Mark 5:21-43 | Jesus' Lessons on Faith
21 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. 22 Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet 23 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.
” 24 And he went with him.
And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. 25 And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, 26 and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. 28 For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” 29 And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’ ” 32 And he looked around to see who had done it. 33 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. 34 And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
35 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?” 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37 And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. 38 They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40 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. 41 Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” 42 And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. 43 And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.
Mark’s gospel is like the highlight tape of Jesus. His greatest hits. It’s short, fast-paced, and to the point. But that doesn’t mean it’s simple. It has layers, like the rest of the Bible. It’s simple enough for a child yet so deep we’ll never reach the bottom.
Our passage today has layers, like a sandwich. Two stories in one. And you can’t break it apart. You need the whole thing to make a meal. Together, they teach one biblical mega-lesson. What’s the lesson? This: the most crucial element of our life is faith.
So, what is biblical faith?
Someone once asked Billy Graham that question. He said first, you must believe that God exists, and that he loves you so much that he sent Jesus to save you. Second, you must trust wholly in Christ’s salvation, put your life into his hands, and believe Jesus not only can save you but will save you.
So, biblical faith is complete trust in God for your entire life.
As Martin Luther said, “Faith is a living, bold trust in God’s grace, so certain of God’s favor that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it.”
Biblical faith is not a leap in the dark. It’s not hoping something is there on the other side to catch you. Biblical faith is a complete trust in the trustworthy God who is there and who is not silent.
We see here how faith took Jairus from a life of fear to peace. We see how faith took the woman from a life of suffering to healing. But faith does more than just makes us feel better. It connects us to Jesus.
And right now, every one of us is on a faith journey—on a spectrum ranging from unfaith to faith.
On the one end, unfaith says, “You know, Jesus was a good guy. Great teacher. Did some cool stuff. I like him. But God? The Bible? Nah. Not taking that leap. I’ll follow his teachings, but I won’t call him Lord.”
On the other end, faith says, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69).
And in the middle, there are two groups. They’re the maybes. Maybe Jesus is trustworthy. Maybe he isn’t. Maybe I’ll follow. Maybe I won’t. Some in that group are making their way to Jesus with an honest heart. Some are just there for an interesting conversation.
Where are you on that spectrum?
This passage helps us determine our place. But it does more than that. It also shows us the place Jesus wants us to move to. And it does that by showing us three movements of faith.
First, through circumstances.
Circumstances summon faith
Life isn’t easy. Things happen. Look at Jairus. Mark tells us in verse 22 he was “one of the rulers of the synagogue.” He was a community leader. Everyone knew him. He was well-off. He probably didn’t need a lot from others. Then his daughter got sick. And as time went on, she grew worse and worse until she was at the point of death. As he looks out his window, he sees a crowd. He sees Jesus has come to town. He looks back at his dying twelve-year-old daughter and decides to run to Jesus for help. He falls at his feet and says, “My little daughter is at the point of death.” It was an urgent plea. She was at death’s door. Hospice wasn’t just called in; they were preparing for the final moments. He needs Jesus’ help right now. “Jesus, will you help me?”
Then there is this poor, suffering woman. For twelve years, she suffered a constant flow of blood. It’s made her ceremonially unclean, preventing her from worshiping in the temple. She’s a social outcast. Even if she was once well-to-do, she’s now destitute. She’s flat-broke from doctor bills and no better for it. She’s tried all medicine has to offer and suffered not only from the disease but also from the cures. She’s at the end of her rope. And as she sits in the street, she sees the crowd coming her way, and the one whom she’s heard about is among them. She thinks, “He can help me.”
In both cases, their circumstances were beyond their control. Both reached at a breaking point. Both desperate for help beyond what this world could offer. Their circumstances crashing on top of them summoned something from within, something that, no doubt, surprised each, something that led them running toward Another whom they believed had what they needed. Their circumstances summoned a faith that even they probably were previously unaware of. When Jesus came walking by, they came to him, trusting him for something everyone else was powerless to do.
That’s the beginning of biblical faith—simply looking at Jesus as One who can help and coming to Jesus for that help. But often it takes overwhelming circumstances before we’re ready to come. The first step of biblical faith is actually a negative one. It’s becoming desperate enough to come to Jesus. It’s letting go of pride. It’s saying to yourself, finally, “I just don’t have what it takes. I can’t do this. I need help. But I need a kind of help this world can’t offer. I need supernatural help.”
