“The Child Is Not Dead, but Sleeping”

(Mark 5:21-24, 35-43 – Pentecost 6 – July 4, 2021)

Mark 5:21-24, 35-43 – 21Now when Jesus had crossed over again by boat to the other side, a great multitude gathered to Him; and He was by the sea. 22And behold, one of the rulers of the synagogue came, Jairus by name. And when he saw Him, he fell at His feet 23and begged Him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter lies at the point of death. Come and lay Your hands on her, that she may be healed, and she will live.” 24So Jesus went with him, and a great multitude followed Him and thronged Him…. 35While He was still speaking, some came from the ruler of the synagogue’s house who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” 36As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, He said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not be afraid; only believe.” 37And He permitted no one to follow Him except Peter, James, and John the brother of James. 38Then He came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and saw a tumult and those who wept and wailed loudly. 39When He came in, He said to them, “Why make this commotion and weep? The child is not dead, but sleeping.” 40And they ridiculed Him. But when He had put them all outside, He took the father and the mother of the child, and those who were with Him, and entered where the child was lying. 41Then He took the child by the hand, and said to her, “Talitha, cumi,” which is translated, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” 42Immediately the girl arose and walked, for she was twelve years of age. And they were overcome with great amazement. 43But He commanded them strictly that no one should know it, and said that something should be given her to eat.

Dear Redeemed in the name of Jesus Christ, the Divine Physician of the soul:

One of the most difficult things in life is to see a loved one dying. We do all we can to help, by providing them with the best doctors and medicine available. But finally we feel that sense of helplessness when every human remedy has been applied, yet death takes our loved one. That feeling of helplessness can be especially difficult when the loved one is a child. A loving father and mother do all they can to raise their little one in good health. They give of their lives to see their child grow strong. So what a grief it is to think of that dear child preceding them in death.

Here, a loving father comes to Jesus with that feeling of helplessness and grief. We hear his desperate prayer in behalf of his twelve year old daughter who is at the point of death. Here we see that he is doing the best thing he could do for his loved one in need – he has come to the right Person in his time of deep grief. For Jesus is the great Physician of the soul, the Savior who has come to conquer death and bring eternal life. In the face of death, Jesus gives His Word of assurance, backed up by His saving power: “The Child Is Not Dead, but Sleeping.” Let us consider 1) A father’s desperate prayer, and 2) The Savior’s gracious answer.

1) A father’s desperate prayer

Jesus has just arrived at Capernaum, which was a base for much of His ministry. “And behold, one of the rulers of the synagogue came, Jairus by name. And when he saw Him, he fell at His feet and begged Him earnestly, saying, ‘My little daughter lies at the point of death. Come and lay Your hands on her, that she may be healed, and she will live” (vs. 22-23).

As a synagogue ruler, Jairus had an important place in the local house of worship. He was one of the laymen chosen among the congregation to help manage the affairs of God’s house. He was a well-respected, honorable man. Many such synagogue rulers would reject Jesus and not believe in Him. Maybe they were too filled with pride in their own honor in the eyes of God and men to feel their need for Him who had come as the Savior of miserable sinners. But Jairus, in his moment of desperation, casts aside all worldly honor and pride. In his miserable condition, as his daughter is at the point of death, he falls on his face in the dust before Jesus, humbly begging His help. Jairus had faith in Jesus’ power to heal his daughter, even now.

There was precedent for this. Here at Capernaum, Jesus had healed before. For example, there was the time when Jesus just said the word and healed the centurion’s servant; demonstrating His authority as the Lord of all to that man of rank in the Roman army. Again, there was the time when Jesus had healed the paralytic who was lowered down in the house where He was preaching; demonstrating His authority as God to forgive sins to the Jewish religious leaders (Matthew 8:5-13; 9:2-8). Now at the feet of Jesus, Jairus pleads for this powerful Lord, this gracious Savior, to come and heal his daughter.

When are we moved to come before Jesus and fall in the dust before Him this way? What does it take for us to see our own desperate and miserable condition, so that we cast off all worldly pride and honor and fall at the feet of Him who alone can save?

Certainly, we feel our desperate condition in the face of death. When we see a loved one lying in a hospital hooked up to life support, or lying at home in hospice care, it can bring us to our knees. In our helplessness, our hearts are drawn to our Savior in prayer: “Jesus, come and lay Your hands on my loved one; grant healing and life according to Your gracious will.”

But the fact is, beyond what we can see or feel, our condition is desperate before Jesus as sinful human beings. For this, we must turn to God’s Word to teach us of our truly miserable condition. There it reveals to us that, since we are conceived and born in sin, we cannot escape the wages of sin which is death (Romans 6:23). Even from birth, even when we are in the best of health, our sin-corrupted bodies are in decline and subject to death. But our desperate condition goes beyond the mere physical. Scripture teaches that, if left in our sinful condition, our souls would be separated from the life of God in spiritual death. This condition would be worse than all the physical ailments that might be suffered in this world; for it would bring us down at last to the wages of sin in everlasting death and suffering in hell.

When we rightly understand our desperate and miserable condition, then we can truly appreciate Jesus for the Savior He is. When He performed miracles, healing the sick and even raising the dead, it was to demonstrate His true authority and power as the Savior of sinners. As God in our flesh, He had come to undo the curse of sin and save us from death in every aspect – physical, spiritual, and eternal. To this end, Jesus was on His way to the cross where He would pay the full wages of our sin and bring us His healing, life-restoring forgiveness. As Isaiah prophesied: He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

Not long before the incident in our text, here at Capernaum, Jesus had explained His reason for coming. When the religious leaders had taken offense at Him for eating with tax collectors and sinners, He answered: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Mark 2:17).

So like Jairus, we come to Jesus as the divine Physician of the soul, who alone can help us and our loved ones in our desperate need. We cast aside all worldly pride and honor, and every claim to worthiness in the sight of God. We cast ourselves as beggars at the feet of Jesus, confessing our poor and miserable condition, clinging to Him who alone can save us from sin and death. For He has promised in His Word: “The one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out” (John 6:37). Ever faithful and true as the Savior of sinners, Jesus lifts us up in His blood-bought forgiveness, cleansing our soul, healing us from the inside out. He lifts us up through Baptism and faith, to walk with Him in the newness of spiritual life. It is the life of His Spirit in us, which will culminate in the perfect healing of body and soul one day in heaven.

2) The Savior’s gracious answer

“Come and lay Your hands on her, that she may be healed, and she will live,” Jairus prayed. And now, in answer to a father’ desperate prayer, we see the Savior’s gracious answer.

First it says: “So Jesus went with him.” In this case, it was the Savior’s gracious will to answer his prayer and restore his daughter to physical health and life. Yet Jesus would do so only in a way that built up in Jairus a right faith in Him as the Savior and eternal Life-Giver. Is it not the same with us? In answer to our prayers, whether or not Jesus answers as we expect, it is important to know that He always goes beside us, as our Savior. Already, He has shown His love for us by giving His life for our eternal life. So how could He ever fail to answer our prayer in the best way for us and our loved ones, in the way that will build us up with a right faith in Him as our Savior?

This truth became important for Jairus along the way; for soon his faith was tested. As we read the full account, a crowd presses around Jesus, slowing their progress. Then Jesus heals a woman who had suffered 12 years with bleeding and talks with her. We can imagine how Jairus must have been anxious to see this delay, worried that Jesus might not make it in time to heal his daughter.

I remember feeling like this eight years ago, when suddenly an unknown heart condition left our baby Matthew struggling for his life in our little town hospital in Iowa. The severe wintry weather made travel slow, and it seemed like eons passed as we waited for distant transportation to arrive and take Matthew to a more advanced children’s hospital. We prayed. We clung to Jesus’ promise that He is always with us, wherever we go. But the delay was unbearable.

We can understand how Jairus’ heart must have sunk when, stalled there along the road, at last “some came from the ruler of the synagogue’s house who said, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?'” (vs. 35) It may have seemed that with life gone, hope was gone. That is what the world around Jairus was telling him; that is what reason and sight was telling him. Have you ever felt that way as you prayed fervently for a loved one? Have we held out hope that, as long as there is life and breath, maybe the doctors and medicine can still help?

But Jesus turns Jairus’ heart, and our hearts, to Him who is the divine Physician and Life-Giver. Even now we hear His gracious answer to prayer, filled with promise: “Do not be afraid; only believe” (vs. 36). As our eternal God and Savior, nothing is ever out of His control. It is never too late for Him, who has written in His book all the days of our life before one of them came to be (Psalm 139:16). From eternity, He knew us before we were ever born. And by Baptism and faith, He knows us as those whom He has given new birth as children of God. As our Savior who knows us and goes with us, Jesus understands our temptation to give up trusting Him in the time of trial. Yet He is here to strengthen our faith, day by day, in His Word of promise. Even in the face of death, He is here to reassure us: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:25-26).

This is why, as Jesus came to the home of Jairus and saw a crowd of mourners weeping and wailing loudly, He said: “Why make this commotion and weep? The child is not dead, but sleeping” (vs. 39). For the child of God in Christ, death is not the end; it is more like a sleep. Even though the body lies motionless and is laid to rest in the grave, yet the soul lives on with our living Savior; with the promise that at the Last Day, He will raise up the body to life again. Therefore the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14: “I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.”

What a comfort this is at the time of a funeral, as we cling to Jesus’ gracious answer to our prayer, His Words of eternal life. In the case of our baby Matthew, following intensive care in a hospital and then hospice at home, it was the Savior’s gracious answer to bring His child home to heaven. What a comfort it is to know that our little one went from our arms to the arms of Jesus.

As Jesus came to the home Jairus, He put outside all those who ridiculed His promise. He drew aside those who mourned for their loved ones, and showed them His saving power. “He took the father and the mother of the child, and those who were with Him, and entered where the child was lying. Then He took the child by the hand, and said to her, “Talitha, cumi,” which is translated, ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise'” (vs. 41-42). And as her parents looked on in great amazement, their daughter arose and walked; and with fully restored health, she even ate food!

Again what a comfort it is to know that one day, Jesus will come to the place where we have laid to rest the body of our loved one in Christ. As His ultimate and gracious answer to our prayer, He will say to His dear child: “Arise.” What joy and amazement will be ours, when He raises our bodies from the grave as from sleep – and in an instant, in the twinkling of an eye, we shall be changed (1 Corinthians 15:51-52)! Together, we shall walk with our Savior in perfect health beyond what we have ever known in this world, even from birth. And we shall eat in that heavenly feast of victory with Him who died for us and rose again to win our salvation and everlasting life!

Even now as we are on our way home, the Savior who walks with our loved ones in heaven walks with us. He is here to strengthen our faith by His gracious promise in Word and Sacrament. He is here to give us the food for immortality, as we partake of His body and blood for our forgiveness and salvation. Come, eat and drink with Him who raises you up in eternal life!

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.