Mark 5:21-24a, 35-43 21When Jesus had again crossed over in the boat to the other side, a large crowd gathered around him near the sea. 22Then one of the synagogue rulers, named Jairus, came. When he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet 23and repeatedly pleaded with him, “My little daughter is near death. Please come and place your hands on her so that she may be healed and live.”
24Jesus went with him.
35While he was still speaking, people from the synagogue ruler’s house arrived, saying, “Your daughter is dead. Why bother the Teacher anymore?”
36But when Jesus heard this report, he told the synagogue ruler, “Don’t be afraid. Only believe.” 37He did not allow anyone to follow him except Peter, James, and John the brother of James. 38They went into the house of the synagogue ruler, and Jesus saw a commotion with people weeping and wailing loudly. 39When he entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.”
40They laughed at him. But after he put everyone out, he took the father of the child, her mother, and those who were with him and went in where the child was. 41Grasping the hand of the child, he said to her, “Talitha, koum!” (When translated, that means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!”) 42Immediately the little girl stood up and began to walk around. (She was twelve years old.) They were completely and utterly amazed. 43Then he gave them strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and he told them to give her something to eat.
We just sang, “Day by Day.” This hymn was written by a young Swedish woman named Lina Sandell Berg. Because Lina was never strong as a child, she spent most of her time in her father’s study rather than playing outside. Lina grew very close with her father, who was a Lutheran minister.
When she was twenty-six, Lina accompanied her father on a voyage to Gothenburg. But, tragedy struck before they could reach their destination. As they stood together on deck, the boat lurched and her father fell overboard. The crew tried to save him, but they couldn’t. Lina’s father watched her father drown.
At the loss of her earthly father, Lina drew even closer to her heavenly Father. She discovered that even during times of greatest loss, God’s comforting presence was near. At times, she wondered how she could make it through the next week or month, but day by day the Lord gave her the strength she needed.
That’s why Lina could write words like these:
Day by day, your mercies, Lord, attend me,
Bringing comfort to my anxious soul.
Day by day, the blessings, Lord, you send me
Draw me nearer to my heav’nly goal.
Love divine, beyond all mortal measure,
Brings to naught the burdens of my quest;
Savior, lead me to the home I treasure,
Where, at last, I’ll find eternal rest. (Christian Worship Supplement, #765)
Death is the ultimate test of faith, the final frontier of our doctrine, our hymns, our liturgy, our beliefs. It may seem easy to trust in Jesus while we sit in church and sing powerful hymns and pray meaningful prayers and hear God’s redemptive message. But everything we believe about Jesus comes home when death comes to visit.
Do you still trust Jesus even when your infant has health problems, when your child has heart problems, when your spouse has dementia problems, when your mother has cancer problems? It may be easy to trust Jesus while sitting in church, but what about trusting Him while sitting in the E.R. or the nursing home or the funeral home? You trust Jesus, but how far? When death comes to visit, can you still sing with confidence, “Day by day, the blessings, Lord, you send me draw me nearer to my heav’nly goal”?
Jairus trusted Jesus, but how far? Jairus believed Jesus had the power to heal his 12-year-old daughter. But did He have the power to raise the dead?
The response Jesus gives to Jairus is one that all of us need to hear – often – “Don’t be afraid; only believe.”
If you have ever rushed a sick or injured child to the emergency room in the middle of the night, you know what it’s like to be Jairus. Jairus was the synagogue ruler with the very sick little girl who rushed to Jesus and begged Him to come back to His house. You can hear the panic almost leap from the page. There is a crowd around Jesus, but Jairus moves them out of his way and falls at Jesus’ feet. His little girl wasn’t just sick. He uses the Greek word “eschatos,” “ending.” “My little daughter is ending.” But in Jesus, it will be just the beginning.
On the way to Jairus’ home, some men came from his house with the sad news, “Your daughter is dead.” Now she is the perfect patient for the Great Physician of body and soul. For if Jesus came not for the healthy, but for the sick, then above all, He came for the dead. To give life from death.
Death is not natural. It is the terrible rending of the soul from the body. We were created not to die, but live. But death has reigned since the forbidden fruit was tasted. Fear took over with the sound of God’s footsteps in the Garden. Fear finds its fulfillment in God’s curse: “From dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19). Fear cannot see past our natural human condition. Fear does not cling to Jesus in Word and Sacrament.
And as sinners, we should be afraid of death. For the Bible says, “you are dead in your trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1); and “the soul who sins is the one who will die” (Ezekiel 18:20); and “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). We are as dead as a little girl whose heart and breathing have stopped. Though we may look good on the outside, our bodies are being ravaged by the effects of sin – illnesses, ailments, tumors, strokes, dementia, etc. Our bodies are always one step from the grave.
Even as Christians, we often see death as the end, a loss, a time to mourn. Over the centuries, because of our great fear of death, we have tried to deal with death and the grave in all kinds of ways. We have tried to ignore it. We have tried to control and manipulate it. We have done our best to bribe death, negotiate with it and deny it. Today we try to remove our mourning by dressing up our dead with good-looking clothes and make-up and then comment on how natural they look lying in the coffin. If that’s the best we can do to remove our fear and calm our troubled hearts, then death is the end, it is a loss, it is a time to mourn and wail.
