Sermon for Trinity 24
Isaiah 51:9-16 + Colossians 1:9-14 + Matthew 9:18-26
Isaiah cried out in the Old Testament Lesson, “Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the LORD!,” and he recounts how the Lord God redeemed Israel from slavery in Egypt with His strong arm, and how He would redeem Israel from bondage in Babylonia with His strong arm, and how He would rebuild the people of Israel with His strong arm and say to Zion, “You are My people!” In the Gospel, the arm of the Lord is revealed as Jesus Christ Himself. He is the Redeemer of Israel. He is the Helper to whom all nations are invited and the Savior of everyone who goes to Him for help.
In fact, there we have the definition of a true Israelite, a true citizen of Zion, a true member of the Holy Christian Church: the one who goes to Jesus for help, the one who looks to Him for mercy in time of need, no matter how great the need, or how small. You see, the definition of a Christian isn’t someone who lives a moral life. The definition of a Christian is someone who clings to Christ, which is another way of saying, someone who has faith in Christ. Doing good and being good are necessary things that flow from faith. But they don’t make you a Christian. Clinging to Christ for help—that’s what makes a person a Christian, and to them, no matter who they are or what they’ve done, Jesus says, “You are My people!”
Today’s Gospel is just dripping with the goodness and kindness of Jesus, not to mention His almighty power to save both body and soul from sickness and death. And it’s just this picture of Jesus that convinces timid hearts to seek help from Him. See how good! See how powerful is the Lord Jesus Christ!
All three Evangelists, Matthew, Mark and Luke, record the two miracles mentioned in our Gospel, the healing of these two daughters of Israel.
One daughter of Israel had grown up with her family for 12 short years, still just a child when she became very sick, near the point of death. So her father, Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue, went, not to doctors, not to idols, but to Jesus for help. Luke’s Gospel tells us that he went to Jesus before his daughter died and pleaded with Him to come and lay His hand on his daughter to heal her. He went to Christ because the good Word he had heard about Christ had convinced Him that Christ would help. And Jesus, who never turns anyone away, went with Him.
As they traveled, large crowds flocked around them on the road, a sort of traffic jam of pedestrians. The father must have wished the people would just move out of the way so that Jesus could get to his daughter quicker.
But instead of moving quicker, Jesus stops. “Who touched Me?” His disciples look around at the multitudes crowding around them on every side and ask, “What do You mean who touched You?” But Jesus knows what has just happened, and He wants everyone else to know, too. Another daughter of Israel needed His help. For 12 longs years she had been suffering from a never-ending flow of blood. She had been to see doctor after doctor, as St. Luke (the doctor) tells us—spent all her money on the doctors, but they had only made it worse. But like Jairus, she had heard about Jesus, about His goodness and power, that He never turned anyone away who came to Him. So highly she thought of Jesus that she was convinced that if she just touched the border of His garment, she would be healed. So she did. And she was.
Jesus restores her to health instantly and makes sure to single her out from the crowd, to teach her something, to teach the crowds something, to teach Jairus something, to teach us something. This woman gave nothing to Jesus. She had nothing to offer Jesus. She came with her sickness, with her uncleanness, with her pain and suffering. Even if she had had any good works to offer, even if she had had any money left after wasting it on the doctors, none of it would have helped. Jesus teaches her and us and everyone else: Faith in Christ is what heals. Faith in Christ is what saves. Because faith in Christ means going to Him for salvation, and He’s always ready and willing to save. That’s why He came into our race and shed His blood on the cross—to make atonement for our sins, so that He might bring salvation to Israel, that is, to all who look to Him for help. Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well. See how good He is! See how powerful!
And just at that moment, Luke tells us, just at that moment, while Jesus was still telling the crowds how salutary it was to have faith in Him—Jairus’ servants met them and told Jairus that his daughter had died, that it was pointless to bother Jesus anymore. If left to his own powers, Jairus would have abandoned faith and hope at that point. He would have let go of Jesus, just like you or I would, but Jesus held onto him. Do not be afraid; only believe, and she will be made well.
“Only believe.” You hear that phrase far too often in our pseudoreligious culture. “Only believe,” they say, and you’ll have whatever you believe in. “Only believe,” and things will work out. “Only believe,” and what you want to happen will happen. What a wretched lie from the devil! “Only believe,” as if your faith had some kind of power, as if you were God! “Only believe” is only the right advice when you’re telling someone to only believe in a promise made by God in His Holy Word. “Only believe” only makes sense when Christ is the object of your faith. He is the arm of the Lord who saves. His goodness, His power to save, His promise to save is what you are to “only believe” in. “Only believe” is worthless when you’re the one making up what to believe in. “Only believe” is a gracious and comforting word when your faith rests on Christ.
They arrived at Jairus’ house, and it was already filled with mourners, weeping and wailing for the dead girl. Jesus silenced them. Make room, He said, The child is not dead, but sleeping. With these words, Jesus effectively redefined death for the Christian. Something that used to be permanent has now been made temporary by Jesus. Jesus went to death for us and conquered death for us. He died and was raised as the firstborn from among the dead. He was the first to awaken, never to die again. And ever since then, the Apostles and the Holy Church, while not afraid to speak of “death,” have preferred to speak of believers who die in faith as “those who have fallen asleep,” because Jesus has promised to wake us up at the Last Day to serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness.
Of course, when Jesus said this, most of the people in the room laughed, and most people still do. That’s how it always goes with the words of Jesus. They cause unbelievers to mock and ridicule, while causing believing hearts to believe even more and rejoice. Most of the mourners ridiculed Him, but Jesus took the child’s mother and father, and His disciples Peter, James, and John, and went in where the dead girl was. St. Mark tells us He took her by the hand and said to her, Little girl, get up! And she got up immediately and Jesus gave her back to her parents. See how good He is! See how powerful!
And see how good and right it is to put your faith in Him. All help comes from Christ and through Christ, and Christians know that and come to Him. That’s what makes you Christians. And those who were not previously Christians hear about the goodness of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit convinces them, too, that Jesus is trustworthy. And in this way, new sons of Israel are born every day—born again by the washing with water through the Word, Holy Baptism.
This is the part that so many people get wrong. Where does one find Jesus and how does one come to Him for help? Those who have heard the Word that Jesus is a good and merciful Savior are invited to find Him here in His Church. Here in His Church Christ has given Holy Baptism, where He first washes sins away and brings people into Himself and makes them members in His Holy Church. Here in His Church, in the assembly of those who have been called by the Gospel, is where you find Christ and all His blessings handed out through the Holy Ministry—forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. Here in His preaching, here in His body and blood you come into contact with the One who is good and powerful, who gave His life for you, and now gives His life to you so that you will never die.
And so, if you’re wondering how to bring others into our church, how to fill up these chairs, not just with bodies, but with Christians, there is no other answer, there is no other way besides this: You come, and cling to Christ in repentance and faith. And then as the Lord gives you opportunities in your daily life, tell the people around you how good and how powerful is the Lord Jesus Christ, the only Savior there is, who never turns anyone away who comes to Him for help, who has power over life and death. And then tell them where to find Him. Amen.