Do Not Fear, Only Believe | Mark 5:20-43

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

And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. And there was a woman who had 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. She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” And he looked around to see who had done it. 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. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

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?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 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. Taking her by the hand he said to her, “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. And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

Mark 5:21-43 ESV

Here in the second half of Mark 5, Jesus encounters two hopeless cases, a dying daughter and suffering woman. Both are restored at the touch of the Great Physician.

A DYING DAUGHTER // VERSES 21-24

At the start of our text, Mark continues to weave the narrative together by informing us that this account takes place when Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side. Just as we saw at the end of Mark 4 before the storm struck, Jesus likely welcomed this time in the boat as an opportunity for resting His weary body, for He certainly knew what awaited Him on the other side: a great crowd gathered about him, and he was beside the sea. In other words, the crowd flocked before He ever traveled inland. He set foot upon the shore, and the multitudes again gathered about Him. Yet among the great crowd, one man stands apart from the others:

Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet 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.”

Recall that when Jesus previously arrived at the region of the Gerasenes, the demoniac had fallen at Jesus’ feet upon seeing him and begged not to be tormented. Just as history does not repeat, it rhymes, so it is with Jairus and the demoniac. The demoniac, of course, had nothing, not even clothing; Jairus, however, was a ruler of the synagogue, a position of honor and dignity within his town. His dignity did not prevent him from falling at Jesus’ feet and begging Him because he too was tormented. His torment was not the scourge of hell as it was with the demoniac. He had no personal ailment, as with the woman that we will meet shortly. His torment was of heart, for his daughter was dying. We will learn in verse 42 that she was twelve years old, nearly a woman, yet for her distraught father, she was his little daughter (we would be more likely to say today little girl). Her state was dire, and Jesus was her only hope.   

And he went with him. And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. Having compassion upon Jairus, Jesus follows him to his house that He may heal his daughter, and the multitude moves with them, delighted that they may witness another marvel.

A SUFFERING WOMAN // VERSES 25-34

While making their way to Jairus’ house, another tormented soul interjects herself into the story: And there was a woman who had 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. Her situation too was hopeless. She had a discharge of blood for twelve years, which would be a severe enough illness if only the physical suffering were taken into account. For over a decade[1], she was without a doubt always weary and fatigued. Yet her suffering was not limited to physical pain. In Leviticus 15:25-30, we learn that a woman in her condition would be in a perpetual state of uncleanness, meaning that she could not go into the synagogue for worship and if she did leave her home, like a leper, she must declare herself to be unclean to everyone around her so they could avoid touching her and becoming unclean themselves. Thus, for twelve years this woman lived apart from society, an outcast whose simple touch would contaminate another person.

Notice too that her disease had afflicted her finances. Desperate to be healed, she expended all of her wealth upon doctors, hoping to be healed. Yet the physicians not only left her disease worse than before, but she also suffered under their attempted cures. We might shudder to imagine what the well-meaning doctors subjected this woman to in an effort to heal her. As the saying goes, their cures proved worse than the disease. Now, lest we look with condescending chronological snobbery upon those First Century physicians and think that we are so much more enlightened than they were, we should keep in mind much of our ‘scientific’ Twenty-first Century world is still promoting conditions that have led to a surge in suicides among people under the age of twenty-four in order to protect them from a virus that is less threatening to them than the flu. While governmental statistics for 2020 are not yet fully released, suicide deaths are the second leading cause of death for ages 10-19, and in 2019 that was 2744 deaths.[2] Deaths from COVID for that age range and below for both 2020 and our present year have been 361.[3] While we must wait to see what the suicide rates for these two years will be, anecdotal evidence suggests that the lockdowns and fearmongering have not diminished despair among our despairing youth. As the Preacher once said, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

Despite her suffering, she set her eyes upon one final hope: She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.”  She resolved to go to Jesus, for she had faith that even a simple touch of His clothing would heal her. Although Jesus would soon commend her faith, it was a faith that needed to be refined. Note that she did not necessarily want to meet Jesus, nor did she think it was necessary to touch Him directly. After all, she would have been ashamed to be caught touching Jesus because her touch would leave Him unclean. Furthermore, everyone in the crowd who had unknowingly bumped into her would then be unclean. She was a walking defilement, hiding within the crowd. Of course, after having to shout her uncleanness every time she went out into the public for twelve years leaves us sympathetic to her desire to be healed and flee without anyone noticing her. But that is not what happened.

And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” And he looked around to see who had done it. 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.

