Have you ever considered your life to be worthless or that people would just be better off without you? I know, I know this sounds rather melodramatic to some, but in the depths of depression, there are loads of people who feel this way. And telling someone in the throes of this despondency that God loves them may be like singing a song to a deaf ear that cannot comprehend.
Or perhaps we’ve never experienced such sorrow so we just want to tell that individual “cheer up,” “look at the bright side,” or if we’re a little more blunt, “suck it up.” Unfortunately, even with good intentions, this type of advice can cause even greater despair.
Perhaps you are in a low place right now and just want to give up. Can I tell you that your life is worth a great deal to God? Even in the midst of circumstances that seem overwhelming. Even when you have committed some horrible sin, or have been caught up in an addiction, or deserted, or wrongfully accused, your life is meant…well, to live.
Jesus promised us abundant life as we follow Him (John 10:10). An abundant or satisfying life does not mean that everything will go our way. No, we will suffer. He promises us this. But our lives still matter and are worth living, even if the circumstances are horrific.
In John 10:1-14, notice what Jesus says about thieves, and contrast it to what He says about the good shepherd. The thieves (the enemy, Satan and his forces) want to steal and kill and destroy. So, there may be literal attempts on our mortal lives, attempts to steal our joy, or attempts to destroy our very reasons for living. There will be hard times but that does not mean we can’t have an abundant life. Not if you think of abundance as having a rich and wide variety of experiences.
Mankind dreamed of flying for millennia, and there were some rather humorous attempts at flight in our not-so-distant past.* Did you know an airplane (or bird for that matter) essentially “struggles” to get in the air? Lift and thrust must overcome the forces of gravity and drag. But once at cruising altitude we probably feel only the forward momentum, and if we are not afraid to look out the window, we can view mountains, forests, farm land, cities, all from a new and exciting perspective.
Consider that Jesus knows us in our struggles and is with us as we struggle through our daily lives. The thieves may be right outside the gate or climbing the walls, but the Good Shepherd is fighting for us. He has already laid down His life so that we may have a full, abundant, and satisfying life. Yes, we will face obstacles. Yes, we may face real danger. But remember Jesus has overcome the most powerful enemy…that of death.
Even now, He fights for you.
He loves you. Yes, really. Walk with Him. Just walk at His pace, in His path, and let Him guide you to abundant life.
A Moment to Reflect
Do you believe the Good Shepherd fights for you?
Have you ever survived something that was a real danger to your life? Do you feel as if God intervened?
I daresay that most of us have been around people with serious physical deformities or perhaps you yourself suffer from a particular physical challenge. I grew up with a brother who had a form of muscular dystrophy. He died at the age of twenty-eight, and actually that is a rather long life for someone with this disease. Even though there were a lot of things he could not do, his disability did not keep him from studying God’s word and attending church. One thing that caused him problems was—believe it or not—he did not look like he had any kind of physical defect. He could walk without crutches or braces, get around without a wheel chair, and other than always being rather thin, he looked “normal.”
I remember when children figured out that something was not quite right they might say something like “what’s wrong with him?” So I grew up being rather sensitive to the problems of those with physical challenges, and today I cringe when people treat them as less than a person or I see the “normal” people staring. While it is our human nature to be curious, a look can always be accompanied by a nod or smile. (Sorry if it sounds like I’m being a little “preachy.”)
So now I try to imagine how the woman in our story today struggles to make it to the synagogue. Does she have any idea of what is to come? Bent over, unable to even look up to the sky, she is most likely in pain—both physical and emotional—but has learned to cope. Just as many people today learn to cope with pain that we perhaps cannot imagine. She walks to the synagogue, probably alone as people stare and children point and giggle at this oddly shaped woman—that is, unless people have changed a lot since Jesus’ day.
When Jesus sees her, he apparently stops in the middle of his teaching and calls her forward. Let’s take a moment to consider this. He calls her forward in front of everyone—the very people who have stared, ignored her as a fixture of sorts, minimized her existence, and maybe thought of her as being punished by God. Keep in mind that she may have been a young woman whose beauty and potential for finding a husband have been robbed from her. We don’t know her age, only that she has been bent over for eighteen years. So when Jesus calls her forward, what is she thinking? Has she seen Jesus heal before? Is she excited anticipating what the Savior might do or is she embarrassed at having this attention placed on her? I imagine her struggling to come forward, her feet shuffling, trying to lift her head to this teacher. But we know none of these things except that from our perspective the miracle that is about to happen.
And Jesus reveals his plans to her in a brief moment. First He lays his hands on her. We may not think of that as significant especially since it is a common practice for Him to do so. But this woman has probably not received much affection so this touch is significant. And when He does touch her, she is freed from her infirmity. Immediately she straightens up and praises God. Immediately. I love that Jesus can work in such a way, and the Bible indicates nothing of pain from this transaction, but perhaps we can hear the cracking of bones, as joints and vertebrae straighten, as muscles strained by the years of deformity relax, and those meant to hold her up are now free to do so.
Now we glance over at the synagogue leader who whoops and dances with joy!
Well, not quite. Instead he becomes indignant, and notice that he addresses the people (not Jesus), basically telling them that if someone wants healing they can come to the synagogue and be healed on any day of the week besides Saturday.
As quickly as Jesus has healed the woman, He cries out “hypocrites!” addressing the leader as well as the people who back him. He points out that if it’s important to take care of your animals on the Sabbath why can’t this “daughter of Abraham” be healed from an affliction on the Sabbath? That argument makes so much sense that notice what happens. The official and his backers are humiliated while others—the regular folk with little or no religious training—are amazed. All this takes place while the woman as I imagine tests out her new perspective, looks people in the eye for the first time in eighteen years, jumps for joy and runs to tell everyone that she is healed. She experiences joy in God while Christ’s opponents sit sour and humiliated. By the way, Jesus did humiliate his opponents on more than one occasion, and people were often won to Him because of this.
Praying you find joy in Christ, no matter your suffering.
Have you ever done something for the Lord that seemed a little strange to others, but you were so passionate about it that what others thought didn’t matter? The woman in our story today is one such person. She has a passion to worship Jesus. It seems there is something about Him that draws her—something that makes her heart ache to be in his presence.
One thing I want to mention before we go any further is that the other gospels record a story of a woman anointing Jesus. (See Matthew 26:6, John 12:3-7 and Mark 14:3-6). ) That may seem a little confusing, but for now just realize that some Bible scholars have had questions about these passages too. “Whether these accounts represent one event or two, or possibly even three, has been the subject of speculation for centuries.” (http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/women-of-the-passion-anoint-oil)
Identified only as “a sinful woman,” we see that she has a passion for Jesus and as a result, worships Him in a way that seems a little, well…extreme or “over the top” and definitely improper. She has, more than likely, seen Jesus heal, teach, raise the dead, and forgive. When she follows Him to Simon’s home perhaps she wonders if He could forgive her. Maybe she is desperate for the peace that His forgiveness might bring her.
However there are some social barriers in her way. Here she is—a known sinner (probably a prostitute or adulterer), inviting herself into the home of a Pharisee, a religious leader. She also plans to perform an act involving two things that were huge faux pas—touching a man in a society where men and women did not even address each other in public and letting her hair down for someone other than her husband.
But none of this seems to matter to her. Proper or not, she will show Jesus her love. So she anoints Jesus with oil and as she does, her eyes fill with tears, and she kneels at his feet without a word. I can hear the room grow silent. Her tears brim over, and unashamed, she uses them to wash His feet. I imagine she weeps a good bit moved by the fact that she is in His presence, before gently drying his feet with her hair. Think of it, here she is before at least fourteen men (probably more), touching Him and allowing her hair to fall freely over His feet.
At this point Simon begins to think. Perhaps he should not have for Jesus knows his thoughts–thoughts very logical to Simon–that she is a sinner, and if Jesus were a true prophet, He would not allow her to touch Him. First, Jesus tells Simon he wants to say something to him. Almost as if He’s asking for permission. But Simon’s okay with that and tells Jesus to say what’s on His mind.
So Jesus begins his reprimand by telling Simon a story about two debtors, one who owes a great deal and one who owes little. The generous moneylender forgives both debts. “Which one will love him more?” Jesus asks. Simon says that he supposed the one with the larger debt. (I think it’s cool the way Jesus let Simon figure that one out for himself.)
But He is not done.
