6th Sunday of Easter (B)
May 4, 1997
Whosoever Means Me
I had a conversation with a woman in her 80’s. As we talked about her long and eventful life, I asked her what had been some of the difficulties she had lived through. She smiled and said, “Just keeping up with the changes I’ve seen. Most people don’t like changes. We want everything to stay smooth. But along come all these changes and upset the old apple cart and you have to start thinking again. But that’s not too bad when you think of it.”
“You have to start thinking again.” My friend was right. Many people, if not most, like things to stay the same because they are used to them. Changes bring new challenges and we have to start thinking. This is especially true with religious faith. Simon Peter learned to think again about his faith. Here is what Peter learned that will help us.
I. The Gospel Is For All People
Simon Peter realized that the gospel that Jesus had taught and died for was for all people. Think of that — all people! But why had he not known before then? If he and other Jews had been familiar with their Bible, what we call the Old Testament, they would have realized sooner God’s attitude. Consider the following examples.
Deuteronomy 10:17 says, “For the LORD your God is God of gods and LORD of Lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes.”
Job said of God, “Is he not the One who says to kings, ‘You are worthless,’ and to nobles, ‘You are wicked,’ who shows no partiality to princes and does not favor the rich over the poor, for they are all the work of His hands?” (Job 34:18-19).
What Peter learned is that God welcomes all who come to Him. His rich variety of humanity is precious to Him. Like a gardener, God loves the roses, the chrysanthemums, the pansies, dahlias, lilies, and even the dandelions. He greatly loves His kaleidoscope of humanity. Who can overrule God and exclude people whom He includes?
II. Salvation Is Available To Everyone
Verse 44 indicates that while Simon Peter was still speaking to the Gentiles the Holy Spirit “came on all who heard the message.” One commentator notes that God the Father interrupted Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17:4-5). God the Son interrupted Simon regarding the temple tax (Matt. 17:24-27). Now God the Spirit interrupted him before he could even finish the sermon. Any preacher would gladly accept such an interruption!
But what did it mean? Among other things it meant that when the early Christians shared their faith with people different from them, some of those people will be saved. This is still true. There are no “right” or “wrong” people where the gospel is concerned. Anyone who says “yes” to Christ is the right person.
I once read a statement that said people are like piston engines — we move along through a series of internal explosions. These internal explosions are the sometimes shocking events and discoveries that happen to us. The Jews certainly were in for a shock as God sent His Spirit upon the Gentiles.
III. Salvation Is Worth Celebrating
Jesus once told a parable about jealousy. Some workers were hired to work all day while others hired on late and worked only a short time. When the pay was handed out they all got the same amount. After some grumbling the employer asked, “Are you envious because I am generous?” (Matt. 20:1-15). Some people really are jealous of “Johnny-come-lately” people. A very sticky situation could have developed when the Jewish Christians saw that the Gentiles were given the Spirit. They could have been jealous and felt that they were being slighted in some way. How would they respond?
Peter asked the important question in verse 47: “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water?” No one objected so the group of Gentiles were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. That action brought the Gentiles into the fold of the church. One commentator noted, “Conditions being what they were, i.e., the Holy Spirit confirming that pure Gentiles were converts of the gospel, it was impossible to prevent the Gentiles from being baptized and becoming bona fide members of the Christian fellowship.”
Peter learned his lesson. The gospel is for everyone. Salvation is available to all. And salvation is worth celebrating. Let us learn it, too. (Don M. Aycock)
Ascension Sunday (B)
May 11, 1997
The Risen Lord’s Command
Some religions are so speculative that they are of little practical value in everyday life. But this is not true of Christianity. Jesus constantly pushed His disciples not to sit around and speculate about their faith. They were to go out and share it.
I. From Belief To Mission (Acts 1:3)
Jesus’ death on the cross and its effect on human life is what we call the atonement. His death and resurrection are linked together in an inseparable way. When Jesus went back to the disciples after the resurrection, He did so to give them a mission of telling others about Him.
“Think globally, act locally.” This could be the message of the Easter event. The early disciples were given the good news that Jesus was alive. Yet His life was not to be hoarded but rather to be shared with everyone. Churches today honor the message of Easter as they are willing to tell others both close and far away about Christ. Sharing this message far away is missions. Sharing it close by is evangelism.
