my lying down” – v. 3, likely meaning, when I go somewhere and then come home and rest
  • And God is acquainted with v. 3 – “all my ways,” that is the kind of life I lead, even in private.

And then, we learn in v. 4 that “even before a word is on my tongue, behold . . . you know it altogether,” which is not a problem since as we just saw, God knows our thoughts.

But not only this, we learn in verses 7-12 that God can see and know him wherever he might go. He asks in v. 7, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?” The answer is, “Nowhere!” He gives several examples of this.

  • v. 8 – “If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” Heaven is the highest place in creation, the abode of God. Sheol is the lowest place in creation, the place of the dead. God is in both places. And if he is the extreme limits of height and depth, he is easily everywhere in between.
  • Another example, v. 9-10 – “If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea . . .” that is, fly through the sky from the East to the farthest point West, “even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.” God is in the remotest places. He is both in places that are near, and those that are far, far away. And God is everywhere in between, so that he can see and know David.
  • And finally, vs. 11-12 – “If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night’ even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.” God can see and know him even in the darkest place. So God can see him and know him in places that have light, and also in the darkest places, and everywhere in between.

And if this weren’t enough we learn in vs. 13-16 that God has seen and known him from his beginning to his end. v. 13 says, “You formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” v. 16 says, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them.” God has seen and known him, from the time that God formed him in the womb, to all the days formed for him that are written in God’s book. God sees and knows him from beginning to end.

Now –

God doesn’t just know David . . .

The prophet Jeremiah said more generally, “’Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him?’ declares the Lord. ‘Do I not fill heaven and earth?’ declares the Lord.” –  Jeremiah 23:24. God sees and knows all people.

And Jesus said this about God’s knowledge of each one of us – “The hairs of your head are all numbered” – Matthew 10:30. We don’t even know this, but God knows this about each one of us.

The author of Hebrews says this,  “no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” – 4:13. So I can say with great confidence, sisters and brothers, that God doesn’t just know David through and through –

God knows you through and through

  • God knows all your movements, when you sit, when you rise, when you go somewhere, when you come home and rest.
  • God knows your thoughts and your intentions.
  • God knows your ways, the kind of life that you choose to live in this world.
  • God knows your words before you say them.
  • God can see and know you anywhere you might be.
  • And God has seen and known you from beginning to end.

God knows all about you! God knows all about me. God knows all about everyone who has lived. God knows all about everyone who is living. And God knows about everyone who will live. God knows all this.

Now, let me share some reflections on this insight from Psalm 139. And the first is –

1. Wow! God is amazing!

God can do this! God is truly incredible! What I am saying is that we see in these verses the greatness of God and it should lead us to praise God.

David himself says in wonder in v. 6, “Such knowledge (that is, the knowledge that God has) is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.” To do what God can do; to know what God can know is beyond any of us. We can’t even begin to understand this.

Along similar lines, David says in vs. 17-18, “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand.” God’s thoughts, or as it can be translated “intentions or purposes,” are so many that they are beyond counting. God is beyond us – way beyond us. We simply don’t have the capacity to grasp what God can do. We serve a great God!

2. If you are doing evil, this should cause you concern

That’s because, you can’t evade God. You can’t keep God in the dark.

  • He knows what you say and do
  • He sees right through you – inside you – and knows your thoughts and intentions
  • And he knows you from beginning to end

He knows all this about you and there is nothing you can do to stop it. There is no shield or barrier that you can hide behind. There’s no hiding from God. And that’s exactly why if you are doing evil, you should be concerned.

Finally, since God knows all about you, you can be sure that –

3. God knows your needs and can help you

Speaking of what his everyday life is like, David says to God, “You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me” – v. 5. It’s like God’s presence is in front of him and behind him and all around him and his hand is upon him. In the same way God’s presence and knowledge of us is pervasive. God is close to us and we are never off his radar. And so he is always aware of our needs and is always nearby to give us his help.

Even if you are in the most remote place, God sees and knows you. As David said, “even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me” – v. 10. Or if you simply feel far away from God, God sees and knows you. And if you look to God, he can lead you and hold you with his right hand.

