Monthly Archives: November 2013

Hey, Stupid Know It All! The Church Is Seen By Faith!

This article, “I believe in the holy Christian Church,” is as much an article of faith as the rest. This is why natural reason cannot recognize it, even if it puts on all its glasses. The devil can cover it over with offenses and divisions, so that you have to take offense at it. God too can conceal it behind faults and shortcomings of all kinds, so that you necessarily become a fool and pass false judgment on it. Christendom will not be known by sight, but by faith. And faith has to do with things not seen, Hebrews 11[:1]. Christendom joins with her Lord in the song, “Blessed is he who takes no offense at me” [Matt. 11:6]. A Christian is even hidden from himself; he does not see his holiness and virtue, but sees in himself nothing but unholiness and vice. And you, stupid know-it-all, would behold Christendom with your blind reason and unclean eyes!

In a word, our holiness is in heaven, where Christ is; and not in the world, before men’s eyes, like goods in the market place. Therefore let there be offenses, divisions, heresies, and faults; let them do what they can! If only the word of the gospel remains pure among us, and we love and cherish it, we shall not doubt that Christ is with us, even when things are at their worst. As we see here in [Revelation], that through and beyond all plagues, beasts, and evil angels Christ is nonetheless with his saints, and wins the final victory.

Luther’s Works Volume 35, pages 410-411

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Trinity 26 – Matthew 25:31-46

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

“No man can know or feel he is saved; he can only believe it.” Martin Luther said that phrase. His words agree with Holy Scripture. We walk by faith and not by sight. We might add that we walk by faith and not by sight, reason, strength, or feelings. We are saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. It’s the simplest of statements on how we are saved. But unpacking it in a parable about the Last Judgment, especially when works are mentioned in the parable, is fraught with disaster.

The sheep and goats have an inheritance, forgiveness of sin and eternal life won by Jesus Christ. This inheritance is theirs because our heavenly Father prepared it for them from the foundation of the world. What matters to God is not whether they were worthy of the inheritance. What matters is not their performance or their status. What matters is whether they believe this inheritance is for them.

This last parable of the New Testament is not about you, your works, your last name, or anything that is yours. This last parable of the New Testament is about the faith that the Good Shepherd has given you in the preaching of the Good News. Faith cannot help but do good works. The big deal about faith in this parable is that the sheep and goats didn’t realize that their works, or lack of works, flowed from faith or lack of faith. On that day, God will simply say whether, from our side (by faith, that is – but with no other conditions specified as to knowledge or any other human achievement), we related to the presence of the Savior. He will simply do the truth from his side – simply affirm his eternal, gracious relationship with all of creation – and honor what both the sheep and the goats did with that truth from their side.

That is why the sheep are stunned that they are set apart and given eternal life. The King lists all their good works, but the sheep didn’t know these were works, let alone good works. The sheep just did them because, well, just because. That’s the thing about good works and Christians. The minute you realize you are doing good works, those works are no longer good. Those works now become a point of pride, something to hold up to God to show Him just how good you are. You won’t need Him anymore. You have your works. It is enough.

God provides salvation for all. Yet not all will be saved. The problem of why all will not be saved is not with God. He did the heavy lifting by sending His Son to atone for your sin. What matters is whether you believe, not know, but believe He did this for you. Salvation comes only by relationship with the Savior – by a relationship that, from His side, is already an accomplished eternal fact, and that therefore needs only to be accepted by faith, not known in any way. In this accepting by faith, in this living by faith, you do what is given you to do each day as God gives you light to do it. When the King tells you on Judgment Day that when you did these things to the least of His brethren, then you did them to Him, you, like the sheep, will be stunned. You only did what was given you to do.

That’s the mystery of faith this side of Judgment Day. Faith is a mystery because you can’t see from where it comes. You can’t measure it. You can’t give it to someone else. It’s there because God put it there in the preaching of His Word. God opened your heart and placed it there. God cannot close up your heart and allow you not to receive His Word. Only you are able to do that. But woe betide if you do! You will end up with the goats who thought they didn’t need to believe in the merciful God.

