Jesus has power over disease and death (Mark 5:21–43)

When I began working through the gospel of Mark, my main goal was to know Jesus better. Today’s passage has become precious to me because it’s one of those places in scripture where I’ve encountered Jesus in a unique way. Meeting Jesus here led me to the point of tears as I see the love that he has for his people. I wish I could communicate it in the space of about four minutes, but it’s simply not possible. It takes deep contemplation and imagination and questioning of the text to mine this rich vein of gold.

If you grew up attending Sunday School, the details of this story are familiar. The ruler of a local Jewish synagogue, a man by the name of Jairus, asks Jesus to heal his sick daughter. On the way, a woman sneaks up on Jesus from behind, touches his clothes, and is healed of a menstrual discharge that has plagued her for twelve years. Jairus finds out that his daughter has died, but Jesus goes to his house and raises her from the dead.

Here’s something that should give us pause, though: this is another one of Mark’s “sandwich stories.” Mark begins the story of Jairus’ daughter, interrupts it to tell about the woman, then finishes the story of Jairus’ daughter. The sandwiched, inner story of the woman should help us understand something important about the outer story that we wouldn’t have known otherwise. So how does the story of this suffering woman unlock the story of Jairus and his daughter?

There’s something odd about this inner story: it’s so mundane at first. Jesus has healed many diseased people before, and many of them have “pressed around to touch him” (Mark 3:10). What’s so special about this woman? Well, first of all, she is unusually desperate. She has been suffering menstrual bleeding for twelve years straight and has spent all her money on doctors who have only made the problem worse. Her bleeding makes her unclean according to the law of Moses, so for the last twelve years she has been somewhat isolated from her friends and family. Jesus is her last hope, her only hope. She dares to believe that he can save her from her suffering with a single touch: “If I touch even his garments I will be saved.” And sure enough, she feels his power course through her body and heal her at once.

At the same time, Jesus feels power flow out from him, and at once he demands to know who touched him. The disciples are incredulous—“You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” As though no one had ever done this before! Yet Jesus persists, and the woman comes forward, falls down before him, and tells him everything. She has felt his immense power surging through the depths of her being; she knows what he is capable of doing; and she is terrified. Will Jesus be furious at her for interrupting his urgent mission to Jairus’ house? Will he be horrified that an unclean woman has contaminated him?

“Daughter,” he says to her, “your faith has saved you.” He isn’t upset at her. He loves her—loves her as though she were his own daughter. He is thrilled to see how bold her faith is, bold enough to inconvenience him. She believed he could save her, and he is glad to give her what she spent twelve years longing for. “Go in peace, and be healed of your disease,” he says.

Now, here’s where we get back to Jairus’ story, because at that very moment, messengers come from his house with terrible news: “Your daughter is dead.” Jairus must have been devastated. He was so close to finding help for her; the famous rabbi was on his way to heal her, and now—all is lost. He will never get her back. It’s too late. The messengers ask him, “Why trouble the Teacher any further?” But Jesus is listening in, and he says to Jairus, “Do not fear, only believe.” And all at once, we understand why he insisted on speaking to the woman. It was for Jairus’ sake. Jesus wanted Jairus to see that he could believe in him. Jesus has power over disease and death; his authority is beyond that of any man. And he is eager to use that authority to help Jairus. There is no need to be afraid.

Jairus must have held on to a kernel of faith, because Jesus insists on showing up at his house, kicking out the hired mourners, and walking upstairs to where the girl lies dead. I love this scene! Jesus basically reaches out to her, takes her hand, and says to her, “Wake up, it’s time for lunch!” (If you don’t believe me, read verse 43!) As far as he’s concerned, “the child is not dead but sleeping”—no need to panic or anything. The people in the room are “overcome with amazement,” but Jesus is nonchalant about the whole thing. How can you not love him for that?

This story has a familiar ending: Jesus insists that the small circle of people in that room keep quiet about this. (I have no idea how they could!) This astounding experience is something special that he has given to those people who have faith. To the woman who got close to him and touched him, he gave her his power to save her from disease. To the parents of this girl, who believed in him even when all hope was lost, he gave them their daughter back. Those who mocked Jesus are left on the outside, wondering what just took place. They don’t get to see that Jesus has power over disease and death.

I urge you—come close to Jesus. He wants you to be with him. You feel unclean, unloved, but Jesus wants you to come to him to be washed in his blood, healed from your sin, clothed in his righteousness, raised to life again. Don’t be afraid. Only believe.

Teaching with authority (Mark 1:16–31)

“Don’t tell me what I can and can’t do.” “You can’t push your morality on me.” “You have no right to order me around.”