Also, even if you are in the darkest place, God can see and know you and your needs. David said to God, “the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you” – v. 12. Or if you simply feel that you are in a place of darkness – perhaps it’s depression, anxiety or loneliness. God can see you and know your need while you are in your dark place. And God can help.

Finally, God “formed you” and knows you inside-out. And so God knows your weaknesses, where you struggle, where you need help and grace to make it through – vs. 15-16.

That God knows us, his children, is a source of great comfort for us, because we can be sure that God will see us and help us in all of our lives.

The literary structure of Mark 6:1-6

Today we’re looking at Mark 6:1-6 and the story of Jesus visiting his home in Nazareth. This passage is interesting for several reasons. One is that it tells us more about –

Jesus’ personal life

First, about his family. In chapter 3 we learned a bit about his mother and brothers when they tried to stage an intervention to take Jesus home. Here in v. 3 we learn that he is “the son of Mary,” which is an unusual phrase since one would normally make reference to the father. This might indicate that Joseph died some time ago.  Also four brothers are mentioned as well as several unnamed sisters. So Jesus had at least six siblings.

Also he worked as a carpenter – v. 3. This is what he did before he began his ministry. This is the only place in Scripture that says this.

Now this doesn’t mean exactly what it means today. It refers to someone skilled at working with wood, metal or stone. So it could also mean he was a blacksmith or a stone mason or some combination of these. Joseph was also a carpenter and Jesus, no doubt, learned the trade from him (Matthew 13:55).

Also, just to note, his job was considered to be a skilled one. So he would not have been dirt poor, at least when he was working as a carpenter.

Let’s look more closely now at –

The story

– to see what else we can learn.

1He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue . . ..

Nazareth is about 25 miles from the Sea of Galilee, where he was previously. (Nazareth as his hometown – 1:9, 24).

Jesus had become famous in other parts of Israel and beyond and now he has come back to his hometown. There’s a bit of the ‘local boy does good’ dynamic here, and so they’re curious to see what’s going on.

. . . and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands?”

Mark uses the word “astonished” several times to refer to people being amazed and impressed by Jesus. Here, however, it is used in a negative way. People are shocked.

When they ask about his wisdom, this is related to his teaching ministry, which they have just experienced. When they ask about mighty works, this is related to his healing-miracle ministry that they would have heard about. Their concern is with the source of these things. He must not have taught or done miracles before he left Nazareth and so this is all new and shocking. Where did he get this stuff from?

They continue asking questions in v. 3 –

3“Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?”

If the previous questions focused on “where,” these focus on “who.” Who does he think he is? He’s just one of us.

  • Some of us changed his diapers when he was a baby.
  • Some of us played games with him as a child.
  • He did carpentry work on our house.
  • The rest of his family is still here and they aren’t special!

 Who does he think he is going around teaching and trying to heal people? What has gotten into his head? Jesus couldn’t grow up to be someone so important!

And the result of all these questions comes out at the end of v. 3 –

And they took offense at him.

 They were shocked; they were appalled. They weren’t able to get past their knowledge of Jesus as a normal person; an average guy. And so they certainly weren’t able to recognize him for who he was – the Messiah, or, as we will see, to receive what God was doing through him. They didn’t believe.

We can do this too. Every great man or woman of God is a normal person; they grew up and had a family. They don’t just drop out of heaven ready made with a halo over their head. And sometimes because we know them, we can’t receive from them; what God wants to say and do through them. We put them in a box.

But we should be open to receive from any person that God chooses to speak through. This is true of leaders and also as we seek to minister to one another with the gifts and callings that God gives to each of us in the body of Christ. We need to be open.

4And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.”

Jesus acknowledges what’s going on. They know him as just one of them, not as a prophet or as the Messiah.

As the proverb says, prophets are typically honored, except in their hometown, by those who can’t see them as prophets. Today we would say, “familiarity breeds contempt.” And so the town rejected Jesus.

And the last part of the saying, “his relatives and in his own household” shows that even Jesus’ family didn’t accept him or his ministry. This would have included Mary, his mother and James his brother, later the leader of the church in Jerusalem (John 7:5). They had expressed their unbelief earlier in Mark 3:21 when they came to him because they thought he was “out of his mind.” And now they reject him when he comes home.

