Life from the dead - Mark 5:21-43

This is a sermon by Melvin Tinker from the morning service on 3rd May 2015.

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In contrast to the great politicians of the past, what is noticeably absent from the politicians of today is great rhetoric; speeches which stir the soul and fire the imagination. Sound-bites just don’t do that. And so in the midst of the great depression of the 1930’s which brought many of the Western nations to their knees, including the United States, Franklin D Roosevelt in his inaugural Presidential address said these words, ‘This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.’ ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.’ Brilliant! Roosevelt was tapping into a very real and common emotion- ‘fear’ in order to overcome it with what in effect was faith. Fear does have all sorts of dreadful effects on us as individuals and communities. Fear makes us lose perspective and question the value of the fight. For Christians fear makes us doubt God. And this is especially the case when we are afraid of losing someone we love, surrendering to the fear of death.


And that is certainly what we find with the man in our Gospel episode this morning- Jairus. So let’s take a look at this very moving story under three headings.


First of all, a call for help- 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. Then one of the synagogue rulers, named Jairus, came there. Seeing Jesus, he fell at his feet and 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." So Jesus went with him.’


Jairus, we are told, was a synagogue ruler, a fact which is stressed repeatedly throughout the story (v22; 35; 36; 38). That may not mean that much to you, but it meant an awful lot to Jairus and all the people around him for it meant that this was the most important man in town. You see, the synagogue was more or less the glue that held everything together as it was the centre of religion, the centre of education, the centre of civic leadership, the centre of social activity. And as consequently what we have here is a man who wields a lot of power. He is Mr Mover and Shaker. He is the highest ranking professor, Bishop, and Mayor all rolled into one. So if you were to see Jairus walking down the street you would look on in envy and think to yourself, ‘He has got it all’. Jairus was the kind of man who gives favours not the kind who asks for them.


But not this day. The man who had it all would willingly give it all in a heartbeat for the one he cherished above al else- his little twelve year old daughter who lay at home fighting a losing battle for her life. That is the language being used to describe her condition: she is as good as dead and that is how she will end up unless Jesus comes to help.


As we look at Jairus hurriedly making his way to Jesus, his breathing ragged through physical exhaustion, his voice is choking with fear and anxiety- we don’t see the oh- so- nice, neatly- groomed,  self- confident leader who had all the answers. Rather we see a blind man, begging for a hand out. He falls at Jesus feet with his knees in the dirt- that would have been a first! Furthermore, we are told that he ‘pleaded earnestly with him’; a better rendering would be ‘he pleaded again and again’. What did he plead? ‘My little daughter is dying’ –my little daughter is dying, oh, my little daughter is dying Jesus’ And between the muffled sobs, straining through tear filled eyes he looks up in desperation at the carpenter and begs, ‘Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.’


Notice that he doesn’t barter with Jesus – ‘You do me a favour and I’ll make sure you will be well taken care of for the rest of your life.’ He doesn’t negotiate with Jesus- ‘I know the rich and powerful back in Jerusalem are giving you some trouble, Jesus, but I tell you what- you handle my problem and I will handle yours.’ He doesn’t make excuses to Jesus- ‘Normally Jesus I am not this desperate, I can usually take care of my own, but I do have one small problem for you to look at.’


No- he just pleads.


And which father wouldn’t? The love of your life is slipping away. The one you have tenderly cared for and seen take her first few steps and slowly grow now looks as if she will never reach womanhood. No coming of age. No graduation. No marriage. No grandchildren. In short -no future.


And it may well be that is exactly the situation you find yourself in this morning. You too are being eaten away by anxiety and fear. It is just not knowing that is the killer. How will the children turn out?  What will the diagnosis be? Will my marriage survive? Is unemployment just over the horizon? We are so fearful when it comes to the future and it can drive us to distraction isn’t it?  Just like with Jairus in fact.


But notice what Jairus does. He comes to the one who is able to shape that future and asks for help. And Jesus gives it. V 24 ‘So Jesus went with him.’


The sense of relief which swept over that man at this point must have been immense. The nightmare may turn out to have a fairy tale ending after all. And then would you believe it, Jesus stops half way and will not budge until he finds out who has touched him! Touched him! ‘Why there is a whole crowd of people touching you Jesus- my daughter is dying and all you can be bothered about is who touched you.’ And then when he does find out who it was who touched him, Jesus decides to have a conversation with her there and then. This is beyond irritating it is irresponsible. Imagine an ambulance team who has just picked up a heart attack victim on their way to A&E, seeing someone they picked up earlier that week for a routine examination, and then deciding to pull over to enquire how they are doing! You don’t do that sort of thing. Can you imagine the intense agony of that interruption for Jairus? The clock is ticking and Jesus is talking! 


