Mark 5:21-43

This is the third in a series of dramatic demonstrations of the Lord’s power and authority. Each of them concludes with the amazement of those who witnessed these events. He stilled the tempest on the Sea of Galilee and left his disciples terrified and nonplussed. He healed the demon-possessed man and, as we read in v. 20, “all the people were amazed.” The narrative we are about to read will conclude in v. 42 with some of the same people once again “completely astonished.” These narratives are demonstrations both of the unique authority of the Son of – the demonstration of Jesus’ credentials as the Messiah – and of the confusion of the people in the face of his divine power. We might expect that everyone would be thrilled and no doubt some were; but most were amazed, confused, and afraid. They had never encountered anything like this and didn’t know what to make of it. The presence of the divine glory is invariably disturbing and unsettling, so far above us as it is.

Our text this morning provides another example of Mark’s technique of interpolation or, as it is sometimes called, a narrative “sandwich.” The account of the healing of the synagogue ruler’s daughter is interrupted by the account of the woman with the hemorrhage. In this way Mark relates the two accounts to one another and, as before, the section in the middle provides the key to the interpretation of the whole. Of course, in this case, this is the way the events unfolded, though Mark certainly might have written up the two incidents separately. There are other features of the narrative that link the two accounts together. In both cases the Lord is met by a rebuke, in both the Lord comes into contact with uncleanness (the bleeding of the woman and the corpse of the child), both concern females, and the length of the woman’s illness and the age of Jairus’ daughter are both twelve years. [Edwards, 160-161] By including these details Mark reminds us that both of these incidents disclose the same lesson.

Text Comment

A “ruler of the synagogue,” the rosh ha-keneset, was the president of the local Jewish worshipping community, the head of the local council of elders. Ordinarily a synagogue had only one ruler, but not always. In any case, he was an important man.

The recollection of his name – Mark does not provide many proper names in his Gospel – may be due to the fact that the man was known to Peter and perhaps to the church. Another eyewitness touch. Is his name evidence of the fact that he became a convert and a member of the church? Quite possibly so.

Jairus loved his daughter, she was dying – the words used suggest that she was at death’s door – and so he came to Jesus in desperation. Luke adds the detail that she was Jairus’ only daughter. Obviously the Lord’s reputation as a healer was already established in the public mind.
With powerful understatement Mark tells us that Jesus turned away from the large crowd to help this desperate man pleading for the life of his daughter. The crowd followed. To be jostled is hardly an uncommon experience in an Eastern market or street. [France, 236]
With not a moment to spare, Jairus’ daughter being so near to death, the Lord is now diverted by the need of another. This woman was not important like the synagogue ruler; indeed, she was an outcast on account of her condition.
I think it is a wonderfully human touch that Luke, who includes this same incident in his gospel, being a doctor himself, leaves out the part about her having suffered a great deal under the care of doctors! This woman’s condition would have rendered her permanently unclean, unable to enter the temple and rendering unclean anyone who touched her. So her long and fruitless search for a cure was motivated not only by her physical distress but by the social and religious isolation that resulted from it. Menstrual bleeding and the impurity resulting from it was the subject of an entire tractate of the Mishnah. It was a more public phenomenon than it is today.
Mark puts it very simply: the woman heard about Jesus, she came, and she touched him.
The healing was immediate and complete.
The humanity of the Lord. He doesn’t know who touched him.
The woman had been, as a result of this affliction perpetually unclean. She would have made Jesus unclean by touching him. She would not want to draw attention to herself for these reasons. But Jesus is not interested only in the fact that a person has been helped. He wants to know that person, to talk with him or her.
The Lord does not reproach her but extends compassion to her, a compassion suggested first by his addressing her as “Daughter.” No one else in the Gospels is addressed by Jesus as “daughter.” And the woman hears from the Lord’s mouth that her healing is not a temporary remission but a permanent cure.
But in the attention paid to this woman, Jairus’ daughter has been forgotten. And at the very moment Jesus is speaking with this woman men arrive with the news that Jairus’ daughter has died.
So, the interruption, so wonderfully profitable to this woman, has apparently cost the life of the girl.
The report was made to Jairus but Jesus overheard it. [Edwards, 166] They had seen the effect of faith in the case of the woman, but death is a very different thing! By the way, as with the men who brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus, here is another instance of someone else’s faith being the instrument of a person’s deliverance. Jairus believed and his daughter, as we shall see, lived again!
Another eyewitness touch. In a concocted tale, such a miracle as is about to be performed would be witnessed by the largest number possible. Here the limitation is probably due to the same interest we will read of in v. 43.
The Lord is speaking figuratively. She sleeps in the sense that she is soon to get up. He wants Jairus and his wife to think of their daughter as sleeping, just as the rest of the Bible wants us to think of the dead in faith and in Christ as sleeping, soon to wake up and live again. The wailing is indication enough that the girl was certainly dead and the people knew her to be dead.
The mourners represent the hard-core realists who have shut their minds to the possibility of divine intervention. [Edwards, 167]
Another of Peter’s eyewitness recollections: the very words in Aramaic that Jesus spoke, translated for the sake of Mark’s Greek speaking readers. So also his taking the girl by the hand. Remember, touching a corpse rendered a person unclean, but not, obviously, if the touch was the means of making the corpse alive!
This is one of three restorations to life effected by the Lord Jesus during his ministry. Apparently only the five witnesses of the miracle are those who were astonished. We are not told what the mourners and the rest thought when they saw the girl alive again.
A lovely touch. The Lord’s practical sympathy is displayed. The people were overawed, but he knew she would be hungry! Once again, in Jewish territory the Lord takes steps to keep the public excitement under control.

The two accounts, thus sandwiched together, have this key element in common. Both concern individuals in desperate need, helpless in themselves, who have no hope apart from Jesus and by looking to him find deliverance. They are very different people, the woman and the girl, or the woman and the synagogue ruler Jairus. They come to Jesus in different ways: one openly and the other surreptitiously. They have different physical conditions. But they are alike in this: only Jesus can give them what they desperately need and they seem to know and understand that.

We have already said that the Lord’s miracles serve not only as his credentials as the Messiah and the Son of God, they not only serve to authenticate his claims to be the one sent from heaven for the life the world, but they illustrate the salvation he came to bring. It is interesting and very important that what Jesus actually said to the woman who had been healed by touching him was “Daughter, your faith has saved you.” The Greek word can mean “healed” in a physical sense or “saved” in the sense of being granted eternal life and already in this Gospel the Lord has used a physical healing as a picture of salvation. Remember how he told the paralyzed man who had been let down before him through a hole dug in the roof of the house where he was, “Your sins are forgiven.” The man was brought to Jesus for the healing of his body – and he received that – but he got much more: the salvation of his soul. Mark’s readers would have heard the word “saved” and would immediately have thought not simply of her physical healing but of the forgiveness of her sins and peace with God and the hope of heaven.

What this woman and this girl were in desperate need of, first and foremost, was not the healing of their bodies but peace with God and the forgiveness of their sins. Whether or not they understood that, coming to Jesus in faith that he could help them, they received not only the temporary blessing of health but the eternal blessing of his love and acceptance.

But that isn’t all. Jesus draws attention to the connection between physical healing and eternal salvation in another way. He says to the girl in the presence of Peter, James, and John and the child’s father and mother, “Little girl, get up.” But the word he used is the word so often used in the New Testament for the resurrection of the dead to eternal life. What he said, in the context of the entire New Testament, was “Little girl, rise to life.” And this point is emphasized by his calling attention to the fact that the girl was dead only to live again. He told everyone that she was sleeping, the very way in which the dead in Christ are described in the New Testament. They sleep because they will one day awake. This little girl died but rose again. And lest that point be missed, the word the NIV translates “stood up” in v. 42 is again a word used many times of the resurrection of the dead at the end of the age. When we read in 1 Thess. 4:16 that at the Second Coming “the dead in Christ shall rise first” it is that same word as Mark uses here, a word whose larger meaning and reference Mark’s hearers would not fail to notice. The older woman was saved; the little girl rose again. These are pictures of eternal salvation.

And how was it that they received this gift of eternal life? Well, it is the answer to that question upon which the emphasis falls in this narrative sandwich. First Jesus makes the remarkable statement to this poor, dear woman: “Daughter, your faith has saved you.” Well, we might quibble at that! It was, of course, Jesus who saved her; it was his divine power and his authority over illness and every human condition that saved her. But that there might be no mistake on this point, Jesus makes the striking statement to the woman: “Your faith has saved you.” And, then, to confirm that point, lest anyone miss it, he says to the synagogue ruler who has just heard the shattering news of the death of his beloved and only daughter: “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” In English “faith” and “believe” are related to one another in meaning but not in form. But in Greek, as here, “faith” and “believe” are different forms of the same word.

What we have here, in other words, in Jesus’ own words, is the very point that the Apostle Paul would later hammer away at in his letters: men receive the salvation of God by faith. Insofar as salvation depends upon them, it depends upon their trusting in Jesus for what they themselves cannot do, which is all that Paul means by saying that justification is by faith and not by works. We have here a powerful lesson in the essential place of faith in salvation, faith in Jesus, believing in him, trusting in him, counting on him for what one cannot accomplish or achieve or obtain himself or herself. This woman was unclean and her faith saved her. This little girl was dead and her father’s faith brought her new life. And why does Jesus speak this way?

Well, the reason has always been understood in the Christian church. By making faith the condition of his blessing, God has made all to understand that salvation is not by our work but by Christ’s, it is not our achievement but his. Faith is the act of looking away from yourself to another, to Christ, counting on him, trusting him, knowing that he must save or we cannot be saved. Salvation through faith is, therefore, the fitting way to give expression to salvation by grace. Faith in us answers to the fact that salvation is a gift from God, a gift we by no means earn but merely receive. A proof of that is that while it was no doubt a weak and imperfect faith in both cases which looked to Christ – this woman, with all her doubts and fears and her superstitious idea that just touching Jesus would heal her, and Jairus’ in his desperation thinking that only if Jesus were physically present at his daughter’s bedside could he save her – it was most definitely not a weak and imperfect healing which resulted. A poor but real faith still connected with Christ himself who unleashed his anything but poor divine power on their behalf.

And so it did not enter this woman’s mind that she had healed herself by her faith, nor did it enter Jairus’ mind that he had raised his daughter to life by his faith. Jesus had shown his great power on their behalf and had done so because they had looked to him. They could have looked to themselves, to doctors, to other religious figures all their lives and the woman would never have been delivered from her illness and this little girl would have been laid cold in the grave. He did these great things for them simply because they thought he could and would and so looked, turned, and appealed to him. “Faith,” said Luther – who knew a great deal about it – “is nothing else but a sure and steadfast looking to Christ.”

It is a very interesting observation to be made, the observation the disciples made in v. 31. There was a crowd, the street or market place in which they were walking was crowded, as oriental streets and market places are still today. It was much more crowded because of the excitement that Jesus had generated and the multitudes of people who wanted to see and hear him. The crowd, as crowds will, pressed around him, as we read in v. 24. But none of the others who touched Jesus in the crowd, none of the others who made physical contact with the Son of God caused power to go out from him. Many touched him that day who received no benefit from that contact. Only this woman who touched him precisely because she believed in him, because she knew he could do for her and he alone what she desperately needed to be done. She touched Jesus in faith! And Jesus took the occasion to raise her sights and those of the girl’s parents and our sights to the greater deliverance still that only he can grant us.

You see, no one can read the New Testament, no one can read an account like this – not thoughtfully, not with his or her mind and heart fully engaged – without over and over again realizing that whatever Jesus may have given these people – healing them, even raising them from the dead – was a temporary benefit only. They had to die eventually. Their lives in this world had to come to an end. It was written then as it is now, “It is appointed that man is destined to die…” This little girl, like Jesus’ friend Lazarus, died twice: once when she was twelve and then again when she was an older woman. What every human being craves to know is whether there is a healing that never fails, a new life that does not end and that transcends the grave into which we all must eventually be lowered. And it is precisely to answer this question that Jesus acted and then spoke as he did that never-to-be-forgotten day. He wanted everyone, he wanted the world to know that salvation and resurrection to eternal life were there for the taking for everyone and anyone – great or small – who believed, who trusted in him.

Now let me bring this lesson home to your hearts and minds if I can, the Lord helping me. We are, you are likely to think – your afflictions being what they have been and weighing upon you as they have through the years of your life – you are, I say, likely to think it would have been a greater kindness if the Lord had simply kept this dear woman from those twelve terrible years of suffering and poverty and humiliation and isolation. Wouldn’t it have been kinder simply to keep her healthy than to allow her to suffer that ailment for twelve long years? And, similarly, wouldn’t it have been kinder to keep the hearts of this dear man and his wife from being so cruelly broken by first the sickness of their daughter, then her failing, and finally the news of her death. Can you see the red rimmed eyes and the agony in the face of that dear mother when her husband returned home with Jesus and Peter, James, and John? Wouldn’t God’s mercy to her and her family have been greater had he kept her from ever being sick?

