Healing of a Demoniac

5:1 So they came to the other side of the lake, to the region of the Gerasenes.

According to Matthew’s version, two demoniacs were involved.

Mk 5:1–17 = Mt 8:28–34; Lk 8:26–37

For N.T. Wright (Jesus and the Victory of God) this account takes on additional significance in that ‘Jesus is surrounded by places, people and influences that [according to prevailing Jewish thinking] belong to the enemies of YHWH and his people.’  He is on the non-Jewish side of the lake; the demons are ‘legion’; pigs are being fed nearby.  He is ‘going into what was thought of as enemy territory, taking on (from the Jewish point of view) the demon of uncleanness and hostile paganism, and defeating the real enemy [Satan] instead, demonstrating that victory in the acted symbolism of the death of the pigs.’

A contradiction?
A possible contradiction has been identified here, in that in Mark Jesus exorcises a demoniac in the region near Gerasa; (Mk 5:1) in Matthew it occurs in Gadara. (Mt 8:28) However, the former is probably a city; the latter, a province (so Blomberg, DJG).  If so, it’s rather like one person saying that something happened ‘near Norwich’, and another saying that it happened ‘in Norfolk’.

‘The problem of the city’s name is a classical one and goes back at least to Origen’s time. The city of Gerasa lies approximately thirty miles southeast of the Sea of Galilee, and as one commentator somewhat sarcastically states, “The stampede of the pigs from Gerasa to the Lake would have made them the most energetic herd in history!” (Fitzmyer).’ (Stein, NAC on Luke)

The contributor to Harper’s Bible Commentary brushes the problem aside: ‘Geographical details that puzzled even ancient commentators, such as the location of Gerasa some thirty miles from the Sea of Galilee, are not important to Mark.’

Edwards remarks that if ‘the region of the Gerasenes’ represents the correct reading, then this region may have extended as far as the shore of the Sea of Galilee.  But if the correct reading is ‘Gergesa’, then there is evidence of a town of that name on the eastern shore of the lake; both Origen and Eusebius associate this with a miracle involving swine.

5:2 Just as Jesus was getting out of the boat, a man with an unclean spirit came from the tombs and met him. 5:3 He lived among the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. 5:4 For his hands and feet had often been bound with chains and shackles, but he had torn the chains apart and broken the shackles in pieces. No one was strong enough to subdue him. 5:5 Each night and every day among the tombs and in the mountains, he would cry out and cut himself with stones.

This man lived in the tombs – suggesting isolation and a preoccupation with death.

5:6 When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him. 5:7 Then he cried out with a loud voice, “Leave me alone, Jesus, Son of the Most High God! I implore you by God—do not torment me!” 5:8 (For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of that man, you unclean spirit!”)
Christ’s divinity – acknowledged and challenged

Christ’s divinity was acknowledged by:-

  • Peter Mt 16:16
  • Demons Mk 5:7
  • the Centurion Mk 15:39
  • Nathanael Jn 1:49
  • The Samaritans Jn 4:42
  • Martha Jn 11:27
  • Thomas Jn 20:28

It was challenged by:-

  • Satan Mt 4:3,6
  • Scribes and Pharisees Lk 5:21
  • The Jewish People Jn 5:18 8:53 10:33
  • The Scribes and Elders Lk 20:1,2
  • On the Cross-By the Rabble Mt 27:39,40
  • The Rulers Lk 23:35
  • The Soldiers Lk 23:36,37
  • One of the Thieves Lk 23:39
  • The Chief Priests Mk 15:31,32

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The fact that the demons are real, and that this is not merely a case of mental disorder mistakenly ascribed to demons is evidenced in this confession. (cf Lk 4:34,41)

“What do you want with men, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” – ‘In ancient magic, one could try to gain control over a spirit by naming it. The attempt at magical self-protection is powerless against Jesus.’ (Keener)

Note the irony: in the episode of the stilling of the storm, the disciples are wondering what kind of man Jesus is.  The demons know exactly who he is – and tremble.

5:9 Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “My name is Legion, for we are many.”
5:10 He begged Jesus repeatedly not to send them out of the region.
5:11 There on the hillside, a great herd of pigs was feeding. 5:12 And the demonic spirits begged him, “Send us into the pigs. Let us enter them.” 5:13 Jesus gave them permission. So the unclean spirits came out and went into the pigs. Then the herd rushed down the steep slope into the lake, and about two thousand were drowned in the lake.

In order to escape total and final punishment, the demons plead with Jesus to allow them to inhabit the herd of pigs.

