Master of Death

Master of Death
and Man of Feeling

S. Lewis Johnson, Jr.

Dr. S. Lewis Johnson, Jr., a Bible teacher at Believers Chapel, Dallas, Texas, is also Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, as well as visiting Professor of New Testament at Grace Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana.

Scripture Reading: Matthew 9:18-26


Vital to the Christian faith is the doctrine of the two natures of Christ, the human and the divine. He is the MAN who stands for us, for He is one of us, and He is the GOD who saves us. He is not simply an ambassador, or emissary, sent from God, because if He is only that, we are not on the Rock. We must have a word from God Himself, if we are to be sure of our redemption. Therefore, He is more than a man, or God’s prophet, as the Socinians would have it, and He is more than a superman, or God’s plenipotentiary, as the Arians would have had it. He is the supernal man, the Lord from heaven, as the Athanasians contended. The church was right at Chalcedon in affirming, “Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once COMPLETE IN GODHEAD AND COMPLETE IN MANHOOD, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance (homoousios) with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer (Theotokos); one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in TWO NATURES, WITHOUT CONFUSION, WITHOUT CHANGE, WITHOUT DIVISION, WITHOUT SEPARATION: the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence (hupostasis) , not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us” (Council of Chalcedon, Actio V, Mansi, vii. 116 f.)

The incident before us in this study beautifully illustrates the truth of the Definition cited above. In fact, it is difficult to find an incident in His life’s ministry that more pointedly placards Him in his deity. He emerges from the event as the MASTER OF DEATH, our great enemy, and astonishes those who observed His ministry of restoration.

Yet this incident also broadcasts Him as a man of feeling. If He is very God of very God, He is also very man of very man. The German scholar Rothe once said, “I know no other ground on which I could anchor my whole being, and particularly my speculations, except that historical phenomenon, Jesus Christ. He is to me the UNIMPEACHABLE HOLY OF HOLIES OF HUMANITY … and a sunrising in history whence has comes the light by which we see the world.” I think we shall see this confirmed in our study, which is in reality an account of two miracles of healing, the raising of Jairus’ daughter and the healing of the woman with the issue of blood.

Request of the Ruler

The ruler (9:18). The Lord Jesus was being welcomed in Galilee again when the ruler of the synagogue came to Him. The synagogue was under the rule of a board of elders, and they had the responsibility to maintain order in the synagogue meetings, among other things. The name of the man is not given by Matthew, but Mark and Luke call him Jairus. His office, that of a kind of lay administrator, was not a teaching or preaching office, but it was the responsibility of the ruler of the synagogue to appoint those who were to read and pray in the service, and to invite those who were to preach. So, Jairus was evidently a man of responsibility, trust, and power.

Jairus, now at the end of trust in the doctors, in his wife, and in himself for his ill twelve-year-old daughter, hearing of the presence of Jesus, came to Him and fell down before Him in worship. It was for him his last resort, for such a man would only come to Jesus if there was no other hope. Sooner or later most of us have to face a similar crisis in life. In early days, when things are going well, we tend to think that life is a circus, as Temple Thurston put it. Each one imagines that he or she is the master of ceremonies in the ring, clothed in broadcloth and buckskin breeches, with a silk hat and cracking a whip. Everything seems to go our away until one day, a lion breaks out of his cage. Then, as Thurston said, “life gets up and looks at us!” It was that time for Jairus and his wife.1

The daughter (9:18). Jairus’ daughter was an only child, Luke points out (8:42), and thus the urgency and poignancy of the request is stressed. For twelve years he and his wife had enjoyed the blessing of the little life as she pattered and prattled about and in their home. She had brought the brightest of sunshine hours to them, but now all appeared lost.

The request of Jairus, “come and lay thy hand upon her, and she shall live,” is remarkable in that the Gospels do not give us an account of a restoration-to-life miracle by our Lord previous to this time.2 Jairus’ faith is, therefore, an unusual trust.

Jesus (9:19). Our Lord does not refuse the homage, and that, too, is a remarkable thing. When John the Apostle fell at the feet of an angel to worship him, the angel remonstrated with John, saying, “See thou do it not: I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: WORSHIP GOD: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Rev. 19:10). The angels say that only God is to be worshipped, but Jesus permits men to worship Him! It is a magnificent claim to deity.

And, further, our Lord does not refuse the request for help from the desperate parents. In fact, there is a kind of urgent desire to do something about the situation. Matthew’s words, “And Jesus arose, and followed him,” suggests His concern.

His response appears to be immediate. Nor does He put him through the catechism first.

