by Neil Richards
In our coming to Christ we too are all different. No two conversions are the same. All have been converted in different ways.
On the closing evening of the Aberystwyth Conference Neil Richards, a retired minister and member of the Caergwrle Evangelical Church in North Wales, preached thus on Mark 5:21-43
How very different people are. No two are just the same. God makes no clones. The message has been the same, with the same God at work, but through very different personalities. The differences in fact do not matter. The excellency of the power is of God. No two people are alike, not even identical twins. There were such in school with me. I was very friendly with one but I hardly knew the other. They were quite different people.
There are two people in Mark 5. There is Jairus the ruler of the synagogue. His approach to the Lord Jesus was public, falling at his feet, while the anonymous woman with her haemorrhages and failures to get medical help for 12 years comes secretly to the Lord. In our coming to Christ we too are all different. No two conversions are the same. All have been converted in different ways. How differently God has dealt with us. It is the same washing and regenerating but the details and the story is different in every case. Some Christians can tell you the very hour they believed on him. Paul was like that. He could go to the place on the Damascus Road and remember the day it all happened. John Wesley knew the date in Aldersgate in London when he heard Luther’s preface to the epistle to the Romans being read and light dawned in his heart: “I felt my heart strangely warmed.” Wesley knew thenceforth that his faith was in Jesus Christ. Thomas Charles was like that after he had been taken to Llangeitho in his teens and heard Daniel Rowland preaching on Hebrews and then he was converted. He always remembered that day in his life, marking it annually in his diary. Yet there are others truly converted and believing who cannot tell you the hour or day or month or year when it took place. It is often like that in children brought up in Christian homes. When did that change take place? That question is not the vital one, but to know that we have passed from death to life, and that the work of grace is going on in our hearts. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what time the sun rose this morning but that you can enjoy its light and warmth.
Let us focus on thee two people. Both of these stories are stories of faith. What is faith? What does it mean to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ? The Bible answers by showing us situations and saying, “See this person and see how he or she responds.” That is the result of faith in the heart. Two fine examples of faith in the Lord Jesus are here
She had faith borne of need after 12 years of distress. In failure, desperation and hopelessness she came to the Lord. She could have said with the Psalmist that it was out of the depths she cried to him. That is always true in some measure in faith. We must know our need and condition. Faith arises out of a heart burdened with sin. The first work of the Spirit in our hearts is seen in our consciousness of sin and need. We are given a glimpse of ourselves in the presence of God. It is in some measure out of that need that we meet with Christ alone. Faith comes from our guilt and lostness. Haven’t many people lost the gravity of their need because they have lost any sense of their sin. So there is also a loss of the fear of God, and the judgement to come, and the precious atonement for our sins. “What must I do to be saved?” is the great question. From what? The inner rages of sin? Yes, in all the ways it destroys us, yes. But the most serious need is to be saved from the wrath to come. We have present needs but they go on into the eternal world. There are dark consequences in this world and the world to come. Only against that background do we see the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Someone once criticised Anselm’s biblical doctrine of the atonement, but he replied, “You have not faced up to the gravity of sin.” Only when we have seen the divine indictment on us as sinners do we appreciate our need of a sacrifice and atonement. Have you been making light of sin? Sin is not something to be trivialised, and the voice of a man’s conscience can become stifled. May God give you a sense of sin and his mercy. So faith in the Lord Jesus Christ always comes from need.
Faith is a conviction that Christ alone can meet that need. When this woman heard about Jesus she came to him. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. The Gospel is the great magnet that draws men and women to Jesus Christ. Faith is trust in a Saviour who is made known to us in his person, love and saving power. The purpose of preaching and testimony is to introduce men and women to the Lord Jesus Christ.
By the gospel and its message of grace God works out those eternal counsels that he has in the Christ to save a people. The gospel comes to us with all its wide invitations and gracious calls – “come unto me all you that labour . . .if any man thirst let him come to me. . .” The words are addressed to sinners. No one can ever know his election before his conversion. All we can know is that we are poor lost sinners and Jesus Christ came from glory to save such. All that we can know is known to us through the gospel. It is like coming to a door with an invitation to all to pass through it when so many things would seem to disqualify us. But when we enter we read on the other side, “Chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world.” You can only know your election as you have entered and responded to the invitations. That is how faith works. It is borne out of need. Jesus Christ can meet the deepest needs of my heart. This woman had a conviction that the Lord could help her, and she came to him and stretched out her hand to him. There was this commitment to him in faith.
Notice here the secrecy of her approach to him. How helpful that is. She felt she could not come openly but she had devised a way. In the crowd and getting close to him she stretched out to him and touched his clothes. She was healed in that moment and she knew inwardly that he had healed her. No one else knew of it and she was ready to move on and quietly put her life back together, but all her plans went wrong. The Lord Jesus stopped and asked who had touched him. The disciples thought is a very strange question for he was being jostled by the press. Men and women were pressing close to him and brushed against his clothes. “Who touched you? You are in a crowd. We have no idea.” But the Lord Jesus looked around and waited. Then out of the crowd came this woman and she fell at his feet and she acknowledged what she had sought to keep hidden.
Why did the Lord Jesus constrain her to own up and make herself known? Because he had something to teach her, and ourselves. First, he wanted her to know that power of faith. She must know how and why she had been healed. It was not simply that she had touched his clothes. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.” It was because she had touched him that she had been healed. She had trusted in him, not in some ‘magic’ contact with his clothes. We must never separate outward things for inward faith. I was once in the Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Bucharest and standing in that cavernous place I noticed a woman near the wall standing and holding her hands against a casket. I learned that it was said to contain the bones of a saint, and she believed that if she could touch it that healing power would flows to you from it. The Turin Shroud caused excitement because people said if it had touched Jesus’ body and we could be near we also could get benefit and healing.
