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Taking Hold

Matthew 9:18-26

Pastor Jason Zirbel

24th Sunday after Trinity
Grace Lutheran Church  
Greenwood, AR

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Sun, Nov 11, 2018 

The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.

I don’t know if you caught it or not, but there’s something very special and unique that happens in our Gospel text for today.  Jesus follows.  This happens NOWHERE ELSE in all of Scripture!  Jesus is always being followed, but Jesus never follows anyone…except here.  This cues us in on the fact that something very big; something very different and very special is happening.

“My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her so that she will have life.” This ruler—this bereaved dad—firmly believes Jesus can and will raise his daughter from the dead.  More than that, this dad isn’t just looking at the here-and-now, as if Jesus needs to come and restore the little girl’s pulse and respiration.  This dad specifically uses the Greek word sozo, which is used throughout Scripture to speak of being made well with the gift of life—eternal life.  “Come and lay your hand on her so that she will sozo—live.” He knows that Jesus is the font and source of all life, both present and eternal.  His faith in Jesus isn’t just a Sunday morning kind of faith.  It’s the real deal.  His faith is being witnessed and fleshed out as he cleaves to Jesus in the midst of one of the worst sorrows any parent could ever know—the death of their own child.  This isn’t a wavering faith or a questioning faith.  This isn’t a faith that’s looking to strike a deal with Jesus when times get tough, nor is this a faith that feels like Jesus owes him one.  “How dare you do this to me, after all I’ve done for you!” Nope.  This is a faith that is reaching out to Jesus and firmly taking hold, asking not just for physical restoration but for the resurrection unto eternal life. 

I want you to think about this for a moment.  The text simply states that in response to this request Jesus arose and followed.  As I said, this, in itself, is profound.  And yet…the way the whole context reads, Jesus was almost, in a sense, not following this guy as much as He was being dragged by the arm, so tight was this man’s grasp of faith on Him.  “Come with me, Jesus!” And Jesus does. 

Of course, the same can be said of the woman who had been bleeding for over twelve years.  She, too, had a very strong and commendable faith.  St. Luke (a doctor) tells us in his parallel account that this woman had spent all she had on various treatments over the years, and none worked.  She was flat-broke and destitute.  Twelve years of “ritual uncleanness” had also made her essentially “dead” within her own community.  Her blood impurity would prevent anyone from having contact with her.  Flat-broke, destitute, and helpless…and yet she dares to break all the rules and pushes her way through the crowd, all so she can simply reach out and take hold of a fringe of Jesus’ garment.  “If I touch only the fringe of His garment I will be sozo’d.”

There’s that word again!  This lets us know that she wasn’t merely looking to Jesus for physical healing or restoration.  If that were the case, she (like the grieving dad) would’ve used the word therapeuo.  Besides, that’s not exactly commendable faith, is it?  EVERYONE seems to get real religious when suffering is on the agenda.  It’s “amazing” how people can turn to God in prayer when they’re hurting and they want God to fix things.  Hospitals, nursing homes, and hospice units are FILLED with people crying out to Jesus for therapeuo—for physical healing.  But… that’s not what this poor woman is looking for here.  She uses the very specific word for “made well with the gift of life—eternal life.” It’s clear that she is seeking more than just physical healing.  She is coming to Jesus to take hold of “even the fringe of His garment,” confident in the fact that Jesus is the true gift of life.  To be made well in Jesus is to be made well unto eternal life.  Whether she lived or died, she knew that Christ would make her truly well, reversing her condition from “walking exiled corpse” to “beloved daughter” who would be welcomed into her Father’s house; welcomed to His heavenly feast table.  Like the grieving dad, this woman has a truly profound and commendable faith. 

Now, it’s at this point that we need to be very careful.  I say this because the natural tendency is to put the focus on these people and their faith.  “We need to be more like them!” That’s not the point!  Your comfort, your assurance, your rock-solid confidence and peace is not going to be found in your faith!  Your faith doesn’t save you!  Remember: EVERYONE has faith in something.  Everyone puts their trust in and holds fast to something, be it western medicine or miracle cures or 401Ks or diplomas on the wall or elected politicians and government programs that promise to give you everything your selfish little heart desires. 

Folks: All that stuff fails.  Even the healthiest people die.  Your advanced degrees and “atta boy” commendations won’t earn you an extra hour of life.  Your retirement account isn’t going to do you a bit of good when you’re six feet under.  Being “the richest person in the cemetery” does you no good.  Death has a blunt way of leveling the playing field.  And as for all those politicians and their programs…they’re not the “messiahs” they want you to believe (and you want to believe).  NONE of these things can or will save you!  They might make you feel good, but NONE of these things can or will sozo you.  They cannot and will not make you well unto life—eternal life.

This is why the focus MUST be on the object of true saving faith—Jesus the Christ.  It’s not about what you need to do.  It’s not about the faith you need to have.  You can’t create faith any more than you can add an hour to your life.  I know it sounds strange, but it’s not about your faith.  It’s about who your faith holds fast to—Christ Jesus.  He is the One and ONLY who can and will save you; who can and will sozo you and make you well unto life everlasting.  In fact, this language of “can and will” is not entirely correct.  Jesus HAS saved you.  “It is finished,” right?  Jesus has lived up to His God-given name and “saved His people from their sin.” You ARE saved.  By virtue of your baptism into His all-atoning death and resurrection, you have been made well unto eternal life.  You have been restored from death to life.  You stand before your God and Lord—right now—not as an exiled corpse, but as a beloved child and co-heir of the royal heavenly household who has been made alive in Christ.

This is profound.  This is special.  This should mean something to you.  No matter how bad or dark things may get on this side of eternity, we have already been made well in Christ.  No matter how sick we may get; no matter how broke we may become; no matter how much we may suffer; no matter how heavy our crosses may get, we have already been made well in Christ. 

Look to this rail.  Look to this font.  Consider the Word that enters into your ears and penetrates your hearts, minds, and souls.  Here is where and how Christ Jesus Himself—the Word made flesh—reaches into your life and gives to you His free and undeserved gift of life.  This is where and how your God and Lord makes you truly well unto eternal life.  Look at who is doing the saving action here.  Just as your Lord willingly went into the presence of death in order to take death by the hand and bespeak His gift of life into that body of death, so too does He take you into His arms to put His name upon your head and your heart; so too does He lay His holy hands upon you and give to you His life-giving body and blood so that you will be made well unto eternal life.  Just as your Lord allowed Himself to be taken hold of by the suffering woman’s impurity of pervasive death and unrighteous corruption, so too does He respond in saving grace when you reach out and take hold of Him in faith.  Your Lord will NEVER turn you away!  He is always here, calling you to take hold of Him and not let go.  His grace is sufficient for eternal life!  Even the gates of hell will not prevail! 

I’ll end now the same way I started.  Your Lord will ALWAYS be with you, even to the end of the age.  Wherever you go in this world; wherever you find yourself, there is your Lord.  Yes, there will be times that He is following you (and not leading you).  Sin will lead you away from Him.  Your Lord, however, is quick to forgive.  He is merciful.  Turn around.  He’s right there.  Turn around and take hold of Him as He mercifully scoops you up in His arms and takes you back into His light, setting your feet firmly on His Way (path).  You have His Word: He will never leave you or forsake you.  He was forsaken so that you will never have to be forsaken.  He is with you now, and He is with you always. 

May this Christocentric gift of true life and wellness be all that your faith reaches out to and firmly holds fast to, now and into all eternity.  May God grant it for Christ’s sake.  AMEN.



Feel free to use any or all of this sermon for the edification of God's people.



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