Her faith was well-placed. One touch of the Great Physician did what no earthly physician was able. Yet her plan to go unnoticed did not work, for as Jesus Himself said, “nothing is hidden except to be made manifest” (4:22). Nothing escapes His gaze. Even within the pressing multitude, Jesus beheld the lightest of touches. Morgan makes a point worth noting out this:

Augustine long ago said of this story, “Flesh presses, faith touches.” Crowds jostle Him, but agony and need touch Him; and He can always distinguish between the jostle of a curious mob, and the agonized touch of a needy soul.[4]

Seeing that she could not hide from Jesus, the woman fell before Him, trembling with fear, and told Him everything. Notice again the pattern between this and our previous two passages. Like Jairus and the demoniac, she falls down at Jesus’ feet, and like the disciples and the Gerasenes, she became afraid following the deliverance that Jesus gave to her. Even still, Jesus made her publicly tell Him her story, her testimony of events. Timothy Keller asks, then answers, an important question:

Why did Jesus insist that she go public? She needed it. You see, she had a somewhat superstitious understanding of Jesus’s power. She thought it was the touch that could heal her. She thought his power was manageable. And Jesus made her identify herself so he could say, “Oh, no, it was faith that healed you.”[5]

Indeed, Jesus said to her, Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease. She clearly had faith in Jesus, but her faith needed to be refined by not only brushing up against Jesus but encountering Him face-to-face. She needed to see why her faith had healed her. Remember that we said previously that faith does not operate like the Force from Star Wars. It is not a mystical power that the woman tapped into in order to receive her healing. Instead, she was healed by her faith because it was her faith that latched her onto Christ, the object of her faith. As Sproul notes,

There was no intrinsic power in her faith. Her faith was not the efficient cause of her healing; Jesus was. But her faith was the instrumental cause of her healing. Just as in justification, God does not declare us righteous because there is any inherent righteousness in our faith, prompting God to say, “Because you have faith, I will save you.” No, faith is the instrumental cause of justification because it is the tool or instrument by which we take hold of Christ. Christ is the efficient cause of our justification. In the same way, it was Jesus who healed the woman.[6]

She believed what she had heard about Jesus; she had faith in Him. But she only had a vague vision of Jesus; she needed to see Him more clearly. And now that she looked upon and trembled before her Redeemer, He pronounced peace to her and continual healing of her ailment.

DEATH, THOU SHALT DIE // VERSES 35-43

While become immersed within the healing of the woman, verse 35 snaps us jarringly back to the fret of Jairus: 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?” As a father of two girls, I can think of few words so dreadful as those. What Jairus had feared had now come to pass. His little girl was dead, and hope was now lost. We do not need special insight from the text to imagine the frustrations of Jairus as Jesus stopped to find the woman and patiently listen to her whole story. Could Jesus not have returned to speak with the woman after healing his daughter? Even though the woman’s condition was horrible, was not a dying girl more important, more urgent? What kind of physician was Jesus if He could not discern between which needs were the most pressing?

Morgan writes, “There was always a method and a purpose in the halting of Jesus. There is always a meaning in His delay. Out of the delay will come help, out of the darkness will come light. It is always so with this Christ of ours.”[7] Jesus is the divine physician, the holy doctor, and His ways and thoughts are higher than our ways and thoughts (Isaiah 55:9).

Jesus’ response to Jairus is simple but a bottomless well: do not fear, only believe. Why did Jesus tell Jairus not to fear? He was certainly afraid before that his daughter would die, but now she had. As anyone that has experienced the death of an ill loved one can tell you, there is a strange sort of calm that strikes you once you know that the fight is over. Even so, I am reminded of how C. S. Lewis began his book A Grief Observed, which he wrote as a sort of diary following the death of his wife. He wrote:

No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing. At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting.[8]

Perhaps Jairus had begun to feel similar feelings. The hopeless question of what now? was likely rising in his gut. His daughter had met her end, her eschaton. Maybe worst of all was his own sense of failing. If he had only interrupted Jesus, maybe they could have made it in time. Yet Jesus tells him to set aside his fear. You see, Jesus did not speak to the fear of the disciples, the Gerasenes, or the woman because they feared Jesus. They had a proper fear, even though the fear of the Gerasenes did not lead them to repentance. The Scripture never warns us against fear of the Lord but instead calls us to fear Him. Jairus’ fear, however, was not of Jesus but of the circumstance. His faith in Jesus was too small to see hope even in the midst of death; therefore, he needed to believe and cast aside his fear.

