Jesus and Death (Mark 5:21-43)

Link to sermon video:

Sermon Discussion Questions:

  1. What stood out to you most?
  2. What fears do you most commonly struggle with? How has Jesus’ victory over death affected how you deal with every other fear?
  3. Do you have a hard time applying Jude 22?
  4. Do you tend to look more like Jairus or the unclean woman in your faith?
  5. Jesus’ message here is “Do not fear, only believe.” In your life, what “fear”are your confronted with? What is Jesus calling you to believe?

When I was young there was a series of Christian books that became very popular in America that was all about the end of the world. My mother read these books and even bought me a copy of the “youth” version of these books to read. Despite lacking any interest in the book, I wanted to make my mom happy, so I started reading it. About halfway through, though, I put the book down and resolved I would not finish it. As the book painted a melodramatic (and slightly exaggerated) story about the end times, an uneasiness that had normally been a quiet hum in my mind, grew louder and louder. I was not necessarily struck by the particular theology the book was presenting, but became more unsettled by the basic question: if the world were to end tomorrow, would I be ready for that? If I were to die, would God be happy with my life? You see, at the time I had a foggy idea of what Christianity was, but was not a Christian. So I, like most other non-Christians, felt profoundly uncomfortable with thinking about death. So I, again like most other non-Christians, sought to distract my mind from these thoughts by any means possible: friends, laughter, pleasure, etc. But at night the uneasy hum of death would return and I’d realize how all of my distractions did nothing to actually solve the problem.

Well friends, all of us are thinking much more about death today. And I wonder if you have felt or now feel like I did when I was younger. Of course, we live in a historically abnormal time. Modernity has fed us a strange delusion that “death” is something we need not think about. For the majority of human history, death was much more present. We have been “intoxicated with life,” the great Russian novelist, Leo Tolstoy, writes, “but death sobers us all.” Tolstoy, the author of War and Peace and Anna Karenina, at the absolute height of his fame, suffered a total psychological collapse and stopped writing for some time. Eventually he penned a short book called A Confession. In it he recounts how despite being wealthy, famous, and beloved, he could not shake this lingering thought: I will die, and then what? He describes life like a man stuck in a well, holding onto a slender branch growing between the stones. At the bottom of the well is a dragon waiting to devour him as soon as his grip loosens (A Confession). And this paralyzing fear, that none of his wealth or status could abate, drove him nearly insane. He writes, “I had as it were lived and walked, walked, till I had come to a precipice and saw clearly that there was nothing ahead of me but destruction. It was impossible to stop, impossible to go back, and impossible to close my eyes or avoid seeing that there was nothing ahead but suffering and real death–complete annihilation.”

Well, that’s a gloomy way to start an Easter sermon. But on Easter Sunday, what are we celebrating? We are celebrating that Jesus has provided the remedy to our greatest fear. What happens when we die? Why do we fear death? Today, on Easter Sunday, we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Death doesn’t seem to be a problem for Jesus. And now, as we turn to our text, we will see Jesus possesses a unique authority and power over both death and its handmaiden, disease. As we move through the text, I pray that those who suffer from the fear of death would find hope and peace in Jesus Christ.

21 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. 22 Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet 23 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.” 24 And he went with him.

And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. 25 And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, 26 and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. 28 For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” 29 And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 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?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’ ” 32 And he looked around to see who had done it. 33 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. 34 And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

35 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?” 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37 And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. 38 They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40 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. 41 Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” 42 And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. 43 And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat. – Mark 5:21-43

In this story we see two stories intersect with each other. We see a desperate father, a desperate woman, and a dying girl, all brought before Jesus.

Desperation and Disease

A crowd greets Jesus as soon as His boat returns to shore, but a man quickly shoves his way through the crowd. We are told that this is Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue—an important person. But as soon as he sees Jesus, he falls down before Him. This man is imploring Jesus earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live,” Mark 5:23. Any parent can immediately relate to his father—which one of us wouldn’t do anything and everything to try and save our children from an untimely death? The titanic weight of suffering drives this man in desperation to Jesus’ feet. He falls before Jesus. He isn’t posturing, he isn’t trying to look important or dignified. He is desperate. And friends, maybe God in His severe mercy will bring that kind of suffering in your life, so you can have an actual, authentic encounter with Jesus. And maybe this is what God is doing to our church. Why on earth would God bring about a pandemic to shut out church down when our church has been struggling for years, we have this brand new, baby pastor who has no clue what he is doing and we are just left wondering, Come on, God—what are You doing? Friends, maybe God wants to humble us. Empty our church of our silly notions of self-importance and show us just how desperate we really are. The harvest comes after the plow cuts the earth—maybe, this is the very means by which God catapults our church and the church in America back into a profound, authentic relationship with the Lord. Maybe this pandemic is the best thing that has ever come to the church—because, friends, God doesn’t need people who think they have it all together, He wants people who now that without Jesus they are desperate. Desperate like a father trying to save his daughter’s life. Jesus, upon seeing Jairus’ humility, immediately goes with him.