Only Gentiles and non-observant Jews would keep pigs.  They would have been regarded as suitable hosts for unclean spirits.  Ancient exorcists sometimes found that evil spirits would ask for concessions when they found the pressure to evacuate their host became intolerable.  (IVP Bible Background).

He gave them permission – The Evangelist is at pains to point out that everything is under Jesus’ control.

‘The agreement of Jesus to this arrangement has been a puzzle to many…The account certainly does not suggest that this was the only way Jesus could get the demons out of the man. In the situation he is clearly portrayed as a plenipotentiary. The underlying difficulty is that of any theodicy in the face of the fact of continuing evil (cf. Rev 20:3). Schürmann, 486, points to the continuing activity of the demonic during the gentile mission (Acts 13:6–11; 16:16–18; 19:13–16).Luke 11:24–26 presumes that an expelled spirit will still have the possibility of continuing to work mischief. The perspective of our pericope is that though Jesus is actively engaged in rescuing those who have become the victims of the Devil’s minions (cf. 11:5–22), for whatever reason the time is not yet for bringing to ultimate judgment and destruction these forces of evil. Only in an anticipatory way do the demons come up against, in Jesus, the one who means their ultimate demise.’ (Evans, WBC on Luke)

Evans adds: ‘Jesus’ agreement to the request has troubled modern readers of the text, especially in light of the fate of the animals. In the (Jewish) perspective of the story, the pigs are of no value: to put the demons there is to put them safely out of the way, at least for the moment. Jesus’ agreement to having the demons remain on the loose to work their mischief is more difficult. But continuing evil is a fact, despite all that has been achieved by Jesus, and this was evident in the early missionary endeavors of the church as portrayed in Acts. The demons meet in Jesus the one who means their ultimate demise, but for whatever reason the time for their ultimate judgment and destruction has not yet come.’

Barnes writes: ‘‘All that can disturb or injure us is under the control of the Christian’s Friend. The very inhabitants of hell are bound, and beyond his permission they can never injure us. In spite, then, of all the malice of malignant beings, the friends of Jesus are safe.’

The relief of the demons is short-lived. The pigs are startled, and rush over the cliff and are drowned. This indicates the destructiveness of the demons: they have caused untold misery in the man, and now lead to the death of a whole herd of pigs.

Some people object to the idea that a herd of animals should be destroyed in this way (to say nothing of the expense to the owners). Spong (Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism) says: ‘It did not seem to occur to Mark that the swine represented someone’s livelihood, indeed, probably a person’s entire fortune.’  In reply, it must be remembered that (a) Jesus did not send the demons into the pigs (he merely gave permission); (b) he did not cause the pigs to be destroyed; (c) one person’s life is worth far more than a whole herd of pigs; (d) the miracle no doubt benefited the whole community, which was freed from the peril and terror of an uncontrollable maniac, and probably from further interference from the demons who had been expelled from him.

‘Various commentators’ concern for the owners’ economic loss may be due to a greater sensitivity for the property of others than the Evangelists had, but it may also reveal a lesser concern for the spiritual issues involved.’ (Stein, NAC on Luke)

Whatever else was the significance of the demons leaving the man and entering the pigs, it certainly demonstrated most dramatically and decisively the completeness of the deliverance.

The demons had been very powerful, they had kept this man in terrible bondage for a long time.  But the power of Jesus is greater.  Satan and in evil spirits are defeated foes.  They strive to thwart the work of Christ, but they shall not succeed.  They may rock the boat, but they cannot sink it.  They may recommend evil to a person, but they cannot compel anyone to sin.  They may threaten to pluck a believer out of the hand of the Saviour, but his grip remains secure.  Powerful as they may be, they are ever subject to Christ.  They are held tightly on a leash.  They cannot even go and inhabit a herd of pigs without his permission.

Trench says, ‘If this granting of the evil spirits’ request helped in any way the cure of the man, caused them to relax their  hold on him more easily, mitigated the paroxysm of their going forth, this would have been motive enough.  Or, still more probably, it may have been necessary for the permanent healing of the man, that he should have an outward evidence and testimony that the hellish powers which held him in bondage, had quitted their hold.’

Christ, in his mercy, delays the final judgement that would have finally destroyed the demons, cf. Mt 8:29.  And again, in his mercy, he allows them them to destroy an entire herd of pigs rather than destroy a single human being.

