The Twenty Fourth Sunday after Trinity
November 18, 2012
“Faith Triumphs Over Death”
St. Matthew 9:18-26
While He spoke these things to them, behold, a ruler came and worshiped Him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay Your hand on her and she will live.” So Jesus arose and followed him, and so did His disciples. And suddenly, a woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years came from behind and touched the hem of His garment. For she said to herself, “If only I may touch His garment, I shall be made well.” But Jesus turned around, and when He saw her He said, “Be of good cheer, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And the woman was made well from that hour. When Jesus came into the ruler’s house, and saw the flute players and the noisy crowd wailing, He said to them, “Make room, for the girl is not dead, but sleeping.” And they ridiculed Him. But when the crowd was put outside, He went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose. And the report of this went out into all that land. St. Matthew 9:18-26
In the midst of life we are in death.
Of whom may we seek comfort but of Thee, O Lord,
Who for our sins art justly displeased?
Yet, O Lord God most holy,
O Lord most mighty,
O holy and most merciful Savior,
Deliver us not into the bitter pains of eternal death.
Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts;
Shut not thy merciful ears to our prayers;
But spare us, Lord most holy;
O God most mighty,
O holy and most merciful Savior,
Thou most worthy Judge eternal,
Suffer us not, at our last hour,
For any pains of death to fall from Thee.
This prayer begins the committal service, where Christians gather at the grave before lowering the casket into the ground. It is a good prayer. It is an honest prayer. It is the prayer of faith. Faith is not self-confidence. Faith is not that cocksure attitude that says it can take on the world and all that is in it. Faith is humble begging. It is tossing oneself on the mercy of the almighty God who, if he were to deal with us according to our many sins, would most surely deliver us into the bitter pains of eternal death.
Faith is simple. When explaining it we include three elements: knowledge, assent, and trust. Faith knows God as he is revealed in his Son, Jesus our brother. Faith assents to the truth of the Holy Scriptures concerning God. Faith trusts in God, specifically in the gospel of the free forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake. Faith entails knowledge, assent, and trust.
But faith is simple. It is not knowledge plus assent plus trust. It is all three together. Faith cannot be analyzed as you would a mathematical problem or a scientific theory. You cannot define faith psychologically. Faith knows Jesus, assents to what Jesus says, and trusts in Jesus for salvation. In knowing, assenting to, and trusting in Jesus faith knows, assents to, and trusts in the Father who sent him and the Spirit he sends.
Faith is simple. It doesn’t complicate things by seeking answers to questions that God alone knows. Why me, Lord? That’s a foolish question. Faith doesn’t ask, “Why me?” Why not me? Or do I think that the pain and suffering and trouble in this world are on account of everyone else’s sins and not my own? Is not God justly displeased with my sins?
God is justly displeased with all sinners. This we must know if we are to have true faith. True faith is born in weakness. It cries out to God from its own helplessness. Faith is the very opposite of self-confidence. It is the denial of oneself. It clings to Jesus Christ, the sin-bearer and the Savior of the world.
St. Matthew introduces us to two Christians in our Gospel for today, both of whom exemplify true faith. We learn more about them in the parallel accounts recorded in the Gospels of Saints Mark and Luke. We meet a prominent man, Jairus by name, the ruler of the local synagogue, respected by the people, serving them as God’s representative, carrying out the holy ministry of the word. We meet a woman who is ritually unclean because of menstrual bleeding that won’t stop. She has suffered from this bleeding illness for twelve years. She has wasted all her money on doctors who could do her no good. According to Mosaic Law as set forth in Leviticus chapter fifteen, she is unclean and forbidden to participate in the worship life of the people.
Jairus is the ruler of the local synagogue. She can’t participate in the life of the synagogue. He’s at the center of the life of the community. She’s on the outside looking in. They are brought together by need. Jairus has a daughter, about twelve years old. She was born about the time that the woman’s bleeding disease began. The man’s daughter has just died. They both cry out to Jesus. She cries out for health. He cries out for life. Jesus can bring health. Jesus can even raise the dead. Jesus is full of compassion. Both of them trust in his compassion. Both trust in his gracious power.
Faith is simple, but it is a slippery thing. It’s the hardest thing in the world. We teach that faith is a gift of God. The Bible says so. Jesus says that no one can believe in him unless the Father who has sent him draws him. St. Paul says that we Christians were made alive when we were dead in sins. He says faith is a gift of God. Through the prophet Ezekiel, God likens bringing us to faith to taking out a heart made of stone and replacing it with a heart of flesh. Faith is God’s gift, not our achievement.
While we cannot achieve faith by our own powers, we can lose faith when we rely on our own powers. And this is not just a theoretical possibility. It is an everyday occurrence. Christians born again in Holy Baptism, nurtured in the Word and Sacrament, confirmed in the faith, publicly confess the Christian faith with all sincerity. Then they fall away. It is a Calvinistic deception that you cannot fall away from the faith. Once saved, always saved is false doctrine. Christians can and do fall away.
