“Get Up, Little Girl”
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“Get Up, Little Girl”

Mark 5:40–43  (ID: 2703)

The Gospels tell of ordinary circumstances in which Jesus used extraordinary power. When Jesus raised Jairus’s daughter from the dead, the miracle was only witnessed by those who believed Jesus’ words without the proof of His resurrecting power. Alistair Begg explains that the young girl’s resurrection points to the day when all believers will be awakened from the grip of death and feast with Christ in heaven.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in Mark, Volume 2

Parables and Miracles Mark 3:7–6:6 Series ID: 14102

Sermon Transcript: Print

Well, we’re back in Luke chapter 5. I decided to stay there for this evening, and so, if you’d like to turn to the concluding section of chapter 5, it’s page 711 in our church Bibles. Yeah, Mark. That’s it, Mark. Good. You give us a little test there for you, yes? Yep. A little test for me, actually. I had it open at Luke, ’cause I was looking for something else that I couldn’t find. So I won’t worry about it now.

Mark chapter 5. We’re just going to read from 40 to the end. Jesus has arrived. There’s a great commotion. The professional mourners are there, and he wants to know why they’re all wailing and going on. He tells them the child isn’t dead but asleep. And then verse 40:

“But they laughed at him.

“After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha koum! (which means, ‘Little girl, I say to you, get up!’). Immediately the girl stood up and walked around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished.He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.”

Father, we ask for your help as we turn again to this passage of Scripture, that we might understand and that we might believe and that we might be transformed by the work of God’s Spirit through the truth of God’s Word. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Well, I’ve given a title to this evening, separate from this morning. I have decided that the title for our study this evening should be “Wakey, Wakey.” All right? I don’t want any of you to take that personally immediately. It may become more important the further we get into the study. Time alone will tell. But I have done so very purposefully. I don’t know whether Truth For Life will accept it. They always have a battle with me about the titles on a Monday. And whether it makes it into our catalog or not I don’t know. I’m going to leave you to judge whether this is an apt title for this closing section of Mark chapter 5.

Two Questions

But before we consider that—the heart of the little scene that’s provided for us—let’s deal with the elephant in the room, so to speak. Let’s deal with the two questions which are immediately in the minds of the thoughtful. Just a little pause to see if you have two questions in your mind so you can identify yourself as being in that category or not. I think, in fact, this morning, a number of people came to me already with the question—question number two, that I’m going to consider now—and others were thinking of the first one as well.

Here are the two questions, and I think it’s important, if we’re going to recognize what Mark is doing here, we at least say something concerning this. First question is this: Why does Jesus limit the number of witnesses to this dramatic event? Why does Jesus limit the number of witnesses to what is a dramatic event? You will notice that Jesus, we’re told, “put them all out.” You’ll see there in verse 40, “But they laughed at him,” and “he put them all out.” He didn’t cajole them. He didn’t say, “Oh no, please, I don’t like it when anyone laughs at me. Please stay. I do want you to come. I think it’d be a tremendous opportunity for you if you could see this event.” No, he doesn’t do that at all—which, of course, raises the question: Wasn’t this impending miracle, then, full of terrific opportunity for evangelism? Isn’t Jesus seeking to get his message out as widely as he possibly can? In which case, why, then, would he close the door on the large crowd of people that had convened on account of the death of the daughter of Jairus? If he had allowed this laughing multitude to see this demonstration of his power, wouldn’t they then in turn have trusted the Lord and have flocked to his side?

Well, the answer to that question I think many of us will already have. We get an inkling of the answer when we reflect on what Jesus said about his use of parables. You needn’t turn back to it, but in chapter 4, remember, he says to his disciples, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you.” In other words, they’ve come to an understanding of the fact that God’s kingdom is present in God’s Son, Jesus. “But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, ‘they may ever be seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’”[1] And you remember, we dealt with that dramatic statement that Jesus was using the parables as a kind of filtration system that was weeding out those who were simply intrigued but had no interest at all in trusting and believing.

If men and women will not trust the words of Jesus, they will not believe the works of Jesus.

We also get something of an inkling of an answer when we look at 5:17, when, you remember, after he has cast out the demons, and the man who had been raging in the tombs is now dressed, clothed, and in his right mind. And then, in verse 17, “then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.” And once again, Jesus doesn’t say, “Oh no, please, I don’t want to leave your region. I came here very especially, and I’ve done this dramatic thing, and I’m desperately keen that many of you will become my followers. Please don’t ask me to leave. I was planning on staying here for a few weeks and preaching for a while.” He doesn’t do that at all. There’s no indication whatsoever. They pled with him to leave the region; he left the region.

Now, we need to keep in mind what we’ve been saying as we’ve gone through these studies. And this is what we’ve been saying: we do not, men and women do not, come to know Jesus from the vantage point of detached curiosity, nor do they come to know Jesus from the distance of unbelieving laughter. Intimate knowledge of Jesus is not given to those who despise him. All right? An intimate knowledge of Jesus is not given to those who despise him. His entreaties are clear. His invitations are wide. They are sustained. They are profound. “Come to me, all you who weary and are heavy laden.[2] But for those of you who are just laughing at my words, you can just stay outside.” We do not come to an intimate knowledge of Jesus when we operate on the basis of despising him or of laughing at him.

The fact is that Jesus has said to them, “The child is not dead but asleep,” and they laughed at him. Now, here’s the point: if men and women will not trust the words of Jesus, they will not believe the works of Jesus. If they do not trust the words of Jesus, they will not believe the works or the miracles of Jesus. It is completely upside down for us to think that if we could only do all of these dramatic things, if Jesus would only do all of these amazing signs, then people would immediately flock to him. He has already cured countless illnesses. He has already triumphed over the demons. He has calmed the winds and the waves. He has now, on the strength of that, come into this circumstance where a woman who has been hemorrhaging for twelve years has been dramatically healed. And as he comes into this situation, he says to them, “The fact of the matter is that this girl is not dead; she’s asleep.” Clearly, what he meant by that was a metaphor, but they simply laughed at him.

Now, let me give you one cross-reference in Luke chapter 16. I’ll turn to it and read just a part of it, and you can read the rest of it at home.

In Luke chapter 16, we have the record of the rich man and Lazarus. If you don’t know this story, you’ll need to read it. I don’t have time to go all the way through it. But it is a picture of the great division that is represented between heaven and hell. A great chasm has been fixed, and the rich man is in deep trouble, because he finds himself in hell. And so he says, “I would like if I could go across and make sure that I can square things up here.” And the answer comes back, “No, I’m sorry, you can’t do that.”[3] Then he says, “‘[Well], I beg you, father’”—that’s father Abraham—“‘[could you] send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham replied”—now notice this—“‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’” In other words, “They have their Bibles. Let them read their Bibles.” “‘No, father Abraham,’” says the rich man. “‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”[4]

Now go back over here. Here is somebody about to rise from the dead. But Jesus knows that if they will not listen to his word, they will not be won over by his works. And that’s why he limits the numbers. He takes with him this group, these fellows that are going to be part of the transfiguration. They are going to be there in the final time with Andrew and so on. And he does what he does. That’s the first question.

The second question is: How are we to understand Jesus’ strict orders to tell no one? Verse 43: “He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this,” and then he “told them to give her something to eat.” Incidentally, telling her to have something to eat is an indication of his practicality. It’s also an indication, I think, in part, of letting everybody know this is not some kind of ghostly apparition that you have here. She can have a bowl of soup, or she can have a sandwich, because she is perfectly alive and well. And indeed, the fact that she’s mentioned as being twelve years old is probably something that just stuck in the recollection of Peter when, just in the way that things get passed down, someone says, “You know that girl that Jesus raised from the dead? She was only twelve, you know.” And people would pass that on, and they’d say, “You know that girl? Yeah, apparently she was only twelve years old.” And so here we have it: “She was twelve years old.”

That’s not the point right now. Jesus has given “strict orders not to let anyone know about this.” And I hadn’t finished about a nanosecond before somebody came up and said, “What in the world is that about? Why is he giving strict orders, and how could that possibly work? If she was dead, and then she was alive, what’s the point of the strict orders? ’Cause as soon as she goes out to play with her friends, soon as she rides her bicycle down the street, everybody’s going to know that she’s alive.” So what is Jesus doing?

Well, first of all, we should notice that Jesus does this routinely. Again and again he gives these kind of orders. That’s what makes 5:19, earlier on here, so interesting. Because remember, in the man who had been so messed up in the tombs, when he asked to go with Jesus, Jesus didn’t let him go, but he said, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you”—which was a complete aberration, because the par for Jesus was to keep telling people, “Now, you can go to the priest, perhaps, or you can go to the temple and do what you need to do, but please don’t go out of here and just start running around telling everybody what’s going on.” Well, what are we to do with this?

Well, first of all, we need to acknowledge that what Jesus was saying and doing was revolutionary. It was revolutionary. There was a sense in which what Jesus was saying and doing was subversive. He was a King, and he’d come to announce the arrival of the kingdom. And the kingdom was starting to turn things upside down. People were getting healed. Demons were getting set free. All kinds of things were happening. And the word, if it got back to Herod, in terms of the authorities, then he wouldn’t be too pleased to know that there is some guy roaming around as a king who’s turning his kingdom upside down, nor would the Jewish authorities be particularly interested in this either. That’s something. I don’t think that gets it.

What Jesus is saying is apparently that he doesn’t want this event, as others, to become the occasion of immediate and unnecessary publicity. In other words, he wants it kept as private as possible: “He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this.”

Now, let’s put it in concrete terms. Jesus says to the people, he says, “Now look, I don’t want you to go out of here and just make a great hullabaloo out of this. Do you understand me? There will be no advantage gained by you going out and going immediately to the Plain Dealer or to Newsweek magazine and telling everybody the intricate details of what’s been going on in here.” That’s what he determined.

And the best I can do with it is this: I have to assume that there is a distinction, in the mind of Jesus at least, between the cure and the means to the cure. In other words, he has limited the number of people who can come in and see this event unfold. They are to become—the five of them—the recipients of a special revelation. Everybody pretty quickly is going to know that something dramatic took place in that bedroom. These five individuals would know what took place in the bedroom. And Jesus clearly recognizes that it is not possible for this girl to go out into the streets and people not know that she was once dead and is now alive. So presumably, what he’s saying to them is this: “The private revelation that you have seen of my glory in this moment, in this place, is not for public consumption. Do not go out and disclose all of these details to the people.”

In fact, our good friend Sinclair Ferguson suggests that what we have here is a fulfillment of the statement of Jesus in 4:25, where, you’ll remember, he says, “Whoever has will be given more,” and “whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.” And then Ferguson puts it as follows: “Those who do not have”—namely, “faith”—“will find that even what they have”—namely, “the opportunity to have faith, and to see Jesus [graciously work] in … time[s] of need”—that “will be taken from them.”[5] Even those who do not have—namely, faith—will discover that this opportunity for faith will actually be taken from them as well.”

And with that said, we move away from these two interesting but not really earth-shattering questions.

An Extraordinarily Ordinary Scene

We spend the balance of the time looking just as helpfully as possible at the event as it unfolds.

First of all, you should notice that this is a scene which is extraordinarily ordinary. It is extraordinarily ordinary. This is the significance of the phrase here in Aramaic. Aramaic was the vernacular of the day. Aramaic is distinct from the Hebrew, in which the Old Testament was written, distinct from the Greek, in which the New Testament was written. It was the common parlance of Jesus’ time. They spoke to one another in Aramaic. And if you read through Mark’s Gospel, you will discover that Mark is unique amongst the Gospel writers in that on a number of occasions, he actually includes in his Greek text the Aramaic phraseology which Jesus employed. And I won’t go through all the details. If you’re taking notes, you’ll find it in 3:17, 7:11, 7:34, 10:46, and 14:36 of Mark—3:17, 7:11, 7:34, 10:46, and 14:36. And presumably, on each occasion, the phraseology stuck in the mind of Peter, who in turn conveyed this to Mark, who in turn wrote it down in his Gospel, just in the same way that certain phraseology may stick in our mind and be part and parcel of something that is a tradition that is passed on down through families and amongst friends.

And there is something quite wonderful about it. Because if you think about the fact that when people go, for example, to Israel, and some of us have been there, and we’ve enjoyed in some measure, at least, being taken to the various places, each of us have had the sneaking suspicion that this might not be the place—that we’re not actually at the Jesus Library, you know, like the Ronald Reagan Library, or whatever it might be. And even when they take you there, they always take you to a café which you have the sneaking suspicion that the guide’s cousin owns, which is why you’re at that particular bit of grass, because it’s near to Levi’s Café, and the guy’s getting a kickback. But that’s just my cynicism at work, and we should ignore that entirely. But the fact is, we can’t go to Jesus’ family house. We can’t go to Jesus’ cross. We can’t go to Jesus’ tomb. There is nothing that we can go to that is tangible in relationship to Jesus.

And so, when you think about the fact that here we have an actual phrase from the lips of Jesus—we know that Jesus actually said this, he actually used this phrase—there is an immediacy and an intimacy about it. It’s kind of exciting: I know something that Jesus said! Jesus said, “Talitha koum!” What does that mean? It means, “Little girl, arise!” And Mark gives to us this ordinary phrase. It is ordinary. This is not some kind of magical incantation, some unpronounceable magic phraseology. This phrase is the routine phrase used by a mom in waking up her daughter for school in the morning. This is not a special phrase. This is an ordinary phrase made special. And that is some significance.

So, it is extraordinarily ordinary.

A Scene of Tenderness and Compassion

Secondly, it is a scene of tenderness and compassion. Jesus enters this house—enters this sad scene—quietly, gently, unostentatiously. If you look carefully, if you see this come to light in your own imagination, you see Christ. He’s not described for us. We don’t know how tall he was, how short he was, what his weight was, what the color of his hair was, but we do know that he said this. He used this phrase. Look at him as he takes this little girl by the hand—a pale, pulseless hand. Consider him as he gazes on her young face, as he looks from her face into the face of her mom, into the face of her dad, who has come seeking him out earlier in the day and asking for his help because his daughter is dying, and now his daughter is dead. And here is Christ in the midst of all of this.

Did he have the words of the prophet in his mind as he sat in that room? “The Spirit of the Lord is [up]on me, because he has [sent] me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners … recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”[6] He who sits where this girl lies is the one of whom the prophet writes, “He gently leads those [who] have young,” and he “carries [the lambs] close to his heart.”[7] And now, in a very ordinary way, he speaks to the girl softly and tenderly: “My little lamb, awake.” Or, if you like, “Wakey, wakey, little girl.” “Wakey, wakey, little girl.” See, only the Lord of life could employ such an ordinary phrase to see such an extraordinary result.

Magicians and incantational specialists are always full of sound and fury and bluster and might and horns and pipes, creating the impression that all of this cacophony of sound is meant somehow or another to disguise the very inadequacy of what they’re endeavoring to do. But there is none of that for Christ. He slips in quietly, tenderly, gently, ordinarily.

A Scene of Immediate Triumph

Thirdly, the scene is a scene of immediate triumph. A scene of immediate triumph. “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” and then here we have one of Mark’s favorite words—verse 42, the first word: “Immediately the girl stood up and walked around (she was twelve years old).” Not quite a woman but no longer a child; just in that little fulcrum.

Well, the hymn writer gets this, doesn’t he, when he writes, “He speaks, and, listening to His voice, new life the dead receive”?[8] The readers of Mark’s Gospel have already recognized that the power and majesty of Jesus has been triumphing over sin, over disease, over the demons, over creation. And therefore, there’s a sense in which we’re prepared for the fact that the triumph of Jesus will be over death as well. Because in this action the kingdom of God is beginning to be realized; a kingdom in which there will be no more death—no more death—no more tears, no more cancer, no more disablement, because he is making all things new.[9]

The mystery would be if this Lord of creation, if this King of the ages, could come down and inhabit planet earth and there be no evidence of this. That would be mysterious! It makes perfect sense, doesn’t it, that he who created the very atomic structure of the world, when he steps down into his world, he should take that which is at its most ordinary and do that which is most extraordinary?

And finally, it is a scene which points forward to the day when, in Christ, we, too, will be gathered to him. This scene here ought to make some of us think of the other scene concerning the widow of Nain, which is a kind of parallel encounter. In this, it’s a father with his daughter. In that one, it’s a mother with her son. In that one, things are more advanced, because the funeral procession is now making its way towards the grave. And Jesus has come right into the middle of it, and he has stopped the funeral procession on the way to the grave, and he has reached out, and he has touched this man, just as he reaches out and offers his hand to this girl, just as he reaches out and touches the lady who is hemorrhaging—and in so doing makes himself ceremonial unclean.[10] He touches death, so that by that means those who are held in its grip may be freed from it.

And I think that Mark is saying to himself as he writes this, “Now, some of the good students will get this. Some of the good students will see that in this little incident there is that which says to them, ‘And this is exactly what Christ has done for you. He has come to you and taken you by the hand. He has spoken into your life, and he has set you free from all the things that hold you in its grasp. And one day he will take you by the hand again, and he will raise you up. It won’t happen in the silence of a bedroom. It will happen where all can see. And on that day, he will say to you, believer, as he said to this little girl, “Why don’t you get something to eat.” In fact, he may actually offer it to you himself. “Here,” he says, “try this. And while you’re at it, would you pass me the wine? Here, have some of this. Would you pass that to me, please?”’”

For the promise for the believer is that one day Jesus will drink the fruit of the vine anew, when he drinks it with those he brings to himself in the kingdom of God.[11] And he will sit down with us at what is described in apocalyptic language as “the marriage supper of the Lamb.”[12] And in order that we might have some notion of what that might mean, he has left for us this simple little symbolic feast, whereby we may draw near to him; whereby we may actually hear him say, “Here, let me take you by the hand”; whereby we might encounter him in a way that he has promised to meet us.

I think when I stepped back from this scene, in conclusion, I found myself saying, “Doesn’t Jesus do things so wonderfully? He just does things well.” He does! Does everything well. Doesn’t go blustering in the house and make a big fuss and bother. Doesn’t want somebody walking in front of him, blowing a trumpet: “Here comes the miracle worker, Jesus of Nazareth.” No, the people looked at him and said, “Who’s he?” They laughed at him: “He thinks she’s asleep. Ha!”

And then I found myself saying,

All the way my Savior leads me;
What have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercy,
Who through life has been my Guide?
[When] heavenly peace [and] divinest comfort,
Here by faith in him to dwell!
[Since] I know, whatever befall[s] me,
Jesus doeth all things well.[13]

Well, each of us this evening, as we gather around this Table, has occasion to thank God for the wonder of his grace and that it is softly and tenderly that Jesus calls us. “Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, calling for you and for me.”[14] He just does everything so well. And what we’re assured of is that the same Christ who raised this little girl will at the last raise all who have fallen asleep in Jesus.

[1] Mark 4:11–12 (NIV 1984).

[2] Matthew 11:28 (paraphrased).

[3] Luke 16:24–26 (paraphrased).

[4] Luke 16:27–31 (NIV 1984).

[5] Sinclair B. Ferguson, Let’s Study Mark (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1999), 78.

[6] Luke 4:18–19 (NIV 1984). See also Isaiah 61:1–2.

[7] Isaiah 40:11 (NIV 1984).

[8] Charles Wesley, “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing” (1739).

[9] See Revelation 21:5.

[10] See Luke 7:11–17.

[11] See Matthew 26:29; Mark 14:25; Luke 22:18.

[12] Revelation 19:9 (KJV).

[13] Fanny Crosby, “All the Way My Savior Leads Me” (1875).

[14] Will L. Thompson, “Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling” (1880).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.