Jesus’ power over sickness and death

Scripture: Luke 8:40-55
Speaker: John Johnstone


I was reading Joshua in my devotions the other morning and was thinking about the amazing statement of faith by the prostitute Rahab. She says to the two spies: ‘I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.’ (Joshua 2:9-11)

What’s going on here? The amazing deeds of the Lord God have been reaching the people of Jericho. Notice, not just one deed, but several. I think it’s likely they also heard about the 12 plagues, though I could be wrong. They heard about the miracle of the Red Sea being parted, and the defeat of powerful kings, and now it is obvious to Rahab that the Lord is able to do anything he wants. The Lord is in charge. He is God in Heaven above and the earth below. There is nothing which he cannot do and no situation he is unable to deal with. And the reports of the Lord’s mighty acts lead to faith in the heart of Rahab.

If we take a step back for a moment, and take a bird’s-eye view of what is going on in Luke chapter 8, there is a great parallel. We see the great exploits of Jesus Christ the Lord, who demonstrates total authority of nature calming a raging storm, authority over the forces of evil by expelling thousands of demons from a possessed man, and here we see his authority over and sickness and even over death itself. I hope that we are just as impressed by the Lord Jesus as Rahab was, and that we also share her response of faith. There’s no situation, however bleak, which Jesus is not adequate for. It doesn’t get much bleaker than death, and even that Jesus can handle. So, let’s come to the same conclusion as Rahab and say that Jesus is God in Heaven above and the earth beneath and we can come to him in all our need and he is able to help. These miracles reveal that Jesus is God the Lord, the same God who parted the Red sea and brought the plagues upon Egypt.

I could have taken two sermons to cover these two miracles, but I feel more comfortable taking them together, as they are intertwined in the passage before us, and even linked together by the number 12, as the woman has been sick for 12 years, and the dying girl is also 12. Both miracles reveal more to us about the identity of Jesus as God and both have much to teach us about true faith in Christ, and how the Lord strengthens that faith.

1. A desperate woman, whose only hope is Jesus

We don’t know much about this woman – only that she’d had a bleeding disease for 12 years, and that she was in desperate need as no one could help her. If you had such a problem, you were unclean in the eyes of the law (Leviticus 15:25) and anything you touched could make others unclean were they to touch it. Perhaps the pandemic will give us a small insight into how frustrating and lonely this must have been for her. Some of us have had to self-isolate for a period of time. You cannot be in contact with other people. For most people, this is extremely tough. Now imagine your self-isolation lasting for 12 years. You’ve spent all your money seeking cures from doctors but to no avail. Now you have no money left, and almost no energy left. You are desperate. You can’t even go to church.

This woman should not have been out in public, and wants to operate ‘under the radar’. The most important thing to notice about this woman is that she believes Jesus can help her. In other words, she has faith in Christ. That’s the thing Jesus homes in on from this incident: ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.’ (Verse 48)
Through faith in Jesus, this woman is restored to health both in body and in soul. This word ‘healed’ here is the word ‘saved’. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace. You now have peace with God.

How wonderful. God has been weaving together all the events of this poor woman’s life in order to bring her to this point of desperation. Money could not help her. Doctors could not help her. And she could not help herself. From this place, she casts herself on Jesus Christ.

Isn’t this a picture of becoming a Christian? We too are ‘unclean’ in God’s sight because of our wrong behaviour and wrong thinking. Our sin means that we are isolated from God, our Maker.

As long as we think we’re good people, and can deal with our problems on our own, we think we don’t need Jesus. But coming to the end of our own resources is the best possible thing that can happen to us, if it brings us to cast ourselves on Jesus for help. Just ask the prodigal son – it took him to reach the nadir, the lowest point feeding pigs, to come to his senses. Can you relate to that?

Even as Christians, we might have our own spiritual sickness, and are trying all kinds of remedies and nothing is working. We feel an emptiness inside and nothing is working. ‘My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.’ (Jeremiah 2:13) Friends, get on your knees and pray to Jesus about it. Ask for his help. He is able.

Her story does not end with healing though. It ends with her faith being strengthened by Jesus, though this is not pleasant for her at the time. Jesus ‘flushes her out’. He says, ‘Who touched me?’ (Luke 8:45)

Peter thinks Jesus is being unreasonable. How can someone ask such a question when the crowd are crammed together like sardines? We’ve all experienced a large crowd where people are jostling for the best spot, whether at a concert, fireworks display or the January sales.