The crazy thing about this parable is that the only thing we can possibly do is give the world the living witness of our trust in His presence in its passion. We need only to act as if we really believe He meets us in leastness and death. The rest is His business, not ours. In other words, faith clings to what Jesus tells Nicodemus in those well-known words of John 3:16. Is Jesus a liar or not? So the surprise of Judgment Day is not all your works, but the fact that faith in Christ, and only faith in Christ, saves. The works that come with it just happen to be there. You happen to do them because that’s what you do as a Christian in your callings in life. Distilled and refined to one sentence: Believe in Jesus and you have eternal life with no strings attached.

So our Lord’s final parable is not one of anxiety, but one of joy for those who are being saved. As we prayed in Psalm 54, God has delivered me from every trouble, and my eye has looked in triumph on my enemies. Jesus has done all things necessary to spare you from eternal death.

No man can know or feel he is saved; he can only believe it. Believe it, and you have life in Jesus.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

The Simul and Vocation

Our vocational activity must be directed toward all men, in other words, toward the people of “this world.” We serve them in the love of Christ, and are rewarded with the same ingratitude that he received. But this is the only form in which the love of Christ can be real, for as soon as we limit our service to those who are in some way saintlier than the rest we narrow the circle of love and shut out the effective operation of Christ’s love. Thus in the cloister it is impossible to serve all men, for here the very purpose of works is changed; they are done in order to make oneself holy, and hence become acts of worship directed toward God rather than men. But, says Luther, faith alone is to be directed toward God; a fundamental error has occurred. Luther feels constrained to say that when God wants to save a monk he compels him to occupy himself with earthly things. Furthermore, in attaining to the duties of marriage and many other temporal tasks man becomes uncertain and helpless. Thus the way is paved for faith, for one is compelled to believe and trust in God.

In his vocation a person is active in behalf of his fellow men. Through such activity man distributes gifts of God’s love to others for their welfare. Thus vocation compels man to look to God and to take hold of his promises, and trains him in both love and faith.

The cross and the law collaborate to crucify man; the gospel gives him power to arise and live. Works are directed toward fellow men; faith is directed toward God. With faith thus directed from earth upward, why does love, which is part and parcel of faith, direct itself horizontally to fellow men? Some have attempted to show how love is born of faith. [Gustaf] Wingren states that Luther purposely never gives such an explanation. After all, we cannot say why God became man, and died on the cross. Just as all this is inexplicable, so is the fact that faith gives birth to love. God became man; that is the nature of God’s love. And faith becomes love; that is the nature of faith. Man receives the Holy Spirit when he believes the gospel of Christ, and in the power of the Spirit he loves his fellow men without duplicity and guile, and willingly shares their burdens. Love keeps no record of its works for it thinks only about the fellow man, and when it does good its deed appears as a gift and not a work. Love looks upon service to others as a privilege, not a duty. A person possessed by such love does not direct his attention to the love itself but to his fellow man. To be preserved, such love must constantly be given new life by faith. Without Christ and the Spirit man is under the law, and under the law vocation is enforced labor completely lacking in joy. The old man in us tries to be perfect and righteous in all that he does. The new man knows only on righteousness, the forgiveness of sins. The old man is under the law, the new man is in faith.

When the fellow man is again made central in ethics, the gospel of Jesus is revitalized. We recall what Jesus said about the separation on the Last Day. The righteous will ask, “Lord, when did we see you hungry, thirsty…?” They had paid no attention to their works. They could not even remember having met a fellow man in distress. They had rejoiced in others and had  helped them without being aware of having done so.

Lennart Pinomaa, “Faith Victorious”, pages 169-170

Hospitality and the Simul

This is…an outstanding praise of hospitality, in order that we may be sure that God Himself is in our home, is being fed at our house, is lying down and resting as often as some pious brother in exile because of the Gospel comes to us and is received hospitably by us. This is called brotherly love or Christian charity; it is greater than that general kindness which is extended even to strangers and enemies when they are in need of our aid.

