Newtown Bible Church

Messiah: Power over Death (Matthew 9:23-26)

  • Death is a reality for every human being. The remembrances of it are all around us; graves dot the landscape. The reality of death has frightened man since its entrance into the world and therefore is a major component of every religion. Religion is essentially man’s way defining the meaning of life in the context of death; an explanation of the death is at the heart of revery religion. 
    • Now there some, such as, Christian Scientist (Mary Baker Eddy) who simply deny death exist! Many secularist its eternal significance during life; even then it is simply a way to escape the reality while holding on to their sin. But when lying sick, only moments from departing this world, their story often changes. 
    • It is reported Mahat/ma Ghandi said, about fifteen years before he died:

“I must tell you in all humility that Hinduism as I know it entirely satisfies my soul. It fills my whole being and I find a solace in the Bha/ga/vad and U/pan/i/shad that I miss even in the sermon on the Mount.” Yet, when nearing death, “My days are numbered. I am not likely to live very long, perhaps a year or a little more. fFOr the first time in fifty years I find myself in the slew of despond.” (f/ MacArthur). 


  • Eventually, the reality catches up with everyone; and it is against this backdrop that the glory of Christ shines so brightly. If not already there, turn to our passage Matt. 9:23-26 and we will note: 2 Glorious Displays of the Certainty of Christ’s Power over Death, to our glorious future. We are going to simply walk through the account; and at the end look at the significance of this miracle. I. Confidence of Sovereign Power II. Demonstration of Resurrection Power III. Implications of His Power. 


READ: Matthew 9:23-26.


I. Confidence of Sovereign Power

A.  Charitable Test of Faith

  • Faith is a key theme throughout these accounts of Matthew beginning in chapter 8 (gentile centurion [8:5-13], insufficient faith of would be disciples [8:19-22], weak (though genuine) faith of true disciples disciples [8:23-27], saving faith of the paralytic & friends [9:1-8], faith of Matthew to leave all and follow Christ [9:9], faith of the hemorrhaging woman [9:19-22]). 
    • In all of this Matthew lays before us the gamut of responses to Jesus ranging from the hatred and mounting opposition of the Pharisees, to the willingness to leave everything for Christ - and everything in between.  
    • The overall response was rejection, however, in the end there were some along the way who did believe, who did begin to grasp the implications of His ministry and works. And so it is now with this ruler. 
  • Matthew gives us a very abbreviated account so that all the focus would be on the miracle itself. Mark & Luke, however, fill out some of the details. Mark 5:35, “While He was still speaking (the woman healed from her hemorrhaging after 12 long years of suffering), they came from the house of the synagogue official, saying, ‘Your daughter has died why trouble the Teacher anymore?’” 
    • Devastating news to this man, his greatest fear now realized and surely it broke his heart, and frankly that is just how Jesus wanted it and likely the reason for the delay with the hemorrhaging woman. Now, that may sound shocking, but God has full rights over His universe and our lives, and He often will bring things simply to test us and to strengthen our faith. This is not the only time Jesus would do something like this to display His glory (John 11:1-6, 14-15; cf. 9:3)
  • This was a test for this man’s faith as well as an opportunity for Jesus to display His power over death. “But Jesus, overhearing what was being spoken, said to the synagogue official, ‘Do not be afraid, only believe.’” (Mk. 5:36)
    • He was testing Him, but note the gentleness of it; He knew this man’s faith was weak and could be easily crushed, so He gently encourages him. There is an echo here of Is. 42:3 “A bruised reed He will not break and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish.” So it is with this man, whose faith is near being extinguished and instead of rebuking the Lord mercifully and gently beckons him to trust; He meets the man in his weakness. 
    • How often does He do the same with us? How often have we cried with the man of Mk. 9:24 (“Lord I believe, help my unbelief”), and found the Savior to be a sufficient support and to fill in the gaps of our faith? So He is here with this man in a trial certainly designed to test him and strengthen his faith (James 1:3)
  • Presumably the man did believe and followed Jesus, who was Himself undistracted by the news, traveled to his home where his now dead daughter lay, which is where Matthew picks up the account and notes …  


