June 5, 2016
I’ve been in ministry for about 30 years now, and in that time, I’ve had the opportunity to perform a number of funerals. Now, nowhere in the Bible can you find it’s a pastor’s job to bury, or for that matter, marry people, the responsibility has just fallen our way. Marrying people is kind of fun – but I wouldn’t call funerals particularly fun. In fact, my first funeral came while I was working in a kitchen in Colorado Springs – I put myself through school working in a restaurant, and cooking also supported us in the early days of ministry. By the way, I have since forgotten everything I know about cooking, and no, my cooking didn’t kill somebody.
Actually, the first funeral was an 18 year old suicide, and from what I could tell, a non-believer. That wasn’t really fun. What do you say to give comfort, hope? I remember thinking – well, they can only get better from here.
And through the years, I’ve done many more funerals, of all types. Believers, unbelievers. Expected, unexpected. Tragic, premature. Celebratory, mournful. Young, old. Men, women. Boys, girls. Open-casket, closed casket. Memorials, funerals. Burials, cremations. In fact, it occurred to me this week the only constant when I do a funeral is the deceased, stays dead.
And so no, funerals are not fun. But there are some exceptions. You see, when D. L. Moody, the great 19th Century evangelist had to do his first funeral, he decided to look through the gospel accounts to see how Jesus handled them. To see what words of comfort He offered to grieving people. And you know what he found? Every time Jesus attended a funeral, He broke it up. He was a funeral basher. He would say to the hired mourners – you, get out of here, and to the dead – you, get up. Once He stopped a funeral procession. A widow’s son had died. That was significant. With no husband and no son to take care of her, she had no means of support. She grieved not only the loss of a son, but her 401k program as well. So, Jesus stopped the procession and said to the dead boy – get up, and in essence, take care of your mom.
We’ve heard that story, but will you let it sink in a moment. A line of cars is on its way to a graveside funeral – at Mt Lawn Cemetery over by the high school. Lights are on, police in front. Everyone pulls over in respect. Everyone except one person – who stops the motorcade, goes over to the hearse, opens the back door, lifts the coffin lid, and says, get up. You scoff, Jesus did it – over and over.
There was the time Lazarus died. Jesus had heard His friend Lazarus in Bethany was sick, but He waited for a few extra days just to let him die. This time, Jesus shows up four days after the funeral – Lazarus is in the tomb. Surely he stinketh by now. Jesus had them remove the stone. Then He said, “Lazarus, get out of there.” And out comes Lazarus, waddling in his funeral attire.
Then you have this story before us today. It’s a great story of resurrection – I couldn’t wait to get to it. Let me remind you where we are in our study. We have been in the book of Mark for some time now. Some of you are wondering if we’ll be in Mark as long as Matthew – no. There are 28 chapters in Matthew, and only 16 in Mark. Now, it’s Mark’s purpose to prove that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. From the very first chapter, Jesus has been doing some amazing miracles – casting out demons, healing sick people of every imaginable disease. He’d given some amazing teaching and performed some of those miracles on the Sabbath, infuriating the religious establishment – scribes and Pharisees, who soon sought to destroy Him, as early as Mark 3.
Then we got to chapter 4, and Jesus upped the ante. He started performing even greater miracles – demonstrating His power over nature, demons, debilitating disease, and even death. He started by calming a hurricane-sized storm. And the disciples asked, what kind of man is this? Then He drove out a legion of demons from a naked, disfigured, violent, crazy guy. The demons who, by the way, answered the question of the disciples – you are the Son of the Most High God. Which brings us to the text this morning. He’s actually going to raise someone from the dead. It’s a picture, you see, of what He will do in the future for every one of His followers. We’ve been asking the question with the disciples, what kind of Man is this? Be impressed and believe. I would have you see Jesus again this morning.
The story before us is a great one. It’s actually the second of Mark’s famous sandwich narratives. You’ll remember, Mark starts a story, then interrupts it to tell another story before finishing the first story. Now usually, the stories have related themes or truths – we’ll see that in this case next week. But here, the interruption gives opportunity for a little girl to die – so Jesus can wreck the funeral.
