Encountering Jesus: A Girl at Death's Door

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Mark 5:41-43

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 walked; for she was twelve years old. And immediately they were overcome with amazement. And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

Mark 5:41-43 rsv

This was an unusual meeting, to say the least. When Jesus first met this young girl, she had just died. It was a meeting, think about this, of the living with the dead – and the effects were astonishing. Listen. I’m reading from the Gospel According to Mark, chapter 5, verse 41: “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 walked; for she was twelve years old. And immediately they were overcome with amazement.”

This event, with the circumstances that led up to it, is presented in the gospel as a kind of a drama in four acts. Faith in the love and power of Jesus is the master theme. First we see that faith expressed, then challenged, then laughed at, and then vindicated. Watch with me as the drama unfolds.


In the first act, we meet a distinguished gentleman named Jairus. He was president of the local synagogue. That means that he was the lay official responsible for supervising the building and the arrangement for the synagogue services. He was an important man in his community.

Jairus belonged to a class in Israel somewhat opposed to change, cautiously suspicious of new religious movements. Perhaps he had greeted the news of Jesus’ remarkable ministry in Galilee with some reserve, even resistance. But that was in his professional capacity. Now he was dealing with something quite different. His daughter, a girl about to become a young woman, had become gravely ill. Remembering the reports of Jesus’ healing miracles, Jairus sought Him out. His lofty position was forgotten now. He cared nothing for appearances. He went straight to the man from Galilee in the midst of a crowd and fell down at His feet. That must have startled everyone. Jairus, president of the synagogue, fine robes and all, on his face in the dust before Jesus! “My little daughter is at the point of death,” he anguished. “Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live” (Mark 5:23).

There is faith, beautifully and simply expressed. Jairus, overwhelmed with a sense of urgent need, came personally and directly to Jesus of Nazareth. He humbled himself in the Master’s presence. He asked earnestly for help, expressing as he did a strong confidence in Jesus’ power. He believed that if Jesus would come to his house and lay hands upon his daughter she would recover. She would be well again. She would live. He trusted that Jesus could make the difference between death and life.

To that impassioned appeal, the Lord responded immediately. Without a word, He set out with Jairus for the president’s house. Here was a faith Jesus delighted to honor.


Next we see that faith challenged. Jesus and His disciples met with an interruption on the way. A woman, long plagued with a wasting illness, had come up behind Jesus, remember, and touched His robe. He stopped and inquired who it was who had done this thing, and a conversation followed. The woman was marvelously healed, but Jairus must have agonized at the delay. His daughter was hanging between life and death and every moment was precious. There was absolutely no time to lose.

And as Jesus was saying to the woman, “Your faith has made you well, go in peace and be healed of your disease,” messengers came from the president’s house. For Jairus, the news was crushing. His worst fears were confirmed: “Your daughter is dead.” The report was blunt, unmistakably clear. It was over now. The girl had breathed her last. There was nothing to do now but make arrangements for a funeral.

The servants saw that Jairus was with Jesus. They knew about their master’s urgent errand, but it didn’t matter now. It was too late. “Why trouble the Teacher any further?” they asked. Jesus, they were saying in effect, must have other things to do, other needs to attend to, other people to help. Why bring Him home to a place of sorrow where nothing more can be done?

Jesus overheard what they said but made no response to the messengers. He turned instead to Jairus, “Do not fear,” He urged, “only believe.” That must have seemed strange counsel to a man who had just been told of his daughter’s death. “Don’t be afraid? Fear not?” Jesus had heard the news as well as Jairus. The girl was gone. The light of Jairus’ life had been extinguished. What could it mean for him to be told, “Don’t be afraid?”

Fear and faith are being contrasted here, aren’t they? “Don’t be afraid,” Jesus said, “only believe.” Believing is the alternative, the other way of dealing with the news. It’s the opposite of fear. It’s the antidote.

That contrast is often expressed in the Scriptures. The psalmist says, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in thee” (Ps. 56:3). When I’m threatened by fear, that is, I reach out in faith. When I’m trembling, I trust. Fear means that I’m worried, insecure, anxious about the future. “What will happen now? How can I deal with what’s ahead? This doctor’s report? This termination notice? This court hearing?”

Faith means that I refuse to focus on the circumstances, the uncertainties. I look instead toward the Lord, sure of His goodness toward me, sure of His sufficiency for every need, sure that He will be faithful to His word of promise.

When Jesus said to Jairus, “Only believe,” He was reminding the president of the appeal already made and the help which He, Jesus, had undertaken to give. There could be no doubt now about the eventual outcome. No reports, no circumstances which seemed to indicate otherwise were grounds for anxiety. There was only one thing that Jairus needed to do in the light of this announcement, and that was to believe.

