Apr 23, 2006

Jairus' Daughter

Mark 5:21–43

No situation is a lost cause when it is brought before the Lord Jesus Christ. Today, R.C. Sproul continues his series in Mark’s gospel to display Jesus’ power and compassion toward a suffering woman and a grieving father.


We are back in the gospel according to Saint Mark, which we laid aside during the Easter season. We are still in the fifth chapter of that gospel. The end of chapter 4 gave us the record of Jesus’ calming the storm. The beginning of chapter 5 showed Jesus releasing the man possessed by a legion of demons.

We pick it up this morning at verse 21, which gives us the account of Jesus healing the woman with the twelve-year-long hemorrhage, as well as the raising of the daughter of Jairus from the dead. Some commentators have felicitously referred to this portion of Mark as the Saint Jude chapter of the New Testament. If you have a Roman Catholic background, you know that Saint Jude is the patron saint of hopeless causes. That is why, when Danny Thomas decided to build a hospital in Memphis devoted to children’s allegedly incurable diseases, he named it after Saint Jude. The man possessed by a legion of demons, the woman with the issue of blood for twelve years, and the daughter of Jairus who died so young would all fit into the category of hopeless causes.

But just as we saw Jesus’ power over nature in the calming of the storm and His power over the realm of the demonic in His freeing of the one possessed by a legion of devils, so now we see the record of our Lord’s power over disease and death itself. So, let us look then at Mark 5:21–43. Please stand for the reading of the Word of God:

Now when Jesus had crossed over again by boat to the other side, a great multitude gathered to Him; and He was by the sea. And behold, one of the rulers of the synagogue came, Jairus by name. And when he saw Him, he fell at His feet and begged Him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter lies at the point of death. Come and lay Your hands on her, that she may be healed, and she will live.” So Jesus went with him, and a great multitude followed Him and thronged Him.

Now a certain woman had a flow of blood for twelve years, and had suffered many things from many physicians. She had spent all that she had and was no better, but rather grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came behind Him in the crowd and touched His garment. For she said, “If only I may touch His clothes, I shall be made well.”

Immediately the fountain of her blood was dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of the affliction. And Jesus, immediately knowing in Himself that power had gone out of Him, turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched My clothes?”

But His disciples said to Him, “You see the multitude thronging You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’”

And He looked around to see her who had done this thing. But the woman, fearing and trembling, knowing what had happened to her, came 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 affliction.”

While He was still speaking, some came from the ruler of the synagogue’s house who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?”

As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, He said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not be afraid; only believe.” And He permitted no one to follow Him except Peter, James, and John the brother of James. Then He came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and saw a tumult and those who wept and wailed loudly. When He came in, He said to them, “Why make this commotion and weep? The child is not dead, but sleeping.”

And they ridiculed Him. But when He had put them all outside, He took the father and the mother of the child, and those who were with Him, and entered where the child was lying. Then He took the child by the hand, and said to her, “Talitha, cumi,” which is translated, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” Immediately the girl arose and walked, for she was twelve years of age. And they were overcome with great amazement. But He commanded them strictly that no one should know it, and said that something should be given her to eat.

He who has ears to hear the Word of God, let him hear. Please be seated. Let us pray.

Our Lord, we stand in awe and amazement at this record of the compassion, power, and wonder of the ministry of our Lord. Help us to see Him in His power and glory as we consider this text, for we ask these things in His name.

At the Point of Death

Mark concludes his narrative of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee round about the Sea of Galilee, and we are told that again He crossed to the other side. When He arrived, He was once more surrounded by multitudes of people who wanted to gain something from proximity to Him. We read that one of the rulers of the synagogue came, named Jairus.

As a ruler of the synagogue, Jairus had some status among the people of Israel, but he was not a rabbi; he was a layman. The synagogue ruler oversaw taking care of the building and ordering all the services that took place within the synagogue building. So, he was a man of some expertise and status in the community. Now, he came and fell at the feet of Jesus.

Once again, we see somebody facing a hopeless crisis, and when they come to Jesus, they come falling at His feet, begging with all earnestness that Jesus might intercede in their crisis and cure whatever the problem may be. This was Jairus’ cry: “My little daughter lies at the point of death.”

