Luke 8:41-42, 49-56
An only daughter!—the most sacred and hallowed link that can bind heart to heart—the theme of poetry's tenderest epics, lyrics, elegies—Can such be included in the record of early departures—the calendar of "early graves?" Alas! too true, as is the experience of ten thousand sorrowing parents. It is so in the touching incident we are now to consider. Death is here described as entering another home of the Gospel era, and evoking the wail of desolated mourners.
But, the Prince and Lord of Life draws near. He storms the Invader in his own citadel, compels him to relinquish his prey; and to every bosom in all time thus rudely rifled, bequeaths consolatory words and lessons.
Let us first rehearse the narrative, and then endeavor to gather up some of the more solemn and comforting truths which that narrative enforces.
We have no farther light thrown in Gospel story on the principal personage in this scene. He was Ruler of the synagogue of CAPERNAUM—supposed to be one of those "elders of the Jews" we find coming in a body or deputation to intercede with Jesus in behalf of the Centurion's servant, saying, that "he was worthy for whom He should do this, for he loves our nation, and he has built us a synagogue."
This pious Israelite had urged his suit successfully for another—the slave of a Gentile soldier, who had been stretched on a couch of sickness, "ready to die." The Divine Philanthropist had listened to the pleadings of faith and gratitude, and immediately accompanied him in the direction of that soldier's abode. But a very different case now engrosses this Ruler's thoughts—a very different sorrow weighs down his own heart. The silent Messenger is now standing at his own door-step!
An only daughter gladdened his home. She had arrived, too, just at that age when a father's heartstrings are bound fastest and firmest around his child's soul. With her had been doubtless interwoven every thought of the future—she was the pride of the family; the prop of the present; the promised comforter of her parents' old age. Often perhaps, in the midst of other trials, they would glance at the loving spirit at their side, assured of one abiding stay and solace. But health and strength, youth and intelligence, are unable to exclude the sleepless foe of human happiness. The darkest of shadows are falling around that dwelling!
We have not detailed to us, as in other cases recorded in sacred story, the circumstantials of that hour of anxiety and sorrow; whether disease had crept imperceptibly upon her—the King of terrors coming with noiseless step—velvet footfall—the candle of decaying life burning down slowly until it reached its socket; or whether, with appalling suddenness, the arrow had sped—the sun, which perhaps that morning rose on a cheerful home, setting over the valley of death amid weeping clouds. All the entry we have in the inspired record is, "She lay dying." She had reached that terrible crisis-hour when hope's last glimmerings were being extinguished—the last tides of life were slowly ebbing.
Can nothing be done to arrest the arrow in its course—to stay that sun from so premature a setting? The anguished father thinks of the only ONE voice which can say, "Sun, stand still!"
"Can that same Jesus" (he might think to himself), "who cured a humble slave, who gave back to a fond master the life of a faithful servant—can He not (will He not) pity 'one of the lost sheep of the house of Israel?' If I rush to Him in this hour of my sorrow, will He deny me His compassionate love, and the exercise of His wondrous power?"
There is no time for delay. With fleet footsteps he betakes himself to the Prophet of Galilee, and in an agony of prayer beseeches Him to follow him to his dwelling. The Savior complies—accompanied by a promiscuous crowd, among whom deeper and holier feelings and sympathies mingle with vain curiosity.
An incident, meanwhile, takes place by the way, which for a time impedes His progress. A woman who had suffered from severe bleeding for twelve years, steals unobserved through the thronging crowd, touches the blue fringe of the Lord's garment, and receives an instantaneous cure. But instead of passing, as we might expect, with all haste to the more urgent case, Jesus pauses and dwells on this intermediate one. He summons into His presence the subject of His healing power, in order that He may manifest to others the victory of faith, and utter in her own ear words of encouragement and peace.
Hard, unseasonable interruption, we are apt to think! Each moment was precious to that trembling parent. The sand-glass of that loved one's young life was hurrying to its last grain. He might have reached her in time, had it not been for this. But the likelihood is that the golden opportunity is past and gone—these few minutes' delay have cost the father his child—locked her fast in a sleep too deep to be disturbed!
