24th Sunday After Trinity Wed/Thurs
November 13, 2013 A+D
St. Matthew 9:18-26
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the LORD our Maker. For He is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of His hand.” (Psalm 95:6–7; Introit)
In the Holy Scriptures, the hand is the instrument for action. It is the instrument for deeds. It is an instrument for work, for prayer, for reception, for giving, for good. After Eve reached out her hand toward the forbidden tree, it also became an instrument for death, hatred, rejection, killing, and for all manner of evil. It really was an appendage of the heart. If the heart was good, it showed in the work of the hands. If the heart was evil, so also the works. We see this immediately after the Fall when Cain stretched out his hand and killed Abel.
Even before God took on human flesh, while He was yet only Spirit (John 4:24). He describes himself as having a mighty hand. He spoke of himself as having a hand that would reach out to rescue His people. This is where the analogy of God’s hand expands.
Along with the “mighty hand,” the Bible speaks in terms of God’s arm as the representation of strength. The first mention of the word “arm” is in connection with the deliverance of Israel out of Egypt. It is the strength of God’s arm and His mighty hand that will rescue a people stuck in bondage, to deliver a people out of slavery. God told Moses to stretch out His hand over the land of Egypt with the rod of the Lord to inflict the plagues upon the Egyptians. God says, “Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment.” (Ex 6:6). And later He says through Moses, “has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great deeds of terror, all of which the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes?” (Deut. 4:34).
The mighty hand and the outstretched arm of God echoes throughout the OT Law and Prophets.
David even sings about them throughout the Psalms “You with your arm redeemed your people, the children of Jacob and Joseph.” (Psalm 77:15), and “You have a mighty arm; strong is your hand, high your right hand.” (89:13) and again, “Oh sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things! His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him” (98:1). This is the picture language of teaching, it is the poetry of song, it is the promise to an enslaved people.
There is no wonder then, that the coming of the Messiah was prophesied throughout Isaiah and Jeremiah as the arm of the Lord, the right hand of the most high (77:10). Isaiah writes, “Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord; awake, as in days of old, the generations of long ago. Was it not you who cut Rahab in pieces, who pierced the dragon?” (As an aside, the reference to Rahab here is a reference to a mythical creature of the deeps much like Leviathan. It is a satanic creature that lived and ruled in the darkness. In Psalm 89:10 and Job 9:13; 26:12 it is sdaid to have been conquered by God at creation. In Ps. 87:4; Is. 30:7 it is a metaphorical name for Egypt. In our OT today, it fuses the two meanings, and even points forward to the greater exodus into heaven after the Messiah pierces the greater Rahab on the cross.*) In other words, God at one time rescued His people from bondage in Egypt, now the prophet cries out for Him to rescue today by rescuing His people by destroying Satan and piercing the satanic pharaoh. This is a plea for the Messiah, God in the flesh to come and rescue all men from their sins.
Synagogue rulers would know these prophecies and these descriptions of God. Jairus, the synagogue ruler in out Gospel text, would have been keenly aware of this when He went to Jesus. He fell at Jesus’ feet, worshipping, and asked God to reach out His hand toward his deathly-ill daughter. He looked toward God, and His Messiah, for help in time of death.
How drastically different we react to the world that St. Paul calls a “domain of darkness” (Col. 1:13)—the place where we live, the land of sorrow and sickness, the land of slavery to sin and death. Where do you reach out your hand for help in dire need? Do you place your highest hope in the skilled hands of surgeons who can carve away the cancer and stop bleeding? Do you place your first hope in the pharmacists who can give you the medication that stops the pain, thins the blood, and curbs the anxiety? God be praised for the marvels of modern medicine, but at some point the doctors and counselors will all throw up their hands and say, “I’m sorry. There’s nothing more I can do.” It’s interesting that our first response to pain and death is to look to the hands of men for help. (see OT).
You are dying because you have dirtied your hands with sin. You are a sinner and are enslaved to sin. You have played into Satan’s hand at every turn. Your lot in life is to die in those sins, unless a mighty hand and an outstretched arm sets you free. “Do not fear.” “Take heart.” “Only believe.” What seems impossible to man, is possible with God. 400 years in slavery is enough to cause anyone to give up hope. But God gives hope where there was none to be had.
The Son of God came down from the right hand of majesty to put all slave drivers and enemies under His feet. There was nothing about the physical hands and arms of Jesus that were impressive. He wasn’t stronger than everyone else around Him. He wasn’t a great warrior, or doctor, or scientist, or politician. But in Him, God flexed His muscles and showed off His strength. In the outstretched arms of Christ on the cross, God brought you forth out of slavery to sin and death. He loves you so much that He wasn’t afraid to get His hands dirty in your sin. He loves you so much that He still comes to you in the Word and the Sacraments. His hand washed you in Baptism. His hand feeds you in the Sacrament. And soon, it will be His hand that touches your dead or dying body, raising you from your deathbed and giving you to your heavenly Father, alive. May God grant you hope and faith in these things.
In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
The Rev’d Michael N. Frese
Redeemer Lutheran Church
Fort Wayne, Indiana
* reference from The Anchor Bible Dictionary volume 5 under “Rahab.”