Faith in the face of desperation

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Please turn to Luke 8.40-56. We have here a profound insight into the extraordinary power of Jesus and an encouragement to trust him with all of our life. It is not just an interesting account from the past but God speaking to us now, today. Just as the characters experienced a life-changing encounter with Jesus, we too can trust him and see him at work in our lives today. Luke begins by setting the scene, and we see:

1. A Desperate Father's Plea (Luke 8.40-42)

Now when Jesus returned, the crowd welcomed him, for they were all waiting for him. And there came a man named Jairus, who was a ruler of the synagogue. And falling at Jesus' feet, he implored him to come to his house, for he had an only daughter, about twelve years of age, and she was dying.

Our passage begins with a prominent figure, Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue. This man held a respected position in society, overseeing the spiritual life of his community. However, despite his influence, he faces an overwhelming personal crisis – his twelve-year-old daughter (his only daughter) is seriously ill, on her deathbed. Jairus, in a desperate attempt to save his beloved child, falls at the feet of Jesus. His position and wealth cannot save her; he is in desperate need of a miracle. He knows he needs help and he humbly turns to Jesus.

Often it is when life falls apart that we see what has actually always been true. We are not in charge. We do not control our own destiny. We may be gifted, successful and loved and still be brought to our knees. Jairus was a man of position and prestige, but he was helpless in the face of his daughter's severe illness. At some point in our lives, we will all find ourselves in desperate need of God's intervention. But perhaps there is no other way than for desperate circumstances to bring us, in humility and faith, to seek the help of our Saviour. With Jairus's plea for healing echoing in our ears, we see next a fatal interruption that occurred as Jesus made His way to Jairus's home.

2. A Woman's Imperfect Faith (Luke 8.43-48)

As Jesus went, the people pressed around him. And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and though she had spent all her living on physicians, she could not be healed by anyone. She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, and immediately her discharge of blood ceased. And Jesus said, “Who was it that touched me?” When all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds surround you and are pressing in on you!” But Jesus said, “Someone touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out from me.” And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

As Jesus moved through the crowd, on his way to Jairus’s house, he was forced to an abrupt stop. A woman, nameless but not faceless, who had been suffering from constant and humiliating bleeding for twelve long years, dared to believe that a mere touch of the fringe of Jesus’s garment could bring healing. It’s not hard to put yourself in her shoes and see that her life was filled with emotional isolation, physical pain, and crushing hopelessness. She had spent all her money on doctors and ineffective remedies, and her suffering had only grown worse. Socially, her condition made her ceremonially unclean according to the Mosaic Law, and so kept out on the outside. Like Jairus, she experienced a profound desperation that led to what she did. Was her action prompted by a clear and articulate theological understanding of who it was who walked past her? Did she realise he was God himself, come to earth as man? Did she realise he was the promised messiah – the one who came to save his people. Did she know he would do that by dying death on a cross to take the punishment for her sins and the sins of the whole world? Probably not. Perhaps her faith was a blend of ignorance, superstition, and a hint of selfishness. But whatever was going on in her heart and mind, she reached out to Jesus because she recognized his as her last and only hope.

In her vulnerability, she pushed through the crowd and touched the fringe of Jesus's garment, and immediately she was healed. Her faith, though small and imperfect, was honoured by Jesus, as he acknowledged that her faith had made her well. This woman's story of healing demonstrates that the Jesus’s compassion extends to those whose faith is limited and imperfect, as it always is. His is always ready to respond to those who seek Him. But we need to get back to Jairus, and his daughter. This is:

3. A father's worst nightmare (Luke 8.49-50)

(Luke 8.49):

While he was still speaking, someone from the ruler's house came and said, “Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the Teacher any more.”