For the accounts of the friendships of the Gentiles, like those of Theseus and Hercules, of Pylades and Orestes, are nothing in comparison with the brotherhood in the church; its bond is an association with God so close that the Son of God says that whatever is done to the least of His is done to Himself. Therefore their hearts go out without hypocrisy to the needs of their neighbor, and nothing is either so costly or so difficult that a Christian does not undertake it for the sake of the brethren.

But if anyone earnestly believed that he is receiving the Lord Himself when he receives a poor brother, there would be no need for such anxious, zealous, and solicitous exhortations to do works of love. Our coffers, storeroom, and compassion would be open at once for the benefit of the brethren. There would be no ill will, and together with godly Abraham we would run to meet the wretched people, invite them into our homes, and seize upon this honor and distinction ahead of others and say: “O Lord Jesus, come to me; enjoy my bread, wine, silver, and gold. How well it has been invested by me when I invest it in You!”

Martin Luther, Commentary on Genesis 18:5, LW 3:189-190

Trinity 25 – Matthew 24:15-28

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

            We make a big deal out of preparedness. Growing up downstate near the New Madrid Fault, we are told to be prepared for a cataclysmic earthquake. My parents never really take that advice. Some might call it denial, a refusal to deal with the inevitable. “The Big One” hasn’t happened yet, and it probably won’t happen tomorrow, so what’s the point? We know it’s coming, but we don’t want to deal with it.

Denial is even greater when it comes to dealing with our death or the coming of the Lord to judge the living and the dead. We know they are coming, but we don’t want to deal with them. We might think funeral planning is uncomfortable, even a bit morbid. We procrastinate writing our wills or dealing with anything that reads, “in the event of my death.” Consider Job’s words, Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble. He comes out like a flower and withers; he flees like a shadow and continues not. Our days are numbered on the fingers of God’s hand. We know it, but we live in denial of it.

How do you prepare for your death, or the visible coming of Jesus, whichever comes first? You don’t. You can’t. God does. He prepares us for our death by sending His Son to die for us, and by baptizing us into His death, and by feeding us His crucified and risen body and blood in His Supper, and by bringing His faith-creating, faith-enlivening Word to our ears. The only “end-times preparedness kit” is the one God gave us – the Word and the sacraments that deliver Jesus. Baptism and daily dying and rising in our baptism through repentance and the forgiveness of sins preached in Jesus’ name. Those are what keep us safe until the Day of Christ’s appearing.

Things will never be as quite as bad as they were in the days of persecution in the first centuries of the Church. Jesus says that the distress of those days in Jerusalem will never again be equaled again in the history of the earth. If those days had not been shortened, there would have been no Church left on earth – no Gospel, no sacraments, and no believers in Christ.

God watches over His children. He guards and protects His Christians and will not let His Church be wiped out. For the sake of His elect children, God puts a limit and a boundary on the persecution of His people. He will not let us be tested beyond our limits, but will see us through to the Last Day. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. Though we may suffer for a while, we will be restored and we will rejoice in the end. God orders everything for our good and our blessing, even if now it appears to be that He is doing the opposite.

Jesus prepares His disciples with a cold dose of reality. He tells them ahead of time how things will be. They are to face the future neither with fear nor with fantasy, but with sober watchfulness and prayer. The end times will be times of false teaching and false teachers. The Church will suffer desecration. Just as the Jerusalem temple suffered the intrusion of idolatry, so the Church must put up with false teachers who would lure people away from Jesus and His gifts toward false Christs and false hopes complete with false signs and wonders.

There will be those who claim the real Christ is out in the wilderness, or that He is in some secret, hidden room that only they are privileged to know. We’ve seen these types of people and there will be more to come. Jesus said, false Christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders. They appeared already in the time of Saint Paul.