“All the scenes in Christ’s life in which children appear are exquisitely touching,” Stalker notes, “and it was His feeling which gave them their beauty and pathos. As you look at them, you feel that He not only knew all that is in a father’s and mother’s heart, but sank new wells in the heart of humanity and brought love up from deeper levels than it had sprung before. Ruskin has observed that there are no children in Greek art, but that they abound in Christian art — an unmistakable token that it was the eye of Christ which first fully appreciated the attractiveness of childhood.”3

The Restoration of the Woman

The woman with the issue of blood (9:20-21). As our Lord made His way to the house of Jairus, “behold, a woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind Him, and touched the hem of His garment; for she said within herself, If I may but touch His garment, I shall be whole” (vv. 20-21). Another interruption, with which our Lord was often plagued, had occurred, but with Him interruptions are only opportunities for Him to demonstrate again His saving power.

The woman’s illness was a terrible one, and even Dr. Luke confesses that the doctor’s found it incurable. He writes, “And a woman having an issue of blood twelve years, WHICH HAD SPENT ALL HER LIVING UPON PHYSICIANS, and COULD NOT BE HEALED OF ANY” (8:43). Mark’s account is even more enlightening and may even conceal a mild attack upon the Palestine Medical Association. Luke said she could not be healed, but Mark writes that she “had suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered, but RATHER GREW WORSE” (5-26)!

The woman by reason of her disease was now ceremonially unclean, and it is not surprising that she did not desire to have any physical contact with Jesus. She hopes to merely touch His garment, in fact, only one of the four wool tassels which every Israelite was ordered to wear on the corners of his square, outer robe (cf. Num. 15:38; Deut. 22:12). The easiest way was to approach Him from behind and touch the tuft swinging freely from the robe. That is what she did.

The greatness of her faith consisted in the fact that she thought that only a touching of His garment would produce healing. Yet her faith is not by any means a perfect faith, for she thought a touching of His garment was necessary, and that He would not notice it.4

The healing of the woman (9:22). The Lord did notice her, and she was healed, and the accounts in Mark and Luke make it clear that the healing was immediate (cf. Mark 5:29; Luke 8:44). In one brief moment the hemorrhage stopped completely, —another healing that is so different from the so-called “healings” of modern “faith-healers.” Our Lord traces the healing to the instrumentality of faith, saying, “Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole.”

The delay of this incident may have pained Jairus no little, for it must have seemed to him that every moment of delay in the coming of Jesus to his house would make the restoration of his daughter more difficult. But His delays are not denials, although they may be used for our discipline. The facts are that the incident must have been used to the encouragement of Jairus’ faith. If He could heal the woman, surely He could also restore his child, thought Jairus.

The Restoration of the Daughter

Arriving at the house of the ruler, Jesus sees and hears the familiar apparatus of wailing that accompanied most oriental deaths. The flute-players and the other weepers were professionals, who were paid for their work. The music of the flute was especially associated with death, and it was calculated to touch the emotions of all present. Roman law limited the number of flute-players at any funeral to ten, because the wailing of them was so emotionally exciting. The scene presented to our Lord, then, contained these things, plus the rending of the garments and other aspects of the pandemonium of oriental grief. It is, then, very true to the common situation that our Lord rebuked them, and spoke the words of promise and hope in their presence.

The account of the restoration is highlighted by three words, or sentence, that our Lord spoke. They are most clearly in Luke, and I shall use them in describing what happened.

(1) The first is, “Fear not: believe only, and she shall be made whole” (cf. Luke 8:50). These are the words that were spoken to the ruler just before they reached his home, and just after the dreadful news of his daughter’s death had come. The Lord encourages Jairus before Jairus appeals to Him for help. Oh, the sensitiveness of Jesus! It is another beautiful picture of the MAN Christ Jesus, who volunteers the words of hope, “Let faith replace fear. Only believe.” What miracles are accomplished by faith, or trust. The tenses of the verbs permit us to render His words paraphrastically as, “Stop fearing, only perform an act of faith.”

Vance Havner has somewhere said that faith may be spelled F-A-I-T-H and made to mean any of the following things: (1) “For all, I take Him”; (2) “Forsaking all, I take Him”; (3) “For all, I trust Him”; (4) “For all, I thank Him.” The ideas are all good, providing that we also remember that this faith that our Lord refers to is a gift from God (cf. Phil. 1:29).

(2) The second of our Lord’s words is, “Weep not; she is not dead, but sleepeth” (Luke 8:52). This provoked the laughter of scorn from those present in the house, that is, the wailers and weepers. Surrounding this statement and the circumstances of it are several things that accent His true humanity.

In the first place, we should notice His indignation over the wailers and their scornful response to His words of hope. Mark tells us that, after they laughed Him to scorn, He “put them all forth” (5:40). The entire apparatus of the ghastly mummers He rebuked and ejected from the home. Then, taking only the father, the mother, Peter, James, and John, He went into the house where the body of the maiden was. Indignation at sin and unbelief is a human emotion, and Jesus possessed it.

In the second place, we must be careful to notice the quiet grace of the Lord in the restoration. Before the healing He does not call for a PR man to announce to the media, “Healing Happening Here Today.” No offerings were “lifted” (the British term) to further the “work.” In fact, only the concerned were allowed to see the miracle. Further, in the words, “He entered in and took her by the hand” (Matt 9:25), there is additional evidence of His sympathetic humanity. He wished to prevent any fear on the part of the little girl. And, then, when the healing was completed, “He commanded that something be given her to eat” (Luke 8:55). He lovingly provides nourishment. What a picture of the eternal Second Person of the Trinity, “God with a biscuit in His hand”! But, then, it is not really surprising, for on other occasions we see Him as God with a tear in His eye, or as God with the little children upon His lap. As the writer of the Hebrews puts it, “We have not a high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15).

(3) The third of the words is, “Maid, arise” (Luke 8:54). Mark has, “Talitha, cumi” (Mark 5:41), an Aramaic expression which means, damsel, arise, or perhaps, little lamb, arise. It was a very touching and intimate command, and He who is the Good Shepherd has a voice that penetrates the spirit world. And immediately the damsel rose up and began to walk.

It has sometimes been said, in the light of our Lord’s use of the term “sleepeth” (v. 24; cf. Mark 5:39; Luke 8:52), that the maiden was not dead, but in a coma. It is amazing how wise we are in the twentieth century. We can diagnose medical conditions from a written record with more accuracy than the ancients could sitting by the bedside of the patient! Dr. Luke, however, adds an important note. When Jesus said, “Weep not; for she is not dead, but sleepeth,” all the accounts say that the crowd of people “laughed Him to scorn,” but Luke adds the telling words, spoken of the crowd, “knowing that she was dead” (cf. Luke 8:52-53). As far as the doctor was concerned, the maiden was dead. The parents knew it, the apostles knew it, the crowd knew it, and apparently the only ones in the dark are the modern commentators! They have not so carefully studied the reports as they should have, and their diagnosis is faulty. There is one other note that seals the case. In verse fifty-five of the doctor’s report he writes, “AND HER SPIRIT RETURNED, and she rose up immediately.” Spirits do not leave during comas; they leave as death occurs.

Incidentally, if we should grant that the girl was not dead, but simply in a coma, what would that do for the miraculous nature of the cure? Absolutely nothing. Can human power abolish a coma with a word?

What, then, is the force of the word our Lord used, the word “sleepeth”? It is simply a word to describe a believer’s death and, while the precise word used is not that commonly used by Paul, it is still capable of having that meaning. It stresses that fact that a believer in the Lord Jesus who has died is resting, possesses life, and awaits the awakening of resurrection of the body.


We conclude by reiterating some of the important points established in this study.

(1) First, He is “truly God and truly man,” and as a man a genuine man of compassion, sensitivity, and delicacy. This is the Man, incidentally, who is to be seen in us (cf. 1 John 2:6), and this is produced, not by imitation, but by union.

(2) Second, He is the Master of death, and it is not surprising at all that “the fame hereof went abroad into all the land” (Matt. 9:26). This incident illustrates His powers. It illustrates the power of regeneration, for Jairus had had only a word concerning the Lord. He believed that word, an evidence of the work of effectual grace that had been done by the Spirit in his heart.

It illustrates the power of resurrection so clearly that there is no need of exposition of it.

And, finally, it illustrates His power of bringing reunion to those who have been related and loved in this life. In fact, it is a vivid picture of all that Paul writes about in 1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18 .

(3) Third, in our Lord’s word, “only believe,” we have vivid confirmation of the fact that the Biblical term for the reception of the gospel is simply believe. It is not surrender and make Him Lord of your life (He is that, of course). It is not believe and be baptized. It is “only believe,” and, if this is “easy believism,” our Lord is responsible for it. The faith He has in mind involves notitia (knowledge of the facts of the gospel), assensus (conviction that they are true), and fiducia (trust, or reliance, upon them for life).

There is a Scottish word that beautifully expresses it, the word lippen. It means to throw your whole weight upon, and it is the word used for believe in the broad Scottish translation of the New Testament. For example, John 3:16 reads something like this, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever lip-pens to Jesus should not perish, but have the life of the ages.” As the Scots would put it, “Can ye nae lip-pen to Jesus?”

1 Morgan, The Great Physician, p. 162.

2 Hendricksen, p. 430.

3 James Stalker, Imago Christi (London, 1901), pp. 303-4.

4 Hendricksen, p. 432.