So, there are really two miracles here, but we’re just going to look at the outside of the sandwich – the start and finish of the story. Next week we’ll look at the interruption – the middle story – and we’ll see why it’s here – because there are some significantly related themes. But for today, let’s read the first story, starting in Mark 5, verse 21. (read through verse 24, then 35-43).
This is an amazing story. Very simply, we’re going to meet the characters of this story:
- First, we’ll meet the sick girl’s father, Jairus (unusual) in verses 21-24.
- Then, we’ll meet the dead girl in verses 35-43.
We get a little of the background as we look at that first point. Jesus and His disciples have crossed the Sea of Galilee again – from the east side back to the west side. Mark doesn’t tell us where they landed, but if you compare it with the parallel account in Matthew, they were probably back at Capernaum. They are still at the seashore because a large crowd has gathered, as usual, pressing in around Him.
But soon, we read a synagogue official named Jairus approached Jesus and fell at His feet. Which is interesting. Until this time, we’ve only had lepers and sick and demon-possessed people bowing before Him. Now, we’ve got a synagogue ruler – that means a Jewish religious leader. This was significant, in fact, shocking. Several things we have to look at:
First, from a religious perspective, this man was one of the top dogs in Capernaum – he was in charge of the facilities, of the administration, the worship services, all the programs at the synagogue. It was his responsibility to put the worship services together, to include Scripture readings, selecting rabbis to teach, prayers, and ensuring orthodoxy. Some argue he was the chief elder in charge of the other elders. And he was quite probably a Pharisee. And if this was indeed Capernaum – likely – Jairus had not only seen Jesus perform miracles, he’d probably been part of the religious leadership opposing Jesus. Remember back in chapter 3 when He healed the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath in the synagogue – the Pharisees left the synagogue and conspired to kill Him. Jairus was likely there.
You see, the opposition against Jesus, from the religious establishment had begun to mount. They were opposing Him every time He turned around – trying to catch Him with trick questions, questioning why He hung out with sinners, questioning why He did what He did on the Sabbath, suggesting He was empowered by Satan. Their resistance was getting intense. The Pharisees were already plotting how to could get rid of Jesus – how they could kill Him. So again, Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue, had likely been part of that conspiracy.
As far as the Pharisees were concerned, Jesus was an annoyance – more than that, He was public enemy number one who needed to be disposed of. That is, unless you find in all your arrogant self-sufficiency, something is broken. Something doesn’t work. And you become desperate. And you begin to realize Jesus might be your only hope. Oh, how that’s my hope for some of you who dismiss Jesus, oppose Jesus. My sincere prayer is that you get to a point of desperation where life isn’t working and you begin to realize Jesus is your only hope.
That’s where Jairus was. His 12 year old daughter was sick. The text doesn’t say, but he had probably exhausted all possible resources. His little girl was dying. Anybody have a 12 year old daughter – or had a 12 year old daughter? Jairus had a little girl – just like yours, and she was sick – she was as good as dead. The wording is such she was at death’s door – one said she was beyond intensive care, she was at the end of hospice care. She wasn’t just sick – in the words of Princess Bride, mostly dead. And Jairus was desperate. He was at the end of His rope.
All the religious hypocrisy, all the ceremonial washings, all the empty prayers, all the seeming orthodoxy – nothing was going to help his daughter now. And so, all of a sudden it didn’t matter who saw him come to Jesus. It didn’t matter if the crowds saw him, it didn’t matter if his fellow Pharisees saw him. He was desperate. He was broken. So, he came just like the leper, just like the paralytic, just like the demon-possessed guy. He came the only way you can come to Jesus – broken, pleading, bowing – Jesus, You are my only hope. You see, it doesn’t matter who you are – you only come to Jesus one way. It doesn’t matter if you’re a leper, or if you’re seen as the most religious guy around – we all come to Jesus the same way – you’re my last hope.
And so as this guy approached Jesus, the crowd would have become silently shocked – hey, isn’t that Jairus? Jairus implored Jesus earnestly – he was pleading, begging. My little daughter is at the point of death – any moment, she will breathe her last. Please come and lay Your hands on her, so she will get well and live. Don’t miss Jairus’ faith here. Yes, it needs to grow – so much so that Jesus will allow his daughter to die. But there is faith, and so Jesus went with Him while the large crowd, like traffic on a Boone Friday, was pressing in around Him, impeding His progress. And it gets worse – there’s another person who needs His attention – and Jesus actually stops to help her. Now, we’re going to look at that next week, but can you imagine Jairus’ frustration at this point – Jesus, You can come back to her – you can heal her later – but my daughter is as good as dead – let’s go. Jairus needed his faith enlarged. So Jesus allowed the detour so things would get worse. I wonder if that could be true for you? What is Jesus trying to teach you, how is He trying to enlarge your faith in the middle of your crisis?