But the answer to those questions is a decisive “No!” If all we were talking about was a physical disease, perhaps there would be a reason to think it better for these people never to have been sick. But if we are talking about their eternal lives, their entrance into heaven, their peace with God, the forgiveness of their sins, their salvation, their resurrection on the last day, well, then, no. Nothing is so important than that they come to Jesus and no matter what it takes to bring them, to make them come, to be desperate enough to look to him and to reach out to him, that is what they need above anything and everything else. What if the doctors had cured this woman? It is terrible to think that for all the money she paid them, they might have effected a cure. Her bleeding would have stopped and there would have been no reason for her to force her way through the crowd in the street that day and put her hand on the Son of God. She would never have discovered his saving power, never heard those mighty words, “Daughter, your faith has saved you,” and never learned that her illness was nothing more than a picture of a far deeper and far more intractable problem that no doctor ever had or ever would be able to solve. In her case, thank God for ineffective doctors! Thank God that she was left with nowhere to turn but to Jesus himself. Let people look somewhere else and they always will. They come to Jesus when they have no one else to turn to and are desperate for help.

I tell you with absolute certainty, if you could talk to that dear woman and to that child and to her parents, Jairus and his wife, they would tell you the same thing. It is better to be sick, it is better even to die, if by one’s desperation he or she comes to Christ and discovers his power to save. These people would never say that they wished they had not suffered those twelve years or had never endured the heartbreak of thinking that they had lost their daughter. Had they not been brought to that state of utter desperation they would never have sought out Jesus and never received from him so much more than they asked for: a healing that lasts forever and a resurrection to eternal life.

Listen to these people, once so broken-hearted and now so happy, speaking to you across the ages. For you too suffer as they did. You may have good health but the salvation Christ gave them you need just as much as they ever did. You may not have this woman’s particular condition, but you are spiritually unclean as she was, needing God’s forgiveness as she did. You may live long years in this world, but you will die as certainly as that girl did. Will your death be but a sleep from which you will one day awake to new and glorious life? There is not a person in the world for whom this question is not the supreme question of life. And to every one the Lord says the same thing as he said to these: Faith in me will save you! Do not fear; only believe!

And it is ours this morning to take this wonderful history to heart and to apply its lesson to our own lives. There are things you desperately need that you are helpless to obtain. You have no power over the things that truly and finally and eternally threaten you and your life. But there is someone who does, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And his hospital is fully endowed for the service of the poor and needy. And, what is more, for those who trust in him a perfect and everlasting cure is absolutely guaranteed; absolutely guaranteed against all possible relapse. [Cf. Whyte, Thomas Shepard, 172-173]

This woman could have touched priests, elders, and other men until there were none left in the country to touch and she would have been no better for it. And the best men, the most righteous, and the most powerful could have told that girl to ‘get up’ until they were hoarse and she would have lain there cold and still until they laid her in her grave. But because these two desperate people looked to Jesus for help, these extraordinary deliverances came to pass. He did it, he met their need, it was his power that made the unthinkable perfectly possible. Through their faith in Jesus, the power of God was displayed for the blessing of men and women.

Theirs wasn’t the greatest faith, but look what it obtained. I hope every one of you with a weak and imperfect and defective faith like mine takes as much encouragement from that as I do! Even a little bit of faith in Jesus is powerful to save because Jesus is almighty to save. No wonder Jesus said in another place that faith the size of a grain of mustard seed could move mountains.

Now what of you? In what ways are you like this woman or this dead child? For what do you need help such as Jesus alone can supply? Your children, your marriage, your work, your income, your inner fears and turmoil, your sins? You have tried everything else, but you are left where you have been. Look to the Lord, like this woman and like Jairus, don’t take “no” for an answer. Press forward to reach him. Plead with him. He cares; his compassion is so deep that no one has yet got to the bottom of it. Come to him acknowledging that if he won’t help you, the help you need does not exist.

Even those of us who have been Christians the longest know how easy it is to let our faith become a principle, an idea, rather than an actual looking for Christ and looking to Christ every day, all day, for things both great and small. Robert McCheyne’s formula – and scarcely a truer, more lively faith can be imagined than his – was this: “for every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ.” Keep count and do that each day. I promise you in his name, it will utterly, permanently, and wonderfully transform and empower your life: it will bring wonders down from heaven just as it did for these two happy people.

They went to Jesus for what they needed and found all they wanted and more. Go and do likewise and your experience will be as theirs. These happy people went away praising Jesus Christ, not their faith. Soli Deo Gloria was on their lips every day for weeks and months and years thereafter and no doubt upon their lips when they breathed their last in this world and is on their lips even now in heaven. And so it will be on our lips too, if only we will look to Jesus, trust in him, and have him prove much more often his love and power to us, as he proved it to them.