Again is that not true to experience? Your prayers seem to be being answered and then – boom! The unforeseen interruption knocks you sideways and you are back to square one. And so you ask: ‘Just what is going on? Why is God doing this to me?’ Well, we see here in this story just what God is doing as we come to our second heading- a call to trust.


Look at v 35-36, ‘While Jesus was still speaking, some men came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. "Your daughter is dead," they said. "Why bother the teacher any more?" Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, "Don't be afraid; just believe."


Now it is at this stage in the story that everything gets turned on its head. Jesus goes from being led to doing the leading, from being convinced by Jairus to convincing Jairus, from being admired, to being laughed at, from helping people out, to throwing people out.


First of all notice how Jesus takes charge. When the delegation arrives they tell Jairus not to bother Jesus anymore, after all, it is too late, what can he do- the girl is dead? And what does Jesus do? He totally ignores them. And in so doing underscores an important principle when it comes to faith. To go with the unseen rather than the seen, you sometimes have to ignore people. Those who say it can’t be done, that God has given up on us, that society has gone to the dogs and all we can do is sit around and wait for the second coming. The question is: who are we going to listen to: the crowd or Christ? Sometime we have to make that simple choice.


And so Jesus turns to Jairus to plead with him – ‘Don’t be afraid,’ he says, ‘just believe.’ There is the negative- don’t allow what you see and hear to overwhelm you. Then there is the positive- ‘believe’. That’s what faith is. Replacing cowardice with confidence; turning your gaze from the circumstances to the one who is Lord of those circumstances.


A father in the Bahamas cried out a similar plea to his son who was trapped in a burning house. The two storey structure was engulfed in flames, and the family – father, mother, and several children – were on its way out when the smallest boy became terrified and ran back upstairs. His father, outside, shouted to him, ‘Jump son, jump! I’ll catch you.” The boy who was scared witless, cried out, ‘But daddy I can’t see you.” “I know” his father reassured him, “but I can see you.”


The father could see, although the son could not. And it is like that with God and us- we have a heavenly father who can see the future when we can hardly cope with the present.


A similar expression of trust in the God who can see, even when we can’t, was found on the wall of a concentration camp. It read: ‘I believe in the sun even though it doesn’t shine, I believe in love, even when it isn’t shown, I believe in God, even when he doesn’t speak.’ Tell me; what eyes could possibly see good in the midst of such horror? Well, eyes which could see the unseen- eyes of faith.


And that is the choice being presented to Jairus and, often to us- to see only the hurt or to see the Healer; to be overtaken by the fear of the future or to walk with Jesus into that future. Well, Jairus chose the latter. And that is when Jesus encounters a group of mourners in v 38 ‘When they came to the home of the synagogue ruler, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, "Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep." But they laughed at him.’


Now you must try and imagine the scene here. It is one of complete pandemonium. In addition to the uncontrollable grief of the family and neighbours, in this culture professional mourners were hired to enable people to express their grief. They would turn up with pipes and drums-the lot and make an unholy racket. So the whole atmosphere would have been one of abject despair, with people beside themselves wailing with grief. And that is quite understandable isn’t it? On the basis of what they could see, death is a disaster, but on the basis of what Jesus is going to do, it is going to be deliverance. And so when Jesus says, ‘Why all this commotion? The child is not dead but just sleeping’ that is just too much for some people. Their response? ‘They laughed at him’. Big mistake! You don’t laugh at Jesus. You do not laugh at him when he is in earnest. The pain of this family is serious and that no laughing matter. And just to show how serious Jesus is, we discover by looking at what he does next, v 40, ‘After he had put them out’ which is far too weak a translation. It literally reads ‘After throwing them out.’ He doesn’t politely ask if they wouldn’t mind moving into the next room so he and the parents can have a bit of privacy. He takes them by the collar and belt and sends them sailing. It is the same verb which is used 38 times to describe the casting out of demons.


Now why such force? The answer, I think, is simply this: when we are being asked to put our trust in Jesus at the moment of crisis, then the last thing we need, and the last thing this family needs, is the distraction of doubt. On the one hand –Jesus bids-‘trust me’. On the other hand you have the crowd saying, ‘don’t be a fool.’ God is not going to allow the noise of the critics to distract those who are his.