Someone has pointed out that the best evidence of the resurrection is not a rolled away stone but a carried away church. There is a lot of wisdom in that statement. The church today gets its marching orders from its head, the Lord Jesus Christ. His resurrection on Easter demonstrates His authority and power to command the church. Jesus linked His own work as savior to the work of His followers as witnesses.
II. Wrong Question, Right Answer (Acts 1:6-7)
How was the jump made from the excitement of the first Easter to the reality of missions? Acts 1:1-5 gives the answer. After the resurrection Jesus went back to the disciples and told them to wait for power to come from the Holy Spirit. Only through the Holy Spirit would they be able to make the leap from a living Lord to a thriving church.
The disciples thought Jesus made the promise of the Spirit for their benefit. They thought they were going to get something that would enhance their position. In verse 6 they asked “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
They still had not gotten it! They still had not understood that Jesus gave His life for something broader and deeper than a political empire that would benefit only a few chosen people.
The disciples asked the wrong question. To their surprise, they received the right answer. Jesus’ answer in verse 7 indicates that He didn’t want His followers to waste their time in idle speculation about the future. Christians clearly can hinder themselves from their work by inappropriate curiosity about matters God has reserved for Himself. Jesus’ message is clear — don’t get sidetracked on frivolous matters.
III. The Church of Open Doors (Acts 1:8)
I was once pastor of a church in a rural area that never locked its doors. I kept my personal study locked and the church office was locked, but the church itself never was. In fact, it did not even have any locks on the doors. I get the feeling that too many churches are locked, if not with a steel padlock, then with attitudes and actions that seem to tell others, “Posted! Stay Out!”
I do not mean to be harsh or critical. The point is that the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus drive home the point that He died for all men and women. His love knows no boundary. In Acts, Jesus indicates that His church should know no boundary either.
This verse is a favorite at missions and evangelism conferences. Remember the context. The disciples wanted to know if Jesus was going to set up His kingdom on earth (and they probably hoped they would have places of honor in that kingdom). Jesus dashed this hope by telling them they were not to speculate about such matters. Those issues were only for God’s knowledge and action. So what were the disciples supposed to do? Verse 8 is the answer. They were to be about the important task of telling the entire world about Him.
The church is about the work of listening to the risen Lord’s commands. Let us be about it seriously. (Dan M. Aycock)
May 18, 1997
Pentecost: Same Old Thing
A few weeks after Easter, every year is Pentecost. We know what to expect. It’s about God’s Spirit sweeping over people and bringing life. Whether it’s God’s “Wind” or “Breath” or “Spirit” doesn’t make much difference in the Bible, because both the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament each used one word to represent our English words “wind, breath, spirit.”
There’s nothing extraordinary about God’s windy Spirit breathing life into our world. In the beginning God’s Spirit hovered over the chaotic ocean and God started creating piece by piece, day by day. When you are God you get to choose how you shall create. The poet James Weldon Johnson wrote of God creating humanity:
This Great God,
Like a mammy bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till He shaped it in His Own Image;
Then into it He blew the breath of life,
And man became a living soul.
In the sixth century B.C. God led Ezekiel to a valley cluttered with bones. Ezekiel, upon command, prophesied to the dead nation of bones and God’s windy breath blew over them and they rattled to resurrection, filled with breathy Spirit. Such things have been written in the Bible for millennia. Nothing unusual here.
Centuries later during a black-out in Jerusalem, Jesus was murdered. But God came early one morning, opened Jesus’ grave, knelt down next to His Dead Son and breathed into Him the breath of eternal life. Nothing new that God blasts the doors off tombs or breathes life into bodies. It’s not strange that God’s very breath filled Jesus’ lungs. This is God’s nature. God has been doing such things since the beginning.
It’s not out of the ordinary that Jesus’ Spirit now energizes his disciples and activates their ministry. Shouldn’t we expect God to use this breathy Spirit to enfold and energize people so they spread the word of new life? Scripture promises:
“In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh (v. 17).
If people are astonished, amazed, perplexed or confused (vv. 6,7,12) that’s as it should be. Since God is active at Pentecost we might even expect people to dash around with tongue-like flames over their heads (v. 3) as they speak in foreign languages (v. 4). We should anticipate such an event. It was prophesied that our God is the God of new chances, new hope, new love, new life.