Saint Paul wrote to Saint Timothy that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. He also said the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

The early church had the Gnostics, those who believed they had special revelation from God that no one else had. Martin Luther had to deal with Enthusiasts or Schwärmerei as he called them, those who believe that God works directly through people or things and not through means. We have Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and contemporary Gnosticism called “New Age spirituality.” We have people who claim contact with the dead and with spirits, which is nothing else that worship of demons. We have faith healers and false prophets everywhere, those who claim that uncontrolled giggling is a sign of the Holy Spirit, or the likes of Joel Osteen who take advantage of the sick and weak, who teach that if you believe firmly enough in God nothing bad will ever happen to you.

If anyone says to you, “Look, here is the Christ!” or “There he is!” do not believe it. Even if he comes with an array of impressive signs and wonders, don’t believe it. Every religion has signs and wonders. Not everything that works is necessarily from God. Just because you see the dead raised and the sick healed doesn’t mean that God is at work. The devil is “God’s ape.” He looks like the “real thing” and mimics miracles. Signs and wonders mean nothing unless they point you to the One Who hung dead on a cross for you and to the Word that delivers His death and life and applies it to you.

Jesus prepares His disciples. He warns them of false prophets, false signs and wonders, false Christs, so that they will not be deceived. He will not permit His elect children to be misled or deceived. He arms them with His Word, Baptism, and Supper. These are the true signs and wonders of the end times. What greater miracle is there than the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit in Holy Baptism? What greater wonder is there than the body and blood of Jesus truly distributed under the forms of bread and wine? What greater sign of God’s love is there than the forgiveness of sins spoken in Jesus’ name?

We so desperately want to see what God is up to, to sneak a peek behind the curtain, but there is nothing now for us to see. Now is the time of hearing. The time of seeing comes at the end. Then Jesus will be seen, like a flash of lightning crossing the sky from east to west. Every eye will see Him then. Every tongue will confess Him Lord. Even those who denied Him in this life will see and confess the object of their denial on that Day.

Jesus prepares us today toward that Day. He comes to us today to prepare us for His coming on the Last Day. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather. That’s good news for the end times, good news only as Jesus can deliver it. Out of death, there comes life. The birds of prey gather around a carcass to feed on death and live. One died so that others might live.

The Church that lives in the in-between time, the time between Jesus’ first appearing in humility and His second appearing in glory, is a Church gathered around His death. That’s why the crucifix is the highest symbol of our Christian faith. It is gory, disturbing, and to some even morbid. Some prefer an empty cross. No death, no body, and no blood. But to the Church that lives in the expectation of the resurrection of the dead on the Last Day, that blessed death of Jesus on the cross is our life. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

A Catena of Quotes on Baptism from Martin Luther

…this whole life is nothing else than a spiritual baptism which does not cease till death, and he who is baptized is condemned to die. It is as if the priest, when he baptizes, were to say, “Lo, you are sinful flesh. Therefore I drown you in God’s name and in his name condemn you to death, so that with you all your sins may die and be destroyed.” Wherefore St. Paul, in Romans 6[:4], says, “We were buried with Christ by baptism into death.” The sooner a person dies after baptism, the sooner is his baptism completed. For sin never ceases entirely while the body lives, which is so wholly conceived in sin that sin is its very nature, as the prophet says [Ps. 51:5], “Behold I was conceived in sin, and in iniquity did my mother bear me.” There is no help for the sinful nature unless it dies and is destroyed with all its sin. Therefore the life of a Christian, from baptism to the grave, is nothing else than the beginning of a blessed death. For at the Last Day God will make him altogether new (LW 35:30-31).

 

…when someone comes forth out of baptism, he is truly pure, without sin, and wholly guiltless. Still, there are many who do not properly understand this. They think that sin is no longer present, and so they become remiss and negligent in the killing of their sinful nature, even as some do when they have gone to confession. For this reason, as I have said above, it should be properly understood and known that our flesh, so long as it lives here, is by nature wicked and sinful.

