Text: Luke 7:11-17
Date: June 29 & 30, 2019
Event: The Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
Luke 7:11–17 (EHV)
11Soon afterward Jesus went on his way to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd were traveling with him. 12As he was approaching the town gate, there was a dead man being carried out, the only son of his mother. She was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. 13When the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not cry.” 14He went up to the open coffin, touched it, and the pallbearers stopped. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” 15The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.
16Fear gripped all of them, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us” and “God has visited his people!” 17This was reported about him in all of Judea and in all the surrounding countryside.
God Visits His People
As a parent, it took me probably longer than it should have to realize that kids don’t always have the same perspective that adults might have. Consider a young child in a high chair, eating lunch. He’s chomping away at a carrot and it slips out of his hand on to the floor. What happens? He cries! You might comfort him and say, “Don’t cry,” because as a parent you know there’s like 20 other carrots sitting on the table and in the fridge, but for that young man, this is a huge deal. Things that a parent knows isn’t actually a big problem can still feel like a big problem to the child.
As we meet up with Jesus this morning, he offers us some of his eternal perspective that when compared to ours, is often like a parent’s perspective to their children. We meet up with him just after our Gospel from last week where he healed the centurion’s servant. Now he’s moved on to another town called Nain. He’s gathered quite a crowd of followers with him, which will be important for what he’s about to do.
As they get close to Nain, they come across a funeral procession. A woman’s son had died, a tragedy in itself for a parent to out live their child, but this seems even more dire. The woman was a widow with presumably no other family around to help her. In losing her son she was completely on her own, which at that time meant a very difficult existence. Not having a husband or children to help take care of her would have been a disaster for her.
We see our Savior’s heart on full display here. Luke tells us that when Jesus saw this woman, likely with eyes flush with tears from both her loss and fear for the future, he had compassion on her. And then he says words that must have seemed so strange to her, “Do not cry.” Why? Why shouldn’t she cry? She’s just lost her child and perhaps her means of support in the latter years of her life. If there was ever a situation that justified tears, Jesus, this would be it!
And then you start to realize that while that all makes sense to us, we’re really playing the part of the young child that dropped his carrot. To us, this is tragedy. To Jesus? This is a problem that is very easily solved by him, one that should not cause such a reaction. However, he also recognizes this woman’s emotions. Just like the parent does not scold the child for crying about dropped food but probably just cheerfully brings in more, there are no harsh words from Jesus, no rebuke for a lack of faith in him or trust in what God had promised to provide. Just gentle, calming direction, “Do not cry.” In other words, “My sister, do not worry. I’ve got this.”
And so he does. He goes to coffin they are carrying and touches it. Those carrying it stopped, either by Jesus’ power or because of pure curiosity as to what was happening. And then, the Creator of the universe restores life with the very tool he had used to make it initially it so many years ago: his word. “Young man, I say to you, get up!” And he does! The dead man gets up just like they had been carrying him during a nap, no worse for the wear! Mother and son are reunited. There truly was no need for tears!
The reaction of those standing there is appropriate. They glorified God and with wonderment said, “A great prophet has arisen among us” and “God has visited his people!” It was very clear that something utterly amazing had just happened. This man was dead and now he was alive. And they gave credit where credit was due. This was clearly God’s work—God was standing among them with the desire and ability to help them!
What a prudent observation, one that would be missed by many in Jesus’ day just as it is missed in our day. But this is why Jesus did these miracles, whether he was feeding the hungry, healing the sick, curing the blind, or even raising the dead. These miracles were giant neon signs that pointed at him, saying to crowds who followed him, “This guy is important! Listen to what he has to say!”
But this miracle is especially appropriate because it is a small sample of what Jesus truly came to do. Because death is the paycheck we receive because of our hard work of sin. It’s what we’ve earned, it’s what we deserve. And not just the physical death on display here during the funeral procession, it’s eternal death, forever being separated from God in hell because of our sins.
If there is one thing that should rightly produce tears and terror in our hearts it is that. The widow may have felt helpless without a societal safety net, but God would have provided through the generosity of neighbors and strangers. Even without her son, her needs would have been met, she would have had daily bread, until God brought her home. But hell? Hell is a totally different story. In hell there is no care or providence from God. We are lost forever to suffer for our rebellion against God.
But that’s the death that Jesus came to really solve. And while the method to fix it was a whole lot more difficult for him than touching a coffin and speaking a few words, it was no less effective. God had truly visited his people during Jesus’ earthly ministry because only God could fix this problem.
So as we consider the enormity of this with terror, trembling at our debt to God, Jesus comes to us and says, “Don’t cry. I’ve got this.” Because he does. Jesus lived a life of perfect obedience to every law, every command from God. It was a life we should have lived, but couldn’t. But it was a life that he lived for us. He gives us his perfection.
And instead of touching our coffin, he takes our place in it. The cross meant death for Jesus, physical and eternal. As he’s separated from God on the cross, he suffers hell that our sins deserved. He died physically, paying with his life the debt we owed to God. But, as he said at the cross, now the work is finished. There’s nothing left to pay. No debt remains. We are free.
And Jesus’ resurrection gives us a glimpse of what is to come. Our tomb will be like his tomb. Our coffin will be like the young man in Nain’s coffin. That is to say, empty. Because Jesus has defeated death for us, we will live with him forever. Physical death will likely claim our life unless Jesus returns before that day. But that death is only temporary. Our eternal lives are safe and secure with the God who visited his people to save them.
And so too, to this day, God visits his people. He is with us at work and at home at school and at camp. He is with us when we grieve like the widow in Nain and when we rejoice over blessings in our lives. He is never apart from us. He is always with us, blessing us, protecting us, working even trial and misery into eternal good for us.
While we’re here, God visits us. Because of Jesus, one day, there will be no visitation required, because we will be in our eternal home with him. Lord, hasten that day. And until that day, calm our fears and dry our tears! Amen.