The words of the following well-known hymn came to mind as I meditated upon the text before us:
Come, every soul by sin oppressed,
there’s mercy with the Lord,
and he will surely give you rest
by trusting in his word.
Only trust him, only trust him,
only trust him now;
he will save you, he will save you
he will save you now.
In Mark 5:21–43, this is precisely what two individuals did. The result was that they experienced abundant rest in the Lord. Trusting his word will do this for us. Believing King Jesus is what being his disciple is all about. And where there is trust, where there is biblical faith, there will be hope. Peter tells us this in his first epistle when he writes, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defence to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (3:15).
Peter begins his epistle reminding his suffering readers that God has graciously “caused us to be born again unto a living hope” (1:3). Some translations use the word “lively.” I like that. A few verses later, Peter writes, “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:13). And then, eight verses later, Peter reminds his beleaguered readers that the reality of Jesus having died and rose again is grounds for us to have “faith and hope in God” (1:21). Peter was hopeful and wanted his readers to share his hope. Peter should know, for he was an eyewitness to many situations that, on the surface, appeared hopeless and yet, by the power of Jesus, every reason for hope was justified. This includes the two accounts that are before us this morning.
In this section of Mark 5, we are exposed to two very desperate situations, which, to the crowd, would have appeared almost, if not completely, hopeless. In fact, one gets the impression that Mark presents this material in such a way to make this point. Mark, like his friend Peter—the most likely source for his material—wanted his readers to be encouraged to hope; even if, in doing so, they were being asked to hope against hope.
This is a good place to be reminded that Mark’s original readers were Christians living in the Roman Empire—a tough place for Christians to live.
Most likely, when Mark wrote his Gospel, Nero was the reigning emperor and, by this time, his evil lifestyle had cemented his deranged and destructive psyche. He was now unleashing persecution on all and sundry, but most notably upon Christians. Mark’s audience was facing the eventual destruction of Jerusalem. Some were facing death. They needed the reminder that Jesus Christ, not Caesar, was King. Perhaps this was on his mind as he penned these words. In his literary effort to record the person and work of Jesus Christ the King, Mark wanted his readers to have hope.
He presented the hope that Jesus can save the most hopeless of people: those under demonic control (5:1–20).
He presented the hope that Jesus can heal the most hopeless of people, regardless of what seems to be an incurable disease.
He presented hope that Jesus can intervene in the most hopeless of situations: He can raise to life those who have died.
France observes, “This pericope leaves the reader with the impression that nothing can be impossible for Jesus.” We also need such hope. May our study leave us impressed with Jesus Christ, the one who has dominion over demons, disease, and, praise God, death itself. May we leave committed to trusting him, for our good and to God’s glory.
A Desperate Intercession
Our text opens with a father’s desperate plea:
And when Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him, and he was beside the sea. Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” And he went with him.
A Miserable Request
Having been rejected by the short-sighted, materialistic crowds on one side of Galilee, Jesus departed (for he doesn’t stay where he is not wanted) and went back to the shores near Capernaum.
Once he arrived, he was immediately surrounded by the crowds. Mark tells us that “he was by the sea.” I think these words are a clue that Mark is sharing an eyewitness account—probably Peter’s. In other words, what we are about to read happened in space-time history. This should provide us with hope.
One of the rulers of the synagogue came to Jesus and, with a tone of desperation, begged Jesus to come with him and heal his daughter who was “at the point of death.”
Having a sick child is troubling enough, but to see your child on her deathbed, well, we can imagine the sense of misery, the depth of desperation of this father. At the same time, this man had hope that Jesus could do something about it. He trusted so; therefore, he prayed so.
I recall years ago visiting a missionary family with one of my daughters. She fell terribly ill, which was deeply concerning to me. I felt hopeless, not knowing what to do. I cannot tell you the relief, after a few days, hearing those wonderful words, “Dad, I’m hungry!”
It may be significant that this man, Jairus, is identified as one of the rulers of the synagogue. That would be the synagogue where Jesus’ life had recently been threatened (3:1–6).
We don’t know if Jairus was sympathetic to that hostility; if so, his desperate situation apparently led to a change of heart. He may or may not have grasped the identity of Jesus, but, having witnessed his miraculous healing of the man with the shrivelled hand, he was aware that Jesus was his only hope.