To correct this wickedness God has devised the plan of making our flesh altogether new, even as Jeremiah [18:4–6] shows. For the potter, when the vessel “was spoiled in his hand,” thrust it again into the lump of clay and kneaded it, and afterward made another vessel, as seemed good to him. “So,” says God, “are you in my hands.” In the first birth we are spoiled; therefore he thrusts us into the earth again by death, and makes us over at the Last Day, that we may be perfect and without sin.

This plan, as has been said, begins in baptism, which signifies death and the resurrection at the Last Day. Therefore so far as the sign of the sacrament and its significance are concerned, sins and the man are both already dead, and he has risen again; and so the sacrament has taken place. But the work of the sacrament has not yet been fully done, which is to say that death and the resurrection at the Last Day are still before us (LW 35:32).

 

…you pledge yourself to continue in this desire, and to slay your sin more and more as long as you live, even until your dying day. This too God accepts. He trains and tests you all your life long, with many good works and with all kinds of sufferings. Thereby he accomplishes what you in baptism have desired, namely, that you may become free from sin, die, and rise again at the Last Day, and so fulfill your baptism (LW 35:33-34).

 

Now if this covenant did not exist, and God were not so merciful as to wink at our sins, there could be no sin so small but it would condemn us. For the judgment of God can endure no sin. Therefore there is no greater comfort on earth than baptism. For it is through baptism that we come under the judgment of grace and mercy, which does not condemn our sins but drives them out by many trials (LW 35:34).

 

And so in baptism, to the words of promise he adds the sign of immersion in water. We may learn from this that in every promise of God two things are presented to us, the word and the sign, so that we are to understand the word to be the testament, but the sign to be the sacrament (LW 36:44).

 

Blessed be God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to the riches of his mercy [Eph. 1:3, 7] has preserved in his church this sacrament at least, untouched and untainted by the ordinances of men, and has made it free to all nations and classes of mankind, and has not permitted it to be oppressed by the filthy and godless monsters of greed and superstition. For he desired that by it little children, who were incapable of greed and superstition, might be initiated and sanctified in the simple faith of his Word; even today baptism has its chief blessing for them. (LW 36:57).

 

For man baptizes, and yet does not baptize. He baptizes in that he performs the work of immersing the person to be baptized; he does not baptize, because in so doing he acts not on his own authority but in God’s stead. Hence we ought to receive baptism at human hands just as if Christ himself, indeed, God himself, were baptizing us with his own hands. For it is not man’s baptism, but Christ’s and God’s baptism, which we receive by the hand of a man, just as everything else that we have through the hand of somebody else is God’s alone (LW 36:62).

 

Therefore let us open our eyes and learn to pay heed more to the word than to the sign, more to faith than to the work or use of the sign. We know that wherever there is a divine promise, there faith is required, and that these two are so necessary to each other that neither can be effective apart from the other. For it is not possible to believe unless there is a promise, and the promise is not established unless it is believed. But where these two meet, they give a real and most certain efficacy to the sacraments. Hence, to seek the efficacy of the sacrament apart from the promise and apart from the faith is to labor in vain and to find condemnation (LW 36:67).

 

Baptism, then, signifies two things—death and resurrection, that is, full and complete justification. When the minister immerses the child in the water it signifies death, and when he draws it forth again it signifies life. Thus Paul expounds it in Rom. 6[:4]: “We were buried therefore with Christ by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” This death and resurrection we call the new creation, regeneration, and spiritual birth. This should not be understood only allegorically as the death of sin and the life of grace, as many understand it, but as actual death and resurrection. For baptism is not a false sign. Neither does sin completely die, nor grace completely rise, until the sinful body that we carry about in this life is destroyed, as the Apostle says in the same passage [Rom. 6:6–7]. For as long as we are in the flesh, the desires of the flesh stir and are stirred. For this reason, as soon as we begin to believe, we also begin to die to this world and live to God in the life to come; so that faith is truly a death and a resurrection, that is, it is that spiritual baptism into which we are submerged and from which we rise (LW 36:67-68).

