In each of the stories in our text Jesus responds to a problem. This problem-response motif tells us something about ourselves and about Jesus.
It tells us that after our fall into sin, “man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). Man’s manifold problems can be traced back to Genesis 3:6. There were no life-threatening storms in paradise. There were no dangerous, demon-possessed men in the Garden of Eden. There was neither illness nor human death before sin entered the world. In this text we catch a glimpse of life in paradise lost, the same world through which we walk today.
But the theme of our text also tells us that Christ is the great restorer. Christ calms the storm, sets captives free, heals the sick, and raises the dead. Christ is God’s answer to the problems caused by sin. That’s good news for people surrounded by pervasive defect. We are broken people; more so than we sometimes realize. As Adam’s heirs deformity seems so natural to us. We need to be restored by the second Adam (1 Cor. 15:45).
In this chapter Mark shows Jesus’ authority over four post-fall defects that tend to cause so much anxiety in the hearts of the sons of Adam: disaster, demons, disease, and death.
Christ’s Power over Disaster (4:35–41)
Jesus had spent an exhausting day telling a host of parables about the kingdom of God (4:33–34). And though evening had come, His work was not over. He alone knew that a demonized man living across the Sea of Galilee needed new life. So He said to His disciples, “Let us cross over to the other side” (4:35).
As the disciples navigated the Sea of Galilee a great storm arose. Waves crashed over the boat, tossing it about, filling it with water. Even the seasoned seamen had that sick feeling you might get after a carnival ride. In their panic the disciples staggered to the back of the ship only to find Jesus . . . sleeping. Our son is a virtuosic sleeper who can slumber through almost any condition. He once fell asleep slumped over an ottoman in a loud, crowded room. When we picked him up we found that he was resting on top of a pile of toys. (Maybe you know someone like him!) But I doubt even he could have slept through this storm. Yet, Jesus is sleeping.
In despair, the disciples interpreted Jesus’ sleep as a sign of His disinterest in their well-being: “He doesn’t care that we are perishing” (v. 38). But the disciples’ allegation was exactly wrong. Jesus slept through the storm because He was exhausted from working on behalf of His people. As Calvin says, Christ saves us by His entire obedience, not just His obedience on the cross but the obedience of his entire life.
Jesus’ obedience was physically draining. Still the disciples’ insulting comment had some truth to it. From a human perspective they were perishing. Matthew says the boat was “being swamped by the waves” (Matt. 8:24, RSV). Luke adds that the disciples were “in great danger” (Luke 8:23, NIV). These skilled fishermen knew rough waters; they were afraid for good reason. If their ship sank they would die. But Jesus made it clear that the deeper problem was their lack of trust in God. “How is it that you have no faith?” (v. 40). The main problem was not the storm but the inability of their faith to withstand the storm. And yet, when we coalesce the disciples’ responses as recorded in the three Synoptic Gospels, we see that in their weakness of faith, they rightly reached out to Christ as their only hope: “We are perishing. Do you care? Save, Lord!”2 In reply, Jesus chastened them for their weak faith, but He did not condemn them. Instead, He saved. We too can call on the Lord in our trouble anticipating his response: “Peace, be still.” Mark says that Jesus rebuked the wind. We don’t realize how radical this is until we think about how little power our words have to change a situation. Have you ever heard a mother tell her children to “stop it,” as if she were a broken record . . . and nothing happened? Imagine standing outside during the next thunderstorm and telling the rain, wind, and lightning to “be still!” This is what Jesus did. His words instantly shackled the wind and slapped the waves still. How amazing; though Christ’s authority extends over every atom of the universe, He willingly submitted to the agonies of the cross. In the garden of Gethsemane he could have commanded the olive trees to fall on Judas before he betrayed Him. He could have directed the ground to swallow the advancing company of soldiers. Standing before Pilate He could have spoken one word and caused that cowardly governor to choke on his own tongue rather than give consent to crucify Him. Although Christ has the entire universe at his disposal, He willingly laid down His life for us.