This story is a reminder that rejection by others is a part of serving God. Even by friends and family. Jesus said in Luke 6:22, “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!” He also said in Matthew 10:36, “a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.”

Jesus didn’t just teach this, he experienced it, as we see in this story. And if Jesus experienced this, who are we to think that we won’t have a taste of it?

5And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6And he marveled because of their unbelief.

 I have always been intrigued by these verses. In chapters 4-5 of Mark:

  • Jesus shows himself to be the great teacher, giving the parables of the sower, the mustard seed and the harvest.
  • He also shows himself to be the Lord of nature, calming the stormy sea. In 4:41 the disciples ask, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him.”
  • He also shows himself to be the Lord over all evil when he casts out a legion of demons and sets the man free.
  • He is the great healer, who cured the woman whom no doctor could cure.
  • And to top it off he shows himself to be the Lord of life when he raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead.

This is a portrait of Jesus as victorious in every way. No obstacle is too big for him – nature, demons, sickness or death.

But then he comes home and he’s stopped in his tracks. And what is the obstacle that stopped him? He is stopped by their unbelief. This unbelief keeps him from being able to do what he wanted to do and what he could do among them. It limits him and his ministry to them.

If they were astonished at him at the beginning (and not in a good way), in the end he is amazed at them (and not in a good way) – for their lack of faith.

The story ends with the phrase –

And he went about among the villages teaching.

Jesus moves on to another place to do his work, looking for people that will receive him and his ministry with faith.

I would like to end by highlighting what I think is the message for us today from this passage –

Our lack of faith can hinder God’s work

This story is a warning to us. Do you get the message? We can stop Jesus in his tracks even though there may be much he wants to do in us and through us; in our lives and in our congregation.

Did you know that you have such power? This is the way God has set things up. We have a role to play if God is going to do all that he intends – to help us and bless us. We have to believe to receive.

There is no limit to what God can do if we allow him. Jesus said in Mark 10:27, “all things are possible with God.” But we have to believe. We have to open up our lives to him in faith and rely on him to do it.

 

The literary structure of Mark 522-24a; 35-43

Parallels handout

We’re back in the Gospel of Mark this morning, with the story of Jesus raising a girl from the dead – Mark 5:22-24a; 35-43. This story is sandwiched around what we looked at last time ,the healing of the long suffering woman. There are some interesting parallels between these stories, which you can see on your handout.

Let’s set the scene. Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee to the Eastern shore. On the way over he calmed the stormy sea. And when he arrived he cast out the legion of demons from the man in the cemetery. And now Jesus has come back across the Sea of Galilee to the Western shore and a large crowd has gathered around him (v. 21).

Picking up in v. 22 . . .

The story

22Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name and seeing him, he fell at his feet 23and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” 24And he went with him.

A synagogue ruler was a lay person who was in charge of organizing the worship service each Sabbath, making sure there were Scripture readers and teachers and so forth. They also took care of the synagogue building. They were highly honored and also Jairus seems to be well off.

He falls at Jesus’ feet and is imploring Jesus. You can see his faith here and also his father’s heart for his dear child. We don’t know what her ailment is, only that she’s to the point of death. Put yourself in his shoes. Can you feel the emotions he must have been feeling?

These verses show us that not all Jewish leaders are opposed to Jesus. And as we see here, Jesus is more than willing to go to heal his daughter.

In the verses that follow, which tell of the healing of the long suffering woman, time has elapsed. And we learn in v. 35 something bad has happened in the meantime.

35 While he was still speaking (to the woman he has just healed), there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?”

Jairus believed that Jesus could heal his daughter, even though she was near to death. But who would think that Jesus could do anything once the child has died? This is the clear assumption of the messengers. Don’t trouble Jesus anymore. It’s too late! The situation is hopeless. Sure, Jesus may well be able to do many things – but not this.

36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.”

The word “overhearing” can also be translated as “ignoring.” However it’s translated Jesus does hear what the messengers say and he does ignore it. And he instructs Jairus, “do not fear.” Fear is the opposite of faith. Jesus is saying, don’t be afraid with regard to what they are saying about your daughter. “Only believe” that is, in him. Continue believing that he can help, even in what seems to be an impossible situation.

