11-14-21 Trinity 24

November 14, 2021
Passage: Matthew 9:18-26
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Jesus had just been explaining why his disciples don’t fast. The disciples of John the Baptist had come to him, apparently offended, and asked, “Why do we fast and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples don’t fast?” And Jesus answered them with a question, “Can the sons of the bridegroom mourn when the bridegroom is with them?” The answer is, of course, “No,” they can’t. When Jesus is with you, it’s a time of rejoicing. This is why Sundays have always been considered feast days in the Christian church. Every Sunday, even during Lent when we’re supposed to be fasting and mourning, every Sunday is a feast day. Because the bridegroom is with us. Because Jesus is literally here. And you can’t mourn when Jesus is here. Because He prepares a feast for us and tells us to eat; He feeds us with his body and blood; he forgives every sin that terrifies our conscience; we sit at his feet and hear the words of eternal life. There’s a time for mourning and fasting Jesus says, as Solomon had said before Him, when we’re out living our lives in the world and Jesus appears to be far from us: then we can mourn, then we need to fast and practice self-control. But that time is not now, not when Jesus comes to His own and His own receive Him. Jesus speaks categorically here. They cannot mourn. This is why we sing, Joy o joy beyond all gladness, Christ has done away with sadness; hence all sorrow and repining for the Sun of grace is shining. That’s the attitude of the sons of the bridegroom when the bridegroom is present. Hence all fear and sadness, for the Lord of gladness, Jesus enters in. He enters in here, the same Jesus who raised that girl from the dead, and so He will raise you from the dead. He enters in here, the same Jesus who, touched by the woman, could not help but to give her relief and save her soul.

Jesus changes life completely. The old ways are done – Jesus either fulfills them or he shows their folly. The Old Testament he fulfills. No more rites of purification – Jesus’ flesh and blood purify us. No more sacrifices – Jesus is the final sacrifice, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. No more Temple – Jesus is the true temple, where God is present in all His fulness. No more mandatory fasts, no more set days of mourning – when Jesus is with us, there is always heavenly joy. So Jesus says, “No one puts new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise the skins break and the wine spills out and the skins are destroyed. But they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” Jesus is the new wine here. You can’t force him into your old life and your old ideas. You don’t just add Jesus into your life, as one piece into a puzzle. He’ll destroy that puzzle. He won’t fit. He’s too big. Jesus isn’t incidental to life. He is life, and to those who receive Him and trust in Him, all life is changed, all life revolves around Him, all perception sees through Him. All our thinking – about God, about our lives, about pain, about suffering, about death, about money, about power, about joy and happiness – finds its answer in Him.

It’s while Jesus is saying these things that Jairus comes, this ruler of the synagogue, whose daughter has just died. And Jairus comes to illustrate the very point that Jesus is making. Jesus orders history. Jairus comes now because Jesus wants Jairus to come now, to show this very thing – that Jesus makes all things new. And so the Holy Spirit directs our attention sharply to Jairus with this word “behold:” Behold, look at this man, look at his faith, look at his reaction to the death of the daughter he loves so much. What does he do? He comes to Jesus. He doesn’t despair. He knows that Jesus is Lord of life. So his view of death is totally different from the world’s. New wine is being poured into a new wineskin here. His faith is in Jesus only. And it is a confidence that Jesus is not only powerful to save in the face of death, but that He wants to do it.

The world’s response to death is very different from Jairus’s response. We see it at the end of our Gospel, when the people laugh at Jesus. This is the old way, the old wineskin, into which Jesus just won’t fit. He can only break it apart. When Jesus comes to Jairus’ house, there’s a commotion, a mob of wailing people, with a few people playing flutes. These are the two old ways of dealing with death – the ways we see still today among the heathen, the ways Pastor Richard warned us about last week. The first is a hopeless wailing, a hopeless mourning, with no reason to believe that anything will come of it. And nothing has. The girl remains dead. The second is to try in some way to make death seem less horrible – that’s why there are flute players there – trying to give what little solace music detached from God’s Word can bring. But the girl remains dead. And so people will come up with all sorts of comforts today, imagine a Christless heaven where nonChristians go, imagine away hell, simply assert, with no basis, no foundation, that Joe pagan is in a better place. But false comfort is no comfort at all. And theirs’ is really only hopelessness in the face of death.

And then Jesus enters in. And He speaks the truth. And He proves the truth.

And notice what happens. The world mocks Him. They laugh at Him. They prefer their desperate dreams to His beautiful reality.

He asserts she’s sleeping, that she’s not dead. And Jesus means it. The death of Christians is a sleep. The word cemetery means exactly that, it’s Greek for place of sleeping. We put the bodies of Christians into the earth with the sure confidence that these same bodies will rise again. Yes, they are dead, there’s no life in them, but life will come back into them, as surely as Jesus was dead, there was no life in that body, he breathed his last, but life came back into Him, He conquered death and so His death was only a sleep, a rest, a Sabbath. The death of Christians is a sabbath, a rest, a sleep, because we are Christ’s and He is ours, as we just sang: I am thine, for Thou has bought me, lost I stood, but thy blood full salvation brought me. And so the nighttime hymn has us sing– teach me to live that I may dread the grave as little as my bed. The Christian dies in peace, as if falling asleep after a long day’s work, knowing that he will rise again, refreshed, renewed, when the Sun of Righteousness rises and wakes him from the dead.