Christ’s Power over Demons (5:1–20)
Upon landing on the other side of the Galilean sea, in the country of the Gentiles, Jesus and His disciples met a man who was possessed by an unclean spirit. As I write, images of demons, tombs, and chains are springing up in front of homes and stores in anticipation of Halloween. The irony is that people today celebrate the very things that characterized this man’s miserable life. Not only was this man’s life a wreck, but also he was so “fierce . . . that no one could pass that way” (Matt. 8:28). He was like that angry dog in the yard that would keep you from even thinking about walking through the front gate. But there was a deeper problem. This man—and his countrymen—were lost, having no saving knowledge of God. Jesus was in the land of the Gentiles, who had “no hope and [who were] without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12).
Again, Jesus healed with a spoken word. Matthew records Jesus saying one word to the demons: “Go!” The result was similar to the previous story. The man ceased his raging, regained his right mind, and stopped endangering his neighbors. Even more than that, because of his testimony, many were brought to Christ.
This passage teaches us that the forces of evil answer to Jesus (cf. Job 1:6–12). “He gave them permission” to leave the man (Mark 5:13). The demons even recognized Jesus as their Lord by calling Him the Son of the Most High God (5:7). Believers can say with David, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me” (Ps. 23:4). But having God with us in the midst of evil would be no great comfort if He wasn’t also in charge of that evil. Cancers, bullies, politicians, and atmospheric carbon all answer to King Jesus. The believer is assured that “whatever evil [God] send upon me in this vale of tears, He will turn to my good.”3
We also learn that salvation is a sovereign act of God. Like the thief on the cross, this man contributed nothing to his deliverance. Unflattering as it is, this man is a reflection of every person whom Jesus delivers from sin’s powerful chains. With one word, Jesus frees condemned sinners from the chains of bondage. We can’t contribute to our salvation, but we can cry out to God confessing our misery, asking for freedom, being confident that He will hear us.
Finally, this healing enforces a mandate to personal evangelism. Notably, Jesus commanded the former demoniac to begin witnessing to those with whom he had a built-in connection. In witnessing, our own families and friends must claim our first attention. And as we hear Jesus’ call to explain our hope (1 Peter 3:15) we should be careful not to complicate our calling. Personal witnessing is much simpler than we sometimes make it. It doesn’t require a seminary education; indeed, Jesus forbade this man from joining his seminary. Personal witnessing is as simple as telling our friends what great things the Lord has done for us and how He has had compassion on us (5:19). In Jesus’ estimation prompt obedience, even by those with little knowledge, is greatly valued. Those who tell what they can about their reception of grace can anticipate still greater evangelistic opportunities (Luke 16:10), while those who wait to witness until they have accumulated greater theological wherewithal might very well never begin to witness. The devil’s favorite word is “later.”
Jesus’ Power over Disease and Death (5:21–43)
As Jesus returned from the land of the Gentiles He was greeted by a multitude of Galileans who likewise needed restoration. From the midst of the crowd a man named Jairus pushed his way to Christ with an earnest request.
An Earnest Request (5:21–24)
Jairus’s request is an example of simple, humble, and confident request. After explaining the problem in a few words he simply asked Jesus, “Come and lay Your hands on [my daughter],” who “lies at the point of death.” Jairus shows us that true prayer doesn’t require flashy, elaborate language. Jairus’s request is also humble. Being a synagogue ruler Jairus was either a Pharisee or a Sadducee. However condescending, arrogant, and self-righteous he might have been before, personal neediness brought him to Jesus’ feet. Such humility, though, should not conflict with confidence. “If you lay your hands on her she will be healed,” he said (v. 23). Like the leper of Mark 1:40, the four friends of Mark 2:4–5, and the ailing woman of Mark 5:28, Jairus approached the fount of healing with boldness on behalf of his unconscious daughter. These examples teach us to “come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).
An Encouraging Interruption (5:25–35)
Right as Jesus began to follow Jairus home He was interrupted by a woman who had been bleeding for a dozen years. Imagine how Jairus must have felt. His daughter was at the point of death, and Jesus was stopping to interact with a woman who had been coping with her issue for as long as his daughter has been alive! How would you feel if your child were trapped in a burning house, and as a first responder was about to enter one of your neighbors walked up and said to him, “Sir, I’ve got this chronic back pain that I just can’t seem to shake. Could you take a look at it?” But Jesus allowed Himself to be interrupted for the same reason He would later hesitate in the situation with Lazarus (John 11:15). God sometimes allows situations to worsen in order to draw us closer and to reveal His glory to those who are faithful during trials. Jesus also stopped for the sake of the woman. His question, “Who touched me?” wasn’t asked in ignorance. He wanted to prove to the woman that He healed her because of His willingness to graciously reward her faith, not because His clothes were magical.