I am sure the translators struggled to render the Greek there with the phrase “at the point of death.” We have a science called eschatology, coming from the Greek word eschatōs, which means last or final things. In the Greek, that word is used in this text, so when Jairus says, “My little girl is at the point of death,” she is at her eschaton. She is at the very end. She is at death’s door. She is breathing her last.

It is not that the girl was very sick and in intensive care, but she was literally on her death bed, the implication being, “If you don’t do something, Jesus, she will surely die.” Then Jairus said: “Come, lay Your hands on her that she may be healed. If you do that, Jesus, she’ll live.” So, Jesus went with him, and a great multitude followed Him, and thronged Him round about.

The Woman’s Misery

At this point in the narrative, where Mark introduces the crisis for the father of the little girl, there is an interlude between the beginning of Jesus’ proceeding to the home of Jairus and His actual arrival and ministry to the little girl. Mark tells us what happens on the way.

“Now a certain woman had a flow of blood for twelve years”—twelve years of unceasing hemorrhage. That may seem bad to us living in the Western world in the twenty-first century, but go to the Old Testament and read Leviticus 15. There you will see the detailed instructions for ceremonial cleansing with respect to being declared unclean.

We have already examined the misery of those in whom leprosy was discovered, how they became outcasts, pariahs in the community. The Old Testament law also required that somebody in this woman’s condition was considered unclean while the hemorrhage lasted. She could not marry. She could not be part of the worshipping community of Israel. She was as unclean as a leper. No one was allowed to touch her or her clothes because they would become unclean.

So, the woman did not just suffer from physical misery, but she suffered from social and religious misery because she was banished from the presence of the people of God. The very fact that she was in this multitude involved her active disobedience to the Old Testament ritual law.

Mark goes on to describe the woman’s misery in even greater categories. Not only was she physically miserable, not only was she socially miserable, but she was utterly destitute because she had spent every penny she owned and done everything she could to get relief from the hemorrhage. She had gone to doctor after doctor, spending her last cent, and we read in the text that the doctors made her condition worse.

An Incurable Condition

Let me pause for a moment. I do not think the doctors in the ancient world wanted to make her condition worse. They just did not have the medicine, knowledge, or tools at their disposal to give her relief. Her condition—in the medical terms of the first century—was incurable.

Sometimes we look back at the ancient world and see some of the amazing feats doctors performed, such as performing brain surgery or surgery in the abdomen successfully without the knowledge, antibiotics, and tools that people have today. If you look at the physicians of Egypt and see some of the things they accomplished, it is incredible.

But there is another side to it. If you look at the healing manuals of the medical world in the first century, over two thousand years ago, you want to either laugh or cry because so much of it seems like what witchdoctors practice in remote places of the world today.

One of the remedies for the woman’s condition, for example, was to take many locust wings and mix them up—something like Boris Karloff would use in his laboratory to bring a cadaver back to life. As I was reading about that, I thought: “I wonder what people two thousand years from now will say about our medical practices today. They’ll look back at us and think we were barbarians.”

Since I had my stroke, I have had every remedy known to humanity offered to me by well-meaning people. Let me just say, I love it when people offer their wonderful remedies, but do not give me any more. Let me just deal with my doctors. I have enough natural supplements to float a battleship. I cannot take any more medicine. Please give your grandmother’s remedies to her, not to me. But fifty years from now, some of the ways we treat diseases will be considered barbaric because we have not reached the point of exhausting all there potentially is to know about how the body works.

Close Enough to Touch His Clothes

Returning to the text, the poor woman shuttled from doctor to doctor, and her condition had only gotten worse. It amazes me that she would have any hope left, that she would even go out of her way to try to get in touch with Jesus. But people who are in this kind of physical distress will try almost anything to get relief. So, she said to herself, “If I can only touch His clothes, I shall be made well.”

In one sense, that is commendable, and in another sense, it is not. One of the widespread beliefs of the day was that if you could get close to a great man or healer and touch his clothes, that is all it would take. So, there was a bit of magic mixed into her hopes and aspirations for healing, but that was commonplace in that day.