There’s not a lot new in Pentecost, unless you’ve only heard such things and never had God’s windy, breath-like Spirit happen to you. Nothing extraordinary at Pentecost unless – God having drawn close to you with all the power of eternity — you feel God breathing down your neck, and the sun, moon and stars go blurry.
The rushing of creation’s Spirit is funneled into a fiery wind raging like a flame above you; and it is also a tiny breeze upon your cheek, like a breath blowing a smoldering fire to flame, whispering that it’s nothing essentially new. God has loved you and awaited you, and has offered Christ to suffer for you from the foundation of the world.
The prophet promises, “Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (v. 21). The message is to you. God wants to blow this breath of life into you, this creation-churning, world-spinning, life-starting, hope-kindling Spirit. You should have expected all the loving energy of creation aiming toward you.
Let God choose you. Let God forgive you and remake you, and every breath you breathe will be God’s breath; because there’s nothing new about Pentecost. Not a thing new, just a person new — you, a new creation. (David Bales)
Trinity Sunday (B)
May 25, 1997
One of the most blessed privileges any of us will ever have is to be a part of a loving family. So much is written these days, though, about dysfunctional families and abusive parents that such an opening statement may be foreign, even offensive to some. Even still, if you know the joy of living in, or growing up in, a relatively non-dysfunctional family you realize you have certain family obligations. You want to make your family proud. You would feel horror at the thought of bringing dishonor upon your family. In the same way, those who trust in Christ and are made alive by His Spirit enter into a new realm of family obligations.
I. Our obligation is to put the old self to death
That may sound Kevorkianesque to some. Aren’t we as Christians supposed to be more interested in how to find life? Didn’t Jesus say, “I have come that you may have life and have it to the full?” One of the ironies of the Christian faith is that the way to life is through death. Paul has already told us that because of Christ, our body is dead to sin and alive to the Spirit. I read that statement in verse 11 and ask, as did Paul, “Why do I still do the things I don’t want to do and find it difficult, if not impossible, to do the things I want to do?” It’s because we need to work out what God is working in us.
It involves an old word that is not real popular any more — mortification. Put the old nature to death. John Stott helps us to see that mortification is neither masochism (taking pleasure in self-inflicted pain), nor asceticism (resenting and rejecting the fact that we have bodies and natural bodily appetites). Instead it is “a clear-sighted recognition of evil as evil, leading to such a decisive and radical repudiation of it that no imagery can do it justice except ‘putting to death’.
In fact, the verb Paul uses normally means to ‘kill someone, hand someone over to be killed, especially of the death sentence and its execution’.
The obligation we have to our new family in Christ is to put the old self to death in order that we may live anew to the Spirit of God. Paul’s struggle in Romans 7,1 believe, stems from trying to live a sanctified life apart from the power of the Holy Spirit. To tell us we have an obligation may appear burdensome to some the Holy Spirit. He tells us next that it is the Holy Spirit working in us that enables us to fulfill our obligations.
II. Our obligation is to be a son or a daughter of God.
What is significant about the verses 15-17 is the use of the compound word that begin with sun-, the prefix for “with.” If we are led by the Spirit, it is because we are a son or a daughter of God. That is an awesome privilege! George Hunter, in Church for the Unchurched comments that most unchurched people today are Deists in some form. They stumble over belief that the God of the Cosmos would be interested in them. The actual fact is He passionately desires an intimate relationship with all of His children.
Because of that, we don’t have to live in fear of an uncertain relationship. The Spirit frees us to be sons and daughters of God. As children, we will be heirs of God. An heir is subject to inherit all of the benefits of his benefactor. Paul Achtemeier says, “To be led by God’s Spirit therefore means to have changed our future from death to life, to have changed our relationship to God from rebellion to obedience, and to have changed our status from rebellious enemy to beloved child The evidence of all of this is the fact that within the community of the faithful, God can be addressed as ‘Father.’
