November 10, 2013
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There’s something to Jesus’ touch. The ruler that came to Jesus—Mark and Luke name him as Jairus—asked for Him to come and lay His hand on his sick daughter. On the way there, there’s an old woman who thinks that if she could only touch Jesus’ cloak, she’d get well. Then when He finally reaches the young girl (who’s already died), Jesus takes her by the hand and raises her from death. There’s something to Jesus’ touch.
And it’s not just these two ladies from different generations, either. Virtually everyone who’s cured by Jesus is touched in some physical way. Yes, there are exceptions (the official from Capernaum, for example), but there’s clearly something to Jesus’ touch. Mark even reports that wherever Jesus was going during the height of His public ministry—in towns or in the country—people would bring the sick out to the public places so that they might even touch the hems of His cloak. And they were all made well.
The first three Gospels all tell this story of the young girl and the old woman being healed by Jesus, but Matthew uncharacteristically tells the story with the least amount of detail. Mark and Luke give some more details. Both of them state that Jesus was not only aware that He was touched by the woman with the hemorrhage, but that He actually felt power go out from Him.
What is it about Jesus’ touch? It almost seems as if His divine power is something like an electrical current, like when you have the jumper cables hooked up to the battery and you touch the two ends together. Is that all it takes? And, if so, how do you tap into it, since Jesus is ascended into heaven? You can’t sneak up behind Him in a crowd and try to catch a fold of His clothing.
Jesus heals the old woman and the young girl with His touch, but it’s not His touch only. Let me read the story to you again, and listen for what’s added to His touch.
While He was saying this to them, behold, a ruler came and knelt before Him, saying, “My daughter just now died. But come and place Your hand upon her and she will live.” And rising, Jesus began to follow him—also His disciples.
And behold, a woman who suffered hemorrhaging for twelve years came from behind and took hold of the hem of His cloak, for she said to herself, “If only I touch His cloak, I will be saved.” But turning around and seeing her, He said, “Have courage, daughter, your faith has saved you.” And the woman was saved from that hour.
And when He came into the house of the ruler, and saw the flute players and that the crowd was distressed, He said, “Go away, for the little girl is not dead, but she is sleeping.” And they were laughing at Him.
When the crowd had been moved out, He went in and took a hold of her hands, and the little girl was raised.
And this story went out into all of that land (vv 18-26).
Ok. What is it? What is it that Jesus adds to His touch?
Mark and Luke make it more explicit by reporting what Jesus said when He took the little girl’s hands (Mark even records Jesus in His original language, which means he’s really drawing attention to His word). Talitha cumi. Little girl, I say to you, arise (Mk 5:41; Lk 8:54). Not just the touch, but the Word of Jesus combined with His touch.
But there is yet a third aspect, something that combines with the Word and touch of Jesus to make these healings more than just healings. They are divine acts of salvation. “Have courage, daughter, your faith has saved you.” Faith is what receives Jesus touch and trusts His Word to do what it promises. In fact, this is the fourth time in the last two chapters, Jesus has tied one of His healings or miracles to faith. Faith is what receives and believes the promises of Christ.
The old woman and the young girl were both saved not just by the touch of Jesus, but by the Word of Jesus combined with His touch, along with the faith that trusts this Word with His touch.
There’s a reason why faith is continually connected to healing and salvation in chapters 8 and 9 of Matthew. If you remember, last week I explained how Matthew’s Gospel is organized into five discourses, or extended teachings, of Jesus, each of them interspersed with narratives that reveal something about Jesus. All of these stories of healing, salvation, and faith are the narratives that follow the first discourse, which is commonly known as the Sermon on the Mount. This first discourse is a commentary on the Law, redefining the natural understanding of religion, heightening and intensifying the requirements of the Law that man had watered down, describing true good deeds and sanctified living.
And by the time you get to the end, you wonder if there is any way you could ever do it all. Yes you can fulfill some of the external requirements that Jesus lays out, but He never stops at externals. He goes to the heart of the issue, and that’s when you discover that your heart is really the problem.
The Law of God reveals a disease more deadly that the leprosies, the fevers, the paralyses, the demons, the hemorrhages, the blindnesses that Jesus encounters at the beginning of His public ministry. Jairus’ daughter is the only one who even comes close to the disease that the Law reveals. The little girl was dead on her bed—everyone knew it. But Jesus calls this kind of death “only sleeping.” The greater and more permanent death is being separated from Him who is the Life.
This is your disease, with which you have been infected from conception. It’s an inherited disease, a genetic defect whose mortality rate is 100%. But thanks be to God that He has not left you entirely. He even gives you things to touch and feel, and thus receive His healing and salvation.
Water is the touch of Jesus. But not just any water—specific water. Water that has God’s name stirred in with it. Holy Baptism is where Jesus buries you with Him in His grave, and takes you by the hands to raise you to new life. Therefore, we have been buried together with Him, through baptism, into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, in this way, we too would be walking in newness of life (Rom 6:4).
Certainly not just water does these things, but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this word of God in the water. For without God’s word the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with the word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit. Jesus gives you His touch (the water), adds His Word (His name and promise), and your faith receives these to your benefit.
I cannot praise Holy Baptism too highly. It is a sure, tangible pledge of what Jesus did at the cross, what He continues to do each day with forgiveness, and what He will do on the Last Day. It’s a pledge and promise of healing, of renewal, of resurrection. It means that the day when your body lies breathless in its final bed, that death will be like the little girl’s death—only sleeping. Because the Last Day is coming when Christ will return to raise the dead from their graves. That day is coming when your body will be glorified as His is glorified, that is, revealed to be what God intended it to be, free from that original disease.
There is a new hymn in the new hymnal—actually an old hymn, written by Erdmann Neumeister, a Lutheran pastor in Hamburg, Germany from 1715-1755. It was only recently translated in 1991 and first printed in the Evangelical Lutheran Synod’s hymn book in 1996, and in our Hymnal Supplement of 1998 and again in Lutheran Service Book. And what a rediscovery it is. Listen to the last two verses.
Death, you cannot end my gladness:
I am baptized into Christ!
When I die, I leave all sadness
To inherit paradise!
Though I lie in dust and ashes
Faith’s assurance brightly flashes:
Baptism has the strength divine
To make life immortal mine.
There is nothing worth comparing
To this life-long comfort sure!
Open-eyed my grave is staring:
Even there I’ll sleep secure.
Though my flesh awaits its raising,
Still my soul continues praising:
I am baptized into Christ;
I’m a child of paradise.
In + Jesus’ name. Amen.
[Faith Saves when It Receives Jesus’ Healing Touch]
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard