Pastor Scott L. Harris
April 11, 1993
Jesus’ Authority Over Death
Matthew 9:18-26, 28:1-10
Because each of us inherit Adam’s sin, each of is cursed with the result of that sin which is death. Death is our foremost enemy. Mankind through his technological advances has been able “cheat death,” so to speak, by effectively overcoming many of the diseases and even correcting failure of various body parts that used to cause physical death. My presence with you here today is proof of that, because seven years ago I would have died except for an operation to remove an infected and leaking appendix and antibiotics to stop the infection I had in my abdominal cavity. Only a couple of decades earlier, it was not uncommon for appendicitis to cause death as it did to Diane’s grandfather.
Modern medicine may be able to “cheat” death for a short time, but death inevitably wins the game. Death takes some early as in the case of the Amanda Jill Berreth, the daughter of our dear friends in California, who died three days after birth despite all the advanced medical care she received. Death strikes others down in their prime through a host of means including disease, organ failure, accidents, and war. You might even live to a ripe old age, as did Mr. George Ball, a good friend of my family’s who made it to 105, but physical death still comes.
I have done funerals for people who lived from three days to 105 years and all sorts of ages in between. Death is a persistent enemy who will eventually win. Many false religions have doctrines developed to try to satisfy man’s desire to cope with death by some means. The great tragedy is that the hope given in such religious endeavors is false. False hope is given in conquering death in religions such as Islam where the faithful Muslim is promised a place in heaven, but even Mohammed is still in his grave. Secular Humanism dismisses death as just part of the evolutionary process, but that leads to lives of cynicism, despair, or purposelessness. Hinduism and other eastern religions regard death as just part of the cycle of reincarnation, but that, like humanism, brings no comfort when death is actually faced. Fifteen years before he died, Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “I must tell you in all humility that Hinduism and I know it entirely satisfies my soul. It fills my whole being and I find a solace in the Bhagavad and Upanishad that I miss even in the Sermon on the Mount.” But just before his death he wrote, “My days are numbered. I am not likely to live very long, perhaps a year or a little more. For the first time in fifty years I find myself in the slew of despond.”
There are really two questions that man has in regards to death. 1) Has anyone ever conquered it? 2) Did they make a way for me to conquer it? In our text this morning, we find that Jesus both conquered it and made a way for us to conquer it. Jesus has authority over death.
Turn to Matthew 9:18. Our text this morning is within a section of Matthew’s gospel in which Matthew is proving His argument that Jesus is the Messiah by showing that He had authority that only God Himself could have. In the past weeks, we have seen that Jesus has authority over every imaginable disease and physical affliction. (See: Jesus’ Authority Over Disease). Jesus has authority over nature itself. He can command the wind and the sea. (See: Jesus’ Authority Over Nature). Jesus commanded and the demons had no choice but to obey for he has authority over the supernatural. (See: Jesus’ Authority Over the Supernatural). Jesus also has authority to forgive sins as was demonstrated in the forgiving and healing of the paralytic. (See: Jesus’ Authority Over Sin). Today we will see that Jesus has authority over death.
HIS POWER NEEDED
Follow along with me in Matthew 9:18, “While He was saying these things to them, behold, there came a synagogue official, and bowed down before Him, saying, ‘My daughter has just died; but come and lay Your hand on her, and she will live.’ And Jesus rose and began to follow him, and so did His disciples.”
Matthew has the shortest account of this story and so it is the most condensed. From Mark and Luke we find out several other things. First, the man who came to Jesus was named Jairus and he was not just a synagogue official, but the chief official or ruler of the synagogue in Capernaum. This meant he was responsible for the total administration and operation of the synagogue. He supervised the worship services and oversaw the work of the other elders, which included teaching, adjudicating disputes, and other leadership duties.
