The Powerlessness of the Old and the Power of the New

The Old versus the New:  Death versus Life

Matthew 9:18-34

“He entered and took her by the hand, and the girl got up.”

 

            Having compared the old religious order with the new order of faith, Matthew now gives us a series of miracles highlighting and contrasting the Old and the New.  The old order operated based on a religious system in which works attained salvation and reason explained life.  The old was powerless to overcome death. But the new order operates by faith, allowing God to transform us supernaturally. The new order brings victory over sin and its effects by giving us victory over death.  

            As Jesus contrasts the hopelessness of the old religious system and the hope of the new, we surprisingly find a religious leader (identified by Mark and Luke as Jairus) who comes to Jesus with a desperate cry. The timing is important, and the person coming with a request is equally relevant. This religious leader, who represented the old order, was desperate: His daughter had died.  However, in an amazing display of faith, this leader expresses confidence that Christ can restore life.  Up to this point, all the miracles of Jesus had been related to illness.  It is one thing to bring healing to physical disease; for a Doctor, using medicine can accomplish this.  But restoring someone from the dead is unheard of and rare even in the scriptures.  In the Old Testament, only three instances of someone being raised from the dead. Those were related to the ministry of Elijah and Elisha, two of the most potent and prominent prophets in the Old Testament.  For the Synagogue leader to recognize that Jesus had the power to raise someone from the dead was to acknowledge that Jesus was, in fact, the Messianic King, for in the Old Testament prophecy, the only person who was more significant than Elijah was the Messiah.  By his actions, Jesus revealed himself as the messiah (Mt. 11:5).

            In contrast to the faith of this desperate man, we find the unbelief of others.  When Jesus arrived at the home and said the girl was merely sleeping, they laughed at him.  When Jesus said this, he pointed out that death has no greater power over a person than sleep does at night.  The people operating under the old system saw the end as irreversible.  Even for us, death remains the ultimate tragedy.  It is the one thing we fear most, the one event that is inevitable for all of us.  As much as we avoid the topic of death, as much as we do to attempt to forestall its arrival, in the end, death wins.  

In the face of their hopelessness, Jesus points out that death is not permanent under the new order of faith.  While we are powerless to reverse the effects of death, Christ has complete mastery over death and brings not only the restoration of life but also eternal life. In this act, Jesus fully displays his power over death itself.  This serves as a foreshadowing of his victory over death in his resurrection.  When Jesus rose from the dead, he gave the ultimate proof that death had no mastery over him (see 1 Corinthians 15).  Through his power over death, Christ demonstrated he was the Messiah.  

This becomes the basis for our hope.  Jairus recognized that the old order was powerless in the face of death. However, he admitted that there was one who did possess the power to give life, and that was Christ.  While he was part of the old order, he realized the new order through his faith.  When he expressed his faith in Christ, Jairus embraced the new order and the hope it gives even in death.  The same is true for us today.  When we adopt a life of faith in Christ and embrace his kingdom, we discover we have victory over death.  In Christ, we have hope.  When we have faith in Christ, we no longer live in fear.

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