Matthew 9:18-26

18 While he was saying these things to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” 19 And Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples. 20 And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, 21 for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” 22 Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. 23 And when Jesus came to the ruler’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, 24 he said, “Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. 25 But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose. 26 And the report of this went through all that district. [1]


In this section we come to the last set of miracles in Matthew 8 and 9. The first set of three is in Matthew 8:1–17: (1) the healing of a leper, (2) the healing of the sick servant of a Roman centurion, and (3) the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law. The second set includes: (4) the quieting of the wind and waves on Galilee, (5) the deliverance of two demon-possessed men from Gadara, and (6) the healing of a paralyzed man. This second set of miracles is in Matthew 8:18–9:8. In Matthew 9:18–34, the miracles include: (7) a double miracle involving the raising of a dead girl to life coupled with the healing of a woman who suffered from a flow of blood, (8) the healing of two blind men, and (9) the healing of a demon-possessed man who had been unable to speak.[2]

At the beginning, we looked at these accounts largely as stories showing Jesus’ authority over sickness, just as chapters 5–7 focused on his authority as a teacher. But as we have progressed through these accounts, we have begun to see that they concern much more than physical healing.

For one thing, the calming of the wind and waves on the Sea of Galilee showed Jesus’ astonishing authority over nature. The next story showed his authority over demons, which is much more a spiritual than a physical matter. Most suggestive of all was the link between the forgiveness of sins and the healing of the paralyzed man in chapter 9. Matthew selected these specific stories to show that Jesus came not so much to heal us of our physical diseases but to cure us of our sin, our far more serious chronic condition, and to set us on the path of useful service for him.

This insight gives us a clue for interpreting everything else in chapters 8–10. The first three healing stories were not given particularly weighty meanings. The emphasis seemed to be mostly on the trust given to those who were healed, particularly the faith of the centurion who believed that Jesus could heal his servant even from a distance. But now we can see that even these first narratives held additional meaning. Matthew revealed what he was actually writing about when he quoted Isaiah 53:4: “He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases.” When he quotes Isaiah, he is saying that what is really disclosed in these healing stories is Jesus’ ability to take away our sin and restore us to spiritual health.

Understanding this underlying meaning also explains the additional, non-miraculous material and why it was placed where it was. The first had to do with discipleship, with those who said they wanted to follow Jesus but who were concerned about other things and therefore did not follow. They did not follow Jesus for healing, so they remained in their sins.

The second passage concerned the calling of Matthew himself and Jesus’ statement that he had come not to call the righteous but sinners. Like the paralytic in the preceding story, Matthew was healed, but he was healed of sin. Moreover, when Matthew was healed, he showed it immediately by seeking to introduce his many friends to the Savior.

Chapters 8–10 end with Jesus commissioning the disciples to the task of world evangelism, which is a way of saying that this is the work to which true discipleship leads. If we have left everything to follow Jesus, as the disciples did, and if we have been truly received by Jesus and have been forgiven our sin, as Matthew was, then we will tell others about Jesus. We will not be content until the entire world has been told that Jesus is the King of Kings and the Savior.[3]


Matthew begins this next section with a father who has just lost his daughter, his little 12-year-old daughter (Mark 5: 23, 41, 42), his only daughter (Luke 8:42). Can you feel the emotional weight of verse 18? “18 While he was saying these things to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.

Mark and Luke tell us the man’s name was Jairus, one of the rulers of the synagogue in Capernaum. First, we should consider the level of his grief before we address the quantity and quality of his trust in Jesus. All of us at some point in our lives will be touched by death. You will experience the death of grandparents, and then parents, cousins, brothers and sisters, and dear friends. That person is gone, and you will never see them again in this earthly life you live.

Jairus had been forced into a club that absolutely no parent wants to join. Since I’m a member of that horrible club, I have some understanding of what this grieving father was going through. The real grief only comes after the shock and the numbness begin to wear away. Because your brain simply cannot handle such a massive load of grief at once, grief washes over you in waves like nausea. Of course, we can’t know this little girl’s situation. We don’t know if she was unexpectedly killed in an accident or if she grew ill and died slowly in front of her helpless family’s eyes. Matthew doesn’t include those details because the important reality here is death, however it found this poor little 12-year-old girl.

I am fairly convinced that Jairus was still reeling from the shock, still numb, but not so awash in grief yet that he could not string together a rational thought. This grieving father was a well-respected member of the community. As a religious leader, he no doubt witnessed Jesus at work and received constant reports of his activities.

