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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

On Your Mark by Dr. George O. Wood


Death as Sleep

Death as Sleep

He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. When they came to the home of the synagogue ruler, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, "Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep." (Mark 5:37-39, NIV)

Mark uses the term "synagogue ruler" four times in describing the position Jairus held in the town (vv. 22, 35, 36, 38). Why this emphasis?

Mark writes some 30 or so years after the event. He's letting the whole world know that "synagogue ruler" and "follower of Jesus" are not incompatible terms. Jairus is both. The need in his family brought him to the one Person who could help him even as our needs bring us to Jesus.

This incident records the first time Jesus separated three of the disciples from the others. There are two other occasions - the Transfiguration and in Gethsemane. I suspect here the reason for leaving the nine behind is crowd control. The streets are narrow, and the nine quickly formed a road block. Besides, it's not a good idea to take 12 grown men into a small room where a group of disconsolate mourners is gathered around a little dead girl.

The atmosphere in the home is nothing less than heart-rending. You can understand if you've ever lost a child. Mark calls our attention to the commotion, crying and loud wailing. There's a special grief in the death of a young person, of a little girl 12 years of age. It seems so unfair. All the bright promise has been snuffed out before the child ever had a chance to savor life or realize her potential.

Jesus' statement, "The child is not dead but asleep," raises the question as to whether the death diagnosis had been inaccurate. Was the child merely in a coma?

Not so.

This comment of Jesus gives us His first stated reflection on death - that death does not represent the cessation of existence, but sleep. I suspect this miracle impacted the Early Church so greatly that they chose the word "sleep" to better define the death of a believer. Stephen - the first Christian martyr, put to death by stoning - simply "fell asleep" (Acts 7:60). In one of his earliest letters, the apostle Paul three times in one paragraph refers to deceased believers by the term "fall/fallen asleep" (1 Thessalonians 4:13-15).

Sleep as a reference to Christian death does not mean our souls go to sleep when we die, for the testimony of Scripture is clear: To be "away from the body" is to be "at home with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:8). Rather "sleep" is a euphemism given to us as believers when we face the death of a fellow believer. Death is the harsh word. We know instead that nothing can ever separate us from Christ and that a reunion day is coming. Therefore, death is also not the last word.

So take heart! The day approaches when all of us must pass from time and earth into eternity and heaven.

You will never cease to exist. There is One in the room with you, even as He was in the room with the 12-year-old daughter of Jairus. He has power to ensure that the lamp of your life will never be extinguished.

A prayer of response
Lord Jesus, You’ve given me more than 12 years. Life is Your wonderful gift. But someday — unless You return first — I too will “fall asleep.” Thank You for letting me know that when You are in the room, death is never a hard reality.

GEORGE O. WOOD is general superintendent of the Assemblies of God.

Podcasts of On Your Mark are available in video and audio.


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Podcasts of On Your Mark are available in video and audio.
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