Of course, Jesus knows exactly who has touched him, but knows that this woman’s faith will be greatly bolstered by a public confession of what and who has just transformed her life. Yes, it must have been uncomfortable for her. Yes, she is trembling, perhaps fearful of being exposed as an unclean woman in public. But Jesus in his wisdom takes her through this experience for her own good.

She tells this large crowd what her problem was and how Jesus had saved her. How beautiful. What a testimony! Jesus takes her embryonic and probably confused faith and gives in clarity, fanning it into flame. Now there could be no question or dubiety about why she had received this healing. It wasn’t because Jesus had magic clothes. Rather, it was because she has placed her trust in the person of Jesus. And that’s exactly how spiritual healing comes to us today too.

I love thinking about this woman touching Jesus’ garment, probably with a muddled understanding of what she was doing, but within all that confusion she has faith in Jesus. She might have been confused about many things, and lacked a clear theology. But Jesus sees all of that and is delighted in her faith. He speaks so tenderly to her, the only person he calls ‘daughter’ in all of Scripture. And he takes this faith and strengthens it.

Jesus is the same today. Perhaps your faith is mixed up. You have faith in Jesus, but have so many unanswered questions, and have gone through so much pain that it is faith mixed with all kinds of others things, including doubt, and confusion. Be assured that Jesus still sees your faith! Perhaps Jesus will, as he does here, bring your faith more into the open in coming days. It might be uncomfortable, but he has a loving purpose in it.

2. A desperate man, whose only hope is Jesus

Like the woman, this man called Jairus is desperate. His daughter is gravely ill, and this is the last situation parents want to be in. He is a well-known and well-respected man, in charge of organising the worship in the synagogue. She is beyond human help and needs something extraordinary. His daughter is dying so there is no time for a delay. Time is of the essence. How must Jairus had felt when Jesus stopped to help the sick woman in the crowd. It must have seemed like an age. But where there is life there is hope. However, next comes the worst of all possible news. Death.

‘Your daughter is dead,’ he said. “Don’t bother the teacher anymore.’ (Verse 49) These words must have gutted him. Don’t bother the teacher anymore… What does this imply? It implies that Jesus might have been able to help the living, but there’s no way he can help the dead. They underestimate Jesus. Jesus’ response is stunning: ‘Hearing this, Jesus said to Jairus, Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.’ (verse 50) Jesus is saying to Jairus – ‘keep on believing’, even when all seems lost.

Jesus arrives at the house and takes Peter, James and John in with him, perhaps as witnesses. When Jesus tells the mourners that the girl is ‘asleep’ they laugh at him. But to Jesus, who is the Maker of the universe, death is just like sleep. When our kids were younger, we used to have to rouse them gently from sleep in the morning. It was easy to do. For Jesus, rousing someone from death is just as easy. ‘My child, get up!’ Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up. (Verse 54-55)

Let’s not be so familiar with this story that we lose the wonder of what’s happening. And let’s not lose the wonder of the implications for us today either. It means that Jesus has authority of nature, evil powers, sickness, and even death. This miracle is also a preview of what will happen at Christ’s return. Do you really believe that you will be resurrected with a new and perfect body to eternal life? This miracle tells us that indeed, this will be so, as it proves that Jesus and Jesus alone holds the keys of death in his hands. He is the way, the truth and the life, the resurrection and the life. He is God-in-the-flesh.

Let’s think for a moment about Jairus’ journey of faith. Like the sick woman, it is desperate circumstances which brings him to throw himself on Jesus. We can see his faith in verse 41 as he pleads with Jesus to come to his house. However, Jesus wants him to have even deeper and stronger faith. How does this come about? It happens through Jairus’ prayer request being delayed. The delay was the worst kind of delay imaginable as it was a delay ending in death. Jesus says to Jairus in effect, ‘You trusted me with sickeness Jairus, now trust me with death. Keep on believing.’

Let’s get personal now. Have you ever been desperate and prayed to the Lord and then over months or even years, yet things did not get better but actually got worse? I have. The Lord is delaying and it is painful and confusing at times. But there’s a loving purpose in it. He wants to take us to a place of deeper trust in himself.

I can think of situations where it seems God is saying to me, you’ve trusted me when things are really bad, but do you think I’m adequate when they seem dead and hopeless? Keep on believing. For both the woman and for Jairus, the crucible of years of suffering, and the crucible of delay bring about a purer and more refined faith. God’s ways are not our ways.

From my limited perspective, God’s timing seems out so often. But the truth is, his timing is never out. He is seldom early but he is never late. We can trust Jesus with our lives and our deaths, our marriages and the raising of our children, the work of the church, our faults and our failures. We are weak but he is strong. Blessed be the name of the Lord.