B. Chaotic Scene of Despair

  •  “And Jesus entered into the rulers house and saw the flute players and the crowd in an uproar”   - A death had taken place. The presence of the mourners at the home points to the nearness of the girls death, less that 24 hours. The Jews did not embalm their dead, therefore, soon after the person died various spices were applied to ward off the stench of decomposition. Apparently they had not gotten quite that far, but apparently she was dead long enough for a crowd to gather. 
  • It is a time of loss, of mourning, of sadness, of separation, and is attended with great emotion, but very unlike Western funerals where the demeanor of the crowd is very reserved, silent, maybe some hushed or low-volumed conversations on the side. Maybe in soft funeral music in the background. 
    • For the Jew, and many of the ancient world as it is today particularly in Middle eastern cultures, death was a boisterous event.   
    •  Signs of mourning for the Jew included loud lamentation, weeping, wearing of sackcloth, which was often accompanied by dirges and sung eulogies.   
  • Now, in order to understand the scene it is necessary to understand a little background about a typical Jewish funeral. 
  • (1) First, there was often the tearing of clothes and wearing sackcloth as a sign of deep distress and mourning. The Talmud mentions 39 different rules on precisely how this was to be done. 
  • (2) There was a gathering of friends and family attended with loud weeping, loud lamenting, and eulogizing of the little girl, including a recitation of events in their life, or good deeds (cf. Acts 9:36-39).
    • This experience was very often enhanced professional mourners were added to this mix, and ancient practice in Israel (*2 Chr. 35:25; Jer. 9:17-20; cf. Matt. 11:17). The custom was not limited to the Jews but was widely practiced among the Egyptians where wailing women are depicted in paintings on the wall in ancient Egyptian tombs.


“There are in every city and community women exceedingly cunning in this business. They are always sent for and kept in readiness. When a fresh company of sympathizers comes in, these women make haste to take up a wailing that the newly come may the more easily unite their tears with the mourners. They know the domestic history of every person, and immediately strike up an impromptu lamentation, in which they introduce the names of their  relatives who have recently died, touching some tender chord in every heart; and thus each one weeps for his own dead, and the performance, which would otherwise be difficult or impossible, comes easy and natural.” (Barclay). 


  •  Mk. 5:21 “He saw a commotion, and people loudly weeping and wailing.” Matthew mentions flute players” - were common at Jewish funerals. 


Talmud notes: “The husband is bound to bury his dead wife, and to make lamentations and mournings for her, according to the custom of all countries. And also the very poorest among the Israelites will afford her not less than two pipes and one lamenting woman: but if he be rich, let all things be done according to his quality.” (Lightfoot). 


“Even in Rome, the flute-players were a feature of days of grief. There were flute-players at the funeral of the Roman emperor Claudius, and Seneca tells us that they made such a shrilling that even Claudius himself, dead though he was, might have heard them. So insistent and so emotionally exciting was the wailing of the flute that Roman law limited the number of flute -players at any funeral to ten.” (Barclay). 


  • This man was well known and wealthy, therefore this would have been a packed house with plenty of noise and commotion. 
  •  “the crowds in an uproar” - “to be emotionally upset by a concern or anxiety”  In Acts 17:5 it is used to speak of a riot forming, in 20:10 of the commotion that followed the fall of Eutychus from the window during a sermon of Paul. Yet, in the midst such chaos and despair Jesus demonstrates His absolute soveriegnty.  