An heir is entitled to what his benefactor wants him to have. Sometimes, though, in a way we don’t understand, it involves suffering. But verse 18 says, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Mark A. Johnson)
Proper 4 (B)
Sunday, June 1, 1997
II Corinthians 4:5-12
Why must Christians be so ordinary? Why do they have clay toes, enormous egos, jealous attitudes? How can the followers of magnanimous Jesus be so petty and small? You would think that once they have met the Master and been born again they would be free from error and poor attitudes. Surely Christians must be super-humans.
The church in Corinth to whom Paul wrote was not persecuted by the pagan city where they lived. That was almost unique in the first century. However, they were in danger of reflecting the pagan culture around them. They were uncritical of it. This called forth our text.
I. The Treasure is the Gospel
The treasure is “the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (II Cor.3:6). It is the Good News of God’s revealed love and redemptive purpose for humankind and the world.
Paul got the concept of Kingdom treasure from Jesus who told parables about the great value of the Kingdom of God. He said it is like the pearl of great price or like a buried treasure found in the field by a plowman. The Kingdom is worth all. Paul described the Gospel of the Kingdom as “unsearchable riches, unspeakable gifts, this treasure.” It is costly, not cheap grace. Redemption and divine forgiveness cost the life of Jesus on the cross.
Think of the Great Good News of the Gospel! We need to recapture our excitement about the riches of the Gospel; our enthusiasm to share the Good News of Christ.
The paradox is that we have this treasure in earthen vessels.
II We Are Earthen Vessels
One translation is “bodies of clay.” This recalls Genesis 2:7 where Adam was made from the dust. We are mortal creatures, made in God’s image: “kin to God the kin to the clod.”
The metaphor of earthen vessels (clay pots) describes our human limitations and mortality. We have a “bent toward sinning.”
The irony is that God has put heaven’s brightest treasure in such ordinary vessels. He entrusts the Kingdom to our soiled hands.
The world may reject us because we are so imperfect. Bonhoeffer said, “Give me religion but not the church.” Still, God loves his imperfect church, and entrusts His dearest treasure to us. Heaven help us if our having clay toes causes anyone to reject the Gospel. God give us integrity in our faith.
God entrusts His glorious Gospel to ordinary people like ourselves, that the world may know He is the source of spiritual power and not us. An intellectual attended Dwight L. Moody’s evangelistic meetings night after night, with a critical attitude. He concluded there was no relationship between Moody’s gifts and personality and the spiritual results of his preaching. The critic concluded, “This must be of God.”
Clay cannot produce treasure. And human beings are not the author of the Gospel. It is from God. Our weakness contrasts with God’s power. “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that it may be clear: the power is from God and not from us.”
To God be the glory! (Alton H. McEachern)
Proper 5 (B)
June 8, 1997
In 1942, Field Marshall Erwin Rommel returned from Northern Africa. He complained to Hitler that British planes were destroying his tanks with American forty millimeter shells. Hermann Goring replied, “Nothing but latrine rumors. All Americans can make are razor blades and refrigerators.”1
People underestimate Jesus too, though they see His deeds. Verses 20-21 “and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.'”
They come to get Jesus because, “people are saying,” or “rumor has it,” that Jesus has slid past the edge of sanity. They admit His miracles, especially His exorcisms; but people underestimate Him. He is “beside himself.” At best they recognize He has ecstatic religious experiences. At worst they think he is psychotic. Both are psychological interpretations. People today, using pop psychology, underestimate Jesus. They call Him, “the great psychologist, the perfect counselor, the mass hypnotist,” missing altogether what Jesus says about Himself.
People in Jesus’ day evaluated Him in a worse way. Verse 22: “And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.'” Again, they acknowledge His mighty deeds, but trace the source to Satan. On the principle that “it takes a thief to catch a thief” they guess that Jesus is demon possessed. Jesus blasts the logic of such absurdity in verses 23-26: “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come.”
His reasoning is: If, in general, any country is divided against itself, it collapses. If, in general, any family is divided against itself, it falls. Therefore if, in particular, Satan’s kingdom is divided against itself, it caves in. A ten year old can follow Jesus’ reasoning. Jesus’ actions are the opposite of Satan’s. If Satan and Jesus are partners, the two are at odds and will destroy one another.
