Mark 5:21-24, 35-43
21 When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. 22 Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. 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 So Jesus went with him….
35 While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”
36 Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”
37 He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. 38 When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. 39 He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” 40 But they laughed at him.
After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). 42 Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. 43 He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.
At first, the theme for worship today probably seems like a no-brainer: Life is better than death. Obviously! For growth to happen, you need life. Dead things don’t grow. Sure, I’ll give you that dead plants and dead little bugs become part of the soil, and the soil is where little dried up seeds from those dead plants or withered up, nasty-looking fruit come to life. But it’s not the dead thing that grows, is it? No, you need a plant to be living to grow.
When it comes to people, it’s the same. Death isn’t good for growth. A person needs to have their brainwaves waving and the heart beating somewhere in the 40-80 beats per minute range.
I think Jairus would agree with that. He is the synagogue ruler in town, up north probably in Capernaum on the western shores of the Sea of Galilee. There were two places for worship life for the Jews in Palestine. There was the granddaddy of them all in Jerusalem, the Temple. That’s where you would go for the major festivals like Passover. But to make that journey every week was impractical. That would be like driving to Fargo or Milwaukee every Sunday for worship. So, the second place for worship was the synagogue. That was the local church that was run by the people in the area. Jairus is like the church president, the one who looks after the place and gets people to help out. They didn’t have rabbis who were called to serve in one specific synagogue. It was up to Jairus to schedule the preachers and teachers for the worship. It’s safe to assume that Jairus was a respectable and responsible leading member of the community.
Given the choice, Jairus wants his 12 year-old daughter living rather than dead. That’s why we see this synagogue ruler throw himself at Jesus’ feet. Not a normal sight for such a man, but death causes people to do things they might not do otherwise.
And Jesus is the right man for this death-defying job. Jesus isn’t like any other man. Earlier on this pretty intense day on the other side of the lake, Jesus had healed a demon-possessed man. Jesus had traveled around the area healing every kind of illness and disease, even leprosy and a paralytic. Large crowds were following Jesus because of his power. But his message was even more eye-opening. He didn’t just teach the law, telling people this is how you live to please God. No, Jesus gave the people the good news, that even though you will never earn or deserve heaven it’s yours by God’s grace through the forgiveness of sins that Jesus gives. He pointed to God’s promise of salvation that saves lawbreakers from God’s wrath.
Jairus needed Jesus, because life is better than death. Jesus could make his sick girl well. Sometimes the tests get a little harder than that. The horrible news comes from home, “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?” You know, if my house burns down, that’s why we have insurance. If my financial guy calls up to inform me that my investments have tanked, I can work through it. If my pickup gets a ding or dent, I’ll get it fixed or drive around with it from now on. No big deal. But if you call me and say my daughter is dead, it’s a crushing blow. The death of a child is never easy to handle.
I think we wouldn’t be surprised at all if Jairus would start asking God some questions. I don’t think we would think it’s out of place at all if his anguish turned to anger. I’ve seen that happen. “Jesus, you are the Son of God. You say God takes care of us. Frankly, if this is the way God treats his people, then I’m done with you.”
But Jairus says nothing. Because he was listening at synagogue. He listened when God says you were sinful from birth, from the time your mother conceived you. Jairus not only listened in church but he also saw firsthand what kind of mischief a 12 year-old can do. And he heard God and believed God when he says the soul who sins is the one who will die. Jairus knows his daughter was not innocent. It would be foolish and against the Bible to plead his case before Jesus that his daughter was a good girl who deserved better. Jairus knows that if he opened his mouth in anger against God or even questioned God’s timing that he would be unseating God and placing himself on the Creator’s throne.