C.  Confident Command of Power

  • In the midst of such noise and chaos Jesus enters the house and immediately pronounces: (24) “Leave (or, Go outside, for the girl has not died, but is asleep.” Lk 8:51 adds :“Stop weeping.” A ridiculous statement at first glance (imagine going into a funeral, with everyone standing around an open casket, many weeping, and saying this! So, imagine the reality of this scene! 
    • Now, in fact the girl had died, her life, even her spirit was no longer in her. (Lk. 8:55) notes that her “spirit returned,” which requires that her spirit had departed. This is death; she was not in a coma, as some would try to say. 
    • To borrow the words of James 2:26 who uses the illustration of death to show the futility of faith without obedience says: “Just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead.” She was dead. The body on that bed was without life.
  • What then did He mean by “asleep”? His point is this: this is not a permanent condition. “asleep” is a figure of speech that refers to her condition as it appears. A common expression for those who die in the Lord (but not of unbelievers), that is, those whose bodies are dead, but whose spirits are alive and with God. Jesus states it plainly in the case of Lazarus (Turn To: John 11:11-14).
    • There is no support here for those who hold to a soul sleep - some kind of spiritual coma. Scripture makes it very clear that when a believer dies they are immediately in the presence of the Lord.  Jesus said to Martha “He who believes in Me will never die” (John 11), Paul, “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5), “to die is gain” (Phil. 1), the martyrs before the throne (Rev. 7) and this could go on. To die in the Lord is to be immediately in the presence of the Lord - thus to the thief, “Today you will be with Me in paradise.”
      • There is no telling where the girl’s spirit was, or that of Lazarus. Did she go the 3rd heaven like Paul (2 Cor. 11:1-4)? Text does not say. 
    • Again, this expression is given from the perspective from this world of a lifeless body, not a statement about the condition and location of the soul. Wherever she was, she was not with her body.
  • The point is: she was dead, but Christ knew it was only a temporary condition. He has the “Keys of Death and Hades” (Rev. 1:18). He has absolute confidence in His ability to raise the dead. He is in total control of the situation. 


D. Condescending Response of Unbelief

  • (1) Scorn of unbelieving laughter: Of course, upon such a statement the people immediately “laughed at Him” (imperfect) showing, here, a repeated action. Also, the term itself indicates that this was not harmless, good-natured laughter, but that is was filled with ridicule and mockery: “to make fun of or ridicule by laughing at, but evidently also involving verbal communication.” Certainly it was not laughter alone, but ridicule, mockery; you can hear the backlashing of scorn (“That’s ridiculous,” “What a fool,” “Who does He think He is?”). It is the response of unbelief (27:39-43).
    • Jesus makes some pretty amazing statements that often go against and challenge our assumptions, or fallen wisdom and understanding. Yet, faith takes Him at His Word because He has proven Himself faithful and trustworthy.  
  • (2) Superficiality of their tears: Such an immediate condescending mockery betrays the shallowness of their mourning; that it could so easily turn to scorn. Certainly some were truly grieved, but for many (professionals) it was only a show. Some may even have been there only for the food and drink that often accompanied such occasions. Not unlike today.


 Dr. Fred. Bliss tells of a mourning delegation at the mahal, or mourning house, of a great man. “No matter how gaily they may be chatting as they approach, when they reach the house they rush forward, handkerchiefs to face, sobbing, weeping, with utmost demonstrations of grief, going through them time after time as occasion requires.” Amelia B. Edwards gives a vivid account of her first experience with such mourning: “It rose like the far-off wavering sound of many owls. It shrilled, swelled, wavered, dropped, and then died away, like the moaning of the wind at sea. We never heard anything so wild and plaintive.”


II. Demonstration of Resurrection Power 


A. Power over Death 

  •  “When the crowd had been sent out, He entered” - “had been sent out” is a strong term that brings out the forcefulness of His command - often used to refer to Jesus ministry of casting out demons. He is serious; and likely put off by their hypocrisy. In either case, this is no time for mourning, but will be for rejoicing. This girl will die again, eventually, and you can mourn for her then, but now is not the time. 
  • Mark and Luke inform us that He took along with Him Peter, James, John (the inner circle), and her parents. Matthew has the camera focused on Jesus. Upon entering the room He walks over to the bed where the girls lifeless body lay, gently takes her hand, and raises her up. 
    • Mark records the actual words He spoke: “Talitha Kum,’ (which translated mean, ‘Little girl, I say to you, get up!’” (Mk. 5:41). Lk 8:55 “And her spirit returned, and she got up immediately.” The dead body was now filled again with the life of the girl. “Immediately the girl got up and began to walk” (Mk. 5:42) “and He gave orders for something to be given her to eat” (Lk. 8:55)
    • A complete restoration; immediately gaining full use of her limbs and displaying an appetite, both pointing not only the evidence of life, but also of health. Anyone who has ever been sick knows that there is no desire for food. One of the first signs of health returning it she return of the appetite

