Where There’s Death There’s Hope (Mark 5:21-43)
Interruptions are always frustrating. I just get engrossed in reading the morning paper and my wife wants me to take out the garbage right away. I am out in the garage working on the car with my hands literally oozing with grease and I’m wanted on the phone. Interruptions are a part of life. Few of us would consider the possibility of God being interrupted, but this is precisely the case in the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Mark. Jesus was on His way to heal a young girl on the verge of death, when He was interrupted by a women who was also in desperate need of help. For those of us who have not thought very deeply on the theological implications of divine interruptions, this passage invites us to engage in such a novel and noble enterprise.
As we look at the account of the healing of the daughter of Jairus in the synoptic129 gospels, we find that in each of them the author interweaves the healing of the woman with a hemorrhage. The focus, I believe, is primarily upon the dying daughter, while the ailing woman is presented as a tragic, unnecessary and fatal interruption. As we work our way through the events of this great authenticating miracle, I want us to do so through the eyes of the synagogue official, sensing what must have been his feelings and fears as he learned to trust in the Lord Jesus, even when all the circumstances of life seemed to be working against him.
The Plea of Jairus
Jairus was an official of the synagogue, and as such he was a man of influence and prestige,130 but when he came to Jesus he did so as a desperate father seeking to spare the life of his critically ill child. Jesus was not present at what seemed to be the ideal time to deal with the illness of this child. He had crossed over the Sea of Galilee and had not yet returned. I would imagine that the other little ships (Mark 4:36) which had followed Jesus into the middle of the lake and were caught in the storm had returned to port and had told of the miraculous stilling of the sea.
If I had been Jairus these reports would have been of little consolation, for they would only have served to underscore the tragedy that, though Jesus could have helped, He was not present. From Luke’s account (8:40), we know that when Jesus returned by boat from the other side of the lake there was a large crowd gathered which had been there waiting for the return of Jesus. It would not take much imagination to suppose that Jairus was one of the crowd, wringing his hands in dismay, knowing that even now his daughter may have passed away. Every minute was critical and the only One who could help was absent.
Using a bit of sanctified imagination, I can envision Jairus as being the first one to greet Jesus as He stepped from ship to shore. Mark tells us (verse 2) that Jairus fell at the feet of Jesus, beseeching Him to quickly come to the aid of his daughter who was on the verge of death. Mark graphically describes the pleading of the father and we can almost feel the intensity of the situation. Without delay, the Lord Jesus made His way to the home of this dying girl thronged by a host of on-lookers.
An Unwanted Interruption
Even the presence of the crowd must have been an irritation to Jairus, who would have looked upon these people only as a hindrance to more rapid travel to his home. Some may have wanted to ask questions or to be taught as on the day He had departed. Others might have asked for healing for themselves or others. Regardless, the crowd refused to be left behind. Perhaps they only lingered to see another miracle. If so, they were not accommodated (cf. 5:37).
One woman in the crowd is singled out by the gospel writers. She was a woman who had suffered from some kind of hemorrhage for twelve years. Her suffering was much more than physical, though that would have been enough. She suffered as much from her ‘cures’ as she did from her case of bleeding. From various sources we are informed as to the nature of some of these ‘cures.’
“Pliny’s Natural History reveals the generally low condition of medical science in the world at that time. Physicians were accustomed to prescribe doses of curious concoctions made from ashes of burnt wolf’s skull, stags’ horns, heads of mice, the eyes of crabs, owl’s brains, the livers of frogs and other like elements. For dysentery powdered horses’ teeth were administered, and a cold in the head was cured by kissing a mule’s nose.”131
From Jewish writings, such as the Talmud, we learn of some of these ‘cures’:
“One remedy consisted of drinking a goblet of wine containing a powder compounded from rubber, alum and garden crocuses. Another treatment consisted of a dose of Persian onions cooked in wine administered with the summons, ‘Arise out of your flow of blood!’ Other physicians prescribed sudden shock, or the carrying of the ash of an ostrich’s egg in a certain cloth.”132
To add insult to injury (literally) this woman was also subjected to tremendous social pressures.133 The nature of this woman’s illness fell under the stipulations of Leviticus 15, whereby she would have to be pronounced unclean. As such she had been an outcast for twelve years. She could not take part in any religious observances, nor could she have any public contact without defiling those whom she touched. Apparently, she was also forced to be separated from her husband.
Last of all, this pathetic woman has lost all of her financial resources. Mark tells us that she had spent all of her money on doctor bills, with no relief—indeed, with added affliction. And in those days, there was no such thing as a malpractice suit.