37And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James.

This is Jesus’ inner circle (which also sometimes included Andrew.) They’re selected to witness what’s about to take place.Presumably the rest of the disciples are left to attend to the crowd that has been following Jesus; to keep them from bothering or overwhelming the family.

38They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly.

Things have to move quickly since in the ancient world dead bodies have to be buried in a timely fashion. And so there are already people gathering to mourn – before Jairus and Jesus arrive.

This crowd would have included professional mourners. These were hired by families, even poor ones, to show how much the family is grieving their loss. In this case there seems to be a number of them, indicating Jairus’ wealth.

These professionals would weep and wail, as it says here. And they would play musical instruments and beat their chests and so forth, until the body was buried.  

39And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40And they laughed at him.

Jesus confronts the professional mourners.

Sleep is often used as a metaphor for death in the New Testament. What Jesus seems to be saying here – is not that the girl is literally asleep and not dead, but that her death is temporary, like sleep, and he is about to wake her up.

They respond by ridiculing him. See how quickly these actors move from weeping to laughter.

But he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was.

Jesus takes charge of the situation. Those who don’t believe; those who ridicule are excluded from seeing the work God is about to do. Everyone has to leave, except his three disciples and the parents.

41Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” 42And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement.

Talitha cumi is an Aramaic phrase, the common language of Israel at this time, which means, “lamb, arise.” Lamb is a pet name for a child.

Jesus does what is impossible by all of their standards. He has healed many people, he has cast out demons, even 5,000 at once. But now he has raised someone from the dead. He simply speaks and she is alive again. At the end of v. 42 it says literally, “they were amazed with a great amazement.”

43And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

Jesus is back in Israel after having been in Gentile territory on the East side of the Sea of Galilee, so he once again tells them to be silent about this. This seems mostly to be about crowd control. Jesus doesn’t want to be so swamped by crowds that he can’t move or do any ministry.

Although, how this could remain hidden is hard to say. Many saw the girl dead and now she is alive and healthy – and hungry. Maybe this is just to give him time to move on to another place.

There are a number of things that can be highlighted from this story: First of all, Jesus can do the impossible. And he can do the impossible because he is God’s Son, come to bring salvation to the world. So we learn again about the identity of Jesus; who he is.

We also see a picture of this salvation that he is bringing in the raising of this girl from the dead. She was resuscitated and will have later died again. But it points forward to a day when, once again, Jesus will simply say the word (John 5:25) and the dead will be raised. This time to live eternally.

So our deaths are also only like sleep – in that it is temporary. And Jesus will “wake us up” on the final day. Jesus is lord even over death itself.

But I want to focus on Jairus’ faith, because what Jesus says to him is –

A good word for us today

Do not fear, only believe.”

I believe this is God’s word to us today. I hope you will receive it.

It must have been a big risk for him to come to Jesus in the first place, while other Jewish leaders were rejecting Jesus. But he did come. And he believed that Jesus could cure a deadly sickness.

But then things changed. His daughter died. All is lost.But Jesus indicates to him that God still wants to heal his daughter, when he says, “do not fear, only believe.”

What will Jairus do? I mean, that’s impossible! And everyone around him is saying, ‘that’s impossible.’ Leave the teacher alone and come bury your child. What do we do when we have a promise from God, but it seems impossible to us and to everyone else around us?

Well, Jairus didn’t give in to fear, but acted in faith. He brought Jesus to his home anyway. And he didn’t intervene when Jesus started doing things that could cause him social disgrace – like rebuking the mourners whom Jairus and his family are paying, and throwing them out of his house.

He had bold faith in Jesus and because of this he experienced what was considered to be impossible – his daughter was raised from the dead. Jesus came through for him.

When we find ourselves in an impossible situation, will we freeze up with fear or will we be able to look beyond the circumstances all around us and move forward in faith in God’s promises to us? Will we look at our circumstance or to Jesus and his word to us?

I encourage you this morning to have the faith that Jairus had so that you can receive God’s grace and mercy through our Lord Jesus.

