READ Mark 5:24b-34.
Question: How big was that woman’s faith?
After all that she had been through, and the failure of God to heal her for 12 years, she might have been quite cynical. And yet, when she heard about Jesus she had this sense that if she touched His clothes she would be healed. Something, or someone, said to her, “This is going to be different. This is your moment. This man is different from all the others.”
Was it wishful thinking or clutching at straws? No. Jesus said to her, “Your faith has healed you.” It was faith. Faith is not telling God what to do. Faith is responding to God when He speaks. God had said to her, “Touch His clothes and you will be healed” and she believed it.
Faith is trusting God enough to act. Faith requires action. She believed sufficiently to push through that crowd, reach out her hand and touched His cloak. Instantly she was healed and she knew it. She felt it.
So it was faith but how big was that faith? Was she a spiritual giant? Was she confident and bold?
The next bit of the story is a little surprising and it seems that Jesus is very insensitive. She felt the healing in her body but Jesus felt something in His body too. He knew that power had gone out of Him and He stopped and turned around. “Who touched my clothes?”
But the woman did not own up! Imagine the panic. She thought she could do it anonymously but now Jesus wanted to know who it had been. Possibly thinking she was in trouble, she said nothing and probably tried to shrink back into the crowd.
The disciples said, “Dumb question, Jesus. There’s a whole crowd of people pushing and shoving. Lots of people have touched you. Come on, Jesus, a little bit of common sense wouldn’t go amiss.”
But Jesus would not give up. The passage says that He kept looking around to see who had done it. Eventually, the woman owned up to it. She came and fell at His feet trembling with fear. Why was Jesus doing this to her? Why was He humiliating her? After the momentary exhilaration of the healing was He going to punish her? She had had enough faith to touch His hem but now she was trembling with fear.
Grovelling in the dirt, she told Him the whole truth. Imagine how humiliating that was. She told her rather private story with a crowd all listening in.
Why did Jesus put her through that ordeal?
This woman had faith only enough to secretly touch this man’s hem and them slink away. It was just a little faith – faith the size of a mustard seed. But remember what Jesus said about mustard seed-size faith. Jesus talked about mustard seed faith straight after the disciples had failed to heal the demon-possessed boy – the story we talked about last week when the boy’s father had said, “I do believe. Help me overcome my unbelief” (Mt 17). The disciples asked why they had not been able to heal the boy.
Jesus’ answer was that it was because they had so little faith. Then He said, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Even a tiny faith is powerful. The woman had only a tiny faith but it resulted in a huge miracle. Presumably the disciples, when they failed to heal the boy, had even less than a tiny bit, but the point of the mustard seed saying remains.
We need only a tiny bit of faith because it is not the faith that does the work; it is God. A tiny faith in a big God can result in huge miracles. It is not about the size of our faith but the size of our God.
I realise we haven’t yet answered the question of why Jesus insisted the woman own up, but stay with me.
God had not said to her, “I will heal you”, but “Touch His clothes and I will heal you.” She had to do something. Her faith was seen in taking that step. It wasn’t anything spectacular. It was simply “touch His clothes” but, if she hadn’t done that, she would not have been healed. She had to take a first step of faith.
God kept His promise! She was instantly healed. She probably expected to go home with no one knowing what had happened. But no, Jesus turned a spotlight onto her and destroyed her anonymity. Why?
We can be absolutely sure that Jesus was compassionate. His objective was not to embarrass her and humiliate her, but what was it? He wanted to bless her, so how was this beneficial for her?
Jesus wanted her to identify herself and to tell her story. Then He spoke encouraging, affirming words about her faith and her healing for the whole crowd to hear. She was vindicated. She was held up as an example of faith. She was rehabilitated into society – having been unclean before because of her bleeding. He blessed her and gave her hope for the future. “Go in peace and be freed from your sufferings.”
If she hadn’t identified herself, then she could not have received that public endorsement that must have been so affirming for her.
If He had not forced her to talk about it, would she have ever done that? Over time, people might have discovered that she was well again but would she have had the confidence to say how it had happened and to talk about her little step of faith?
There is genuine benefit in talking about what God has done in our lives – giving our testimony. It becomes much more real when we have put it into words. In fact, Revelation 12:11 talks about people overcoming Satan by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony. Satan is defeated when we talk about what God has done rather than just keep it to ourselves. Satan took a hit that day because the crowd heard the woman’s account of her sickness and her healing.