This unnamed woman, like Jairus, had heard that Jesus was back in their region and set out to find relief through His power. Conditioned, no doubt, by her long-term rejection and isolation she dared not approach Jesus to ask for a miracle. Her physical contact would defile all that she touched. The best she could hope for was a kind of secret healing. “I need not bother the Master,” she may have rationalized. “I but need to touch the hem of His garment.”134 The faith of the woman may well have been mingled with magical ideas as to the power conveyed by one’s clothing.135 Regardless of this, the moment she touched Jesus, she was healed.
After her healing, the woman probably began to shrink back into the faceless mob who were pushing and shoving for a look at the Master. To the great dismay of Jairus, Jesus stopped. It would seem that for an instant the crowd was perfectly silent. They expectantly waited to hear what Jesus would say, but they could not believe it when He questioned, “Who touched My garments?” (Mark 5:30).
The disciples considered such a question absolutely incredible, worse yet stupid. The rudeness of their thoughts was expressed by none other than the spokesman, Peter: “You see the multitude pressing in on You and You say, ‘Who touched me?’” (Mark 5:31, cf. Luke 3:45). Everybody was touching, pushing, shoving, grabbing at the Master. How could He ask such an insipid question, they thought.
Surely we are to understand that Jesus was not ignorant of what had happened, nor that He needed to be told who had touched Him. This miracle was not snitched from Jesus like a boy steals an apple off a peddler’s cart. Jesus, in His omniscience, knew the need of the woman before she ever put forth her hand to His garment. Knowing her faith, His power was granted for her healing.
Why, then, did Jesus ask this question? More than this, why did Jesus stop at such a critical time to ask the question? Surely Jesus knew the importance of time.
(1) Our Lord Jesus did not need to learn the woman’s identity. Mark does not tell us that Jesus looked to see who had touched Him, but, “He looked around to see the woman who had done this” (Mark 5:32).
(2) Our Lord delayed in order to give the woman the opportunity to give testimony to her healing. Had Jesus not stopped and asked who touched His garments, no one would have known of the miracle save Jesus and the woman. When she saw the eyes of Jesus fixed upon her, she knew that He knew everything. She had taken nothing from Him, but He had given healing to her. She now poured out her sad and miserable life story, telling how Jesus had done what all of medical science could not.
(3) Our Lord stopped in order to correct any misconceptions on the part of the woman. If there were any elements of magic in the thinking of this woman, Jesus swept them away by making it completely clear that it was her faith that had saved her, not her grasp on His clothing. Jesus touched many as He went about, but few of these found in physical contact with Him a wonder such as this. It was her relationship with Jesus by faith that made her whole.
(4) It has also been suggested that this was a gracious act of our Lord to make it publicly known that this woman had been made whole, so that she was no longer to be considered ceremonially unclean. 136
(5) Most significantly in the context, this delay of Jesus resulted in a greater miracle, and greater faith on the part of Jairus, for now the young girl was not sick, but dead.
Upon this woman’s confession of faith, the Lord Jesus sent her off with the words, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your affliction” (Mark 5:34).
From Tragedy to Triumph:
The Raising of Jairus’ Daughter
If the disciples were irritated by our Lord’s seemingly unnecessary delay, you can well imagine that Jairus was fit to be tied. He know that at any moment his daughter would be dead, and here was Jesus making mountains out of mole hills. Why could He not have simply ignored the woman in view of the present crisis? I can remember only too well a number of years ago when my mother was seriously injured and bleeding severely. I rushed into the hospital to get help, and who should I encounter but a nurse who must have had her training in bureaucracy from the civil service. All she could think about was filling out the right form, and all I could think about was carrying her out to the car, if need be, to help my mother! Such must have been the frustration of Jairus, but how do you hurry God?
Jairus’ world came crashing down with the report of his servants that his daughter had died (verse 35). The common belief in his day, as ours, is that ‘where there’s life, there’s hope.’ And now all hope was gone. I can vividly remember the morning that my wife and I awoke to discover that our first and only son had died during the night, his crib just a step away from our bed. It was so obvious that he was gone. There was no life. There was no hope. That is the way Jairus felt.
Knowing that every ray of hope had been swept away by this announcement, Jesus ignored these words, and spoke encouragingly to Jairus, “Do not be afraid any longer, only believe” (Mark 5:36). His faith was faltering, and it was through faith that the child would be raised. Where there is life, there is hope. But with God, we must also believe that where there is death, there is hope as well.
Leaving the crowd with all of His disciples but the inner three, Jesus continued on to the home of the deceased daughter. Outside the home the commotion of a typical near-eastern funeral137 had already begun (verse 38). All of this carrying-on was unnecessary our Lord informed the mourners, for this girl was asleep. By the expression ‘asleep,’ our Lord did not mean that this girl had not died, but was indirectly stating that for those who have entered the kingdom of God, death is not a permanent state, but a temporary one. Death could not claim this girl, for the Prince of Life was present.
