Two for one. Now that should get your attention. When you are at the grocery store and see the little sign that indicates you can get two of an item for the price of one, it makes you think. If it is something that you need or will use, you may grab a couple of them, because after all, who can pass up a two for one?
Well this morning, our Gospel lesson offers a two for one – and you don’t even have to scan your shopper’s card. We have in our Gospel lesson, not one, but two miracles that Jesus performed. While the grocery store may do this all the time, it is very unusual in Matthew’s Gospel. In both miracles we see that Jesus Christ is the Messiah who brings God’s reign that defeats illness and death. And in both, we see how faith trusts in the Lord.
Our text begins with the phrase, “While he was saying these things to them.” Jesus has just been questioned by the disciples of John the Baptist about why, unlike them and the Pharisees, the disciples of Jesus don’t fast. Jesus answered by saying they don’t fast right now because Jesus is with them. Our Lord explains this further by saying that in him, something new has arrived. He says, “Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”
Jesus declared that in his person, something new was present. He was the promised Messiah – the descendant of King David. But he was more than just a man. Conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary, he was the Son of God in this world. As true God and true man, he had come to bring God’s kingdom – his reign – into this fallen world. In our text, we see two examples of this. Yet we will find that these miracles point us to a deeper truth about how our Lord has accomplished this for us all.
We learn that a ruler came and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” The man’s daughter had died. But he believed that Jesus could heal even this – that he could return her to life by touching her. It’s important to recognize that what he was asking Jesus to do went against the Old Testament law. To touch a dead body brought ritual uncleanness. But in Jesus, something new was present, and no doubt the man had heard of how Jesus touched people and healed them – even people like lepers who also brought uncleanness to all who came into contact with them.
Jesus and his disciples followed the father to his daughter. But there was another person in the crowd who believed that merely touching Jesus could bring healing. Like the dead girl, she too was unclean according to the Old Testament law. We learn that a women who had been suffering from a discharge of blood for twelve years, had come to Jesus. She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment for she thought, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.”
The uterine bleeding made the woman unclean. Perhaps for this reason she came up from behind Jesus and only touched his garment. But our Lord knew what she had done – and he knew her faith. He turned and said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well,” and instantly the woman was healed. She had come to Jesus in faith, and that faith received the blessing of healing.
The healing of the woman had paused the journey, but it had not changed the destination. Matthew tells us that when Jesus came to the ruler’s house, he saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion. This was a typical scene of mourning in first century Palestine. The commotion probably involved both family and friends, and also professional mourners who provided appropriate wailing and funeral dirges.
When Jesus saw this, he said, “Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” The crowd laughed at Jesus. It was absurd. It was ludicrous. The girl had most certainly died. And she was dead.
They laughed at Jesus, and the world still laughs at those who believe in Jesus. The world laughs at you for being here this morning. The world mocks you because you believe that Jesus is the way – the only way – to eternal life. The world scorns you because you believe Jesus’ word – the word delivered through his apostles – that declares the truth in world that believes there is no such thing as the truth.
The question is how we respond to this. Do we remain silent so as not to draw the world’s attention? Does the world’s attitude make it easier to do something else on Sunday morning? Does the world’s laughter and rejection wear on us in a way that lessens our committment to Christ and living according to his word?
Jesus’ response to the laughter was to put them all outside. He kicked them out. And then he did what he had come there to do. Matthew reports, “he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose.” Jesus touched the girl’s dead body because in Jesus something new was present – something that fulfilled the Law of Moses, and yet was not limited by it. And in doing so he returned the girl to life. Her death had been nothing more than a brief sleep, because Jesus had brought God’s saving reign to her.
This morning we get two for one. We have two miracles in one text. Both of them involve individuals who were unclean. Both include individuals who are identified as “daughter.” Both are about healing what sin does to bodies as it produces illness and death.
On the one hand, these are clear examples of Jesus’ power. Jesus is the Son of God – the Messiah sent by the Father who brings his end time reign. He is present to turn back the forces of Satan and sin – to reverse what they have done to the world. In his person the kingdom God – the reign of God – entered into our world.
Yet one could ask: So what? What does that mean for me? After all, I don’t have Jesus here to heal my cancer. I don’t have Jesus here to cure my COPD, or my diabetes, or whatever other physical ailment brings hardship to my life.
But what Mattew tells us about Jesus’ miracles in the previous chapter shows us that these miracles are part of something even bigger. They are part of something, that frankly appears to be the opposite of mighty healing and raising the dead. And yet, they are part of something has crucial meaning for every single one of us.
In chapter eight, Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law who was suffering from a fever. Then Matthew tells us: “That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick.
This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.’”
The words from Isaiah that Matthew quotes are from Isaiah chapter 53. This is the chapter that describes the suffering Servant. The apostle connects Jesus’ healing ministry with his work to bring the forgiveness of sins. Sin is, of course, the source of all illness and death. Jesus’ miracles show that he is the Servant of the Lord who has come to take our illnesses and bear our diseases. Each miracle is part of this saving work of Christ.
But because Jesus is the suffering Servant, each miracle points forward to the ultimate miracle by which Christ has done this – his death on the cross. Jesus is the One of whom Isaiah wrote: “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned--every one--to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
Jesus Christ accomplished the great work of taking away our sin by dying on the cross. There he bore our sin and received God’s judgment against it in our place. That is how he took our illnesses and bore our diseases. The cross did not look mighty. It did not look powerful. Instead, it looked like weakness and utter failure.
But on Easter, God raised Jesus from the dead. And in the resurrection of Jesus we now understand what the cross was really all about. Through the cross Jesus has taken away all our sins, and through his resurrection he has defeated death. In his resurrection he has conquered every physical disease and affliction – he has overcome everything caused by sin.
Through the work of the Holy Spirt in baptism, you have been joined to the death and resurrection of Christ. His death has become your death by which your sins are forgiven. His resurrection is already at work in you now because the Spirit in you is the One who raised Jesus. Because you have been baptized into the death of the risen Lord, and been made a new creation in Christ, you will certainly also share in his resurrection on the Last Day.
Does this mean you will be cured of your cancer, diabetes, or whatever else ails you? No, not necessarily? Does it mean that you will escape death? Unless our Lord returns first, the answer to that one is absolutely no. But it does mean that already now you are a saint - you are holy in God’s eyes because of what Jesus Christ has done for you. You are forgiven because Jesus has taken away all of your sins. You are God’s dearly loved child.
It means that when it comes to your relationship to God, death cannot take anything away. In fact, as we heard last Sunday when we observed All Saints’ Day, it means being with God in the absence of pain, sickness, and tears. It means something better than what we now know. In Christ the defeated enemy death has become the gateway to freedom from this fallen world.
It means that for our bodily life, death is no more threatening than a nap. People go to sleep, and they wake up. You die and your body is buried. But the Lord Jesus will raise it up on the Last Day, and like waking up from a nap your body will be transformed and restored for you to live as the person God intended - as body and soul – forever.
We know this is true – we have the assurance that is true – because we have faith in Jesus Christ. This gift of the Spirit is a way of knowing that moves us beyond the limitations of fallen reason. It is a way of knowing that moves us beyond the spiritual blindness caused by our fallen nature.
In our text, the father came to Jesus in faith. His daughter had died, but contrary everything we normally experience, he believed that Jesus’ touch could raise his daughter. The women approached Jesus with the certainty that if she only touched the edge of his clothing, she would be healed. And so our Lord said to her, ““Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.”
The way of salvation is the way of faith in the crucified and risen Lord. This faith trusts that because of Jesus we are forgiven and justified – we are ready to be with God. This faith trusts that God’s love for us in Christ is true no matter what we are experiencing. We know it is, because Jesus rose from the dead. This faith trusts that death is no more threatening than sleep. To die is to be with Christ, and the Lord will raise our body on the Last Day so that we will live a bodily existence in the new creation. By faith we have salvation now, and by faith we look with joyful expectation to the end of the not yet when our Lord returns in glory.