But the woman was probably saved from future doubts by having put into words the fact that she had been healed by touching the hem of Jesus’ cloak. Satan loves causing us to doubt. Despite the dramatic miracle, she might have later wondered if it was a coincidence. Was she going to get well anyway? Had the doctors’ treatment finally worked and it just happened to coincide with touching Jesus’ hem?
No, Jesus had felt the power go out of Him and she had spoken of her healing.
It was a hard step for her but she was in a much better place having taken it. Jesus wanted her to be absolutely sure – to go way confident. Touching Jesus’ hem was her first step of faith. Giving her testimony was her second step – one that Jesus wanted her to take to grow her faith even more.
Faith grows as we take whatever step it is that Jesus is asking us to take. Then, when we discover that God is faithful, we are able to take a second, slightly bigger step. And when we take that one and God is faithful again, we are able to take a third step – slightly bigger again.
John Ortberg wrote a book called “If You Want To Walk On Water…” What is the rest of the title? “If You Want To Walk On Water, You Have To Get Out Of The Boat”. I haven’t read the book but I think the title tells us what it is about, doesn’t it?
If we want to experience the power of God, we have to take that step of faith. If the woman had stayed at home, she would not have been healed. If Peter had not actually stepped out of that boat onto the surface of the water, he would not have had that experience of, at least for a while, walking on water. And think how much stronger his faith must have been knowing that God can do what everyone considers impossible. Each step grows our faith. If Naaman had not washed in the Jordan River, his leprosy would not have been healed. If the disciples had not cast the net over the other side of the boat they would not have caught so many fish their nets were breaking. If Peter had not entered the house of a Gentile, against his instincts, Cornelius and his associates would not have been converted and the church might have taken a lot longer to take the gospel to other nations. If the disciples had not walked towards that crowd with the five loaves and two fish, they would not have been part of one of Jesus’ greatest miracles.
We could go on with multiple examples. In each one, because the person was obedient in the little things God was asking of them, they discovered the goodness and the power of God and their faith was enlarged.
Why was David confident about fighting Goliath? Because God had previously enabled him to fight lions and bears attacking his sheep. That is pretty big but he had been obedient and learned that he could trust God. So, when it came to facing Goliath, he trusted God.
Faith is like a muscle. It grows as we use it. God will give us a mustard seed faith but He won’t give us a fully-developed faith. We have to use that mustard seed faith. When we use it, that faith grows and there will be a new challenge – another step that God asks us to take. As we take that, it grows our faith again. Faith is trusting God enough to act. If you act – take that first step – your faith will grow.
This is the last of this series of sermons on faith. Next week, Rachel will be preaching again. I don’t want this to be simply theory – just words. I pray that some of us, at least, will say that we want to be people of faith – people who trust God for miracles, and who therefore see miracles just like all of the people we have studied over the last few weeks. I pray that some of us understand that we are to live by faith. We are not just saved by faith and it is not simply a case of trusting God to take us to heaven. We are to live, daily, by faith in a miracle-working God.
God is looking for people who trust Him enough to take the steps He asks of them. Each step of obedience leads to a stronger faith.
Do you know what step God is asking you to take? Is there something that would be a step of obedience – something God is asking of you, that maybe you are resisting? Even though it is hard, if you take that step, your faith will be stronger because you will have discovered that God is faithful. He is asking you to take that step for a reason. It is not random. It is part of His desire to see you know Him better and trust Him more.
It might be that God is saying, “Ask for prayer after the service” but you don’t want to. You might be resisting it. You might not want to ask for help or to talk about your need. But if God is saying to do it, that step will become a blessing for you.
It might be that God is saying, “Give away more money. Give one tenth of your income” and you don’t want to. But might doing it, reveal to you the power of God to provide for you? In Malachi 3:10, God has said, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse… Test me in this, and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” Tithe and see what God will do.
It might be that God is saying, “Do something kind to a person who has hurt you” and you don’t want to. But what might God have in store for you, when you take the step He is asking you to take?
It might be that God is calling you to repent of something – to stop doing something. You think you need to do it. You find pleasure in it; it makes you feels secure but it is wrong and God is asking you to stop doing it. Can you take that step of stopping doing something?
Faith grows as we use it. Take the step God is asking of you. See what God does. Then take the next step.