Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 9:24b “. . .for the maid is not dead, but sleepeth.”
Jesus here spoke with reference to what He intended to do. He knew the girl had not died to stay dead. She was physically dead, but was also only asleep in the sense she would soon wake up. In a way, this is how it is with every believer’s death. To us, physical death seems death indeed, but to Jesus, it is but sleep.
Speaking of death as sleep is not unique to Christianity. A common euphemism for death, “sleep” is a beautiful, tender term, gentler even than the words “departed” and “deceased.” Christians and prechristians often use all types of delicate terminology in bereavement situations to soften the dreaded word, death.
For Christians, the word “sleep” is more than a euphemism. It has taken on a much deeper meaning for us than it has for others. Unbelievers speak of death by other names because they fear it terribly, but for Christians, “sleep” is a code word signifying certain resurrection. It holds the promise of waking up for sure.
For Jesus’ followers, the difference between sleep and death is merely the amount of time each lasts. Sleep is in essence a short death; death a long sleep. We call death sleep not to deny spirit separates from flesh, but to deny this separation is hopeless and endless. The separation of spirit and body is only temporary.
Speaking of death as sleep does require a word of caution. Many slip into the error of believing in soul-sleep, the false notion we remain asleep, in some form of suspended animation, until the resurrection of our bodies. This is not the case. The Apostle Paul makes this clear. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8). The body sleeps–for Christians, every grave is but a bed. The spirit never sleeps. It remains conscious of unbroken existence.
In sleep, our minds are alive, but unaware of what’s happening in this world or the next. In death, our minds are alive and similarly experiencing cessation of connection with this world of sense, but dissimilarly awake to new life in Heaven.
John MacArthur conveys Arthur Brisbane’s portrayal of a Christian funeral as a crowd of grieving caterpillars. As they mourn over their dead friend’s empty cocoon, above them flits a beautiful butterfly, looking down on them in disbelief.
Matt. 9:24c “And they laughed him to scorn.”
These were hired professional mourners who worked around death all the time, and recognized it. They knew Jairus’ daughter was really dead, no doubt about it. Misunderstanding Jesus’ intent, they laughed. Though a behavior totally out of place, they could not contain themselves. They instantly went from laments to laughs, from sobs to scorns. Their shrill shrieks dissolved into cynical smirks.
Scornful laughter is ever the cackling of unbelief. Cynics laugh when they can’t reply, and belittle opinions they cannot refute or deny with logic. Ridicule ever characterizes the close-minded, the mean in spirit, the destitute of argument.
Learn a lesson from the hollow laughter of these professional mourners. Unbelief has no consolation in times of death. It deems death as extinction, and has no faith in the overseeing Providence of God. All is hopeless, a result of iron-hearted fate. There is no sense of “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away.”
Believers do not claim to understand the mysteries of life. We too are perplexed at how death strikes in unexpected and seemingly senseless ways. We do not know the why of these tragedies, but do have confidence in God’s ways. We are convinced we can trust a God who sent His only begotten Son to die for us.
Believers are not stoics. We grieve when our loved ones die. We cry tears, but do not sorrow as if we have no hope. We are consoled by a blessed assurance spoken by Jesus to Martha after her brother Lazarus died, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies” (John 11:25).
Matt. 9:25 “But when the people were put forth, he went in, and took her by
the hand, and the maid arose.”
No hype, no grandstanding, no showboating. Jesus simply took her by the hand, as if to say she would be getting up and needing help to steady herself. She who was lying down sat up. She who had been so dead that it was deemed insanity to doubt it lived, having been touched by “the hand in which life throbbed with fulness. . . .Blessed are they who, like this little maiden, are awakened, not only by His voice, but by His touch, and to find, as she did, their hand in His!” (Maclaren).
In that “great getting up morning” Jesus will call His followers from death. It will be like the scene in our text, except for the longer time lapse between death and resurrection. But what is time to Christ? He raised Jairus’ daughter after a few minutes, the widow’s son at Nain after a few hours, Lazarus after four days. Minutes, hours, days, centuries–all are of no consequence to His power. Our physical bodies will rise, and till then we will enjoy Jesus in our glorified bodies.
Matt. 9:26 “And the fame hereof went abroad into all that land.”
The raising of Jairus’ daughter soon seemed to be the only topic people were talking about. A whole troop of professional mourners had to eat a lot of crow. Their cynicism had the reverb affect of shutting their own mouths. Jesus overruled their scorn and turned it to His advantage. He made their contempt minister to His mission. Their laughter, without meaning to, confirmed the fact of the girl’s death beyond doubt, and provided the very platform on which stands to this day the best evidence substantiating this miracle. The fame of Jesus, the One who raised people from death, continues to mushroom. He is still the most discussed Figure in human history. No one is a close second. Jesus’ legacy has reached us through long expanses of time and across vast distances of geography. His fame is still spreading (see CL 1:6), with Christianity growing at an unprecedented rate.
This extensive, ever burgeoning, fame of Jesus should not surprise us, with stories like the raising of Jairus’ daughter. Mark (5:42) tells us the eyewitnesses in Jairus’ house “were astonished with a great astonishment.” All skepticism against Jesus is doomed to the fate of being overwhelmed with amazement. Every knee will someday bow to Jesus, but for most it will be everlastingly too late to help.
Dear prechristian friends, don’t wait until you are forced to kneel. Your presence here indicates you are true seekers with legitimate questions. Many sincere people have trouble believing. I commend to you the example of R. A. Torrey, who in his spiritual journey from being an atheist to being a preacher began to pray, “God, if you exist, give me light, and I will follow it, wherever it leads.”
With this advice, I also warn. Don’t delay this decision. Research and seek now. Decide quickly. I call attention to a pivotal moment in the raising of Jairus’ daughter. When the scorners laughed, and Jesus told them to leave, Jairus had to choose. He had to side with the scorners or with Jesus, he had to go one way or the other. You face the same dilemma. May you, like Jairus, choose wisely.