5:14 Now the herdsmen ran off and spread the news in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. 5:15 They came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man sitting there, clothed and in his right mind—the one who had the “Legion”—and they were afraid. 5:16 Those who had seen what had happened to the demon-possessed man reported it, and they also told about the pigs. 5:17 Then they asked Jesus to leave their region.
Misused privileges

  1. By the Gadarenes, Mk 5:17
  2. By the Nazarenes, Mk 6:4,5
  3. By the People of Northern Galilee, Lk 10:14
  4. By the People of Jerusalem, Lk 19:42
  5. By Israel in different periods, Jn 15:22; Heb 3:17

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They pleaded with Jesus to leave their region – According to Lk 8:35, 37, they did so because they were ‘overcome with fear’.  They were not overcome with anger, through losing their livelihood,but with fear, through witnessing Christ’s power over the principalities and powers.

Barnes: ‘It is no uncommon thing for people to desire Jesus to depart from them. Though he is ready to confer on them important favors, yet they hold His favors to be of far less consequence than some unimportant earthly possession. Sinners never love him, and always wish him away from their dwellings.’

Similarly, Stein (NAC on Luke) says, ‘Apart from a noble and good heart, God’s presence produces only fear. For the believer such fear turns to a holy awe, but to the unbelieving it is only a fearsome dread from which they seek to rid themselves.’

Mk 5:18-20 adds: ‘As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him.  Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”  So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.

Mk 5:18–20 = Lk 8:38,39
5:18 As he was getting into the boat the man who had been demon-possessed asked if he could go with him. 5:19 But Jesus did not permit him to do so. Instead, he said to him, “Go to your home and to your people and tell them what the Lord has done for you, that he had mercy on you.” 5:20 So he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis what Jesus had done for him, and all were amazed.

The man’s desire to go with Jesus (v18) is very understandable.  But Jesus refused, because ‘he had responsibilities of witness and service which he must not shirk.’ (Stott, Authentic Christianity, 241)

Restoration and Healing

5:21 When Jesus had crossed again in a boat to the other side, a large crowd gathered around him, and he was by the sea. 5:22 Then one of the synagogue rulers, named Jairus, came up, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. 5:23 He asked him urgently, “My little daughter is near death. Come and lay your hands on her so that she may be healed and live.” 5:24 Jesus went with him, and a large crowd followed and pressed around him.

= Mt 9:1; Lk 8:40.

Background to the next two healing miracles: Jesus had crossed the Sea of Galilee with his disciples. During the cross there was a violent storm, which he stilled. When they got to the other side, he was met by a severely demonised man, whom he healed. They then returned, and Jesus was welcomed by a large crowd, and he no doubt taught them.

The miracles are flowing so thick and fast at this stage in Jesus’ ministry that there now follows an account of two intertwined healing miracles. The contrast between the two people who asked Jesus for help is notable: one is a named man (Jairus), a wealthy citizen, approaching from the front, asking for help on behalf of his child. The other is an anonymous woman, a lowly person, approaching Jesus from behind, seeking help for herself. Jairus had been blessed with twelve joyful years with his daughter, and now feared he might lose her. The woman had been afflicted with twelve years of misery, from which she now hoped to be relieved. The need of Jairus was open and obvious; that of the woman was hidden. But both came to Jesus, and both received the help they sought. Once lesson arising from this is the essential equality of all before God: none are exempt from the ravages wrought by disease and death; and none are beyond the compassionate help of the Lord.

Cranfield observes that both narratives read like eyewitness accounts, and probably derive from Peter.

Mk 5:22–43 = Mt 9:18–26; Lk 8:41–56

One of the synagogue rulers – whose chief function was the conducting of the service. He determined who would take part in preaching, public prayer or the reading of the Scriptures.

It has been claimed that Mark has ‘blundered’ here (and has been corrected by Matthew, Mt 9:18).  Palestinian synagogues normally had only one ‘ruler’ (also synagogues of the Diaspora could have more than one, as Acts 13:15 indicates).  However, Mark’s words could readily be understood as meaning, ‘a ruler from one of the synagogues’, without necessarily implying that any particular synagogue had more than one ruler.  Edwards says that ‘inscriptional evidence from the first century A.D. ascribes the title to a surprisingly diverse lot of individuals, including individuals who bore Greek names and who wrote in Greek. Moreover, nearly two dozen Greek and Latin inscriptions dating from the first century B.C. onward from both Palestine and the Diaspora bestow the title on women, and even occasionally on children.’

Jairus – ‘In the cases of Jairus, whose name is dropped by Matthew, and Bartimaeus, whose name is dropped by both Matthew and Luke, we encounter once again the phenomenon of a character who must have been named by Mark because he was well-known in the early Christian movement but whose name was dropped by one or both of the later Synoptic evangelists, presumably because at the time at which they wrote or in the part of the Christian movement with which they were most familiar this figure was not well-known.’ (Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses)

It must have been very hard for him to come to Jesus. By this time the synagogues were virtually closed to Jesus, and the Jewish leaders were turning against him on account of his activities on the Sabbath and his opposition to the Pharisees. For this respected member of the ‘establishment’ to come to an itinerant teacher was a mark both of humility and desperation.