Jesus portrays His ministry destroying Satan in verse 27, “But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.” Jesus’ ministry plunders Satan’s kingdom, carrying away men and women from the bondage of evil. Every time a sinner repents, every time a person is healed, or restored to the faith community, Satan’s kingdom is assaulted and overcome. Any lesser understanding underestimates Jesus.
Our modern world offers every seduction to occupy us with our pleasures, our problems, our potentials, to get us away from God. No one has lived such a life more deeply and written of its emptiness more convincingly than Malcolm Muggeridge. He was an outspoken journalist, beyond brash, to insulting. Turned off by capitalism, socialism and Nazism he punched holes in every pretension and every belief; yet became wearied by the world’s evil and worried by the emptiness of his life.
In his sixties he conceded that God was not a bubble popping out of humanity’s self-importance, or a feeble projection of our wishes. Having been, euphemistically, a womanizer, he came to believe in fidelity. Seeing the results of chaos, he finally believed in a divine order behind life. Having experienced humanity setting its own willful standards and directions he eventually trusted that God offers an abundant life with deep satisfactions to those who believe and obey.
What made the change? Slowly he reexamined Jesus, finding that everything Jesus did and said demonstrated truth far beyond anything merely human. Finally Muggeridge placed his faith in Jesus the Christ. Although he had respected Jesus he had underestimated him for sixty years.
Then Muggeridge dedicated his writing to Christianity and the furtherance of the Kingdom of God. One of his most influential books was Jesus Rediscovered. Muggeridge proves that lives changed by Jesus are not just a rumor. Satan’s bonds are strong but Jesus’ power is greater — power to bring forgiveness and fire hope; power to start us living again, no matter what we’ve done; power to put together the pieces of our lives that had never fit before; and power to stand us at last in the very presence of God. (David Bales)
1C.L. Sulzberger, The American Heritage Picture History of World War II, p. 219
Proper 6 (B)
Sunday, June 15, 1997
Little is Much
This is Jesus’ parable of bright hope: from small beginnings to great growth.
Jesus knew nature “from the smallest seed to a great plant.” Black mustard has 21,000 seeds in one ounce. It can grow to 8 or 10 feet in height. Birds nest in its shade. Take courage! “Little is much, when God is in it.”
Many things have small beginnings:
Human life begins with microscopic egg and sperm.
All music begins with eight notes.
All English literature is based on a 26 letter alphabet.
Jesus was born in a stable and grew up a carpenter. He spoke about “a cup of cold water,” a widow’s mite, sparrows and mustard seed. To teach greatness, “he took a child” and to teach humility “he took a towel” and washed His disciples’ feet.
Growth from small beginnings can be remarkable. An adage says, “Mighty oaks from tiny acorns grow.”
The Christian Church is a vivid example of this truth. It began with Jesus and the twelve disciples and rapidly grew to 120 and 3000 by Pentecost – forty days after His resurrection. The church contains both Jews and Gentiles. It is international — on every continent and in almost every nation. The church is interracial and transcultural. It thrives from the South Sea Islands to the Arctic Circle, from European capitals to primitive tribes in Africa, New Zealand, and South America. You will find churches in every county in America. The church has come from small beginnings through trial and triumph. A billion souls in the world today give allegiance to Jesus Christ.
W.E. Sangster toured the world. He said he found no children’s homes or hospitals sponsored by atheists. But every place there were Christian churches, there were schools, hospitals and institutions to care for children, the elderly and lepers.
The church has many branches but one trunk — the Lord Christ. William Barclay said denominations are like units within the same army.
Church growth has been remarkable, across the centuries and in our own time. Orlando Costas said it is:
Conceptual — it begins with faith in Christ and goes on to spiritual maturity.
Organizational — we plant churches and become the people of God on mission. The church is called to witness, teach and minister.
Incarnational growth — The faith is enfleshed in believers who carry out personal and corporate ministry. We live by faith and incarnate Christian love, caring healing, sharing and social justice.
Numerical growth — We reach people for Christ. The Lord adds to the church those who are being saved.
The purpose of Jesus in the parable of the mustard seed is to awaken our faith to spiritual growth and its potential. It is a lesson in encouragement. Remember when we are small and struggling — God is great and capable of doing great things in our midst.
Hear the Master’s call to faith and ministry. (Alton H. McEachern)
Proper 7 (B)
June 22, 1997
Does Jesus Care?