Jesus points out Simon’s areas of negligence in performing the simple courtesies extended to visitors in that culture. Simon has not even called a servant to wash his guest’s feet. He did not greet Him with a kiss. And look at the “sinner”—she kisses, anoints, washes, and dries His feet. Not only that, but as Jesus says here, she offers these things with her own body—her tears, her hair—and performs the lowliest of services.
He then turns his attention to the woman, and I wish I could have seen the look on Simon’s face as Jesus said these words, comparing him, a religious leader to this “sinner.” We hope he begins to grasp the meaning of Jesus’ words. Maybe he is angry at the rebuke, or perhaps he has a revelation about his own character. I like to think that he becomes less judgmental after this visit with Jesus and begins to show mercy to other “sinners,” realizing he is one also.
So what can we learn from this passage?
As Simon perhaps figured out, we seldom understand what is in a person’s heart. Maybe on the surface, their sin is more obvious than ours, but that does not make it worse. And Jesus accepts an offering made with a worshipful heart.
Jesus is not at all interested in convention. He not only allows the woman’s touch, He compliments her unusual behavior.
Jesus forgives sin. He has such a deep well of love he does not worry about who comes to Him; He doesn’t worry about being influenced or tainted by our sin. As a matter of fact, He appreciates the openness and sincerity of the woman in our story.
No matter what, Jesus longs to demonstrate His love to us. Some of us may have committed the very sins that this woman was guilty of or worse. He still desires that we come to Him and lay all that “junk” on Him. He can bear the weight of our sins and the shame we may feel because of it—and I may add, the shame we may feel from what others have done to us.
Perhaps like me, you become emotional in public worship. Other people may think you’re a little odd for making such a big deal over Him, but I don’t think Jesus minds that at all.
And by the way, the things we have done wrong and the wrongs that have been done to us are not who we are; they do not define us. Jesus sees His followers as righteous and redeemed, and you are of great value to Him.
Jesus ministered to all kinds of people with a wide variety of illnesses and struggles. The one I want to look at today really touches my heart because it shows His concern for a condition that is almost uniquely that of a woman. And one that most of us would probably want to just keep quiet about. But since it is such a sweet story of Christ’s love for us, I want to take a close look at it.
Jesus has just crossed the Sea of Galilee with His disciples when we meet this woman with the bleed (or hemorrhage). Before she reaches him a man named Jairus, a synagogue leader, kneels at Jesus’ feet and pleads with Him to come heal his daughter. So while Jesus (and apparently the crowd) takes off in that direction, this woman whose name is never given approaches Him thinking “if I can only touch the hem of his garment then I will be healed.” I imagine her hand as it reaches through the tangle of sweaty legs and dusty feet. And she does it. She touches His garment.
Before we move on, we should realize a few things about this woman:
She has not only suffered physically and financially (going to one physician after another, spending all her money and growing worse instead of better), she is also suffering spiritually and socially as this affliction marks her as unclean and therefore not fit to go to the temple or synagogue. (Leviticus 15:25-27)
If she is married there is a huge problem with her uncleanness. Her husband would not be able to have relations with her. For twelve years.
We don’t know how old she is so we don’t know if she has children and at this point in time she would be unable to have them.
She is basically an interruption to an important mission—that of a desperate synagogue leader whose daughter is dying.
She goes to Jesus in what she hopes is a private way. (No one else need know of this—she can touch Him, disappear into the crowd, and head home.)
Now it would seem Jesus had a choice to make. At the woman’s touch, He knows something has happened. Should He ignore it and continue with the synagogue leader? Wouldn’t that have been easier? Wouldn’t it have been better to hurry to the dying daughter? Or should He stop and acknowledge what has just happened?
Jesus chooses to do the hard thing.
He embraces this “interruption” and asks who touched Him. I can imagine the look on the disciples’ faces as they say, “well, ya know, you’re in this huge crowd pressing up against you like you’re a rock star or something and you want to know who touched you. Lord, are you…all right?” Yes, I am taking a slight liberty with Scripture but the point is the disciples often have a tough time understanding what Jesus is doing, and maybe they’re a little embarrassed by his behavior. Perhaps they’re thinking “all right, Lord, we’re here for You, but perhaps You need to get out of the sun for a bit.” At any rate, Jesus keeps looking around, pretty much ignores the disciples, and keeps asking. He knows that someone has touched Him and received healing.