Today we pick up again in the Gospel of Mark, with the story of the long suffering woman – Mark 5:24-34. This story is sandwiched between the beginning and the end of another story – about how Jesus raises Jairus’s daughter from the dead. But I thought we would begin with it, and then come back to the other.

The story

24bAnd a great crowd followed him and thronged about him.

Remember with me, Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee to the Eastern shore.

  • On the way over he calmed the stormy sea.
  • And when he arrived he cast out the legion of demons from the man in the cemetery.
  • And now Jesus has come back across the Sea of Galilee to the Western shore.

A large crowd greeted him as he arrived. And after Jairus asked Jesus to come heal his daughter – our story begins – with the crowds still in tow.

25And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, 26and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse.

Five statements here tell the sad situation of this woman.

1. She has a chronic bleeding disorder of some kind, probably related to her menstrual cycle. And she has had this condition for 12 years. She has suffered a long time.

Apart from the physical aspect of this, according to the Law of Moses:

  • she could not touch anyone, without making them unclean (Leviticus 15:25ff),
  • she could not enter the temple (Leviticus 15:31)
  • and she was forbidden to be sexually active (Leviticus 18:19). So if she was ever married she almost certainly would now be divorced

2. She has suffered much seeking help. She has gone to many physicians, not just a few. And their treatments are described as causing her misery.

Many ancient physicians used crude and ineffective procedures. For her situation you might be required to drink a goblet of wine with a powder of rubber, alum and garden crocuses; or you might be shocked; or you might have to carry the ash of an ostrich’s egg in a certain cloth. (Talbert, pl 174, referencing William Lane’s research)

3. She’s now poor having spent all her resources on seeking these treatments.

4. Her health is not even better and no wonder, given the treatments we just heard about!

5. And in fact, she’s worse than before despite all her money and all these physicians. She seems to be beyond human help.

27She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. 28For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.”

So Jesus’ reputation as a healer has spread far and wide.

Her hope is for a secret healing. She comes up behind him and just touches his clothing (the fringes that all devout Jews wore Matthew 9:20, Luke 8:44) and want to slip away unnoticed.

If we ask why? Perhaps she’s very shy. Perhaps because she’s not supposed to touch anyone? Perhaps she was ashamed of her condition? We don’t know.

But we do know that she has great faith in Jesus. She believed that she only needed to touch his clothing to be healed.

29And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.

The healing is instantaneous and complete. Notice the contrast between the effectiveness of Jesus and the futility of the doctors of that day.

30And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?”

Just as she feels in herself that she’s healed, Jesus perceives in himself that power has gone out.

There are a few interesting things about this:

  • Jesus heals someone without even being asked.
  • And he heals someone without him knowing about it, until after it happened.
  • And although afterwards he knows it happened by supernatural knowledge, he doesn’t know who it is.

And so he asks, who touched my garments?

Well, the disciples don’t even know what to do with this question.

31And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?'” 32And he looked around to see who had done it.

They’re saying, “Jesus, everyone is touching you!” But Jesus persists.

And the woman’s hope for a secret healing is foiled –

33But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth.

Why was she afraid? Did she think she would be rebuked for touching Jesus in her uncleanness? Or for not asking Jesus for healing? And if Jesus is angry perhaps she thinks her healing might be rescinded.

Luke 8:45 tells us that everyone denied that they touched Jesus, at least in the way that Jesus is talking about. So it sounds like at first she tried to keep it a secret, but then comes forward before Jesus and tells the whole truth of what happened.

Why does Jesus draw her out in public? Healings that are not publicly verified cannot bring glory to God or bear witness to who Jesus is as the Son of God. This reminds us that we need to give praise to God and bear witness for Jesus when he works in our lives in answer to prayer.

Jesus also wanted to speak to her, which he does in v. 34.

34And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

Jesus isn’t angry! He uses a term of endearment, “daughter.” And he commends her for her faith and reassures her that the gift of her healing is indeed hers to keep. He wished for her peace, that is, shalom; her wholeness and well-being.

