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The Life of Jesus - Series 5: Episode 16

The raising of a dead girl

| Martin Charlesworth
Mark 5:21-43
Luke 8:40-56
Matthew 9:18-26

Jairus and a woman are from different social standings but both need Jesus and overcome fear, emotion and cynicism. They show faith and humility and are rewarded by healings.

Jairus and a woman are from different social standings but both need Jesus and overcome fear, emotion and cynicism. They show faith and humility and are rewarded by healings.


Hello and welcome to Series 5, Episode 16. We're looking at a remarkable story here: ‘The Raising of a Dead Girl’ and there's another miracle that takes place in the same narrative as well, ‘The Healing of a Sick Woman.’ This is one of the remarkable resurrection stories of Jesus - the miracles of raising people from the dead - There are three recounted in the Gospels and this is the second one. We're going to be studying this from Mark 5: 21 - 43. Mark's is the fullest account but there's a parallel account in Luke 8 and in Matthew 9.

Introduction and Recap

The context is that we're in Series 5, the second tour of Galilee in Jesus' ministry. An awful lot of things have already happened and you'll see them in the earlier episodes of Series 5: lots of miracles; lots of remarkable conversations; a major confrontation with the Pharisees, where they denounced him as a false messiah operating under demonic power; a journey across the Sea of Galilee from the western side of the Galilean province where Jesus operated, right the way to the eastern side (which was a Gentile territory known as the Decapolis) and during that journey something very strange happened - a remarkable storm blew up very suddenly, and threatened the lives, through drowning, of those on board. Jesus woke up and calmed the storm and then, as soon as he arrived on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee, he encountered two men who were heavily influenced by demonic forces, suffering intensely, and remarkably he set them free but it caused a big social incident over there because the demonic forces were given permission to go into some pigs that ran off the cliff into the Sea of Galilee. The local people asked Jesus to leave, simply because they were really afraid of what his power might bring to their community.

We catch up the story as Jesus is returning back across the Sea of Galilee. You'll remember from earlier episodes that Jesus frequently took to a boat to go from one place to another around the Sea of Galilee and sometimes he went right across from one side to the other, as has happened in this particular incident. When he left Galilee on the western side (the Jewish side, the province of Galilee) to go over to the Gentile territory, he left a large crowd. People had been following him; they'd been enraptured by his teaching in parables (as recorded in Matthew 13) - parables about the growth of the Kingdom; they'd been amazed about all the other things that he was doing at the time - other miracles and other teachings. When he came back, people seemed to be ready for him and a crowd gathered very quickly. This isn't the first time that that has happened. Wherever Jesus went, the crowds tend to anticipate his movements and try and catch up with him and whenever he went in a boat, it seems clear from the narrative, the people were watching from the lakeside and trying to anticipate when he would return and where he would go - and it seems to be that this is what happened in this case.

As the story unfolds, it's not so much about the crowds as about two individual people who approach Jesus in desperation and great need. This is the story that we're going to take up today. Mark 5: 21 - 43. We'll read the whole story through. It has two different healing miracles intertwined together in the narrative as they happened alongside each other. Verse 21:

‘When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. 22Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. 23He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” 24So Jesus went with him. A large crowd followed and pressed around him. 25And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. 30At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” 31“You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and … you … ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ” 32But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” 35While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?” 36Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don't be afraid; just believe.” 37He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. 38When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. 39He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” 40But they laughed at him. After he put them all out, he took the child's father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). 42Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. 43He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.’

Mark 5:21-43, NIV

You rarely get such a dramatic healing narrative in the Gospels and told with so many details. I think it's absolutely fascinating to put yourself within this narrative and imagine what was going on here with this crowd pressing in on Jesus. He's just come back from the other side of the lake; people want to see him again; they want to have contact with him; they want to hear what he's got to say; they want to see the sort of miracles that he might be performing next; and they want to see where he's going to go.

Two People in Need

Yet, in that crowd was a very desperate man. Even though he was one of the most prominent citizens in their area. Jairus, the synagogue leader was desperate. He had high status. He looked after the worship and the organisation of the synagogue, which was the heartbeat of the Jewish community and of the Jewish faith. The synagogues were the place of worship in every single community. This respected and respectable man came and, not considering his dignity or his position, he simply fell at Jesus' feet. He fell down, he knelt and he pleaded earnestly with Jesus saying,

‘“My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.”’

Mark 5:23, NIV

A critically ill daughter, aged about 12 years old, was lying in a bed, in his home, close by, and so Jesus goes with Jairus and heads to the house. Meanwhile - and this is the interest of the story - something different happens that's completely unrelated. That's what happens in life isn't it? Unrelated things come together in the circumstances of life and this is certainly true here. This second character is someone completely different from Jairus: a woman who is far from being in the centre of the community; she's on the very periphery because she has a medical condition, which means the Law of Moses prohibits her having normal social interaction with other people in terms of human touch - she's suffering from persistent bleeding. This woman is determined that if she can just touch Jesus - she doesn't want to speak to him, she doesn't want to identify herself, she doesn't want to be shamed in any way, she doesn't want to cause any fuss - she has enough faith to believe that if she reaches out and touches Jesus' cloak, power will come from him to her. She's in a very vulnerable position and then a remarkable thing happens: she touches him - his cloak - she feels her body changing inside her; she feels as though she's been healed. Jesus stops and he asks his disciples, “Who touched me?” which they thought was a ridiculous question because the crowd was literally pressing in - and you know what it's like to be in the middle of a crowd; people touching you all the time - they're being forced to touch you because of the pressure of people. He said, “No. Someone's touched me,” and, he felt his power for healing going to someone. The woman realising that she was going to be identified, came, fell at his feet and told the truth. He said these wonderful words,

‘“Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”’

Mark 5:34, NIV

That's a wonderful story, in itself, but we still have the main story going on and things get worse before they get better because a group of people come from Jairus' house to say that not only is she critically sick but she's actually breathed her last breath; she had actually died a very short time ago - a matter of minutes, no doubt. Jesus presses on to the house, reassuring Jairus and, as the story unfolds, we see that he takes some of his disciples (Peter, James and John, the inner circle of his disciples) and the mother and father into her room and speaks to her, ‘“Little girl, I say to you, get up!”’ and immediately she recovers and she is restored to life. Such a remarkable story!


What I want to do with this story is to focus a more specifically on the two main characters: on Jairus and on the woman who was suffering from a condition of bleeding. Jewish society tended to be quite hierarchical; people loved their positions of respect and status - maybe that's true in most societies, maybe it's true in your society - but it was certainly very true in Jewish society. Religion held a very prominent place, so people with a religious office, or status, were very well respected. A common example that we see frequently in the Gospels are the Pharisees and, although they're the opponents of Jesus, they are actually well respected in Jewish society generally. Another example of that would be the leaders of the synagogue because they were the local community religious leaders, who were associated with every village and every town. The synagogue was an incredibly important place for Jews; they could only go to their Temple in Jerusalem occasionally. There were three main festivals in the year and not many people went to all three of those festivals. The synagogue, you could go to on every Sabbath day and it was required of men, particularly, that they should take up that responsibility to pray, listen to the Scriptures being read and explained. The synagogue was also a social centre - a centre for community welfare and for social events. The synagogue leaders had a big civic function - they were important people. Jairus was one of those, a man with status.