Now I’m sure Jesus already knows who touched Him, after all He has the ability (even with His human limitations) to perceive what is in people’s minds and hearts. So…if He does know, why would he ask who touched Him?
Maybe He wants the woman to come to Him by choice, not because He points her out saying “I know it was you.” But isn’t Jesus still trying to embarrass her? Surely she does not wish to be brought to everyone’s attention. She didn’t want to get up in front of all those people and ask healing for this delicate matter. No, she wanted just to touch Him secretly with no one else knowing, and be done with it. But Jesus has other ideas, and I don’t think it is to shame her any further, but rather in His tender way, He wants to tell her something in front of the whole crowd.
Since he is so insistent, the woman comes forward and falls at his feet “in fear and trembling.” Was she afraid she was about to be rebuked for touching Him? After all, she was unclean and had no business touching anyone. And surely she couldn’t help but touch some in the huge crowd. We can’t be sure but we do know she tells Him the “whole truth”, apparently not mincing her words. And I’m wondering now, does this crowd already know about her situation? Do they know this woman has not been to the synagogue for twelve years? Does this synagogue leader who is standing next to Jesus know these things? And are they appalled at her words?
Well, it seems that Jesus knows exactly what to say to her. Jesus does not shame her because of all this. Instead of saying “oh, now look what you’ve done. Now I’m unclean too” He chose compassion. He chose to praise her faith. He chose to tell her she was whole, to go in peace, to be freed from suffering.
But first he calls her “daughter” which probably meant “daughter of Abraham.” I hope you see the significance in that. She had been cut off from worship of the God of Abraham, from so much of what made her Jewish, and now Jesus is calling her “daughter.” He plays a part in re-establishing her place in the community and in the synagogue. If He, as God in the flesh calls her daughter, then He apparently establishes a personal relationship with her. He could have said “dear woman” as He did His mother but He chose the term daughter for significant reasons.
In just a breath or two Jesus establishes a relationship with her, compliments her faith, wishes her peace, and frees her from a terrible affliction.
Jesus may not always free us immediately from our affliction or our suffering, but He does make a way for us to go in peace. And perhaps a more important thing to consider is how we can help others “go in peace.” So here’s some homework: Ask God to give you an opportunity to speak peace into someone’s life outside your regular circle of family, friends, and co-workers. Be honest if this is new or difficult for you. You may find that you have helped someone with a smile or a kind word. Voicing your appreciation to a waitress or a nurse or cashier can make their day and perhaps help lift a burden that you are not even aware of. And don’t be surprised at the peace you find in ministering to another.
The death of a loved one can be traumatic to say the least. Aside from the sadness, the hole left in our lives, or any number of emotions, grief can sneak up on us and strike when we least expect it. A movie, a casual comment, hearing a phrase the loved one used, or even a commercial can trigger tears or the wrenching of our hearts.
Today I want to take another peak at the lives of Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazurus. The three siblings were apparently very close to Jesus, and we have the opportunity to observe the sisters’ reactions and the reaction of our Lord to the loss of a loved one.
When we read about Martha and Mary a few months ago in Luke 10 we saw that Mary had the faith that Jesus most appreciated while Martha—well, he kind of fussed at her for not paying attention to what was important. Mary, who seemed so useless to Martha, was praised for listening and spending time with Jesus. I also believe Jesus’ rebuke of Martha was a gentle one, and He took the sting out of his criticism by addressing her by name. I also believe He was more disappointed with her attitude than anything else. Remember? She called him “Lord” then demanded He tell Mary to help her. In other words, Mary should be serving too, why don’t you see that and say something? (See my July 2015 blog.)
So let’s spend some more time with these two fascinating women and see how they interact with Jesus at a tragic juncture in their lives. It’s kind of a long chapter, but I encourage you to read John 11:1-43 for yourselves.
Just days before Lazurus dies, the sisters send Jesus a message telling Him that Lazarus is sick, referring to their brother as “the one you love.” Perhaps those words are meant to convey the urgency of the situation as well as an expectation that Jesus come immediately. But Jesus, in a seemingly callous manner, waits until after Lazurus dies to go to them. In verses 7-16 Jesus lets the disciples in on His plans. These verses deserve a closer look and we could most definitely delve into this passage and find some great treasures, but I mainly want to stick with Martha and Mary. (Again, I encourage you to read through these verses, and look at what the disciples say about His planned journey.)
