“A Story within a Story”
May 12, 2019
God’s timing in our stories is intended to build faith, show his loving kindness and bring him glory.
I. The Outside Story - Part 1 (Luke 8:40-42)
II. The Inside Story (Luke 8:43-48)
III. The Outside Story - Part II (Luke 8:49-56)
Two weeks ago we prayed for Luke Reed, whose house had sold, and who was finally going to get to move to Wichita to re-join his family. Part of his story fascinated me. Some months after the hurricane, when Donna and the kids had already moved, Luke had the thought that maybe his company had an office in or near Wichita, and he could get a transfer to that office. Wood Group is a huge company but they didn’t have any offices nearby, so that fell through.
That reminds me of another story. In 1986 I left Exxon to start my own business, mostly doing mechanical engineering software. It was pretty successful. But a couple of years into that I felt called to full time ministry, and made plans to go to seminary in the fall of 1988. I hoped to just take the business with me and run it from Illinois instead of Texas. Then we discovered we were going to have another baby, our third, in the fall of that year. So with great common-sense and discretion we decided to put off seminary a year. Hannah was born in November and we committed to go to Illinois in August of the next year. But as I continued to run the business from home with a new baby, I began to wonder if I could do seminary and the business at the same time, especially after we discovered we were going to have another other baby that fall.
Actually that reminds me of another story. In 1996 and 1997 our family had a foster son, Alex. He was a kid from really hard places: an orphanage in Russia, fetal alcohol, a failed adoption. We were just doing foster care, but a permanent situation for Alex was really hard to find. We wondered if we were called to adopt him. Bethany really thought we were. But every time we prayed and talked and considered, we could not get peace, could not make that decision.
Our text this week is a story within a story, a story which interrupts a story. That can be frustrating at times, especially when you’re the one waiting for the first story to resolve. In today’s text the first story, the outside story, is about a man named Jairus whose daughter was dying. The inside story is about a woman whom Jesus heals from an unstoppable flow of blood. But Jairus is the one waiting for his desperate need to be met, and I think the interruption happens so that he can learn greater faith. It’s a timing loop, to make his miracle all the more glorifying to God. As we study this text, Luke 8:40-56, I hope we’ll learn that God’s timing in our stories is intended to build faith, show his loving kindness and bring him glory. Let’s begin with the first story up to just before the interruption.
Luke 8:40-42 Now when Jesus returned, the crowd welcomed him, for they were all waiting for him. 41And 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, 42for he had an only daughter, about twelve years of age, and she was dying. As Jesus went, the people pressed around him.
Remember the sequence of Luke 8. After teaching in Galilee to huge crowds, Jesus and the disciples crossed the lake. This is when the storm threatened them, and Jesus calmed the storm. Reaching the other side, they encountered a man possessed by a legion of demons. Jesus cast the demons into the herd of pigs, and healed the man, but the locals were fearful and asked Jesus to leave. So, in our present text, Jesus goes back across the lake to Galilee, to the crowds that had stayed behind waiting for him. In the midst of the crowd, Luke tells about one man. Jairus was a ruler in the synagogue, a position of responsibility and respect in the Jewish community. He would lead the synagogue services, choosing the readers, caring for the scriptures, maintaining order. If the town was Capernaum, then Jairus almost certainly knew who Jesus was and may even have already been an eye-witness to miracles in the synagogue. Now, in his moment of need he seeks Jesus. You see his daughter, his twelve-year-old daughter, his only daughter, was sick and dying.
Fathers, put yourselves in his place. Your only daughter suffering some lethal agony and you can’t do a thing. You’re helpless. “If I could take your pain, I would. If I could take your place, I would.” You’re frustrated, angry, pounding the walls. So it’s in desperate need and last hope that Jairus tears himself from the house, and goes to find the teacher who just returned from across the lake. Did Jairus have any faith at this point? Did Jairus have any confidence in Jesus? I don’t know. But if he did, it was almost certainly small, mustard seed sized faith. What Jairus had was a desperate need. Jesus was his only hope.
