[Matthew 9:18-26] While he was saying these things to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” 19 And Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples. 20 And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, 21 for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” 22 Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. 23 And when Jesus came to the ruler's house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, 24 he said, “Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. 25 But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose. 26 And the report of this went through all that district.
Sleeping in order to Awake
“My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” This man is Jairus. His daughter is dying and then dies. In the other Gospels [Mark 5; Luke 8], as Jesus approaches the man’s house, some come and say, “Your daughter has already died. Why trouble the Teacher (Jesus) any further?” Jesus responds to the man, “Do not be afraid. Only believe.”
The death of another is the end of a lot of things. It is not the end of our faith, our trust in Jesus, God’s Son. Elsewhere, when the brother of two sisters had died, the sisters entrusted that to Jesus – One said, “Jesus, even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you… I know my brother will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” And Jesus took it further. He said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet will he live – and everyone who lives and believes in me will never (truly) die.” [John 11] To prove it, Jesus raised that believing man, Lazarus, from the tomb, and many believed.
Our faith is in something Jesus does for the body. Because He has been raised, He will also raise to life those who die believing in Him. And we saw in today’s Gospel a woman who knew she would be saved even if she only touched the very edge of Christ’s garment.
We trust Jesus to raise to life those who only grasped the very edge of life in Christ – and those whose faith was only a smoldering wick [Matthew 12:20; Isaiah 42:1-3]. Our faith is that Jesus will raise them and, on that day, will finish the good work He had begun in them [Philippians 1:6].
Yet for us who remain after a death, our faith can be in peril. The devil takes advantage and attacks the weak spots in us. How do we survive the devil’s assaults?
We do not look to superstitions. We do not seek certainty by works and prayers on behalf of the dead. We don’t try to inch a person’s soul into heaven. And we do not seek comfort in thoughts or signs that the deceased person’s soul is somehow still with us. Our faith is not that they are with us but that the final outcome of their life is in the hands of the one who is Lord and Savior.
Our faith is in what Jesus has done. He has died for them. He has risen for them. Our faith is that we take our hands off the situation and say, “This is all in Your hands now, O Lord.” We worship by trusting all things to be within the hands of the one who is Lord over death and the grave. “Do not fear; only believe.” Death and life do not belong to us. They belong to Christ. What has He done? That it’s in His hands is my faith; His will be done.
This young girl, a twelve-year-old daughter [Mark 5], her body is lying dead in the house. Her soul is at rest in the Lord [Matthew 11:25-30]. And we learn from Jesus today what our faith is concerning those who die in the Lord – that their death is only sleep.
There was a great commotion of mourners outside the girl’s room – mourning and wailing like those who have no hope [1 Thessalonians 4:13]– and Jesus sends them away, saying, “Why are you weeping? The girl is not dead, but sleeping.” “And they laughed at Him.”
The world goes to the extreme to avoid death and every risk of disease or injury. The world hides its eyes from death, instead only giving a “celebration of life” (and a refabrication of that life’s story). The world clings to very superficial understandings of death and afterlife. Aware of both sin and death, and ruled by the fear of it. Eyes closed and clinging to thin hopes.
Yet, the world laughs at the true solution, the true answer – the Son of God has died in your place, and has overcome death, and is risen from the tomb to live and make you alive as well. With Jesus, you are not dead, but sleeping.
This is our faith, even if the world would laugh at it. It is a bodily hope. One day, all the bodies of those in the cemeteries you drive by every day will stand up again – some to the resurrection of judgement, and some to the resurrection of eternal life [John 5:28-29].
The New Testament word for those who die in the Lord is “sleeping” – as Jesus said here – and as it’s said elsewhere, “those who are asleep.” [1 Thess. 4; 1 Cor. 15]
And Scripture says in another place, “Awake, O sleeper, arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” [Ephesians 5:14]
You are laid to sleep in the grave for a purpose. You are laid to sleep so that you can wake. You are laid to sleep perishable so that you can wake imperishable. You are laid to sleep dying so you can wake up living. You are laid to sleep tired so that you can wake up forever refreshed. You are laid to sleep a sinner. You will wake up no longer a sinner.
Your body is laid to sleep as the sin-fallen, corruptible body of Adam. You wake up in a holy body after the manner of the incorruptible and perfect flesh of Jesus. On the cross, Jesus died your sin-ridden death, so that you are raised – awakened – in the righteousness of His resurrection.
You go to sleep the old man. You will wake up as the new man.
This is my trust, my faith, for my body when I die – that I am dying in order to sleep so that I can be awakened in order to live – because of, and only because of, what Jesus has done for me. It’s certain. “Do not fear. Only believe.”
This is my faith for those who have died in the Lord. “Why are you weeping? They are not dead, but sleeping.” It is Jesus’ work, and I trust Him to bring His work to completion. So I do not fear. I believe.
And what about now, while I still live this side of the grave’s rest? Brothers and sisters, the waking-from-sleep that you will have in the end is even beginning in you now. His work.
Jesus is even now waking up us sleepers. Daily. By your baptism. Daily, the old sleeper in you is being laid to rest by daily contrition and repentance. Daily, the new man is waking up in you to be awake and live unto good works.
Waking up then will be the blessedness of the life to come. The daily waking up now is the daily waking up to good works. The life to come takes its form in this life as goods works, the doing of God’s will for my neighbor.
Jesus, the Lamb of God, has been sacrificed for sin. You are forgiven in full. Death has been conquered. Rest has been won for the soul. Life has been won for the body. It’s His work. It’s done. Yet it’s to come. Because of such a good thing done and to come for us underserving sinners – because of such a good thing done and to come for those we’ve laid to rest – let’s now be awake to a life of thanksgiving.
Daily thanksgiving to God by freely keeping His commands and giving my life up to His expressed, written will. Life lived according to His commands and resting on His promises. Waking now because He will awaken me then. Thankful because He has done it for me. And not fearing in any circumstance, but only believing. Amen.