Much Ado about Something
There's much ado in this text: a large crowd gathering, a father pleading for his daughter's life, people loudly crying, wailing, and being astonished. Something is causing this much ado.
A dying child calls for much ado. Imagine the fear and anguish that griped Jairus' heart as he went frantically to get Jesus. Jairus was a ruler of the synagogue. The synagogue was no friend to Jesus, but Jairus is desperate. His only child, a 12 year old daughter, is dying. Who cares about pride, dignity, and status at a time like this? He falls at Jesus' feet pleading for his daughter about to breathe her last.
A dying child calls forth much ado, a dead child even more. Matthew speaks of flute players, Luke of mourners wailing and beating their breasts, Mark of a commotion. True, some of this was from professional mourners. Even the poorest man was obligated to have at least 2 flute players and 1 professional mourner at a family death. A prominent man like Jairus would be expected to have more. But don't get the idea that the commotion, mourning, and wailing was faked. It was real to Jairus and wife. It was real to their friends and family. It was real to the synagogue members. It's like our funerals. It might be much ado about nothing to the funeral director, but it sure is something to us.
The biggest commotion death makes is to bring to an end hope and faith. That's what those coming to tell Jairus his daughter is dead think. "Your daughter is dead. Why bother the teacher any more?" What good can Jesus do now that she's dead? You've felt that before, haven't you? You hope in Jesus up to a point. You believe in Jesus just so far. But there comes a point where you feel hopeless; there comes a time when faith seems foolish.
A dying, dead child causes much ado. A Savior who ignores death does too. Jesus doesn't ignore death the way we try. We try to do it by means of works. If we do the right exercises, eat the right foods, take the right medicine, we have the right to ignore death. Death whispers in our ear, "I'm coming," and we think we don't have to listen because of our age, our health, our lifestyle, our genes. This isn't godly hope or Christian faith. This is salvation from death by works, and it works no better than salvation from damnation by works. You're going to die regardless of diet, medicine, exercise, or genes because you sin, and the wages of sin is death.
Ignoring death by works isn't what Jesus does in this text. Jesus looks a real death that has happened square in the eyes and says that it's not the beginning of fear or the end of hope and faith. We look at potential death that we believe to be off in the distance. We might successfully ignore death in the future but not when it comes and sits on our chest. Death crushes our hope, our guts, our faith and we give way to fear and faithlessness. Jesus seeing the same things says literally, "You don't have to continue to be afraid and you can go on believing Me."
You know why you can ignore death regardless of your genes, your diet, your medicines, your health, age, and even your sinfulness? Because Jesus did not really ignore it. Jesus, God the Son in flesh and blood, didn't come into this world to show you how to live a Christian life or a healthy life. Jesus came into the world to die your death. Jesus said that He came to give His life as a ransom. Death has a claim on us not because we're overweight, our blood pressure is high, or we have lousy genes. Death has a claim on us because we're sinful. God's holy law gives death this claim. It says only those who keep the law perfectly can escape death, or failing that, those who sin escape death if they pay for their sins by dying until the debt is paid in full.
So what you going to do sinner? Think you have a chance of keeping the law perfectly when you're very first thoughts are sinful? Or do you think you can pay for your sins by suffering now or even for all eternity? No, you can't do either, but Jesus did both. Jesus didn't ignore death He defeated it by keeping all God's Laws perfectly, so death had no claim on Him. Yet, Jesus gave His life over to physical and eternal death, to pay for our sinning. So death doesn't have the last Word over your life or death, Jesus does.
That's important. A Savior who ignores death would be someone to marvel at, maybe even emulate, but where would we be if the text stopped with Jesus simply ignoring death? No, the comforting thing, the powerful thing is that Jesus went on to say, "You can stop being afraid of death and you can go on believing that I can help you even in the face of death." Jesus can say these words because He has the power to wake the dead with just His Word. That is something that calls for much ado.