But look at King David’s reaction in our Old Testament lesson this morning. Because of David’s sins, his infant son was now dead. But the occasion of his son’s death was not a time to mourn. Now it was a time to take a bath, get dressed and look forward to a reunion with his son in heaven. David answered his servants who asked why the change in attitude, “While the child was alive, I fasted and wept because I said, ‘Who knows? Will the Lord be gracious to me and let my child live?’ Now he has died. Why should I fast? Am I able to return him to life again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Samuel 12:22,23).
And so Jesus says to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” Jairus then gets to see what nine of Jesus’ regular disciples did not get to see: Jesus raises his daughter back to life again. He saw Jesus stare death in the face and death back down.
That’s a picture of what is going to happen to you and your Christian loved ones. The world laughs at that, as the gathered mourners laughed at Jesus when He said, “The child is not dead but sleeping” (Mark 5:39). Unless Jesus returns before you die, you will be like this little girl. You will be awoken from the sleep of your death by the voice of Jesus. He will take you by the hand and raise you to a new life that will never end. Then He will have someone get you something to eat from His marriage feast of the Lamb.
“Do not fear; just believe.” When you are innocent, but remain persecuted or in prison for your outspoken Christianity, just like Paul was in our Epistle lesson (2 Timothy 1:8-14).
“Do not fear; just believe.” When your prayers seem to go unanswered and the doctors can do nothing for your loved one. When the doctor tells you that they tried everything, but it wasn’t enough. Your daughter, your son, your husband, your wife, your mother or father is dead.
“Do not fear; just believe.” When you stand at the grave of your departed love ones. You miss them so much. The wound of grief never really heals. The emptiness is never filled. The love is never forgotten.
Here’s what you need to know and believe. In your Baptism, Jesus has already said to you what He said to the little girl in your native Aramaic tongue, “Talitha koum!” “My child, arise!” And that’s what Jesus is going to say to you upon the trumpet blast ushering in Judgment Day, “Talitha koum!” “My child, arise!” calling you from your grave. Then you will run around heaven for an eternity and He will feed you at His feast forever.
Death causes fear. But Jesus’ words chase away fear. When Jesus draws near, fear flees and faith is strengthened. Fathers are comforted. Mothers behold the miraculous. Infant sons are reunited and little girls rise from the dead – if not today, then on the Last Day.
For with God’s Word, death is chased away and life is raised. With God’s Word, the grave is robbed of its precious prey and all humanity beholds a glorious picture of the Last Day. With God’s Word – preached, proclaimed, heard, read, sung, prayed, poured out and tasted – sins indictments are silenced and forgiveness is given freely.
Jesus was calm when the storm on the Sea of Galilee churned around Him. Jesus also remains calm when death swirls all around Him. And why shouldn’t He remain calm? He’s the expert. He’s the One who stared death in the face and shouted its defeat, “It is finished!” He’s the One who conquered death by dying on the Good Friday cross. He’s the One who crushed death with His resurrection on Easter Dawn.
Death is always hard on a family. But the death of a young person is especially staggering.
“But her days were so few …”
“His life was so brief …”
“There was so much more for them to do …”
To us it seems that way. We speak of a short life, but compared to eternity, who has a long one? A person’s days on earth may appear like a drop in the ocean. Yours and mine may seem like a thimbleful. But compared to the Pacific of eternity, even the years of Methuselah filled no more than a glass. St. James was not speaking just to the young when he wrote, “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14).
In God’s plan, every life is long enough and every death is timely. And though you and I might wish for a longer life, God knows better.
And – this is important – though you and I may wish a longer life for our loved ones, they don’t. Ironically, the first to accept God’s decision of death is the one who dies. While we are shaking our heads in disbelief, they are lifting their hands in worship. While we are mourning at the grave, they are marveling at heaven. While we are left questioning God, they are actually praising Him in person!
Why all this weeping and wailing when death comes calling? “The child is not dead but sleeping.” Death is no match for the Lord of life. To Jesus, death is nothing but a sleep from which He alone can wake us.
In 1542, Luther wrote an introduction and commentary to a collection of burial hymns for the congregation at Wittenberg. He writes: “But we Christians, who have been redeemed from all this by the dear blood of the Son of God, should by faith train and accustom ourselves to despise death and to regard it as a deep, strong, and sweet sleep, to regard the coffin as nothing but paradise and the bosom of our Lord Christ, and the grave as nothing but a soft couch or sofa, which it really is in the sight of God; for he says, John 11, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep,’ and Matthew 9, ‘The girl is not dead but sleeping.’”
As death comes calling, Jesus reminds you, “Don’t be afraid; only believe.” And we respond – whether in church, in the hospital or at the cemetery - “Day by day, your mercies, Lord, attend me.” Amen.