Luther’s Soft Spot for St. Bernard of Clairvaux

I believe that Bernard (of Clairvaux) was also saved. For when he was about to die, he said, I have lived an evil life and confess that I cannot obtain the kingdom of heaven by my own merits; however, my Lord Jesus Christ has a twofold jurisdiction as regards heaven. First, by inheritance from the Father, that he is the only begotten Son of God, born of the Father from eternity, and has inherited the kingdom of heaven. Second, through the merit of his sufferings, that he is the Virgin’s son, and has won the kingdom of heaven by his holy, innocent sufferings. The first right to the kingdom of heaven, that he is its natural, eternal heir, he retains for himself. The second right, however, that he has won it through his sufferings, he grants to me. That very gift I take to myself, and I shall not perish. Through this word Bernard has been saved. For even though he had led an austere life and had so strenuously exerted himself in fasting and vigils that the air smelled foul to him, and  he could no longer because of weakness, stand in the choir with his brothers, nevertheless, he did not die in that way but took comfort in Christ and in his suffering. This man was also one of the elect, a man who had been led into error but who did not remain in it. And there have been many more like him.

– House Postil for Trinity 25 (Matthew 24:15-28)

Happy Belated Birthday, Martin Luther!

[Luther] war ein zweiter Moses, der sie aus einer tausendjährigen Knechtschaft des Papsttums errettete; ein zweiter Elias, der die Baalspfaffen jeglicher falscher Kirchen mit dem Schwert des Geistes zermalmte; ein zweiter Johannes der Täufer, der mit den Schrecken des göttlichen Gesetztes die Welt erzittern machte; ein zweiter Paulus, der die Gerechtigkeit des Glaubens predigte in Beweisung des Geistes und der Kraft, wie kein anderer; ein zweiter Johannes, der in der Inbrunst der Liebe zu seinem JEsus und den erlösten Seelen bereit war, wohl tausendmal zu sterben.

[Luther] was a second Moses, who rescued [the Church] from a thousand years of bondage of the papacy, a second Elijah, who crushed the priests of Baal of all false churches with the sword of the Spirit, a second John the Baptist, who made the world tremble with the fear of God’s Law; a second Paul, who preached the righteousness of faith in demonstration of the Spirit and of power like no other, a second John, who in the fervor of love was ready to die a thousand times for his Jesus and redeemed souls.

– Sermon outline for Trinity 25 from 1883 (the 400th anniversary of the birth of Martin Luther). Translated from the German by DMJ

Luther’s Nine Conditions for A Good Preacher

1) Ability to teach (Primo debet esse didacticos)
2) Possession of a good head (soll ein fein Kopf haben)
3) Eloquence (woll beredt sein)
4) Clarity of speech (soll ein Stimme haben)
5) A good memory (bonam memoriam)
6) He should know when to stop (soll wissen aufzuhören)
7) He should be certain and diligent in his subject (soll seins Dings fleißig sein)
8) He should put his life, limb, possessions and honor into it (soll Leib und Leben dran setzen)
9) He should be willing to accept ridicule from everyone (soll sich von jedem man lassen geheyen [plagen])

Table Talk Number 2580, WA TR2:531

Trinity 24 – Matthew 9:18-26

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

“And I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.” Every week we confess the hope of the resurrection that we hear in Holy Scripture in the Nicene Creek. Contrast this with the response of the crowd making a commotion mourning the death of the ruler’s daughter. Jesus says to the crowd, Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping. They laughed at Him.

