When Mike Peters won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for political cartoons, he wasn’t expecting the honor. He described his response by saying, “It is like you are asleep and it is two in the morning and you are hugging your pillow and you are in your funny pajamas and somebody bursts through the door and they come over and start shaking you and they say, ‘Wake up, wake up!’ And you say, ‘What is it?’ And they say, ‘You have just won the Boston Marathon!’ And you say, ‘But I’m not running in the Boston Marathon.’ And they say, ‘Doesn’t make any difference, you won ....’” That’s an example of receiving something completely wonderful and unexpected.
We read this morning of someone receiving something completely unexpected in what Jesus does. Two weeks ago we looked at how Jesus healed the woman who had been sick for 12 years. Now we return to the story of Jairus and his daughter and see how Jesus does something that was completely and utterly unexpected. Let’s read Mark 5:21-43.
I. Let’s look at the tragic development in the story of Jairus’ daughter in verse 35-36.
The healing of the woman who was bleeding resulted in a delay that proved tragic for the young girl whom Jesus was going to help. Some people from Jairus’ home arrived and told the father that his daughter had died. As a result, there was no point in Jesus going there any longer; it was too late. Jesus heard what they said but ignored it and issued an intense call for faith. Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” That is intense faith! Jairus had shown great faith when he had come to Jesus in the confidence that Jesus could save his daughter from her illness. Jairus had witnessed the healing of the woman which demonstrated the relationship between faith and receiving help from Jesus. But now he was being asked to believe that his child would live even though he had just heard that his daughter had died. Such faith is radical trust in the ability of Jesus to do something we can’t fathom.
Sometimes we as well may be challenged to have such incredible faith. At times we may face things that may seem to be beyond hope. We hear a prognosis for our health where there is little hope. Or you are in a job situation where there seems to be no chance for improvement. We are in a political environment where it seems that there is little to hope for. In times when it seems obvious that there is no reason to have hope, Jesus challenges us as well to have faith in spite of what seems to be obvious.
“I remember picking him up at the vet’s office after the surgery. I had to carry him to the car, and every movement elicited a whimper from Quincy. I took him to the family room and laid him on a blanket in the corner. I was sure Quincy would never want anything to do with me again, given that I was responsible for all of his pain. If I could win back Quincy’s trust, I was sure it would take a long time. I sat down in my easy chair and started reading the paper. After about five minutes, I felt something move the paper. I looked down, and it was Quincy. He laid his head on my lap. I prayed, ‘Oh God, let me be that way with you. There is so much pain, but let me always come to you and put my head on your lap the way Quincy has just done with me.’”
There are times when we must trust in God completely and even if the situation seems beyond hope, we come to God in our pain to feel his comforting presence.
II. Jesus has a very curious response and question to the situation in verses 37-40.
First, Jesus only allows Jairus and three disciples to go with him into the house. The seriousness of the situation demanded that only those whom Jesus chose as witnesses should know what really took place. There is also respect for the father for this is a very personal moment. Going into the house Jesus saw all the funeral activities already underway. The professional mourners were doing their duties as part of the mourning ceremony. The wailing consisted of choral songs accompanied by hand clapping. Then as now, death required certain cultural obligations for a proper funeral. 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. Thus it is probable that one who held the rank of synagogue ruler would be expected to hire a large number of such professional mourners. So there is a buzz of funeral activities when Jesus arrives.
Jesus rebuked their noisy work and said, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead, but is sleeping.” One gets the impression that Jesus is moved by mercy but clearly annoyed by the professional mourning commotion surrounding this girl’s death. Jesus’ statement means that in spite of the girl’s real death, her death is not final. Mourning is inappropriate because this is a sleep from which the girl will soon awaken.
Yet Jesus does more for he not only has tender compassion for this child and family; he has come to defeat death forever! Jesus willingly endured death so that we don’t have to endure eternal death. Christopher Hinton writes, “Our God, after all, is a suffering God, hung on the cross as a sacrifice. Through the pain Christ suffered as a human being, God unburdened humanity from sin. Indeed, Christ embraced suffering for our salvation. As with God, suffering gives us a greater empathy with the rest of humankind.” Jesus suffered with those in pain and we too are called to have compassion on those who are hurting and suffering: the homeless, the refugees, the sick, and the lonely.