As Jesus was still interacting with the woman who had interruption his journey, messengers from Jairus's house arrived, delivering a heart-breaking message. It was too late. They brought Jairus the news that his beloved daughter had died. The child's life, so precious to him, had slipped away, and all hope seemed lost. Imagine the emotions that must have washed over Jairus in that moment – the agony of loss, the weight of despair, and the cruel irony of having been so close to the healer, yet too late to save his daughter.But our focus is not on the father’s response but on what Jesus said. (Luke 8.50):

But Jesus on hearing this answered him, “Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well.”

Jesus, in response to the mournful message, uttered a phrase that shook the very foundations of Jairus's faith: Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well. These words from Jesus were not merely comforting words of reassurance; they were a challenge to Jairus's faith. He called Jairus to believe not only in his healing power but in his authority over life and death. Jairus, who had initially set out to find help for his very sick daughter, was now asked to put his faith in a God who could raise the dead. Often, taking the first steps of faith, however fragile and tentative, open up the door for God to call on us to exercise faith beyond our initial requests. In Luke 7, Jesus had healed the Centurian’s servant with a word – he didn’t need to travel. Why did he do that here? Perhaps by allowing Jairus to go through the agony of waiting, Jesus tested and strengthened his faith. And in our moments of despair, when all hope seems lost and all the fearful questions come, Jesus stands ready to offer solid hope as we lean on him. And now Luke brings us to the climax of this story:

4. From Death to Life

(Luke 8.51-55):

And when he came to the house, he allowed no one to enter with him, except Peter and John and James, and the father and mother of the child. And all were weeping and mourning for her, but he said, “Do not weep, for she is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. But taking her by the hand he called, saying, “Child, arise.” And her spirit returned, and she got up at once. And he directed that something should be given to her to eat. And her parents were amazed, but he charged them to tell no one what had happened.

On reaching Jairus's home, Jesus encountered the commotion of mourning and weeping. The mourners laughed at Jesus when he declared; she is not dead but sleeping. When you a child goes to sleep it is temporary. We expect that soon they would be up again. Whereas death appears permanent. They laughed at Jesus, but he was teaching here a profound truth that shapes the whole Christian worldview. The Christian hope is that death is not the end, that there is life beyond the grave – just as sleep is temporary. That does not mean we do not mourn and weep. We do. But as Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4.13, about those who sleep (he uses the same phrase as Jesus), we do not grieve as other who have no hope. With the authoritative command, Child, arise, Jesus reached out and took the girl by the hand. Her spirit returned, and she rose from the dead. The once lifeless girl was now standing before her astonished family and the disciples. Luke includes this encounter to show us the incredible power and authority of Jesus. We’ve seen his power to still a storm with a word. We’ve seen his power to set free a demon-possessed man with a word too. And now we see him heal the sick and raise a child from death with a word. Luke wants us to see the incredible power and authority of Jesus. He wants us to see that Jesus is in control, and nothing is beyond his reach. But he doesn’t want us just to see who Jesus is. He wants us to trust him with even the most desperate circumstances of our lives. He wants us to see that our first steps towards Jesus in faith need not be very big. That what matters is not the quality of our faith, but that Jesus is more able and more powerful than we at first thought.

Jesus said do not fear, only believe. There is nothing beyond the reach of Jesus. He can transform death into life, despair into hope, and mourning into rejoicing. Just as Jairus sought healing for his daughter and the woman sought healing for her ailment, we too can come before the Lord with our own needs and desires knowing that nothing is beyond his reach. But isn’t the challenge of this passage knowing that we have no promise that God will always heal, no promise that death will not come? If God can, how can my faith cope when he doesn’t? When the father’s worst nightmare comes true, when the pain continues for year, after year, after year and healing does not happen? Those questions will come. They will penetrate our grief in the early hours of the night. They will accompany our cries and sobs. The questions are not a lack of faith – we can be honest with God.