And yet, we may well believe, there were gracious purposes in the delay, as there ever are in much which our blindness is apt to regard as untoward and unpropitious. The smaller miracle—(the intermediate cure)—would prepare the crowd for receiving the greater one. Above all, it would strengthen and confirm the faith of the witnessing parent—lead him to hope against hope, and in the extremity of his anguish, make him "strong in faith, giving glory to God." We hear from his lips no fretful and impatient utterances—no insinuations against his Lord, or against the other suppliant, regarding the postponement. Meekly he waits the Redeemer's time and will; and before long he shall have the promise fulfilled in his experience—"The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul that seeks Him." "It is good for a man that he both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of God."
BUT just at the moment when faith has got its pledge of Divine power—when the procession is again in motion, and joyous visions of the past are beginning to people the future, messengers from his homestead are the bearers of heavy tidings—"Your daughter is dead, trouble not the Master!" "Fatigue not (as the word means) that weary, toil-worn Savior—add not to His journey or exhaustion. Let Him have the rest He so much requires; His presence could be of no avail now, for death has put his impressive, irrevocable seal on these lips."
Ah! bitter news! Just when hope was in the ascendant—when the future was beginning again to have its rainbow hues spanning a dark sky—these tints melt and merge into a deeper darkness than before. The torch is quenched. The great dreaded blight of existence has passed over the parent's heart!
Now is the time for Jesus' utterances of comfort; for now was the moment when doubt and misgiving were most likely to rise and eclipse the hitherto unwavering trust. Now was the time for those harsh thoughts of rebellious nature, we have already hinted at, which so often, at such seasons, overmaster our nobler feelings. "If it had been but a few moments sooner, my child might have been spared! If the Lord had only deferred the performance of that other act of love until He had left my threshold, I might still have had my beloved daughter at my side! It was these moments of delay that bereft me of my household treasure! By stopping to give peace to one sufferer, He has done so at the sacrifice of all that most fondly bound me to earth!"
If these, and thoughts like these, were about to arise, Christ in mercy interposes. We read, "Jesus answered" (not that Jairus outspoke his own feelings, but He who reads the secret heart answered to what was passing in the heaving depths of that soul)—"Hush! hush!" He seems to say, "do not allow these thoughts to arise in your heart—dismiss all such unworthy doubts." "Be not afraid—only believe."
And now He has reached the house. The trappings and outward pageantry of death too truthfully verify the tidings of the messengers. In accordance with Oriental custom, hired mourners and hired minstrels were already filling that silent chamber with dirges—while with these mingled the deeper and truer wailings of the smitten hearts.
"Give place!" said Christ, as in a tone of authority He rebuked these vehement demonstrations of mimic sorrow—"Why make this ado and weep? The girl is not dead, but SLEEPS." An enigmatical expression to the tumultuous mob around, but to the father it was the renewal and repetition under a lovely figure of the former pacifying utterance, "Be not afraid, only believe." The word "dead"—the utterance of the human messengers, too well calculated to annihilate the last spark of hope—is replaced by the rekindling words, "She sleeps." Man has put the terrible extinguisher on that lamp. But Jesus says, "Fear not." What is that message of death, when I, the Lord of life, have been summoned by you? You have seen My power on a suffering woman—'only believe, and I will show you greater things than these!'
The irreverent thronging crowd is kept outside. The mimic mourners are all excluded. His three favored disciples (afterwards the witnesses of His transfiguration on the Mount and of His agony in the garden) are alone allowed to enter the chamber sacred of sorrow. In silent emotion the two parents are bending over their withered flower. But so also is He who gave it—who planted it—who plucked it—and who is to give it back again. In the might of His own omnipotence—in His own name (without invoking, like His prophets or apostles under similar circumstances, any higher power), death is summoned to yield his victim. "He took the girl by the hand, and said unto her, Talitha cum—I say unto you, Arise."
The sleeper awoke! The prostrate lily raises its drooping head, and sheds once more its fragrance in that joyous home! That happy Israelite might well take up the words of his great ancestor, which he had so often read in the synagogue service, but perhaps without being ever before touched by them—"You have turned my mourning into dancing; You have put off my sackcloth and girded me with gladness, to the end that my glory may give praise to You, and not be silent. O Lord, my God, I will give thanks unto You forever."
Let us ponder one or two PRACTICAL LESSONS with which this scene and passage are replete.
I. The first lesson we may gather from it is the very general and too obvious one thatall are exposed to domestic bereavement.
It may seem unkind to break the trance of earthly bliss by referring to the possibility, far less the certainty, of trial. And yet it is needful, ever and anon, solemnly to repeat the warning that you and yours "will not live always."