So, he left his home and went searching for Jesus and found him sitting at a table feasting on a fast day with the lowest forms of life in Israel. And yet, he is so numb he doesn’t stop to consider his disapproval of this situation. His need is too desperate. Perhaps he is a scribe or a Pharisee who would ordinarily have been highly offended at this outrageous feast. But not today. Today he is numb and in desperate need.

There are Bible scholars and commentators, even well-respected ones, who look at Jairus and his plea and see only desperation without trust. They tear apart the quality of his trust and focus only on his need, as if he were acting only out of selfishness. Some compare him to the centurion and allege that the centurion’s faith was of a much greater and more admirable quality than that of this ruler.

I find that kind of pietistic self-and-others-examination to be ruthlessly inappropriate in a situation where a father has just lost his only daughter! The centurion had not lost his young slave to death, the boy was paralyzed but still alive. The centurion’s grief was not yet full. But Jairus comes fighting through the fog of overwhelming grief because he knows Jesus is his only hope. How could it possibly be that his faith is somehow not good enough when he lacks the mental and emotional capability to do more than barely express his need?

No member of the club to which Jairus and I belong would dare impugn this man’s desperate trust into Christ. Yes, Jesus did say of the centurion, “Truly, I tell you, with no in Israel have I found such faith.” But to say that the light of the synagogue ruler’s faith was less luminous because he asked Jesus to come lay his hands on his dead daughter instead of merely asking our Lord to speak the word is ridiculous.

Additionally, to claim that Jairus’ faith was completely erroneous, that it was only his utter desperation that brought him to Christ, is to miss the entire point of the story! What is wrong with saying that this man had a desperate faith or that the woman we will encounter in verses 20 through 22 had the same or that we, when we came to Christ came in some sense, or in every sense, in utter desperation and complete dependence? I became aware of my salvation in a Sunday school class at four or five years of age. But some come just like Jairus or the centurion. They come because they have lost everything, including their pride.

In Matthew 19, Jesus finds himself swamped by little children. His disciples don’t like this and try to put a stop to the spectacle. But Jesus sternly rebukes them, saying, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belong the Kingdom of Heaven” (19:4). When we get to that section, you will notice Jesus makes this comment right before another ruler, a rich young ruler, refuses to become childlike by giving up everything to trust into Christ. He refuses to come in desperation and complete dependence.

Here we have a beautiful picture of utterly dependent trust. Here a grief-stricken synagogue ruler becomes like a little child. Like the children, he is one of the last, the lost, the least, the little, and the dead. Here a hopeless man has no other place to find hope but in the person and work of Christ. And his hopeless, childlike trust is apparent in many ways.

First, his trust is apparent in that he came to Jesus, and as far as we know, to Jesus alone. He didn’t run to the doctors in town or to the religious leaders who were in Matthew’s house, though the scribes, the Pharisees, and the disciples of John the Baptist were all there. He came to Jesus. Second, his trust is demonstrated in his posture. He came to Jesus like the Maji and the leper. That is he “knelt” before Messiah (9:18). He “fell at his feet” (Mark 5:22).

Picture this scene. Imagine the reaction of the religious crowd who are gathered outside Matthew’s door, tossing in their questions at Jesus like grenades and murmuring their accusations against him. Then, Jairus pushes his way through the crowd huddled at the door. Everyone knows this man. He is one of the rulers of the local synagogue. No doubt the crowd at the door thinks this leader must have an important question for Jesus also. But no, there is no question, only a bended knee and a confession, a statement of full trust into Christ. The idea of his desperate plea, made on bended knees, is this:

My daughter, my only daughter, my sweet little girl has just died. But I trust in you. I may not know whether you are a prophet, the Messiah, or God in the flesh. But I know God is with you in a unique and extraordinary way, that he is with you as he was with Elijah “(1 Kings 17:17-24) and Elishah (2 Kings 4:32-37). Just as they raised the dead, I know that if you would just come to my house and simply place your hand upon her, she will rise again.

Can you imagine the shock of the crowd at the door? What did the scribes and Pharisees think of this posture, this request? “What is our Jairus doing? How is it that our colleague, one of the pillars of Capernaum, is groveling at the feet of this unordained popular preacher of questionable parentage, some demon-empowered miracle worker from the nowhere town of Nazareth?” Jairus has publicly acknowledged that he believes Jesus has authority over death! Old wineskins are exploding all around him.

