Today’s post continues with the story of Jairus’s daughter in the Gospel of St Mark. Last week’s entry can be found here.

As this passage has been excluded from the Lectionary for public worship, it forms part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to our understanding of Scripture.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Mark 5:35-43

35While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” 36But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. 38They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39And when he had entered, he said to them,  “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40And 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.” 42And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. 43And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

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Last week’s post related how Jairus asked Jesus to accompany him to his home, where his daughter lay dying. Along the way, Jesus encountered the woman who had been hemorrhaging for 12 years. She reached out to touch the hem of His garment and was healed.

John MacArthur reminds us that what we read in the New Testament took longer to transpire than the short accounts given. Recall that the woman told Jesus her story, which MacArthur surmises took a couple of hours.

Imagine Jairus’s anxiety in the meantime. What thoughts must have been running through his mind whilst he attempted to be gracious and patient, yet fearing the worst.  Yet, by God’s grace, he approached Jesus through faith.

The fear of death grips us all. Some fear for their own lives. Others fear for the deaths of their loved ones. MacArthur says (emphases mine):

The Bible accurately says that all the human race is in slavery to the fear of death, Hebrews 2:15. Romans 6 says that the whole human race is in slavery to sin and the consequence of being a slave to sin is being a slave to the fear of death. Death, of course, is the ultimate fear that impregnates all other fears with its threatening and final reality. That is why Job 18:14 calls death the kind of terrors.

In Psalm 55 verses 4 and 5 we read, “My heart is in anguish within me. Horror has overwhelmed me. Fear and trembling come upon me.” Why? “The terrors of death have fallen upon me.” Everybody in the human race understands the fear, the terror of death. Which raises the question of all questions, “Can anyone…has anyone conquered death and can I enter in to that experience of triumph?” That is the compelling question. Has anyone conquered death and in so doing have they made it possible for me to triumph over death?

Many years ago there was a Canadian scientist by the name of G.B. Hardy who in his search for the true religion said, “I only have two questions. Has death been conquered? And has it been conquered for me?” And in his search, he ended up the only place anybody in that search will end up and that is with Jesus Christ who rose from the dead and by His resurrection provides resurrection for all who put their trust in Him. He said that is the only question that anyone should ask with regard to the selection of a religion. Has anyone conquered death? And can that triumph be applied to me? He checked and he said, “All religious leaders in the world have occupied tombs. Only Jesus’ tomb is empty.”

Certainly in the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, Jesus claimed to have power over death. The gospel of John … begins by telling us that everything that was made was made by Him. That is to say He created everything that lives. It also says, “In Him was life.” He Himself said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” He said, “I am the resurrection and the life.” He said, “I am come to give life and to give it more abundantly.” He said, “Whoever believes in Me shall never die.” He said, “Because I live, you shall live also.” And in that one statement in John 14:19 He answered the two questions, “I live and you can live as well.” Conquering death is the great question.

This is where we are as today’s passage begins.

However, before delving further, let’s look at the other two Synoptic Gospels — Matthew and Luke — for their treatment of this story. All three Synoptic Gospels tie together the main events of Jesus’s life and ministry.

Highlighted below are the differences in the accounts.

Here is Matthew 9:23-26:

23And when Jesus came to the ruler’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, 24he said, “Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. 25But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose. 26And the report of this went through all that district.

Note the differences between Mark’s and Matthew’s Gospels in Jairus’s appeal to Jesus (Mark 5:23, Matthew 9:18). Mark’s account says Jairus tells Him that his daughter is ‘at the point of death’ whereas Matthew’s quote says that she has just died.

Here is Luke 8:49-56:

49While he was still speaking, someone from the ruler’s house came and said, “Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the Teacher any more.” 50But Jesus on hearing this answered him, “Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well.” 51And when he came to the house, he allowed no one to enter with him, except Peter and John and James, and the father and mother of the child. 52And all were weeping and mourning for her, but he said, “Do not weep, for she is not dead but sleeping.” 53And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. 54But taking her by the hand he called, saying, “Child, arise.” 55And her spirit returned, and she got up at once. And he directed that something should be given her to eat. 56And her parents were amazed, but he charged them to tell no one what had happened.

Note that Mark and Luke report that Jesus instructed the parents not to talk of the healing, for possible reasons discussed below. Matthew said that everyone in Jairus’s vicinity heard about the healing.  Matthew leaves out that Jesus told the parents to give the girl something to eat. Luke adds to the words ‘only believe’ the promise ‘and she will be well’.

Back to Mark 5:35, where one of Jairus’s people came to announce the girl’s death. Therefore, there was no reason to disturb Jesus any further. The word the person from Jairus’s household uses in referring to Jesus is ‘Teacher’. He was known primarily as such, not as a healer or miracle worker.

In verse 36, Jesus overhears this and tells Jairus to not be afraid but instead have faith — ‘only believe’.  Jesus then tells the crowd, His disciples and most of his Apostles to remain behind (verse 37). He asks Peter and the two brothers John and James — the Boanerges — to accompany Him to Jairus’s house.