They laughed at Jesus, so Jesus sent them away. The Greek literally says, “the crowd was cast out.” They were set in the old ways, they refused to see what happens now that the Son of God has come to earth and wears our human nature. Jesus never performs signs and wonders for mockers and scoffers. He just won’t do it. He won’t pour new wine into old wineskins. He won’t cast pearls before swine. So he throws the unbelievers out and he takes only the father and mother and believing family into the house, and they see what Jesus came to do. They see Jesus give life by His word and by His touch. And this remains the truth now.

Jesus said that He spoke in parables so that the unbelievers would hear and not understand, but to His Christians, He says, it has been given to know the secrets of the Kingdom of heaven. Because Christian faith doesn’t judge things by the cold dictates of corrupt human reason. It doesn’t look at a dead body and seek a scientist’s assessment of the case, or a philosopher’s opinion. It listens to Jesus who has risen from the dead. It listens to the Son of God who bore the wages of sin in His own body and rose triumphant from the grave. It hears His promise, He who believes in Me will live even though He dies. My sheep hear my voice, and I give them eternal life. It takes every thought captive in obedience to Christ, and it deduces from the fact of Jesus’ death for me, His resurrection from the dead for me, His body and blood given for me, that He loves me and wants to give me life with Him forever. That was this father’s reaction to death. That’s faith’s response to life and to death.

This is why the attempt to shut down Christian churches during the Covid crisis was so offensive to Christian faith, and the cowardice of pastors who shut down churches was so disgraceful. The scientist might tell me that I could die if I catch Covid, and that’s appropriate and that’s true, but the scientist doesn’t get to tell me not to go to church, not to run to Jesus when death confronts me. No, Jesus is the answer to death. His body and His blood give life. And it doesn’t matter if the scoffers outside laugh at Jesus, because they don’t believe Him, it doesn’t matter how many times they shout, “Trust the science,” because Jesus still comes into this house, still gives His body and His blood, still gives life, eternal life, still pours new wine into new wineskins. And we see what the world cannot see.

This limit to the world’s knowledge, its incapacity to deal with the true problems of life or death, the Holy Spirit further illustrates by telling us about this woman with the flow of blood. As usual, the disease itself wasn’t near as bad as its consequences. The old way was the way of the Old Testament rites. She was bleeding, so she was unclean. For 12 years. She was unclean and so she was lonely. She couldn’t touch her husband if she had one, and if she didn’t, no man could marry her. She couldn’t have children. She had to socially distance herself for 12 years, even from her own family. It was torture. We’ve seen a little bit of that torture imposed on our old folks throughout the last two years, especially those in nursing homes. Forced solitude is a horrible thing. It’s inhuman, what we do to prisoners. It’s worse than the disease. It was this loneliness that had driven this woman to spend all her money looking for a cure, all her means on doctors, who poked and prodded and prescribed this and ordered that, but nothing worked. She had met with the limits of medicine and science. And we have to realize that there are limits to them. Definite limits. And the greatest limit is this – in the end they will not keep us alive. We will die. Jesus is literally the only One, faith in Him literally the only thing, that will keep us alive forever, and not just alive, but alive with God, right with Him, forever. And so it is infinitely more important to rely on Him and to receive from Him the medicine of immortality, than it is for us to secure some temporary health in this world.

I think we have to understand that this woman heard Jesus when he said, “No one puts new wine into old wineskins,” or at least we have to understand that she had heard Jesus say something like this before. Because she does what is totally illegal according to the Old Testament law. She’s unclean, and she reaches out and touches Jesus. She breaks the law. Because she understands that all things are now new. She understands that the old rule can’t apply anymore. Because the Son of God walks the earth in human flesh. And she knows she can’t make Jesus unclean. She can’t dirty Him. He is what every rite of purification ever performed in the Temple pointed to, every purging with hyssop, every washing. He makes clean by His blood, and so her flow of blood can’t dirty Him. He’s come to bear her sins and her uncleanness, take them on Himself, so His touch can only cleanse, can only purify.

Jesus tells her, “Your faith has saved you.” Because she had learned not to trust in the things of this world, they’d all failed her. Only Jesus would not fail her. Her faith was that new vessel, that new wineskin, that was being filled with the new wine.

This is the only way Jesus is received. We can’t take Him piecemeal. We can’t force him into a corner of our lives. We can’t go on in the old way, living 6 days a week as if He doesn’t exist. We can’t live the old way, in despair of death. We can’t live the old way, trusting our eyes and our fallen reason instead of trusting His Word. We can’t live by the old pagan rules of gratifying our own pleasures, eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die. That’s the old way, and Jesus can only destroy old wineskins. If we are to have Jesus, He insists that we have all of Him and that He have all of us.

What a wonderful thing. God has embraced us. He’s become a man. And He wants us to share in His riches. Christ is risen. Our God has joined our human race. He has lived on this earth and breathed this air. He has carried our sorrows and borne our iniquities. He has loved us to His death. And He is risen, the Conqueror of our sin and our death and our hell. This changes everything. It makes all things new. The old ways are done. God is for us. God is with us. So there is no suffering we cannot bear. No specter of death that can make us despair. No wisdom of this world that can tear the trusting heart away from its Lord. Because today once again He is with us, and the sons of the Bridegroom rejoice at His feast. Amen.

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