This may be where you are today. There are two major areas of life in which our need can parallel this story. First is the issue of sinfulness. In being sinners, every one of us has been in the position of Jairus. We’ve had a desperate need. The peril of sin is very real. The consequence of sin is very real - death, separation from a holy God, with resulting, everlasting torment. And Jesus is our only hope. Peter once said that there was no other name, no other way apart from Jesus, by which we might be saved. In that sense all of us are like Jairus. We have that compelling need to turn to Jesus because all other hope has failed, and our situation is desperate. Praise God that Jesus offers us hope, offers us salvation and rescue, forgiveness of our sins and restoration, as we saw last week, to relationship with him and with the Father through the Spirit.
But even as his children we face needs like this in everyday life. Most everyone here has been desperate or is desperate right now because of personal sin, because of broken, strained relationships, because of loneliness, because of sickness, because of financial difficulties. We’ve had only Jesus to turn to as our only hope. Praise God that in those situations, He is the God of all hope, our strength, the refuge for our hearts, a very present help in times of trouble. Like Jairus, many of us have had to entrust our loved ones into the hands and care of Jesus. Some here have faced that desperate illness. Some have faced the consequences of their child’s sinful choices. Some have seen the fruit of their own toxic parenting, and yet are desperate for their child’s well-being. Our stories are a lot like Jairus’ story. We desperately need Jesus, our only hope.
I’d love to tell you the rest of Jairus’ story, but I can’t, because it’s interrupted. Another story is told, and Jairus has to wait. Verses 42-48. As Jesus went, the people pressed around him. 43And 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. 44She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, and immediately her discharge of blood ceased. 45And 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!” 46But Jesus said, “Someone touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out from me.” 47When 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. 48And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”
In this pressing crowd was a woman. She’d been subject to bleeding, what we call female problems, for twelve years. She’d been bleeding like this, waiting for healing, since Jairus’ daughter was a baby. Luke says simply that no one could heal her. It may be that Luke, being a physician, has edited Mark’s account, which says she had suffered a great deal under the care of many physicians and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. If you were a doctor and were looking for a place to shorten an account, wouldn’t that be a sentence you would cut? But again, the point is that, as with Jairus, this was someone in a desperate situation, someone with a real, deep, need.
This woman’s flow of blood would make her ceremonially unclean. The Old Testament law was clear. Leviticus 15:25 “If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, not at the time of her menstrual impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond the time of her impurity, all the days of the discharge she shall continue in uncleanness.” Numbers 5:2 “Command the people of Israel that they put out of the camp everyone who is leprous or has a discharge.”
So socially, physically, and spiritually, this flow of blood would impact the woman’s life. She would no longer be part of society or worship, and would be shunned by others. She’d been that way for twelve years. In her desperation, she comes to Jesus, but she doesn’t come openly. Why? Maybe she wouldn’t have been allowed to get close to him. She might have been shooed away as unclean. Or worse, she might have had to tell about her illness in front of all the people.
In her shame she preferred simply to come up behind him and touch the fringe of his garment. Yet this was not a hopeless, second-best attempt. The garment Jesus wore would have been the traditional Tallith or prayer shawl. The corners of the prayer shawl were called wings, and hanging from them were fringes, and that’s what she reached out to hold. Why? Because Malachi’s prophecy of the Messiah had said that he would come with healing in his wings, and so there was a tradition that touching the Messiah’s cloak would bring healing. This is why you see people trying to touch Jesus throughout the Gospels.
Luke tells us that immediately when she took hold of it, her flow of blood ceased. But in that very moment Jesus asked: “Who touched me?” Now this seems at first, to the whole crowd, a strange question. Peter looks around him and he says “Master, the people are all crowding and pressing against you.” How can you ask which one touched you? But Jesus persisted. “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out of me.” Is this the norm? Could just anyone touch Jesus, and power to heal would go forth? No. Could Jesus heal without knowing who or why or how? I don’t think so, at least not in his divine nature. As God he is sovereign over healing, and alone has the power to heal, so he would know when he had healed, who he had healed, how he had healed. But it is possible that in his humanity, his human nature, he didn’t know. The understanding of how humanity and Godhead interacted in the person of Jesus Christ is truly beyond our understanding, yet it does seem from the Scripture that there are times when something God knows is not known to Jesus.
In this case, though, I think the source of the question is much simpler. Jesus wanted the woman to come forward. Why? First it was the right thing for her. All her acquaintances must have known of her uncleanness. If she was to be received into normal religious and social life, her cure needed to be public knowledge. Jesus made that happen. Second, and probably more important, Jesus did not want the woman to see her cure as some impersonal magic. A conversation with her enabled Jesus to show her that it was her faith in him that counted, not some tradition. Finally, Jesus used the healing of this woman to show Jairus, who must have been standing there shifting from foot to foot in impatience, that he too needed faith, and that his timing was perfect.
