October 1, 2017 (reworked from 2005)
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, X and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
All of Jesus’ miracles serve this same purpose: to demonstrate that the Lord of creation is present in His creation to bring restoration—to prove that He is the Messiah promised of old. As Isaiah foretold, “Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! …. He will come and save you.” Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy” (Isaiah 35:4-6). The compassionate One who seeks and saves will not be prevented from His holy mission to redeem man. For some in this world, they enjoyed the Messiah’s healing of their earthly bodies, but for all men, the Messiah has restored the eternal relationship with the Father. Neither Satan’s tactics nor our own lack of cooperation will stop Him. He is the Prophet promised long ago, the One like Moses, but greater than Moses. Indeed, He is also greater than Elijah and Elisha. He is the One who binds up wounds, who gives sight to the blind, who raises the dead. He is the Redeemer who has come to rescue man from the bondage of sin and death. He is Life. Everything in the Christian Church is centered and revolves around Him.
The struggle in which we are engaged is nothing less than life versus death. It rages on inside of you. If you were free of sin, then you would not die. The wages of sin is death. Death is all around and even inside you as evidence of sin. In the very midst of life, snares of death surround us. Death brings fear, so we find ourselves running from the Son of Man. We flee from Him and seek shelter in Satan’s lies and empty promises. Our sins of vain pleasure, our selfish, self-centered thoughts and actions. We refuse to be emptied of ourselves, so we flee from Him. And that is why the Son of Man comes to us.
He seeks. He seeks the widow and her son in Nain. He finds the boy in death’s jaws already dead. But death cannot abide His presence. Like the demons who know Him and rightly fear Him, death has no power in His presence and releases the boy upon His command; and Jesus gives Him back to His mother. Nothing at all is said of the widow’s, or her son’s, character, faith, or deeds. It is Jesus’ compassion, His seeking, His word that finds them and saves them. Compassion beyond comprehension moves Jesus through the throng that encircles the coffin. He lays His hand upon death’s sled, defiling Himself, and granting the boy life. (Theology of Cross: compassion doesn’t prevent the death, but overcomes death).
His own holy law, given through Moses, forbids being in presence of one who has died. To touch this is to bring uncleanness and desecration upon oneself. Only those who must touch it may, and they will suffer the consequences of uncleanness. The high priest is not to even enter a room with a corpse. But Jesus, our own High Priest, goes out of His way to touch it. The boy’s uncleanness, the boy’s death is transferred to the Holy One. His Holiness, perfection, and life are transferred to the boy. The boy is sanctified and lives. Jesus is defiled, and will die.
And so it is that the Victory of Jesus Christ is seen primarily in His death. His death is victory over death. In His death, death was defeated. The grave could not hold Him. He is the Way, the Truth, and the LIFE. Life is stronger than death, even as love is stronger than hate, mercy than justice, God than Satan. He died, yes, but He is not dead. He lives.
But how often, in our vanity, have we pretended as though it was Life who was dead? We have turned our backs on Life to play with death’s forbidden fruit. That sublime serpent has hissed into our willing, itchy ears. And we have longingly, lustfully looked upon his evil wares and counted them as pleasing to the eye, good for food, and capable of making one happy. God’s Word has been rejected for our own word, for our own convenience, for our own short-sighted fleshly pleasures. The entertainment of this world has been our focus rather than God’s gifts, and it shows by where our money is spent. God’s wisdom and love have been denied as we turn away from Him, again and again. We have sought to steal and sneak. We have avoided His presence and the places where He promises to be and to give His Holy gifts. We come to the Divine Service, to be sure, but in the moment of temptation we turn our hearts away from His exacting Word. We know what His Law demands, and we trespass anyway.
Repent. Stop hiding. Stop running. Stop turning away. Drown all evil desires. Turn away from death, from self-chosen pleasures of the flesh, and from false satanic promises. Be emptied. Be humbled. Go down to your knees. Confess your sins. Throw yourself on God’s compassion. And, then, O Sinner, hear the absolving words of love again, “Arise! Live! You are mine!” Rejoice at the life He has bestowed. This is the daily life, the rhythm of confession and absolution, of prayer, of redemption. It is the life lived in those who are baptized, who belong to Him who is Life. A daily battle between life and death rages on inside of those who trust in Christ. You won’t be free from it in this world. Daily and constant conversion, repentance and trust, death and life, rescue and redemption, Scripture and prayer—this is the life of faith on this side of glory.
But know this: He comes seeking. As He sought the widow’s dead son, He seeks you. He cuts through the black curtain of depression, of worry, of loneliness, and of fear. He drives away the shadows of death. He comes to lay hands on you, to grant you life. He rudely breaks into your funeral procession, your long dreary march toward the grave, your vain fleeing of reality in daydreams. He breaks in to demand that death release you. He will not allow the sickness, cancer, tumors, or death in your bodies and bones to have the victory.
And where, O Christian, does He lay His hand upon your coffin and command you to rise? He touches you, by placing His Body upon your tongue, by pouring His living Blood onto your lips. His holiness sanctifies you. His words of love expose the Satanic hissing and alluring lies for the death they are. And thus, we proclaim His death in this Sacrament. For it is His pierced Body, His shed Blood, that we eat and drink. We proclaim not that He is dead, but His death until He comes again. We proclaim He died as our Substitute, and that His death was death’s defeat and Life’s victory. And we proclaim that He lives. We preach Christ crucified and living. It is the living Body and Blood, given and shed for you, risen and ascended, that we consume. This is the meal of Life and the foretaste of the heavenly banquet that awaits us. We receive in this meal the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. By it our coffins are opened, depression, worry, loneliness, and fear do not bind us, and we sit up in the presence of Him who promises: “I am the Resurrection, and the Life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” This is the way of Life. It is the substance and strength for those moving from this world to the promised one to come.
Soon He will say to you the last and final time, “I say to you, arise.” And you will join all the saints who have gone before you into His eternal life.
In Jesus’ X Name. Amen.