We just don’t like authority here in the West. In an increasingly cynical and postmodern culture, people in authority are eyed with suspicion. Authority threatens our sense of autonomy. Even in the church, the role of authority has been questioned—to the point where the bestselling Christian novel, The Shack, has denounced authority as inherently evil. We just don’t like the idea that someone can waltz into our lives and demand that we drop everything and do what he commands.

Maybe that’s part of the reason we have such a big problem following Jesus. He is not afraid to insist on his own authority.

Take a look at today’s passage in Mark. The first scene opens with Jesus walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, a deep lake known for its excellent fishing. He sees two sets of fishermen working the family business, calls to them and commands them to follow him, and they obey. Mark doesn’t really get into the backstory of these men (though John’s gospel explains that they already knew who Jesus was). Mark simply offers us a scene so abrupt, so startling, that we are left wondering, “What man possesses authority so great that he simply asks a handful of fisherman to leave their lifelong family business in order to follow him around?” Jewish Rabbis didn’t seek out followers; their followers sought them. Yet here is Jesus, walking up to these men and staking his claim on their lives. As far as he was concerned, they belonged to him. He owned them.

Do you find that last sentence a little threatening? I’m an American citizen, and odds are that you are as well. We like to think we’re free; we like to think that nobody has the right to order us around. The problem is, Jesus has that right. “Follow me,” he insists, “and I will make you become fishers of men.” There is a threatening beauty to Jesus’ statement: it is a command followed by a promise. To men who have no greater ambition than to make money and pass on the family occupation, Jesus offers something far greater. “You won’t be fishing for fish anymore. No, I will turn you into someone who fishes for people. The gospel of the kingdom that you’ve heard me proclaim is the gospel that you will proclaim.” Jesus gives them a new destiny, providing a sense of meaning and purpose to their lives that they have never had before.

So what do Simon, Andrew, James, and John do? Jesus says, “Follow,” so they follow. They leave their jobs and their families and obey him at once. That’s the sort of authority Jesus has.

With his disciples in tow, Jesus shows up in the town of Capernaum along the seashore. He arrives in the local synagogue on the Sabbath day and is invited to teach. When he does, he astonishes everyone there because he teaches them with authority, “and not as the scribes.” The scribes were the local teachers of the law, who would simply parrot what other teachers had said about the Old Testament. Not Jesus! He steps up and teaches his own ideas, and he teaches them with the air of someone who is perfectly within his rights to order you around.

However, there is someone in attendance who doesn’t want to be ordered around. A man with an “unclean spirit”—a demon—tries to shout Jesus down. He wants to shut down Jesus’ teaching, so he instigates a confrontation, shrieking, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” The unclean spirit is attempting to wrest control of the situation from Jesus. He goes on the offensive with three statements. First, he demands that Jesus leave him and his demonic comrades alone. Second, he announces that he knows Jesus’ plan—to destroy him and his fellow spirits, who have been harassing the people of Galilee. Third, he knows Jesus’ secret identity. He is “the Holy One of God”—someone with a special relationship with God, if not the Messiah himself! The unclean spirit pulls out all the stops to gain control over Jesus.

Jesus will have none of it. “Be silent, and come out of him!” he demands. Jesus had been teaching, the spirit had tried to shout him down, and now Jesus shuts up the spirit. This demon leaves the man with one final act of defiance, “crying out with a loud voice.” And then—silence. Jesus has the stage to himself. The crowd is astounded—this is a man of impossible authority! And notice the emphasis in the text: “a new teaching with authority”! Jesus’ victory over the unclean spirit demonstrates that his teaching really does have authority. Jesus really does have the right to tell you and me what to do. He’s not afraid to use that right. He owns us.

But the next scene shows the beauty of this authority. After that day’s incredible encounter in the synagogue, Jesus spends the afternoon at Simon’s house. While he is there, his disciples tell him that Simon’s mother-in-law is sick with a fever. Here, we find the first act of faith in Mark’s gospel. The disciples see that Jesus had the authority to drive out an unclean spirit. Maybe he has enough authority to heal her from this dangerous fever! They ask Jesus if he will do something about it.

Think about this. Here is a man with an authority they have never witnessed before. They have no right to demand him to perform a miracle of healing. He is perfectly within his rights to refuse them. Yet Jesus approaches the bed, takes the woman by the hand, and lifts her up. The fever leaves her, and she is finally able to show hospitality to her guests. Jesus wasn’t forced to heal her—he chose to heal her. He uses his authority for our good. He wants to heal us; he wants to free us; he wants to give us a new destiny.

Yes, his authority threatens us. And it’s a lovely sort of threat.