24th Sunday After Trinity
November 10, 2013 A+D
St. Matthew 9:18-26
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Mark and Luke fill in the details surrounding these miracles. While not necessary to Matthew’s theological point, they are interesting to us on a human level. They even help us flesh out what is going on. The man who came to Jesus was a ruler of a synagogue by the name of Jairus. He was a leading figure in his Jewish community, because he was in charge of teaching the people about God’s word in the Law and the Prophets. He was in charge of teaching people that there was only one God and that the Lord alone was to be worshipped and sought in every need. His entire teaching would have centered on how God loved and rescued His people no matter what the circumstance, as Isaiah says, the Lord is going to awake and put on strength as in the ancient days, the Lord was the arm that wounded the serpent (OT).
His only daughter, being twelve years old, was at the very point of death (and in fact, died while Jairus was with Jesus). There was nothing further that any doctor could do. There was no comfort that philosophy and education could give. Jairus’ schoolbook answers would have left a hole precisely when he needed help the most, had he not believed that Jesus was the Arm of God. The Law and Prophets were a great philosophical exercise until life was confronted by death. At the point of losing his daughter, at the point that all earthly help had failed, God’s word came to light in Jesus.
At the very least Jairus was grasping at straws and making a last-ditch effort for his daughter’s sake by going to Jesus. He had heard the rumors that this man was teaching and working miracles like the prophets had predicted of the Messiah. He had at least an inkling of hope that God was fulfilling His promise and saving by His Right Arm. Jairus had at least a spark of faith. That’s why he fell down at Jesus’ feet and worshipped Him, begging Him to come and lay His hand on his daughter. In the face of an impossible, desperate situation he dared to hope that God could/would help him.
Our Lord does not disappoint. He agrees to go. And in the going, he strengthens Jairus’ faith by healing a woman who was plagued for 12 years with a flow of blood that doctors could not help. This must have given Jairus even greater hope. His expectations for his daughter must have soared. That’s why the bad news, which his servants brought him, must have devastated him all the more. His daughter was dead. There was no longer any need to bother the teacher. Although there was hope that this teacher could have healed a sick girl. How could Jairus have held out any expectation that the dead could be raised? This is where Jesus, who up to this point had not indicated the outcome of the girl, spoke. “Do not be afraid; only believe, and she will be made well.” With a simple Word, Jesus restored hope. Dying faith was given new life.
And now to Matthew’s point: Jesus’ words are never fluff, they never fall flat, they are never inflated beyond reality. They are always accompanied by power. No matter how ridiculous they may sound to human reason, we have witnesses to their authority. Jesus does what He says. Our Lord’s word is confirmed in action. The daughter was made well. She was given back to her mother and father alive. Jesus gives hope where all hope had disappeared. He creates and strengthens faith where it was absent or weak. He speaks and it happens. He speaks for good.
There is an innate human weakness that we all share. When things go wrong, you are prone to despair. When paychecks get cut, you immediately worry about how you will make things work. When arguments flare, you question your spouse’s motives and love. You fear that the relationship might never be the same. When your children fall into sin you second guess every parental decision that you have ever made. When times of loneliness overtake you, you can’t see past the darkness that engulfs you at the moment. When your health takes a turn for the worse or your body fails, you become despondent. When times are bad your emotions tell you that it will always be bad. Human emotions are as fickle as a leaf on the wind. Sin causes you to doubt God’s providence, His goodness, His power, His love for you, and even His mercy. But it’s precisely when doctors, philosophies, jobs, relationships, and you fail that God’s Word comes to light in Christ.
So why are you here this morning? Why did you get out of bed and come to the Divine Service? Is it because you’re grasping at straws? Is it because you have a thread of hope, like Jairus, that your Lord could help? If so, may God be praised. You came to touch the hem of His garment and He does you much better. He takes you by the hand and gives you more than you dared to hope for. You came for healing and He wants to raise the dead. His word will not let you down. Do not fear, only believe.
If you did not come for those reasons, but only came out of habit, or pressure, or to see your friends or to be seen; if you came and then paid no attention to the readings, the prayers, or liturgy, then repent. God’s word can create what was not there. He is not just a teacher and physician for the living, but a creator and redeemer for those dead in their sins. His word is not just soothing ointment for wounds. It is life-giving and resurrecting for those with a stagnate, lifeless, cold, despairing faith.
This is where these miracles help us. They strengthen us in times of doubt. They give us hope when times in our lives seem hopeless or impossible. When the winds of despair blow, recognize them for what they are, temptations and assaults of the devil. When Jairus’ servants came to him to tell him his daughter was dead, that there was no longer any need to bother the teacher, Satan was trying to snuff his struggling faith. That is precisely the time that Jesus speaks up and comforts. Although not yet seen, Jesus promises to help his daughter; and then He fulfills His promise and raises the girl.
“[W]e do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16). We do not have a God who is unable to sympathize with earthly struggles and trials. Jesus suffered in body, mind, and spirit like we do. He was ridiculed, hated, misunderstood, despised, lonely, and rejected. He was persecuted, beaten, spit upon, and killed. Yet in all of this, He did not sin or despair. He knew His end and purpose. He knew that His Father was working good. He knew that by going through such things they would not be our end. Even though we have to endure them for a time, there is relief to come. He has already passed through them. He has already overcome them. Although things in this world can assault and attack your bodies and minds, they cannot overcome the spirit that lives within you: the spirit of Christ.
St. Paul wrote to such a group of people in Colossae. He writes: “He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.”
Our Lord is more than a teacher. He is more than a physician. He is the creator and sustainer of life. There is no circumstance in your lives that He is unaware of or unable to help. You have a great cloud of witnesses in the Scriptures of people whom the Lord has helped beyond all human reasoning. There is no such thing as an impossible situation for your heavenly Father. He has promised to work for your good. And in Jesus, He has. His Words still have power. He still speaks words of comfort to you and still works miracles. You are here, this morning at Jesus feet. Like Jairus you fall down today and worship at this altar. Like the woman, you dare to draw near to touch the hem of his garment. And very much like unto to them, He says to you: do not be afraid, be of good cheer, only believe. And by His Word and Work, you do.
In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
The Rev’d Michael N. Frese
Redeemer Lutheran Church
Fort Wayne, Indiana