Let me end with –

Two things that stand out from this story

The first is Jesus’ amazing power to save. He doesn’t just do miracles, he does extraordinary miracles. Recently he calmed the storm with the mere words of his mouth and he easily cast out over 5,000 demons. And now he has cured someone, whom no one else could. And the healing was instantaneous. We are reminded yet again that Jesus is amazing!

All these miracles point to his true identity. He is not just a miracle worker or a prophet – he is the Son of God, come to fulfill God’s promises and bring salvation to God’s people.

And these miracles also should draw us to come to him with our needs for salvation, healing and help.

And second, this woman is an excellent example of faith for us. So that when we come to Jesus, we receive.

She didn’t need Jesus to do something elaborate or to even show her any attention. She knew that he was so powerful that all she needed to do was touch his clothing. And because of her faith, she was made whole.

Listen carefully. Many people touched Jesus that day in the crowd going to Jairus’ house, but only she was healed. And she received from Jesus because she touched Jesus with faith.

As we close today and sing our final song, I invite you to pray and to touch Jesus in faith – so that you can find grace and mercy for your needs and your burdens. 

We have all experienced suffering; some more than others. And some of you are going through difficult situations right now. I think it’s good for us from time to time to remember together what the Scriptures teach with regard to our suffering. Let’s look at two particular questions, ‘Where is God in our suffering?’ and ‘Why does God allow us to suffer?’ And we begin with the second.

Why does God allow us to suffer?

There are, at least, four themes in Scripture that are relevant to talking about this. 1. Love involves the risk of suffering. It was God’s purpose in creating us that we might freely choose to love and serve him. This is the glory of humanity, that we are like God in being able to choose and to love. Yet this carries with it the risk, and in our case the reality, that we will choose to hate God and not serve him. This is the bane of humanity, that we have done just this.

We know that God allows us to choose because the Scriptures teach that God’s will is not always done. (Acts 7:51; Ezekiel 18:31-32; Isaiah 63:10; Luke 7:30). That’s why Jesus teaches us to pray to God, “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” – Matthew 6:10. And that’s why even though God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth,” most do not – 1 Timothy 2:4. God is permitting us to choose to love him or not.

And this is where our suffering comes from. God created this possibility and we have chosen it. And so we all suffer. And this world that we were meant to oversee is broken and causes us to suffer as well. So we’re in a situation where, although God is all-loving and all-powerful, he limits himself to allow us to choose. As Joshua 24:15 says, “choose today whom you will serve.”

Now, I believe that just as we would say in our human relationships of love, that love is worth the risk and the pain that comes with it – so in relation to God. That we are made like God, able to choose and to love, and that some choose love is, I believe, worth the suffering that has come with this.  

2. God can bring good out of our suffering. Although it was not God’s will that we choose sin and thus suffer, he can nevertheless accomplish his plan by using our suffering for his own ends. That’s how great God is.God can teach us and others through the suffering we go through. God can lead us into a greater depth of trust and relationship with him through these experiences. God can redeem and transform our suffering.

  • The Israelites in the wilderness suffered hunger and only had manna to eat. Deuteronomy 8:3 says, “he let you hunger . .  that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”
  • Joseph was sold into slavery and was also put in jail. But God used his suffering for good. As Joseph said to his brothers, “do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life” – Genesis 45:5.
  • Paul’s life was in danger due to persecution, but God used this experience to teach him to “rely not on himself but on God who raises the dead” – 2 Corinthians 1:9.
  • And supremely of all, God used Jesus’ suffering and death to provide salvation for the world.

God can use suffering for good. That’s why James can say, “Count it all joy, my brothers and sisters when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:3-4. (Also Romans 5:3-5; Hebrews 12:10-11.) The author of Hebrews even says this about Jesus in 5:8, “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.” (Also 2:10)

Paul says comprehensively in Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” God orchestrates things in such a way that for his own, God can use even our pain and suffering to bring good into our lives.

3. Our suffering is temporary, our blessings will be much greater and eternal. We are a part of a bigger plan that includes deliverance from suffering and also great blessing. As 1 Corinthians 2:9 says, “. . . no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.” Revelation 21:3-4 speaks of this,  “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” We will have new, resurrected life in God’s presence in the fulness of joy forever and ever.