Jairus’ faith was not perfect. Who among us can say they have perfect faith? He was not ready to take a theological exam in Christology. Not even Christ’s most devoted disciples could have passed such an exam at that point in Jesus’ earthly ministry. But his faith was pleasing to God. How can we know that? Because Jesus accepted his desperate plea. When we read verse 19, “and Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples,” we see that Jesus has responded positively to this desperate plea to exercise his authority over death.

Jesus gets up from his dinner with sinners to show that just as he has the authority to forgive sins, so he has the authority to conquer the curse of sin. He has the power to raise the dead, to breathe life into dead bones and bodies.


So Jesus sets out with Jairus to Jairus’ house. But on the way he is interrupted by the silent plea of another desperate soul, a woman whose prospects in life were only a little better than that dead 12-year-old girl our Lord was going to save. Verses 20-22 describe this woman, her reason for coming to Jesus, and her faith in him.

20 And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, 21 for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” 22 Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well.

From a practical standpoint, this woman’s situation was more desperate than that of the synagogue ruler. If Jairus’ daughter remains dead, it would be a great personal tragedy. But he still has a job, a home, money, servants, and a wife. But this desperate woman has nothing.

Due to her persistent hemorrhaging she has lost her health and her wealth, and perhaps any family she had known. She was cut off from her culture, especially from the Jewish religion. Leviticus 15:19-33 states a woman is considered ceremonially unclean for seven days during her monthly cycle. That means this woman was perpetually cut off from entering the temple and from participating in the most fundamental acts of Jewish religious life for over a decade.

If you have missed this point before, let me make it again. Jesus is healing those who are considered unfit to approach God in his temple. He has come to claim the last, the lost, the least, the little, and the dead. This woman had not willingly chosen to become homeless. She was not an addict. She was not a runaway. And she had yet to give up on her life. She was intent in her pursuit of health. According to Mark, she had spent everything she had on physicians, and yet had not been healed (Mark 5:26). Despite seeking out treatments, she grew worse.

But one day she sees the Great Physician. Mark notes that she had heard reports about Jesus (Mark 5:27). At this point in time, it’s safe to say the whole village of Capernaum had heard of Jesus. She came up with a plan. She would sneak her way through the crowd and touch the tassel of his garment. Every Jewish man in Jesus’ day had four tassels sewn upon the four corners of this cloak, the fringe of the garment. These tassels were to be visible reminders to obey God’s covenant commands (Numbers 15:37-41; Deuteronomy 22:12). Her plan was to touch just one tassel.

Some would argue this woman’s faith was merely, or mostly, superstitious. Just touch the tassel. Some writers don’t give her the benefit of the doubt. Some suggest her faith was like that of the person who touches a television screen when a televangelist promises a healing by doing so. Her story is included in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. They tell us she hears about Jesus and responds to him. This is one of the genuine and basic characteristics of discipleship. Like the synagogue ruler’s faith, her faith in Christ comes prior to her healing. The timing is important.

Many of us have heard stories from people in very chronic, hopeless health crises. They are miraculously healed by the prayers of the saints and come to place their trust into Christ on account of their healing. You are dying. God heals you. You respond to him in faith and serve him for the rest of your life. Those stories are wonderful and encouraging! But that is not the kind of faith we see here.

This woman’s faith is not in response to a miracle but a trusting expectation of one. Her faith may be imperfect, mixed with sin and error as is our own, but it is bold and brave and strong enough to pick up a mountain and toss it into the sea. Naturally, such faith is pleasing to God because it is God alone who can raise a dead heart to life. God alone gives faith, so why would he not be pleased to see it in this desperate woman who he exercised his free will to save?

As we see in verse 22, this unnamed woman touched the tassel and her hemorrhaging stopped immediately. Jesus attributes this miracle to her faith. “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” This daughter of Abraham had become God’s own child. Now, she had no need of the temple and its sacrificial systems because she had come to trust into the New and True Temple, Immanuel. Again, the greatest miracle is not the healing of her hemorrhage but that of a heart of stone turned into a heart of flesh through the re-creative work of the Holy Spirit.

None of the people we have seen come to Christ in this Gospel have all of their theological ducks in a row. Not one of them could pass a theological exam on the person, the work, or the nature of Christ. You do not have to have your theological ducks perfectly lined up. You do not have to have all your commandment-keeping ducks in a row to come to Jesus. You just need to come to him. You need to push through the crowd and come to him, the more empty handed the better.


We can imagine that this interrupting miracle, as well as keeping the first-time reader in suspense concerning the dead girl, would only strengthen Jairus’ confidence in Christ. As he is walking home stride by stride with God come in human flesh, his hope and trust builds with each step. However, when he finally arrives home, we have another interruption in the drama, an expected but disheartening one. It is a stark reminder to him of reality. His daughter is still dead.

That hemorrhaging woman on the streets may have her life back again, but his daughter’s flow of blood has long since stopped. It stopped because her heart stopped. So when Jairus arrives home the only sign of life there is the noise of sad-sounding flutes and the wailing of the crowd (9:23). It may be that Jairus returned to the sound of a mother, family members, and neighbors sincerely weeping and wailing. But it is more likely that the ones causing such a ruckus were professional mourners, as strange as that may sound to us.

In ancient Israel, as it is even today in some cultures, professional mourners were hired at the time of death. Rabbinical literature suggested that even the poorest person in Israel should hire not less than two flutes and one wailing woman.[4] Since this man was a ruler in the synagogue, it is likely that he was well off enough to afford a number of professional mourners, filling the home with mournful music, wailing, hand clapping, beating of the breast, tearing of hair, and rending of garments.

In a small village before the days of sealed windows and air conditioning, everyone in town must have heard the commotion. It would have awakened everyone but the one person that mattered the most. It makes better sense to see this crowd as professional grievers in light of Jesus statement and their response to his directness:

23 And when Jesus came to the ruler’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, 24 he said, “Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him.

Jesus is not denying the girl is dead. He is not a brilliant medical specialist who has come to the house to render a second opinion. Everyone in the house recognizes that all signs of life have ceased for this poor little girl. Jesus isn’t denying death, he is redefining it. Her death is not the end. It is not the grim reality it seems. It is nothing worse than deep sleep. In due course she will be getting up again.

But the professional mourners knew what death was. They knew that people who become dead tend to stay dead. So, “they laughed at him” (9:24). They scored this strange rabbi. How quickly their purchased tears dried up and changed to laughter, a clear indication of the superficiality of their false grief.

From the standpoint of human reason, their laughter makes sense, of course, because this poor girl is really dead. But they don’t know with whom they are dealing. They don’t know this strange rabbi is the Son of the living God who can calm a deadly storm with one word of rebuke, tame 1000 untamable demons with a one-word command, and even has authority over life and death. He can tell a lifeless body to wake up!

In due course this little girl will be getting up again. In due course Jesus will be dying and getting up again, and because of this you and I will likewise be dying and getting up again. That’s why this little girl was only “sleeping.” But the professional actors, hard bitten cynics of death that they were, scornfully laughed. Their tears quickly turned to laughter, a clear indication of the superficiality of their pretended grief. We can understand that from a human perspective. Their laughter makes sense because this poor girl is really dead. And people that die tend to stay dead. You don’t have to have an M.D. or a Ph.D. to know that.

Verse 25 records the miracle. With complete authority over the situation, after “the crowd had been put outside,” Jesus “went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose.” The weeping, wailing, and great commotion could not renew the pulse of this poor deceased child. But the powerful touch of Christ literally woke the dead. That touch spread to others as the report of this miracle went through all of that district (9:26). It spread from Capernaum to Jerusalem to Damascus to Rome to London to New York to Chicago and even to San Antonio. And it is still traveling, giving hope to all who trust into Christ and his resurrection power.

Like Jairus and me, Martin Luther lost a child. As carpenters were nailing down the lid of her coffin, Luther screamed out, “Hammer away! Hammer away… for on the last day she shall rise again.” [5]

Our ultimate hope is not to escape death. Who escapes death? This 12-year-old girl would one day die again, just as Lazarus, who was also raised from the dead, who eventually died again. Because of our resurrected savior, this story before us is really just a miniature version of the great story of our salvation: in the death of Christ is the death of death! He took on the curse of death that Adam brought into the world. In the death of Christ is the death of our spiritual death because in his suffering is our forgiveness. And in the resurrection of Christ is the death of our physical death because we will rise again bodily.

We who are united to him in trust, though we may die, will also rise again to a better life where the presence and power of sin reigns no more. We will rise to a world where Satan does not buffet, where trials do not come, where sorrows and[6] sea billows shall not roll, and where all is finally well with our souls.

Hammer away! Hammer away! For on the last day we shall rise again!


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 9:18–26.

[2] James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2001), 153–154.

[3] Id., 154–155.

[4] O’Donnell, Douglas Sean. Matthew: All Authority in Heaven and on Earth (Preaching the Word) (p. 260). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

[5] Id., 261.