Gold Nugget No. 9: Sermon on the 24th Sunday after Trinity

by C.F.W. Walther
translated by Aaron Jensen

Walther first preached this sermon in 1844 and his words are no less true today. May we always take to heart his strong encouragement to come to Jesus.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ!

When our Lord once said in Capernaum, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day,” many took offense, even among those who up to that point had followed Christ as his disciples. They cried out, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” Indeed, it says, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” Upon this, Christ laid the question also before the twelve, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” So Peter gave him the noteworthy answer in the name of all of them, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Here we see how those people are minded who stand in the true faith in Christ and therefore have vividly known what is found in him. Whoever has a mere faith of the mouth is as a swaying reed. If an unbeliever holds up before such a false Christian apparent reasons against the divine truth, then his conviction is quickly shaken and a thousand doubts engulf his faith as ocean waves, swallow it down, and quickly extinguish its supposed fire. If such a person with only an intellectual belief should carry the cross after his savior because of his Christianity and suffer the mockery, scorn, and persecution of the world, then he soon takes offense, deserts the battle ranks of Christ again, and seeks the friendship of the world. But how entirely differently the true believer is minded! If the world calls to him, “How can you still be such a great fool and believe what Christ has taught! Don’t you see the bright light of the modern enlightenment? Do you really want to stay in the night of your forefathers instead of the bright noon of this day?” Then the true believer answers along with Peter, “To whom shall I go?” To whom shall I go to find truth? In vain I seek the light among the wise men of this world. They give me nothing but doubts, uncertain speculations and unproven assumptions. All their teachings are without comfort. They are a lamp which lightens this world a little but which always goes out forever in the night of death. But Christ has the “words of eternal life.” He gives me the truth which my yearning heart seeks. On his Word I can not only live joyfully but also die comforted and blessed. If a child of the world calls again to such a believer, “How can you be so foolish as to deny everything for the sake of Christ? Don’t you see how you too could become rich, how you too could climb the brilliant heights of honor and be happy? And you refuse all this and follow your Christ in a sad delusion?” Yes, if the true Christian says this, how can I be any different? To whom shall I go? Christ has the words of eternal life! In Christ I find joys compared to which the glittering pleasures of the world seem so contemptible, even like bitter gall. In Christ I find a peace and a heavenly rest for my soul and a still salvation for my heart which no friend of the world has a clue about, and which constantly lifts me high above earthly needs and above my cross as a Christian, that I can joyfully worship and praise God in the middle of troubles. So go away, poor world, go away with your joys. They are shadows and dreams which, when they have faded away, leave behind a sting which does not decay even in death but after death eternally pricks and torments. But my Jesus is my everything, my heaven, whose glories to be sure I still cannot completely see here with my dull eyes, but one day I will see fully when bodily death will have dispersed even the last haze of sin.

What is it now that I have been saying to you all in this meditation? None other than this: “You must come to Jesus.” Therefore let me now lay it on your hearts. Implore God’s help for this along with me.

Text: Matthew 9:18-26

While he was saying this, a ruler came and knelt before him and said, “My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live.” Jesus got up and went with him, and so did his disciples.

Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. She said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.”

Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed from that moment.

When Jesus entered the ruler’s house and saw the flute players and the noisy crowd, he said, “Go away. The girl is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him. After the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took the girl by the hand and she got up. News of this spread through all that region.

“You must come to Jesus!” That, my friends, is what I am compelled to exclaim when I shall speak to you after the reading of our precious Gospel for today. Therefore let this also be my heartfelt cry to all of you today:

You must come to Jesus!

Because:

  1. He alone brings everything which worries you here to a blessed end, and

  2. He alone helps you, even through death, to eternal life.

Lord God, heavenly Father, your dear Son once said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” Therefore we turn to you and ask you, draw us to your Son, O eternal Love, through your Word and your Holy Spirit. You have sent him into the world that everyone, including us, be helped by him. So let none of us remain far from him but rather find him, persist with him, and finally be saved by him. Amen! Amen!

I.

My friends, Christ helped everyone who ever came to him. No one who implored him went away from him without comfort or with a saddened face. In our Gospel lesson we hear that when Christ was hurrying at the request of Jairus to wake his daughter up from the dead, on the way he also helped a woman with a flow of blood when, sighing in faith, she touched just the edge of his cloak. His entire life was going around the land and doing good. Each of his steps left behind a footprint of his helpful love. Don’t we have to wonder why every unfortunate person back then didn’t come to him? Then all the miserable people of the land really would have been soon helped! But see! That is what fallen man is like. He abandons God, the living spring, and prefers to dig himself wells which are full of holes and give no water. Still today Jesus is really the only one who is willing and able to help and yet, alas, only so few come to him.

Everyone wants to be happy. Everyone seeks something within which his soul shall finally find the rest and peace for which he yearns. But what happens with most people? The more a man seeks all that, the farther away from him it flees. And why? He seeks it in the world, in its treasures, in honor before men, or in the pleasures and amusements of the earth. O, all you who struggle from the breaking of morning light until midnight to acquire earthly goods, all you who perhaps for that reason travel through lands and sees and therefore are still always wandering from place to place, confess it to yourself honestly for once. Have you obtained the goal which so often already seemed to shimmer in the golden distance? Is your hunger for visible comfort ever satisfied? Is your thirst for true divine fortune ever quenched? Doesn’t this world become emptier, drearier, and more hopeless with each day? Aren’t you discovering more and more vividly that all the pretenses of your heart were empty dreams? Don’t you see that you have almost always been bitterly deceived in your hopes? Doesn’t your own heart often say to you, “How unfortunate I am!”? Yes, don’t you often hear the voice of despair in your breast, “It would be better if I had never been born, for there is nothing here but misery and need. Oh, I would rather be dead than alive”? O, dear hearer, just believe this voice. It is true. Without Jesus and his Word it would be better if the entire world would have suffocated at birth. See, that’s the reason. You don’t have Jesus, you don’t have the precious grace which he has purchased for all men through his life and sufferings. For only this, only this can make a man happy. Without it you go around in this world as a poor lost lamb. You have left the true pasture of your soul. You stray from desolate mountain to mountain, from slope to slope. Every hour you are in danger of falling into a chasm from which there is no rescue. Think about it. You must return to the flock, to the pasture, to your Good Shepherd. You must come to Jesus and as a sinner seek his grace and satisfy your empty soul on the pasture of his sweet Gospel. Then, yes, then you will be happy. Then the world will smile pleasantly at you again. For see, then you will know for certain. Here there is a tiring fight, but with Jesus you will come to an eternal victory. Here there is a difficult time of sowing, full of toil, work, and sweat, but there an eternally blessed harvest time awaits you. The time during which you still walk with a heavy heart in the land of tears is but a few moments. Soon, soon you will go with Jesus into the heavenly land where a million springs of joy and salvation flow toward you as clear as crystal. Oh, believe it. When you go there carrying this hope in your heart then you will spend blessed days here and be able to joyfully cry to others as well, “Taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.”

However there are men who still worry about something else, not their earthly need, but rather their sins. There are men who have burdened their consciences with heavy guilt and stained their souls with shameful works and who are often unceasingly and secretly tormented by these misdeeds of theirs without anyone suspecting it. They often weep over their evilness in silence. The thought of death and judgment often rouses them from their beds in the night, robs them of sleep, and pursues them everywhere they seek to calm down their woken conscience. Such people often attempt many kinds of things to help themselves out of their need. They are set on forgetting their sins, or to make up for them through other good works, or to atone for them through self-inflicted pains. But all is in vain. The wound of their consciences will not fully heal. If at times it appears to be healing then it often bursts open again, always that much more painful and bloody. Are there perhaps not many such secretly suffering sinners like that woman with the flow of blood also among us? Aren’t there some people who never get rid of their concerns over this and that grievous sin of theirs? O you poor tormented people, know that you struggle in vain. If you want to be thoroughly healed, then you must come to Jesus and just tell him your entire need honestly in a believing prayer. He has also taken your guilt and sickness upon himself and atoned for them, for he is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. So your sin too. Therefore if you as a sinner receive him as your savior you are certainly helped. Just place your confidence on nothing but him. For he will surely not leave you. You will then experience it as the Holy Spirit himself will give you testimony that you have found grace and forgiveness through Christ, that your sin is erased, that God will never think of them again, and that he has now adopted you as his children. Oh how good it will be for you! Therefore arise, arise, sinner, you must come to Jesus.

Of course, my friends, the Evangelist Mark tells us still more about the woman with the flow of blood. “She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse.” Therefore she is also a model of those who do everything possible to better themselves, but instead of it getting better for them it only gets worse and worse. There are many people like that who feel that it must be different for them and therefore they often grasp onto the best intentions but they always have to realize that they are going backwards instead of forwards. Even true Christians who are constantly lamenting that it is not well with them often make such realizations. What might the reason for this be? None other than that they do not want to daily and hourly come to Jesus. They want to better themselves through their own power. But they accomplish nothing at all with it. Their intentions, their own works, their willing and wishing are lost. Through them it only becomes worse and worse. Eventually they have to confess:

Yet deep and deeper still I fell;
Life had become a living hell,
So firmly sin possessed me. (CW377)

Therefore consider also that there is no other help. You must come to Jesus. You only get better through faith. Power only flows out of grace. Only the knowledge of Christ’s unending love fills your naturally cold heart with a burning love.

Oh, if only we never made useless detours but went straight to Jesus in all need and in every bodily and spiritual deficiency then this all would find a blessed end. Therefore dear hearer:

By grace! Oh, mark this word of promise
When you are by your sins oppressed,
When Satan plagues your troubled conscience,
And when your heart is seeking rest.
What reason cannot comprehend
God by his grace to you did send. (CW384)

II.

Yes, to him we must come, and to be sure secondly because he alone helps you, even through death, to eternal life.

That Christ called the little daughter of Jairus and other dead people to life is not only a miracle which should seal that he really was the Son of God and savior of the world which he declared himself to be. It should also show that he actually is death’s conqueror. Christ does this same miracle for everyone who believes in him. Not only does he do it in that he give his Christians joyfulness to separate from this world and leave all their possessions, all earthly joys and honors, wife, child, brother, sister, friends and all their loves on earth, but he is also the one who actually leads them through death into eternal life in heaven. Christ has already done this for all believers in the time of the Old Testament and he continually does this still today until the end of days. But he is the only one who does this. For he alone has by his death taken the power from death for us sinners. He alone is given all power, all judgment, all majesty in heaven and on earth by God. He is the only way, the only door to heaven. Whoever does not take refuge in Christ cannot come to the Father. Whoever dies without Jesus dies unsaved. He dies forever and enters into eternal death.

People seldom realize, of course, how important this is. For most of them do not think about their death and deliberately ignore that vivid reminder of the king of terrors. But what can be more foolish! Indeed, nothing is more certain for us that that we also must die one day and if none of our expectations about the future should come to fulfillment then the expectation of our last hour will still be fulfilled.

Now, dear hearers, you live here in a house which sooner or later will collapse on top of you. You go on a path which one day will certainly bring you to a place where you will see the immeasurable chasm of eternity before you. You travel on the ocean of the world in a ship which one day will, perhaps suddenly and unexpectedly, fall apart. What? Should you be able to be secure and carefree in it? In time shouldn’t you be worried enough that then you will enter into a different house where your soul can remain eternally? In time shouldn’t you look around for a safe bridge, for an unbreakable anchor? Shouldn’t your last wish, in which all other wishes come together, be that when your life on earth is at an end you can close your weak eyes in peace with the certain hope of waking up again that same moment in the dwelling places of God your Father?

Oh certainly! See, just for that reason you must come to Jesus. What can your money help you in death? Death cannot be bribed. What can your beautiful house and your land help you then? You must leave them behind to your heirs and be content with a little plot, as every beggar receives. What can your beautiful clothes, your red cheeks, and all your vanities help you when everything rots, fades, and withers? What can your friends and patrons help you, for even if they are emperors and kings, they too are children of death. What can the light of your skill and wisdom help you? It is forever extinguished. What can your righteousness, your good intentions, your glittering works help you? In death this all withers as the autumn leaves. In vain your trembling, shaking, timid heart seeks a pillow of rest in its own deeds. They are just prickly thorns upon which you cannot rest or fall asleep happy.

Yes, dear hearers, vividly remind yourself of that hour often and you yourself will say, “Yes, it is true. I must come to Jesus.”

Oh, if you do all this, and if you who have already done it always go to Jesus anew each day and stay with him, then your death bells may always strike because for you they no longer have any sound of mourning. To you their strike is a festival ringing which calls you into the eternal temple of the Lord where you shall celebrate with all the angels and elect the last, the true, the unceasing festival of the jubilation of eternal life. O blessed moment when the doors of this refuge of God will be opened to us! O blessed moment when Jesus Christ will come towards us to enclose us in his faithful arms! Oh, come soon, come soon, o death, through Jesus Christ you are sweet to us. Then, O divine Lamb who was strangled for us, we will better praise you from eternity to eternity. Amen. Amen.