Children of the world laugh at talk of the resurrection of the body. A physical resurrection goes against natural reason. Jesus had to contend against the Sadducees, who say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit. Jesus tells them in Matthew chapter 22: You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God…. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” Saint Paul says in 1 Corinthians chapter 15, the so-called “resurrection chapter”, if the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”

In today’s Gospel from Matthew chapter nine we have the resurrection of the body signed, sealed, and delivered. There will be a physical resurrection from the dead. The same Jesus Who immediately freed the sick woman from her great plague through His omnipotence has also raised a young girl from the dead. The resurrection of the ruler’s young daughter serves as great comfort for us today. The resurrection from the dead is a simple matter for Jesus Christ. All He has to do is speak the Word and someone who was once dead now lives.

As it was for the young girl in the text, so it will be for you and me on Judgment Day. Death is our greatest enemy. Death separates body and soul. In the case of the ruler’s daughter, she was about 12 years old. If you’ve lost a child, whether at a young or an old age, you know how difficult it is to deal with the fact that you have outlived one of your own children. Neither an angel from heaven, much less a human being on earth, changes what death inflicts. Nevertheless, what is impossible with me is possible with God, contrary to what one who comes from the ruler’s house says to the ruler: Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?

The voice of unbelief sounds reasonable. Why trouble Jesus with the inevitable? Everyone dies. Just let ol’ Mother Nature take her course. It’s gonna happen. Mother Nature is not the only Son of the Most High God. It is an easy thing for Jesus to raise the dead because He is not a mere man. Jesus is both God and man. The ruler knew and believed Jesus could help him. He comes before our Lord kneeling, asking Him to come and lay your hand on her, and she will live. There is no other way the ruler knows this than by illumination of the Holy Spirit. Some though the ruler to be a fool for asking. Jesus responds, Do not fear, only believe.

The ruler believes. He wouldn’t have come to Jesus asking for help if he didn’t believe Jesus could do what He says He could do. Death for Jesus, death for a Christian, is merely a nap. Jesus says so in John chapter five: Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. Perhaps you have seen a grave marker in a cemetery that looks like a bed. What a wonderful confession of the resurrection! We lay the body in the ground with the sure and certain hope that the body will rise from the grave at the Word of Jesus as if someone tells you to get up from your nap on a Sunday afternoon.

We will not have a new, that is to say, another body in the resurrection. The same body we have right now will rise again, whether or not it is buried intact, buried as cremains, scattered over land or sea, or even in a box somewhere. Jesus went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose. No fancy gestures, no smoke and mirrors, and no magical incantations are necessary. In the case of this girl, Jesus grabs her hand and up she rises. In our case, Jesus will speak a Word and we shall rise from the grave. Saint John’s Revelation gives us a glimpse of that day when he says in chapter 20: I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne. Even Job, thousands of years before Jesus raises this girl from the dead, says I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, Whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!

A reunion unlike any other awaits us when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead. As He did with the young girl today, so He will do with you and all others who know the Lord. Saint Paul says in today’s Epistle, [Jesus] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. To be transferred to the kingdom of Christ is to live in the hope of the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come. We live in resurrection hope by faith in the Son of God, Who has ransomed us from everlasting death by His innocent suffering and death.

Living by faith in Jesus, awaiting the certain hope of resurrection, is living in the way of the Old Testament reading, where God Almighty says through the prophet Isaiah, I, I am he who comforts you; who are you that you are afraid of man who dies, of the son of man who is made like grass, and have forgotten the LORD, your Maker, who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth… where is the wrath of the oppressor? He who is bowed down shall speedily be released; he shall not die and go down to the pit, neither shall his bread be lacking…. I have put my words in your mouth and covered you in the shadow of my hand, establishing the heavens and laying the foundations of the earth, and saying to Zion, “You are my people.”

Death has been swallowed up in victory. The Lamb of God, once for sinners slain, takes away your sin and delivers you everlasting life. What can death do to you! It is a brief nap. You will awaken from the grave triumphant over death because Jesus Christ is triumphant over death. He will raise your body just as he raised the ruler’s daughter’s body. It was nothing for Jesus because all things are possible for Him. Rejoice, for the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit