funeral processions take place all the time.
Death is part of life in a fallen world, and so there are always people
who have died and need to be buried. But that’s not to say that all deaths are
equal in the response they evoke.
When a person who is in their 90’s dies,
there is often a small funeral. Usually,
someone who has reached that age has outlived most of their friends. Sometimes,
they have outlived much of their own family.
The result is often a small funeral service attended by immediate
family, and perhaps some congregation members who knew the individual when he
or she was able to attend to church. A
small funeral procession then makes its way to the cemetery.
There are other deaths that because of the
circumstances evoke a very large response from the community. We have seen this occur recently in places
like Logansport, IN and Wentzville, MO.
It has continued to happen in other locations around the country as the
thirteen U.S. service personnel killed in the bombing in Afghanistan are
returned home for burial. Thousands of
people have lined the route of the funeral processions in order to pay their
respects to these Americans who died so young in the service of our country.
We learn about a similar circumstance in
our Gospel lesson this morning. We are told that Jesus, his disciples and a
great crowd were journeying into a city called Nain in southern Galilee. It’s not surprising that a large crowd was
following Jesus. In the previous
chapter, Luke reports, “And he came down with them and stood on a level place,
with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from
all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, who came to
hear him and to be healed of their diseases. And those who were troubled
with unclean spirits were cured. And all the crowd sought to touch
him, for power came out from him and healed them all.”
Jesus’ healing miracles and teaching attracted a crowd. But as this crowd approached Nain with Jesus,
they were met by another crowd that was leaving the city. We learn in our text, “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
Jesus met a
large funeral procession that was leaving the city. Luke’s description of the circumstances helps
us to understand very quickly why this particular funeral procession was
large. A woman’s only son had died. Her only son had died, and then Luke adds the
information that she was a widow – her husband had already died. We aren’t told explicitly whether the son was
her only child, but that seems to be the implication.
The size of
the crowd indicates that the community perceived the tragic nature of this
death. Because of what the Old Testament teaches, the Jews of the first century
considered children to be a great blessing. This woman had been blessed with
only one precious son. Her husband had
died. Now, her son had also died. This
meant that she had no one who would support and provide for her.
Gospel lesson we learn that when our Lord saw her, he had compassion on her.
The compassion of Jesus for those who are suffering because of the fallness of
this world is a recuring theme in the Gospels.
The Son of God sees suffering and he is moved with compassion because he
is love incarnate. He is the Creator who
knows that this is not very good. This is not the way things are
supposed to be. He knows that sin has
caused what he is seeing, and he has compassion on those who are suffering
because of it.
response, Jesus did two very unexpected actions that at first seem to be completely
inappropriate. First, our Lord said to the widow: “Do not weep.” Now who in the world tells a grieving mother
in a funeral procession not to weep? And
then Jesus did something even more shocking.
He came up and touched the bier on which the body was being carried, and
those carrying the body stopped. Jesus
stops the funeral procession in its tracks by actually touching the implement
that was being used to carry the dead body.
had done these things because he was about to do something that would take away
the widow’s weeping and cancel the need for a funeral procession. Our Lord said, “Young man, I say to
you, arise.” Next Luke
reports that “the
dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.” Our Lord raised the widow’s son from the
dead. Then we learn in our Gospel lesson: “Fear seized them all, and they
glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has arisen among us!’ and ‘God
has visited his people!’”
In our text this morning, Jesus raises a young man from the
dead. His action prompts the people to
say, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his
people!” They are right. They also don’t
understand what this really means. And
if we are honest, at times we don’t like what it means.
I had a professor at the seminary who described Jesus as “the
great sucking sound of the New Testament.”
By this, he meant that Jesus is the fulfillment of an incredible
multitude of Old Testament prophecies, types and themes – they are all sucked
into him as the One who fulfills them in his life, death and resurrection. We confess that Scripture is “Christocentric”
– that is it is all centered around Christ.
But sometimes it is easy to overlook what this means.
Moses had announced Yahweh’s word when he said, “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.” God had promised a future
prophet like Moses who would be part of God’s end time salvation. Jesus was this prophet like Moses. Like the prophets of the Old Testament, Jesus
announced God’s word to the people. And
especially in his miracles, Jesus’ ministry reflected the actions of some of
the greatest and most notable prophets. We see this in our Old Testament lesson
today because Jesus’ raising of the widow’s son repeats what Elijah did for the
widow at Zarapheth, as he raised her son from the dead. Many of Jesus’ miracles find predecessors in
the miracles of Elijah and Elisha.
were also right when they said, “God has visited his people!”
