1 Kings 17:17-24
A boy got sick and died. We aren’t told what illness it was, just that the “illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him.” This was certainly tragic. The mother was a widow. The boy was her only child. Her husband had died. Her only child had died, and she was left all alone.
Now in the ninth century B.C. this was tragic. But it wasn’t unusual. It wasn’t surprising. This is simply what happened. The life expectancy in ancient Israel was probably around forty years. That is skewed somewhat by the high infant mortality of the time. Certainly, there were some who were blessed to live longer.
But death was just an ugly part of life. It was tragic. But it wasn’t surprising. For millennia it was this way. In fact, the life expectancy in the United States in 1900 was just a little under fifty years. By comparison, the life expectancy today is right at seventy nine years.
The truth of the matter is that we don’t expect to die. We assume that the wonderful advances in modern medicine will always have an answer to help keep us alive until we get really old. For us, cancer is probably the greatest fear because it just shows up, often for unexplained reasons. And we know that while there is great success in treating some forms of cancers, others have a low probability of survival.
That’s why the reaction to COVID 19 has been so striking. When have we ever seen large groups of people completely change their pattern of daily life because they feared an illness that could kill them? My dad has described to me the reactions to polio outbreaks when he was young. But in my life, I had never seen anything like that … until this year.
In uncomfortable ways, this virus has reminded many that Isaiah’s words are true: death is the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. And in this setting we need all the more hear to about the cause of death and the answer God has provided.
Our Old Testament lesson is a continuation from what we heard last Sunday. In response to the wicked paganism of King Ahab and his queen Jezebel, God had announced through the prophet Elijah that he was sending a drought upon Israel. As the drought progressed, God did the unexpected. He sent Elijah to live with a widow and her son in the town of Zarapheth which belonged to Sidon – the very place from which Jezebel had come as the daughter of the king there. Essentially, God sent Elijah to live in Jezebel’s back yard!
We heard last week how the draught had brought about a famine. The widow and her son were about to die, when Elijah’s presence brought the miracle that their jar of flour and jug of oil for making food did not become empty, according to the word of the LorD that he spoke by Elijah.
It’s a feel good story, that takes a very dark turn in our text today. We hear this morning: “After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill. And his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him.” The mother said to Elijah, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!”
The widow’s first reaction to the death of her son was that it was about her sin. Now while she was misguided in thinking that her sin had caused the death of another, she was not wrong in assuming that there is a link between sin and death. St. Paul tells us in Romans, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” Through the disobedience of Adam in the Fall, sin entered into the world. It entered into every one of us because we have been conceived and born as fallen, sinful people.
We see it in the things we say and do to our family and friends. We see it in our thoughts which turn to jealousy, coveting and lust. We see it, even when we don’t want it to be there. And this sin brings death. Paul leaves no doubt about it when he says, “For the wages of sin is death.”
But God is the God of life. Elijah took the dead boy and to the upper room where he lived and laid the body on his own bed. He cried to the LORD, “O LORD my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by killing her son?” Then after stretching himself upon the child three times he cried to the LORD, “O LORD my God, let this child's life come into him again.” Yawheh granted Elijah’s request and the boy returned to life. Elijah brought the woman’s son to her and she said, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth.”
Last week, the woman said to Elijah, "As the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug.” But now after this experience she says that the “word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.” She had come to know that Yahweh is the true God through the raising of her son from the dead.
There is an obvious parallel between our Old Testament lesson and the Gospel lesson in which Jesus raises the widow’s son at Nain from the dead. We learn that after Jesus did this, “Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has arisen among us!’ and ‘God has visited his people!’”
Luke wants us to know that Jesus came as the great end time prophet. Moses had promised, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers--it is to him you shall listen.” Jesus performs miracles just like the great prophet Elijah because he is this One promised by God.
After our text, Elijah would go on to win a great victory for Yahweh at Mt. Carmel over the prophets of Baal and Asherah. But then the threat from Queen Jezebel that she was going to kill him would send Elijah into the wilderness and he would say to God, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” He would ask to die. And after arriving at Mt. Horeb he would speak words of failure: “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”
The prophets of the Old Testament suffered. The prophets were killed. Jesus Christ came as the great end time prophet who was more than just another prophet. He was the Son of God who had entered into the world as he was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He came to die on the cross in order to win forgiveness for our every sin. Paul told the Corinthians that “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” How did Jesus Christ reconcile us to God? Paul says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Jesus received God’s judgment in our place as he died on the cross. But the victory that Christ came to win was about more than just forgiveness. Had had come to defeat what sin had caused. He came to defeat death itself. That’s what happened on Easter. On the third day God raised Jesus from the dead with a body that can never die again. This resurrected body is the one that he will give to you on the Last Day. Our risen, ascended and exalted Lord will return in glory, and so Paul told the Philippians that we await, “a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”
You know that this is true for you because you have been baptized. Paul told the Romans, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
Your sin has been forgiven! Death has been defeated! For you, to die is to depart and be with Christ. For you, to die is to share in the resurrection of Jesus Christ when he returns. It is to receive a body like Christ’s that can never die again.
These truths need to guide the way we live every day. God has loved you and forgiven your sins in Christ. Therefore Paul tells us, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” We are called to love others and forgive them because this is what God has already done for us in Christ Jesus.
And we cannot live lives that are ruled by the fear of death. We want to live. We should want to live because God is the God of life. Life is the gift that he has given to each one of us. There is nothing “natural” about death. It has been caused by sin that found its source in the temptation of the devil who is a murderer.
But we know that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. He is risen! He is risen indeed! And because he has, we know that not even death can separate us from God. More than that, we know that death cannot hold our bodies because Jesus Christ has already started the resurrection of the Last Day. As Paul told the Corinthians, “‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Let us live each day, confident in the victory that already belongs to us is in Christ Jesus our Lord.