I enjoy listening to people’s testimonies. A good testimony consists of 4 parts — my life before I met Christ, how I met Christ, how Christ changed my life, and, most importantly, what Christ is doing in my life now. It’s interesting to hear the “dregs of society” testimonies of how a person who was a real scoundrel stumbled upon the grace of God, even when he wasn’t looking for it. It’s interesting also to hear people tell what Christ is doing in their lives now — or what they want Christ to do in their lives now.
Some requests seem awfully small. A parking place at the mall, a new job, deliverance from some daily, mundane chore. While I believe Jesus cares even about the minutiae of our lives, I wonder sometimes if we aren’t guilty of asking Him for far too little. I wonder if Jesus’ agenda is to do something greater and more wonderful than we would scarcely dare to imagine.
The familiar story of the stilling of the storm may well come from a first hand testimonial account of one of Jesus’ miracles. After teaching all day, Jesus leaves the crowds behind, even with their needs, and heads for the other side — the Gentile side — of the Sea of Galilee. While on the Sea, in the dark, evening hours, a storm arises. With at least four fishermen who had spent their lives on that body of water in tow, the disciples were still fearful for their lives.
It must have been a comical sight as the rag-tag bunch of disciples — who probably hadn’t learned to work together very well as a team — strained to do something with the boat. Some rowing this way, some that. Some bailing water, others too paralyzed by the crisis to know what to do. And where is Jesus? He’s asleep in the back of the boat.
The disciples asked Jesus the question every honest person will admit to asking at one point or another. “Jesus, don’t you care that we’re about to perish?”
“With all the exciting plans we had for retirement, I never dreamed he could be taken from me so suddenly. I’m so alone I just don’t know what I’ll do. Jesus don’t you care?”
“I didn’t know our company was in such straits. Where’s a 56 year old middle manager supposed to find new employment? Jesus don’t you care?”
It speaks to how much Jesus must have continually given of himself to be so exhausted that he could sleep through the chaos going on around Him in the boat. It’s almost a humorous picture as Jesus is finally roused from slumber. The winds are howling and the waves are breaking and Jesus steps up and says to the wind and the waves, “Be muzzled!” Instantly, the waves calmed and the wind stilled.
Perhaps with frustration, but with tenderness and compassion, He turned to His disciples and said, “Why were you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
I ask the question, “When the storm was raging, what did the disciples expect Jesus to do?” Offer up some sort of perfunctory prayer? Take over on the oars? Bail out the boat? Did they have any idea that He would be able to do what He did?
Sometimes we want Jesus merely to bail out our boat. That’s not illegitimate. Sometimes the miracle we receive is grace to endure our difficulties. Sometimes we do need to pray for a stronger back rather than a lighter load. But, there are times when he may want to do far more than we’d ever dare to dream or imagine.
There’s another point that is so obvious it could easily be missed if we don’t call attention to it. When the disciples were in such distress, where was Jesus? He was right there in the boat with them. When your storm is raging and you feel like your boat’s about to go down, if you’ve invited Jesus into your life, He’s right there in the boat with you. His agenda may be to do something far greater than we would ever dare to imagine so that we might totally place our faith in Him. (Mark A. Johnson)
Proper 8 (B)
June 29, 1997
Little Dewdrop And Mrs. Timid
A remarkable incident — literally a miracle within a miracle. On his way to raise the daughter of Jairus from the dead, Jesus heals a woman with a hemmorhage. Quite often we preachers deal with one half of this incident, ignoring the other; yet they happened together as part of one experience, and Mark tells it that way.
Consider parallels. Both the child and the woman are called “daughter.” The little girl is repeatedly called the daughter of Jairus, while the woman with the flow of blood is the only person we know Jesus to have called “daughter.” Twelve years — the woman has suffered from her bleeding for 12 years, while the little dead girl is 12 years old. Jairus fears the end of 12 years of joy; the woman seeks the end of 12 years of suffering. The woman’s illness began the same year the girl was born, and the day the little girl dies, the woman is healed.
In both cases Jesus made apparently ridiculous statements. The crowds deny and the disciples chide him at the healing of the woman when He asks, “Who touched me,” while the paid mourners at the home of the little dead girl “laugh Him to scorn” when He declares she is not dead, but merely sleeps.