He fell at his feet – Though he was a ruler of the synagogue, he acknowledged the greater authority of Jesus. ‘N.B. In all of our troubles we should visit God. Even if he will not change our circumstances to suit us, he will certainly change us to suit our circumstances.’ DSB says, that this man forgot his prejudices, his dignity, and his pride; all he remembered was that he wanted Jesus’ help.

Pleaded earnestly…”Please come” – In this respect he was unlike the centurian, who had faith to believe that Jesus could speak the healing word at a distance. But Christ, although he applauds strong faith, does not discourage or reject weak faith, providing it is sincere.

Healed – From Gk. sozo, to save. Similarly used in Lk 8:36.

A large crowd followed and pressed around him – This was not the only hindrance Jairus encountered in his attempt to rush Jesus to his daughter before it was too late: there will also be the delay caused by the woman with a haemorrhage. For a while, it would seem that the healing of this woman had cost the father his daughter’s life. This adds more weight and tension to the further delay when Jesus insists on identifying the one who touched him, v45.

The many and the few

There is a difference between the many, who thronged Jesus, and the one, who touched him. ‘Abundance of Christians, as it were, press upon Christ, in hearing his word, receiving the sacraments, and performing the outward part of religion; but few touch him by a lively faith, a true Christian life, the prayer of charity, and the meditation, love and imitation of his mysteries. The numerous assemblies and multitudes of people who fill the churches, and make the crowd at sermons, and yet cease not to go on in their usual course, in following the world and their own passions, throng and press Christ, but do not touch him.’ (Quesnel, Q by Ryle)

5:25 Now a woman was there who had been suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years. 5:26 She had endured a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all that she had. Yet instead of getting better, she grew worse.

= Mt 9:20 Lk 8:43

Subject to bleeding for twelve years – Her sickness was reckoned as if she had a menstrual period all month long; it made her continually unclean under the law (Le 15:19-33) -a social problem on top of the physical one.

We should notice the various obstacles in the way of this woman approaching Jesus: the condition she suffered from made her religiously unclean, Le 15:19 25-27; the crowd made her approach to Jesus difficult, even though it seemed to afford her the advantage of remaining anonymous.

She was lost in the crowd: her affliction was such that she was afraid of being noticed. But it is this very anonymity which our Lord later takes up – he makes her identify herself so that she might make a public confession of him.

We have here a picture which is representative of so many people, in so many ages. They are suffering, and are afflicted. They have tried many remedies, but all have failed, sooner or later. Hopelessness sets in. This is true in the physical realm, and it is also true in the spiritual realm.

It is interesting that Luke omits the comment, noted by Mark, that the woman had spent all her money in consulting many doctors, Mk 5:26, but to no avail. She would have suffered from chronic anaemia, and would have felt constantly fatigued. Moreover, ‘according to the Jewish ideas of that time the woman was an utter outcast on account of her disease – she was not allowed to take part in any religious proceedings, could not come into the temple, could not touch other persons and had to be separated from her husband.’ (Geldenhuys) She was, in short, a tired, impoverished, despised and lonely woman. She had lost her wealth, her health, and her social standing.

Typical remedies for such a condition: drinking a goblet of wine containing a powder compounded from rubber, alum and garden crocuses; a dose of Persian onions cooked in wine administered with the summons, “Arise out of your flow of blood!;” a sudden shock; the carrying of an ostrich’s egg in a certain cloth. (See Lane)

5:27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 5:28 for she kept saying, “If only I touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 5:29 At once the bleeding stopped, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.

She…touched the edge of his cloak – Jewish men wore blue tassels on their cloaks (cf. Nu 15:37-40 Deut 22:12. See also Mt 23:5). We can assume that this touch was all she dared do, because of both modesty and shame (due to her ritual uncleanness).

‘Her faith, like Jairus’s, is also exemplary, for she realizes that she will get no further help from doctors and comes desperately to Jesus. Both Jairus and the woman come to Jesus in humility born of desperation and of faith, the requisite and exemplary commitment Jesus expects as the proper response to his self-disclosure.’ (Evangelical Commentary on the Bible)

When the inventor of chloroform, Sir James Simpson, was dying, a friend said to him, You will soon be resting on his bosom. Simpson humbly replied, I don’t know as I can do that, but I think I have hold of the hem of his garment.

