Don’t be afraid, just believe

Chatswood Baptist Church

Mark 5:21-43


I hate crowds. I hate being stuck in a mass of people all pushing and shoving whether it be at something like the football or at the New Year’s Eve fireworks or the Royal Easter show here in Sydney. Of course, I’m not going to have to worry about crowds for some time. But I can remember the first time feeling overwhelmed by the whole experience of being surrounded by too many people. It was at the Royal Easter Show here in Sydney. I was in my early twenties and at the time I was still living in Newcastle (where things are little bit quieter) and it was the first time I had gone to the Sydney show. By the end of the day after being pushed here and there, I’d vowed that it would be my last time I would ever go to the show. If you’ve been stuck in a crowd walking into a stadium to watch the football or if you’ve caught the train after the Sydney fireworks on NYE then you would understand why the question that Jesus asked in verse 30 of Mark chapter 5 seemed such an odd one to the disciples for Jesus to ask.

“Who touched my clothes?”

At the time Jesus was on the move and in verse 24 we are told that the large crowd had followed him and were pressing in around him. So it’s easy to understand the incredulity of disciples in verse 31.

31 “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ” [1]

Today we want to think about why Jesus asked that question and waited around until he got an answer, especially considering where he was heading to and why he was going there. I want to look today with you firstly at where Jesus was heading and why he was going there and then what happened along the way to cause Jesus to ask, “Who touched my clothes?”

Where Jesus was heading

In verses 21 to 24 we are told where Jesus and the crowd were going to and why he was going there. Jesus was on the way to the home of a local synagogue leader named Jairus.

  • Jesus was going to the house of Jairus,

As a synagogue leader, Jairus would have been a layman who would have been highly respected in the local community. Jairus would have had responsibility for organizing the service in the synagogue arranging for the readers to read and people to pray supervising scrolls in the building and the building itself. He would have been a man that others in the community looked up to, a man of some standing.

But when he came to Jesus, he came as desperate man and even a humble. He fell at Jesus feet and pleaded with Jesus to come to his home and lay his hands on his daughter so that he might heal or save her.

Mark 5:23

23 He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” 24 

  • He wanted Jesus to save his daughter

Jairus wanted Jesus to save his daughter. His daughter was literally at the point of death. The word that has been translated “dying” has the sense that she was about to die. There was no time to waste. He came to Jesus convinced that if Jesus were to lay his hands on his daughter, he would heal her, and she would live.

The word translated “to heal” in our NIV Bible is a translation of a Greek word, sōzō that sometimes is also translated as “to save”. The distinction between “healing” and “saving “is blurred in this story and perhaps intentionally so. I think Mark uses this word because although it can mean “to heal” someone of an illness at times he wants us to understand that these healings were ultimately signs that point to the greatest of all miracles, salvation, the restoration of peace and life with God. In the case of Jairus’ daughter to heal her would be to save her for Mark has told us that his little daughter was near death.

  • His plea didn’t fall onto deaf ears

Jairus’ plea did not fall on deaf ears and we read in verse 24.

Mark 5:24

24 So Jesus went with him. A large crowd followed and pressed around him.

Jesus, with the large crowd in tow, were on the way to the home of Jairus to heal his daughter before death took her. It was a mercy dash to save his little daughter.

What happened along the way

However, along the way there is an interruption that delayed the journey. We hear of the story of a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years. Mark has included this story here not just because it was what happened along the way (although it was that). It’s because these two stories complement and feed off one another helping us to not only understand Jesus better but how we are to approach Jesus so that we too might “be saved” and have life.

  • The woman had suffered much with bleeding for 12 years

Unlike Jairus this woman is nameless and because of her condition she wouldn’t have been a woman of standing in the community at all. Her constant bleeding would have rendered her permanently unclean and someone that everyone else would have wanted avoid lest they too become unclean.  Mark tells us that this woman had been suffering with this condition for 12 years which was coincidentally also the age of the little girl (see verse 42).

  • The woman had suffered greatly under the care of many doctors

Over this time, we are told that the woman had suffered greatly under the care of a great many doctors. She’d spent all that she had on these doctors but instead of getting better they had only made her suffering worse.

It’s easy to imagine how that would have been the case. If you go back in history it wasn’t that long ago (maybe only a couple of hundred years) since physicians  were practicing bloodletting either slicing open one of your veins with a knife or letting a bunch of leeches feast on you to get rid of all that excess blood that they thought was causing the problem. This was a common treatment for a fever. And then there was the practice of drilling a hole in your skull for a bad headache or a migraine and prescribing mercury for certain other conditions. It is very easy to understand how this woman might have suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors especially in the first century BC.