Burdened with the heart-shattering misery over his daughter’s humanly hopeless condition, Jairus knew that there was one person who could help. And so he broke through the crowd of people and earnestly begged Jesus to come home with him and heal his daughter. Whatever he thought of Jesus before (a threat to his position and prestige?), he humbly, because desperately, came to his only hope. This is seen in his posture. He “fell at his feet” and begged Jesus to come and “lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” Desperation has a way of removing our defences.
How many of us found ourselves in the same position. We mocked and derided the Lord Jesus Christ and his gospel—until a crisis hit us and we were no longer as brashly opposed as we used to be. We came to the end of ourselves and reached out for Jesus. This was a good thing! Jesus is the Son of God, with all authority and dominion over all things. Sometimes, he uses his authority to bring us to our knees, to bring us to himself.
The apostle Paul is an obvious illustration of this, but there are many others. A widow in our church recently called me with the good news that her eldest son, who for decades had resisted the gospel, had asked her for a place to find some spiritual counsel. I immediately gave him the number of several good churches in his area. Just a little while later, his mother called me back to say that she had shared the gospel with him and he had repented and believed. What wonderful news!
Perhaps you have no sense of hostility against Jesus; nevertheless, it is often through a crisis that the Lord brings us to our knees so as to bring us to his feet.
A Merciful Response
Jesus responded to the man’s plea with great mercy: “Hewent with him” (v. 24).
These are wonderful words. Jesus responded to the man’s misery with mercy. He accompanied him. Can you imagine the hope that must have arisen in this man’s heart? “Jesus has responded to my plea! He is coming home. My daughter will live!”
Christian, remember that, when we pray biblical prayers, Jesus answers. Remember that your misery invites Jesus’ mercy. Your condition is no match for Jesus’ compassion. Your problem is nothing compared to Jesus’ power.
Whatever hopeless situation you are facing, humble yourself like Jairus. Forget about your position, prestige, and popularity. You need Jesus far more any of those things. As Jesus will say elsewhere, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36).
You Need a Big God
We should be careful about two things when we approach this passage.
First, we should be careful of assuming that Jesus will always answer our prayer in the way we think he should. In other words, sometimes our sick loved ones will not be made well. Sometimes our sick loved ones will die.
I clearly remember many years ago praying for two young church members diagnosed with dread diseases. Al died at age 12 or 13; Bethany survived and is today raising her own family.
We need to beware of the false, prosperity (so-called) gospel. Though it is true that the Christian will be delivered from the curse of sin—one day—this is not necessarily according to our day. Paul’s plea for his own thorn in the flesh was answered with a resounding no. His friend Trophimus was not healed. James was beheaded while Peter was delivered.
We need to be content with the merciful answer that Jesus gives to us, regardless of what his mercy looks like—even if it is a severe mercy.
Second, an equal error is to assume that Jesus will not answer such prayers. We might call this the poverty (so-called) gospel. That is, we might, poor in faith, falsely conclude that these miracles were all reserved for a time long gone.
Too often this is where conservative—dare I say, reformed—Christians live. We need to recapture our conviction of what God wants to do and what he can do. But this requires recapturing the vision of who he is. J. B. Phillips was correct: Your God is too small. Perhaps doctors are too big. Perhaps our own efforts are too looming. Perhaps our friends are too powerful. Perhaps expertise is too expert! Perhaps bank accounts are too big. Perhaps our healthy habits are too prominent.
The point is, too often we run to everyone but to Jesus, who is King. Let us learn to run to him, trusting him, believing in him for big things. After all, he has all authority in all the universe. So, let’s pray.
Ask others to pray for you. Gather with the church to pray. Read church history and be encouraged. Read the book of Acts!
A Deadly Interruption
In vv. 25–34, as Jesus made his way home with Jairus, we are confronted with a deadly interruption.
And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” And he looked around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
This miraculous account would prove to be a fatal interruption. As Jesus merciful responded and began the journey Jairus’s home, we can picture a sense of hurriedness—not so much with Jesus, but with Jairus and the thronging crowd. Perhaps there was a quickness in their steps as they anticipated a miraculous act. They had witnessed healings before, and they expected to see it again. But something happened along the way that delayed Jesus. This is what we find in this section.
A woman heard that Jesus was around and, with the crowds, she came to the seaside. As Jesus began to leave, she was determined to have her problem resolved. And what a problem it was!
This woman had been bleeding for twelve years! For as long as Jairus had been enjoying the company of his daughter, this unnamed woman had been suffering enormously.
Most likely, she suffered some form of menstrual haemophilia. This was not only a physically debilitating condition, but also a socially and religiously debilitating condition. She would have been considered unclean in her Jewish community (Leviticus 15:25–33). She would have been isolated and ostracised from family, friends, the larger community, and the temple. She would have been treated as an outcast—as one cut off from her community and, worse, from her God. She was determined that such isolation come to an end. And by the power of Jesus Christ, it would . The Great Physician would cure her without charge, but not without cost.
This woman, we are told, had been in this miserable condition for twelve years. She had been to every doctor she knew and had spent all her money in search of healing. Sadly, not only had there been no improvement, but she was, in fact, worse off. All human efforts at relieving her misery had proven fruitless and futile.
The word “suffered” (v. 26) “combines physical suffering and shame”(Edwards). In fact, the word means to whip or to scourge. It implies both pain and shame. This unnamed, ignoble, disenfranchised, distressed, destitute, dejected woman came to Jesus, bold enough to only trust him. She was desperate. She was humanly hopeless. And yet she had hope.
Stop the Bleeding!
“If I touch even his garments,” she reasoned, “I will be made well.”In the face of twelve years of disappointment, this woman had hope because of what she had “heard about Jesus.” Someone had told her about Jesus’ person and power. She had heard, I imagine, about his mercy and his miraculous works. The only way she would have known about Jesus would have been by word of mouth, since she would have been shunned from the synagogue and dismissed from any private or public gatherings. Her condition was most likely known to everyone, which makes her presence here the more remarkable. She was determined to get to Jesus. She was resolved to make sure that Jesus stopped the bleeding. Enough was enough! “He cured others, he can cure me!”
We can learn from this the importance of spreading the news concerning the person and work(s) of Jesus. Sharing our testimony is a wonderful means of letting those who feel helpless, and perhaps on the verge of hopelessness, know that there is, in fact, hope! If Jesus was able to stop the bleeding of others, he can stop mine.It is encouraging to hear of churches that have undergone difficulties and yet come through, nations that have experience revival, broken marriages that have been restored, and unbelieving children who, after many years, have been converted.
Regardless of how she heard, she was determined to get to Jesus. So, she pushed through the crowd so she could touch him.
Think about it: She was deemed unclean and yet she went public! It was a risk that would prove worthy.
Perhaps at this point, this woman viewed Jesus with less than mature, biblical faith. Perhaps she was more influenced by ideas of “magic” than the reality of Jesus as Master of all. He would clear this up, but, he first graciously healed her.
Aren’t you glad that the Lord overlooks our ignorance, even our silly superstitious ideas? Our faith may not be all it should be, but the Lord often mercifully responds to the cry of our hearts, anyway.
This woman felt in her body that she was healed of the affliction. Something profoundly, noticeably, and immediately changed. And she knew it. We don’t know what she felt. We do know that she knew that something changed. She knew that she was healed of her disease!
When Jesus touches us, things change and we sense it. We may not be able to explain it, but the experience—reconciliation and rejoicing; peace replacing hostility; singing replacing bitterness; love replacing hatred; etc.—is undeniable.
A Powerful Exchange
I’ve always been struck by the words of v. 30:“And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my garments?’”
I said earlier that Jesus, the Great Physician, cured without a charge, but not without a cost. It cost Jesus to heal her and, later, it would cost her to identify with him.
The word translated “power” is the word behind our English word “dynamic.” It is used, in the New Testament, usually to refer to a miraculous act. So here. It is interesting that Jesus knew that such miracle-working power had left his body, but he did not know upon whom he had bestowed this miracle! Or did he?
At the incarnation, Jesus did not cease being God, but he did not always use his prerogatives of being God (Philippians 2:5–8). Under the will of the Father, Jesus did not always use his attribute of omniscience. Perhaps that was the situation here.
Regardless, it is important to recognize that, in this fifth chapter of Mark, in each miraculous account, Jesus was in contact with that which is unclean. And in each case, he took that uncleanness and in exchange, gave wholeness. “What is involved is nothing less than a ‘surrender from person to person, from the helpless man to the helping Lord’”(Lane). This is the gospel. And such healing (1 Peter 2:24) would eventually cost Jesus his life’s blood. He would be declared unclean by God the Father so that sinners like you and I can be declared more than merely clean: We can be declared righteous (2 Corinthians 5:21). That can be you. Be reconciled to God through his Son—today!
Whether or not Jesus knew who had touched him, he asked, “Who touched me?” Jesus wanted to publicly identify the woman. “He is not content to dispatch a miracle; he wants to encounter a person. In the kingdom of God, miracles lead to meeting”(Edwards). This would prove costly for her, but the reward would be worth it.
I think that there are several possible reasons for Jesus publicly identifying her.
First, others needed to know of this miraculous work. The works of Jesus should be shouted from the housetops!
Second, by doing so, Jesus was publicly reinstating her to society and to the synagogue.
Third, if she was under the impression that she was healed by some ritualistic, magical action, she needed to learn that Jesus, not his clothes, had healed her.
Fourth, and related to the third reason, Jesus did so for her holistic welfare. She needed much more than physical healing; she needed spiritual healing. She needed to identify with the Saviour who could truly and fully make her whole.
Note the interaction: “But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth” (v. 33).
As she came forward, she shared her testimony—the whole shameful truth. Jesus responded to her confession with words of assurance, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease” (v. 34). “It was the grasp of her faith rather than her hand that had secured the healing she sought” (Lane). On the way to help a father’s daughter, Jesus stopped to help one of his Father’s daughters.
This was more than physical healing. The word translated “well” is the same word often translated “to save.” Jesus loves too much to merely take care of our temporal challenges. He desires to save us from our sins, which will provide true wellness. Jesus calls this “peace”—shalom to a Jew. This speaks of comprehensive well-being. It goes deeper than surface symptoms. No wonder Christians are hopeful. Remember, “Only faith saves us, because only faith draws on the power of Jesus Christ as Saviour” (Ferguson).
The circumstance of this woman no doubt was different from yours and mine, but her condition may be very similar: desperate. Perhaps with hope against hope, you are facing a very desperate situation. You have spent your money and your energy trying to overcome your problem—your “disease.” And yet you find yourself worse off rather than better.
This may be relationally, despite well-meaning counsel. It may be physically, despite good advice and healthcare. It may be financially, despite good budgeting. It may be in your career or employment, despite faithful and hard work. In these situations, we need the Lord. We need his power. But the ultimate place we need his power is spiritually.
If you are not a Christian, be honest. How is that working for you? How is your guilt? How is the burden of alienation? How is your destructive behaviour? How is your emotional decay? You need to come to Jesus and experience his saving power. You will then be able to “go in peace” because “your faith has made you well.”
But though this unnamed woman was at peace, for the first time in twelve years, someone else in the crowd was doubtless losing his peace. Jairus, whose twelve-year-old daughter was at home on her deathbed, was doubtless growing impatient. This interruption, I imagine, disturbed him. He wanted to get Jesus to his house—now! Humanly speaking, as we will see, he had good reason.
A Dramatic Intervention
A dramatic intervention is found in vv. 35–43:
While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.
A Hopeless Message
As Jesus was interacting with this woman (he was not in a hurry!), some messengers arrived from Jairus’s home with the heart-wrenching news, “Your daughter is dead”. What further needs was there to trouble Jesus? In other words, all was lost. There was no hope. Jairus might as well go home and grieve with his wife and the others who were there. It was time to plan for the funeral.” His daughter had died. And with her death, hope had also died.
Perhaps Jairus’s first response was along the lines of Martha and Mary who, upon the death of their brother Lazarus, said to Jesus, “Lord, If you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21, 32).
Perhaps Jairus was fighting bitterness, thinking that if this woman had not interrupted their journey, his daughter would still be alive. We don’t know. What we do know is that Jesus responded amid this hopeless scene with these words to Jairus: “Do not fear, only believe” (v. 36). As English comments, Jesus was saying, “Don’t go on fearing the worst, but do keep on believing for the best.”
Edwards is right: “This is the challenge before Jairus, and before everyone who meets Jesus: to believe only what circumstances allow, or to believe in the God who makes all things possible?”
The text tells us that Jesus said this after “overhearing” the messengers. That word can be translated “ignoring.” I love it! Jesus is King. He will do what he wants, even in the most hopeless of situations.
Jesus proceeded to the home of Jairus where he was accompanied by the restricted group of Peter, James and John.