That’s the first movement of faith. But it’s not the last. Circumstances summon faith, but honesty forges faith, which is our second point.
Honesty Forges Faith
After Jairus’ plea, Jesus agrees to go with him. They move slowly because the crowds press in around them. Why are the crowds there? To see a great show! To see a miracle! Jesus has done it before. He’s about to do it again! They can’t wait.
But the crowd was about to get more than they bargained for. They were about to get not only a miracle, but also a lesson in biblical faith. They were about to see what honesty before God does to a heart.
Now the suffering woman takes center stage. Here is important Jairus whose daughter is dying. He’s racing to his house with Jesus, hoping there’s enough time before she passes. And now, out of the blue, they’re being held up by some woman.
As I said, she was ritually unclean because of her disease. She had been for twelve years. She’s used to being an outcast. She’s a nobody and knows it.
But here she is, weak and out of options, but just strong enough to come, which is all the strength Jesus requires. As she makes her way through the crowd, everyone she touches becomes unclean because of her. Then she reaches out her hand, touches the edge of Jesus’ garment and something happens.
You know, lots of people touched Jesus that day and nothing happened. Just being around Jesus isn’t enough. Proximity doesn’t change things. A lot of people think it does. A lot of people think nearness to Jesus, nearness to the church, nearness to other Christians is enough, like the holiness just rubs off. But it doesn’t work that way. Proximity isn’t enough. There is a way of touching Jesus without really touching him. There’s a way of touching Jesus without receiving his power. A lot of people touched Jesus that day in that crowd, but only the woman got his power after the touch.
So, what unlocks his power? Just this: personal need of a savior and the empty hands of faith.
That’s all this woman had. And that’s all she needed. So many in the crowd that day were just excited about what Jesus might do for others. This woman was desperate for what he could do for her. That’s the difference. It’s the difference between seeing Jesus as spectacle and seeing Jesus as Savior. Until you understand your personal need for Jesus, his power will be withheld from you. But when you come to the end of your rope, when you come to him with the empty hands of faith, desperate for salvation, his power races toward you.
So, if all you have is need, that’s fine with Jesus. In fact, it’s all he’s asking for. Isn’t that the grace of God? Jesus is saying to us all, “If you need me, come to me.”
And don’t worry about how you come to him. You can’t defile him, but he can cleanse you. The woman is proof. When she touched him, her touch didn’t make him unclean; Jesus’ power made her clean.
After her touch, Jesus stops. He has something to say to her. He asks, “Who touched me?” I think he knew who it was, but she doesn’t yet know how profound her touch truly was. Others need to hear about this. All those around him need to know the kind of touch that touches Jesus’ heart.
You can imagine the fear welling up inside the woman. She came to Jesus. She touched him. He healed her disease. Isn’t that enough?
Not for Jesus. Her faith was true faith but there was a healing this woman had not yet received from Jesus that only confession could bring about.
So, Jesus looks around, waiting. I wonder how long that wait was? For the woman—and for Jairus—it was an eternity, no doubt.
And then she comes. Look at verse 33. “The woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling…” Why was she scared? Why wouldn’t she be! Here she is, an unclean woman, a social outcast, speaking up in front of all these men. They would know she touched many of them on her way to Jesus. They would be disgusted with her. What would they do to her?
But that wasn’t the true depth of her fear. She was face to face with Jesus, with God. She knew who she was. And she knew who he was. What would he do to her?
Isn’t that a fear inside us all? Don’t we all fear what God will do to us in those moments when he’s calling us to confession? Will he turn me away? Will he punish me?
But she came, didn’t she? She knew what had happened to her, she knew she was the one who touched him, and she was ready to own it. Yes, she was scared. Yes, she was unsure of what would happen. But she was sure she was healed. She could not deny that. He had done what she hoped he would. So she could not deny the call of Jesus. She was afraid, but she trusted him.
And what does she do? Look again at verse 33. She “came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and”—what—“told him the whole truth.”
What did she tell him? Probably everything that happened to her. That’s how Mark knows her story. She told of all her struggles, all her pain and suffering, all her feelings of shame and despair, all her attempts at finding a cure. She told about seeing him, coming to him, touching him, trusting in his power to help her. She told it all. She probably said more. Who knows the depths she went to, we have only a summary. And there were things she didn’t say that Jesus knew anyway. No wonder she trembled! This was costly confession, which is really the only true kind of confession.