Skipping the interruption, look down at verse 35, which brings us to our second point. As He was finishing His encounter with woman – the interruption, some people came from the house of the synagogue ruler. Put yourself in Jairus’ sandals. He sees them coming. He knows who they are and where they’re coming from. He sees the look on their faces. And they say the words he desperately did not want to hear, “Your daughter – Luke tells us it is his only daughter – has died; why trouble the Teacher anymore.” It’s over. It’s too late. Jairus falls to the ground in agonizing despair. As far as the bearers of bad news and Jairus were concerned, there was nothing left for Jesus to do. Not even the Teacher can help. Let that settle in. Think of the funerals you’ve attended. The loved ones you’ve said goodbye to. Agonizing.
But thankfully, Jairus’ story and your story does not end there. Remember, Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the author of life. He overhears what is said – although He already knows. It’s actually all part of the plan. It’s interesting – the word overhearing could actually be translated, ignoring. Probably both are true – Jesus overheard, and ignored what they had to say.
He says to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid – literally, stop being afraid. Only believe.” You had enough faith to come to Me to heal your daughter, do you still have enough faith to believe that I can still heal your daughter? The whole event was designed to increase Jairus’ faith. He had believed Jesus could do something about a major illness – would he believe Jesus for resurrection? Do you? Mark doesn’t tell us, but apparently, Jairus did. Because the next thing we see is Jesus continued to Jairus’ house – along with Peter, James and John. They were three of the first four disciples Jesus called – they were now beginning to form His inner circle.
When they got to the house, the funeral was already in full swing. You have to understand what funerals were like back then in Palestine. If we attend a funeral today, and want to show our respect, we’re quiet. Everyone is very reverent, you pull over if a funeral passes by, even if you don’t know the person. Silence is how we show respect in our culture.
It was just the opposite in Israel. Back then, much like today in Middle East funerals, people were loud. In fact, they were supposed to be. There was supposed to be disorder and chaos – it was a picture of how you felt – all torn up. In fact, there were certain things you did to make sure there was disorder and noise and appropriate grief.
First, to express your own grief, you tore your clothes. And not just any old way – there were 39 rules to observe as to how you tore your clothes. For example, you tore them standing up. If you were the mother or the father, you tore a hole right over your heart. If it was a family member or a close friend, you tore a hole close to your heart. And the hole had to be as big as your fist. Women had to tear holes too, but they were allowed to wear their clothes backwards for obvious reasons. Now, you had to leave the hole open for 7 days, and after that, you were allowed to sew it up, but not neatly. It had to be sloppy with big stitches so everyone could see.
In addition to tearing your clothes, the next thing you did was hire mourners – professional wailers and musicians. In fact, there were rules about this. The musicians, usually flutists, were to play loud, disconcerting tunes to reflect the mood of grief. And it didn’t matter how poor you were, every funeral had to have at least two fluting flutists, one wailing woman, and a partridge in a pear tree. Just kidding about the partridge. When you hired the wailer, you would fill her in with the recent family history – especially any deaths within the last year or two. That way, she could make your grief even greater – “Last year it was Charlie, this year it’s Suzy – boohoo.”
That’s what’s was going on. This was the synagogue ruler – there were probably lots of wailers and musicians there that day – there was a crowd in noisy disorder. As Jairus and Jesus walk up, the wails got louder – after all, this is the guy signing the paycheck. And somehow, above all the noise, Jesus gets their attention, and says, get out of here. The girl’s not dead, she’s just sleeping. What did these professional wailers do? From mourning to mocking – their cries turned to laughter – theirs wasn’t true grief – and it didn’t take long for them to begin mocking – you don’t know what you’re talking about, Jesus.