And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 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. Taking her by the hand he said to her, “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. And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

Arriving at the house, they found people mourning (many of whom were likely professional mourners that people often hired). Jesus inquires about all the commotion, saying that the child is only sleeping. Interestingly, their weeping then turns to laughing as they mock Christ. But removing all from the house except the father, mother, Peter, James, and John, He took the girl by the hand and commanded her to wake up. And she did immediately, leaving everyone in amazement. The passage then closes with Jesus charging them to tell no one and to give the girl some food.

There are too many points that could be made about these verses for the time that we have left, so I will focus largely upon one point. When Jesus told the mourners that the girl was only sleeping, many assume that Jesus was simply being metaphorical, since sleep is often used as a euphemism for death. But I do not think that is the case. When Jesus delayed in going to Lazarus, He told His disciples that Lazarus had fallen asleep but that He went to awaken him. The disciples were confused by this saying, so Jesus had to tell them plainly that Lazarus had died (John 11:11-15). Later when Jesus came to Bethany, the town of Lazarus, Martha (Lazarus’ sister) came out to meet Jesus. Listen to their dialogue from John 11:21-27:

Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

John’s Gospel is often divided into four parts: the Hymn to the Word in 1:1-18, the Book of Signs in 1:19-12:50, the Book of Glory in chapters 13-20, and the epilogue in chapter 21. The second section is called the Book of Signs because John very purposely sets out seven miracles of Jesus, which he calls signs of Jesus identity as the Christ, the Son of God (John 20:30-31). The raising of Lazarus is the seventh sign, and it is accompanied by one of the seven ‘I am’ statements that Jesus also makes throughout the Gospel. He states that He is the resurrection and the life.

That is a monumental statement worth an eternity of meditation. Later, in His high priestly prayer, Jesus will further testify, “and this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). What does this mean? Jesus does not merely give life; He is life. One day, He will not simply bring about the resurrection of the dead; He will return and in His presence the dead will be able to nothing else but resurrect. As we explained briefly in the first sermon of this series, the curse of death had no claim on Christ, certainly not in His divinity but neither in His humanity. And death can certainly not take hold of Life Himself. Again, this is why the crucifixion, not the resurrection, is the great wonder. The resurrection is, of course, our great proof that Jesus is who He said that He is. Yet for Him who is the resurrection and the life, resurrection from the dead is the only possible scenario, supposing that death could ever lay hold of Him. And that is precisely what makes the cross so wondrous. Death could not lay claim to Christ; therefore, His dying must have been a conscious act of His own will. We will each eventually be taken by death, and on that day, we will be utterly passive. Jesus’ death, however, was an action, the greatest action ever made. Life willingly died in order to ransom those who were both dead and dying. But even so, how could Life ever stay dead! As Peter said, “it was not possible” (Acts 2:24).

Now again let us draw our minds to the raising of Lazarus and of this girl. While they were resuscitated rather than resurrected, in Jesus’ presence, they were truly just sleeping. Before Him who is the resurrection and the life, how could death not be cast aside with as much ease as waking up. Indeed, the way that Jesus told this girl to arise is, in the words of Keller, “exactly what the child’s parents might do on a sunny morning.”[9] He told her, “Darling, wake up”, and she did. She came out of death as easily as she came out of sleep because in Christ death is nothing more than a sleep.

Yet two thousand years later, death still claims its prizes. Death has yet died. In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul addressed our present state and wrote “about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (4:13). He summons us to encourage one another with the blessed hope that upon Christ’s return “the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (4:16-17). Notice the wondrous words of comfort there. We will again be together with those who are presently asleep, and all of us will always be with the Lord.

Let us give the final words of this sermon to Jesus, again from John 11:25-26: “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”


[1] Whether there is a relationship to the twelve years of suffering with the woman and twelve years of age with the girl, many have speculated, but Mark is silent. He simply presents them as the providential facts that they are. Morgan, however, has made my favorite comment on this matter: “In the case of Jairus, twelve years of sunshine suddenly devastated, with the death of the bairn [child]. In the case of this woman twelve years of suffering, gradually issuing in weary desolation” (125).

[2] National Vital Statistics Reports Volume 70, Number 9 July 26, 2021 Deaths: Leading Causes for 2019 (cdc.gov)

[3] • COVID-19 deaths by age U.S. 2021 | Statista

[4] G. Campbell Morgan, The Gospel of Mark, 128.

[5] Timothy Keller, King’s Cross, 65.

[6] R. C. Sproul, Mark: An Expositional Commentary, 101-102.

[7] Morgan, Mark, 127.

[8] C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed, 3.

[9] Keller, King’s Cross, 68.

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