[Matthew 9:18-26] While he was saying these things to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” And Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples. And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. And when Jesus came to the ruler's house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, he said, “Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose. And the report of this went through all that district.
Not Dead but Sleeping
Jesus said to the mourners, “The girl is not dead but sleeping.” “And they laughed at Him.” The world laughs at the Lord for the good works He has come to do for them. And the world laughs at you for believing in the Savior’s works.
“The girl is not dead but sleeping.” We use a number of expressions to say that a person has died. We say they have “passed away” or “passed on”, for example. A phrase used in Scripture for those who have died in the Lord is “fallen asleep.”
“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep” [1 Thessalonians 4:13]. “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep” [1 Thessalonians 4:14].
When Lazarus had died, Jesus said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him” [John 11:11].
When Jesus died on the cross, the earth shook, the tombs were opened, “and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised” – and they appeared to many after Jesus’ resurrection [Matthew 27:51-53].
Two decades later, the Apostle Paul writes that there were more than five hundred witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection, “most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep” [1 Corinthians 15:6].
The girl in today’s Gospel is dead. She died. But to die in the Lord is only to fall asleep. It’s to lie down to rest, only to rise again. Because He lives, we too will live again [John 14:19].
Just as you live under the promise of your Baptism and pass that promise on to your children in the font, the man who came to Jesus in today’s Gospel, whose name was Jairus [Luke 8:41], lived under the covenant of circumcision and raised his family in the faith, trusting in the Christ, the Messiah, who was to come – and who now had come. Jesus.
So far in the Gospel, Jesus had conquered sicknesses and fever, washed away a leper’s uncleanness, freed men by casting demons out of them, healed a man’s servant from afar, calmed a storm, forgave sin, and raised up a paralytic [Matthew 8-9]. He fulfilled what was spoken about Him by the prophet Isaiah, “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases” [Matthew 8:17; Isaiah 53:4].
Now Jesus will awaken the dead from sleep. He will return this girl’s living soul to her sleeping body, showing ahead of time the resurrection which waits for you and those who have fallen asleep before you in the Lord.
Why does Scripture call dying in the Lord “sleep”? First, because your departed soul does not enter a time of torment or labor after death. Instead, the soul rests from its labor [Matthew 11:28; Revelation 14:13].
The soul of the departed enters Christ’s presence – not unaware or unconscious – the soul isn’t said to be asleep; the body is – the soul enters its ease and rest from all labor and enjoys the presence of Christ. No more sin stains the soul of the baptized believer in Christ after death. In death, your soul is immediately freed from sin and death.
This is why Jesus says to the guilty thief on the cross who believed in Him, “Today you will be with Me in paradise” [Luke 23:43].
The souls of those asleep in Christ also do not enter a time period of wandering – they don’t need your help or aid getting to heaven – but, at the moment of death, they are immediately carried by the angels to God’s abode, as the poor man was in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus [Luke 16:19-31].
The soul also does not face a time of testing or of being weighed in the balances: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” [John 5:24]. Even now, you have already passed from death to life.
All this because Jesus, the Messiah who has come, has carried your sin. Jesus has already carried your sin to judgment on the cross where your sin was condemned in His flesh. Jesus has already faced the struggle – with your sins, failures, and frailties made His, clinging to Him – and He has prevailed for you.
The battle is won. “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” [1 Corinthians 15:21-22].
And Scripture testifies that even right now you have already been buried with Jesus by your baptism, and, therefore, His resurrection is already yours in that same baptism [Romans 6:3-5].
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” [Romans 8:1]. In Christ Jesus. Outside of Jesus, your sin is still yours. Outside of Jesus, death is the death of the soul. Without Jesus, you go to God with your sins and your body is raised for judgment.
In Jesus, sin is forgiven and death is conquered. Not by anything you or those who have departed in the Lord have done, but one hundred percent by what Jesus has done. He is Savior.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus says to those making a big commotion, “Go away. For the girl is not dead but sleeping.” He takes the girl’s hand and awakens her to life. Her death is easily undone by the Author of Life. Though many had laughed, now the good news of the resurrection is spread abroad by those who boldly believe.
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”[Romans 8:31-39]. Amen.
Pastor Curtis Stephens was born in Flint, MI. He completed his M.Div. at Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, IN and has served congregations in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Pastor Stephens began serving at Trinity in July of 2023.