There’s a lesson here for us. Jesus is no gum-ball machine god. He is not there to give us what we think we need. He’s there to give us what he knows we need. But to give us that, he’s going to ask a lot of us. He’s going to ask more of us than we planned on sharing. He’s going to ask for brutal honesty. Why? Because brutal honesty is the only freeing kind of honesty. The only way you ever have the assurance of faith you need is if you tell him your whole truth. And when you do, he responds.
Look at verse 34. It’s the climax of this story inside the story. What will Jesus say in response to her? He lost power because of her. He was delayed in saving a dying little girl because of her. What will he say?
“Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
What? Is that what she expected from Jesus? Is that what we expect from Jesus?
When we come to Jesus by faith and reach out for his healing, he will turn to us in his grace. He wants a conversation with us, not to shame us but to assure us. He wants to hear the whole truth like a father who wants to comfort his child after a long, difficult journey. He wants the whole truth because he wants to give whole healing. And when we tell it all, he gives us his peace. Why? Because we’ve come to him in faith, in total trust. When we come to Jesus as our only hope, he accepts that as faith worthy of new life.
This woman will, from this moment on, always be free. She will have a new relationship with Jesus—a relationship she could not have had if she didn’t pour her heart out to him. From this moment on, because of her relationship with Jesus, she will have access to his power forever. She will no longer need a hurried touch in a crowd. She will have moment by moment access to his power, to his grace, to his mercy, to his cleansing, to him.
She didn’t treat Jesus like the crowds did. She didn’t touch him like they did. She treated him as her only hope. She touched him by faith. And now she has him by faith forever.
And you can too.
All it takes is the empty hands of faith reaching for Jesus who heals.
Do you need him right now? Reach for him! He’s passing by.
He’ll call you to honesty, and that might terrify you, but it’s the only way he can heal the parts of you that really need healing. Like putting you in the fire to refine, your honesty before the Lord forges your faith. The assurance you need comes through telling him the whole truth. And when you do, you will have stumbled into true spirituality. He is completely trustworthy, and he wants you to know it beyond an initial touch. He wants you to have his power moment by moment.
Circumstances summon faith. Honesty forges faith. And finally, Jesus directs faith.
God Directs Faith
Isn’t this a strange story? Don’t you wonder why all this happened the way it did? Jairus’ daughter was near death, but surely she had been ill for some time. This woman was sick for twelve years. And as soon as Jairus came running, this woman came touching. Why did it happen this way? How did these two events happen simultaneously?
Here’s how: God directed it.
As Jesus walked through the village that day, he was not merely out for an afternoon stroll. In eternity past, God orchestrated a series of events that would lead not only to miracles but to life that day. Circumstances summon faith, but God determines our circumstances. Honesty forges faith, but God brings us to the breaking point. God directs it all.
When we come to God, it’s not because we’ve finally understood all the answers and passed the test. It’s because he’s come to us—and has been coming to us all along—to give us faith. Yes, we sincerely believe at the deepest level of our heart, but Jesus made the first spark. Yes, our faith connects us to him, but he made the first move. Yes, our faith is truly ours, but it’s in his hands all along. Faith, like everything in the Christian life is a gift from the Holy God above.
In directing the woman’s faith, he was directing the faith of the disciples and of Jairus and of us. That’s why she appears when she does. Can’t you just imagine how frustrated the disciples were that Jesus stopped and took time to call her out? Can’t you imagine how anxious Jairus was as he knew his daughter was dying and Jesus was taking his sweet time?
Jairus knew time was short. And it was indeed. Look at verse 35. “While he [Jesus] was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?”
Jesus’ delay caused the girl’s death! How Jairus’ heart must have broken! Why did Jesus delay?
Jesus was teaching something about himself that Jairus couldn’t see otherwise, that the disciples couldn’t see otherwise, that even we can’t see otherwise.
The woman began the lesson with her story, and Jesus advanced it with Jairus’. Let me ask you a question. When has God ever worked on your time line? The Bible says over and over again that we must wait on the Lord. Why? Because his clock doesn’t work like ours! We’re impatient. He is not. We want his gifts now. But he knows we need more than that. We don’t need his gifts. We need him. And sometimes it takes a long time for us to realize that. So he makes us wait.
As the song says, “You can’t hurry love.” And the Bible says God is love. So you can’t hurry him. You may want to, but you can’t. You’ll just have to wait.