A Necessary Interruption
Let’s pause to consider the value of what we referred to as a deadly interruption. It was, in fact, a deliberate and necessary interruption. You see, Jairus needed to learn to only trust him. This unnamed, unclean, disenfranchised woman became teacher to this well-known leader in the synagogue.
This deliberately divine disruption became the means of Jairus learning what it means to believe in Jesus. This woman was Exhibit A. She refused to accept the words of experts as final. She refused to believe that her situation was hopeless. She would not be controlled by the opinion of the crowds. She refused to give in to fear. Rather, she chose to believe.
Likewise, Jairus would need to respond in a similar way. He would need to believe the word of Jesus rather than a glaringly hopeless situation. He would need to publicly identify with the word of Jesus over the words of the unbelieving crowds. He would need to place his full confidence, not in some accepted superstition, but rather he would need to place his full confidence in the King—in a person, not in a prescription.
Jairus did, and he experienced a wonderful miracle.
Christian, don’t allow circumstances to replace faith with fear. Do not be afraid of bad news. Let your heart be firm, trusting in the Lord (Psalm 112:7). When you are afraid, trust in him (Psalm 56:3). Matric and varsity students, only trust him. Christian facing financial challenges, only trust him. Believer facing uncertain future (singleness, employment, politically), only trust him. Parents facing challenges, only trust him.
A Hopeful Homecoming
Upon arriving at Jairus’s home, Jesus encountered the usual professional mourners. A great commotion was being made. Jesus rebuked the premature funeral service and told them, “The child is not dead but sleeping.” They thought he was talking nonsense and so “laughed at him.” Jesus responded by showing them the door and then, with the girl’s parents, Peter, James, and John, entered the room where the little girl’s body lay. Taking her by the hand (a tender and significant action), and speaking Aramaic, he said, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” What was the result? “Immediately the girl got up and began walking.” As Ferguson notes, reminding us of the gospel, “He shared in her death [by touching her] in order to deliver her from it.” We can understand the response of the witnesses, “They were immediately overcome with amazement.” I think we all would be. But in a sense, we shouldn’t be. You see, King Jesus always keeps his promises.
Mark concludes with another piece of information that only an eyewitness could provide, “And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.”
When children are not well, it is usually a good sign when they have an appetite. Healing is on the way. But in this case, what joy as this little girl, who had been dead, devoured her food. At this point, whatever she wanted, she would have been given! Cake at 9:00 AM? Why not?
This added vignette helps us to appreciate the fullness of this miracle. This little girl had been restored to life, not merely to health. Jesus the King manifested his power over death. Hallelujah, what a Saviour!
What can we take away from this account? What does God want to teach us?
First, God’s timing is perfect. Let’s not miss the interplay of these stories before us. The interruption of vv. 25–34 was not accidental. It, like all interruptions, was providential.
But in addition to such a kind providence, we need to realise that sometimes God allows things to worsen so that his intervention is all the more glorious. God allowed the wickedness of the Amorites to increase for centuries before using Israel to drive them out of the Promised Land. He allowed wickedness to increase before judging the world with a flood. Hostility to Jesus increased radically before it led to his crucifixion, resurrection, and glorious ascension. It is usually darkest before dawn.
Sometimes, broken relationships must worsen before they revive. Ministry must sometimes be fruitless and painful before it is renewed. Seemingly increasingly hopeless heartache sometimes experiences amazing reversal. Increasingly spiritual waywardness is sometimes gloriously turned around by regeneration.
Second, don’t underestimate the power of God, especially his power over death. With God, all things—including resurrection—are possible.
Jesus came to defeat the devil and everything associated with him, including death. The writer to the Hebrews says, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (2:14–15).
This passage gives us a preview of what will one day be. Because Jesus died and rose again, all who believe on him will also rise to immortality in glory. This is a glorious promise. How do you become a partaker of this promise? Only trust him. This is the wellness that we all need and can have. Don’t listen to the naysaying crowd. Rather, only trust him—now.
Third, Jesus cares for all kinds of people.
This passage should encourage each one of us that Jesus is not partial in a worldly way. He heeded the cries of a well-known, influential, prestigious and “important” man. He equally heeded the cries of a nameless, disadvantaged, and long-ostracized woman. In fact, her faith became the human means for his faith.
Jesus shows partiality, not according to the flesh, but rather according to the heart—the heart of faith. When it comes to the power of the gospel, all who believe will be saved. So, again, we have one assignment: Only trust him.