Of course, nobody would believe anything like that today. Ministers on television are not going to sell handkerchiefs to you if you give so much money—nobody would really believe that today, right? I am sorry to say they do. The idea is that if you can get some part of the clothing of a famous or powerful person, it will have magic in it.

Whatever her reasoning, the woman likely thought: “I don’t care. This is my last chance. This is my last resort. I’ve heard so many great things about Jesus. Maybe He’ll have time for me. He doesn’t have to stop. He doesn’t have to lay His hands on me. Let me just touch His clothes. If I can just get close to Him, maybe that will do it.”

So, she made her way through the crowd. Even though the law of God forbade her from touching anybody, she stretched forth her hands and touched Jesus. When she did that, instantly the hemorrhage stopped, and she knew it. She felt it in her body that she was instantly healed of her affliction.

Notice that when Jesus heals people, it is never really over a protracted period. Jesus never makes a circus display out of His healing like some of the alleged healers on television. Somebody touches a person who says they are deaf and then walks away and says, “Can you hear me now?” Can you imagine Jesus putting on a display like that when He heals some poor person? No, that is not what He did.

“Who Touched Me?”

The woman knew instantly that she was healed, but Jesus also knew instantly that something had happened. Mark tells us, “And Jesus, immediately knowing in Himself that power had gone out of Him, turned around in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched My clothes?’”

Let me comment on this briefly and confront some of the mythology that surrounds our understanding of Jesus, who we believe is vere homo, vere Deus, truly man, truly God. The great heresy the church had to fight against in the fifth century included the Monophysite heresy that involved deifying the human nature.

In the incarnation, the divine nature loses none of the divine attributes. The divine nature stays divine. The human nature stays human. The human nature is not deified, and the divine nature is not humanized. I say this for a reason. Jesus, touching His human nature, was not omniscient. He did not know everything. Later in this gospel, it says that He did not know the day or hour the Father had appointed for the consummation of the kingdom.

In this text, we have Jesus in His human nature manifesting the limitations of that nature. He did not know who touched Him. He knew someone had. He felt that much, but He did not know who, so He stopped. Remember, He was on the way to minister to a young girl at the point of death, who maybe by now had even died. Every minute counted. He did not have time to delay, but He stopped, turned around, and said, “Who touched Me?”

If ever the disciples were irritated by their Master, it was now: “What do You mean, who touched You? How are we supposed to know who touched You? There’s a thronging multitude pressing and bumping up against You every second, and You want us to discern who it was that touched You?”

“I know somebody touched Me because I felt the power go out of Me.” So really, Jesus was not calling on the disciples to reveal who it was that touched Him. He was now calling on the person to identify himself or herself. He was looking at the group: “Which one of you did this? Who touched Me and took that power from Me?”

Efficient and Instrumental Causes

“But the woman, fearing and trembling, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell before Him, and”—listen to this—“told Him the whole truth.” When the woman came into the presence of Jesus and Jesus asked what had happened, there was no partial truth, no half-truth. She could have said: “I’m an outcast. I broke the law of Leviticus. I’m not allowed to touch You, but I was unclean; I was desperate.” She could have even eliminated all that and just said, “Here, I did it.”

But you see, Jesus wanted the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and that is what the grateful woman gave to Jesus: “Jesus, I touched You. I’m unclean. I’ve just made You unclean according to the law because I touched You. I hope You’ll forgive me, but I was desperate because I’ve had this for twelve years. I went to every doctor I knew of, and they took my money, and they made me worse. I’m sorry, Jesus, but I just knew that if I could touch You, I would finally be healed.” She told Him the whole truth.

What did Jesus say to her? Here is what He did not say: “Daughter, your touch has made you well.” Nor did He say, “Daughter, My garments have made you well.” No, He said, “Your faith has made you well.” What did He mean? This was not name it and claim it. There was no intrinsic power in her faith. Her faith was not the efficient cause of her healing. Jesus was the efficient cause of her healing.

How did the efficient cause get directed into the woman? What would we say is the instrumental cause of her cure? It was faith. This is just like in our justification. We are not justified because there is any inherent righteousness in our faith such that God says, “Because you have faith, I will save you.” No, faith is the instrumental cause of justification because it is that tool or instrument by which we grab hold of Christ. Christ is the efficient cause of our justification. So, in this case, it was Jesus and His power that healed the woman.

Jesus said, “Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction.” The “go in peace” could be seen simply as a standard, customary valediction like “goodbye.” But I think it meant so much more than that to the woman who had not had a moment’s peace in twelve years. That valediction took on a whole new meaning to her as Jesus spoke tenderly to her and He said, “Go now, not in fear, not in trembling, not in misery, but in peace.” The current significance of the verb is saying, “You are healed permanently.”

Never Too Late for Jesus

While Jesus was still speaking, somebody came from the ruler of the synagogue’s house and said: “Jairus, it’s too late. Your little girl is dead.” Then they raised a question to him: “Why trouble the Master anymore?”

At what point in your life, beloved, do you say to yourself: “Why trouble God anymore? Everything I feared would happen has happened. Why should I bother praying now? My husband died. My child died. I’m dying. Why bother now?” There is no time when you stop troubling the Lord, because it is never any trouble to Him to hear your cries and to wipe away your tears. But from an earthly perspective, it was too late. The girl was dead.

As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, He may have said to Jairus: “I know what they said. I know they said not to trouble Me anymore because it’s too late. But don’t be afraid, Jairus. Don’t give in to your terror. Keep on believing. Trust me, Jairus. You came to Me, and you were on your face. You asked Me to do this when your daughter was at the doorstep of death. Now she’s entered that doorstep, but it’s not too late. Believe. This isn’t over yet.” So, He stopped the crowd from following Him. The only ones He permitted were Peter, James, and John—the inner circle.

Jesus came to the house of Jairus and saw a tumult. The crowd of those who wept and wailed loudly, do you know who they were? They were the professionals. It was the Jewish custom that when there was a death in the family, you hired professional mourners to rend their garments, wail, dance, weep, and signify that the great calamity of death had befallen a household. The size of your professional mourning committee was determined by economics.

The rabbis required that even if you were a poor peasant and had a death in the family, you had to hire at least two players of the flute and one female wailer. But this was the ruler of the synagogue. So, he had a whole team of professionals. You can imagine the noise. As Jesus approached the house, they were already yelling, screaming, dancing, and weeping.

When Jesus came, He said to them: “Be quiet. Why make all this commotion and weep? The child is not dead. She is sleeping.” Now, Jesus was not saying: “You missed it. She is just comatose.” That is not what He meant here. These people had been at deathbeds time and time again. There was no doubt among the crowd or among the family that this little girl had breathed her last. Jesus was using “sleeping” as the euphemism commonly used to describe somebody who was dead.

Notice in verse 40, “And they ridiculed Him.” The professional criers became amateur laughers. They laughed at Jesus. They turned off the tears instantly, and they started jeering and making fun of Him: “Oh yeah, she’s still asleep. She’s just sleeping. That’s all.”

From Death, Arise

When Jesus had put them all outside, He took the father, the mother, and those who were with Him, and entered where the child was. He took the child by the hand. This was the second time in just minutes that, according to the Old Testament ritual law, Jesus had been defiled—first by the touch of an unclean woman and now by touching a corpse.

Jesus took the girl by the hand. Just like Christ gives His power by the sound of His voice, just as God brought the whole world into creation by the sound of His voice, by fiat, by imperative, just as He brought Lazarus out of the tomb by command, He spoke to the little girl in her state of death, held her hand, and said to her, “Little girl, arise.”

Immediately, the girl arose, and she walked. Did she get up out of bed and say: “Wow, I was dead. It’s going to take me a while to get my legs”? No, all her strength returned to her instantly. She walked around the room, and Jesus said to her parents: “Don’t announce this everywhere. People won’t understand it. But here’s what I want you to do: prepare her something to eat because she’s hungry.”

The power of the resurrection, the power over death, the power over lost causes, all these things converged in the touch of Jesus in the home of Jairus. This is the Lord in whom we place our trust in life and in death, forever.

This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.