If God has hitherto put upon your household the exempting mark—if the destroying angel has passed by your door unscathed—if you have no vacant chair at your home-hearth, no yawning chasm in your heart of hearts—you are the exception, not the rule. God knows we have no gloomy pleasure in being prophets of evil. It is a poor gospel to dwell on harrowing thoughts of death—the shroud—the grave! But we would take these as preachers to enforce the lesson daily taught us, "you be also ready!"—that sooner or later, each one of us, parents and children, will be brought to learn the solemn truth, "I am about to die." And if there be one who peruses these pages, who, like the minstrels of whom we have been speaking, is ready to have a smile on his lips, and to "laugh to scorn" a trite commonplace which every one knows and many care not to hear—if youth in its strength, or manhood in its prime, is saying inwardly, "No fear of me," "My mountain is standing strong"—we would say with deep solemnity, "You fool, this night your soul may be required of you!"
II. We learn from this passage, thatwe need trials to bring us near to God.
It was his child's sickness that drove Jairus to the feet of Jesus. But for that home-trial, his faith would never have been exercised, nor his love and gratitude evoked. While in health and prosperity, we are apt to take God's gifts as matters of course. It is not until the storm rises, that with these atheist hearts of ours (like the heathen sailors in Jonah's vessel), we fall upon our knees and feel that our only safety is in Him "who rules the raging of the seas." Yes! when God makes breaches in our households—when He brings home to us the truth that our existence, and the existence of our children, is a perpetual miracle—when we discover that those little lives, Pillars in our households, which we have vainly thought were pillars of iron, turn out to be pillars of dust—when the solid alabaster discovers itself to be the melting snow-wreath—then are we driven to discover what is the alone imperishable Portion!
If God is visiting you now with the deep experience of trial, it is that He may speak home to you. Never does He speak so gently, so wisely, so loudly, so solemnly—as when He asserts His right to take away what He originally gave. See, in the text, the unbelieving, laughing, mocking crowd, are disqualified to hear Jesus. They have quickly turned from their mimic sorrow to heartless mirth; simulators—actors—they are thrust out of that Holy Presence. But the stricken parents are taken into the favored circle. They gaze upwards from the face of the dead on Him who is "fairer than the children of men." In such a Presence unbelief is hushed, and faith is ready to hear "what God the Lord has to say unto their souls."
III. Let us learn from the incident before us, as we noted in the preceding chapter in the case of Elijah and the widow's son—the comfort of prayer in the hour of sickness and death.
This Ruler, we read, "fell at Jesus' feet, and pleaded with Him greatly, saying, My little daughter lies at the point of death; I beg You, come and lay Your hands on her—that she may be healed!"
Trial drove Jairus also in his hour of dreaded bereavement to prayer, and, as in the case of the illustrious Prophet, "the effectual fervent prayer of this righteous man availed much."
The same blessed refuge is open for us in times of sickness. When our friends or our children are stretched on beds of suffering and death, we take their cases to God, and plead with Him in their behalf at the mercy-seat. We must not indeed dream that our prayers (as they were in the case of the Jewish ruler) must necessarily be answered, and that at our earthly bidding a miracle should follow. This would be presumption, not faith; this would be to usurp the sovereignty of God—to substitute our own wisdom for His—it would be to make our will and not His, paramount. If we had only to speak and it was accomplished, it would make man into God, and degrade God to the level of man. It would be to dishonor the Almighty—making Him the servant of the creature—not the creature waiting on in loving trustfulness as the servant of the Creator. Far, far better is it for the lowly suppliant to endorse every petition with the words, "Father, not my will, but Yours be done."
And yet, let us remember for our comfort, as we had occasion also to remark in the Sarepta narrative, that prayers at a deathbed (apparently unanswered) are not in vain. They may smooth the death-pillow. They may remove from it its thorns, and put the promises of Christ in their stead. They may lead sorrowing survivors to lowly resignation, and disarm earthly reflections of their poignant sting. Yes! do not forget this, when seasons of family trial overtake you—when the best of earthly means and instrumentality prove inefficacious, and those near and dear to you are hovering on the confines of the grave. Do not sit down wringing your hands in despair, as if Jehovah were, like Baal, asleep or on a journey, and his ear deaf, when you most need His intervention. Arise, call upon your God! Plead the assurance that, if in accordance with that better Will and Wisdom, "the prayer of faith SHALL save the sick."
