Mark 5:21-43: When Jesus Moves Slowly

by Nat Holdridge

“Waiting is the hardest part,”  singer/songwriter Tom Petty once crooned. We all know this to be true. 

We know believers are called to “put on…patience” (Colossians 3:12). We know the Bible is filled with related words — long-suffering, endurance, steadfastness, and waiting. 

But this waiting with patience is not our natural disposition. This is why we need the help of the Holy Spirit. When he bears his fruit in our lives, one evidence is patience (Galatians 5:22).

And, to make matters worse, God often seems to move more slowly than we would like. We might confess his sovereignty. We might intellectually believe he is wiser than we are. But we still often wonder at his delays. Why is this taking so long? What are you doing? Could you move more quickly?

In our passage today, we will watch the God-man delay. First, a man will implore Jesus to come to his house to heal his twelve-year-old daughter, and Jesus will take his time traveling to his house!

Second, a woman will interrupt Jesus’ journey to the man’s house. Though she will be healed immediately when interacting with Jesus, she had been sick for twelve years, so she is painfully experienced in things moving more slowly than she’d like.

In the story, we will consider some of the benefits of God’s delays in our own lives. We will peek behind the curtain of this story to see some of the reasons why Jesus sometimes moves slowly. 

The delay creates beautiful dependence on him (Mark 5:21-29)

Here the story begins with Jesus crossing again in the boat to the other side of the sea of Galilee (21). He’d taught parables in the boat on one side, gone to the other side through the storm, delivered the demoniac, and now he returns. When he does, a man named Jairus fell at his feet because his little daughter was at the point of death (23). 

The man was one of the local rulers of the synagogue, which means he was a man of lofty position in the community (22). He was not ecclesiastically or theologically trained like the scribes or rabbis but was responsible for the maintenance of and activity in the local synagogue. But he didn’t let his position keep him from coming to Jesus. He knew he was out of options and, knowing what he knew about Jesus, believed Jesus could heal his little girl. 

On the way to Jairus’ daughter, while a great crowd pressed in on Jesus, a woman secretly approached him (25). No one knew she was even there, but she was sick with a private and protracted problem. Her continuous uterine bleeding, under Old Testament ceremonial law, would’ve made her unclean. And according to the customs of their day, her inability to bear children might have even ended her marriage. So her sickness has cost her much.

And we learn the illness was present for twelve painful years filled with visits (and payments) to various physicians (25). She’d spent all that she had and only grew worse (26). So when she heard about the Great Physician, the Healer in Galilee, she came quietly and thought to herself that even a touch of his garment would deliver her (28). She didn’t want others to know of her malady, so she privately sought anonymous healing.

And it worked! She touched Jesus’ garment, and she was healed — she felt it in her body! (28-29). 

Before moving on, let’s consider this woman’s situation. Twelve years is a long time to be sick. She might have felt her best years had been consumed by this illness. And, during those years, she suffered much under many physicians (26). 

This is not Mark’s way of dismissing science or medicine, but might be a way of knocking some of the medicinal methods of their day. They had some truly archaic practices, some rooted in mere superstition, and there were plenty of peddlers of these medicinal wares! As her Instagram feed blew up with testimonials of products purported to bring healing to others, she eagerly tried them all until her money (and hope) was gone. 

Then, one day, she heard about Jesus, and hope began to rise within her. She knew nothing, and no one else could help her. But the more she heard about Christ, the more she knew, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well” (28). What had those long years and unfulfilled hopes produced? The knowledge that only Jesus could help her.

We can easily relate to this woman. Many of us have spent years trying to find healing or fulfillment in a myriad of outlets. We have turned things like education, entertainment, or career to give us meaning. Some think a romantic relationship can make them better. Others think children of their own would make them happy. Still, others believe getting friendships working properly will satisfy their needs. 

When these loftier aims don’t work, we try them again in new forms, or we turn to baser methods of self-medication. Who hasn’t tried to medicate with Netflix? Who hasn’t scoured their news feed in an attempt to find out they why of their situation? We drug ourselves, distract ourselves, and detach ourselves in an attempt to get by.

And some of us have experienced exactly what this woman endured. We’ve spent paycheck after paycheck pursuing various medical experts in hopes that they can fix our broken bodies and souls. We’ve tried and tried, but there are no answers or quick fixes.

To be clear, many of the elements I just mentioned fall in the category of God’s common grace toward mankind. To learn, to relate, to inform, to medicate, and to entertain all have their place — they are gifts God has given to humanity. 

But the child of God must learn dependence, ultimately, on Christ. We must learn that other sources are all too willing to take and take, but Christ gives. We must see him as the one who can ultimately deliver us from brokenness.

The delay develops depth in your relationship with God (Mark 5:30-34)

This is a fascinating development. The woman, for obvious reasons, preferred a private healing, but Jesus knew power had gone out from him (30). He stopped the whole procession until she came forward. The disciples were confused by the whole thing and considered it their opportunity to rebuke Jesus — What do you mean, “Who touched me?” But then the woman stepped forward and told him the whole truth — she left nothing out (33). 

And Jesus’ response is beautiful: “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease” (34). It should be noted this is the only time Jesus called someone “daughter.” Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record this detail (John doesn’t include this story). Jesus was quite possibly younger than this woman, and at least not much older than her, but he called her his daughter.

Part of the reason Jesus referred to the woman this way, and why he called her out, was so she could know him, and he could know her. Jesus didn’t want her to remain anonymous. Many pressed in on him, but he wanted to know who had touched him in faith. And by outing her, Jesus turned her healing into something more. She was now pronounced clean to the community, an overcomer by God’s grace, and a daughter of God. 

