Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sermon for the Twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
November 14, 2010

Several weeks ago we heard the story of the nobleman who came to Jesus seeking his help in the healing of his servant, and I spoke about the progression of his faith from birth, through growth, and into maturity as he came to Jesus in faith; he was not really sure what the outworking of that faith might look like in its infancy, but he took Jesus at his word and his faith began to grow, and it reached its culmination with his entire household believing.

This morning we come to a healing miracle found in all three Synoptics that has the wonderful 2nd miracle stuck right in the middle.

We find ourselves near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, and a ruler approaches him who says that his daughter is dead. When we compare the accounts from Mark and Luke we find out that the ruler’s name is Jairus, and it is in Matthew’s Gospel that he actually says that his daughter was dead. In the other accounts he simply says that his daughter is near death.

In comparison with the nobleman’s faith from a few weeks ago, we see that Jairus comes with a maturity of faith that borders on remarkable. Even in the midst of his own despair at losing his daughter, he comes to Jesus in faith and in essence says that death is no obstacle to Jesus. He declares with certainty that if Jesus would simply come and lay his hands on his little girl she will live. If you remember the death of Lazarus, both Mary and Martha come to Jesus and say that if he had been there their brother would not have died. Jesus tells Martha that her brother will live again, and she says, yes, I know that he will live again at the resurrection of the dead. They had experienced Jesus’ entire ministry and didn’t exhibit the kind of faith that this ruler of the synagogue exhibits when he says to Jesus that he knows that his daughter will live again.

Jesus agrees to go with Jairus and follows him back to his home. If we thought that the ruler’s faith was incredible let’s take a look at second miracle that is seemingly sandwiched in the middle. We encounter a woman who has suffered with an issue of blood for the past twelve years of her life. It’s important to know here that in those days any issue pertaining to blood would make someone ritually unclean, and could of course jeopardize her ability to be a full member of society. Mark even goes so far as to mention that she had suffered much at the hands of the many physicians that she had seen over the past decade trying to figure out what was wrong. He records that she had spent all that she had and instead of getting any better, she had actually gotten worse.

What a remarkable statement by this woman when she says to herself, “If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole.” She doesn’t need to have Jesus say anything to her; she doesn’t need to have Jesus touch her; all she needs is to reach out and touch him. She doesn’t even have to cling to much, but only the hem or fringe of his garment. There is more to that phrase “I shall be whole” than meets the eye. In looking at the word used here in the Greek there is so much depth to what this woman says. The word that she uses is the same word that deals with being saved and salvation. Instead of just being made whole she is in essence saying that she will be saved. Sure there will be wholeness of body when she is healed physically, but she is going to receive so much more. She is truly going to be saved, and her reaching out and touching Jesus is the only way that is going to happen.

Matthew doesn’t give all of the details as Mark and Luke give regarding Jesus’ recognition that virtue had gone out from him, and Peter’s statement that due to the crowds how could he even know that someone had touched him. However, all three make sure that Jesus’ words to the woman are recorded because how he addresses her is crucial. Jesus speaks to her with a word that is packed with meaning – he calls her daughter. She isn’t just a woman, but by calling her daughter she has been given permission to address her Father. As John says in his prologue, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become sons and daughters of God, even to them that believe on his name.”

She most certainly believed on the Lord’s name, and received him and simply reached out to touch him in faith. As someone once said, “She came trembling, she went back triumphing!”

The great Anglican J. C. Ryle says about this daughter’s faith and ours as well, “Let us store up in our minds this history. It may perhaps help us mightily in some hour of need. Our faith may be feeble. Our courage may be small. Our grasp of the Gospel, and its promises, may be weak and trembling. But, after all, the grand question is, do we really trust only in Christ? Do we look to Jesus, and only to Jesus, for pardon and peace? If this be so, it is well. if we may not touch His garment, we can touch His heart. Such faith saves the soul….He that only touches the hem of Christ’s garment shall never perish.”

The encounter with the woman ends almost as abruptly as it begins and Jesus enters the home of Jairus and makes what seems to be a most absurd statement to those mourning the death of the young girl. He tells them that she is not dead but only sleeping. Those who heard him say that laughed him to scorn.

Let’s think back to the Lazarus situation again. Jesus gets word that his good friend Lazarus is ill and he tells them, “The sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.” He delays going back to Bethany, and after two more days he tells his disciples that they are heading to Bethany to waken Lazarus from sleep. Of course the disciples do not understand Jesus’ words, and they ask him why he needs to go and simply wake him from slumber. He then tells them plainly that Lazarus is dead.

As we heard in the Gospel this morning, Jesus tells a group of mourners who clearly know that the life has left a twelve year old girl that she isn’t dead but is simply sleeping. I don’t think we can even comprehend how that would have been received. Coming from my perspective, that is perhaps the most pastorally insensitive sounding comment imaginable. It’s no shock that they laughed him to scorn. Even so, our Lord is in complete control of the situation. The mourners are dismissed, Jesus walks into the young girls room, takes her by the hand and raises her back to life. She is given a new life. She was dead and is now alive again.

We too when we reach out and grab hold of the hem of Jesus’ garment are reaching out to the true source of life. Jesus reaches out his hand to each one of us, dead to our sins, and he lifts us up and breathes new life into us.

Bishop Ryle closes his thoughts on this passage with these words, “This is the kind of truth we never can know too well. The more clearly we see Christ’s power, the more likely we are to realize Gospel peace. Our position may be trying. Our hearts may be weak. The world may be difficult to journey through. Our faith may seem too small to carry us home. But let us take courage, when we think on Jesus, and not be cast down. Greater is He that is for us, than all they that are against us. Our Saviour can raise the dead. Our Saviour is almighty.”

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