B. Proclamation of Power 

  • Mark and Luke record, of course, that all were amazed. Matthew ends by simply noting: “The news about it spread through the whole land.” The news no doubt that this Rabbi who has already displayed power over disease, demons, nature, and now death. A similar miracle later in His ministry will cause the leaders to hate Him even more and want to put Him to death (John 11). Ironic, a miracle of giving life makes the leaders want to take His. 

III. Implication of this Power (or, Magnitude of this Miracle): 

  • (1) Death is an intruder upon God’s creation - it is something that “entered into the world” (Gen. 3:19; Rom. 5:12). Because death is unnatural, it is described by Paul (1 C 15:26) as an “enemy.” It is the power of Satan to hold men captive in fear (Heb. 2:15)
    • (a) Adam and Eve were created with the ability to live forever, had the conditions for this life remained (such as access to the tree of life). However, the condition of their immortality was the absence of sin; with the introduction of sin the conditions of immortality were forfeited and death entered into the human experience. Death displays God’s disapproval, even hatred of sin.
    • (b) Death is a separation. (1) Physical death is a separation of the body and the spirit ; (2) Spiritual death (Eph. 2:1); (3) Eternal death (2 Thess. 1:9; Rev. 20:14)
  • Against this backdrop the hope and reality of the gospel shines. He has power over death. If death were the sovereign one; if death had the last word then we would all be without hope, but it does not because of Christ (cf. John 5:21f). Thus He could say: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”  In some mysterious way, Jesus the God-Man tasted this death for all those who trust Him (Heb. 2:14-15)
  • (2) This is pointer to the central theme and hope of the gospel, the resurrection. Jesus Christ claims to have the power to conform the body of every believer into the likeness of His own. Phil. 3:21 “who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.” Listen to the words of Isaiah 25:7-8 (Turn to). 
    • The power that raised this little girl, is the same power that would bring Christ Himself out of the grave is the same power that ultimately will bring to life all His ransomed in new bodies fit for eternity.
  • (3) Christians grieve when someone dies in the Lord and yet it is not “without hope” (1 Thess. 4:13), unlike those in the world. For the believer death is of a different character, but this is only because of Christ. Death is an enemy because of the reality of sin. 
    • This is a tremendous encouragement, beloved. Look we all know (who are Christians) that we deserve death and judgment; that we have sinned against God.  For an unbeliever death is entrance into the full consequences of God’s wrath against their sin. 1 C 15 “the sting of death is removed,” For the believer that wrath of God against their sin has already been fully absorbed by Christ on the cross, therefore, death has lost its sting, because the sting of death is the law and Christ bore the curse of the Law for us on the tree (Gal. 3:13)
  • Therefore, death for a believer is entrance into the fullness of life. Thus, Paul could say it is “better” to depart and be with Christ.” The miracle of Jesus in raising this girl from the dead, rescuing her from death is a demonstration that He has power over death, it is a affirmation of His mission to deal with the root of death, namely sin; it is a foretaste of the world to come. 
    • Romans 8:35-39 (Turn to) tells us that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, not even death. 
    • Death is a defeated enemy through the victorious work of Christ. Matt. 10 that man can only harm the body but the soul is secure in Christ. Jesus said that the soul that belongs to Him through faith will never die. The last enemy of death has ultimately been defeated by Christ; such is the majesty of Christ, the glory of His work as Messiah, the hint of future realities pictured in the miracle. 
  • There is here a picture of salvation. Every time a sinner is granted life (regenerated) by the Holy Spirit it is a spiritual resurrection: a movement from death to life (Eph. 2:1-5)
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