Certain words stick with us. "Dr. Livingston, I presume." Stanley's words upon finding the missionary. "Mr. Watson, come here; I want you." Alexander Graham Bells' first intelligible words over the telephone. "That's one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind." Neil Armstrong's' words upon stepping on the moon. My personal favorite though is President Kennedy's words to the citizens of Berlin. "Ich bin ein Berliner." All the world, even the people who heard him say it, thought he had said, "I am a Berliner," expressing solidarity with the torn city of Berlin. But what Kennedy actually said is "I am a jelly doughnut." Words can be memorable even when we misunderstand them. In our text, there are 3 phrases from the lips of Christ that are memorable to Christians though often misunderstood.
The first words are to Jairus after he has learned that his precious little daughter has died before Jesus could get to her to help her. Jesus ignores the news that the little girl is dead and says instead, "Don't be afraid; just believe." A better translations would be "Don't give way to fear; keep on believing." People remember these words, but often they misunderstand them to mean that Jairus' faith was necessary for Jesus to raise his daughter or worse yet that his faith could cause her to be raised. That is, somehow, someway, JESUS needed the faith of Jairus to do the miracle.
Nothing could be further from the truth. If Jesus needs our faith in order to do things for us, then His power is limited by our believing. Then your Baptism, your Absolution, or your receiving the body and blood of Christ in Holy Communion would only be as sure as your believing. No our faith receives what God first puts there. It doesn't cause forgiveness, life, or the Body and Blood of Christ to be there. Secondly, if faith had to be present for the dead to rise, neither the son of the widow of Nain, Lazarus, or Jesus Himself would have been raised because no one aside from Jesus believed they would be.
Jesus words, "Don't give way to fear; keep on believing," aren't said so Jesus can do the miracle, but so Jairus might be comforted and encouraged. Every healthy Christian believes that God can heal. Every Christian not standing beside a grave believes God can raise the dead. But when sick, when standing beside coffins, then faith is at an end. We are no different than the world which believes where there is life there is hope. No life - no hope. Though we're told every Sunday that God heals the sick and raises the dead, though we're told that God longs to be gracious to us through Christ and is more than willing to help, all we do is cry and complain and convince ourselves that there is no deliverance from disease or death.
The news of disease and especially death kills faith. We modern children of science and technology know it's stupid to go on believing once the cancer has metastasized. We highly sophisticated people know that once the life support is unhooked that's it. Once the doctors have spoken, once the tests have confirmed it, faith comes to an end. I mean we aren't fanatics, are we? Neither was Jairus or his household. There was no need to trouble Jesus once the poor little girl had died. What could the teacher do for her now?
But Jesus lets Jairus and us know that faith, doesn't have to quit believing even when the modern holy trinity of medicine, science, and technology have spoken. Though fear rises in our throat and panic pushes on our heart, we can go on believing in our Jesus. Jairus could go on in the same faith that he came to Jesus with in the first place. He could go on believing that Jesus could and would help his daughter even though His daughter now lay stone cold dead. And so can you and I dear friends. God doesn't consult a patient's chart to decide what He can do with him or her. God doesn't wait for tests results to determine if He can heal. God doesn't consult a medical textbook to see how long the brain can be without oxygen before He decides to raise them from the dead. Nothing you will ever find out from a medical text, hear from a doctor's mouth, or see with your own eyes means you have to give way to fear and stop believing. You can go on believing despite what you see, feel, or others say.
The next words Jesus speaks are not to Jairus but to the crowd of wailers and mourners. He says all this commotion and wailing is out of place. "The child is not dead but asleep." The commentators will tell you correctly that there were professional mourners here, but I am here to tell you that there were genuine ones too. This particular Greek word for wailing is used for shrill tones, like the screeching sounds of the winepress. At the sudden death of a child, grieving is pierced with shrieks. It is horrible; it is haunting and may you never hear it. But Jesus did. And in the face of it, Jesus says it is out of place because the child was asleep not dead.
These words are memorable, but some misunderstand. Some commentators will tell you that Jesus is saying that the girl is only in a comma. No, Jesus does not mean that the girl is only asleep as in the night or even asleep as in a medical comma. Jesus knows the girl is really dead. No pulse, no brain waves, no respiration. The group knows this too. That is why they laugh at Jesus. The strong emotions at the death of a child are now turned against Jesus' apparent stupidity. But Jesus isn't being stupid. He is just being God.