In John 11:17, Jesus arrives when Lazurus has been in the tomb for four days. In verse 20 Martha hears He is coming and goes out to meet Him while Mary stays at home.
Wait. What? Is that right?
Yep. That’s Martha all right, heading down the road to meet with Jesus while Mary stays at home with the guests who had come from Jerusalem. Let that sink in for a minute. Martha who previously had been the one hurrying about, anxiously serving and taking care of preparations leaves a house full of mourners and heads out to meet Jesus with no desire that I can see, to serve Him. She simply wants to get to Him. Perhaps she is hoping to receive comfort. Or perhaps she wants to confront Him. All we know is that Martha wants to be with her Lord.
When she meets with Jesus, the first words out of her mouth according to Scripture are: “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Hmm. Sounds like confrontation wins out. Or does it? Perhaps Martha is just seeking honest answers. Jesus doesn’t interrupt her, but listens as she continues (I don’t know about you, but I think Jesus is a pretty good listener), and her next words reveal her heart. “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
Wow! Do you think she really believed that Jesus could raise her brother from the dead? (Hang on and we’ll gain more insight into her thinking.)
Jesus then tells Martha that her brother will rise again. She understands this—she knows he will rise at the last day. But Jesus has something more to share. “I am the resurrection and the life,” He tells her. “He who believes in me will live even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” I imagine Him stating these words gently with an extra dose of the love that He has for this woman.
Martha’s reply is apparently immediate. And look at what she says! (It really is a great answer. Okay, take a deep breath. Ready to see more of Martha’s heart?) “Yes, Lord. I believe you are the Christ, the Son of God who came into the world.”
Dude. The first time I read this I was so proud of Martha because, to be honest, I was a little worried about her harsh attitude toward Mary in the Luke 10 story. But now I see her standing before Jesus having this quiet conversation. And He gives her a chance to confess what she believes about Him. She knows her brother will be raised and live forever. Jesus just had to remind her of what she already believed. He changed her focus and got her to confess aloud what she believed. This must have been a comfort to her for “after she had said this, she went back.”
When she returns, who does she go to? The Bible says she pulls Mary aside and tells her sister that the master is asking for her. I’m so glad we get to see this side of Martha as she delivers the message that Jesus wishes her to come to Him. That is so awesome. Picture Martha’s kindness to Mary as she pulls her aside so they can speak in private. I love it. And Jesus requests her presence. So now it is Mary’s turn to go to Jesus. And she leaves so quickly that those who had come to comfort notice and follow her.
When Mary reaches Jesus, she falls at His feet. Much like her old self for this isn’t the first time she is at His feet. She once washed His feet with her tears, and dried them with her hair (Luke 7:37-38)
in a display of devotion. So now her emotions spill forth again in much the same way but this time with grief. And she says the same words as her sister. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” According to the Scripture, she doesn’t add Martha’s statement that God would do whatever He asked, yet Jesus understands her aching spirit. He is moved by her weeping and the weeping of those who had come with her. Maybe this is the reason “Jesus wept” for as soon as He asks where they have laid Lazurus and they tell Him “come and see,” He weeps. The ISV states that Jesus burst into tears. The Aramaic Bible in Plain English says “And the tears of Yeshua were coming.” I don’t know about you, but I want to weep when I read those words. Theologians have come up with a number of reasons for Jesus’ tears. All we really know is that Jesus is moved with compassion for Mary and for all the Jews who had come with her.
The people lead Him to the tomb and as Jesus tells them to remove the stone, Martha objects. “Lord, by this time there will be a stench.” Keep in mind that we just heard Martha say that God would do whatever Jesus asks, but now her practical side has settled on her and she thinks about the smell. (Notice that once again she prefaces her objection with “Lord.”)
As you probably know, the stone is moved and Jesus calls Lazurus from the grave. Many come to believe in Him because of this miracle much to the chagrin of the Pharisees. It is interesting that the Bible says nothing about Martha and Mary’s reaction to having their brother back. And I wonder–do they dance with joy as they welcome him into their embrace? Do perhaps both of them fall at Jesus feet and cry tears of joy? As Jesus wept with them, does he now laugh with them? Or maybe they stand in stunned silence.
But God was glorified as Jesus said He would be (verse 4), and both sisters find comfort in Christ.