By the way, some commentators suggest Jesus was saying, listen, the girl’s not dead – she’s just sleeping – this isn’t a story of resurrection, but a deliverance from premature burial – burying her alive. That’s not the overall tenor of the accounts in all three synoptic gospels. It’s clear she was dead. Sleep was a euphemism for death, and Jesus was saying, I’m going to awaken her from the sleep of death.
He throws the mourners out, taking only Mom and Dad, Peter, James and John with Him. He walks over to where the little girl is lying, takes her by the hand. Stop right there. He takes her by the hand. The child is dead. You’re not supposed to touch dead bodies. It makes you unclean. But that never seemed to matter to Jesus – whether it was a leper or a women with an issue of blood – next week – or a dead little girl, everything and everybody He touched – He cleansed. Rather than making Him unclean, He made them clean. He breathed life into death. He touched people while everyone else avoided them. He both touched and was touched by the untouchable. He is our gentle healer, touching the wounds of our lives, physically, emotionally, spiritually, when everyone else stays away. He took the little girl by the hand, said these words, “Talitha kum,” – which means, literally, little lamb – it’s a term of endearment, little girl, arise.
She was dead. And just like He had the power to deal with sin, He also had the power to deal with what sin drug in with it – namely, He had power over disease. He had power over demons. He had power over storms. And He had power over death. Talitha kum, little girl, arise. She stood up. I would have you see Jesus.
What does all this mean for us today? Jesus was demonstrating His power over death. And His ability to raise this little girl from the dead points to His own resurrection. Her resurrection pointed to His resurrection, and His resurrection points to ours. He has become the firstfruits of them that sleep, Paul tells us in I Corinthians 15. Because He lives, we, too, one day will live. Talitha kum, little girl, arise.
But until then, we live in the not-yet part of the kingdom. Remember that? We still have to deal with sin, and with what sin drug in with it. We still face sickness, we still face death. But for believers, death is not facing an uncertain tomorrow. It is facing the reality of Jesus’ claim, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies.” And there is coming a day in the fullness of the kingdom when there will be no sin, no sickness, no death. John said it this way in Revelation 21, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.’ And He who sits on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’”
Every miracle He does points to the ultimate fulfillment in the kingdom. When He heals the leper, He says, in the kingdom, there will be no disease. When He drives out demons, He says, in the kingdom, there will be no demons. When He forgives sin, He says, in the kingdom there will be no sin. And when He raises little girls, He says, in the kingdom, there will be no death.
You see, I John 3:8 says Jesus appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. And the last enemy to be destroyed is death. He proved it every time He raised someone from the dead, every time He said, Talitha kum, little girl, arise. He proved it when He Himself was raised from the dead. I would have you see Jesus.
Hebrews 2:14 says it this way, “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power over death, that is, the devil.” When Jesus raised that little girl from the dead, it was a warning shot. Satan, your time is up. I’ve come to destroy death. And when He Himself was raised from the dead, He destroyed death once for all, and rendered powerless him who has the power over death – He defeated the devil.
And the next verse goes on to say this, having rendered powerless him who had power over death, that is, the devil, and might free those [that’s us] who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.” What does that mean? We don’t have to fear death anymore. It has been defeated. Talitha kum, little girl, arise.
She got up at His command and began to walk – evidence of her healing. We’re told she was 12 years old – that is, not an infant, old enough to walk. And they were completely astounded. Who was this man? His name’s Jesus. He gave strict orders no one should know about this – the Messianic secret back in place since they were back in Jewish territory. He would not be forced into their messianic expectations before His time. Of course, many knew she had been dead – they would see her alive. News would spread.
Finally, Jesus says, give her something to eat – further evidence of her full healing. She had been sick unto death – no doubt she was hungry and needed nourishment to restore her strength. Think about that – sometimes funerals end in meals for the family – but not for the deceased, unless Jesus crashes your funeral.
So, while funerals aren’t really what we’d call fun, they can be joy filled. What do I mean? It’s not the end of the story. And so, they can be celebrations for those who know Jesus – for those who have believed in Him. And there is coming a day when all who are in the grave will hear his voice – get up. And they will, and we will rise. Talitha kum – arise, little girl, arise, little boy. I would have you see Jesus. That is the meaning of this miracle of resurrection. Funerals aren’t fun – but the funeral of a believer can bring hope and joy and comfort – because Jesus is the ultimate funeral basher.