While Jesus was pronouncing healing upon the woman, a man from Jairus’s house delivered a crushing blow to his master: “Your daughter is dead. Why bother the Teacher any further?” (v. 35). His only daughter, the one who had been the object of his affection and the joy of his home, was gone (Luke 8:42). Right when he was daring to hope, his servant—in a spirit of unbelief—dashed his hope to the ground. In the servant’s eyes, Jesus might have been able to help a sick girl but not a dead girl. Unbelief imagines one’s problems as towering over a puny God. Faith confesses the absolute superiority of God over every problem.
A Joyful Resolution (5:36–43)
Jesus used the occasion of the death of Jairus’s daughter to minister to three groups of people. First, Jesus commanded Jairus not to be afraid but to believe. We might think that Jairus was told to believe that Jesus would raise his daughter from the dead. But, while we know the rest of the story, Jairus didn’t, and Jesus didn’t give him a window into the future. The good news, says Jesus, is that God is worth holding onto even when everything that comes through His hands seems to be against us. A time is coming in your life when the bottom will seem to fall out. “Don’t be afraid, only believe.” Believe that He who takes away is the one who gave in the first place. Believe that He who allows hurt is also the one who heals. Believe that God uses pain and trial and loss to steer the Christian toward heaven.
Second, Jesus interacted with the mourners. He asked them an unusual question: “Why make this commotion and weep? The child is not dead, but sleeping” (5:39). The crowd found this laughable (v. 40); they had seen the dead body, and some may have touched the cool skin. They laughed, not understanding what Jesus would later tell his friend Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live” (John 11:25).
Finally, in one of the most precious scenes in the entire Bible, which no mocker was permitted to witness (5:40), Jesus woke the “sleeping” little girl. You can imagine the parents breaking into tears again as Jesus tenderly led them into the room in which the lifeless corpse of their precious daughter lay. In amazement they watched Jesus take their daughter’s hand and say to her, “Little girl, I say to you, arise” (5:41). At that word, her brain began sending signals again, her heart began pumping, the color returned to her skin, and she began breathing. Soon she opened her eyes, sat up, starting walking, and even had a meal. Restoration!
Ultimately these narratives look to a day when all things will be completely restored (Acts 3:21). The waves of Galilee raged again, Jairus’s daughter eventually died again, the woman with the issue of blood eventually had other bodily problems before she too died. But this narrative looks ahead to a greater restoration. Don’t miss that when Jesus took the little girl’s hand He did something radical. We might not notice (though Jairus, the synagogue leader, would have) that Jesus intentionally became ceremonially unclean (Num. 19:13). Galatians 3:13 explains why: “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us.” Jesus works restoration by taking our uncleanness upon Himself and exchanging our sin for His glorious righteousness.
Where do you need restoration? J. C. Ryle reminds us, commenting on this passage, that “with the Lord Jesus Christ nothing is impossible. No stormy passions are so strong but that he can tame them. No temper is so rough and violent but that he can change it. No conscience so [bothered], but he can speak peace to it, and make it calm. No man ever need despair, if he will only bow down his pride, and come as a humbled sinner to Christ.”4
1. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962),
2.16.5. 2. Matthew 8:25; Mark 4:38; Luke 8:24.
3. Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 26.
4. J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Mark (London: James Clarke & Co., 1965), 85.
Points to Ponder and Discuss
1. Does the fact that Jesus slept while the disciples fretted trouble or encourage you?
2. How does Colossians 1:16–17 help answer the question asked in Mark 4:41?
3. Reflect on the contrast between man’s ineptitude (in Mark 5:4) and Jesus’ power (in Mark 5:13–15).
4. How should Mark 5:8 encourage those who battle against “spiritual hosts of wickedness” (Eph. 6:12)?
5. Can those without Damascus road conversions still tell their friends what great things the Lord has done for them?
6. Spend some time identifying and praying for your friends to whom you are called to witness to Christ’s redemption (see Mark 5:19).
7. What does the phrase “one of the rulers of the synagogue” add to the narrative of the healing of Jairus’s daughter?
8. Why does Jesus ask the strange question recorded in Mark 5:30–31?
9. In what way does faith cast out fear (see Mark 5:36)?