  • The woman touched Jesus cloak and was healed

When this woman heard about Jesus, she came to him believing that if only she could touch his garments she would be healed. So she made her way through the crowd unnoticed (because of her uncleanness she wasn’t meant to be there) and she came up behind Jesus and reached out and touched his cloak and immediately the woman was healed. The bleeding stopped and she knew in herself that she had been freed from her suffering.

  • Jesus didn’t allow the woman to go unnoticed

At that point she seems to have thought that she might have just merged merge back into the crowd and slip away unnoticed by anyone. There would be no fuss, no undue attention. But Jesus didn’t let that happen. He knew that power had come out from him (someone had been healed) and he halted the mercy dash and turned around to the crowd as asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

As I said, the disciples thought it a very odd question to be asking given the circumstances. But others since then have also thought it an odd question for other reasons. Didn’t Jesus know who had touched him? Why would he need to ask it at all? But, of course, questions can be asked for all sorts of reasons. They aren’t always asked because people don’t know the answers.

Sometimes we ask them not because we don’t know what has happened but to get a response from someone or to make a point. So for instance, after lunch, when the question comes out from the kitchen, “Who didn’t put the bread away?” it isn’t necessarily asked because the one who asked it doesn’t know who left the bread out, but to give the one who didn’t clean up after himself the opportunity to come forward and rectify his mistake. Again, when God cried out ‘Where are you?” after Adam and Even ate the forbidden fruit in the garden, it wasn’t because the Lord didn’t know where the man and the woman were hiding, but it was an opportunity for them to explain themselves which is what happened in the story.

  • Jesus explained what had taken place

In this case Jesus asked the question because he wanted the woman to come forward and tell her story so that Jesus could explain to her, and to Jairus and to the crowd what had taken place that day and why. Of course, for Jairus this interruption would not have been a welcome delay, for he knew that the clock was ticking for his daughter. His daughter didn’t have much time left and any delay could have spelt disaster. He must have thought that surely, this could have waited. But Jesus didn’t think that it could, and he kept looking around until the woman came forward in fear and trembling.

Why put the woman through all this? Why put Jairus through it?

What I think Jesus was doing that day was to make clear to the woman and to Jairus and to the crowd and to us who are reading this account today what really happened that day. After the woman told Jesus the whole truth, we are told what Jesus said to her in verse 34.

Mark 10:34

34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

  • Her faith had saved her

What had healed her that day wasn’t merely touching Jesus garment but her faith in Jesus. Many people would have undoubtedly touched his garment but not everyone who did would have been necessarily healed and those who were healed like this woman needed to understand what was going on. It was her faith that had healed or saved her. But it wasn’t just faith per se (by itself). It wasn’t just the act of believing as though if you believe anything to be true and believe it enough that it comes true. It wasn’t the power of believing that was being displayed that day when the woman was healed it was the power of Jesus for those who believe in him.

I like what William Lane says about this verse. He wrote that “Her touch had brought together two elements -faith and Jesus” and this is what had made it effective[2]. This is what this woman needed to understand and be clear about. It wasn’t so much that the touch of Jesus’ garment that had healed her that day but the fact that she had chosen to put her faith in Jesus as the Saviour that God had sent into the world.

I think these words are the centre of the story. I think that Mark in his gospel is telling a larger story and as part of this larger story these words point all of us to the fact that ultimately salvation can be ours through believing and trusting in Jesus as the Saviour of the world.

The words that Jesus spoke to the woman were pregnant with meaning. Jesus called the woman daughter. The woman might have had no standing in the community before, but now Jesus addressed as a daughter a term of affection and closeness. The word “to heal” could also be translated “to save” and in the location of this story sandwiched in the middle of the other there is the hint of the greater salvation that can be ours in the kingdom of God, eternal life. Finally, the woman was told to “go in peace” which in Jewish circles wasn’t just a polite way of saying goodbye. It could be that, but behind it stood the Hebrew word “shalom” that spoke of well-being and wholeness that comes from the blessing of God.

What Mark wants us to see is what Jesus wanted the woman and Jairus to see that day. It is faith in him that saves and restores broken and desperate people who recognise their great need. It doesn’t matter who you are or how broken you might be or how much you have suffered, if you put your faith in him, he can give you peace and make you whole again.

  • Jairus got the bad news that his daughter had died.

Of course, along the way it became even more important for Jairus to understand this because while Jesus was still talking, Jairus received some really bad news from home. He got the message that his daughter had died and that it was now too late, and he didn’t need to trouble the teacher anymore.

  • Don’t be afraid, just believe

But this wasn’t a time for Jairus to give up on Jesus. Jesus overhead what the people had told Jairus and he told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe”. What Jairus needed to do was is to keep on believing in Jesus. He’d come to Jesus because he had believed that Jesus could heal his daughter and now Jesus tells him to not be afraid and to not stop believing (having faith) in him.