They are the three Apostles whom Jesus has selected as confidants.  They, in turn, will tell the other nine what they have learned during these private sorties. MacArthur explains:

Obviously He couldn’t take the crowd. He couldn’t even take the Twelve into the house, that would be too much … This is the first time in the ministry of our Lord that He isolates these three, this is the first time. And get used to it, right? The inner circle, Peter, James and John, they were three of the first four Apostles that He called. James and John were brothers and Peter and Andrew were brothers. Peter becomes the leader. James and John, the other two intimates, and Andrew is a sometime inclusion in the inner circle. This is the first occasion where He separates them out.

Eventually, they arrive at Jairus’s house, where a Jewish funeral of the day for the 12-year old girl was taking place (verse 38). Some of these traditions are still in place: wailing and rending of garments, although, from what I understand, today’s wailing is more subdued. The Jews at that time also played mournful music on their most common instrument, the flute. Imagine several amateur flautists getting together and playing simultaneously. Some might have been neighbours or friends. They probably weren’t playing in tune or in tempo. Oh dear, what a cacophony.

Jesus asks about the ‘commotion’ (verse 39), saying that the young girl is only ‘sleeping’. This is no doubt one reason for saying that the dead are asleep. Unfortunately, the mourners laugh at Him (verse 40). Imagine mourning one minute and mocking someone the next. How valid is their sorrow? It seems quite shallow and quite typical of the opposition with which our Lord and Saviour met in his public ministry.

Jesus dismisses all except for the girl’s parents and His three Apostles. The six were alone with the cherished daughter assumed to have left this mortal coil. As He did with the woman who had hemorrhaged for 12 years, he treats this 12-year old gently and mercifully. He takes her hand and instructs her in near familial terms — talitha cumi (verse 41).

MacArthur unpacks Jesus’s actions for us indirectly comparing our temporal life to our eternal life:

In that moment, Jesus redefined death as a temporary condition. That’s why He uses the metaphor or the analogy of sleep. Sleep is a temporary disconnect, isn’t it? You’re insensitive to the environment around you when you’re asleep, you don’t hear the conversations, you don’t participate socially. You’re asleep. But it’s a temporary situation. And Jesus is saying for this girl, this is just asleep, it’s temporary. This is not permanent ...

This concept of death as sleep is picked up by the Apostles, isn’t it?, in the New Testament. The Apostle Paul loves to refer to believers dying as being asleep, like he refers in 1 Thessalonians chapter 4 … God will raise us, we who know the Lord Jesus Christ when we die, the body sleeps. The soul, immediately in the presence of the Lord. “Absent from the body, present with the Lord.” “Far better to depart and be with Christ.” That’s the…that’s the soul. But the body sleeps until the glorious resurrection at the return of Christ. And so you can refer to the death of a Christian as a release of the soul into the presence of the Lord, but the body sleeps until the day of resurrection. And so death, in a sense for a Christian, becomes described as sleep because it’s temporary…

Hence the expression ‘asleep in Christ’.

Now to the expression talitha cumi. Matthew Henry says:

Talitha, cumi; Damsel, I say unto thee, Arise. Dr. Lightfoot saith, It was customary with the Jews, when they gave physic to one that was sick, to say, Arise from thy disease; meaning, We wish thou mayest arise: but to one that was dead, Christ said, Arise from the dead; meaning, I command that thou arise; nay, there is more in it-the dead have not power to arise, therefore power goes along with this word, to make it effectual.

MacArthur adds a softer interpretation:

Here again this very personal touch, this very tender sensitivity. “And He said to her,” and by the way, only Mark gives us the original Aramaic. Jesus’ daily language was Aramaic, that was the language they spoke in Israel, the New Testament being written in Greek, the other writers give us the Greek translation. “Little girl, arise.” Mark gives us the very words of Jesus in Aramaic, “Talitha kum,” which translated means, “Little girl, I say to you get up.”

Talitha means a youth or a lamb. It’s as if He said, “Little lamb.” We use those kind of endearing terms, don’t we? We say to a little baby, “You little lamb you,” when we dote over them, don’t we? We don’t say that after they’re about three or so. We use other animals to describe them. But when they’re little, “Little Lamb” works really well … this one was still a lamb in the eyes of Jesus and she was twelve … And she was a lamb to that family. That was … a term of endearment. “Kum, get up, little lamb I say to you, get up.”

Instantly — ‘immediately’ — the girl gets up and begins walking (verse 42). She amazes her parents and the Apostles. Jesus had restored this girl to life.

The healing — restoration to life — concludes with Jesus instructing her parents to give her something to eat (verse 43). This signifies that she has no recuperation time; she is well and she is hungry. We know that a healthy appetite is a sign that all is well with us and our loved ones. And so it was when Jesus healed Jairus’s daughter. What a happy day that must have been.

However, Jesus stipulates that no one should reveal the healing. Well, one can imagine that they were all too eager to tell their neighbours and townspeople, as Matthew records.

