Last Sunday, I preached on Jairus and the hemorrhaging woman in Mark 5:21-43. The following are some of my personal notes or observations that didn’t make it into my sermon. I’ll share more in a second post.
This episode likely takes place in Jesus’ adult hometown of Capernaum. (The pictures above show ruins of the ancient city of Capernaum, including the first-century synagogue of which both Jesus and Jairus would have been part.) If that’s the case, Jairus, a “ruler of the synagogue,” knew Jesus personally. He has also likely witnessed Jesus’ healing power, which is why he’s desperate for Jesus to save his daughter.
If we consider Jairus’s plea a prayer, we have much to appreciate: I’m reminded, for instance, of Charles Spurgeon’s commentary on Lamentations 2:19: “[W]e cannot pray too simply. Just hear how Jeremiah put it: ‘Pour out your heart like water before the Lord’s presence.’ How does water pour out? The quickest way it can—that’s all; it never thinks much about how it runs. That is the way the Lord loves to have our prayers pour out before him.”
Indeed, in a sermon earlier this year, I complained that we often make prayer more difficult than it should be. Every morning, each one of us likely has something that is weighing heavily on our minds. Maybe, like Jairus, it’s related to the health or welfare of our children. Maybe it’s related to our jobs, our spouse, our personal health, our school, or our relationships. Whatever it is, it’s something about which we’re tempted to be anxious.
If so, prayer should be easy. Start there… Start praying about that thing that you’re worried about. Be bold like Jairus to tell Jesus what you need! Pour your petition out like water before the Lord.
On the other hand, Jairus is hardly the model of perfect faith. Consider, by contrast, a petition by another man in Capernaum who needed Jesus to heal a sick loved one: the Roman centurion of Matthew 8:5-13 (and its parallel in Luke 7:1-10). The centurion believes two things: first, that he’s not worthy to have Jesus come under his roof (v. 8); and, second, that Jesus is so powerful he can merely say the word—from a distance, without touching his servant—and heal him. Consequently, Jesus says of him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.”
Jairus shares neither conviction. For him, there’s no question except that Jesus needs to heal his daughter in person. Mark’s readers expect this, too. We believe, like Jairus, that time is running out. The episode with the hemorrhaging woman, therefore, is a needless distraction that adds to the suspense. From the perspective of both Jairus, the disciples, and Mark’s readers, Jesus the Great Physician is committing the equivalent of medical malpractice: Why spend so much time with this woman and her chronic illness? He can come back and heal her later! Jairus’s child, meanwhile, is dying!
Also, while Jairus falls at Jesus’ feet out of sincere respect for him (v. 23), he has no qualms about his personal “worthiness” to ask Jesus for a healing.
Consider, by contrast, Peter in Luke 5:1-11: Jesus enables him to have a miraculous catch of fish, so much so that his nets are bursting. Is Peter happy that he’s just had the largest catch of fish in his life? Hardly! He’s terrified! “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (v. 8). Why does Peter respond this way? Because he realizes he’s in the very presence of God, and that sinful people like him can’t easily survive unmediated encounters with God (cf. Genesis 32:30; Exodus 33:20; Isaiah 6:5).
So what’s Jairus’s problem? Either he doesn’t believe, like Peter, that (as he far as he knows) he’s dangerously close to God or, if he does believe it, that he’s an unworthy sinner. Far from saying, “Depart from me, Lord,” he says, in so many words, “Come closer to me, Lord—come to my house, do what I tell you.”
This is why I said on Sunday that it’s likely that Jairus feels entitled to a miracle. Feeling entitled to anything from the Lord is not a prescription for joy and contentment, to say the least! We will inevitably be disappointed. Christ doesn’t live for us, after all; we live for him and his glory. Paul makes this point beautifully well in Philippians 1:19-20:
[F]or I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.
Paul is in prison as he writes these words. He doesn’t know whether he’ll be set free or executed. Yet he says, “I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance.” My deliverance… While it sounds at first like his “deliverance” is having his life spared and being set free from prison, Paul doesn’t mean it that way. He means that he will be delivered from the “shame” of dishonoring Christ in his suffering—even if that suffering leads to his death. In other words, inasmuch as Paul is concerned about himself at all, he wants to make sure that, no matter what happens to him, he glorifies Jesus Christ.
This indifference to our own welfare characterizes the Wesleyan Covenant Prayer, which we Methodists often pray:
I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.
This prayer makes me a liar. I don’t want to be “put to suffering,” “laid aside for thee,” or “brought low for thee.” I don’t want to be empty or “have nothing.” Do you? But if this is God’s will for us, and by doing so we can glorify Christ, why wouldn’t we?
One final thought (for now): One important difference between the hemorrhaging woman and Jairus is that the woman understands that she isn’t worthy to have Jesus to do anything for her. She’s a sinner who deserves God’s judgment, death, and hell. This is the first half of the gospel: All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), and the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). But please note: the woman’s status before God changes. In v. 34, Jesus calls her “daughter”: In other words, because of her faith in Christ, she is now a child of God!
How does this happen?
On the cross a great exchange takes place: Christ takes upon himself all of our unrighteousness and suffers the penalty for it; in return, he gives us his righteousness. And this exchange becomes effective for us through faith. Apart from faith, we are unworthy. Through faith, however, Christ makes us worthy. Far from being sinners separated from God, we become beloved children of God, from whose love nothing can separate us (Romans 8:38-39).
A parent-child relationship is unlike any other: children are never presumptuous to ask their parents for what they want and to believe that they will receive it. Having become children of God through faith, we can do what the author of Hebrews tells us: We can “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).