The Patriarch David of old, is a rebuke in this respect to the lack of faith in many a Christian parent now. For seven whole days was he stretched on the bare earth importunate for his infant's life. "Who can tell," said he, "whether God may be gracious to me that my child may live?" Not until the little spark had fled, and the sad accents fell on his ear, "Your child is dead," did the prayer melt into the bright hope full of immortality.
IV. Learn the nature of real sorrow.
Jesus does not forbid tears. They are holy things consecrated by Incarnate tenderness. Let the world, if they may, condemn it as unmanly to grieve—or worse, let them seek oblivion for their trials in the giddy round of its pleasures and follies, and make the grave of their dead "the land of forgetfulness." Jesus encourages no such cold and stern stoicism. But, on the other hand, neither does He countenance overmuch sorrow. True Christian grief is calm, tranquil, chastened. The noisy, wailing, mimic crowd are spurned from the scene. If they had been the tears of affection, He would have held them as sacred; but being the hollow echoes of unfeeling hearts, He says, "Give place; why make this ado and weep?"
Jesus, on every occasion in His public ministry stamps with His abhorrence all pretense. He dislikes unreality, what is made to appear gold which is tinsel—whether it be simulated joy, or simulated piety, or simulated tears. That is a poor sorrow which expends itself in funeral trappings—which is measured by doleful looks, and passionate words, and mourning weeds. True grief is not like the stream which murmurs and frets because it passes over a shallow bed—that which is deepest makes least noise. Inconsolable sorrow is unbecoming the Christian. To abandon one's self to sullen gloom, moping melancholy and discontent, is sadly to miss and mistake the great design of trial. God sends it to wake us up to a sense of life's realities—not to fold our hands, but to be more in earnest than ever in our work and warfare. Oh! when He sees fit to enter our households, and, as the Great Proprietor of life, to resume His own, be it ours to acknowledge His right and prerogative to recall the grant.
"The Lord loves a cheerful giver." Although it was in a trial of which God forbid either you or I should ever know the bitterness, I know not in all Scripture a more touching picture of this silent acquiescence in God's sovereign will, than we have in the case of a parent who had seen his two worthless children smitten down before his eyes, and yet of whom we only read that "AARON HELD HIS PEACE."
V. Finally, let us learn from this passage thatChrist is the Great Vanquisher of death.
Up to this period of His public ministry, with the exception of the miracle at Nain just considered, we mainly, if not exclusively, trace His footsteps of mercy and power as the Healer of diseases—the savior of the body—the Lord of nature—the Ruler of the Spirit. We see Pain crouching importunate at His feet; Penitence creeping meekly at His side bedewing Him with tears; Sickness at His summons taking wings and fleeing away.
But He here again breaks the chains of Death. He gathers in another sheaf of that mighty Harvest of life, of which the angels are to be the Reapers in the Resurrection morning.
Note a comforting assurance He gives us—first, regarding the Dying, and second, regarding the Dead.
(1.) He tells us regarding everydeathbed—that the thread of existence is in His hands—that He quickens and restores whom He will—that unto Him as "God the Lord, belong the issues of life—and death."
"Your daughter is dead" (said bold human unbelief)—"trouble not the Master." But the message is premature. He has inverted the sand-glass. He has made the shadow, as in Hezekiah's dial, to go back!
Glorious assurance! Our lives and the lives of all near and dear to us are in His keeping. It is He who sends the Angel-messenger. It is He who marks every tree in the forest—plucks every lily in the garden. My health and sickness, my joys and sorrows, my friends, my children, are in the hands of the CHRIST OF CALVARY! We, in our blind unbelief, may regard Death as some arbitrary tyrant lording it, with iron scepter, over hapless victims. But the Gospel teaches a nobler philosophy. It tells of One in heaven who has in His hands "the keys of the grave and of death," and who, at the time He sees best, but not one moment sooner, "turns man to destruction, and says, Return to dust—you children of men!"
(2.) He gives us a comforting word regarding theDEAD.
Christian, He says of your dead (the dead in Christ—true Christians), "be not afraid, only believe." "Weep not—she is not dead, but sleeps!"
Stand in thought beside the great Luther, as we see him stooping first over the deathbed of his beloved daughter, Magdalene, and then follow him in the mournful sequel of that life-sorrow. "Gracious God," he exclaims, "if it be Your will to take her hence, I am content to know that she will be with You…I would gladly keep my child, for she is very dear to me, if our Lord God would leave her with me. But His will be done. To her nothing better can happen…You dear one," he exclaimed through his tears when all was over, and he gazed upon the coffin, "how well it is with you!…You shall rise and shine like a star, yes, like the sun…You should be pleased," he added to the bystanders who had come to render the last offices of affection, "I have sent a saint to heaven."