Paul, a man who knew about suffering, tells us that it’s worth it to suffer in this age, because of the blessings that are to come. “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” – 2 Corinthians 4:17. And again he says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” – Romans 8:18.

Now, don’t think that because of what has been said, that suffering and evil have now been explained and we should set aside our distress about the evil that happens in the world and the pain we personally suffer. No! Suffering is truly terrible. We live in a world where people are abused and raped, where children are murdered, where the holocaust happened and other genocides and senseless wars of death and destruction; where tsunami’s wipe out whole cities and earthquakes indiscriminately kill both the evil and the good.

When we see such evil in the world, as Christians we need to admit that 4. Some things aren’t explainable, at least in this life. We can say that the risk of love is worth it, that God will bring good out of our suffering and that by comparison in the end it will be worth it. But we say this all by faith. And many don’t have this faith and don’t see it this way at all.

We have to admit that there’s mystery involved in how God orchestrates his creation. And we are not in a place to understand or easily explain what God allows. This is, I believe, the message of the book of Job. So many people read this book and think they’ll get an answer to the question, “Why did God allow Job to suffer?” But the book doesn’t give a neat answer! God simply tells Job that he’s in control of a complex and powerful creation, and in a way that is beyond human understanding. As the Lord says to Job in Job 38:4, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you know so much.” We as humans will not understand why and how God does all that he does, at least in this life. And so we have to trust God in all this. We have to trust that the God we know to be just and merciful is doing what is right and good.

And then we come to our second question –

Where is God in our suffering?

And the answer from Scripture is that God is with us in our suffering. It certainly doesn’t always feel like this is so. It can seem like God is absent. As the psalmist says in Psalm 10:1, “Why, O Lord, do you stand afar off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” Who hasn’t felt this way?

But yet we are taught that God is with us. As the Lord says in Isaiah 43:2, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.” And he says in Hebrews 13:5, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” God is with us to watch over us, to encourage us, to comfort us and to strengthen us. And not only this, God has come to be with us through his Son. He sent him to this earth, whose name is Immanuel or “God with us” (Matthew 1:23). God did not stand far off and aloof from us. God has walked in our shoes. God is with us.

And God knows our pain and suffering. As the psalmist says in Psalm 56:8, “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” (NLT). God cares about us; God loves us. And not only this, God knows our pain and suffering through his Son. Jesus suffered with us and for us in his life and in his death on the cross. God knows first-hand what we’re going through. His innocent Son was slandered, treated with contempt, tortured and murdered in a particularly cruel way.

God has not left us alone. He is with us as we experience the pain of suffering. And he suffers with us, until that day when all things will be made new.

I want to pick up a theme from our teaching two weeks ago – how Jesus told the healed demoniac that he is to tell others about how God saved him (Mark 5:19).

A part of what it means to be a Christian is that we are to bear witness for Jesus. We are to give our testimony, from our own personal experience about who Jesus is and what he has done in our lives and in the lives of others. Jesus tasked us with this job in Acts 1:8, “You will be my witnesses.”

I want us to look at Jesus’ words and actions this morning to see how to do this. My goal is to keep us focused on our task and to encourage us to do it. Here we go –

1. You can begin right where you are

Yes, God calls apostles, prophets and pastors who travel around from one place to another. But primarily, I believe, God works through ordinary Christians right where they are.

Remember once again, the story of the man possessed by Legion in Mark 5:19. Jesus said to him – “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”

Share where you are! You don’t have to go anywhere (unless God is calling you to this). Share in your family setting, in your work environment and with the social connections you have. You are where you are by God’s providential oversight, not by accident.

2. Be motivated by love

Matthew 9:36 says, “When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” You can see Jesus’ heart here.

And then notice the connection with what comes next in vs. 37-38. “Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’” Love for others leads us to reach out to them.

People today are still like sheep without a shepherd; harassed and helpless. People are stuck and need to be set free from things like greed, pornography, drug addictions, worship of power and worship of self.

So many people are living hollow, empty, and miserable lives. They may look fine on the outside but they are not on the inside. Jesus can deliver them. And so we need to tell them this.