“It is not touching things outwardly,” he told her, “but faith in me, from your heart, that is all important.” We need to reach out the unseen hand of faith, the empty hand stretched out to the Saviour. Nothing in my hands I bring simply to thy cross I cling. Then you will know the difference between the false remedies of this world and the saving power of the Lord Christ. He wants you to know that
He always calls for a public confession of faith. She wanted it so be so secret, being healed quietly, and then disappearing into anonymity again. Why the secrecy? Why not come openly? We have a hint of the answer. It may have been a sense of shame. The disease she was suffering from in Jewish society and under Mosaic law rendered her unclean, and she was separated from the services of the temple. The Levitical prohibition in that kind of symbolism was teaching the inherent sinfulness of human nature. With an issue of blood she was cut off from the worship of God in the formal sense. There was a sense of shame about her. Did that hinder her? Maybe there were uncertainties. But she knew he could heal her, and so she comes secretly. There were depths of love in Christ that she had not grasped.
The Lord Jesus is the Son of God and the only Saviour and you have seen examples of this through the preaching of the week. You don’t doubt that he has saving power. You have seen your friends saved, but there is your own uncertainty as to whether this is true for you. Maybe some guilt lingers for years. Some failure, some shame, even some long hardening of the heart. Though he is a Saviour to others you know there is something that keeps you from coming to him. Look at this woman and how the Lord dealt with her. Her faith is weak, but the Lord did not send her away.
It is not the greatness of our faith that saves us but the greatness of the Saviour. A weak faith saves as well as a strong faith. There are many benefits from a strong faith, but a weak faith fixed in Christ will save, and that woman reminds us of that. Jesus gives her more than she asks. He gives her peace and he meets her deepest needs – which are more than her body’s healing.
You can never be a secret follower of the Saviour. How hard it was as a teenager to let my family know my faith, and then in the RAF to let folk knew whose we were and whom we served, so you kneeled down by your bed at the end of the day. It was not easy. But the Lord must be honoured before men. Belief in the heart and also confession with the lips are both needed. There are two men in the gospel who were secret disciples of the Lord, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, for a little while but it could not be for long. They took his body down from Golgotha. The cross brought them out. Maybe many of you are like this woman. You have asked for mercy and you have put your trust in him in your heart. You find yourself saying, “My faith is private and I don’t have to tell everyone. I don’t need to say anything.” I want to say to you that those are not Christ’s terms. We must have him on his terms. He is Lord and we can’t lay them down. He is Lord and we must take up the cross and follow him all the days of our earthly lives.
He is longing for the Lord Jesus to come to his home where his daughter is dying. He is kept waiting. Why? He was testing this man’s faith, drawing it out and making it stronger and making it work. Faith grows through testing. The Syrophoenician woman persisted and the Lord Jesus made her wait and even the dogs can eat the crumbs from the master’s table. Faith was tested and drawn out.
If you are a Christian you must expect your faith to be tested. Does your Lord give you a stronger faith? I pray for that every day. Then the Lord has sometimes strange ways to answer that prayer. Often by trials he answers prayer. In John Newtons’s hymn he learns that by earthly trials God breaks our schemes of earthly joy that we may find our joy in Him.
Jairus’ daughter actually dies and then at that point Jesus says, “Don’t fear, only believe.” If only you can hear these words at the end of the conference those same words. The sounds of mourning filled the house with noise and the Lord Jesus asked them why, telling them that she was only asleep and they laughed him to scorn – they knew better. He came into that room and at her bed he stands as the Resurrection and the Life. He raised her to life with all the tenderness and gentleness of a mother’s touch. We have the actual words he said, “Talitha cumi!” No magical formula. Simple plain words. “Little girl I say unto you, arise.” What gentleness and yet what power. When men try to do powerful big things we observe the difference, that that is not always God’s way. With extraordinary gentleness he raised this girl to life. He heals this particular girl, not as a case, but as a little child and in those simple words are all the power of God. Elijah stood outside the cave and experienced an earthquake,
wind and storm. Then the still small voice was heard. Sometimes it actually is like that. Sometimes it is an earthquake. Other times it is like Lydia and an opening of the heart. The power is the same, but no two people come to Jesus in the same way.
What then did Jesus do? He took her hand. She was dead and one contracted defilement if one touched a dead body, but Jesus identified with her and brought her life. He has identified with us all. He sits where we sit and takes our place. Isn’t that a precious central truth in the gospel. Identify with him, and he with us.
So we leave these two people, the woman, wonderfully restored and the father, overwhelmed with joy – two examples of how faith works within us. We have come to the end of our conference. Jesus is the same yesterday, today and for ever. Everything he is in the gospel he is here tonight, and when you and I go back home to our different circumstances, we go back knowing he is the same. All that he was in the gospels in his tenderness, wisdom and power in the operations of grace and power and love he is now at the right hand of God and here tonight, to strengthen you, keep you and love you, Renew your devotion to him this evening. Set him ever before you. We shall never again meet as we have been meeting here, but if you are a Christian we shall gather with all the saints of God around the throne. All the flock will be there, but will you be there? Be sure of that, whatever else you know or don’t know, being there by God’s love in Jesus Christ is the greatest issue.