Today’s passage rounds out a loose trilogy of stories displaying Jesus’s power and authority. Two weeks ago we saw his authority over nature, when he calmed the storm. Last week we saw his authority over the spiritual realm, when he cast out the legion of demons. And this week we’re going to see his authority and power over human sickness and death. But there’s a particular twist to this story: everything that happens in this text takes places over the larger backdrop of God’s providence—the fact that God doesn’t just have authority over nature, the spiritual world, sickness and death…but over everything. We’ll begin reading at v. 40.
Desperation, Meet Jesus.
40 Now when Jesus returned, the crowd welcomed him, for they were all waiting for him. 41 And there came a man named Jairus, who was a ruler of the synagogue. And falling at Jesus’ feet, he implored him to come to his house, 42 for he had an only daughter, about twelve years of age, and she was dying.
So this Jairus was not a man who ordinarily would have had anything to do with Jesus. He was a “ruler of the synagogue.” He was one of those who would regulate how the Jews would worship when they gathered; in Jewish society at the time he would have been a man of some importance. In addition, he probably knew what happened when Jesus visited the synagogue in Nazareth (which we saw in chapter 4, and which didn’t go so well, at least in terms of how the Jewish leaders felt about him). So it’s not logical that this man would come to Jesus.
So this guy may not be too fond of Jesus, but at the same time he’s desperate—and we see that he’s desperate because he’s willing to do what the other Jewish leaders would have scoffed at: he’s willing to go to this Jesus and have him come to his house, so he can heal his daughter, who is dying.
Note well that Luke never says that Jairus likes Jesus or approves of him. All he knows is what everyone else knows: that this Jesus, by means fair or foul, is able to perform miracles. He may not believe Jesus is who he says he is, but at least he believes that much. So like any father, he’s willing to do anything to see his daughter made well.
But isn’t it always the case that when we’re in the biggest hurry is exactly when we get held up the most? You’ve got the most important meeting of your career…and there’s a traffic jam on the A4. Your wife’s in labor…and on your way to the hospital you’re caught in a snow storm. (That happened to a couple I know; the dad had to pull over because of the snow and deliver the baby, in the car, with the help of their two small daughters in the backseat.) You’re on your way to a job interview…and someone on the street knocks into you and spills their Starbucks all over your suit.
That’s what happens here—they get up to go to Jairus’s home, so that Jesus can heal his daughter, but they can’t move because of the massive crowd. The people in the crowd know who Jesus is too, and they want to see the great miracle worker. So they press in on them and block the pas.
And at that point, it gets even worse—they get interrupted. V. 42b:
As Jesus went, the people pressed around him. 43 And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and though she had spent all her living on physicians, she could not be healed by anyone.
This “discharge of blood” was more than likely a chronic menstrual hemorrhaging, and Luke says it has gone on for twelve years. Even a short hemorrhage weakens the body; it makes you anemic and exhausted. And as if that weren’t enough, according to the Law of Moses (we see in Leviticus 15.19-30) this hemorrhage would have made her ceremonially unclean—anyone who touched her would have had to go to the temple and be ritually cleansed. This meant that people kept their distance from her; she would have been a social outcast, living in isolation for the last twelve years. As unfair as it may be, this woman is weak, probably sterile and a total outcast from society.
Luke says she’s tried everything; she’s spent all of her savings on doctors and remedies, been through all the hope and disappointment of trying something new and finding it ineffective. And nothing has worked.
I don’t know if you’ve ever known someone with a chronic illness, or dealt with one yourself. I know this is a ridiculous comparison, but I’ve had chronic tinnitus in both ears for about ten years now: there is a constant, high-pitched squeal in my ears, twenty-four hours a day. It makes it hard for me to hear certain types of voices; if I’m in the middle of a noisy crowd, the ringing will increase in volume. I can never just enjoy a quiet moment, because no moment is ever quiet. My friend the squealer is always there, singing his discordant song.
Let’s be clear: my problem is very far from the kind of chronic pain this woman was dealing with. And it still drives me nuts. So I can’t even imagine what someone dealing with serious chronic pain must go through.
After a certain point, when you have to deal with something this painful for this long, it makes you feel like you’re going insane; it makes you seriously desperate.
So although she shouldn’t be there—even though the religious leaders would be furious if they knew she was in this crowd, rubbing shoulders with people all over the place and making all of them ritually unclean—she came because she, like Jairus, was desperate.