The call to trust is in the present tense, which means in New Testament language, a continuing action. Jesus is acknowledging that Jairus has begun in faith. He’s calling now for a steady believing. Jairus is to hold on in faith, not to lose heart, not to give up. He’s to cling with tenacious conviction to the assurance that his daughter’s well being is in Jesus’ hands. That’s how to respond when faith is challenged, when appearances, when circumstances, seem to call it in question.


Now we get a glimpse of people with no faith at all. They don’t simply challenge believing, they laugh it to scorn. These people are the mourners who have gathered in the house of Jairus. Some were doubtless his relatives and neighbors. Some may have been professionals called in to create an appropriate atmosphere. At any rate, the scene which Jesus meets when He arrives is one of wild, unrestrained grieving. People are in a frenzy, wailing and screaming. That sort of thing was not uncommon in those days – or still today in some groups and cultures. But Jesus, when He entered, quieted everyone down. Then He asked them, “Why do you make a tumult and weep?” Or, “Why this crying and commotion?” as another translation puts it, “The child is not dead but sleeping.” Jesus is calling in question all this lamentation. “There’s no reason for it,” He seems to say. “This is no tragedy, no time for bitter tears. The girl you are wailing about is only asleep!”

What did Jesus mean by that? Is He making an expert diagnosis without even having seen the young woman? Does He know for a fact that she is only in a deep sleep from which she will soon revive? That hardly seems likely, does it? There would be no point to this narrative, no reason for Mark’s including it, if Jesus had only prevented a comatose girl from being buried alive. Everything in the gospels about this incident points to the fact that the girl had actually died. In what sense could Jesus say that she was only asleep?

No matter what the appearances are, no one really dies for whom the Lord intends life. In His mind, His heart, His purpose, she is alive. Soon that will become apparent in her revived body. Soon it will become clear to everyone around her. But at this point, the mourners need to take His word for it against all evidence and that they are unwilling to do. Suddenly, uproariously, they laugh Him to scorn.

Try to picture that scene for a moment. What a shocking reversal! In a moment, these people who have been carrying on with the most extravagant grieving, expressing these extremes of bereavement, suddenly shift gears, as it were, and burst out laughing. That may represent shock, nervousness, tension, at hearing something utterly unexpected, or it may mean that their grieving had been little more than a performance. In any case, it represents an outright rejection of what Jesus has said.

I wondered to myself as I read this, is this like the laughter of Abraham and Sarah when God promised them that in their old age they would have a son? No. Those two were overwhelmed by the wonder of what God had promised. It went against all their commonsense notions. But their laughter was restrained, in private, an admission of sorts of their human weakness. Here the laughter is blatant and derisive. It’s the taunt of unbelief, a settled unwillingness to take Jesus’ word seriously.


The last act shows us how faith is dramatically vindicated. Jesus takes control of the situation. All the mourners and laughers are put out of the room, perhaps out of the house. As He’s about to enter the girl’s room, He takes only her father and mother and the three disciples whom He has especially chosen to be with Him: Peter, James and John. None of these people who have just mocked His words are going to witness the miracle. Only those most vitally concerned, the parents, and the inner circle of His most trusted followers. There won’t be even a hint of public display.

The little group gathers by the girl’s bedside. Jesus takes her hand and speaks to her, “Talitha cumi.” For some reason, the disciples wanted those exact words that He spoke in His native tongue to be recorded. His words were a command, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” At that moment, she opened her eyes, got up from the bed and walked. It was the most amazing thing that anyone in that room had ever seen. Jesus’ call had literally, before their eyes, raised a dead girl to life again. For a few moments, no one moved, no one spoke. The wonder of it stunned them all. Then, of course, a flood of joy, tears, reunion.

Before anyone left the room, Jesus gave them clear, repeated instruction. First, no one beyond the circle of those who absolutely needed to know should hear about this. There would be no publicity, no general announcement. Secondly, the little girl was to be given food. What a down-to-earth, homely touch! It could only have come from an eyewitness. This was doubtless one of Peter’s vivid reminiscences: Jesus the Lord, having brought a dead girl back to life again, reminds her parents that she needs some nourishment.

Two things stand out for me as I reflect on the climax of this drama. One is the extraordinary reserve which Jesus showed. In the most painstaking way, He tried to keep His miraculous works from being widely known. There was disclosure to this intimate circle, but a shunning of any notoriety. To do the deed, to express the love, yes; but to capitalize on it, to draw a huge following, never. And then I’m struck by what this narrative tells us of Jesus’ attitude toward death. He’s against it. He isn’t daunted by it. He overcomes it. At His words, even the grim reaper has to give up his victims.

You can know that to be true for your life if you have trusted in Jesus, committing yourself to His keeping, relying upon His promises. It will one day be true for you, too, that the last enemy, death, is overcome. No grave can hold back the boy or girl, the man or woman, to whom Jesus says, “Arise!”

PRAYER: Father, thank You today for Jesus Christ, a Savior beyond the reach of death. May everyone who shares this program today so trust in Him that they may know His life-giving power. In Jesus’ name. Amen.