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Matthew

A Woman's Touch

Matthew 9:18-35

Lesson audio

It is not clear until you have carefully read all three Gospel accounts that all these incidents take place on the same day. Our Lord, it seems, was a very busy man.

While He was saying these things to them, a synagogue official came and bowed down before Him, and said, "My daughter has just died; but come and lay Your hand on her, and she will live." Jesus got up and began to follow him, and so did His disciples. And a woman who had been suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years, came up behind Him and touched the fringe of His cloak; for she was saying to herself, "If I only touch His garment, I will get well." But Jesus turning and seeing her said, "Daughter, take courage; your faith has made you well." At once the woman was made well. When Jesus came into the official's house, and saw the flute-players and the crowd in noisy disorder, He said, "Leave; for the girl has not died, but is asleep." And they began laughing at Him. But when the crowd had been sent out, He entered and took her by the hand, and the girl got up. This news spread throughout all that land.

(Mat 9:18-26 NASB)

Jairus, the synagogue ruler

(He is identified by name in the other Gospels).

It is a desperate and humbling circumstance for the synagogue ruler. Jairus has spent much of his life in study of the Law; we may assume that he has risen to prominence on the strength of his own brains and hard work. But even for such a man there are spiritual perils:

  • “To know” is not the same as “to do.” This is not obvious to man, as it rather creeps up on you. It’s quite possible to be so enamored with the glory of the Word of God that you forget to practice it as well as teach it. I’ve done this myself; when the ride is over it’s a very bumpy landing.
  • There is also a certain sense of complacency that comes over you when things are going well. It feels comfortable; growth in the kingdom is often uncomfortable (think about your prayer life).
  • Worst of all you may come to the point of pride. You know so much, you’ve taught so much, you’ve been here so long that you feel it perfectly right to look down on others.

Did any of these afflict Jairus? We do not know. All we really know is that his daughter was dead, and the pain of that fact drove all pride and dignity from his mind. If he could not ask, he would beg. When the going gets tough, the tough turn to God.

The servant of God

It is a grand thing to be allowed to be a servant of God. But in times like this, the servant is taught some lessons that seem bitter at the time:

  • The servant must accept God’s humbling. To rail at God and reject such humbling is equivalent to telling Him that He made a mistake. And who are you to do that?
  • Nor can the servant of God turn away from Him, as Jonah did. On the contrary, if God is humbling you, it means you have something yet to receive from him. Seek his face!
  • Then, having sought Him, ask your question – and expect an answer.
Lessons for the Christian

From this section we may learn:

  • We are not to be afraid, especially about what “might happen.” Will you take counsel of your fears or of your Lord?
  • “Only believe.” It sometimes seems hard to take, but the common experience is that you are to fear not and believe – and then do the ordinary things of a servant of God. So many of us are ready to take up the quest; we will do the high and noble. But it’s quite a let down to be told that the nursery needs workers.
  • Believe in what? Believe in the promises of Christ. Take Him at His word, and have full confidence in Him.

We cannot leave this example without asking: how did the Pharisees see this miracle? Those who say that if they saw but one miracle their faith would be rock solid. The Pharisees saw – and said it was the devil’s own work.

The Woman’s Touch

Theology

It is a common thing for Christians (indeed, all mankind) to produce what are called “talismans.” Rosary beads are the most common form of Christian talisman, along with St. Christopher medals and crucifixes.[1] In evangelical churches, such things used to be regarded as fakes and frauds. But we may notice here that this woman sees the hem of Jesus’ garment as just such a talisman. It is as if the hem itself (which is quite decorative in this culture) can do the healing.

Jesus allows this. It seems that having lousy theology is, therefore, no barrier to the healing of Christ. He knows what lies beneath that belief: her faith. Just because your theology is out of whack doesn’t mean He will throw you out. On the contrary, He welcomes sinners of all denominations.

Unclean, unclean

If we are to truly understand this woman, we need to know a bit about the Mosaic Law.[2] By its provisions she is ceremonially unclean. Normally, that’s not too big a problem; any woman would be considered unclean through her menstrual period. But this woman can see no end to her being unclean.