‘If she touched anyone or anyone’s clothes, she rendered that person ceremonially unclean for the rest of the day. (cf. Le 15:26-27) She therefore should not have even been in this heavy crowd. Many teachers avoided touching women altogether, lest they become accidentally contaminated. Thus this woman could not touch or be touched, was probably now divorced or had never married, and was marginal to the rest of Jewish society.’ (NTBC)

The woman’s bleeding made her ceremonially unclean, so she would have been afraid to approach Jesus openly. However, here faith was strong enough for her to believe that a mere touch of the Master would effect a cure.

‘The physicians had had no success with the treatment of this woman’s case, and she had heard of Jesus. But she had this problem-her trouble was an embarrassing thing; to go in the crowd and to state it openly was something she could not face; and so she decided to try to touch Jesus in secret.’ (DSB)

We can regard the faith of this woman as weak, and even tinged with superstition. But it is sincere, and – most important of all – it is directed towards the right object, namely the Saviour of the World. Our Lord values faith which is both strong and true, and yet will overlook much if there is a fundamental sincerity of heart.

We ought not to think of healing flowing from Jesus like water from a tap. Her touch did not trigger some automatic current of power. We need to understand Jesus’ question in the next verse as indicating that he did not know who had touched him, but rather that he wished to turn covert faith into open confession.

Still, we can accept that he faith was limited and perhaps even bordered on the superstitious. But she knew that Jesus had healed others and she believed that he could heal her also. So the point is not how much understanding she had, or even how strong her faith was. The point is that she had enough faith to come to Jesus.

‘The woman is immediately healed of her bleeding and freed from her suffering, though there were others who must have been touching Jesus in the press.’ (Evangelical Commentary on the Bible)

5:30 Jesus knew at once that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 5:31 His disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing against you and you say, ‘Who touched me?’ ” 5:32 But he looked around to see who had done it.

Jesus realized that power had gone out from him – ‘This unusual expression, which occurs only here in Mark’s Gospel, must be interpreted from the context of “the power of God” in the Scripture. Power is a constitutive element in the biblical concept of the personal God. Jesus possesses the power of God as the representative of the Father. Nevertheless, the Father remains in control of his own power. The healing of the woman occurred through God’s free and gracious decision to bestow upon her the power which was active in Jesus. By an act of sovereign will God determined to honour the woman’s faith in spite of the fact that it was tinged with ideas which bordered on magic.’ (Lane) Cranfield comments to similar effect, saying that we need not think of the transfer of some impersonal power, such as an electric current, but the exercise of ‘God’s free and personal decision’.

‘He knew it not by any deficiency of spirits, through the exhausting of this virtue, but rather by an agility of spirits, in the exerting of it, and the innate and inseparable pleasure he had in doing good. And being desirous to see his patient, he asked, not in displeasure, as one affronted, but in tenderness, as one concerned, who touched my clothes?’ (MHC)

He turned around – Yet another hint of an eyewitness account.

‘Two men were walking down 5th Avenue in New York. One said, I hear a cricket. How in the world can you hear a cricket with all this commotion? He explained that he was a naturalist, and trained to hear such things. To prove his point, he reached into his pocket, took out a fifty-cent piece and dropped it on the pavement. 10 people stopped dead.’

“Who touched my clothes?” – No doubt she would have liked to have melted back into the crowd, but Jesus would not let her. Some commentators (e.g. Calvin) think that jesus knew all along who touched him, but wished her to make a public confession of her faith. Others (e.g. Cranfield) think it more likely that he did not know, and so sought the information and wished to draw attention away from his clothes to himself.

This disrespectful response is evidence of the reliability of Mark’s source (Cranfield). Luke (8:45) ascribes the reply to Peter.

‘Irony abounds, for the healing power of the reign of God embodied in Jesus operates at a deep level of faith that is not perceived on the surface; all one sees is the pressing crowd, when in reality a miraculous exchange has taken place between two persons.’ (Evangelical Commentary on the Bible)

‘Not every contact with the person of Jesus resulted in a transmission of power. Involved in the situation was not a unilateral event in which touch released power, but a mutual even in which the personal relationship between Jesus and the woman released power. Jesus, therefore, could not allow the woman to recede into the crowd still entertaining ideas tinged with superstition and magic.’ (Lane)

5:33 Then the woman, with fear and trembling, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. 5:34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

Trembling with fear – due to ‘the prospect of benig discovered, the possibility that Jesus might be angry, and the nervous strain probably all contributed’ (Cranfield, adding a further reason: her realisation that a miracle had been wrought upon her).