Thinking our Lord to be either naive or completely self-deceived the professional mourners mocked and ridiculed Him by their laughter. They knew death when they saw it. Such unbelief will never witness the power of God and so these people were put outside, with only our Lord, the inner three (Peter, James and John), and the parents going to where the girl’s body had been lain.
The actual event was both simple and sweet. With a couple of softly spoken words, our Lord took the young girl by the hand and lifted her up so that she began to walk about. Earle, sensing the tenderness of this event, suggests that these words, spoken in Aramaic (verse 41), could have been the very familiar words of the mother of this girl by which she was awakened at the dawn of every new day.138 The result was that those who witnessed this great miracle were completely astonished (verse 42).
The Lord of life and death gave these overjoyed parents two instructions. First of all, no one was to be told the details of this miracle. Now by this we understand that it was impossible for those outside not to know that this girl had been raised from death. But what Jesus commands is that the details of that healing be withheld, and, I would suspect, that the deliverance of their daughter from death be kept a secret until Jesus was well on His way.139
The second instruction was that this girl be given something to eat. What a human touch. This spectacular miracle did not nullify the natural physical needs of the child. Our Lord is so deeply concerned with His creatures, even with such an insignificant thing as a needed meal.
Conclusions and Application
Mark’s primary reason for including this interrupted miracle, I believe, was to authenticate the claims of Jesus to the Messiah of Israel. When viewed as a whole, the four miracles of Mark 4 and 5 prove Jesus to be not only the Messiah, but Lord of all. He is Lord of creation as shown in the stilling of the storm. He is Lord over Satan and his demons as shown by the exorcism of the Gerasene demoniac. He is Lord over sickness and even death, as revealed in the healing of the hemorrhaging woman and the raising of the dead daughter of Jairus.
It is helpful to recall that in each of these cases the individuals were completely helpless and hopeless, and that others were totally incapable of helping then either. The storm on the lake terrified experienced sailors. The demoniac could not be subdued by anyone (5:3,4). The hemorrhaging woman had been seeing doctors for twelve years with only a worsening condition. The young girl was no longer ailing, but dead. In the most hopeless cases which men could present to Jesus, there was healing, deliverance, and salvation.
Not only does Mark demonstrate the power of our Lord Jesus, but he also reveals His person. What we see in these passages is not just that God is a God of infinite power, but that He is a God of infinite compassion and tenderness. He is deeply touched by human needs. He is sensitive to our sufferings and trials in life. He cares not only for the raising up and putting down of kingdoms, but also for the missed meal at a time of illness.
Those of us who are so-called ‘Calvinists’ are known for our emphasis on the severity of God. We must proclaim to men the bad news of sin, of the righteous indignation of God, and of the eternal punishment men face apart from faith in Christ. But as Paul reminds us, “Behold then the kindness and severity of God” (Romans 11:22a). In emphasizing the severity of God, let us not represent God as austere and aloof, for He is a God of infinite kindness. Nowhere is that more clear than in these miracles recorded by Mark in the fourth and fifth chapters.
Implications and Applications
There is much instruction in the interrupted miracle for those who have never yet come to a personal faith in Jesus Christ. Perhaps you are like those in the crowd who brushed against the Master, but never reached out in faith. Perhaps you have heard the Gospel many times, and in an intellectual sort of way, for as James warns us, even the demons believe that much (James 2:19). What made the difference for this woman was that she recognized her complete and total inability to help herself. She looked to Jesus as her only hope of healing. When you come to a genuine conversion experience with Christ, you must reach the point of realizing your total inability to do anything which will ever contribute to your eternal salvation. You, like this woman, must look to Jesus to provide what you cannot. When Jesus came to the earth, He lived a perfect and sinless life. This qualified Him to die on the cross, not for His sins, but for yours (2 Corinthians 5:21). In place of our wretchedness, He offers His righteousness. Relying fully on Him alone is what will save you, just as this woman’s faith saved her.
To look at this same lesson from a slightly different light, let us consider the raising of the dead daughter. We would say, ‘Where there is life, there is hope.’ But when it comes to salvation, this is not the case. So long as we think that there is so much as one spark of goodness, one flickering possibility that we can do something to contribute to our own eternal salvation, we are hopeless. So far as salvation is concerned, it is only where there is death that there is hope. When we come to the point of agreeing with Paul that we are dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1,2), then we shall look to Jesus alone as the source of life. May God grant that you will turn to Him, Who alone can save those who are dead in their trespasses and sins.