But she’s ashamed as well; she doesn’t want anyone to know what she’s doing. But she thinks there may be another way. In his account of this event, Mark tells us that the woman was thinking to herself, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well” (Mark 5.28). So (v. 44):
44 She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, and immediately her discharge of blood ceased. 45 And Jesus said, “Who was it that touched me?” When all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds surround you and are pressing in on you!” 46 But Jesus said, “Someone touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out from me.”
Many people wonder if Jesus really didn’t know how this miracle had happened, as if it was accidental on Jesus’s part. Of course he knew. a) He’s God; and b) we see in v. 47 that the woman saw that she was not hidden. So somewhere between v. 46 and v. 47, something must have happened to make this woman understand that Jesus knew who she was, and that when he asked, “Who touched me?”, he wasn’t asking for information—he was calling her out.
47 And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. 48 And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”
So in v. 48 we have the missing piece. She wasn’t just coming to Jesus because she didn’t know what else to do. She wasn’t trying him out as she had tried out all these other remedies. No matter how immature her faith may have been, she had faith that this would work, that this man Jesus would be able to heal her. And that faith was proven to be well-founded.
Now, let’s come back to Jairus—imagine being Jairus while all this is happening. He’s rushing home to get Jesus to his sick daughter’s bedside, knowing the clock is ticking. He’s not late for a meeting here—his little girl is breathing her last, and he knows it.
So imagine what he must have been thinking when they reach the city and the crowd gathers around Jesus, grinding their progress to a halt. He must have been going out of his mind. And to make matters worse, in the middle of all that, Jesus stops to ask what must have sounded like a pretty stupid question—“Who touched me?” (Even Peter is like, “Uh, Lord, there are people everywhere.”)
And then to make matters still worse, while Jesus is speaking Jairus sees in the crowd someone he recognizes—someone from his own home. And he would surely have seen on that person’s face what the news would be.
49 While he was still speaking, someone from the ruler’s house came and said, “Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the Teacher any more.”
We can only speculate what Jairus must have been thinking and feeling. We know he was desperate because he came to Jesus in the first place. Now, his desperation has proven itself; what he feared has come to pass. That desperation was probably replaced by a grief and loss most of us can only imagine. Mixed in with all that—I would imagine—would be a healthy amount of anger: at the crowds, who had halted their progress, and at Jesus, who had taken his time to help this woman who honestly could have waited.
So in the context of what this poor father must have been going through, Jesus’s words in v. 50 must have been utterly shocking.
50 But Jesus on hearing this answered him, “Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well.”
I don’t know what kind of faith Jairus had left at that point, but whatever faith he had, Jesus is testing it. Healing is one thing; resurrection from the dead is quite another. And yet, for some reason—perhaps propelled by the force of Jesus’s calm assurance, or perhaps because he had nothing left to lose—Jairus agrees, and they continue their route together.
51 And 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. 52 And all were weeping and mourning for her, but he said, “Do not weep, for she is not dead but sleeping.” 53 And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. 54 But taking her by the hand he called, saying, “Child, arise.” 55 And her spirit returned, and she got up at once. And he directed that something should be given her to eat.
I love that something so extraordinary would be accompanied by something as banal as food. It’s the final proof. Everyone, at that time and place, upon seeing the child, would have immediately thought that she was a ghost. There’s no possible way that she was actually alive again.
But they’d have quickly seen that they were wrong, because ghosts can’t eat.
This girl’s eating was the final proof they needed that it really was her, and that she really was alive. (We’ll see the exact same thing in Luke 24, when as the disciples are still not believing the crucified Jesus has actually been raised from the dead, he asks for something to eat, and eats fish in front of them.)
And I love how Luke ends this tale (v. 56):
56 And her parents were amazed, but he charged them to tell no one what had happened.
He’s back in a Jewish region now, where expectations of the Messiah’s return would make his ministry more difficult. So the parents are “amazed,” and Jesus tells them to keep that amazement for themselves, almost as if to say, “It’s okay if all of this is just for you. People will know about me soon enough.”
But of course it’s not just for them; it’s for us as well. From beginning to end, Luke teases out the complex array of seeming coincidences that led all these different people to this spot, and which were all perfectly intentional.
Think about Jairus for a moment. This desperate father, who only wants to see his little girl safe and healthy, like we all do. God certainly seems to put him through the ringer here, doesn’t he? First of all, the pain of a mortally ill child—I’ve never experienced this, and I hope I never do; but I know some people who have, and it’s unimaginable.
