Power Over Death
In this world of sickness, sadness, and sin, why should anyone follow Jesus? Let me tell you why. A little girl suffering from a fever was frequently incoherent. In one of her lucid moments, she asked, “Daddy, does the doctor think I will die?” With a sad and honest heart, her father choked out, “My darling, the doctor believes you will not live.” His little girl grew quiet. She knew what death was. She had been to the funeral of her grandmother and remembered the dark grave. Her eyes filled with tears, and with childlike sincerity she said, “Daddy, I don’t like cemeteries. Won’t you go into the grave with me?” Although he would have done anything for his daughter, the father confessed that he could not join her in the grave until it was time for him to die. Afraid to go alone, she asked, “Can Mommy go with me?” It was almost more than the father could bear, but he admitted that as much as her mother loved her, her mother could not go with her either. The poor child turned her face to the wall and wept. That is what it is like to be without Jesus. Without Jesus, that is the sad end of a sad story.
In this case—not in every case, but in this case—there is a rest of the story. This little girl, you see, had been taught about Jesus, the Friend and Savior of sinners. One more time she turned to her father and poured out her heart. “Daddy, if you cannot go with me, and Mommy cannot go either, will Jesus be there?” And the father, who realized that Jesus was the only One who loved his little girl more than he did, put his arm around his daughter and comforted her. Just as importantly, she comforted him with these words: “Daddy, the grave is not dark now. Jesus will be there with me.” And that is what it means to know the power and to have the presence of Jesus, the Savior and Friend of sinners.
If you think that story is too melodramatic, then I can only say you have never been at the bedside of a father and mother who; in helpless horror, watch their child die. If, you have never been to such a bedside, allow St. Mark to take you there. Let him introduce you to Jairus, the father in our text. He is a respected leader of the synagogue. Although such an activity would normally take a fair amount of his time, at this moment, he has other concerns. His 12-year-old daughter is ill, near death. No doubt Jairus has followed proper procedures. If there has been time, the synagogue has been praying for her, and the best medical help has been consulted. But there is no improvement in her condition. Indeed, in spite of all her father’s effort and worry, the young girl is slipping away. His mind races, searching for something or someone who can help in this emergency. Jairus, like so many fathers since that day, remembers the name Jesus.
We do not know if Jairus had been there the day Jesus spoke with authority in the synagogue (Mk 1:22). If he had been absent, probably someone had reported to him the content of Jesus’ message. It is quite possible that someone had also shared how Jesus had healed the fisherman’s mother-in-law when she lay sick with a fever (Mk 1:30–31). A friendly neighbor may have mentioned how Jesus had healed a paralytic (Mk 2:10–11). Of course, talk was still going around town about how Jesus had stilled the great storm on the sea with his command: “Quiet! Be still!” (Mk 4:39). After the doctors concluded that death was his daughter’s path, Jairus anxiously made his way through the crowd, one thought on his mind: he had to speak with the Lord and beg him to heal his daughter.
Jairus finds the Savior and prostrates himself in prayer. Seldom in Scripture is a prayer recorded that conveys more sadness and sorrow of soul: “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live” (v 23). It is a strong prayer; and the father’s sincerity cannot be questioned Without hesitation, Jesus goes with Jairus. The disciples and a large crowd of onlookers trail behind.
But there are complications and difficulties along the way. The crowd presses all around, so that their progress is slow. Suddenly, a woman wishing to be healed of an old malady sneaks out of the crowd and touches Jesus’ robe. He stops to talk to her. The whole process takes only a moment. Scripture does not record Jairus’ frustration, but it must have been great. Although Jairus never said a word, his father’s heart must have screamed: “Time is of the essence; There must be no delay. Every second counts. Clear the way, get this woman out of here. We must hurry before it is too late.” But it is too late. Before they reach home, the word comes: “Your daughter is dead. . . . Why bother the teacher any more?” (v 35).
Have you ever had to share tragic news? Would you not pick better words than did these messengers? “Your daughter is dead.” Those words are so cold and have such a ring of finality. The girl’s future is gone. Hope is gone; life is gone. If you have not lost a child, you cannot understand the impact of those words. I have been with people as they watched a child slip away. They cannot breathe. They want to scream and run out of the room. They think they are dreaming. The tears pour out, uncontrolled, for days, weeks, years thereafter. When a child dies, part of the parent dies as well. Jairus had lost his race against time. He heard the words: “Your daughter is dead. . . . Why bother the teacher any more?”
