And Death Pursues me All the Way — Vespers Sermon on Luke 8:41-56

The following is the third sermon in a Lenten series on the hymn, “I Walk in Danger All the Way” (LSB 716):

And death pursues me all the way, nowhere I rest securely.  Death turns us into beggars by giving us nowhere to flee.  We can’t avoid it, and we can’t find any security when it comes.  Certainly people try to find security.  When someone dies folks just say vague things like, he’s in a better place, or, he had a good life.  And while these things might give some kind of temporary comfort, they can’t really give any lasting security.  But as Christians we are sobered by death.  We are made beggars by it.  We learn from the clear words of Scripture that the sinner must die.  The wages of sin is death.  And there is no way to escape it.  Nowhere I rest securely is what we just sang.  This is what the Christian knows.  This is what Jairus knew.  His daughter was sick, and death was pursuing her.  He found no security in his own house around his family and friends.  No doubt there were many to offer a helping hand and a sympathetic shoulder on which to cry.  But he found no security in any of this.  Instead he came to Jesus, because he was the only one who could help his daughter.

Jairus didn’t come to Jesus merely because he was a good miracle worker.  He didn’t see Jesus simply as a competent physician who could give his daughter a cure.  No, the text says that he fell down at Jesus’ feet and begged him.  Death was pursuing his daughter.  Death was pursuing him and his entire household.  And so he learned from that merciless foe that he had no share in the passing glory of this world.  With Job he learned that naked he came into this world and naked he would come out.  So seeing himself for what he was – a poor wretch in need of God’s mercy – he worshiped his God in the way that all Christians learn to worship.  He begged.  And for what did he beg the Lord?  That he would come to his house.

Now, I suppose this looks like any common way a desperate father would act when his child is near death.  He isn’t particularly articulate.  He doesn’t give a grand prayer, such as the one Hezekiah gave when he was sick or any of the prayers of the Psalmists.  He does not elaborate on all the merciful works of God and then proceed to ask for what he specifically needs.  You would think that as a ruler of a synagogue – one who was likely well versed in the Scriptures – that he would have some great words to proclaim, a long prayer, which tells of all the mighty and gracious works of God.  But he doesn’t do this.  He simply falls on his face at the feet of Jesus and begs his Lord to come to his house.  And yet, this prayer is a wonderful example of faith.  Because in this prayer we find exactly how we stand before God.  We are beggars in need of his mercy.

He comes by night, he comes by day, he takes his prey most surely.  It was a sure thing that Jairus’ daughter would die.  Death does not stop for anyone.  And it seems that no matter how hard we pray death still gets what it wants.  We and our loved ones are taken from this life.  So how is it that Jairus’ prayer can be such a great example to us?  It is a great example, because it shows that the strength of Jairus’ prayer was not in his prayer.  It was rather in Christ.  How does our Lord react to this desperate father?  He doesn’t just send him on his way like he did with others, assuring them that their faith had received what they had asked for.  No, he meets this poor father where he is.  He walks with him to his house, encouraging him and teaching him the whole way.

When a woman comes to him and touches him, he tells her that her faith has saved her.  And by this he teaches poor Jairus who he is.  Our Lord says that he felt power leave him, which healed that poor woman.  And by this he teaches Jairus that he is the Lord most high who has the power to save.  He says to the woman, “Go in peace.”  And by this he teaches Jairus that he is the source of peace for all who are afflicted.  And then he continues with Jairus to his house, continuing to teach him, speaking to him what he knew that poor father needed to hear.

And while he was still speaking, word came that death had taken what it wanted.  Jairus’ daughter was dead.  A failing breath, and I in death’s strong grasp may lie to face eternity today as death pursues me all the way.  He heard the news that his daughter’s breath failed her.  At that moment she was facing eternity.  She was meeting her Maker; and whether this is a better place is impossible to know without the words that Jairus would hear from his good Teacher.  His faith was strengthened by the very words of God his Maker and Redeemer: “Do not be afraid.  Only believe, and she will be made well.”

Jesus continued to encourage and strengthen Jairus.  She will be made well.  Or to translate it another way, she will be saved.  Jesus teaches Jairus that salvation is received through faith in God’s free grace and favor.  Though she lay in death’s dark vale to face eternity at that moment, Jesus held Jairus in his own eternal shelter, assuring him that death has lost its sting.

So now we see that while death pursues us sinners, our Lord pursues death.  He continues to go down to the house of Jairus.  And seeing that lifeless body, our Lord calls it something else.  He calls it a slumber, nothing more than a nap.  Such foolishness to the world!  And yet this is how the gospel is treated.  That God would give up his own Son into death so that sinners could live is foolishness and even laughable to those who want to save themselves and find security in the things of this world.  But this same Son of God, who calls into existence the things that are not, also calls death what our eyes are convinced it is not: a light sleep.  Only faith can receive what Jesus says here.  Only a beggar who knows his own unworthiness before God will cling to Jesus’ words as true.

And this is the faith that Jairus had.  It is the faith that is grounded on God’s good and gracious promise.  His prayers were already answered and his tears were already dried when Jesus spoke these words: Do not weep; she is not dead, but sleeping!  Oh, but the world knew better, didn’t they?  They ridiculed him, because they knew what was really going on.  She was dead.  Anyone with eyes could see it.  But Jesus taught Jairus to see with faith.  He taught him to cling to the words of his Lord, who pursues our enemy, death, with his own death.  Just as he walked to Jairus’ home, he would walk to Calvary to prepare for him and his family a house with their Father in heaven.  Death pursues me all the way, but Jesus pursues death and teaches me to fear it no more than I would fear my own bed.

Leave the Teacher alone, they said.  But Jesus wasn’t done teaching his student, Jairus.  He taught him not to be afraid of death.  He taught him with the same voice by which he told the girl to arise.  And so with that same word he teaches us.  He trains us and prepares us to face death with confidence.  He teaches us to number our days, and he thereby gives us a heart of wisdom, a heart that clings not to the sentiments of this world, but to his death defeating death and his glorious resurrection.

Therefore, while it is true that in the midst of life we are in death, we find in Christ that in the midst of death we are in life.  He pursued and captured our death by claiming our sins as his own.  And this glorious gospel truth remains the portion he gives to our begging hearts.  Let us pray:

O Lord, as death pursues each day,
Come now unto my house, and stay,
For when the foes of sin and death
Are raging with their fiery breath,
And Satan sows uncertainty
Within my heart, You set me free
To tremble not at death’s dark door,
But sing Your praises evermore.

For You, my God and Lord, pursued
The sting of death, so cruel and crude,
When unto Calv’ry’s hill you went
To give to me the testament
Of Your own body on the tree
On which Your blood was shed for me.
So may I trust what You have done
When death’s dark snarls have begun.   Amen

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