Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;
Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country.” (Luke 7:11–17, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Jesus has been traveling, teaching and healing all over the region. Right before this Luke tells us of how Jesus healed the centurion's servant without even being present. Jesus comments on the great faith of the Centurion who sent word that he was not worthy for Jesus to come under his roof. But as a man under authority he knew that Jesus had authority to heal even without being present. He had faith that Jesus could just speak the healing and it would be done.
Soon after this Jesus travels to a town called Nain. As always a great crowd follows him wherever he goes. As he approaches the city they come across to funeral procession. A young man has died the only son of a widow. She is in desperate straits. Her husband has previously died leaving her only means of support her now dead son. She weeps not only for the separation but also a loss of security and means of support. She has lost hope. She is overcome with grief. The young man was off to his grave followed by his grieving mother. But instead of death they meet life.
When Jesus sees the widow he has compassion on her. Compassion here is a deep-seated, gut wrenching, wanting to help kind of compassion. It comes not just from her need but from her situation. Jesus hates what death does. It destroys relationships. Cancels hope. Leaves people desperate for the way things were and should be without death. It binds us up in grief. This is the woman's only son. Luke uses a word for compassion that literally means to spill out one's guts. The word is σπλαγχνίζομαι. It's a very strong word that sounds exactly like what it means. It's the word used in the sacrifice of animals. The animal would be split open and the entrails spill out on the altar, σπλαγχνίζομαι. It's the kind of self giving compassion that's shown by the good Samaritan and the father of the prodigal son. It's the kind of self giving compassion that leads Jesus to sacrifice himself on the cross for the sins of the whole world. In fact he comes to save the widow, the dead son, you and me through the giving of himself as the sacrifice for all sin. Sin brings death. Death brings separation. Separation is the center of lost hope and grief. Jesus pours out his mercy on the woman by raising her son to life. Jesus tells her to stop weeping. Although her grief is understandable Jesus begins the miraculous removal of her grief with his word.
Jesus speaks, touches the funeral Bier, raises her only son from death and restores the widow's hope. Jesus' touch brings healing and life. But the great crowds gathered around would at first be appalled. To touch the dead was a great taboo and made you ritually unclean. It's exactly why the bearers stop dead in their tracks. But, it is the opposite of what everyone thinks, Jesus word and touch, instead, makes the unclean clean. In his word and touch he removes corruption and death. He brings an end to the curse of sin and does exactly what God has promised to do. At the dawn of humanity Adam and Eve brought the curse of death on themselves and all human beings. They rejected God and his commands by the direct disobedience of his word. God promised to send his own son to destroy that curse and bring life forever.
So, Jesus speaks life into the dead man, the widow's son. He commands him to rise. Life returns to the man and he begins to speak. His speaking shows the extent of the miracle. The only son is truly alive and restored to his mother. At the beginning of his ministry Jesus said he would do these very things. In his own home town in the synagogue he read the prophet Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”” (Luke 4:18–19, ESV)
"These things are fulfilled in your hearing!" Jesus is saying he's the one who does these very things. He shows it in this town. He has released the dead man from captivity to death. He has released the widow from her captivity to grief. He shows compassion and the Lord's favor.
The people, the great crowd, react in fear. They recognize Jesus as God's messenger, one who would do God's will among them. But they miss that this prophet must go to the cross. They see Jesus is a teacher and a miracle worker. They see Jesus as one who has come to make their lives better. But, the complete picture of how Jesus does what he has come to do is only clear with the suffering and dying of God's only son on the cross. He comes to destroy not only the consequences but sin itself. To make an end of sin and death Jesus hangs between heaven and earth, forsaken by God the Father, suffering an eternity of hell for everyone. This is where the real release from the bondage of death begins. This is where the real restoration of hope begins. In the completion of all that he has come to do Jesus restores our relationship with God. He puts away the thing that separates us from him. And all those who are connected to God will have eternity with each other. When Jesus raises this only son of the widow from the dead he points to his own resurrection on Easter Sunday. And he shows that he can and will raise all the dead. This small restoration of the widow and her son is a picture of Jesus, the only son of God, raised from death as proof that his sacrifice on the cross is complete. And a revelation of his power over our great enemy death.
Dear Christian friends. In the face of death… And you do face death every day. You face the fact of your own coming death and suffer the hopelessness and pain of separation caused by the death of those you love. You face the very real bondage of grief that never seems to end. In the face of death we have one thing the people gathered around Jesus at Nain did not have. We have the cross. We have the resurrection. We have the good news of Jesus Christ. Every time you gather here you hear Jesus speak to you the promise of life through the forgiveness of sins. That is all he does for you in his life death and resurrection. And every time you hear Jesus say these things to you he begins the miraculous removal of your grief. Just as he did for the widow he promises to give you back your loved ones who die in faith. He promises to return with his holy angels and raise all the dead and bring eternal life to all believers in Christ. This is the final defeat of all that is evil in the world. This is the final and of sin and death. Jesus does all this through his spoken word and touch. He speaks the words of truth right into your ears. And you hear of God's great love for you and see it in Jesus on the cross. In, with, and under bread and wine Jesus touches your tongue and makes the unclean clean. He removes your sin and restores your relationship with God. He puts right inside of you the forgiveness you need. He increases your faith by feeding you with himself. The growing of your faith increases your trust in Jesus and all of his promises. And so, He frees you from the bondage of your grief. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.