However, as Jesus rushes off with Jairus, He is immediately interrupted. Jesus is moving through the great crowd who are pressing in around him (Mark 5:24), when we a certain woman reaches out and touches Jesus. This woman, we are told, 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,” (Mark 5:25-26). According to the old covenant, women with a discharge of blood were considered ceremonially unclean (Lev 15) and had to avoid making contact with anyone else (Num 5:1-4), because if she did her uncleanness would then be transferred to them and they would be excluded. Leviticus tells us that blood represented life, so when blood was shed, it symbolized death (Lev 17:11). And anything that represented the presence of death—including disease—rendered you unclean and you were barred from the temple and driven from the presence of others. This was because Yahweh, the God of Life, was in their midst—His holiness pushed the presence of death away.

But, this woman has both an issue of blood and a disease. She had some sort of gynecological disease (cf. Mark 5:34) that resulted in her hemorrhaging for twelve years. Thus, for twelve years she would have been cut off from all community, from the temple, and marked with the social stigma of one who was perpetually “unclean, impure.”

We may have a hard time today understanding this idea of an “unclean” stigma because we no longer are under these ritual purity laws. We will think about this transition from purity laws in Mark 7, but I think we can emotionally relate to this woman by comparing her condition to our current pandemic we are in. Imagine someone on your street or in your apartment building was a confirmed carrier of COVID-19. You are out getting the mail when you suddenly hear someone coughing behind you, and you see this person walking your way. Now, copy that emotional response you suddenly feel, and paste that into our story about this woman. This is how everyone else would have felt about this woman being around other people. This woman is not only socially impoverished, but is physically and materially impoverished—she has spent “all she had” on doctors whose treatments were apparently worse than the cure, and her conditioned only grew worse. This woman is in a desperate situation.

Jesus’ fame in this region has reached far and wide—so much so that even someone removed from society, like this woman, has heard of Jesus’ ability to heal. She hears that Jesus has come back into town and, in desperation, pushes her way through the crowds, sneaks up behind Jesus, and touches Him, “For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well,” Mark 5:28. There is a remarkable mixture of timidity and boldness in this action. She does not come to Jesus directly—she fears that her impurity would immediately disqualify Jesus from even interacting with her, let alone touching her to heal her. But there is a boldness—to risk going into town (amidst a thronging crowd nonetheless!), a willingness to reach and touch Jesus, and the faith that just touching the fringe of His robe will make her clean. That is an impressive kind of faith. And as soon as she touches Jesus she is immediately healed of her disease (Mark 5:29).

Her efforts to remain anonymous, however, are ruined. Jesus suddenly stops walking and begins looking. Though many are pressing in on Jesus, He knows that someone has touched Him in a way that is entirely different. Jesus will not let this woman walk away without having an encounter with Him. “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,” Mark 5:33.

The woman is terrified. Why? Because, she was forbidden to touch anyone else while being ritually unclean. Anyone she touched was then made impure for the rest of the day (Lev 15:19). Certainly, her revealing herself in the crowd itself would have brought out a shocked gasp from the crowd: You!? What are you doing here?! Further, she has now touched Jesus, the celebrity rabbi. Is Jesus now unclean? What has she done? No. Jesus is not worried about that whatsoever; He pronounces to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease,” Mark 5:34. Like the leper in Mark 1:40-45, when someone unclean touches Jesus, rather than their impurity transferring to Jesus, Jesus’ purity is given to them, and they are healed. In the old covenant, God’s holiness pushed death away by pushing the people who carried the death away; now, with Jesus, He pushes the presence of death away by pushing it out of the person. By restoring them.