It appears that Jairus has been following Jesus and coming to understand who he was. He seems to have a ready faith. Maybe he was already a believer in Jesus but he was certainly impressed by the miracles he'd already seen or heard about - bearing in mind Jesus had been travelling around these communities in that area, in Galilee, for quite a long time now, coming in and out of different towns, performing numerous miracles. It would be impossible for Jairus to be unaware of this and, if he was a spiritual man, which we can assume he was, then he'd be interested. He'd be asking the question: what is the significance of Jesus? Is he a prophet? Is he the Messiah? Is he a teacher? Is he a rabbi? Is he a healer? How are we to view him? Jairus seems to be one of those people who is open to the truth and who has heard many stories of healings and probably seen some with his own eyes. He's that sort of person. What he shows here is a combination of humility and faith. Can I say to you, this is a really powerful combination? If we want to do business with God, we need humility. We need to be brutally honest about where we are, where we've gone wrong, what our needs are - we need to come to him in a very humble way. We also need to have faith. We need to believe that he can intervene, that he can do something for us. Jairus, undoubtedly, had humility and faith. He was willing to humble himself before a disorganised crowd, as one of the main civic leaders and religious leaders, to fall down at the feet of the rabbi and healer, Jesus, and plead with him for his daughter. I think he's an outstanding character, an example to us.

The Woman

The same thing can be said about the woman. In those days, if you had this condition of ongoing bleeding, as a woman, there were very few options in medical terms. No one knew how to cure such a condition. It says here she'd spent all her money on doctors but she was getting worse rather than better. What a depressing situation to be in! You're poorer for your condition and your condition is getting worse. She suffered, even more than that, from the fact that the Jewish law specifically had regulations concerning this type of condition. Let me read to you the key verse here which, undoubtedly, she would be very well aware of. Leviticus 15: 25,

‘When a woman has a discharge of blood for many days at a time other than her monthly period or has a discharge that continues beyond her period, she will be unclean as long as she has the discharge, just as in the days of her period.’

Leviticus 15:25, NIV

This condition of uncleanness was an important part of the Mosaic Law and common to many religions at the time but the Jews had their own idea of things that made you unclean. Some skin conditions, for example, made you unclean. Leprosy, the disease, made you unclean. A woman's condition of bleeding (in this way, in this circumstance) would be considered unclean and that means that that restricts your social contact with people and, in her case particularly, it restricts the ability to be in physical touch or physical contact with her. That is a matter of real deprivation and unhappiness to any normal person: to be considered unclean and to have at least a partial degree of social isolation. That fact needs to be borne in mind when we consider that she's in a crowd. If Jesus is being crushed by this crowd, so is the woman as she tries to get close to him - almost by definition that must be true - and she knows she's not supposed to touch anyone; she's supposed to stay away from direct physical contact with people in any social situation (whether at home or whether in public). She takes that risk and she touches Jesus and even to touch Jesus could, theoretically, be seen as in violation of the Law of Moses. There was a degree of social risk involved in what she was doing but she pressed ahead. She'd had twelve years of social isolation and unhappiness and she was not going to miss the opportunity to get close to Jesus. She showed those same characteristics that Jairus did: humility, real faith and determination, and Jesus responded very wonderfully to her and promised that she would be freed from her suffering. Two main characters that have the qualities of humility and faith clearly within them - qualities that we do well to try and have within our own characters as we approach God.


Some reflections now, as we draw to a conclusion in this episode. These are two very remarkable stories, aren't they? Two very remarkable miracles. There's a social contrast here which I find very interesting: this well-respected, senior member of the society and this woman who's socially restricted, isolated and ritually unclean because of her medical condition. It's a real contrast. Both rich and poor, high and low in society, need Christ. That's true in your society and in mine. The wealthy person and the homeless man on the street - they equally need Jesus Christ. In both cases, we see that desperation is the pathway to faith and in both cases we see really good examples of humility and determined faith.

