Many people today have questions about faith: What is it? What does faith accomplish? How much faith is enough? Can’t I live a good life without faith? Why believe in Jesus? Aren’t there many ways to God?
Matthew 9:18-26 addresses many of these questions.
While he [Jesus] was saying this, a ruler came and knelt before him and said, “My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live.” Jesus got up and went with him, and so did his disciples.
Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. She said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.”
Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed from that moment.
When Jesus entered the ruler’s house and saw the flute players and the noisy crowd, he said, “Go away. The girl is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him. After the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took the girl by the hand, and she got up. News of this spread through all that region.
This is part of the conclusion to Matthew’s mini-book of miracles in chapters 8 and 9. Here we have a trio of miracles presented by Matthew. First, two women are healed, one young and one old. Second, two blind men have their sight restored. Third, a demon-possessed man who could not speak had the demon driven from him and he was enabled to speak again. The Gospel lectionary for today deals with the two women healed.
In all three of these sets of miracles we learn about the importance of faith. Jesus says to the woman with the issue of blood, “Your faith has healed you.” Jesus asks the blind men, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” When the blind men respond affirmatively Jesus says, “According to your faith will it be done to you.” The ruler comes to Jesus in faith, trusting that Jesus can raise his daughter from the dead. The demon-possessed man is brought to Jesus in faith. Obviously the man’s friends believed that Jesus could do something about the problem. In these miracles we see that it is faith which accesses God’s power.
This works in a similar fashion in the natural realm. How do people in many parts of the country receive electricity into their homes? It is a step-by-step process. First huge shovels dig gigantic scoops of coal. This coal is then crushed into small pieces and loaded on to railroad boxcars. Then the coal travels to a generating plant where it is further crushed into powder. Superheated, this powder catches fire like gasoline when it is blown into huge furnaces which in turn crank tremendous turbines.
Whirring at hundreds of revolutions per minute, these turbines can be housed in concrete-and-steel casings 100 feet long, 10 feet tall, and 10 feet across. They generate enough electricity for entire cities.
A visitor to the plant asks the chief engineer, “Where do you store the electricity?”
“We don’t store it,” the engineer replies. “We just make it.”
When a light switch is flipped on in someone’s home a hundred miles away it literally places a demand on the system; it registers at the generating plant and prompts greater output.
If you didn’t know what a light switch was for, would you ever use it? Do we fully understand how electricity works, even after such an explanation? No. But we use it in faith. We have seen it work in the past and we trust it to work in the future by the same means.
In a sense, God’s power is not stored. It comes in the amount required at the moment of need, when we flip the switch of faith.
“But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” (John 1:12 KJV)
A second thing we see in this trio of miracles is that even imperfect faith can access God’s power.
The ruler probably came to Jesus as a last resort. After all, Matthew’s Gospel tells us that the man’s daughter had already died. Why didn’t he come to Jesus before she died?
In Mark and Luke we discover that this ruler’s name was Jairus and that he was a ruler of the synagogue. In Luke 13:14 we see the response of one synagogue ruler to Jesus. “Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue ruler said to the people, ‘There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”
William Barclay is most likely correct when he says that this synagogue ruler “would be one of those strictly orthodox Jews who regarded Jesus as a dangerous heretic; and it was only when everything else had failed that he turned in desperation to Jesus.”
While the synagogue ruler came to Jesus only as a last resort, the woman with the issue of blood approached Jesus superstitiously. She thought, “If only I touch the hem of his garment I will be healed.”
The wonderful thing about Jesus is that he doesn’t reject anyone just because their faith is imperfect. Jesus doesn’t say to the synagogue ruler, “Well, you should have come to me before. Now it is too late.” He doesn’t say to the woman with the issue of blood, “You are such a foolish person believing in old wives’ tales!” No. Jesus accepts each of these people right where they are, despite their imperfect faith, and he heals them.
It doesn’t take a lot of faith to access the power of God. Jesus said on another occasion, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20)
In 1972 NASA launched the exploratory space probe Pioneer 10. Its main mission was to reach Jupiter, photograph the planet and its moons, and send data back to earth about Jupiter’s magnetic field, radiation belts, and atmosphere. Scientists figured this was a bold plan since at the time no probe had ever gone beyond Mars. They weren’t sure it would work but they tried it anyway.