We can also take comfort that faith is not a theological exam, demanding perfection, or else. Jairus initially sought Jesus out of desperation, not a deep faith. The image of Jairus, a respected synagogue leader, falling before Jesus is powerful. The woman's faith was a blend of ignorance, superstition, and selfishness. Her faith was flawed, but it was real, just like many of us who come to Christ with limited knowledge and mixed motivations. If our prayers for healing are not granted it is not because your prayer was returned with ‘not enough faith’ stamped on the form. That’s not taught here, or anywhere else. Luke is not emphasizing the size of our faith. He’s emphasizing the object of our faith. We won’t always know why. There are things we can know: that he is always loving, and always good. He purposes for us are to know him and become more like him. But we may not know why. But it is certainly not because you don’t have enough faith.

In life's most desperate moments, we can trust God to intervene and orchestrate events in ways that we may not fully understand. He is in control, and nothing is beyond his reach. Often faith in hard times feels like clinging on by your fingertips. Our faith may feel small and imperfect. It requires much more to hear God’s “No” and continue to trust Him in the middle of discomfort and difficulty than it does to keep following Him when things are great. But Jesus invites you to trust him today. So, approach Him with your hopes and fears, because in Him, you will find the true source of healing, restoration, and resurrection. Our faith, no matter how small or imperfect, is welcomed by our Saviour, who can transform our lives in ways we cannot even fathom. However tough your circumstances, knowing that the one who conquered death is with you every step of the way.

That’s the challenge of this passage. But there are two further lessons we can learn. What we see in these two stories is the profound difference that Jesus makes in the face (first) of sickness and (second) of death. The Bible teaches that both of those things are the consequences of our rebellion against God. We think we don’t need God; that we can control and run our own lives, our own way. When the truth is we cannot even sustain our own health. And Jesus is the Saviour who comes to rescue us from not only our sin, but these consequences.

5. The Difference Jesus Makes to Sickness

Sickness is a stark reminder that none of us is entitled to perfect health. We all rebel against God, and so deserve his judgement and so whatever health we experience is an undeserved gift. Medicine, though a gracious gift from God, can only alleviate and manage sickness; it cannot fully remove the judgment of mortality. Our health is fragile, reminding us that we depend on God for every breath we take. When Jesus healed the woman with the issue of blood, it was a signpost, pointing forward to what will happen when he raises us into the next life. In the resurrection, we will be instantly and completely healed of all disease. Our resurrected bodies will be free from sickness and death, rescued once and for all from mortality. So, even as we pray for healing and use medical means, we understand that our perfect health is a future hope, not a present guarantee.

6. The Difference Jesus Makes to Death

The death of the young girl serves as a poignant reminder that none of us deserves any length of life. Every day we have is an undeserved gift. Death, especially the death of a child, can evoke strong feelings of unfairness. But Jesus reassures us that with Him, death is not the end. For those who trust in Him, death is just a temporary sleep, and He has the power to awaken us. Jesus said that His miracles were signs of the kingdom of heaven. Thus, the raising of the young girl from death is a sign of how Jesus will bring those who trust in Him through death to the next world, where He is right now. Through His death and resurrection, He has secured our forgiveness and a place with Him beyond the grave. So, as we end, the difference that Jesus makes to sickness and death is massive. He offers us hope and healing, not necessarily in this life but for the life beyond. While we may not always receive physical healing, we have the assurance of eternal healing in the resurrection, where there will be no more pain, suffering, or death.

Our faith in Jesus means trusting that he can and will bring us safely through the trials of life and even through the doorway of death. He is our last and only hope. And only through him can we be sure of a future where all our problems will be behind us, and we will live with him forever saved from all sickness and death. Two women encountered Jesus, one suffering from a twelve-year chronic sickness and the other snatched from the jaws of death, we see the nature of the hope we have in Jesus. He is the Saviour who promises to restore and resurrect us, offering us healing and life beyond our imagination. Let us trust Him with our lives, our health, and our future, knowing that His grace is sufficient for every circumstance. Our hope is in Jesus, the One who makes all the difference in the face of sickness and death. The only place to find peace, comfort, and hope is in the arms of the Saviour who can heal the sick and raise the dead, both now and in the life to come.

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