We mark also that both are past all human help and hope; the woman has spent all she possesses and has tried everything and has not grown better but worse, while the little girl at the “point of death” dies as Jesus tarries in His coming. So they are all waiting: Mrs. Timid waits for an opportunity to slip through the crowd to touch Jesus; the father waits impatiently for Jesus to come with him; little Dew-drop waits in the silent halls of death for the Master to come.
The little name of endearment, “Little Dewdrop,” comes from my New Testament professor, who used to say this translation was as close to the meaning of the words “Talitha cumi” as we can come. This phrase is the transliteration of an Aramaic word meaning “lamb” or a diminutive of “girl” — clearly a term of endearment — and the aramaic word meaning “rise.”
Mrs. Timid. How would you describe her? Here is a shrinking, disappointed woman brought to poverty seeking a cure for her bleeding curse. She comes creeping among the crowd, even in this breaking the ritual laws, because she is unclean and must not mingle in a crowd. Like a frightened, whipped puppy edging toward a bone, she wishes to steal a blessing and remain anonymous. All she wants is to touch His garment and depart, and indeed she almost accomplishes this, for she is the only reported case of a miracle without a word beforehand. Mrs. Timid prefers to be a secondary character on the stage of life; if she must be on stage, it is for only a moment; the spotlight sweeps over her and both it and she are gone.
The Interruptions of Life
Notice the way Jesus handled interruptions; most of us are not very good at handling life’s interruptions. All of us need to develop the calm, unhurried approach to life demonstrated by Jesus. Matthew’s Gospel tells us Jesus on this occasion rose up from the feast Levi gave upon his conversion, leaving that feast to help Jairus. And as He goes, He goes unhurriedly, in spite of the fact that both Mark and Luke say the little girl is “at the point of death,” and that she “lay a-dying.”
Yet Jesus never comes too early or too late. Some say the sick woman was put by God in Jesus’ path to slow Him down so little Dewdrop would be dead before He could reach her and so heighten the miracle. Nonsense. The truth is that Jesus stopped because He is interested in everybody, sick or well, man or woman, young or old, black or white, rich or poor. If the Father put the throng of people around Jesus on this occasion, it was to slow Him down so one weary, weak, poor ashamed woman could, in the words of one pastor, “get on board heaven’s healing express.”
The Steps To Faith
These stories instruct us in the meaning of faith. Consider Mrs. Timid. First, she is past all human help. Indeed, in the matter of dealing with our sins in a permanent way, we are all beyond the help of man. Salvation is through Christ, not through human endeavor. Second, she made her efforts toward Christ, however feeble. She was timid and superstitous, yet many bumped into Jesus; this woman reached out to touch Him in some sort of faith. Third, mark that Jesus is not content with her imperfect faith. He leads her to give public testimony. It is true that she would have stolen away a crippled blessing if she had been allowed. But there is a difference between being healed and being saved. She was healed by the touch; she knew it, she felt it. But only after the conversation with Jesus did He say, “daughter, your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Salvation is through faith in Jesus, not by merely touching Him. Salvation is accompanied by confession. Jesus calls her forth, and it is for the purpose of confessing the goodness of God; to be delivered of shame. Something about salvation is not complete and satisfying until we testify to others of the kindness of God.
I can hear little Dewdrop and Mrs. Timid singing that old hymn:
We have heard the joyful sound, Jesus saves!
Bear the news to every land,
Climb the steeps and cross the waves;
Waft it on the rolling tide, Sing above the battle strife,
Give the winds a mighty voice, Jesus saves!
Sing it softly through the gloom, when the heart for mercy craves;
Sing in triumph o’er the tomb, Jesus saves, Jesus saves.
Sermon briefs for this issue are written by: Don Aycock, Director of Pastoral Care, Baptist Memorial Hospital, Memphis, TN; David Bales, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Klamath Falls, OR; Earl Davis, Trinity Baptist Church, Cordova, TN; Mark Johnson, Managing Editor, Preaching, Jackson, TN; Alton McEachern, Pastor, Cornerstone United Methodist Church, Newnan, GA
6th Sunday of Easter (B)