That is what happened in Jesus Christ, as God the Father sent his Son
into the world. Filled with the Spirit,
Zechariah prophesied about Jesus when he said, “Blessed be the Lord God of
Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people
raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant
David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old.”
Conceived by the Holy Spirit and born
of the virgin Mary, Jesus Christ the incarnate Son was God visiting his people
to bring them salvation. Jesus was
anointed with the Holy Spirit at his baptism. Then at the synagogue in Nazareth
he read these words from Isaiah and declared that they were true of him: “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.”
Jesus’ ministry fulfilled these words
as he proclaimed good news – the Gospel. He fulfilled this as the blind received their sight, the lame
walked, lepers were cleansed, the deaf heard, and the dead were
raised up. These were the kinds of actions that prompted the crowd to follow
the Lord. They were the actions of a prophet – of the end time prophet like
Moses sent by God.
Yet while we think about prophets as mighty figures who
worked miracles, we easily overlook another aspect: the prophets suffered; the
prophets were killed. Moses suffered the
burden of constant complaining and attacks by the people of Israel. Jesus said
the Pharisees, “Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your
fathers killed. So you are witnesses and you consent to the deeds
of your fathers, for they killed them, and you build their tombs.”
Jesus acknowledged that he was a
prophet, and he was very clear about what this meant for him. He said: “Nevertheless, I must go on my way
today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet
should perish away from Jerusalem.” Jesus
Christ showed that he was God visiting his people by miracles that helped
others. Yet the greatest act of his
visitation was something that did not look miraculous. It happened as Jesus died on the cross in
order to win us forgiveness. His enemies
mocked Jesus on the cross saying, “He
saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of
God, his Chosen One!”
Jesus was the saving visitation of God by staying on the
cross for us. Now this is not
the way we would have done things. We
want Jesus the prophet who works miracles of power, not the One who dies in
weakness and shame on the cross. Beyond
that, we want a Jesus who works in overwhelming power today before those who
reject the Gospel, not one who works through the Word, and water, and bread and
wine. We want a Jesus who gives us a
life free from hardships, difficulties, and suffering, not One who works in the
midst of those things as he crucifies the old Adam in us and forces us to trust
him in faith.
But the cross was God’s way of doing things. On the road to Emmaus Jesus said, “O foolish ones, and
slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not
necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter
into his glory?” Then in what is our Learn by Heart Scripture verse for
the month we learn: “And beginning with Moses and all the
Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning
In today’s Gospel lesson we learn of how Jesus
raised the widow’s son at Nain from the dead.
The resurrection performed by Jesus pointed forward to Jesus’ own
resurrection on Easter. But his resurrection was different because it was not
simply a return to life. It was instead
the resurrection of the Last Day – the transformation of his body to one that
can never die again.
The resurrection of Jesus on Easter is
the demonstration that the cross was the not the absence of God, but instead
his saving presence for us. Because of
Jesus’ death on the cross, our sins are forgiven. Because Jesus has risen from the dead, death
has been defeated and our Lord will raise and transform our bodies on the Last
Day so that they can never die again.
And now, the resurrection of Jesus
means that we trust and believe God’s saving power is at work through his Word
as it is preached. We trust and believe
that in the water of baptism God gives us a share in Christ’s saving death and
washes away our sins. We trust and
believe that Jesus’ word causes bread and wine to be his true body and blood,
given and shed for us for the forgiveness of sins.
Because Jesus Christ has died on the
cross and then risen from the dead, we are able to trust and believe that God
still loves us and is at work in our lives in the midst of hardships, difficulties, and suffering. We know that his Means of Grace are the way
he forgives and strengthens us as he works out his purposes in our life. We can
trust that this is what God is doing, because we have already seen him
work in the way of the cross through his own Son. We know that the cross was
the not the end. Instead, on the third
day the great prophet rose from the dead, and the saving results of his
visitation continue now for us through the Means of Grace as we look for the
his final visitation on the Last Day.