But there is a lesson here for the Christian as well. It is a lesson in divine delays. Perhaps we might call them unanswered prayers. Here I mean those times in our lives when we think everything around us is collapsing and yet God seems to be puttering around heaven, totally unconcerned about our trials and tragedies in life. May I suggest to you that delays are by divine design. Our Lord deliberately tarried here, just as He did at the report of the sickness of Lazarus, so that when He did act there was no question of who should receive the credit and the glory. Surely these miracles inform us that delays are not due to our Lord’s lack of concern for us, for He is sensitive to the most insignificant needs (such as a meal). It is the purpose of God that these delays will result in greater glory for Himself, and greater faith for us. How beautifully this interrupted miracle illustrates the truth of Romans 8:28: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
129 The synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, are referred to in this manner because they record the gospel in a similar fashion, as distinguished from the unique approach of John. The term ‘synoptic’ means ‘to see together.’ For further information, consult Everett Harrison, Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), pp. 136ff.
130 “The chief function of the ruler of the synagogue was the conducting of divine service; he determined the persons who were to take part in public prayer or reading of the Scripture; he invited those with suitable capacity for the preaching of the sermon; he saw to it that everything was carried on in an orderly and decent manner.” Strack-Billerback as quoted by Norval Geldenhuys, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1951), p. 263, fn. 2.
“On one leaf of the Talmud not less than eleven different remedies are proposed, of which at most only six can possibly be regarded as astringents or tonics, while the rest are merely the outcome of superstition, to which resort is had in the absence of knowledge. But what possesses real interest is, that, in all cases where astringents or tonics are prescribed, it is ordered, that, while the woman takes the remedy, she is to be addressed in the words: ‘Arise (Qum) from thy flux.’ It is not only that physical means are apparently to accompany the therapeutical in this disease, but the coincidence in the command, Arise (Qum), with the words used by Christ in raising Jairus’ daughter is striking.” Alford Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), I, p. 620.
133 “According to the Jewish ideas of that time the woman was an utter out cast on account of her disease—she was not allowed to take part in any religious proceedings, could not come into the temple, could not touch other persons and had to be separated from her husband. Her disease came within the scope of the regulations of Leviticus xv. So she was not only impoverished through having had to give all her possessions to physicians in the hope that they might heal her—she was a despised and solitary woman. If her cure had taken place without the Saviour making it known publicly, she would have had the utmost difficulty in removing from the inhabitants of the town the prejudice and scorn that she had met with for years. For this reason the Saviour, who knew her in all her need and sorrows, and understood her circumstances ‘makes her appear before the whole multitude to testify publicly that she has been healed.’” Geldenhuys, p. 261.
137 “Arriving at the house Jesus saw that preparations had been made already for the funeral. The minstrels and professional mourners were performing their duties as the first part of the mourning ceremony. The wailing consisted of choral or antiphonal song accompanied by handclapping. Since even the poorest man was required by common custom to hire a minimum of two flute players and one professional mourner in the event of his wife’s death, it is probable that one who held the rank of synagogue ruler would be expected to hire a large number of professional mourners.” Lane, Mark, p. 196.
139 “Special motivation for the injunction to silence may be found in the rank unbelief of those who had ridiculed Jesus with their scornful laughter. It is clear throughout Mark that Jesus revealed his messiahship only with reserve. It is appropriate to this consistent pattern of behavior that he was unwilling to make himself known to the raucous, unbelieving group that had gathered outside Jairus’ house. He did not permit them to witness the saving action by which the girl was restored to her parents, and he directed that it should continue to remain unknown to those outside. He recognized that the responsibility of the parents in this regard could not continue indefinitely. When the child appeared in public the facts would speak for themselves. The parents could, however, withhold what had happened and thus fulfill the intention of Jesus. Before it was known that the girl was yet alive, the purpose for which the charge had been given would have been fulfilled; Jesus would have departed and could no longer be subject to ostentatious acclaim.” Lane, Mark, pp. 198-199.
Edersheim gives this explanation for the somewhat confusing command not to publish what could hardly be kept secret.
“And perhaps this may help us to understand one of the reasons for the prohibition of telling what had been done by Jesus, while in other instances silence was not enjoined. Of course, there were occasions such as the raising of the young man at Naian and of Lazarus—when the miracle was done so publicly, that a command of this kind would have been impossible. But in other cases may this not be the Line of Demarcation, that silence was not enjoined when a result was achieved which, according to the notions of the time, might have been attributed to other than direct Divine Power, while in the latter cases publicity was (whenever possible) forbidden? And this for the twofold reason, that Christ’s Miracles were intended to aid, not to supersede, faith; to direct to the Person and Teaching of Christ, as that which proved the benefit to be real and Divine; not to excite the carnal Jewish expectancies of the people, but to lead in humble discipleship to the Feet of Jesus. In short, if only those were made known which would not necessarily imply Divine Power (according to Jewish notions), then would not only the distraction and tumult of popular excitement be avoided, but in each case faith in the Person of Christ be still required, ere the miracles were received as evidence of His Divine claim. And this need of faith was the main point.” Edersheim, Life and Times, I, pp. 618-619.