Mark 5:21-43

Do you believe in the power of prayer?  Do you believe that through prayer we gain an audience with God Almighty – Creator of the universe?  Do you believe that when we pray God hears our prayers?  And not only hears our prayers but answers our prayers?

If we believe these things to be true, why do we struggle as much as we do in prayer?  Why don’t we have a more vibrant prayer life?  The stories of Jairus and the bleeding woman help us to discover some important principles about prayer.

Jesus and Jairus

Jesus returns from his short-term mission trip to the region of the Geresenes and is back amongst the Jews, and as usual, he is surrounded by a large crowd.  From out of this crowd comes Jairus, a Jewish religious leader.  We see that not all of the the religious leaders are opposed to Jesus.  It is curious that we know this man’s name.  Mark has given us the name of John the Baptist and the disciples, but no one else.  (The demoniac from the last passage is given a name but we know that was not really his name.)  The paralytic doesn’t get a name; nor does the leper, nor does the man with the withered hand.  Jesus’ own mother and brothers don’t get a name in Mark’s gospel, but this man does!  It would seem that Jairus was a well-known man.  A man of power.  A man of wealth.  A man of influence.  A man of dignity.

And just like the demoniac in the last passage, he too falls at the feet of Jesus.  The crowd might expect a man with an unclean spirit to prostrate himself before Jesus, or a man with leprosy, but this man?!  This is a ruler of the synagogue.  He is used to people, if not literally, at least figuratively, falling at his own feet.

Jairus chooses a very direct way of approaching Jesus.  He comes to him not at night or as an anonymous face in the crowd, but rather he walks with confidence through the “front door” and immediately makes his need known: “My little daughter is at the point of death.  Come lay your hands on her so that she may be made well and live (Mark 5:23).”  So Jairus left his daughter on her death bed so that he might get help from Jesus.  This must have been a difficult decision.  Do you see if you can get help or do you stay with your daughter during her last moments on earth?  One has to wonder as well, if Jairus made an attempt to find Jesus earlier but was unable as he was away on the other side of the sea.

What he wants Jesus to do, is very specific.  Physically come to my house.  Lay your hands on my daughter.  Make her well.  Jesus sets off  with Jairus, and the crowd, perhaps eager to see another miracle, follow in pursuit as well.

Mark does not give us any insight into what was going on in Jairus’ mind as Jesus is stopped by a woman “who had a discharge of blood for twelve years (v. 25).”  It is hard to imagine that he was not at least impatient or possibly even agitated.  After all, his daughter’s condition was acute while this woman’s condition was chronic.  Tim Keller points out that if Jesus were a doctor in a hospital today, he would likely be sued for malpractice.  As anyone who has ever been in an emergency room knows, the patients who get medical care first are those who are in the worst condition.  You wouldn’t treat someone with a broken toe before you treated someone who was having a heart attack.

So Jairus was fully aware of his need.  He was desperate.  He was convinced Jesus could do something about his need.  But Jesus delays in answering his request.  In other words, Jairus does not get what he wants, when he wants it.  He wants Jesus to make his daughter well, so that she can continue to live.  But Jesus wants to give Jairus something much more than this.

Jesus intentionally delays going to Jairus’ house and in the meantime the little girl dies.  Jairus’ friends tell him to give up: “why trouble the Teacher any further (v.35)?”  Jesus responds by telling him to “only believe (v.36).”

Upon arriving at the house Jesus sends everyone away except for the parents and a small group of his disciples.  He touches the dead girl and says to her in Aramaic “Talitha cumi” which means “Little girl, I say to you, arise (v.41).”  Immediately she is resuscitated and comes back to life.  Everyone is full of amazement and Jesus charges those present not to tell anyone what has happened.

Jesus and The Woman

Rather than having a name, this woman has no name.  Rather than being known, she is unknown. Rather than having power, she is powerless.  Rather than having lots of money, she has no money (v.26 – “she spent all she had”).  She has suffered with her condition as long as the little girl has been alive.  And if her condition was not bad enough, we are told that she also “suffered much under many physicians (v.26).”  Even the good intentions of others have been a source of affliction for her.

Unlike Jairus, she does not approach Jesus through the “front door” but rather through a “side door.”  She waited for Jesus and the crowd to go by and then “came up behind him.”  She does not want a scene, she simply wants to be healed.  She desires anonymity.  We shouldn’t, however,  interpret her actions as a lack of faith.  Jairus believed that Jesus needed to physically come to his home and lay his hands on his daughter in order for his daughter to be made well.  This woman believes that if she touches “even his garments (v. 28),” she will be made well.   There is no report of this happening so far in Mark’s Gospel.  She is looking for Jesus to do something that so far as we know, had not been done before.

Like Jairus, she too wants to be “made well.”  Specifically, she wants to be healed and then slip away.  Like Jairus, she does not get exactly what she wants.   Jesus stops the quickly moving crowd to investigate who had touched him.  The disciples seem at least slightly annoyed that Jesus is trying to find out who touched him: “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’ (v.31)”

The woman now walks through the “front door.”  She steps forward in front of the whole crowd and tells Jesus the “whole truth (v.33)” which must have taken some time.  She had received Jesus’ power and now she receives his peace.  She had come to Jesus with her need and a conviction that he could meet that need.  But more than being healed of her disease, she receives Jesus’ peace.

What does this passage teach us about prayer?

#1 We must have a deep awareness of our need.

Both Jairus and the woman were in desperate situations and did not see a way out on their own.  Paul Miller, author of one of the best books I have read on prayer has this to say about learning to become desperate in prayer:

“Power in prayer comes from being in touch with your weakness. To teach us to pray, Jesus told stories of weak people who knew they couldn’t do life on their own. The persistent widow and the friend at midnight get access, not because they are strong but because they are desperate. Learned desperation is at the heart of a praying life.”     – Paul Miller, A Praying Life, p. 114

#2 We must be convinced that Jesus can do something about our need.  

It’s not enough to know our need.  We need to know where to take our need.  Desperation with nowhere to go leads to despair.  But desperation taken to Jesus leads to hope.  And hope is exactly what we need.

#3 We must come to Jesus with our need.

While Jairus and the woman approached Jesus very differently, they came to him nonetheless.  It is not the measure of faith with which they came but the fact that they came that is most important.  Jesus says that is required to move a mountain is faith the size of a mustard seed.  What is important is not how strong our faith is but the object of our faith.  Tim Keller puts it this way:

“Imagine you’re falling off a cliff, and sticking out of the cliff is a branch that is strong enough to hold you, but you don’t know how strong it is.  As you fall, you have just enough time to grab the branch.  How much faith do you have to have in the branch for it to save you?  Must you be totally sure that it can save you?  No, of course not.  You only have to have enough faith to grab the branch.  That’s because it’s no the quality of your faith that saves you; it’s the object of your faith.  It doesn’t matter how you feel about the branch; all that matters is the branch.  And Jesus is the branch.”   – Tim Keller, Jesus the King, p.59

Discussion Questions

  1. How does Jairus approach Jesus?  What do we learn about Jairus from this encounter?
  2. What may the crowd have been thinking as they watched the exchange between Jairus and Jesus in verses 21 to 24?
  3. Why is it surprising that Jesus stops to address the woman rather than continue on his way to see the little girl?  What would be going through your mind if you were Jairus, and Jesus had delayed going to heal your daughter?
  4. In what ways are Jairus and the woman similar?  In what ways are they different?
  5. Why do you think Jesus took the time to address the woman?  What did the woman gain (besides her physical healing) from her encounter with Jesus?
  6. In the meantime, Jairus’ daughter dies.  Jesus says to Jairus “Do not fear, just believe.”  In what current or past situations have you needed to hear these words for yourself – “Do not fear, just believe”?  Why is it so difficult to “just believe”?
  7. Jesus arrives at the Jairus’ house in a “hopeless” situation.  What new things did those present learn about Jesus as a result of the little girl being raised from the dead?  How does this give us hope as well?
  8. Pastor Billy listed 3 things this passage teaches us about prayer: #1 We must have a deep awareness of our need. #2 We must be convinced that Jesus can do something about our need.  #3 We must come to Jesus with our need.   Which of these three points do you most need to hear?  How so?  How can you put this into practice this week?


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