In the face of such tragedy, Jairus’ grieving heart may have questioned the words of Lamentations: “The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; . . . there may yet be hope (Lam 3:25, 29). Did Jairus wonder about the goodness of, the Lord? Did he question what kind of hope there could be now that his daughter was dead? Although we cannot say what was in Jairus’ mind and heart, Jesus could. And the Lord of life ignored the men and their message. Turning to Jairus, Jesus simply says, “Don’t be afraid; just believe” (v 36). Jairus, let your belief push aside the words of calamity and catastrophe. Let your belief settle your nerves and fears. “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”
You know the rest of the story. Jesus and Jairus went to the house. You know how they shouldered their way past the professional mourners with their weeping and wailing. You know how they endured unsympathetic laughter and terrible taunts. You know how Jesus took the girl’s lifeless hand and summoned her soul back from the grave. Just believe. Believe that in his wisdom, God knows how much joy and sorrow, how much pleasure and pain, how much prosperity and poverty is proper for each of us. Jairus was to believe that God knows the correct balance of sunshine and storm, the precise mixture of darkness and light we need. Just believe.
That is what Jesus says to you today. Do not doubt. Just believe. Realize that this miracle of life over death is not included in the Gospel as a message of long ago and far away. This is not a quaint story designed to amuse Sunday school children. This story is written so that you may know that Jesus Christ has power over death. To you, Jesus says, “Do not doubt. Just believe.” Believe that the same Savior who gave his life on the cross of Calvary so that you might be saved from death, the same Savior who spent his life fulfilling the Law so that you might be freed from its curse, the same Savior who defeated the temptations of Satan at every turn so that you might live in joy is with you. Do not doubt. Just believe. Ask of him. Call upon him. Trust in him. Put aside the messages others bring you of depression, doubt, destruction, and discouragement. The Lord Jesus, who has power over death, has power over these things as well. “Don’t be afraid; just believe” (v 36).
As your pastor, I know some who have been let go from their jobs. I know some of you have had to say good-bye to your life partner and face the rest of your life alone. Some of you have seen the love of your spouse become cold and you cannot sleep for fear of what tomorrow will bring. Some of you have had your children grow disrespectful. The list of heartache and woe never ends. We need not list every one of your problems and pains for you to know that Jesus speaks to you today. Compare your difficulties to the sorrow of Jairus. Can any one of us say, “My problems are greater than watching a 12-year-old daughter die”? But we can believe, with confidence, the power of Jesus’ words: “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”
And what should you believe? I will not tell you, as some television evangelists, that if you believe enough your arthritic joints will straighten. I will not tell you that your money problems will be solved if you decide to tithe to the church. I will not tell you that Jesus Christ will give you instant popularity. Jesus does not ask you to believe such things. But his destruction of death at the home of Jairus shows that he is the mighty Master of mortality. Have you said good-bye to a loved one? Do you, like Jairus, feel that you are in helpless despair and that your future is only a dark and dreary corridor? Jesus says, “Death is not the end.” What should you believe? Believe that the Lord who gave his life’s blood on Calvary cannot be conquered by death and grave. Believe that he will take our hands into his nail-pierced ones and say to us, as he did to the little girl, “Talitha cumi!” Then we too shall rise. If you have never been at the bedside with parents who, in helpless horror, watched their child die, let me take you there.
A terminally ill little boy asked what it was like to die. The Christian mother had already had many talks with her believing son. This time, she said:
Dear, do you remember when you were a little boy, and how you used to play so hard all day? Do you remember that when evening came, you were too tired to go to your bedroom or change to go to sleep? You would just fall asleep, wherever you were—on the couch, on the floor. It didn’t make any difference. In the morning, you woke up and found yourself in your own bed in your own room. You were there because someone loved you and took care of you. Your father had come and with his big strong arms he carried you to where you belonged—in your own bed. Son, death is just like that. In this world we get tired and fall asleep. We can fall asleep just about anywhere. Then we wake up to find ourselves in the other room, in our own room, where we belong. The Lord Jesus takes believers to where they belong.
The boy’s trusting face looking up into hers told her that he understood. More important, his fear was gone. Most important, the boy believed it. Two weeks later, when the boy fell asleep, Jesus did take him home. That is why we should not doubt but believe. “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
This, my friends, you must not doubt, just believe.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.