When the woman sees that she can’t avoid the embarrassment, she comes forward. She’s trembling. She falls at his feet. She must have been joyful, overwhelmed by her cure, but also fearful that he would be angry at her for touching him without permission. But she explains what her disease was, how she had found him, and how she had instantly been healed when she touched him. So Jairus hears Jesus say “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.’ He tells the woman, and thus Jairus, the key truth that it was faith, her confidence in Jesus, that prompted God to work this miracle. Confidence in Jesus is the key. That’s what Jairus needed to learn, as we’ll see in the rest of the story.
But I believe there is something else going on here as well. This delay, which has to be frustrating and even agonizing to Jairus, has another purpose, not only to increase his faith, but to increase the glory that Jesus would get from meeting this need. When I was in computer program, especially in the archaic days of personal computers, if you wanted something to happen on the screen with specific timing, you built a timing loop. You had the computer processor count to a certain number before the next thing happened. I’m convinced God uses timing loops that look like wasted time to us, in order to sovereignly answer prayers and order the universe. I’ve been observing this for so long that now I can almost recognize the feel of one of God’s timing loops as it’s happening.
For example, the last story I interrupted at the beginning, going from my own business to seminary, was a timing loop. Yes, we found out we were having another baby, Ruth, who was born on December 22nd at the exact end of my first semester of seminary. So our plan did not avoid that, and it turned out to be a blessing. But also, during the year we delayed seminary my customers learned of my plan and, without prompting, three offered to buy my company. I took the best offer, which not only paid for seminary but gave me part time work all the way through seminary and during the first few years of Trinity. If we’d gone a year earlier as we wanted, none of that would have happened.
So let’s read the rest of Jairus’ story, verses 49-56: 9While he was still speaking, someone from the ruler’s house came and said, “Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the Teacher any more.” 50But Jesus on hearing this answered him, “Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well.” 51And 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. 52And all were weeping and mourning for her, but he said, “Do not weep, for she is not dead but sleeping.” 53And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. 54But taking her by the hand he called, saying, “Child, arise.” 55And her spirit returned, and she got up at once. And he directed that something should be given her to eat. 56And her parents were amazed, but he charged them to tell no one what had happened.
The worst possible thing that could happen, happens. While Jesus is delayed with the healing of this woman, Jairus’ daughter has died. Jairus, who had been listening and watching, anxious to keep moving, but also, maybe, encouraged by the woman’s miracle, is suddenly thrown into the pit of grief. If he is like most people, he can hardly comprehend the words that this messenger is saying. “Don’t bother the teacher anymore, your little girl is dead.”
Many years ago I read When Life is Changed Forever, by Rick Taylor. He describes his response to the death of his son. “When we come face to face with death, it is an unbelievable torment. We are stunned. It cannot be true. Yet our insides ache indescribably because we know that it is.” C. S. Lewis, in the journal he began after the death of his wife says “No one ever told me, that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. Maybe that’s why Jesus says to Jairus “Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well.” She will be saved. Jesus said almost the same thing to the woman “Daughter, your belief has saved you.” What he affirmed in the woman he now desired from Jairus: belief, faith. And what he’d achieved for the woman he now promised to Jairus: rescue, healing. While you wait, cling to faith.
Again, maybe that’s what you need to hear: Have faith that at the end of your waiting Jesus will show this same loving kindness to you. Jesus doesn’t change. His compassion doesn’t change. His power doesn’t change. He will show you his love as you seek him in your circumstances. And this is specifically his counsel for timing loops. When we are waiting, Jesus teaches us to wait well, which is to say, with faith, so that fear and anxiety do not overwhelm us.