We might presume that she would think that Jesus, as a teacher, would reject her because of this. So, she decides not to give Him the chance. Consider how humbling this must be.

  • She approached him from behind; Christ had to look around to find her.
  • She approached him in a crowd – so no one else would notice.
  • She did not dare touch him – just the garment.
Christ’s reply

It is exceedingly comforting to here Christ’s reply. In a situation where many “great men” would have been irritated, at least, His reply is full of comfort:

  • Daughter – For a woman who has been shunned as unclean for the last twelve years, can you imagine how this one word must have brightened her face?
  • Your faith has made you well – Notice the humility of Christ! He doesn’t mention His own power (obvious enough). Rather, He moves in divine humility, honored by His Father.
  • Go in peace – See how He reaches into the human heart! A woman so unclean must have been a bone of contention (do we invite Aunt Mabel to the party or not?) is sent home carrying divine peace.

The most curious part of his reply is this: “Take courage.” She has been healed; why would He now tell her to take courage? There is one simple explanation for this.

Consider, for a moment, how intertwined the accounts of this section are. Jairus is waiting for an answer when the woman touches that hem. Perhaps Christ made this comment to give courage to Jairus, but without shaming him. Sometimes our providences are someone else’s encouragement.

Blind Men

As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed Him, crying out, "Have mercy on us, Son of David!" When He entered the house, the blind men came up to Him, and Jesus *said to them, "Do you believe that I am able to do this?" They *said to Him, "Yes, Lord." Then He touched their eyes, saying, "It shall be done to you according to your faith." And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them: "See that no one knows about this!" But they went out and spread the news about Him throughout all that land. As they were going out, a mute, demon-possessed man was brought to Him. After the demon was cast out, the mute man spoke; and the crowds were amazed, and were saying, "Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel." But the Pharisees were saying, "He casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons."

(Mat 9:27-34 NASB)

The reader will please note the phrase, “when He entered the house” – we are still at the home of Jairus.

Their plea

There is a curious progression here. As they call out to Jesus, the blind men call him “Son of David.” They are acknowledging that Jesus is a descendant of David (a point necessary on two fronts: Joseph, so that his title may be clear; Mary, so that His humanity might also be clear. Fully human, fully divine.)

But when He answers them, they call Him “Lord”. In the first they acknowledge Him in a way congenial to the Old Testament; the New Testament believer places his trust in his Lord.

Lord. The word implies two things:

  • They owe Him obedience. By His inquiry they know He is listening to them. But if they are to gain his favor they must have a relationship between them – and if He can heal the blind, Lord is a modest description.
  • They acknowledge His supremacy as well. This would have been more commonplace in their society than in ours.

Simple enough, but may I ask: Do you give Him your obedience? Do you acknowledge His supremacy? If not, just who is blind?

Do you believe…?

If you do, then “according to your belief” it will be done. Christ here shows us a couple of principals for Christians:

  • According to your faith it will be done – the greater your faith, the greater the gift Christ can give, for He limits Himself to that which our faith will allow.
  • Why? Because God can only be sought by those who believe He exists – and that He rewards those who seek Him.[3]

God allows our faith to be the valve which lets His power through.[4]

By the prince of demons

May we pay just a touch of attention to the man demon-possessed? He gets only two verses, but we might note one important thing: the man himself never asks for healing. He was, after all, mute. Christ needs no invitation to throw out the emissaries of Satan – nor does He require faith.

But we meet here the unforgivable sin: the Pharisees are the sinners. To attribute to Satan that which clearly belongs to God is a betrayal of God. Of all people, the Pharisees (the right wing fundamentalists of their day) should know this best. It is a sad, sad passage.

Evangelism

As we shall see next lesson, this crowded series of events prompts Christ to send His disciples out on the first great missionary trip. Such is the compassion of Jesus, that the burdens of His people prompt Him to send the light to all of Israel.


[1] The point is numerical only. My own church is now in the process of assembling bracelets made of various colored beads, calling them “power bands.” These are to be given away by those on a short term mission trip.

[2] Specifically, Leviticus 15:25-33

[3] Hebrews 11:6

[4] It should go without saying that we do not control God. But there are always those who misunderstand.

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