Jesus speaks the traditional Jewish salutation, “go in peace,” to her (cf. Judge 18:6; 1 Sam 1:17; 2 Sam 15:9), which refers to the idea of shalom, the Hebrew word that refers to the a life that is in harmony with its Creator and the rest of creation. This woman has been restored to a place of “peace,” both in her relationship with God, and with her relationship in society, and in her own body now functioning properly. Her faith has saved her. This disease, the specter of death that had hung over this woman, has been driven away like smoke in the wind.

Application: Timid Faith

The proximity of these two stories next to each other invite us to compare them. Not only do these two individuals show us that Jesus embraces people from every walk of life (man or woman, clean or unclean, rich or poor, popular or outcast, etc.), but it demonstrates that there are different kinds of ways people approach Jesus. There are similarities to the approach of Jairus and this woman: both come in desperation, both acknowledge that Jesus has the power to heal, and both trust that Jesus can help. But there are also major differences: Jairus approaches Jesus rather boldly and directly, whereas the woman is timid and fearful. But Jesus equally helps them both.

Maybe you are like Jairus and feel a certain confidence to approach Jesus directly—maybe you are familiar with the church world, or have just been given a mind and circumstances that make Christianity seem compelling and true, so you come to Jesus directly.

Or, maybe you are like this woman, and feel a timidity in your faith. Maybe you think that your past has painted you with stains that will never be washed away, so you aren’t certain that Jesus would even want to have an interaction with you, let alone have a relationship with you. Maybe you wrestle with doubts about the faith itself—do I really believe this? Is this true?

But Jesus is available to any and to all who come to Him. Jesus tells us, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out,” John 6:37. Some of you have a depth of confidence and boldness in your faith that runs a thousand miles deep—some of you have faith that runs just a few feet down. But if you have faith in Jesus—this is crucial, both Jairus and the woman had a measure of confidence in Jesus, even if they were colored differently—if you have faith, He will receive you today and will never cast you out. We are not saved by how hard we can flex our faith, we are saved by Jesus and Jesus alone.

If Jesus shows mercy to those who come to Him with timid faith, we likewise should be patient and merciful with one another. This is why we are commanded in the book of Jude to, “have mercy on those who doubt,” Jude 22. We want our church to be a safe place where someone can say, “I’m having a hard time believing this right now.” Parents, do you encourage your children to talk about their doubts, fears, and questions they have about God, the Bible, and our faith? We want to teach our children, and our fellow members in the church, that when we are filled with fear and uncertainty that we, like this woman here, bring them to Jesus.

Despair and Death

As wonderful as this story of restoration is, it is immediately interrupted, “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?” Mark 5:35. Imagine the frustration, the impatience Jairus felt as Jesus had the interchange with the unclean woman. He knows that his daughter is on death’s doorstep (Mark 5:23), there isn’t a moment to spare—but spare a moment, Jesus does. And it proves to be fatal. The little girl is dead and now, apparently, they see no reason to bother Jesus anymore—you cannot heal what cannot be fixed. It had to be both infuriating and devastating for Jairus to hear these words. Dead? No, we were on our way, I went and got the miracle worker, I told him it was urgent, we were rushing, we just—that woman. If it weren’t for that woman! 

Jesus, however, will have none of it, “But overhearing (ignoring) what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe,” Mark 5:36. Don’t fear, only believe? What on earth could Jesus mean by this? There is no indication that anyone would think that Jesus could raise this girl from the dead, yet He summons Jairus, in the face of the most blinding emotional pain an individual can experience—the death of a child—to not lose the faith that carried him to Jesus in the first place: do not fear, only believe. Jesus takes Peter, James, and John with Him to Jairus’ home where they find a troupe of mourners, wailing and weeping (Mark 5:37-38). Jesus then makes the shocking statement, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping,” Mark 5:39. The mourners strangely stop their crying and laugh at Jesus’ ridiculous statement—He must be out of His mind! But Jesus quickly ushers them out of the house, and with His three disciples and the parents, He turns to the girl (Mark 5:40). And, like a parent waking up his daughter before school, Jesus grabs the girl’s hand and says, “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,” Mark 5:41-42. 1 Corinthians 15:26 describes death as an “enemy,” and terrifying enemy it is. But, to Jesus, overcoming death is as simple as waking somebody up from sleep (cf. John 11:11). Sweetheart, it’s time to wake up.

What does this teach us?