The death that terrifies us so; that is so absolute, so final, is nothing more than sleep to Jesus. Are you frightened, worried or in any sense bothered when someone tells you a loved one is asleep? Of course not! Sleep is nothing. Sleep is no big barrier, no dark, deep river, no end at all. All that stands between you and your sleeping loved one is a shake, a touch, a word, and their they are again completely and totally restored to you. And so it is with the dead and Christ.
The great big boogie man of death is nothing more than a light sleep to our Jesus. The little girl is lifeless. There is no brain activity to translate the reverberations of her ear drum. In fact, I'm not sure an ear drum even reverberates in a dead body. In any event, though the girl is really across the deep, dark, cold river of death, Jesus speaks to her as if she is still in the same room. And she hears and gets up. Though there really is no life in her body, though she is as dead as your loved ones who have been dead for years are. Jesus speaks to her as if she were no more dead than your loved one asleep on the couch, and just those words make her live. Our loved ones are no farther away from life than one gentle word of Jesus.
This, however, is absolute idiocy to the world. That's why they literally laughed Jesus down. The world thinks this faith that we hold, i.e. that our dead are no more permanently dead to Jesus then someone asleep is to us, is stupid. Get used to it. Already in the New Testament what the world considered so foolish about Christianity was the resurrection of the dead. To the world dead bodies rising is the stuff of science fiction and horror movies not that of religion. Don't let the world's view of death color your view of Christ. When Jesus says, "The child is not dead but asleep," it is not statement about the child but about Christ and His total power over death.
But our dead still sleep, don't they? Not one of us has seen even one of them wake up yet. What a wall faith runs into here! The wall comes from not paying attention to memorable words. You know the people of Berlin all spoke German; they certainly should have noticed that Kennedy while intending to say Berliner really said jelly doughnut. I guess in their excitement, they passed over the details. We can do the same with the last words Jesus is recorded speaking. "Little girl, I say to you, get up."
Jesus' words prove the reality of John 5 which says, "The hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice and shall come forth." The dead can and will hear the voice of Jesus and they will come forth. When Christ speaks to the dead, they hear and obey. This is because death knows it's master. When Christ died our death on the cross, He won the right to boss death around. Death became His servant. Have you ever tried to order someone else's dog around? It usually doesn't work. That's because you are not their master. Likewise, though we cannot order death around, though death doesn't listen to medicine, science, or technology, death does listen to Jesus. When He tells death to release someone, it does.
Now note this. John 5 tells us that there will come a day when all who are in the grave will hear His voice and get up. That day is not today. In the cases of the 3 people that Scripture records Jesus raising, He always specifies to whom He is speaking. Here He says, "Little girl, I say to you, get up." At Nain Jesus says, "Young man, I say to you, arise." At Bethany Jesus says, "Lazarus, come forth." Why does Jesus specify each time to whom He is talking? If Jesus didn't specify whom He was speaking to then all the dead who heard Him would have come forth as John 5 says they will on the Last Day. All the graves where Lazarus was buried would have opened. All the tombs at Nain's cemetery would have given up their dead. All the bodies within in earshot of this little girl would have risen too.
Dear friends, in the case of our dead in Christ, it is only a matter of when Christ will tell them to rise not a matter of if. The "if" has been settled once and for all on Calvary's cross when Christ bore the sins of the world, those of our dead in Christ included. Christ paid for all sins on Calvary and redeemed, that is, bought back the souls of all sinners.
Christ owns what He paid for. Just as we are not to go rooting around in our sins which Christ now owns neither are we to question what He does with the bodies and souls He redeemed on the cross with His holy precious blood. Rest assured that as you take care of what you have figuratively sweat blood over, Christ Jesus cares for what He really and truly shed blood over. He is not now ready to raise our dead in Christ whom He bought and paid for, but one day soon they will hear His voice. And not one of them will be able to remain in the grave no matter how long they have been in there. It is only a matter of when Christ speaks to them, not if.
Also put Jesus raising the dead in the proper perspective. He tells the parents to tell no one about this. Of course, just the girl walking around would tell plenty, but Jesus strictly charges them not to make it their business to tell about their dead being raised. Jesus just doesn't emphasize His raising people from the dead before the Last Day. Only 3 of His miraculous resurrections are recorded in the Bible, and these 3 aren't even found in all of the Gospels. Furthermore, while Jesus often prohibited people from spreading the news of His miracles, He never restricted the spread of His doctrine. In fact, He specifically said that He wanted repentance and forgiveness preached in His name in all nations. Therefore, the most memorable words we have to share with others about our dead in Christ are not that they are not yet raised or even that they will be raised, but that their sins have most certainly been forgiven by Him. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost VI (7-23-00) Mark 5:21-24; 35-43