3. Make sure your words and your life line up

Jesus said in Matthew 5:14-16, “You are the light of the world. . . let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

It’s not just the testimony of our words, it’s the testimony of our lives that people take into account.

I’m not saying you have to be perfect, but there needs to be some connection between your words and your life. There needs to be some light shining! And also humility, when you don’t live up to what you believe.

4. Rely on God’s power

When Jesus sent the 12 disciples out to minister, they didn’t go in their own strength. He gave them power and authority to get the job done.

He gives us this as well. Acts 1:8 says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses.”

By God’s power I mean gifts of the Spirit, help, guidance, and the strength we need to love others (because it’s not always easy).

Let’s look more closely at one example – God gives us the right words. We are always concerned, you know, ‘what will I say?!’ In Matthew 10:19-20 Jesus said, “Do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”

He’s talking here about when you are persecuted. I look at it his way, if in this extreme case, God will give us the right words, how much easier is it for God to give us the words in a normal, everyday situation. It’s not hard at all. And God can give us just the right words for the situation we are in to speak to people’s hearts.

Rely on the Spirit’s empowerment to help you as you bear witness for Jesus.

5. Be bold

Jesus said in Mark 8:38, “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Instead of shame, we’re to speak out for Jesus. I don’t mean being rude or using silly antics to get attention. You just need to be courageous enough to seize the open doors God gives you with others.

You need to keep an eye out for ‘Spirit moments,’ where someone comes into your path and there is an opportunity to share. When this happens, instead of giving in to fear, choose to step out and say something for Jesus.

6. Don’t exclude anyone

Jesus went out of his way to relate to those who were considered outcasts – Luke 15; for instance, sinners, prostitutes and tax collectors.

He went to those of low education and social status; common folk. In Matthew 11:25, Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children.”

He also went to the broken, the hurting, the poor and those needing deliverance. In Luke 4:18 Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.”

Now, he also spoke to everyone else. But he went out of his way to make sure the weak, the lowly and the outcasts received his attention, and so should we.

What if God brings a homeless person across your path? What if God opens an opportunity to share with someone involved in a same-sex relationship? Do you draw away, or share in some appropriate way the good news of Jesus’ transforming power?

In Luke 6:37 Jesus says, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned” He is saying, don’t condemn others as beyond God’s mercy and transforming power – so that you exclude certain people from your sharing. Only God can judge! It’s not our place. We are to focus on mercy and bearing witness to all.

7. Don’t water down the message to get results

Jesus was looking for disciples, not crowds. We see this in Luke 14:25-26. “Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.’” He goes on to talk about taking up your cross and giving up your wealth. This is all hard teaching!

He also tells two parables which teach that every person is to count the cost before they become his follower. Jesus is challenging them. Do you know what you are getting into? Are you sure you want to be my disciple?

Today we would say, “Oh Jesus! Don’t do that, you’ll scare off the converts!” We think, “first we have to get them in, and then we will read them the fine print.” And we fill up our pews with people who have little commitment to Jesus, because they think, “if I didn’t have to change to get in, why should I have to change to stay in?”

Jesus always challenged people with his radical demands of discipleship up front. He wanted to see where there heart was. He wasn’t interested in crowds. He wanted disciples, people who will put into practice his teaching and example.

8. Remember that Jesus is with you

Ever been on a new job and someone tells you quick what to do and then leaves, and you really have no idea what is going on? I have. When I was a freshman in college I was a janitor in the men’s dorm. I was cleaning away thinking I was doing a good job. But I found out two weeks later that I was also supposed to clean two other bathrooms/shower rooms. It was quite disgusting. I didn’t get the message!

Well Jesus doesn’t do that with us. He gives us the job, but he also stays with us.

He was with the apostles. Mark 3:14 – “And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach.” He called them to preach, but also he was with them.

And he will be with you as well. Just after the great commission we read in Matthew 28:20,  “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Jesus is with each one of us. We are not left alone in our job.

So what do you do with a teaching like this?? Well, if you want to take it seriously I would ask you to bow your head and ask God to put someone in your path this week that you can share with about Jesus. Let’s spend just a moment in quiet and ask God to do this.