Jesus has power over death

The miracles of Jesus, healing disease, casting out demons, raising the dead—all of them display that Jesus has power and authority over our worst fears, over our greatest enemies. But, Jesus’ miracles only point to the greater act of deliverance that is to come. Hebrews 2:14-15 explains that Jesus became a human being so, “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.” Jesus took on flesh, lived a human life like us in order to destroy Satan, the one who holds the power of death—how did He do it? Through His own death. For us to be freed from the fear of death, someone needed to reconcile us with God, pay for our sins—and this is what Jesus did in His death. He dies in our place, forgives our sin, and makes right with God all who put their faith in Him. This is what disarmed the spiritual rulers, Satan and his demons: Jesus’ death (Col 2:14-15). And now, ironically, it is through His death that He destroyed the one who holds the power of death to free us from a lifelong slavery of fear of death. John Owen writes specifically on this in book The Death of Death in the Death of Jesus Christ. The dragon waiting to devour us has been slain.

So, brothers and sisters, Jesus today is inviting you to experience this reality. Jesus’ admonition to Jairus is for us all: do not fear, only believe. 

Don’t Fear

I often hear that the most repeated command in the Bible is this one: do not fear. Which would make sense, since there is so much to fear today. We fear for our loved ones, for the members of our community who are most at risk right now. We fear that our businesses or our jobs might not survive this quarantine. We fear that our families might go crazy from being cooped up; we fear the loneliness, isolation, and depression. We fear what tomorrow will bring, we fear the thought of this perpetuating for what seems like an indefinite period of time. How are we supposed to not be afraid? There is this odd little offhand remark that Peter makes in his letter when he is encouraging women to pursue a godliness as a wife, he tells them not to, “fear anything that is frightening,” 1 Pet 3:6. You catch that? Peter didn’t say, “don’t fear anything that seems frightening—because it really isn’t.” No—do not fear anything that is frightening. How on earth do you do that?

When Jesus tells Jairus “do not be afraid” He isn’t telling him: you have nothing to be afraid of right now. His daughter just died—this is a parent’s greatest fear playing out in vivid color! Jesus, isn’t trying to downplay the fears in our lives; He is just inviting us to look more at His resources more than we look at what frightens us. And friends, if Jesus has the resources to defeat your greatest, biggest, baddest enemy—death—then He can be trusted when facing all of the smaller fears you face in life. But this is why the first half of this command cannot be separated from the second.

Only Believe

“Faith,” “Belief,” are meaningless words without an object. We must have faith in something, otherwise it is meaningless, useless. Jesus is calling Jairus to believe in Him—to believe that Jesus has power and authority over death, can bring his daughter back to life. And friends, your fears will go nowhere unless there is an accompanying faith in Jesus to drive it out. “Faith,” or “belief,” is basically trust—trust that Jesus is who He says He is, has done what He says He has done, and will do what He says He will do. So, what is Jesus inviting you to believe today?

Jesus is inviting you to trust many things—namely, that His death and resurrection have secured the forgivness of sins for all who put their faith in Him. But let’s think specifically about what Jesus is inviting you to believe concerning death. Death is the most powerful enemy we face (1 Cor 15:26), and if Jesus has overcome that, it will kindle faith that He will overcome all of our lesser fears.

1.     Death has been defanged through your sin being forgiven. What makes death so terrifying is the thought of judgment that comes after death. Now, in Christ, our judgment day has already come and death no longer is a gateway to judgment.

2.     Death cannot separate you from your greatest hope and joy: the love of Christ. Paul tells us, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord,” Rom 8:38-39.

3.     Death is now your servant. Paul tells the Corinthians: “For all things are yours, whether…life or death or the present or the future—all are yours,” 1 Cor 3:22. Death is yours? I think by that Paul means that because of Christ, death no longer is something to be feared, but is something that leads us to God. This is why Paul can say, “to die is gain,” and to depart and be with Christ is, “far better” than remaining here on earth (Phil 1:21, 23).

Christ, the captain of our souls, has blazed the trail ahead of us. He has passed through death and conquered it, resurrecting from the dead. And now, because we have been united with Him, likewise will follow His path and overcome the grave. For now, death is but a shadow of what it once was, and one day, it will be done away with forever. Till then, it remains our servant, the gatekeeper to usher us into the heavenly palace of Zion, where we will dwell with our God, forever. So, dear Christian, do not fear, only believe.

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