November 4, 2017
You can imagine how the father felt. He enters his own house, yet today it seems like a strange place. The songs of flutes pierce the air as mourners wail and howl. His normally spacious home is cramped as he elbows his way through the crowd clad in black. He hardly recognizes his wife as grief distorts her face and tears wet her cheeks. It's so noisy his vision blurs. Then he sees through the crowd the slightly ajar door of his little girl's bedroom. His heart sinks, because he knows that behind that slab of wood lies the lifeless body of his young daughter. The man is so discombobulated by clamor and sorrow he nearly forgets that Jesus, the healer, stands behind him.
Jesus expresses different emotions. He's irritated by the commotion and says to the flautists, wailers, and mourners, "Go away! The girl is not dead, but sleeping." They laugh and jeer at him, yet Jesus sends them out nonetheless, permitting only the child's father and mother, and three of his disciples to stay. He takes the girl by the hand and raises her from the dead as if he were waking her from sleep.
All these noise makers thought they were helping. But they weren't. They were just making a bunch of noise and distracting the man from the presence of Jesus. And this really is what our life is filled with. A bunch of noise; distractions from what is really important.
Death is inevitable for all of us. Whether you get plowed over by a terrorist driving a truck or suffer a fatal heart attack after Thanksgiving dinner, you know that you're going to die. And the world has a way of dealing with this imminent death. Make noise. That's all it is. Noise to distract you from your grief and fear.
Television preachers will sell you a prosperity gospel of riches and fame if you worship the god of optimism. Politicians will promise you safety and security. The gods of the marketplace will convince you to eat this, drink that, or take this to postpone death. And everyone listens to a different spirit preach a different meaning of life and death and happiness. And all this is simply noise being blown into your ears to distract you from the corpse lying across the room.
If only that's all these noisemakers were doing. But the real goal of all this noise is to block out Jesus from your vision; to distract you from your faith in him. According to Mark's Gospel, when the ruler heard the gut-wrenching news that his daughter had died, Jesus turned to him and said, "Do not fear, only believe." (Mark 5:36) "Don't worry, didn't I promise you I would help?" So, the man finds strength for each step home in this promise of Jesus.
"Don't be afraid," our God tells us. "Block out all this noise that seeks only to distract you from me. Did I not tell you that I would keep you safe." You sitting here today have this promise. Scripture says that God our Father "has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." (Colossians 1:13-14) Do you believe this? Sometimes?
It's easy to be distracted from God's promise that he forgives you and has rescued you from Satan and death when you are assaulted by both on a daily basis. "Has God really transferred me into his Son's kingdom? But my sins still haunt me. I don't feel forgiven. I disobey my God, I'm not filled with his wisdom and understanding and I certainly am not walking in a manner worthy of the Lord!" Repent! Repent of your foolishness and sin and hear God's promise of forgiveness and redemption in Jesus Christ! Cut through the noise by listening to Christ's promise.
This is why we must continue to hear God's Word and remind ourselves of his promises of grace and mercy. We forget it so easily. And the noise of this world is deafening. Satan will always find something else to distract us from our faith. He'll get us paranoid about earthly problems. But if I don't do this, I won't have enough money. If I do this, I'll lose all my friends. If I don't do that, I'll die! "What are you so worried for?", God asks. "I, I am he who comforts you; who are you that you are afraid of man who dies, of the son of man who is made like grass, and have forgotten the LORD, your Maker?" (Isaiah 51:12-13a)
How insignificant all our problems are, especially when we consider what God himself has promised us! Stay true to God's Word. Trust in him. Do you actually think he'll let you go to ruin. Who on earth is capable of harming you? Are you afraid of someone, who's heartbeats are numbered? Or fear losing something that will pass away with the wind? The God, who laid down the foundations of the earth has promised to take care of you. Stay faithful to him. Hear his word and find comfort in his promises.
And yet this is the most difficult thing in the world to do. And many reject this comfort out of hand. Why is that? If a doctor offered to take away your pain for free, would you refuse him? If someone offered to wash your windows or fix your washing machine or bring you a hot and tasty meal, would you refuse? We don't refuse help for much lesser important things, yet when Christ offers help from death, that ever-present danger, we ignore him. And how many even get angry when someone offers a prayer or an invitation to church?
This shows you that this noise is not just incidental. It is a coordinated attack. And when Jesus comes with the promise and power to rescue from death and hell, the noise becomes deafening and Satan entices hearts to grow cold or even hostile to this help. The ruler of this world raves. And his wails grow louder and more vitriol the nearer Christ's kingdom comes.
You do not have the power to cut through this commotion nor to silence the attacks of the devil. Only Jesus has this power. Jesus silences the moans of this world and shuts the mouth of Satan. And our Lord doesn't simply distract us from death. Christ conquers death, swallowing him up with his own death on the cross. And he gives us the victory through faith in him. Jesus is our only safe haven, as we just sang:
In Thine arms I rest me; Foes who would molest me
Cannot reach me here.
Though the earth be shaking, Ev'ry heart be quaking,
Jesus calms my fear.
Lightnings flash And thunders crash;
Yet though sin and hell assail me, Jesus will not fail me. (LSB 743:2; Jesus, Priceless Treasure)
You need Jesus to cut through the noise, but Jesus comes to you in a very specific way. He promises to come to you through his Word. The trees aren't going to assure you of Jesus' promises. Neither will your television or unbelieving friends or bottle of booze block out Satan's noise and comfort you with the Gospel. Jesus comes through his Word. Preached, prayed, and sung. You need to have Jesus' word in your home and you need to come and hear it preached. You need to hear that your sins are forgiven. You need to sing the faith. And having tasted that the Lord is good, you need to receive the Lord's benediction. This is how Jesus comes to you. This is how Jesus cuts through the noise. As Christ promises in John 15, "Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me." (John 15:4)
When you have confidence in Jesus' promise to defeat death for you, you can approach your own death in a different light. You may find the air clear a bit. When you look at death you see a defeated enemy. You know that God is the God of the living. Those who die trusting in him may be dead to the world, but they remain alive to God. And God will exercise his power to raise all the dead and bring us, who believe in Christ, both body and soul into eternal life.
Many sons and daughters died in Israel during Jesus' three-year ministry, yet Jesus only raised a few from the dead. Yet by these demonstrations of power over death and finally through his own resurrection, our Lord communicates to us today that he is both willing and able to rescue us and all believers from death. May God give each of us grace to block out the noise and hold fast to Christ's promise to defeat death. Amen.