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Hopeless Cases of Desperation

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Matthew 9:18–26; Mark 5:21–43; Luke 8:40–56

Although people and the difficult situations they face may differ greatly, the hope they desperately want is always found in the same place—in Jesus Christ. Two desperate people from very different backgrounds illustrate this truth.


I have heard it said that the average person can live for forty days without food, eight days without water, four minutes without air, but only seconds without hope.[1]

We are about to enter two situations in life that could be described as hopeless. And it has now reached the point of desperation.

We will follow Luke’s Gospel account as Jesus and His disciples have just sailed back across the sea of Galilee to Capernaum. A massive crowd is waiting for them.

We begin at Luke chapter 8:

And there came a man named Jairus, who was a ruler of the synagogue. And falling at Jesus’ feet, he implored him to come to his house, for he had an only daughter, about twelve years of age, and she was dying. As Jesus went, the people pressed around him. (verses 41-42)

Luke gives us this man’s resume so we don’t miss it. He is the “ruler of the synagogue.”

The high priest managed the temple system, but the synagogues were managed by the local community. The people would elect a synagogue ruler, also called a president because he presided at public meetings. He would determine the order of Sabbath worship, even selecting someone to read Scripture during the worship service.[2] So, Jairus would be one of the most highly respected men in the Jewish community.

And by the way, he would be responsible to warn the assembly of any heresy or false teacher. He would have been aware that Jesus had already been thrown out of one synagogue nearby for claiming to be the Messiah. I have no doubt Jairus had warned his synagogue to avoid this traveling carpenter at all costs.

But something is different now; something has changed his feelings about Jesus. He has a twelve-year-old daughter—his only daughter—and she is dying.

Matthew’s account records that she has already died. But Matthew condenses the story into one conversation, whereas Luke gives us the fuller account.

I imagine the crowd watches in stunned silence as Jairus falls down at the feet of Jesus. This is an act of desperation. Jesus is his only hope.

Jesus evidently agrees to go to his home, but as they walk along, surrounded by a packed crowd of people, we are introduced to a second person, who is also hopeless.

And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and though she had spent all her living on physicians, she could not be healed by anyone. (verse 43)

Mark 5:26 adds something to what Dr. Luke records. Mark writes that she “had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse.” I can just imagine Luke saying, “Thanks a lot, Mark!”

Luke does tell us that she has experienced twelve years of a rather unique desperation. He calls her disease a “discharge of blood.” It is apparently related to her menstruation, which never completely stops.

By the time of Christ, any woman with such an ailment was superstitiously connected to immorality, which was not necessarily true. But she would have been considered ceremonially unclean and forbidden to enter the synagogue. Beloved, this lonely woman is the epitome of a hopeless case!

At this point, these two lives intersect—this woman and the synagogue ruler. Think for a moment how different they are:

  • He is a leader in the synagogue; she is unable to worship in the synagogue.
  • He has a wonderful reputation; she has lost her reputation.
  • He has had twelve years of gladness; she has had twelve years of sadness.

But they have this one thing in common: they are both hopeless cases and desperate. And Jesus is their only hope.

Luke writes in verse 44, “She came up behind him [Jesus] and touched the fringe of his garment.” The “garment” here is a rectangular cloth with blue fringe and tassels attached at the corners.[3] It was slung over the shoulder of a God-fearing Jewish man in these days, and it represented his commitment to the law of God.

So, this woman reaches out and literally clutches one of these blue tassels dangling off the back shoulder of Jesus. Because she is unclean, she is forbidden by Mosaic law to touch other people. But this is not just an act of desperation; this is an act of faith. She knows she has not been unfaithful to the law of God—she is not hiding immorality. She is essentially throwing herself on the mercy of God.

And she is immediately healed. Verse 44 says, “Immediately her discharge of blood ceased.” In other words, she can feel His healing power coursing through her body. And with that, she lets go and tries to slip away unnoticed.

But Jesus stops and asks in verse 45, “Who was it that touched me?” Peter replies, “Master, the crowds surround you and are pressing in on you!” Leave it to Peter to effectively say, “Lord, are you kidding? Who hasn’t touched you?”

But Jesus says, “Someone touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out from me” (verse 46). Jesus knows the difference between being touched accidentally and being touched intentionally.[4]

Verse 47 records what happens next:

When the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people, why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed.

Jesus’ response to her is tender and compassionate: “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace” (verse 48). Faith brought her to Jesus seeking healing, and she is healed. But this phrase “made . . . well” is from the Greek word meaning “saved.” In other words, she wanted to be healed; but by her faith, she is now saved forever.

Don’t forget, she has been excommunicated from the synagogue for twelve years. And who happens to be standing here? The ruler of the synagogue. Jesus knew who touched Him, but by calling her forward, He announces her cleansing so that she can return to the synagogue and worship the Lord.

Now back to Jairus. While Jesus is still speaking to the woman, verse 49 says, someone from the ruler’s house arrives and says to Jairus, “Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the Teacher any more.” Oh my, this delay has cost him the life of his daughter. It is now too late.

Not quite. Jesus responds in verse 50, “Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well.”

When they arrive, Jesus moves past the professional mourners who have already gathered to earn their pay by weeping.

Jesus apparently does not want His resurrection power to take center stage in this encounter, and we are not told why. But He makes it to where the little girl is. Luke records what happens next:

Taking her by the hand he called, saying, “Child, arise.” And her spirit returned, and she got up at once. . . . And her parents were amazed, but he charged them to tell no one what had happened. (verses 54-56)

The leader of the synagogue hoped Jesus could heal his daughter, but now, because of this delay, he realizes that Jesus has power over the grave.

Isn’t it interesting that delays are often doorways into greater discoveries about God? Have you found it true that some of the deepest truths you discover in Scripture are truths you discover while waiting and trusting in the Lord?

Perhaps you are facing a hopeless situation today; you are desperate for something to happen. Perhaps the Lord has allowed this moment of desperation to invite you into a deeper understanding of Him. Or maybe He has brought you to this hopeless moment to reveal that He is not only your last option but your only option. Let me encourage you to turn to Him and trust in Him today.

[1] Charles R. Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart (Word Publishing, 1998), 274.

[2] David E. Garland, Luke, Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Zondervan, 2011), 367.

[3] Ibid.

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