You might wonder why Jesus said such a thing. MacArthur explains:

when He healed somebody it was immediate and it was permanent. And immediately there was complete astonishment on the part of the parents and everybody else who was in the room, including the three Apostles, Peter, James and John. The verb existemi literally means to stand outside oneself or to be beside one’s self with bewilderment. In other words, you have no logical explanation for what you have just seen. The same word is used in chapter 3 verse 21, and translated, “out of his senses.” It’s also used in 2 Corinthians 5:13, beside ourselves. I mean, this is just inexplicable. This just doesn’t happen. Common response, by the way, to the demonstration of divine power by our Lord.

The strength of the faith of Peter, James and John was certainly increased, wouldn’t you think? And so if it strengthened their faith, why not spread it around? Our Lord gives this explicit statement, “Do not do that.” But He doesn’t tell us why. In fact, as many times as it’s recorded that He said that in the gospels, we’re never told why He said that…never.

But let me make some suggestions to you. Number one, He could have said it to avoid a stampede on the house, to give the family time to feed the girl and to celebrate and rejoice and give Him more time to instruct and teach. If they went right out of the house, as you might be prone to do, and spread this everywhere, there would be a kind of a sensational response and curiosity would drive the crowd to the house and debilitate Jesus from doing what He wanted to do and rob away that precious time for the family and that reunion. Is that possibly behind the statement that you need to get her something to eat? That’s the first thing you need to do is take care of her before you draw a crowd? Was that in His mind?

It is also possible that Jesus said this because He knew the crowds had these messianic expectations, right? Now the Jews were looking for a Messiah, they wanted the Messiah who would come just to demonstrate massive divine power and use that power to overthrow Rome and use that power to provide everything they needed and everything that had been promised to them in the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants. Jesus was believed to be that Messiah and if it ran rampant and it got carried away, the crowds could get very aggressive and try to force Him into a role that was never His intended role. Read John 6:15 where it says, “After He fed them all, they tried to force Him to be a king.” Was He trying to keep the flame of messianic expectation low and not throw gas on it by a report of a resurrection?

Or thirdly, was it perhaps that He was motivated not to escalate the fear and the hatred of the scribes and Pharisees who were His enemies. If the crowd got excited, then Jesus becomes a bigger threat than they escalate their animosity and they have to do something to stop that threat and in premature action against Him, they might come after Him to kill Him. That had already been tried, right? Up in Nazareth in His own hometown they tried to throw Him off a cliff.

So Jesus had His reasons for keeping such dramatic healings — resurrections, if you will — quiet.

Henry’s observations help tie the various elements of this story together:

1. That the child was extremely well beloved, for the relations and neighbours wept and wailed greatly. It is very afflictive when that which is come forth like a flower is so soon cut down, and withereth before it is grown up; when that grieves us, of which we said, This same shall comfort us.

2. That it was evident beyond dispute, that the child was really and truly dead.

3. That Christ put those out as unworthy to be witnesses of the miracle, who were noisy in their sorrow, and were so ignorant in the things of God, as not to understand him when he spoke of death as a sleep, or so scornful, as to ridicule him for it.

4. That he took the parents of the child to be witnesses of the miracle, because in it he had an eye to their faith, and designed it for their comfort, who were the true, for they were the silent mourners.

5. That Christ raised the child to life by a word of power, which is recorded here, and recorded in Syriac [a dialect of Middle Aramaic], the language in which Christ spoke, for the greater certainty of the thing; Talitha, cumi; Damsel, I say unto thee, Arise.

6. That the damsel, as soon as life returned, arose, and walked, v. 42. Spiritual life will appear by our rising from the bed of sloth and carelessness, and our walking in a religious conversation, our walking up and down in Christ’s name and strength; even from those that are of the age of twelve years, it may be expected that they should walk as those whom Christ has raised to life, otherwise than in the native vanity of their minds.

7. That all who saw it, and heard of it, admired the miracle, and him that wrought it

8. That Christ endeavoured to conceal it; He charged them straitly, that no man should know it. It was sufficiently known to a competent number, but he would not have it as yet proclaimed any further; because his own resurrection was to be the great instance of his power over death, and therefore the divulging of other instances must be reserved till that great proof was given: let one part of the evidence be kept private, till the other part, on which the main stress lies, be made ready.

9. That Christ took care something should be given her to eat. By this it appeared that she was raised not only to life, but to a good state of health, that she had an appetite to her meat; even the new-born babes in Christ’s house desire the sincere milk, 1 Pt. 2:1, 2. And it is observable, that, as Christ, when at first he had made man, presently provided food for him, and food out of the earth of which he was made (Gen. 1:29), so now when he had given a new life, he took care that something should be given to eat; for is he has given life, he may be trusted to give livelihood, because the life is more than meat, Mt. 6:25. Where Christ hath given spiritual life, he will provide food for the support and nourishment of it unto life eternal, for he will never forsake, or be wanting to, the work of his own hands.

The raising of Jairus’s daughter is one of Christ’s great creative miracles. It holds lessons for us today in terms of our unwavering faith and His infinite mercy.

Next time: Mark 6:14-20