Far too often, we approach Jesus with the hopes of getting what we need and moving on. I need a little spiritual pick me up, so I’ll go to a worship night. I need a bit of peace, so I’ll read a favorite psalm. I need direction, so I’ll search the Bible for my current topic of interest.

We know what we know, and we feel what we feel, so he doesn’t seem to blame us when we bring our shortsighted list of needs and requests to him. 

But Jesus wants more for you and him together. He isn’t interested in only helping with what you think you need. He wanted more for the woman and wants more for you. He doesn’t want to be a vending machine for your desires, wants, and needs. Instead, he wants you to be in a relationship with him. He knows it’s the best thing for you. And he loves you. 

And, so often, when God delays in our lives, it provides the perfect opportunity for our relationship with him to flourish. I’m sure many of you, even now, are experiencing this in your life. You wanted this whole thing to end ten weeks ago, but here we are. And, maybe, when this all began, you thought, I need people. I need friends. I need stuff to entertain me. I need facemasks. I need the latest news. I need my social media feeds. I need a job. I need peace. I need toilet paper.

Now, however, I hope you’ve come to realize you need a stronger relationship with God and that he’s trying to use this delay to deepen your walk with him.

The delay is meant to develop your faith (Mark 5:36)

During Jesus’ delay with the woman, Jairus’ daughter died. Considering how long it would’ve taken the messengers to arrive with the news, she had likely died before the woman touched Jesus’ garment. It’s unlikely Jesus’ delay led to her death. 

The messenger told Jairus to leave Jesus alone: Why trouble the Teacher any further? Did you catch that? Teacher! When Jesus’ ministry was completed, he would raise three people back to life, and himself would resurrect. But at this point, Jesus hadn’t raised anyone. So they dismissed this as something he could not do. She was dead. She was done.

But notice Jesus’ immediate response to Jairus: “Do not fear, only believe” (36). The woman had faith when she touched Jesus’ garment. Jesus knew Jairus needed faith like hers. And, now, we understand. The woman’s story was meant to develop Jairus’ faith. This is another reason why Jesus called her his daughter. Jairus had a daughter, too. And it would serve as a faith-strengthener for Jairus to see how Jesus treated his own daughter. If he healed this woman and called her his daughter, perhaps Jesus could raise Jairus’ daughter back to life! 

When Jesus moves slowly in your life, it is often because he is interceding for you by building up your faith. How does he develop your faith during the delay?

Through Scripture: Time and time again, God recorded the stories of his work amongst his people, partly as a way to bolster the faith of subsequent generations. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, and they lived as examples for all of us (1 Corinthians 10:6, Hebrews 12:1-2).

Through church history: Church history, though filled with some disturbing elements, is also full of God’s faithfulness. The spread of the gospel, God’s faithfulness during epochs of persecution, and tales of revival are often exceedingly helpful to us today. Biographies, articles, and podcasts about great saints of history are an aid to our own faith, for they testify of God’s work in the life of another. 

Through fellow believers: Additionally, we also need stories of real flesh and blood human beings from our own everyday lives. As we listen to stories of God’s faithfulness to men and women, young and old, married and unmarried, rich and poor, we see further evidence that God can be trusted.

Already, the Jairus’ house was abuzz with the professional mourning their culture expected. These weren’t friends and family, but community members whose mission was to loudly declare that sorrow had struck Jairus’ home. 

To Jesus, this little girl was only sleeping, but they knew a dead girl when they saw one, so they laughed at him (39-40). But it was Jesus who would get the last laugh. So he put all these doubters outside where they belonged and went into the house with her parents and three of his disciples.

The delay gives you more than you asked for (Mark 5:41-43)

Though Mark is written in the Greek of the Roman world, Jesus spoke in Aramaic (and probably Hebrew). So Mark recorded Jesus’ Aramaic words, “Talitha cumi” before interpreting the phrase for his Greek readers by saying, “which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.'” Peter, Mark’s likely source, was so moved by the experience. It’s like he could hear the words still dripping out of Jesus’ mouth: “Talitha cumi.”

And immediately the girl got up and began walking (42). Waves of amazement overwhelmed everyone in the room (42). She was alive! She had been dead! But now she is alive!

Both Jairus and the woman got far more from Jesus than they first expected. She wanted healing but became his daughter. He wanted his daughter’s healing, but she was instead brought back to life. 

This is how our Lord works in the delay. He wills to go beyond our simple requests to something better. We’re usually asking for scraps when he wants to give us the whole buffet.

Oh God, provide for my needs! But he wants to show you how he can get you through anything.

Oh God, help my loneliness! But he wants to become a friend closer than any other. 

Oh God, heal my sickness! But he wants to show you that even if sickness overcomes you, he will be there to resurrect you into glory.

We celebrate, but we must also notice how both Jairus and the woman had to give more than they expected. They hoped they’d get their healings with little cost. The woman wanted anonymity. Jairus wanted a quick trip to the house. But she was required to go public. And he was required to believe through death. They got more than they originally wanted, but they had to give more than they wanted as well. Perhaps this is what we should really think when we say, “Waiting is the hardest part.”

And that’s Jesus. He will overwhelm you with grace, but he is looking for those who will live as sacrifices unto him. Only then do we tap into the fulness of his grace and blessing.

But let’s end by thinking about Jesus. When the woman touched his garment, he felt power depart from him (30). It is a mysterious statement, one that has baffled scholars for years. How did this work?

I don’t know, but I do know this healing cost Jesus something. It took his power. And if he felt power go out from him when doing this, I can only imagine what it took out of him when he died on the cross for six hours for the sin of the world. For this, he is worthy of our trust through any and all delays. Still, we say, Come, Lord Jesus!


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