III. Let’s look at the miracle itself in verses 40b-42.
The mourners knew that the girl was dead and responded to Jesus with scornful laughter. This gives us another clear insight into the funeral customs of the day. Notice how quickly the wailing and tears were exchanged for laughter. This indicates how artificial the mourning customs had become in Jesus’ day. Jesus throws the scoffers out of the house and allowed only the parents of the girl and the three disciples to accompany him into the room, where the young girl lay. Taking hold of the girl’s hand, he spoke the Aramaic words, “Talitha koum,” “Little girl, I say to you, get up” and the girl rose up and walked around. Mark’s use of the Aramaic phrase here and in healing a blind man in Mark 7:34, led some Christians to believe that saying foreign words made healing effective. But Mark is simply being accurate and faithful to the tradition that Jesus had actually spoken these words and it made a deep impression on those who heard it.
The parents and of the disciples were understandably astonished! There was no doubt in their minds that they this girl was truly dead. God had intervened so dramatically that they were utterly amazed. You can imagine that, right? Imagine a scene at a funeral home and someone says that your loved one is only sleeping, even though you can see and you know that he is clearly dead. But then your loved one gets up and is walking around just like they used to! I have had dreams of my parents and my brother-in-law like that. They are dead but now are walking around just as they always did! It’s a strange but oddly comforting dream to have. You dream of a loved one being alive but you wake up and know they are still gone; however, then you walk into the kitchen and there they are, very much alive! Imagine how stunned and overwhelmed those in that room must have been!
Have there been times when you have been utterly amazed by what God has done? We have been praying for healing for Claire and right now she is doing very well. I’m a bit surprised but why am I? Do we not believe that Jesus who raised a girl from the dead can indeed heal us? God can and does do things that should amaze us! God can bring physical healing! God can bring a new job or fix a work situation that is unbearable. God can restore relationships that seemed beyond repair. God does provide us with the resources that we need when we didn’t expect it. Moreover, God has removed each and every one of our sins. And that should clearly amaze us! All of the terrible things we have done and continue to do are forgiven and gone!
IV. Jesus then gives final instructions in verse 43.
Jesus gave strict orders to those present not to tell others what had happened. Now think about this for a moment. What Jesus has asked them to do would be truly impossible! Everyone in that town knew that the girl had died; it would be impossible to keep the news of her being alive a secret! Yet these five had seen something that they were not to share with others.
So what is Jesus doing here? It may be that Jesus’ command to be silent was aimed at the unbelief of those who had ridiculed Jesus with their scornful laughter. Jesus was unwilling to make himself known to the raucous and unbelieving group that had gathered at Jairus’ house. He recognized that the parents could not continue this indefinitely for when the girl appeared in public the facts would speak for themselves. The parents could, however, withhold what had happened for a time. Jesus could then leave during this brief time of silence and would thus no longer be subject to all the attention this would bring to him.
There is a wonderful tender touch on the part of Jesus in Mark’s final note. In the midst of the excitement Jesus realized that the girl would need food. I love that little detail because it shows Jesus’ concern for the details in our lives. Jesus not only saves us from death but knows that we need the things of this life. And the things we need to live are not insignificant to our Lord. He knows our need for food, for money and for all the things of life. As our children were growing up, we taught them this very familiar prayer at meal times which we still all say together when we gather as an extended family: “God is great. God is good. Let us thank him for this food. By your hand we all are fed. Give us, Lord, our daily bread. Amen.” A simple prayer to teach children that God gives us the food that we need. But it is a simple prayer to remind all of us that God cares about all the stuff we need to live. This girl’s food was important to Jesus just as all our physical needs are now.
Yet we should not lose the main thrust of this passage in Mark. The raising of Jairus’ daughter is both a deed of compassion and a pledge of the conquering power of Jesus over the combined forces of death and unbelief. In this resurrection, the Kingdom of God was disclosed as a powerful reality. We see here that the main purpose for Jesus’ coming is to bring deliverance from death. I read of a slight variation in that simple prayer we use in our family. “God is great. God is good. Let us thank him for this food. By your grace may we be fed. Give us Lord our daily bread. Amen.”
The good news is that God gives us his grace to overcome death and grace to feed us with all we need as we go through the challenges of this life until he comes again. Will we have the intense faith to trust and believe that he will care for us?