Faith vs. Fear
Introduction, Outline, & Prayer
When I was a kid, I liked playing with toy cars. And the only speed I ever wanted them to go was top speed. There was no other option and really no trick to it either—just push the car forward as hard as you can. But there was a special kind of car that did have a trick to it and it was the opposite of what you’d expect—you had to pull it backwards first. They were spring loaded cars and the backwards motion would wind up the spring and as soon as you’d let go, it would shoot forward. The farther you pulled it backward, the farther—and faster—it would go forward.
As we return to our series through the Gospel of Mark, just like with those cars, we’re going to pull back in the story to help us go farther into what God wants us to discover in this passage. It’s been five weeks since we were last in Mark and we’re going to pick up in 5:21 but let’s pull back first to 4:35.
Jesus had been ministering in a Jewish region called Galilee and had become famous for His authoritative teaching and miraculous works. After a day of teaching a large crowd, Jesus told His disciples, “Let us go across to the other side” (Mark 4:35). That meant, “Let’s leave the familiar, Jewish region of Galilee, sail south across the Sea of Galilee, and check out the unfamiliar, Pagan region called the Decapolis.”
As they sailed, a powerful storm arose that started filling their boat with water. While the disciples were in full-blown panic mode on deck, Jesus was sound asleep in the stern. When they found Him, they woke Him up and said, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38). Jesus responded by going on deck and, with just two words, He commanded the wind and water to halt. Then He asked the disciples two questions of His own, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40). After seeing what Jesus did and hearing His questions, the disciples “were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’” (Mark 4:41).
These three questions at the end of chapter 4—“Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?... Who then is this?”—are the backdrop for everything that happens in chapter 5. God wants the events of Mark 5 to help us arrive at the correct answers to the questions of Mark 4. We are supposed to read chapter 5 while asking ourselves, “Do I have fear or do I have faith? Who is this Jesus I’m reading about? What do His words and works say about His character and identity and do I believe it?
Keep those questions in mind as we dig in to today’s passage, Mark 5:21–43. This passage features a story stuck in the middle of a story, which gives us three points: A Daughter Is Sick (vv. 21–24a), A Daughter Is Healed (vv. 24b–34), and A Daughter Is Raised (vv. 35–43).
“And when Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him, and he was beside the sea. Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” And he went with him.
And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’ ” And he looked around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. 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 began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.” (Mark 5:21–43)
Point 1: A Daughter Is Sick (vv. 21–24a)
After rescuing a man from a legion of demons in the Decapolis, Jesus returned to the Jewish region of Galilee. Soon after coming ashore, a synagogue ruler named Jairus saw Him and begged Him to heal his deathly ill daughter. Obviously, Jairus was desperate but his request was motivated by faith in Jesus, not just desperation. Don’t miss this. It’s not a throwaway detail; it’s tapping into the whole point of the chapter. Remember those three questions from the end of chapter 4. We’re supposed to be on the lookout for who Jairus believes Jesus is and whether it leads him to fear or to faith.
The biggest clue comes in his request, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live” (Mark 5:23). The words “so that” are faith-filled words. Jairus believed that healing and life were the result of Jesus’s presence and touch. Put another way, Jairus claimed that Jesus was their only hope; if He didn’t come and lay His healing hands on his dying daughter, she would have died. He believed truth about Jesus and acted rightly upon that belief.
Imagine the excitement Jairus must have felt when Jesus, his one and only hope, agreed to come and save his daughter. Mark simply writes, “And [Jesus] went with him.” If I was Jairus in that situation, I would have turned and sprinted back home faster than I ever before. Parents get this: if my son sniffles, I’m ready to donate a kidney. Facing certain death with one chance to secure your one hope and it actually works… he would have been filled with an unimaginable mixture of urgency, hope, and excitement. That is, until Jesus got stuck in the first century version of bumper-to-bumper traffic and, shockingly, decided to turn His attention to someone else instead.
Point 2: A Daughter Is Healed (vv. 24b–34)
Mark tells us that the woman Jesus heals in the crowd had gone to many doctors and had spent all of her money on treatments that caused great suffering and only made her condition worse. There is no doubt that this is a tragic story but if this woman and Jairus’ daughter both walked into a modern emergency room, who do you think would be seen first? I’m not a doctor or a nurse but I’m confident that patients in immediate life and death situations like Jairus’ daughter would take priority over patients with less urgent—though still serious—conditions like this woman.