And so we come to a call for hope-v40, ‘After he threw 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. He took her by the hand and said to her, "Talitha koum!" (which means, "Little girl, I say to you, get up!"). Immediately the girl stood up and walked around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.’


Why did Jesus say the little girl was only asleep when she was patently dead? Well, it was because from his perspective and the perspective of those who trust in him, that is all death is- sleep. It is a temporary condition and not a final state. For those who are trusting in the Lord Jesus the experience of death is like the experience of waking up from a deep sleep and seeing Jesus standing before you, gently holding your hand. This is such a delicate picture Mark is painting here as related by Peter who is standing there watching this extraordinary event unfold.


Jesus kneels down, and takes the girl’s little hand between his hands and says two things which are deeply significant. First of all he says, ‘Talitha’. This is a pet name, a term of endearment, like when we say ‘Little darling’ or ‘Sweetie’. This is then followed by the command, ‘koum’ –‘get up’, not ‘come back from the dead’. It is a phrase her Mum or Dad would have used pretty well every morning as they knocked on her bedroom door, ‘Sweetie, it’s time to get up and go to school’. Do you realise what this means? It means that Jesus power over death is as easy as waking a little child from her sleep. Do you not think it is worth trusting someone who has this kind of power; someone who shows this kind of tenderness?


But just as we saw in the story of the healing of the leper a foreshadowing of the cross as God’s means of cleansing sin, so here we see a foreshadowing of the cross as God’s way of defeating death. This is the way Dr Tim Keller puts it: ‘There is nothing more frightening for a little child than to lose the hand of the parent in a crowd or in the dark, but that is nothing compared with Jesus’ own loss. He lost his Father’s hand on the cross. He went into the tomb so that we can be raised out of it. He lost hold of his father’s hand so we could know that once he has us by his hand, he will never, ever forsake us.’[1]


I have told this story to some of you before, but it is so insightful that I want to share it again as to why we can trust Jesus when we will need him most, namely, at the point of death.


Bishop Berggrav of Oslo, who was placed under house arrest by the Nazis in 1940, was once asked: ‘Can you explain death?’ He said, ‘I will try’ and told the following story: ‘Once there was a peasant who one morning said to his wife and son, “I have to go to the next village but I promise I will be back before sunset.” His little five year old boy begged him to take him with him and so he eventually agreed. The father grabbed his chubby little hand and off they went. They came to the river they had to cross swollen because of the rain and such was the torrent that it had washed away the bridge and all that was left was a heap of pilings. The little boy, his face a picture of panic exclaimed, ‘Father, we shall never get across that.’ And holding his wrist tightly he suspended him at periods over the rapids, stepping from post to post until they eventually made it to the other side. So on they went. The business took longer than expected and by the time they set off for home it was dark, no moon, no stars. As they walked along the road, the little boy started to cry. Through muffled sobs he explained to his father the cause of his tears, ‘We crossed the river in daylight, but we will never make it in the dark.’ Without saying a word, the father scooped up his little boy and pressed him close to his heart and in a moment he was fast asleep. The next thing the little lad knew was waking up in his bed, with the father standing by the doorway smiling and light streaming into the bedroom. It was morning.’ Bishop Berggrav said, ‘That is what death is like for the Christian; what you fear you never experience.’


Now you may say, ‘Well, that is a nice story Melvin, but does it make any real difference in the here and now?’ Well, yes it does. Let me give you an example of the hope the story of Jairus’s daughter gives to a Christian believer. The example comes from the life of the great German Reformer Martin Luther. Luther had several children with his wife Katy, but without doubt, Magdalene was Luther’s favourite and her death at the age of 13 (just a year older than the daughter of Jairus) almost drove him to despair, and would have had it not been for his Christian faith. In September, 1542 as Magdalene lay dying, Luther weeping almost uncontrollably at her bedside asked her: ‘Magdalene, my dear little daughter, would you like to stay here with your father or would you be willing to go to your Father yonder?’ Magdalene answered: ‘Darling father, as God wills.’ Luther wept and holding her in his arms he prayed that God would free her and then she died. At the funeral service which Luther conducted, with his daughter laid out in the coffin, he declared: ‘Darling Lena, you will rise and shine like a star, yea like the sun….. I am happy in spirit but the flesh is sorrowful and weak and will not be content, the parting grieves me beyond measure…. I have sent a saint to heaven.’ And you know what the first words were she probably heard from the Risen Lord Jesus as she stepped from this world to the next? ‘Talitha koum’ –‘Darling, get up’.
















[1] Kings Cross, p 69

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