A Matter of Life and Death
The Twenty Fourth Sunday after Trinity| Rev. Rolf Preus| November 13, 2011| 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
A man came to Jesus for help. The Gospels of Mark and Luke inform us that his name was Jairus. He was the leader of the synagogue in Capernaum. He knew the Scriptures. He was a preacher and a teacher and an overseer of the local congregation. He knew that God alone was to be worshiped. And he came to Jesus and worshiped him. He came to Jesus for help.
The religious impulse is to want to do something. But the true faith does not do. Religious folks have a hard time with this. That’s why they have a hard time with Jesus. Jesus doesn’t need what you have. You need what Jesus has.
Sometimes it’s not so obvious. Sometimes it’s as plain as day. Jairus needed what Jesus could give him. His daughter was dying. Mark records that she was at the point of death. Luke records that she was dying. Matthew reports that she had just died. We can conclude that she was hovering at death’s door, whether on this side or that, she was facing death. She was the man’s only daughter. She was only twelve years old.
And during her entire life there was a woman who lived nearby who suffered from a bleeding disease that kept her physically weak and ritually unclean. She had wasted all her money on doctors who could do her no good. As Jesus walked by she lacked the courage to ask him directly for his help, but faith is not primarily a matter of courage. It is a matter of trust. She believed that if she touched Jesus’ robe she would be healed. Listen to Luther’s comments about this woman and her faith. He writes:
Only see what a heart the woman had. Hers is indeed a noble, great faith and confidence. She did not think otherwise in her heart than that he would certainly help her, if she only touched his garment with her hand, and yet she is not so bold as to approach him openly. She regards herself as unworthy to speak to him or look at him; for she knows that she deserved nothing, and never did anything for the Lord. Therefore she so plans as to approach him from behind, falls down at his feet and merely touches the hem of his garment. There is nothing but mere awkwardness and unworthiness here. Who had merited that the Lord should permit the Gospel to be preached to these people? There is no preparation, no work; yet the poor woman is there and hopes to obtain great things from the Lord, that he would release her from her sickness. She had had an issue of blood for about twelve successive years. How could she earn anything under such circumstances, or how could she because of her disease be worthy of anything? Of course she was worthy, but only to receive and not to give; for at that time she was not able to give the least thing. And this is the true preparation for the grace and goodness of Christ, that I feel my need of it. And then it harmonizes beautifully, that the two meet together, the rich and the poor, Christ and the sinner. Yet it is a great art, to persuade people that they are poor and in need of grace. It is a difficult matter, nor does the devil permit it to be done, but always diverts the people to their good works, that they may under no circumstances receive the idea that they stand in need of the grace and mercy of Christ.
Luther knew what he was talking about. And human nature does not change. Faith does not change. This woman is a beautiful example of faith. Jesus said to her, “Be of good cheer, daughter; your faith has made you well.” In this woman we see what faith is, stripped down to its bare essence. Faith is not offering anything to God. Faith is not promising anything or pledging anything or resolving anything or deciding anything. The true faith is the Christian faith. The Christian faith is the faith that clings to Jesus. It grasps hold of him. It believes that Jesus will save. He will help. He is the answer to what ails me.
“Your faith has made you well.” How so? Her faith received Jesus’ help. Faith saves because it receives Jesus the Savior. It’s really that simple. There is no power in faith as faith. The power of faith is the power of Jesus in whom faith trusts. You can trust in any number of bogus promises that will leave you unsatisfied in life. Is that faith? You could call it that, but it won’t save you. Only faith in the Savior saves.
The Bible doesn’t make it clear when Jairus’ daughter actually died, but by the time Jesus had finished talking to the woman and went onto Jairus’ home, the girl was dead. The rituals for mourning among the Jews were far different than what you find out here on the frozen prairie among the stoic Norwegians. They did not hold their emotions in. They let it all out. The flute players would lead the people in loud expressions of grief. It was pandemonium. When Jesus told the noisy crowd that the girl was not dead, but sleeping, they knew he was wrong because they had seen the girl’s dead body. She was dead. So they ridiculed Jesus.
When Jesus went into the room to where the dead child lay, he took with him the girl’s parents and his disciples, Peter, James, and John. He spoke the word. The girl was raised from the dead.
We speak the truth when we say what agrees with the truth. The truth comes first. In the case of Jesus, when he speaks the truth it becomes true because he said it. Jesus is the truth. What he says is so. The girl was dead. But when Jesus said that she was not dead but only sleeping that made it so.
Sometimes we speak of death as a sleep. The body sleeps in the ground, eventually returning to the dust from which we were originally made, to wait for the resurrection of the body on the last day. Jesus raised people from dead: the widow of Nain’s son, Jairus’ daughter, Lazarus. In raising the dead he showed his power over death.
We believe in the resurrection of the body. But this is not a teaching that stands alone. When Jesus told Martha that her brother Lazarus would rise again she confessed to Jesus her faith in the resurrection at the last day. Jesus replied by telling her that he was the resurrection and the life. There is no resurrection without Jesus.
Eternal life and the resurrection of the body go together. We confess, “I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” First comes the resurrection. Then comes the life everlasting. The life we enter into when we leave this body is only a parenthesis between living in a dying body and living in a glorified body that cannot die. When Jesus showed the Sadducees that God was the God of the living and not of the dead he did so to prove the resurrection of the body.
God created us body and soul. Jesus redeemed us body and soul. When Jesus healed bodies ravaged by disease and raised bodies from the dead he was not only showing compassion to those suffering people; he was teaching his Church that he is our resurrection and life.
For that twelve year old girl, Jesus was a matter of life and death. His will overcame the power of the grave. And his will is gracious. It remains loving, gracious, and willing to help. He is willing to help even those who lack the strength or courage to stand up and talk to him. The faith that clings to Jesus is stronger, when it is weak, than the strongest faith that clings to anyone else.
And this is because Jesus is pure righteousness and divine mercy incarnate. He is the source of all of God’s blessings. He is the Mediator of every heavenly gift that comes from the Father. He is our resurrection and life because he has faced our sin and death; bearing in his holy body all of our diseases, sicknesses, weaknesses, and sins. As we sing,
Thy holy body into death was given,
Life to win for us in heaven.
We talk about life in the face of death. Is it just talk? Just a way to ease the sorrow of death? Just an opiate to numb the pain we feel? It’s easy enough to mouth the words of the creed, but then you see the open casket and the dead body. You talk about how good he or she looks, so natural, so peaceful, but there’s nothing natural about death, not when God creates us in his image to live forever.
They laughed at Jesus because he said what was clearly untrue. They could see for themselves that the girl was dead. And that’s where they went wrong. They looked when they should have been listening. What we see is death. What we feel is sin. What we fear is the unknown. But what God says is that Jesus our Lord is Lord over death. What God says is that he has swallowed up our death. When God speaks his words of forgiveness to us he speaks words of life along with them and assures us that we have nothing to fear from death because our Lord Jesus has already died our death for us. We don’t need to be afraid of the unknown because we know Jesus and he takes away all our fears. Amen