Few events have changed me like having a daughter. We first had twin boys, and then our first daughter came along more than four years later, with a strange and wonderful effect on this father’s heart — and perhaps it feels all the more significant because I did not expect it.
When God made two sexes, he put into place four distinct kinds of parent-child relationships: father-son, mother-daughter, mother-son, and father-daughter. Because men and women are not the same (but complementary), and boys and girls are different, we find distinct, often subtle, always powerful aspects to the love shared in these four kinds of relationships.
Strangely enough, Jesus honors all four in his healing ministry.
A father’s love for his son (Mark 9:14–29; Matthew 17:14–20; Luke 9:37–43): A father brings his son who “has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid.” The disciples try their hand at the exorcism, but fail. Then Jesus steps in and casts out the demon and returns the son to his father.
A mother’s love for her son (Luke 7:11–17): A young man dies, “the only son of his mother, and she was a widow.” Jesus sees her weeping and feels compassion for her. He approaches the lifeless body and says, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” The young man sits up and begins to speak, and “Jesus gave him to his mother.”
A mother’s love for her daughter (Mark 7:24–30; Matthew 15:21–28): A Gentile (Syrophoenician) mother begs Jesus to cast out the demon from her daughter. When Jesus says to let the children (Jews) be fed first, before the dogs (Gentiles), she responds in beautiful, humble boldness: “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” “For this statement,” Jesus says, “you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.”
Daddy’s Love for His Daughter
When a synagogue official named Jairus approaches Jesus (Mark 5:21–24) and falls to his knees to plead for help, he says, “My little daughter . . .” (Mark 5:23). He doesn’t just say daughter, but “my little daughter.” It’s a term of endearment and particular care, a glimpse into a father’s heart for his daughter — which is not the same as a father’s heart for a son.
There is a special kind of love and affection that exists between a godly father and his daughter, whatever her age, whether three or twelve or thirty. We would be foolish to rank a father’s love for son against his love for daughter, but we’d be naïve not to see the distinctions.
A father loves a son as someone who, with respect to masculinity, is just like me. God has entrusted me to raise up this child to be like me in learning self-sacrifice and humble initiative, to cultivate a heart to lead, provide for, and protect women and children. And a good father loves a daughter as someone who is not just like me. God has entrusted me to raise up this child to be like the most important person on earth to me, my wife. I not only want to model self-sacrificial masculinity for her, but I want her to learn what it’s like to receive and be cared for by a worthy, Christlike man.
It’s tricky to draw the emotional lines too starkly, but there are typical distinctions between a mother’s care and a father’s care. Paul gives us a glimpse in his first letter to the Thessalonians. “We were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children” (1 Thessalonians 2:7). And, on the complementary other hand, “Like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:11–12). And these general orientations of gentleness and encouragement have their distinct expressions with sons and with daughters. Men name, and women nurse, or nurture. Men build, and women beautify. Or, to take our cues from the six days of creation, men form (days 1–3) and women fill (days 4–6).
Jesus picks up on Jairus’s term of endearment for his daughter, and when Jesus arrives at the house — after she has already died — and takes her by the hand, he says, “Little girl, I say to you, arise” (Mark 5:41). Not just girl, but “little girl” — an expression of compassion and holy condescension. We learn she’s twelve years old, which isn’t “little” today, and especially not in the first century when some 12-year-olds were on the brink of marriage. “My little daughter” and then “Little girl” are expressions of a tender, affectionate, and protective fatherly heart.
Who Then Is This?
As Jesus raises this young girl from the dead, he provides a stunning sneak peek into who he is. He allows only Peter, James, and John to come with him to raise the girl because, like his coming Transfiguration (Mark 9:2–9), this is a shocking glimpse into who Jesus is, not only as a great teacher but as God himself.
Perhaps we’re not as astounded today by Jesus raising Jairus’s daughter, because we’ve heard this story before and, on top of that, we know how his own story will go — that he himself will rise from the dead. It takes some effort to put ourselves into the original story and feel the power of this delicate moment. Mark piles on language to describe how astounded are the girl’s parents and the three disciples. Literally, “they were astonished with great amazement” (Mark 5:42). They knew he could heal, but reclaim someone from death? This is an astounding display of his power, and his identity.
By raising Jairus’s daughter, Jesus shows, ahead of time, that his Father has power over the final enemy, treating death as if it were only sleep: “Sweetie, it’s time to wake up.”
Women Young and Old
But Mark 5:21–43 isn’t just about the little girl. There’s also an old woman — another daughter.
On the way to heal Jairus’s daughter, with the crowd pressing in on Jesus, a woman with a chronic disease reaches out and touches his garment from behind. Jesus feels “that power had gone out from him” (Mark 5:30), and the woman “felt in her body that she was healed of her disease” (Mark 5:29). Jesus stops and turns around to ask who touched him. Bewildered and impatient, his disciples ask, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” (Mark 5:31). Besides, Jairus’s daughter is on her deathbed!
A woman steps forward, and far from rebuking her, Jesus shows her a father’s heart for a daughter. “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease” (Mark 5:34). He wants her to know it’s not her superstitious reach that has healed her, but her faith. And he calls her Daughter. Just as Jairus has shown the unique tenderness and compassion of a father’s heart for his little daughter, now Jesus shows us his heart — God’s heart — for one of his daughters.
Mark doesn’t want us to miss the connection, and so he puts these daughters side by side in verses 34–35. In verse 34, Jesus calls the woman “Daughter.” In verse 35, a messenger comes from Jairus’s house to inform him, “Your daughter is dead.”
Loved Like a Daughter
It’s not just 12-year-old girls who ache to know the love and delight of their father; even grown women need God’s special Fatherly care. Women young and old can be encouraged by this double story — of Jesus healing an old woman after years of pain, and of him rescuing a young woman from the jaws of death.
Sisters in Christ, Jesus cares about you. He calls you “Daughter.” No matter how much your earthly father failed you. No matter how you’ve been hurt or mistreated. Your condition — however unashamedly or shamefully you own it — does not disqualify you from his concern. He looks on you with compassion, with the special love that a good daddy has for his daughter and says, Trust me. I’ll make you well. I’ll heal your chronic condition called sin. I’ll save you from the final enemy called death. If you will just take my hand, death itself cannot even capture you, and one day I will wake you up, as from sleep, to no more tears, no more sorrows, no more pain, for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:4).
But it’s not just women who need to know themselves loved by God as a daughter.
All who are in Christ receive not only the Father’s care as beloved sons, but also as cherished daughters. The peculiar kind of loving condescension and deep compassion and personal delight and fierceness to protect that a good father has for his daughter is what God made us all to receive from our heavenly Father.
In Jairus’s heart for his daughter, and Jesus’s heart for his, we catch a glimpse of God’s father-daughter love for his people, alongside the other distinct aspects of his love. He looks on us with the compassion, delight, and protective affection that a daddy has for his little girl. It is good for women and men alike to know themselves loved by God like a father loves a son, and like a daddy loves his little girl.