This is important to keep in mind because remember that there was already a movement against Jesus by most of the religious leaders. For Jairus to come to Jesus would mean he would do so at the risk of inviting the scorn if not rejection of the other religious leaders. Now Jairus would certainly have known about, if not personally seen, some of the miracles Jesus had wrought in Capernaum. In that city Jesus had healed the centurion’s servant, Peter’s mother-in-law, as well as performed other miracles which occurred at Peter’s house. As we shall see, Jairus had faith in Jesus, but apparently out of fear of what the other religious leaders might say or do, he did not come to Jesus until the situation was desperate. Mark and Luke tell us that Jairus came to Jesus when his daughter was already “sick unto death,” and that soon after he went to find Jesus his servants came and told him that his daughter had already died. Matthew condenses that to just reporting that Jairus came to Jesus saying his twelve year old daughter had died, would Jesus come to help?
Jairus came to Jesus because he was desperate. He knew that Jesus had the power to heal the sick so Jesus could heal his precious daughter. His concern for her coupled with his personal knowledge that Jesus could heal her, overcame his fear of his colleagues that were against Jesus. His only hope now lie in Jesus, so he goes out to find Jesus, and finding Him he bows down in respect and reverence. His request now would have to be for something that was a great step of faith. Jesus had not raised anyone from the dead yet, but Jairus says, “My daughter has died; but come and lay Your hand on her, and she will live.” A great request made on the basis of faith. Jairus believed Jesus had the power to raise the dead. That power was needed.
The greatest hindrance in people coming to Jesus Christ is not unbelief in Jesus. Even in our society, most people respect Jesus and even believe most of the Biblical accounts of His activities. The greatest block to personal faith in Jesus for salvation from sin is a failure to see the need for it. Jairus hesitated to seek out Jesus until his daughter was already nearly dead and then did die. I wonder how guilty he may have been feeling knowing that his daughter was dead because he waited too long. We know that even though he had enough faith to make a great request of Jesus, he was still fearful because Mark and Luke both record Jesus telling him to “not be afraid, but keep believing.” Jairus had to come to a desperate situation before he sought Jesus. Jairus came only when he knew that only Jesus could help. He should have come earlier. Yet, we find Jesus gracious in His response and He and His disciples go with Jairus.
I wonder how many there are here today similar to Jairus. You believe many great things about Jesus, but you are not yet a true Christian because you have still not come to Him for forgiveness of your sin. You’re still trying to run your life on your own. It is time to recognize that Jesus is the only way. He is not only the only means to have your sins forgiven and go to heaven, but also the only way to life the way God meant it to be lived. Life with meaning and eternal purpose and peace. How long will you hesitate? Today is the day of salvation. Tomorrow may be too late.
I also wonder about many of you who are Christians. Yes, you believe Christ for your salvation and you rest in being forgiven of your sin. Yet there are still those areas of your life that you know are not right before the Lord. When will you see that the Christian life only works when lived according to Christ’s directions and according to His priorities? The things of this world still tantalize your eyes and you need to turn your eyes upon Jesus. How are you doing in your personal Bible study, your prayer life, in the use of your spiritual gifts? Are you living for yourself, or for Christ? How long will you hesitate? If you wait you may be saved, but it will be as through fire, and wood, hay and stubble will not go to heaven with you.
Jesus’ Power is needed both for salvation and to live the Christian life. Are you seeking it?
HIS POWER SOUGHT
In Matthew 9:20-22 we have the account of an interruption Jesus had as He was on His way to Jairus’ home. Jesus never lets an interruption bother Him. Instead, He turns it into a new opportunity to minister. “And behold, a woman who had been suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years, came up behind Him and touched the fringe of His cloak; for she was saying to herself, ‘If I only touch His garment, I shall get well.’ But Jesus turning and seeing her said, ‘Daughter, take courage; your faith has made you well,’ And at once the woman was made well.”
We need to understand a Jewish ceremonial law to understand the true nature of the suffering this woman had been enduring for twelve years. According to Leviticus 15, a woman is unclean during her menstrual flow and remains unclean until seven days after her blood flow has stopped at which time she is to give the appropriate sacrifice before she is declared clean again. In addition, essentially everything she touched would also become unclean and an unclean person could not participate in the public worship of God. She could not go to the temple or to the synagogue, and because anyone who touched her or touched something she had touched would also be unclean, she was essentially shut out from most normal social activities. She had endured this for twelve continuous years. (Interesting that this is the same length of time Jairus’ daughter had been alive enjoying life while this woman endured a living death). The woman was desperate to be cured. Mark and Luke tell us that she had spent all her money on various doctors trying to find a cure, but no one could cure her.
She had obviously heard about Jesus and had believed that He could heal her. The question was how she, an unclean woman, could be able to approach Jesus to be healed. She struck upon a plan. She would approach Jesus from behind and touch His garment. If Jesus was so powerful to heal, then certainly, she reasoned, just touching his garment would be enough, and this way Jesus would not know that He was touched by an unclean woman. As Jesus was passing by on His way to Jairus’ home, she carried out her plan, but Jesus did notice her. Let’s face it, you cannot sneak up on God and get away. But she received more compassion and grace than she had bargained for. Listen again to Jesus’ words, “Daughter, take courage; your faith has made you well,” or literally and more properly, “your faith has saved you.” No condemnation, but compassion and forgiveness. According to Mark and Luke, her bleeding stopped immediately after she touched Jesus. Now Jesus confirms not just the physical healing, but spiritual healing as well. Such is the compassion and grace of our Lord to those that seek Him out.
Let me make a brief remark here just because this particular passage is so often used by some to say that you can claim your healing from God. The gospel accounts record multitudes of people being healed completely apart from any faith on their part including the centurion’s servant that was healed without having any contact with Jesus and perhaps without even being aware that he might be healed. Jairus’ daughter was dead, so there could be no faith on her part. In addition, Jesus’ healings were apart from the person’s personal faith in Him as Messiah. In Luke 17 we find ten lepers cleansed by Jesus, but only one turned back to glorify God and give thanks to Jesus and was saved. Ten were cleansed & healed from their leprosy, but only one was saved. Let’s be careful about the claims people make. Jesus healed by His sovereign will, often in response to faith, but never conditioned by it, and the same is still true today.
HIS POWER EXERCISED
Jesus now continues to Jairus’ home and arriving there he finds quite a commotion because the professional mourners have already arrived. Look at verse 23, “And when Jesus came into the official’s house, and saw the flute-players, and the crowd in noisy disorder . . .”. Mark & Luke record the people as “loudly weeping, wailing, and lamenting.” Understand that in Jewish custom, as in many other near-eastern lands, the death of a person does not bring about quiet voices and somber music, but loud wailing and music played in discord that can be described more as noise than anything else. The purpose was not to quiet the spirit and console, but to proclaim the agony of the loss. Jewish funerals involved three prescribed ways of expressing grief and lamentation. First, tearing one’s garments (which we do not find Jairus doing since he is with Jesus and is looking to Jesus to raise her from the dead). Second, is hiring professional women mourners. They would not only wail the name of the one who just died, but also that of other family members who have died so that old grief is added to new grief. (Their shrieking, wailing, and groaning were enough to cause grief). The third way of expressing grief was hiring professional musicians, most commonly flute-players, who would play loud, disconcerting sounds meant to reflect the emotional discord and confusion of grief.
The Talmud records that even a poor man whose wife had died should to hire at least two flute players and one wailing woman. Jairus was the chief elder of the temple and no doubt a man of some wealth. There would have had been quite a commotion going on when Jairus arrived with Jesus and His disciples.
Jesus immediately prepared to put things back in order. First was to get rid of the professional mourners. Verse 24, “He began to say, ‘Depart; for the girl has not died, but is asleep.” And they began laughing at Him.” It was the hard, hearty laughter of someone gloating over someone who has just made a foolish statement. Isn’t it obvious the shallowness of these professional mourners? One moment they are wailing and crying in fake sorrow. The next they are rolling with laughter at what they considered an absurd statement. Someone in true sorrow could not have reacted as they did.
Jesus exercised His power in verses 25 & 26, “But when the crowd had been put out, He entered and took her by the hand; and the girl arose” (Mark and Luke add that Jesus said to her, “Child, arise!”). And this news went out into all the land. Jesus had fulfilled Jairus’ request. His daughter had been raised from the dead.
Some have tried to discount this saying that the girl was not really dead, but in a coma. They point out in Matthew 9:24 that Jesus said that the girl was not dead, but asleep. There are four reasons I believe the girl was dead and Jesus did raise her up from the dead. 1) The report of all those watching her was that she was dead. 2) Jesus’ statement can be taken in the same sense that He said of Lazarus in John 11:11, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, that I may awaken him out of sleep.” The word “sleep” is a general euphemism for death, but Jesus used it for someone who was not permanently dead. Lazarus was dead and so was this little girl, but neither was permanently dead because Jesus was going to raise them up again. 3) The flow of this whole section of Matthew makes little sense if the girl was only in a coma. Matthew has been building his case that Jesus is the Messiah and presenting increasing proofs of His authority over different things. He started with authority over disease and physical affliction, then over nature, then over the supernatural, then authority to forgive sin. It would make little sense for Matthew to now return to stating Jesus’ authority over disease. The ultimate authority over disease is to be able to reverse the process once the ailment has taken the life. That is what I believe Matthew does here in showing Jesus raised her from the dead. And 4) the passage in Luke 8:55 specifically says, “And her spirit returned, and she arose immediately.” Death is the separation of the spirit from the body and here we find it returning to the body. Death had occurred.
Matthew concludes in verse 26, “And this news went out into all that land.” The news of Jesus’ authority over death was spread throughout the country. Jesus was not just a nice man, a good teacher, but a man that could do what only God Himself can do. Jesus was God in human flesh.
HIS POWER PROVEN
Jesus’ complete power over death is not proven in the case of Jairus’ daughter, though certainly it demonstrates that He had significant control over death. D.L. Moody was asked to do a funeral, so he searched the scriptures to find what message Jesus would bring at a funeral. He found that Jesus never gave a funeral message, instead Jesus raised up the deceased at every funeral He attended. That is significant power over death, but both Jairus’ daughter and Lazarus who had died and were brought back to life by Jesus would have to die again. They were not given eternal physical life. All those that Jesus had healed would have eventually gotten sick or suffered some malady and died. Jesus’ power over death would only be proved if He Himself could conquer death and remain alive. And that is what we find in Matthew 28 and Acts 1. Recall that Jesus had been crucified as the payment for our sin just three days before on Friday. He cried out, “It is finished” and gave up His spirit. The soldiers came and pierced his side with blood and water running out. They took His body, laid it in Joseph’s tomb and a guard was sent. Now look at Matthew 28:1-10.
28:1 Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first [day] of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave. 2 And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. 3 And his appearance was like lightning, and his garment as white as snow; 4 and the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men. 5 And the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. 6 “He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying. 7 “And go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead; and behold, He is going before you into Galilee, there you will see Him; behold, I have told you.” 8 And they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy and ran to report it to His disciples. 9 And behold, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him. 10 Then Jesus ^said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and take word to My brethren to leave for Galilee, and there they shall see Me.”
Eventually over 500 people saw the resurrected Jesus. Jesus had conquered death Himself. But would He remain alive? YES. At the end of Matthew Jesus claimed that He had all authority in heaven and earth and He promised that He would be with us even to the end of the age. He would not die again. In Acts 1:9-11 we find that Jesus ascends into heaven and that He will return some day in the same manner.
Jesus had conquered death and He has provided a means for us to conquer it through Him. Canadian scientist G.B. Hardy once said in his examination of various religions with regard to the two questions, has anyone ever conquered death, and if so, did they make a way for me to conquer it, “I checked the tomb of Buddha, and it was occupied, and I checked the tomb of Confucius, and it was occupied, and I checked the tomb of Mohammed and it was occupied, and I came to the tomb of Jesus and it was empty. And I said there is one who conquered death. And I asked if a way was made for me to do it? And I opened the Bible and discovered that Jesus said, ‘Because I live, you shall live also'” (John 14:19).
True Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ because it is the pivotal point of history, it is the proof that all of Jesus’ promises are true and so we are confident that our sins are forgiven, and one day He will return to take us to be with Him in heaven forever. We say with Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:55, “O death where is your victory? O death where is your sting?” Death’s power has been broken. Do you share that hope? If you do, rejoice and tell someone else about it today. If you do not, talk with me or one of our Elders today and let us introduce you to our resurrected Lord Jesus Christ and tell you how you can have this same confidence.
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