After Twelve Years
Dear “saints and fellow faithful brothers in Christ...:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father” (Colossians 1:2).
And then what happened? We don’t know. The account breaks off and the personalities are not recurring. A twelve year old girl has a lot of life left to live but we don’t hear a moment of it after Jesus raised her from the dead. The woman suffered a bleed for twelve years but once Jesus healed her, we don’t know what happened to her next (Matthew 9:18-26).
Of course, the focus is on Jesus and the gracious miracles He performed by His divine, almighty power according to His mercy and compassion. That is the point that Matthew wants us to take away. That is what we are to remember and hold dear. Jesus is full of compassion for those who are overcome by sickness and death. He has come not only to die and rise again Himself, but to do so for us.
The eternal Son of God did not need any victory over death for Himself. He came to give us His victory. His many miracles of healing and His wondrous gifts of resurrection for individuals pointed toward His gift of healing and resurrection for all who put their faith in His saving work. That is the direction that St. Matthew’s Gospel takes us. We continue on to follow Jesus. The woman gets swallowed back into the crowd and the twelve year old girl is left behind in her parent’s house.
I suppose we might imagine that these persons pop up later along in the history of the life of Jesus. We might search for some mysterious writings in the first centuries that would tell us some magnificent way in which these two women came back onto the scene. We could write our own piece of historical fiction that places the woman with the flow of blood in Lydia’s prayer group that St. Paul visits by the river outside of the Macedonian city of Philippi. The resurrected twelve year old girl might be one in that crowd of more than 500 that saw Jesus risen from the dead. But no, the focus is on Jesus and we are left to wonder what happened to the woman and the girl who received the grace of healing and resurrection that day.
Or are we left to wonder? In today’s Epistle Lesson St. Paul writes to the Colossians about their life after receiving the grace of Jesus Christ. Although he may have never met them at all, he has heard about them and what their lives are like as those who have experienced the gracious compassion of Jesus. The Gospel of salvation had come to them and Paul and Timothy had heard word of their faith in Christ Jesus and their love for all the saints (Colossians 1:4). They knew the continuing story of how the Gospel was bearing fruit and growing since the day they understood the grace of God in truth as preached to them by Epaphras, a faithful minister in Christ (v. 7).
We can, then, extrapolate and be confident that what was evident in the Christians in Colossae who had received God’s grace, also played out in the lives of the woman healed by Jesus and the girl whom He raised from the dead. We can, also, extrapolate and be confident that the same is playing out in our lives, as those who have received the grace of God in Christ Jesus, even through the hand of His faithful ministers of the Gospel.
Being confident of what had already been reported to him, Paul did not hesitate to pray with confidence that the story would continue in the life of the Colossians. You can be confident to pray also that the grace of God will continue to be at work in you, in your spouse, in your children, in the lives of your relatives and friends, and fellow church members. Even if you don’t receive progress reports of them or feel any change in yourself, you can place your faith in the work of God through His grace in Christ Jesus toward you and them.
As you have received the grace of God in the forgiveness of your sins and the promise of a resurrected life free from death and disease, you have begun to look at the world and yourself and even to look at God through different lenses. Once you know that it is God’s will, not to destroy you but to save you, then you can see things more clearly. “God desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). That is His will. World events, natural disasters, and personal tragedies take on new significance with this kind of spiritual insight. None of us deserves the compassion of God, but in Jesus Christ He reaches out to us with His saving love. That gives you a new way to face temptations and wickedness.
As you navigate the world with this kind of spiritual insight, you can expect that your life will give a worthy testimonial to your God. You can expect that people who know you and know that you are God’s child, will come to think highly of your God. They will begin to see His compassion in your caring hands. They will start to glorify Him for the mercy that you show as His people.
In his letter to the Colossians Paul mentions three areas in particular that will be evident in their life: (1) they will bear fruit in every good work and increase in the knowledge of God; (2) they will be strengthened with all power for endurance and patience with joy; and (3) they will give thanks to the Father who has done such wondrous things for them.
(1) The fruit of good works that Paul writes about here is connected to increasing in the knowledge of God. The focus is actually inward rather than outward. The increase in the knowledge of God (who He is and what He has done for you in Christ Jesus) is what produces the good things in your life. Our concentration has to be focused on what God has done and let what we do be a natural outgrowth of His grace at work in us.
So we are to be diligent in the things that increase our knowledge of God’s work for us. We are to attend to His Word, read and meditate privately as well as hear it proclaimed publicly. That is why Matthew forces us to follow the words and deeds of Jesus, rather than diverting the gospel to the life of the healed woman and the resurrected girl and whatever wondrous things poured out of their grace filled lives.
(2) The second area is a strengthening with power for endurance and patience. There are many things to endure in this world, illness and death are the two that give us the most pain and grief. But the power of the Gospel is at work in us so that we endure where others would give up. We are patient to wait for God’s intervention while others are filled with anxiety over what they should do. And even though we are suffering through many things, perhaps for twelve years or more, God provides us with joy in the knowledge that His grace never fails to continue His powerful working in us.
This power for endurance is in the Gospel that gives us the knowledge of God. To the Christians in Rome Paul wrote: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). The Gospel is the account of Jesus’ suffering and death for you, but strangely it is what provides the power for your life of victory over disease and death. To the Corinthian Christians Paul wrote: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).
(3) The third area where it is evident that the gospel is still at work is in giving thanks to the Father. This springs out of the Gospel that gives knowledge and spiritual insight so that you realize just what it is that God has done for you in Christ Jesus. Paul elaborated on it in our Epistle reading in three short statements that you can spend the rest of your life delving into, and excavate more and more of the riches of God’s grace toward you.
First, you are thankful to the Father who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. You did not qualify to share in the resurrection to eternal life in the light of God’s presence. He has qualified you by shining the light of Christ into you at your Baptism. Remember what that little candle symbolizes. “You have received Christ who is the light of the world. Live always in the light of Christ (which has been given to you in Holy Baptism), and be ever watchful for His coming, that you may meet Him with joy and enter with Him into the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom which shall have no end” (Lutheran Service Book, 271).
Secondly, you are thankful to the Father who delivered us from the domain of darkness. That is in opposition to the saints in Light. The domain of darkness is the dwelling place of evil and death. It describes this world without the light of God shining into it. He has rescued you. It is as if He has opened your eyes from the darkness of death, like giving life to the dead twelve year old girl. She opened her eyes to see Jesus and lived the rest of her life in the light of His grace extended upon her.
And thirdly, you are thankful to the Father who transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He has moved you out of the domain of darkness into a new kingdom, under a new king. You didn’t get here on your own. You were stuck and He pulled you out. He paid the price to redeem you from the death you deserve. He has forgiven you for your sins that took you there, plucked you out and set you in a place that is safe and secure.
So, it is not that nothing has happened. It is that the focus is on Jesus where it should be. The focus is on the Gospel so that more and more might hear it and receive the grace of God through hearing it. But that does not mean that nothing else is happening with you. There is more to the account as this grace has its effect in the lives of those upon whom it has been bestowed. There is more to the account of the woman healed of her bleed. There is more in the life of the twelve year old girl whom Jesus raised from the dead.
There is more in the life of the Christians in first century Colossae than is written in any book or passed down in oral tradition. There is more happening in the lives of all those who have received the compassionate touch of Christ in their lives. There is more going on in your life. We can be confident of the working of God through the grace of His Son who has done so much for you and continues to do yet more and more.
“Grace be with you” (Colossians 4:18).