What happens in the waiting? Well, Jairus broke even more. He only thought he was at the end of his rope as his daughter lay dying. Now that she’s dead, he sees a new bottom.
Had Jesus failed him? Had he trusted in the wrong person?
Of course not.
Jesus isn’t shocked by the news of the girl’s death. He knew it was coming. And in response he said—look at verse 36—“But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.”
He overheard what they said but ignored it. It didn’t matter to him. What’s the difference between illness and death to Jesus? This was part of the plan all along. “Don’t fear, Jairus. Only believe. I haven’t failed you. I never will.”
Can you imagine how difficult that was? “Believe what, Jesus? Believe that everything will be okay now that my daughter is dead? Believe that you’re enough for me with this gaping hole in my heart? Believe that my desperation that you threw to the side for some unclean woman was just an overreaction? What in the world, Jesus?”
Now, I don’t know that Jairus responded that way. Mark doesn’t say he does. But have you reacted like that before? I have.
What’s God teaching us in those moments? We react that way because we think we deserve something from him—a good life, or at least an easy one. Maybe we’ve come to him in desperation and he hasn’t met our expectations. But we don’t deserve anything but hell because of our sin. We don’t have a claim on him. He has a claim on us. And what does he do with that power? He gives himself to us in greater measure through the waiting. So it might take a little while longer than we’d like. Is that really a problem? A little time for all his grace?
The woman gave us the first lesson of faith—coming in honesty. Jairus’ story gives us another layer—sticking through hardship.
After all, doesn’t the woman have the easier path here? She comes, touches, is healed, receives assurance, goes in peace. Jairus comes, begs, gets Jesus to come, is delayed, his daughter dies, and Jesus turns and says, “Don’t worry about it. Just believe.” What gives? Faith not only comes, faith stays when all seems lost, because in Jesus all is never lost.
No doubt Jairus reached a new low. But Jesus was there at the very bottom to catch him. He’ll be there for you too.
Yes, Jairus had exercised faith already. He had come. But now Jesus came to him in a new way. He directed his faith beyond his circumstance to the God who ordained them.
When God surprises us—even frustrates us—with his time lines, we break through to new realities with him. Trusting him for the first miracle is good, but we need to trust him for the long haul, for the resurrection. Remember, biblical faith trusts God with your whole life.
Jairus could have walked away. He could have turned from Jesus after he heard his daughter was dead. But he didn’t. When Jesus said, “Do not fear; only believe.” By God’s grace, Jairus did! He went with Jesus! Faith goes with Jesus no matter how unbelievable it may seem at the moment. Just as Abraham hoped against hope that he would be the father of many nations, so Jairus hopes against hope that Jesus has something more for him. That’s the kind of faith counted as righteousness; the kind of faith that saves.
When Jesus arrives at Jairus’ house, the mourners are there. The girl is dead. Everyone knows it. She’s not mostly dead. She’s all the way dead. So when Jesus says in verse 39, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping,” the point is totally lost on them. They laugh at him. But he knew what he was saying. Death to Jesus is no unconquerable enemy.
He enters the room, takes the child by the hand, and says to her, “Talitha, cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And she gets up immediately. She is healed. She eats, proving she’s really alive. This is no illusion.
When his little girl died, did Jairus’ faith die with her? Biblical faith is more than trusting Jesus for physical healing. Biblical faith is trusting Jesus for resurrection healing. Jairus was looking for a quick fix to his crisis. Jesus was directing a lasting hope, a resurrection hope. Jesus will ask more us than we may want to give, but he’ll give more than we could ever imagine.
The faith God looks for in us is the faith he’s directing toward himself. And every circumstance in your life, in God’s hands, becomes a building block of faith in him. He is faithful, and he will never fail you, no matter what the circumstances may say. “Do not fear; only believe!”
That’s the lesson Jairus learned that day, but it was just a foretaste of the lesson to come. A little while after Jesus raised that little girl from death, he faced his own death. As he hung on the cross, I imagine if Jairus and that poor woman were there to behold him, they knew something more than death was happening. They saw life on that cross passing from him to them. When you look at the cross by faith, that’s what you see. You see power going out from Jesus into you. It’s the power that created the world, that orchestrated your circumstances, that broke your heart open, that directed your life’s story, that brings you into God’s kingdom. And that power comes walking out of the grave in resurrection life to you, by faith.
Biblical faith is no leap into dark uncertainty; it’s a leap into the light of Jesus where we find cleansing. And he’s asking us all right now to step in.