I recently read an article in Christianity Today by Elise Pappas. She tells of waiting for news about what turned out to be a treatable cancer. She says “We grow impatient, become frustrated and give up on things, give up on promises that Jesus has for us instead of waiting that little bit longer to inherit them.” Waiting well, she says, starts with waiting patiently. Psalms 37:7. She says that waiting patiently is actually an act of obedience in following Jesus. Second, wait quietly, Psalm 62:5. You’ll see people waiting for something who become angry and frustrated. It happens every day at traffic lights. People who have been waiting for years can become bitter, upset and very vocal about the injustice that they have felt, angry at the world and at God, doing anything but waiting quietly. The third thing we ought to do is to wait expectantly, Psalm 130:5. While some people grow impatient or frustrated, there are also those who become dismayed, depressed and despondent. Scripture helps us to wait with eager anticipation and hope in our hearts, willing and ready for God’s next move. We are in a timing loop, and the outcome of that loop will reveal God’s loving kindness and bring him glory.
Jesus arrives at the house, and picks out five who will accompany him in. Two are the girl’s parents. The others are Peter, James, and John. These were the disciples to whom He reveals more glory than any others. They see the transfiguration, the Garden of Gethsemane, the resurrection. In fact, they became the foundation of the early church. Why? Because these things they’d seen led them to have great faith in God’s loving kindness and his glory.
Before Jesus enters the room where the girl lays, he addresses the professional mourners possibly been hired in advance by Jairus to weep. “Stop wailing,” Jesus says. “She is not dead but asleep.” The mourners laugh at him, the only time the New Testament records laughter. Back in chapter 7 Jesus voices his critics words “We played the flute and you did not dance; we sang a dirge and you did not weep.” That’s what’s happening here. Jesus won’t weep because he knows the real power of his compassion. But why did Jesus say she was just asleep? It may have been part of his effort to keep from becoming too popular, to avoid being made king by force. Some would doubt she had died. But because Jesus used the term this way, as he did about Lazarus, it became normal in the early church to speak of those who had died as having fallen asleep. The New Testament writers knew death was only temporary.
At that point, amid the laughter, Jesus goes into the room. In the usual understated manner of Jesus’ miracles, Luke simply says, that he took her by the hand and said, “My child, get up!” The Gospel of Mark records this in Aramaic, talitha koum, the words a mother would say to wake her daughter in the morning. As simply as that, her spirit returned, and she stood. Jesus, realizing that she hadn’t eaten for days of sickness, told her parents to give her something. Isn’t it just like Jesus, not only to heal her, but to care for her next meal?
We have met Jesus in this gospel as a person of tremendous compassion, tremendous love. He showed that love to the woman who was bleeding. Now he’s shown this love to Jairus, and to the little girl, just as he promised. So what is your need. Is it strength against sin, or support in suffering, or help in relationships, or victory over disease and sickness. I can’t promise you from Scripture what the outcome of your need will be, but I can promise that Jesus will act toward you in compassion. And I can promise that he will be with you as you wait well. “Don’t be afraid, only believe.” Even the ending shows that compassion. Jesus tells the astonished parents not to tell anyone what happened. Now in general I think his motivation for asking the recipients of his miracles for silence has been to keep the crowds from wild speculation of his kingship. But in this case there may be another motivation at work. He may have wanted to save this little girl from being the center of attention. If her parents were quiet about the event, maybe she would more quickly resume a little girl’s life.
So do you see the love and compassion of Jesus in these seventeen verses? It’s a compassion so great that he would meet the needs of this sick woman. It’s a love so great that he would use that interruption to strengthen Jairus’ faith. It’s a compassion that puts us in timing loops to magnify his loving kindness.
So Gail and I were waiting for God to tell us to adopt Alex or not. After quite a wait, we had some communication with old friends, Harry and Maria Stobie. They had moved to Nacogdoches, and had just become empty nesters. Maria visited us, and in that visit she went from warning us of the heartbreak that comes with foster care to being convinced that she wanted to be Alex’s permanency. Harry was at first not on board with this. He was looking forward to the empty nest. But God worked in special ways too involved to tell here to bring him to the same conviction. It was a timing loop, and the result was the best for all concerned. God showed again his love and faithfulness.
And of course most of you know the end of Luke’s timing loop. On a lark just a few weeks ago he checked again to see if Wood Group had an office anywhere near Wichita. It turns out that while he was waiting, Wood had bought M.W. Kellogg. And they do have an office near Wichita. He asked them if they had office space. They did. He asked his management if he could pick up his job and do it there. And they say yes, no problem. So now he’s working there, ten minutes away from the home his family moved to. God’s timing in our stories is builds faith, shows his loving kindness and brings him glory.