But where his voice is silenced in the face of death, he hears something odd from Jesus, “Don’t be afraid. Just believe.” Coming from one of those crooked tax collectors or annoying neighbors, those words wouldn’t mean much. But coming from Jesus, those words mean everything. Jesus is the eternal, saving Word, who became flesh to destroy the power of the devil. Jesus is the Lamb of God, who takes away your sins and mine. Jesus did not come to create a better political landscape. He did not come to stabilize industries or the financial outlook. He did not come to give us a life that grows here on earth. Jesus came to give life that grows for eternity. To do that he was going to have to show Jairus and all of us that death cannot tell Jesus what it wants. Death can only listen to the one who has the power of life.
Not even skipping a beat, as if nothing was wrong, Jesus gathers Peter, James, and John and goes to the house. When they there, it’s like a zoo. And we might say for good reason, a 12 year-old girl has just died. “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” The onlookers laugh, even though a girl is dead. They laugh at Jesus!
Why? Maybe it’s because far too often this world sees death as more powerful and more permanent than life. That’s why people want to hold on to this life with every bit of strength they have. We do it, too. We treat this life like it is the greatest and best. We tend to fill ourselves up with so much stuff from this life. We tend to be afraid of death because it’s definite and final. We all agree with the idea that life is much, MUCH better than death, because we think about it as people who are tied to this earth and this life. So when death comes it is a crushing blow.
But when The Life takes on death, there’s a different outcome. With all the power and authority of the creator, Jesus speaks like he is rousing a child in the morning, Talitha koum, (“Little girl, get up!”) But this girl doesn’t react like most of your kids probably do. Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around. By taking this girl by the hand and through his words spoken Jesus overcame the grip of death.
Jesus shows us that he has the power to make death temporary. That’s what he has done for us. Jesus went to death for you and was forsaken by his own Father. He gave up his spirit so that the guilt which afflicts and the sin that kills would no longer. He went to the grave and back again, he died and took up his life again, so that death would not be something you have to fear. Death now leads to life through faith in Jesus Christ.
He’s the one who now takes you by the hand. When death is haunting you, Jesus shows you the scars on his hands and says, “Don’t be afraid.” When death is trying to prove that it is more powerful and more permanent than life, Jesus takes you by the hand and he says, “Death is but a sleep.” And this is what he does as you live out your days, he has you by the hand fighting back darkness and silencing fear. And when you breathe your last and the last day comes, there he is with your hand in his and he’ll say, “My child, I say to you, get up!” And you will rise body and soul because death is but a sleep.
Henry Francis Lyte was an English clergyman. Throughout his life and in his professional career he suffered from various respiratory ailments. In fact, after seeking a particular appointment he was denied due to asthma and bronchitis. By the end of his life, in the 1840s, he was forced to spend much of his time in the warmer climates of France and Italy. In his last dying days he set a poem he had once written to music, maybe you recognize these words, we will be singing them later today:
I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.
Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
How could he be so fearless as death stood at his doorstep? Because he knew what Jesus did for Jairus’ daughter would be true of him as well. He knew that life was better than death. Jesus had him by the hand and was saying, “Don’t be afraid. Through faith in me, death is ended.” Jesus had him by the hand and was saying, “Death is just a sleep.” And he knew one day Jesus would say to him, “Get up.”
This doesn’t mean that at the next Christian funeral you attend you should walk in and say, “What are you all crying for, don’t you know about what Jesus did for Jairus’ little girl?” We mourn when death comes, we mourn when that chair is empty or that laugh is silenced. We certainly miss those who die. But we also mourn differently. We don’t mourn like those who think that death is permanent. We mourn knowing that those who die in Christ are being led by his hand. We mourn knowing that just as the little girl’s mom and dad rejoiced at her coming back to life, we too will have an eternity of joy when Jesus says, “Get up!” We mourn knowing that his life is better, more powerful, more permanent than our death.
Brothers and sisters, that fact is what causes growth in these last days. It’s not running from death. It’s Jesus. It’s looking at who holds your hand, that’s the one who is our life, our eternal life. It’s clinging to him. It’s living in him, for him, with him. Don’t be afraid; just believe. Death is just a sleep. His life is yours. Amen.