“Daughter, your faith has healed you” – Any hint of magic (cf. v30) evaporates when Jesus concludes that it was the exercise of the woman’s faith (not the touch of her hand) that led to her cure. Indeed, ‘from Mark’s perspective, the entire incident is a call for radical faith.’ (Lane)

There is probably in the word sozo (healed) a double meaning, understood by both Mark and his readers, of both the religious sense (saved) and the physical sense (healed). (Cranfield)

Jesus acknowledges ‘that her faith has healed (lit. saved) her, implying not only her physical healing but her spiritual salvation as well. This is attested by his valediction, “Go in peace,” the traditional “shalom” implying complete reconciliation with God, and the final word of permanent well-being, “Be freed from your suffering.” In view of the fact that her affliction had ceremonially prevented her from social contact with others, her healing has wider implications of restoration to fellowship in the larger family of God; she is now a member and a “daughter.”‘ (Evangelical Commentary on the Bible)

This is said partly to make it clear that it is her trust in him as a person, rather than her contact with the tassles of his garment that brought her healing.

‘Lest anyone be permitted to think that the healing had been accomplished by typical pagan magic, operating without Jesus’ knowledge, he declares that it happened in response to “faith”.’ (NTBC)

It was to say this that Jesus had stopped, refusing to go to Jairus’ house until he had reached this point. He did this, (a) so that the woman would not receive a second-class healing: she approached him secretly, from behind, because she felt unworthy to approach him any other way. But Jesus would not allow her to think herself any more unworthy than Jairus, whose approach was direct. (b) so that there would be no misunderstanding as to the cause of the healing: until it was realised that it was his power, and her faith, that were involved, then magic, superstition or even luck could be credited with the cure; (c) so that the woman would not feel guilty through having ‘stolen’ a healing: evidently she felt nervous about whether she was doing the right thing, as her trembling indicates, but Jesus’ words, “Go in peace” settle the matter; (d) her faith would not remain secret or anonymous: faith in Christ is not a purely personal and private thing. It is meant to be confessed, Rom 10:9-11.

Faith exercised is faith strengthened

There is in this story an illustration of the spiritual principle that faith exercised is faith strengthened. Cf. Phile 6. Her faith was, at first, weak and to an extent misguided. But she exercised what faith she had and found it strengthened and confirmed.

5:35 While he was still speaking, people came from the synagogue ruler’s house saying, “Your daughter has died. Why trouble the teacher any longer?”

We can only speculate on what thoughts and emotions swirled through Jairus as this woman became a roadblock to Jesus’ work on his behalf. It was rather like the frustration of someone in a hurry to get to a destination who is blocked by a traffic jam. Only Jairus is not just late; he is trying to save his daughter. To make matters worse, now a man from Jairus’s home shows up to announce that it is too late. Imagine it: Jesus stops to heal a woman of a nonfatal condition, and as he delays a young life is snuffed out. Where is justice?’ (IVP Commentary)

“Your daughter is dead…don’t bother the teacher any more” – They believed that Jesus could help while the daughter was still alive. But death, they supposed, put her beyond all help. ‘Once an event had occurred, it was too late to pray for its reversal. For example, the rabbis claimed that it was too late for one hearing a funeral procession to pray that it was not for a relative.’ (NTBC)

A letter from Plutarch (Greek writer, AD 46?-120?) to his wife:- ‘The messenger you sent to tell me of the death of my little daughter missed his way. But I heard of it through another.

I pray you let all things be done without ceremony or timorous superstition. And let us bear our affliction with patience. I do know very well what a loss we have had; but, if you should grieve overmuch, it would trouble me still more. She was particularly dear to you; and when you call to mind how bright and innocent she was, how amiable and mild, then your grief must be particularly bitter. For not only was she kind and generous to other children, but even to her very playthings.

But should the sweet remembrance of those things which so delighted us when she was alive only afflict us now, when she is dead? Or is there danger that, if we cease to mourn, we shall forget her? But since she gave us so much pleasure while we had her, so ought we to cherish her memory, and make that memory a glad rather than a sorrowful one. And such reasons as we would use with others, let us try to make effective with ourselves. And as we put a limit to all riotous indulgence in our pleasures, so let us also check the excessive flow of our grief. It is well, both in action and dress, to shrink from an over-display of mourning, as well as to be modest and unassuming on festal occasions.

Let us call to mind the years before our little daughter was born. We are now in the same condition as then, except that the time she was with us is to be counted as an added blessing. Let us not ungratefully accuse Fortune for what was given us, because we could not also have all that we desired. What we had, and while we had it, was good, though now we have it no longer.

Remember also how much of good you still possess. Because one page of your book is blotted, do not forget all the other leaves whose reading is fair and whose pictures are beautiful. We should not be like misers, who never enjoy what they have, but only bewail what they lose.

And since she is gone where she feels no pain, let us not indulge in too much grief. The soul is incapable of death. And she, like a bird not long enough in her cage to become attached to it, is free to fly away to a purer air. For, when children die, their souls go at once to a better and a divine state. Since we cherish a trust like this, let our outward actions be in accord with it, and let us keep our hearts pure and our minds calm.’-James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited.

5:36 But Jesus, paying no attention to what was said, told the synagogue ruler, “Do not be afraid; just believe.”

Ignoring – Or, ‘overhearing’, the verb meaning, lit. ‘to hear beside’. So Cranfield.

“Don’t be afraid; just believe” – Wonderful words of encouragement. Jesus fully understands the agony of the father. Cf. Heb 4:15.

‘Just believe’ is in the present imperative, giving the sense, ‘keep believing’: the father has shown faith by coming to Jesus; now he must continue to believe.

5:37 He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James.

He did not let anyone follow him – ‘When we read this expression, we should remember the words in verse 53, “They laughed him to scorn.” It seems a rule in Christ’s dealings with men not to force evidence upon them, but rather to withhold from scorners and scoffers those proofs of his own mission which he affords to others. And as it was when he was upon earth, so it is now. The scoffing spirit is the spirit which is often left to itself.’ (Ryle)

The presence of the father is not stated here, but is implied in what follows.

Peter, John and James – ‘These three apostles, it should be remembered, were three times singled out from the rest of the twelve, and allowed to be our Lord’s companions on special occasions. They were with him on the Mount of Transfiguration, and in the Garden of Gethsemane, and on the occasion of this miracle. None of the apostles had such a clear revelation of our Lord’s divinity, our Lord’s humanity, and our Lord’s power and compassion towards the sorrowful and sinful.’ (Ryle)

‘As they come to the house the mourners have already begun their wailing cry. It was customary in those days to hire mourners to bemoan the death of an individual. There was a terrible frenzy about it. They would actually rip their garments apart, tear out their hair, and cry out with loud shrieks and howls. But even though there was some degree of professionalism about this, it represents the terrible sense of despair which people-even in Israel-had come to in the face of death. There is none of the stoic’s resignation here, such as you would have seen among the Greeks, but this awful, horrible, crying out, this frenzy of despair, this sense of hopelessness at the finality of death’s cold grip.’ (Stedman)

5:38 They came to the house of the synagogue ruler where he saw noisy confusion and people weeping and wailing loudly. 5:39 When he entered he said to them, “Why are you distressed and weeping? The child is not dead but asleep.” 5:40 And they began making fun of him.

Noisy confusion and people weeping and wailing loudly – Possibly these were professional mourners, but in view of the shortness of the time scale they may well have been members of the family.

“The child is not dead but asleep” – That is to say, it is as if she were simply asleep, for she is about to be revived. But then again, this saying is applicable to all those who die in the Lord, for they will be raised at the last day. ‘Jesus’ statement means that in spite of the girl’s real death, she has not been delivered over to the realm of death with all of its consequences.’ (Lane)

‘He means, as to her peculiar case, that she was not dead for good and all, but that she should now shortly be raised to life, so that it would be to her friends as if she had been but a few hours asleep. But it is applicable to all that die in the Lord; therefore we should not sorrow for them as those that have no hope, because death is but a sleep to them, not only as it is a rest from all the toils of the days of time, but as there will be a resurrection, a waking and rising again to all the glories of the days of eternity.’ (M. Henry) Cf. Jn 11:11 2 Pet 3:4 Acts 7:60 1 Cor 15:6,18 1 Thess 4:13-15.

Notice that Jesus says this before he sees the child.

‘We almost feel like joining them as they laugh at him. They thought he was crazy, that he should talk that way. And yet, who has the truer view of death, Jesus or man? Remember that he said the same thing when he was told of Lazarus: “He is sleeping.” Again and again he refers to death as a sleep, when it involves a believer. Death is not what it appears to us, when belief and faith are present. It is merely temporary. It is nothing more serious, as far as the believer is concerned, than going to sleep. What a comfort those words have been to so many who have come themselves to the edge of death and have realized that all they were doing was really going to sleep, as Jesus has said.’ (Stedman)

Alternative views on this statement, to the effect that (a) she is in a coma; (b) she will rise at the last day, are unconvincing. ‘It is more natural to take the words to mean that, thought she is dead, yet, since he is going to raise her up, her death will be no more permanent than a sleep.’ (Cranfield)

They laughed at him – but he answered their unbelief not by word, but by deed. The fact that they could shift so readily from lamentation to laughter suggests that their sorrow lacked sincerity.

But he put them all outside and he took the child’s father and mother and his own companions and went into the room where the child was. 5:41 Then, gently taking the child by the hand, he said to her, “Talitha koum,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, get up.” 5:42 The girl got up at once and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). They were completely astonished at this.

He put them all out – This is cited by Wimber (Power Healing, 185) as an illustration of the importance of creating a ‘healing environment’, an environment of faith.

‘Since the miracle Jesus was about to work was going to be a superlative one – one that actually pointed toward the final resurrection itself – it was particularly important to take such precautions. (His own resurrection was of course different, since in his case the final resurrection itself was accomplished – and no human eye at all was allowed to witness it.) (Cranfield)

He took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was – ‘That there might be witnesses of the miracle, since, though the miracles are not meant to be compelling proofs, they are nevertheless signs to faith.’ (Cranfield)

And went in where the child was – This seems to be the first time that Jesus saw the girl.

“Talitha koum” – The actual (Aramaic) words used by Jesus ‘were remembered and valued as being the actual words used by Jesus on a memorable occasion.’ (Cranfield)

G. Campbell Morgan said, ‘I can hardly speak of this matter without becoming personal and reminiscent, remembering a time forty years ago when my own first lassie lay at the point of death, dying. I called for him then, and he came, and surely said to our troubled hearts, “Fear not, believe only.” He did not say, “She shall be made whole.” She was not made whole, on the earthly plane; she passed away into the life beyond. But he did say to her, “Talitha cumi,” i.e., “Little lamb, arise.” But in her case that did not mean, “Stay on the earth level;” it meant that he needed her, and he took her to be with himself. She has been with him for all these years, as we measure time here, and I have missed her every day. But his word, “Believe only,” has been the strength of all the passing years.’

She was twelve years old – another detail such as someone present would have remembered.

They were completely astonished – indicating that they thought the child had been dead.

Pure miracle

Taylor (The Miracles of our Saviour) remarks that the line between natural and supernatural is not always clearly demarked.  In the raising of the dead, however, there is no question merely of the application or enhancement of natural processes: it is pure miracle.

5:43 He strictly ordered that no one should know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.

‘Jesus urges silence, even though what he has done was obvious. His goal is not to become a traveling Palestinian miracle show. His ministry is not about such displays of power, but about what they represent. He knows that miracles would become the major interest, not new life and the basic issue of who it is who can heal a woman and raise a young girl.’ (IVP Commentary)

‘He refuses to play the role of the wonder worker and gain acclaim from the crowds who lack proper faith; he reveals the secret of his messiahship only to those whom he chooses, but for the rest his works, like his words, are in perplexing parables.’ (Evangelical Commentary on the Bible)

‘Special motivation for the injunction to silence may be found in the rank unbelief of those who had ridiculed Jesus with their scornful laughter. It is clear throughout Mark that Jesus revealed his messiahship only with reserve. It is appropriate to this consistent pattern of behaviour that he was unwilling to make himself know to the raucous, unbelieving group that had gathered outside Jairus’ house.’ (Lane)

He…told them to give her something to eat – Yet another eyewitness detail.

A pledge of things to come

‘Let us see in this miracle a blessed pledge of what our Lord will do in the day of his second appearing. He will call his believing people from their graves. He will give them a better, more glorious, and more beautiful body, than they had in the days of their pilgrimage. He will gather together his elect from north, and south, and east, and west, to part no more, and die no more.’ (Ryle)

Unlimited resources

One lesson from this double miracle is that God does not bless one at the expense of another. We are apt to think that he has limited resources, and he must ration them out. But this is to project our own human limitations on God, and is entirely wrong. Are we sometimes jealous when we see that someone has been richly blessed by God? We need more the attitude of Paul, for whom the blessing of others was evidently a blessing to himself.

A parable

‘Rufus Jones lost a son of eleven years who was all the world to him. He wrote many years later about the experience, concluding with this luminous parable of how his own heart was opened to God’s love:

‘When my sorrow was at its most acute I was walking along a great city highway, when suddenly I saw a little child come out of a great gate, which swung to and fastened behind her. She wanted to go to her home behind the gate, but it would not open. She pounded in vain with her little fist. She rattled the gate. Then she wailed as though her heart would break. The cry brought the mother. She caught the child in her arms and kissed away the tears. “Didn’t you know I would come? It’s all right now.” All of a sudden I saw with my spirit that there was love behind my shut gate.

At home

If you suffer with God you will find love behind your shut gate, a love that can lead you through the gate to be at home with all the children of God.’-James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) p. 17.

Three words from Jesus

  1. A word of encouragement – “Don’t be afraid, just believe,” v50.
  2. A word of revelation – “She is not dead but asleep,” v52.
  3. A word of love and power – “My child, get up,” v54
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