There's one other thing I'd like to highlight, something I noticed many years ago when studying this passage seriously for the first time, which I found very helpful as a way of analysing some of our responses to Jesus intervening in human need. This relates to the story of Jairus' daughter and to the final part of the story, as given here in the text. We notice that there are three responses, from Jairus and his household and the people around, to the possibility that Jesus might be able to intervene - or not, as the case may be. The first response is the response of Jairus and his friends, when they come to Jairus and say, “You don't really need to bother Jesus anymore because she's died,” and when Jesus overheard this (in verse 36) he very specifically says, ‘“Don't be afraid; just believe.”’ Fear. Fear is the response that we often have to a crisis or a tragedy - ‘“Don't be afraid; just believe”’ - so fear is one response to consider. Another response is the response of emotional distress. Verse 38 of Mark 5: they were ‘crying and wailing loudly’ - that's the crowd that had gathered around the house; they were very emotional thinking that Jairus' daughter, who was so young, only about 12 years old, has died. It's a tragedy. It's emotional distress and when Jesus challenged that emotional distress and said, ‘“Why ... this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep,”’ then comes a third response - ‘they laughed at him.’ That's the response of cynicism. They laughed, “You can't do anything about this Jesus. The end has come. We've been watching this girl dying, slowly, and now she's actually died.” These are, if you like, symbolic of the sort of responses that we can have to great tragedy and the question of whether Jesus can intervene - great tragedy or great human need. We can be afraid, we can be distressed, we can be cynical. All of these emotions need to be processed; they're all understandable but they all need to be processed because Jesus is urging something different: “Don't be afraid; just believe.” Believe that God can intervene. We may not know how he's going to intervene but we need to believe he's going to intervene. The best response is the one in verse 43. Once this miracle had taken place, (and the witnesses of the miracle, as far as we can see here, are the mother and the father, Peter, James and John - five people in the room with Jesus and this little girl, all the crowd outside) and when the girl stood up and began to walk round it says, ‘they were completely astonished.’ Completely astonished, in awe of the power of Jesus and his ability to intervene in human life. Sadly, you and I are not able to meet Jesus in the flesh; we're not able to see him perform miracles in this direct way that is described here. Very often, we can see miracles performed through us as believers - that's a very real and wonderful thing - but it's a slightly different situation than having Jesus in your midst. 

However, what we can learn from Jairus, from the woman suffering from this long-term condition of bleeding for twelve years and from the responses of Jairus' wider household and friendship group and friends, to Jesus' involvement with his daughter, is that we need to go beyond fear, we need to go beyond distress, we need to go beyond cynicism and we need, in the best way that we know how, to trust God. When we are faced with difficult situations, with serious illnesses, with major troubles and traumas in life, it's those who trust him who are rewarded. Jairus's daughter would probably never have been healed if he had not made the effort to come and draw Jesus' attention to her desperate condition. The woman with bleeding would probably never have been healed unless she had made the decision, that day, when she heard that Jesus was back in the area, that she was going to get up from her home, get into the crowd, push through the crowd, try and reach the place where Jesus was and try, in her own mind, just to touch his cloak in the hope and belief that his healing power would come to her. She overcame fear, she overcame distress, she overcame any cynicism she may have had and she wholly trusted herself to Jesus. That's what Jairus did too and we can do that in our lives. Often we have to overcome fear, which paralyses us; overcome emotional distress, which overwhelms us; and overcome cynicism, which causes us to step back from really engaging with God. I'd encourage you to take the lessons of this story to heart, apply them appropriately in your own life and find God's blessing as you follow Jesus' advice to the friends of Jairus and Jairus himself: ‘“Don't be afraid; just believe.” Trust in God. You may not know what he's going to do but you can actively trust him, actively ask him to intervene, and you never know what might happen in that circumstance that you're facing in your life right now. This word is for you today, to stimulate you to have active faith and trust in the living God. Thank you for reading.

Study Questions

The following questions have been provided to facilitate discussion or further reflection. Please feel free to answer any, or all the questions. Each question has been assigned a category to help guide you.

  • Exploring Faith
    Exploring Faith
    1. How do you respond to problems?
  • Discipleship
    1. How are you actively trusting Jesus and overcoming the emotions of fear, distress and cynicism in your life?
    2. Do you have issues affecting you, directly or indirectly, that you need Jesus' intervention? Pray for each other or those known to you
  • Further Study
    Further Study
    1. What difference does ‘status’ mean to Jesus? What difference does status mean to you as his follower?
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