Here is the challenge of believing or faith. It is something that we are called to do not just when things seem to be going well for us, but when things might seem hopeless and when our world looks like it has fallen apart or spinning out of control. Jairus world had just fallen apart. He’d just be told that his little girl was dead. And what does Jesus tell him? What sweet words of comfort does he share with this grieving father? ‘Don’t be afraid, just believe’. He tells him to keep on trusting in him, even in the midst of his grief and loss. He was to keep on believing, trusting Jesus even in these circumstances.

Faith perseveres even when the road ahead is dark and uncertain and hard. It doesn’t let go of Jesus even in the midst of our sorrow and loss or our suffering and hardship. Jesus tells us not to be afraid, just believe. We are to keep on believing that Jesus is the answer to the restoration of this world and whatever it is that we might have to go through while we wait for things to be put right..

At the house

Jesus encouraged Jairus to keep on believing and Jairus did. He led Jesus into his house along with Peter, James and John. The last part of the chapter from verse 38 describes what happened when they arrived at the house.

  • He was confronted by mocking mourners

At the house they are confronted first by the mocking of mourners. In those days and in that culture a funeral was about letting it all out and having a good cry and letting everyone know how devastated you were in your loss. You were meant to show it.  The more that that person meant to you the more you were expected to show it with crying and wailing. People would hire professional mourners and flute players to let people know just how much the deceased meant to the family.

When Jesus told the mourners that the girl was not dead, but asleep they laughed at him. It wasn’t that Jesus thought the girl wasn’t dead, but he talked that way about those that he would wake from death. He used the same language when he spoke to his disciples about Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary. He told them, “our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up” (see John 11:11-14). On that occasion, the disciples thought he was speaking about natural sleep and Jesus had to tell them plainly that Lazarus was dead.

  • He woke the girl from death

It was the same in this story. Jesus was there to wake the little girl from death. After putting all the mourners out, he went with the parents and three of his disciples to where the child was and took her by the hand and said. “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up.”) Mark has preserved the words of Jesus for us in Aramaic. We are told that she then got up and started walking around. We read that at this the people were completely astonished.

The four miracles together

This miracle is the fourth in a series of four miracles: (1) the calming of the storm on the lake (2) on the other side of the lake routing a legion of demons and releasing their captive (3) back on the Jewish side of the lake, healing of the woman and freeing her twelve years of suffering, and last(4) raising a little girl from death.

  • They reveal the truth about Jesus

In recording these miracles Mark has wanted to help us to better understand the truth about Jesus so that we might respond to him appropriately. The miracles reveal that he is the one that God has sent into the world with all his authority and power to save our world and restore it. In the reading today we see that he has the power to save people from sickness and even from our greatest enemy, death. He can say to a little girl lying there devoid of life to get up and even in death she will hear his voice and she will come to life and get up and start walking around. Mark wants us to see that Jesus is the one who has come to save us and our world.

  • They reveal how we are to respond

But Mark has also done more than this. He hasn’t just revealed the truth about Jesus, he has also shown us how we are meant to respond to these things that we have heard.

    • Humble faith

Firstly, we see humble faith being exercised in Jesus in both these last two stories. We heard how Jairus came to Jesus and fell at Jesus feet. He might have been a man of standing in the community but when he came before Jesus, he humbled himself asking for Jesus help. When the woman came before Jesus, she also did something very similar, falling before Jesus in fear and trembling. Both came in humble faith. Jesus explained to the woman that it was her faith that had healed or saved her.

    • Persevering faith

But such humble faith is also persevering faith. When Jairus got that news, Jesus told him. Don’t be afraid, just believe.” Faith perseveres even in the face of trouble and hardship. You might remember that this is exactly the kind of faith that Jesus expected his disciples to display in the boat out on the lake when the storm hit. In the first of these four miracle stories Jesus said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” He expected them to not be afraid, but to believe (faith and believe are the same word). Now in the last of these stories he told Jairus, “to not be afraid, just believe. He was telling him to keep on trusting him even the face of such loss as this.

    • Words for all

I think those words are for all those who would be Jesus’ disciples. Don’t be afraid, just believe”. Jesus isn’t talking about the power of one’s own belief, but a humble belief that keeps on trusting in Jesus and his promises no matter what the situation we find ourselves in knowing who it is that we have believed in.

I don’t know what is that you might have to face. It might be an illness for which there is no cure. It might be the loss of someone close to you. It might be a job that you have lost, or you may even feel that you’ve run your race and death is knocking on your door. I think these words of Jesus are as much for his disciples today as they were for Jairus. ‘Don’t be afraid, just believe.” We can trust in Jesus because he is the One who God has sent to be the saviour of this world.





[1] Unless otherwise indicated all Scripture citations are taken from The New International Version. (2011). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] William Lane, The Gospel of Mark, NICNT, page 193.