When Jairus first came on behalf of his dying daughter he expected Jesus to put His hands on her so that she would be healed and live. Jesus doesn't do that. Instead He takes her by the hand and speaks, "Little girl, I say to you, get up." What all the mourning and beating of breasts could not do, what a flood of tears could not do, what positive thinking, praying, or believing could not do, Jesus did with just a word. What all your exercising, dieting, doctoring, worrying, hoping, ignoring, believing and praying cannot do, Jesus can do with just a word.
I want you to notice something about this word that Jesus speaks here. Jesus makes it specific, "Little girl, I say to you get up." In the other 2 recorded instances of Jesus raising the dead with a word, He does the same thing. In the case of the widow of Nain's son, Jesus says, "Young man, I say to you arise." In the case of Lazarus, Jesus says, "Lazarus, come out." Why? Because if Jesus hadn't specified who He wanted to get up, to rise, to come out, all the graves would've opened, all the dead would've risen, all of them would've come out. Jesus says as much in John 5, "An hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and come out." That's how powerful the Word of Jesus is.
One day all the dead will hear the powerful word of Jesus and come forth from their graves, the sea will give up its dead; the ground will give up its buried. Those who scattered their ashes in the belief that God could never find them to raise them will be raised. Some will rise in glorified bodies for life everlasting. Most will rise in damned bodies for eternal tormenting. So, you see while the powerful word of Jesus that raises the dead is something to make a big ado over, a much bigger ado is due the saving word spoken to sinners now. Jesus says this too in John 5. Before speaking of His Word that will one day raise all the dead, He speaks about His Word to dead sinners now. "An hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live."
Everyone dies the first physical death, it cannot be avoided do what you may, believe what you may, pray what you may. But everyone does not have to die the second death, the eternal one. This is the death that Jesus came to rescue sinners from. The first death is no more permanent than sleep. Jesus will wake us, and everyone else, from the first death as easily as we now wake each other from sleep. Those in the grave of the first death, though we wail and mourn them as if lost forever, are no more lost to Jesus than our loved one sleeping in the next room is. As just a word from us can wake those dead asleep, so a word from Jesus will wake all the dead.
Perhaps the fact that all will rise from the dead, has given rise to the fiction that everyone goes to heaven. All do rise, but not all, or even most go to heaven. All will be raised physically, but for the damned, for those who don't believe the Word of life, they will rise physically to be tormented physically by a fire that can't be quenched and by a worm that can't be killed. Their suffering is not just spiritual but physical: burning flesh and gnawing pain.
I have no cure, no remedy for the first death that stalks you. I have no fountain of youth. I have no exercise program, dieting plan, or medical miracle to stop the relentless march of time and disease. I can't silence Death's whisper, "You're going to die." All I have is the way to deliver you from the second death, the eternal one. And that's the one that counts because when you're delivered from the second death the first death becomes but the prelude to a glorious resurrection.
Now you know you would be impressed if I could stand before the graves of your loved ones and say, "Arise, get up, come forth." But this would only be a resurrection to this life. Even Jairus' daughter was only raised to this life. Bringing someone back to this life doesn't deliver them from the second death, but only from the first death, and only for a while.
Well, I can't raise anyone from the first death, but I can right now raise any and all of you from the second. By Jesus' power and authority I can baptize you with a water of regeneration, a water of renewal, a life-giving water rich in grace. By Jesus' power and authority I can put away your sins and assure you that you will not die forever. By Jesus' power and authority I can give you to eat and drink His Body and Blood not just for forgiveness but for life and salvation.
In our world, much ado is made over medicine, food, or lifestyles that claim to lengthen life. People pursue them with a religious fervor. This is much ado about nothing. The Lord has promised us not that we might but that we will return to dust. Nothing we do can change that. But He has given us a word that does deliver from the second death: a word to be placed on our bodies in Baptism, to be put in our ears in Absolution, and to be eaten and drank by us in Communion. These are nothing to the world, but to us they are something worthy of much ado and even more use. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost VI (20060716); Mark 5:21-24a; 35-43