Yes, she’s suffering greatly and getting worse. However, if she’s been suffering like this for 12 years, surely she can wait another hour, right? She didn’t think so. She refused to wait not to cut in line because she thought she was more important than the girl—she probably didn’t even know about her. The reason she refused to wait, according to vv. 27–28 is that “she had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, ‘If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.’” She heard reports about Jesus’s miracles and found them so compelling that she believed just touching His garments would heal her… and she was right. As soon as she touched them, she was healed instantly.
As amazing as that is, there are three OT concepts that make this story even more astonishing: uncleanness, holiness, and fringe. They might seem like a stretch to us today but they would have been natural conclusions for the average devout Jew in the crowd.
Uncleanness: Leviticus 15:25–31
On the basis of Leviticus 15:25–31, this woman was forbidden from having physical contact with people because her condition rendered her ceremonially unclean. “If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, not at the time of her menstrual [cycle]…, all the days of the discharge she shall continue in uncleanness” (Leviticus 15:25). It goes on to say that anything she touched and anyone who touched her would become unclean as well. I’ll admit, this is a strange text but I think we need to think about it because this is exactly the situation this woman faced. She had continued in uncleanness every day for 12 years. Now, we have to ask three questions: 1) What does “unclean” mean?; 2) What does “unclean” not mean?; and 3) Why did clean and unclean need to be kept apart?
What does “unclean” mean?
Being unclean meant being temporarily unfit for community life for a variety of reasons, including involuntary ones like sickness or injury (Leviticus 5). Even though “unclean” people couldn’t participate in community-wide acts of worship, they were worshiping God by obeying the law during the period of their uncleanness.
What does “unclean” not mean?
Uncleanness was not a permanent indictment against or condemnation of an individual—that was communicated with words like, “cut off,” “exiled,” or “unfaithful.” It also wasn’t meant to set up a patriarchal system to oppress women. There are lots of people who take verses like this out of context and misuse them to try to discredit the Bible and religions founded upon it. God did not single women out as especially unclean in comparison to men in this passage. If you’ve ever read Leviticus, you know that God had various rules and regulations for both men and women. We don’t have time to look at other examples and the reasons for them but I do want to look briefly at the reason for this particular regulation.
Why was separation important?
There is a physical reason for isolating this woman—if her condition were contagious, it is best for her and others that she remain isolated. However, there was also a spiritual reason: “You must keep the Israelites separate from things that make them unclean, so they will not die in their uncleanness for defiling my dwelling place, which is among them” (Leviticus 15:31). Unclean things had to be kept separate because they had the power to defile clean things and if that happened in the Tabernacle, the place where God’s glory dwelled on earth among the Israelites at that time, it would have brought death to people in the community. We don’t know why that was the case back then but we do know that isolating an unclean person was a both physically and spiritually a matter of life and death for the whole community.
Holiness: Exodus 29:37
So, they had to keep unclean things separate from clean things because the unclean would defile the clean. There was one exception, however, for the altar in the Tabernacle. “Seven days you shall make atonement for the altar and consecrate it, and the altar shall be most holy. Whatever touches the altar shall become holy” (Exodus 29:37). The altar was the place of sacrifice, where God accepted His people on the basis of blood shed for their sins. The blood shed on that altar could not take away their sins but if they believed God’s promise to do so one day, their faith was credited as righteousness in anticipation of the sacrifice that could take away their sin, the blood of Jesus Christ.
So, when the altar had been consecrated in a special way over 7 days, it reversed the relationship between clean and unclean—the altar had the power to make unclean things holy, pure, and clean again.
Fringe: Matthew 9:20 & Numbers 15:37–41
The last OT concept to look at will help us understand why this woman touched Jesus’s garments. Matthew’s Gospel includes the same story but gives an extra detail, “And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment” (Matthew 9:20). The word used for “fringe” there doesn’t mean the edge in general; it refers very specifically to the tassels or fringe the Jewish people were required to have on their garments according to Numbers 15:37–41, “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner. And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes… So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God.” So, the fringe or tassels on Jesus’ garments were a symbol of His purity and consecration to the Lord by remembrance of and obedience to the Law.
Putting it all together
So, let’s put this all together. We have a woman who is ceremonially unclean and biblically forbidden from all physical contact because her touch has the power to defile. We also have a special instance in which the place of sacrifice before God becomes invincible to defilement and has the power to purify. This woman hears what Jesus has been doing, believes all of it, and concludes that touching the symbol of Jesus’ consecration and obedience to the Law will have the same effect as touching the consecrated altar of the Tabernacle—it will make her clean, whole, and restored.
This was not mere superstition. She didn’t think Jesus’ coat was magical. This wasn’t the first-century version of throwing a coin into a well or rubbing a genie’s lamp. This was an act of faith in Jesus founded upon God’s word. She believed Jesus was no mere man, no mere rabbi, but a most holy Savior, a walking, consecrated altar, an undefileable sacrifice whose cleanness was not only invincible to her defiling touch but so invincible it would actually make her clean. This was not a fame-induced touch; it was a faith-filled touch.
The disciples were understandably puzzled when Jesus asked “Who touched my garments?” (Mark 5:30). Everyone was touching Jesus as He tried to make His way through the crowd to Jairus’ house. However, Jesus knew that someone had touched Him in a unique way, motivated by faith. She came forward in fear and trembling, probably scared of rebuke and humiliation. Instead, Jesus addressed her endearingly as “daughter,” extolled her faith, and released her in peace.
Point 3: A Daughter Is Raised (vv. 35–43)
“While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.”” (Mark 5:35–36)
If I were in Jairus’ shoes, I might have thought, “Why is He stopping to help this woman right now? She’s been bleeding for as long my daughter has been alive. She can wait but my daughter can’t! I came to Jesus first. My daughter only has moments to live. He’s the only one who can save her. Let’s go!” Mark doesn’t give us any details about what he was thinking and feeling, which might indicate that Jesus’s delay didn’t ruin or change Jairus’ faith. But when people bring word that she’s dead, Jesus is quick to address the issues of fear and faith, “Do not fear, only believe.”
Not wanting to make a public spectacle out of such a personal and traumatic event, Jesus only allowed the parents and three of His disciples to accompany Him—everyone else He put outside and tried to convince that the girl was only asleep. And, speaking two words, He restored the girl to life. What is impossible for us, Jesus accomplishes with two words.
This would be a good time to look inward and ask, “Do I have faith that perseveres when God doesn’t act according to my timetable?” I think that’s the theme running through both stories. The woman didn’t receive help for 12 years. The girl didn’t receive help when she only had moments to live. Did they fear? Did they believe? Who did Jesus show Himself to be through their circumstances? We learn from these two women that we cannot let the circumstances of life determine or limit what we believe about God. We need to live in His word, cling to His promises, and go to Him by faith.
In the first case, she suffered for 12 years straight seemingly without any help from God. 12 years! Think back 12 years and imagine suffering from her condition every single moment until now. Would you have had the faith to go to Jesus after such a marathon of suffering? After 12 years of isolation, what would it have been like to hear Jesus call her “daughter”? After 12 years of uncleanness being released back into community in peace? After 12 years of misery, to be an example of perseverance and faith in the text of God’s Holy Word for the whole church for 2 millennia and counting?
In the second case, the girl and her family had crossed the point of no return and Jesus was still able to overcome it. The faithful whom Jesus doesn’t heal, He raises from the dead. For us that means one day being raised to eternal life with Him to enjoy a new heavens and a new earth in a glorified body that will never experience death crying or pain. Not a bad alternative to being healed in this life, is it?
Chapter 5 shows us that it’s not only the wind and waves that obey Him—as amazing and divine that is. As we saw several weeks ago, even legions of demons must obey Him (5:1–20). As we saw today, incurable diseases and even death itself must obey Him. This is all in answer to their question about His identity. Jesus is drawing us to an answer. Who is He? Well, who can silence the wind and waves, conquer the unconquerable, rescue the unrescueable, heal the unhealable, and bring the dead to life?