Their leap of faith was well rewarded. Pioneer 10 accomplished its mission and then some. Swinging past Jupiter in November 1973, Pioneer 10 was then hurled by the giant planet’s immense gravity at a tremendous speed toward the outer edge of our solar system. At 1 billion miles from the sun, Pioneer 10 passed Saturn. Then it swept past Uranus at some 2 billion miles. Pioneer 10 went on past Neptune at nearly 3 billion miles, and beyond Pluto at almost 4 billion miles. By 1997, 25 years after its launch, Pioneer 10 was more than 6 billion miles from the sun. Even the scientists who created Pioneer 10 were impressed by this device that was supposed to have a useful life of only three years.
What was truly remarkable was that despite a distance of 6 billion miles, Pioneer 10 was still beaming radio signals back to earth and the scientists were able to read those signals! Even more amazing, those signals were sent from an 8-watt transmitter, something emitting about as much power as a bedroom night light. It took nine hours for those signals to reach the earth.
It just goes to show that even a faint message can travel a long way. In a similar way even imperfect faith can access the tremendous power of God.
A third thing about Jesus’ power is also made clear in these stories. Jesus’ power is not received by those who have no faith in him.
Why was it that in the crowd jostling Jesus only the woman with the issue of blood was healed? It was because only she reached out to touch Jesus in faith.
Some people say, “If only I could have lived in Jesus’ day and seen his miracles with my own eyes then I would believe.” But that is not true. There are plenty of people who saw Jesus’ miracles but didn’t believe. It is possible to be in the crowd around Jesus, hearing his words, seeing his miraculous deeds, and still receive nothing.
The professional mourners laugh at Jesus when he says the little girl is not dead but sleeping. In fact, Jesus may have been literally on the mark. Perhaps many people were buried alive in Jesus’ day because it wasn’t recognized that they were in a coma. Jesus may have had the precisely correct medical diagnosis of the little girl’s condition. But regardless of whether this girl was dead or in a coma, Jesus saved her from death.
The professional mourners are put out of the house because of their mocking unbelief. They don’t even get to witness Jesus’ power first-hand.
There was once a missionary who was given a car on the mission field. However, he had a problem. The car would not start without a push.
After pondering his problem, the missionary came up with a plan. He went to the school near his home, got permission to take some students out of class, and had them push his car off. Once the car got going he was able to jump-start it. As the missionary made his rounds, he would either park the car on a hill or leave it running. The missionary used this tiring procedure for two years.
Finally, ill health forced the missionary and his family to leave the field and a new missionary came to that station. When the old missionary proudly began to explain his arrangement for getting the car started, the new missionary began looking under the hood. Before the explanation was complete, the new missionary interrupted, “Why I believe the only trouble is this loose cable.” He gave the cable a twist, stepped into the car, turned the key in the ignition, and to the old missionary’s astonishment, the engine roared to life.
For two years needless trouble had become routine. The power was there all the time. Only a loose connection kept the old missionary from putting the power to work.
Paul says in Ephesians 1, “How tremendous is the power available to us who believe in God.” Faith accesses God’s power. But if our wires are not connected to God through Christ it will be evident in a great lack of power.
The final thing we see in this trio of miracles is that our faith must be in Jesus. The synagogue ruler came to Jesus to raise his daughter from death. The woman with the issue of blood touched the hem of Jesus’ garment.
Is it any surprise that Jesus’ followers would later say, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12)?
In April 1988 the evening news reported on a photographer who was a skydiver. He had jumped from a plane along with numerous other skydivers and filmed the group as they fell and opened their parachutes. On the film shown on the telecast, as the final skydiver opened his chute, the picture went berserk. The announcer reported that the cameraman had fallen to his death, having jumped out of the plane without his parachute. It wasn’t until he reached for the absent ripcord that he realized he was freefalling without a parachute.
Until that point, the jump probably seemed exciting and fun. But tragically, he had acted with thoughtless haste and deadly foolishness. Nothing could save him, for his faith was in a parachute never buckled on.
Faith in anything but an all-sufficient God can be just as tragic spiritually. I believe we need faith in Jesus if we are to access the unlimited power of God.