As they returned from the funeral, "My daughter," he said, "is now provided for, both in body and soul. We Christians have nothing to complain of. We know it must be so. We are more sure of eternal life than anything else. For God, who has promised it to us for His dear Son's sake, can never lie." And, yet once more, in his silent darkened home—"Ichabod,"—from which the glory had departed—he thus writes a cherished friend—"I from my utmost heart crave that to me and all mine, to you also and all dear to us, may be given a like hour of departure; that is truly to fall asleep in the Lord."
It has been often noted that there is a beautiful and striking progression in our Lord's three miraculous raisings from the dead. This instance, we have been considering, was the first in point of time. The daughter of Jairus was raised immediately after death had taken place, when the body was still laid on its death-couch. Her soul had but taken its flight to the spirit-world, when the angels that bore it away were summoned to restore it. The second, in order of time, was the raising of the son of the widow of Nain. Death, as we then saw, had achieved a longer triumph. The customary time for lamentation had intervened; he was being borne to the sepulchral grotto when the voice of Deity sounded over his coffin. The third and last of this class of miracles, was the raising of Lazarus at Bethany. Death had there attained a still more signal mastery. The funeral rites were over—four days had these lips been sealed before the life-giving and life-restoring word was uttered. There is ONE OTHER gigantic step in this progression. "The hour is coming when all who are in their graves shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and shall come forth!"
In the first case we have cited from our present narrative, the time elapsing between the dismissal of the spirit and its recall was measured by moments, the second case by hours, the third by days; the fourth is measured by ages—centuries—millenniums! But what of that? What though we speak of the tomb as the "long home," and death as the long sleep? By Him (with whom a thousand years is as one day) that precious, because redeemed dust, shall in some mysterious way be restored. "I will ransom them," He says as He looks forward through the vista of ages to this glorious consummation—"I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. O death, I will be your plague—O grave, I will be your destruction." Blessed, thrice blessed time!
As in this house of Jairus, it was his own loved daughter who, in form and feature, was again before them—as we beheld the widows both of Sarepta and Nain gazing on the unaltered countenances of their own cherished sons—as we shall before long find the sisters of Lazarus seeing in him who came forth from the grave, no alien form strangely altered—but the brother of their hearts, so, we believe, on that wondrous morning of immortality, shall the beloved on earth wear their old familiar smiles and loving looks—retain their personal identity.
No, further, we believe that the affections which hallowed homesteads on earth shall not be dulled, quenched, annihilated—but rather ennobled and purified. Brothers, sisters, parents, children, shall be linked once more in the fond ties and memories of earth, gathering in loving groups around the living fountains of waters, and singing together the twofold anthem of Providence and Grace—"the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb!"
If we descend for a moment from these lofty contemplations, it is to utter a brief word, in conclusion, to those who know nothing of such glorious hopes—who are locked in the slumbers of a far sadder death. Yes! there is a more dreaded sleep and death than that of the grave! They are rather to be envied who have "fallen asleep" in Jesus. Faith, in her noblest musings, would not weep them back from their crowns, and deprive them of their bliss! But they are to be pitied who are still slumbering on in the deep sepulchral stillness of spiritual death. With deep solemnity let the monition be heard, "Awake you that sleep, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you life!"
When we are called, as at times we are, to hear of deathbeds in every phase of existence—in every stage of the chequered journey—manhood in the sere and yellow leaf—youth in its prime—childhood in its innocence—infancy in its tenderest bud; or when these truths come home to us as arrows feathered from our own bosoms—solemn thoughts welling up from the very deeps of our being—I know not what will make a man in earnest if such impressive lessons fail to do so! Reader! If God were to meet you tonight, could you meet Him? Would you be ready for the opened books and the Great day of judgment? Nothing—nothing will be of any avail at that hour but the life of faith in the Son of God; not the wretched peradventure of a deathbed repentance, but an honest, loving, cordial closing NOW, with that great salvation.
It is but a slender thread that binds us, or our children, to existence; every moment, truly there is but a step between us and death! Oh, that we may so live, and seek that our children may so live, that that step may be regarded as a step between us and glory. And that, when the final summons comes, it may be—what weeping friends cannot see—the chariots of salvation and the horses of fire, waiting to bear us to Paradise!