Why do they fall away? Not just because they forget that God is the Author of their faith, but more frequently because they forget how God nurtures them in their faith and keeps them trusting in the gospel and prevents them from falling away. These two people – the woman with the bleeding disease and Jairus the ruler of the synagogue whose daughter had just died – exemplify for us faithful Christians whose faith was grounded on a solid foundation. They teach us today, as we, like they, struggle with our faith in the face in life’s losses, troubles, and pains.
There are three things that influence a Christian’s faith. They are reason, experience, and God’s Word. Reason is something that sets us apart from the animals. It is a wonderful gift of God. We can put two and two together. We can listen to God and apply what he says to us.
Here is an example of how we Christians can use our God-given reason for our benefit when we face challenges to our faith. The Bible says Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners. I know that I am a sinner. I can therefore reasonably conclude that Christ Jesus came into this world to save me. If he came to save sinners and if I am a sinner then he came to save me and this I know because God has given me the gift of reason.
Christian experience is also a source of encouragement for us Christians when we face challenges to our faith. When we look at the troubles we face in life we can recall how God has helped us in the past. We resonate to the words of Isaac Watt’s hymn, “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.” We consider our own personal history and see that when things looked so very bleak, God was there and he delivered us out of what was troubling us. We look at the experiences of the Church and see that when she has suffered terribly, it has often been just before great blessing. Consider how the dark ages set the stage for the Lutheran Reformation.
Thank God for our reason. Thank God for our experience. And thank God that we have a better foundation upon which to rest our faith than either one of these lying and deceptive guides! Listen, dear Christian! Your reason is indeed a wonderful gift from God. Thank God for it! Experiencing God’s fatherly care in your life is also a tremendous blessing. Thank God for it! But if you care about your own faith, remaining steadfast, and holding on to it, do not trust your reason and do not trust your experience for they will lead you astray and destroy your faith from within.
Jarius was a smart man. He was a reasonable man. You don’t get to be the ruler of a synagogue if you don’t have the reasoning abilities of an intelligent man. And what does a reasonable, intelligent man conclude about the prospects of his dead daughter? That she will stay dead! That’s what reason concludes. Have you ever seen a dead person come back to life? No? If reason were to be our guide, we would side with those who ridiculed Jesus instead of the man who believed Jesus would raise his daughter from the dead. If you base your faith on your reason you are doomed, because faith believes some very unreasonable things! The resurrection of the body is only one of them. Faith believes in the resurrection because faith believes in Jesus who is the resurrection and the life. Though it is reasonable to assume and to therefore believe that a dead girl is going to stay dead, reason must give way to faith when Jesus appears and says otherwise.
The woman with the bleeding disease has twelve years of experience facing a condition that was only worsening. Besides wasting her livelihood on doctors who could do her no good, she prayed to God faithfully to take away her misery and he didn’t do anything to help her. Judging from her experience, she would slowly waste away and die with this disease.
It was not just the physical suffering she endured; it was being ostracized as one unclean. She was excluded from the assembly. She was on the outside looking in. She had experienced disappointment for a long time and, judging from her experience, she could grasp onto Jesus, but it would do her no good. There was no help for her. She knew that from experience.
But she didn’t trust in her experience. She trusted in Jesus. Jairus didn’t trust in his reason. He trusted in Jesus. Of the three sources to which we turn for encouragement when our faith suffers doubts and our lives of faith appear to be outside of God’s care, only God’s word will do. Reason cannot rise higher than itself. Experience cannot see beyond itself. But Jesus is God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God. He lives above the highest height to which reason can ascend, yet he comes down to earth to where we live and bears the burdens we suffer.
The Word of God trumps reason and experience. The Bible we read is the Word of God. The Gospel we hear is the Word of God. The Savior in whom we trust is the eternal Word become flesh for us. Look at him and watch how he confirms this man and this woman in their faith. Yes, she is unclean and the Law of Moses forbids her to touch Jesus but she didn’t trust in the law to save her. She trusted in Jesus. And he did. He made her clean and he commended her faith. Yes, Jairus’ daughter is dead and there is no reasonable expectation that this dead girl will live, and they even mock Jesus when he insists she’s only sleeping, but Jairus believes in Jesus and Jesus does what Jairus believes he will do.
Faith is not our work. It is God’s. It exists in our hearts where sin also dwells. Doubts arise. The sickness won’t leave. Death claims its prey. Where can we turn? To God? But he is justly displeased with us, is he not? So don’t look to God in your reason, don’t look for God in your experience, look to God in Christ and see him for who he is. He who confidently claimed the power to raise that little girl from the dead, who healed the woman simply by walking on by, is the One who bore our sins and sicknesses on the cross. He suffered them. He destroyed them. Faith knows this and holds on to it. Faith doesn’t care about what reason says or what experience says. It cares what God says.
Jesus has faced our sicknesses, our sins, and our death and has destroyed these enemies. He has brought life and immortality to light in his Gospel. This is the source and strength of our faith. For this gospel teaches us that we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins. On this our faith rests. On this God keeps us steadfast in the Christian faith until we die. Then our death will be but a sleep as God receives us to himself and confirms us in eternal joy. Amen