Then there’s the frustration and panic of getting held up on the way. Your daughter is minutes away from death, and the healer stops to deal with someone else! Like he couldn’t have just said, “Wait here—I’ll be back in just a few minutes.”
Then, more than likely, Jesus elevates your faith by actually healing this woman, giving you proof that you were right to come to this man, he is indeed able to heal!
But then, before anything can come of it, you recognize someone approaching, and you are told it’s too late. What you were fearing has actually happened. Your daughter is dead.
Why? Why would God make him go through all of this?
This text’s implicit answer is incredibly clear: What is more incredible? to see a girl healed from an illness, or to see her raised from the dead?
God did all this to make much of Christ—that Jesus might be seen as even mightier, even more glorious, than we had initially thought. Up to now Jesus has proven his authority over nature; over demons; over human illness; now he proves his authority over death itself.
And what about the woman?
This woman finally gets up the courage (or the desperation) to come out and see Jesus when he comes. She’s got no other options left open to her. So she comes, despite the fact that this discharge would have been her shame in that culture. She touches his garment, and immediately knows that she is healed.
Now what do you think is her plan at this point? According to the law, she would have had to present herself to the leaders in the temple, be examined, be publicly recognized as healed, and only then would she be able to begin her normal life again. So presumably, after being healed she would have wanted to go to the temple, to go through that whole process.
But again, that’s not what happens. Jesus stops everything and says, “Who touched me?” And the game was up. As Luke says, she was not hidden. And she would have known that Jesus was not going to simply let her go with her miracle.
Again, why would Jesus do this? Why would he put the poor woman through the ordeal of being seen by all those people, in all of her shame? Why couldn’t he just let her go her way, content with her miracle?
That’s a little harder to see, but here’s why I think he did it: because she had faith, and he wanted her to know that her faith was legitimate.
And here’s why I think that. Firstly, when she discovers she has been found out (v. 47), she came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. Shame be damned—she told him who she was, what she suffered from, in front of everyone. She openly and humbly confessed that she needed help. Whether she realized it or not, that is the proper response of faith.
Secondly, we see that he wants her to know that her faith was legitimate in the way that he responds to her—which he wouldn’t have done if he hadn’t stopped to ask who touched him. He says (v. 48), “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
This woman is the only woman, in the whole Bible, whom Jesus addresses as “daughter.” This woman was desperate to be healed of a physical ailment. In all likelihood, she wasn’t looking for a Savior. And yet, in addressing her this way—which he only could do once she got her shame out in the open—he is saying to her, “Your shame is gone. Your faith is real, and I know it.”
You see, all of this is intentional. This whole story is like a dance. One commentator simply laid out the facts by showing that in the course of this story, there is progression, and there are parallels. We have:
• a desperate father,
• a dying girl,
• a desperate woman,
• a delayed Jesus,
• a believing woman,
• a dead girl,
• a living girl,
• a believing man.
So what are we supposed to do with all of this? What are we meant to know, and how are we meant to respond?
Firstly—this text calls us to obedience in uncertainty.
The woman comes to Jesus to be healed; she’s probably not looking for a Savior, she’s not looking for an actually encounter with Christ—she just wants to be well. And her faith in his ability proves itself: she is healed.
But Jesus isn’t done with her. He asks, “Who touched me?” and she knows that question is for her. And here’s the thing—she doesn’t know how this will turn out. If she comes forward, she could possibly face anger on the part of the crowd if she answers his question, because she’s been there wading through the crowd and making everyone she touched ceremonially unclean. She could even face having the miracle taken back—maybe Jesus is asking who touched him because he’s angry that someone tried to take a miracle that he had never intended to give.
She couldn’t possibly know what would happen if she came forward. But she did it anyway. She fell trembling at his feet and obediently confessed everything to him, in front of all these people who now would have seen her as she was.
And it is only at this point that she receives the perfect validation of not only her faith to be healed, but also of her obedience to confess it was she who had touched him: Jesus calls her “daughter,” and tells her to go in peace.
Brothers and sisters, so many people call themselves Christians, say they love God, and yet resist obedience because they’re not convinced that it will all turn out well if they obey. Because sometimes it doesn’t, right? Sometimes for doing the right thing, people lose their jobs. Sometimes they lose relationships. Sometimes they lose their pride. We can never be certain that obedience to God’s commands will make life better for us.
