“Because Jesus lives, all those who are in Jesus will never die but shall live” Trinity 16 2023

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24. September 2023

Trinity 16

Luke 7:11-16

 And when He came near the gate of the city, behold, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother; and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the city was with her. When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then He came and touched the open coffin, and those who carried him stood still. And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” So he who was dead sat up and began to speak. And He presented him to his mother.

This is the word of the Lord that came to me, so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing, you may have life in his name. AMEN. 

St. Paul says, “The last enemy that will be destroyed is death” (1 Cor 5:26). But elsewhere, he writes, “Our Savior Jesus Christ […] has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim 1:10). So which is it? Is death defeated, or does it remain the enemy? If it is defeated, why do we die? If it remains the enemy, how can we defeat what seems to be the unconquerable foe? These questions haunt us daily, secretly tormenting our conscience, especially when faced with death.

We have developed many coping strategies as dying people. We ignore death, thinking it might never come for us. We avoid death with the dream of eternity by pumping our bodies full of pharmaceuticals, experimental supplements, and upgrading and replacing parts, in the hope of transcending death, as the transhumanists falsely proclaim. We treat death as a friend, normalizing abortion, suicide, and euthanasia. We fail to grieve over miscarriage and stillbirth, acting as if the dead child is less than human. We eulogize the dead, attempting to give them eternity in our memories. We add pomp and circumstance to our dying, trying to gussy it up with spectacle and earthly beauty. We avoid the reality by diminishing the body to ashes or the increasingly popular human composting. We refuse to call the funeral a funeral but instead a celebration of life. 

But despite all our avoidance and withdrawal from the reality of death, it doesn’t change. St. Paul is correct. It is the last enemy to be defeated, future tense. But it will be defeated, as Christ Jesus has already put all enemies under His feet, past and present tense. Both are true simultaneously, which is another way of confessing the truth that we are simultaneously sinners according to the flesh and saints of God in the forgiveness of our sins.

This is the conflict in the mind of Martha at the funeral of her brother Lazarus. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:21-26)

Do you hear what Jesus is saying to Martha? Yes, your brother died, but he will live, future tense. So, as far as Jesus is concerned, the dead do not die; they live in Him, present tense. Our churches describe this paradox with the shorthand, already and not yet. On the one hand, we die, are laid to rest in the grave, and await the resurrection of the dead. Death is the last enemy to be defeated. But on the other hand, we already live in the resurrection with Jesus. Because He lives, we will never die. Death is abolished. This truth defies reason and experience and yet is believed and confessed. 

For the sake of faith, Jesus gave His prophets of old to raise the dead. We heard about the widow’s son at Zarephath, whom God restored to life by Elijah. Elisha will do the same. And they were not surprised, as Abraham, David, and others had believed and confessed the resurrection when their sons were to die or did die. And yet, over and over, God gave glimpses of the future promised resurrection before the time. He wants His people to believe that He has power over death. 

But most people in the Old Testament died. Only a few have escaped, taken up in a whirlwind of fiery horses and chariots. Even David, who boldly confessed to the resurrection, died. “I foresaw the Lord always before my face, For He is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken. Therefore my heart rejoiced, and my tongue was glad; Moreover my flesh also will rest in hope. For You will not leave my soul in Hades, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption. You have made known to me the ways of life; You will make me full of joy in Your presence” (Psalm 16:8-11). 

St. Peter testified on Pentecost that David was truly dead and buried, and his tomb was with them to that day. So what is David saying? If he is dead, is he not in Hades/Sheol? Has he not seen corruption, his flesh and all its tissues decayed into dust, leaving only bones? How can he boldly confess the hope of life and joy in God’s presence? St. Peter, inspired by the Spirit in the wind and flame, confesses: “Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses.” All the promises David hoped for are fulfilled in the Son of David, the incarnate, crucified, and resurrected Jesus!

Death is interrupted in Jesus. He comes up to our coffins and says, “No more! Son or daughter, I say to you, arise!” And with the cry of the archangels and the sound of trumpets, all the dead are raised, now by faith and then by sight. Because Jesus lives, all those who are in Jesus will never die but shall live. Yes, it is hard to live in that paradoxical tension between the now and the not yet, just as it is to believe that we are sinners deserving nothing but death and punishment but at the same time believing that we are forgiven children of God, who thus also have salvation and eternal life. Indeed, this can only be believed by the working of the Holy Spirit through the Word. 

Jesus interrupts our black-pill, pessimistic, doom-and-gloom, and premature funerals with His Gospel. I died for you! I forgive you! Death has no more power over you. You shall live. You will never die! Believe me! And then He gives us to live in the resurrection even now. Lean into Jesus’ death and resurrection for you. Splash around in God’s baptismal grace. Confess your sins and be forgiven for life. Eat and drink Jesus’ body and blood as often as you can. As someone once said, “You go to the Lord’s Supper as if going to your death, so that you can go to your death as if you are going to the Lord’s Supper.” And never forget that He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.”

This is the word of the Lord that came to me, so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing, you may have life in his name. AMEN. 

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin