Then He came and touched the open coffin, and those who carried him stood still.
St. Paul writes to the Corinthians:
“Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said, ‘I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people.’ Therefore “Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, …”
Here we see a good example of an Old Testament foundation for this week’s Gospel, whose deeper theme carries over into New Testament theology. The rule is that one becomes unclean when in contact with dead things. The Old Testament implication was “therefore don’t touch such things.” Jesus made this teaching into a new wine that could no longer be contained by the old wineskins of Old Testament law, but that doesn’t mean the commandment no longer holds. It’s interpreted in new ways, as St. Paul makes clear. How so?
“Don’t be yoked with unbelievers.” Don’t let give them a “voice” in your world. Don’t let heresy into your church. Don’t befriend bad influences. Don’t let sewage into your house through your screen. Don’t let dead ideas and death-causing sin gain a foothold in your soul.
The training-wheels observance of this truth is what was taught in the Law of the Old Testament – don’t touch corpses; don’t touch lepers. Jesus fulfilled this law and lifted it to new heights. He made the unclean clean. He made the dead live. He became the curse so that the cursed might be received back into the community of the Lord.
The word for “touched” is “take a firm grasp of.” Jesus has resolve. He knows exactly what He’s doing, because He’s the good Samaritan. He’s not afraid to risk becoming unclean, like the Levites and priests did. Gosh, it’s almost as if He wanted to become unclean! Well, of course He did, for that is why He came, to save us from our sin and unclean-ness.
Through Christ the touch of God heals. In the Old Testament, those who had contact with God outside of His carefully ordained means died. Those carefully ordained means were the tabernacle, temple, the sacrificial system, and the priesthood. Those dealt with by God through these ordained means had a “healing,” a “healing” in quotes because “it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats [to] take away sins.” Still, they were “healed,” as it were, in type.
Jesus fulfilled it all. He’s the tabernacle, the temple, the sacrifice, and the priest. And His healing is real healing, and those who would have contact with God outside of Christ will find only wrath and death. That doesn’t change.
When Jesus came up and grasped the coffin, those who carried the dead man stood still. Jesus stops the march of death in its tracks. Or, like those laughing at Him when He said the girl was only sleeping, Jesus halts the sad “way of the world” a fallen race accepts as normal. He’s the One standing athwart history saying “no!” and it sticks.
A final comment about the language of the text, which is interesting and sets up tomorrow’s meditation. “Those carrying him stood still.” Jesus touches the coffin, and those carrying “him” stood still. Not those carrying “it,” but “him.” When Jesus sees a corpse, He doesn’t see an “it,” an inanimate object, a clump of inert material whose spirit has floated off into never-never land. He sees “him.” He sees the man. He locates the man’s identity not in something other than where his flesh was, but exactly where he was. Oh what mysteries we can probe here (and will)!
At a minimum, at this point, we can make a parallel with Jesus raising the girl. “She’s only sleeping.” Jesus doesn’t accept death’s verdict. He doesn’t give up on the bodies He – He! – has made. These are His possessions, His treasures! He gave up everything to purchase and redeem the hidden treasures buried in the ground. Where others see something to bury away – a dead girl, an “it” – Jesus sees a treasure, and gives up His own life to purchase and redeem that treasure.