But one thing we can be sure of: obedience to God’s commands makes the uncertainty less uncertain. John says (1 John 2.5-6):
5 ...but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: 6 whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.
Our obedience to God’s commands serves as objective proof that he did this in us, that our faith is real. There are a lot of things that we can’t be sure of; but when we see the work of God in us to bring us to obedience, we can be sure that we are his. We can be sure that he calls us sons, and he calls us daughters.
Secondly, this text gives us confidence in God’s providence. There is a paradox in the Bible when it comes to suffering. On the one hand, the Bible calls us to pray when we are suffering (James 5.13); we are invited to come to God and ask him to remove our suffering when we’re in it. And often we find that God honors those prayers.
On the other hand, Paul tells us in Ephesians 1.11 that God works all things according to the counsel of his will. ALL things. Everything that happens, happens according to God’s will. The place I was born; the family I was born into; the people I meet; the things I love to do; the fortuitous “accidents” that have made my life turn out the way it has… God works all things according to the counsel of his will.
Including our suffering.
That can be hard for us to understand—why would a good God will that we suffer? (Think in particular of this story, where there’s a sick child involved.) That’s a very hard pill to swallow. And often we never find out why. The Bible doesn’t give a one-size-fits-all answer to that question.
But this text is here to remind us that we’re asking the wrong question. We shouldn’t ask, “Why does God do what he does?”, but rather, “Does God know what he’s doing?” And the answer is absolutely yes. In our text we see two people who were brought together by a seeming coincidence. This woman's pain would not have been as profound had she not met Jesus right there and right then, in the middle of a crowd, knowing she needed to expose her shame to everyone before she could leave. Jairus’s suffering would not have been as profound if Jesus had simply told the crowd to clear a path and wait for him to come back. And neither of them would have suffered as much if disease had never entered the picture at all.
But then again, if all that had never happened, then they would never have seen Christ’s glory on display as it was.
So that’s the paradox—we are invited to pray for God to relieve our suffering on the one hand, and yet we are made aware that God’s providence reigns over all things, including that suffering we’re praying he takes away.
How do we navigate that kind of paradox? We do two things:
We trust that because God is sovereign and powerful over our suffering, he is able to take it away. He has the authority to calm storms, to cast out demons, to heal the sick and to raise the dead.
And at the same time, because we know God is good, and infinitely wise, and all-knowing, we trust that he is at work in our suffering…even if he doesn’t take it away. We don’t know what he’s doing, and he may not even be doing it for us. But he knows why he does what he does. And that’s enough.
Peter said it this way (1 Peter 4.19):
19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.
And as we entrust our souls to our Creator, remaining obedient in our uncertainty, we find—as any faithful Christian who has been a Christian for years will tell you—that Peter was right: through all of that, our Creator is always faithful. Jesus is with Jairus the whole time—and what does he say to him before he makes good on his promise? “Do not fear; only believe.”
Lastly, this text drives us to wonder at our Savior. Again, I love how Luke ends his story in v. 56: And her parents were amazed… That is absolutely the right reaction.
Many of us (especially if we have grown up in church) read this story with a certain level of indifference, because we've heard it so many times it doesn't seem that extraordinary anymore. But if I may be frank, reading this story and not being absolutely floored by the greatness of Christ should drive us to examine ourselves, because if that's the case, there's something off.
The central fact of these three stories should not escape us. Jesus commands the winds and the waves, and they obey him. Jesus commands the demons to flee, and they have to obey. The mere proximity of Jesus’s power causes a woman’s body to stop hemorrhaging. And the mere touch of his hand starts a dead girl’s heart pumping again.
This man is no mere man. He is the One who has absolute authority over everything—natural or spiritual, sickness or health, life or death. How can we possibly remain indifferent before such a God?
We can’t. If we know him, if we have faith in him, we cannot be indifferent here. Jesus’s power and authority—the very fact that he exists—is the most important fact you will ever hear. More important than your salvation, more important than your happiness, is the fact that Jesus is. That his power and authority, so beautifully on display in this chapter, dealt the ultimate blow to death on the cross, where he defeated Satan and sin and made us his own by taking our place. And that still today, he reigns as the One who has perfect authority over all things.
Let us pray to see him. Let us pray to say that whatever suffering we’re going through, if it helps us to see the glory of this man Jesus, it’s worth it.