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Third Sunday after Pentecost

Luke 7:11–17

James T. Batchelor

Pentecost 3, Proper 5, series C
Saint Paul Lutheran Church  
Manito, IL

view DOC file

Sun, Jun 5, 2016 

Two great crowds approached one another on the road into Nain.  One was a random crowd of disciples and other curious people.  The other was a crowd saturated by grief.  One crowd followed a great teacher.  The other crowd followed the mournful tread of the bearers of the bier a stretcher for carrying a dead body.  A teacher with disciples and a great crowd met the carriers of a dead man with his mother and another great crowd.

The mother was a widow.  This was a double tragedy.  The government did not provide a safety net in those days.  Family took care of family.  But this man was the only son of a widow a woman who now had no family.  Not only had this woman already mourned the death of her husband not only must this woman now mourn the death of her son, but this woman must now rely totally on the kindness of strangers for her very life.  Although she now walked in a crowd, her future was a life of solitude and extreme possibly deadly poverty.  This was the harsh reality of existence in those times.  The death of a widows only son could be the very hammer blow of death to the widow herself.

The custom when meeting a funeral procession in that day was not all that different than ours.  The general pedestrian stepped aside out of respect at the measured tread of the procession of the dead.  Not only was there the respect for the mourners who followed behind the mortal remains of the dearly departed, but there was also the consideration that death made a body unclean.  So, the right thing to do the respectful thing to do was to kindly step aside as the mournful parade of grief passed by.  The funeral procession expected Jesus and His crowd to step to the side and respectfully allow the body of the dead man to pass as the carriers bore it to the tomb.

Jesus did not do the expected.  When the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, Do not weep. (Luke 7:13) Under ordinary circumstances, this would be a very heartless thing to say.  This is not only the son whom she loved, but this is also her last means of support in this world.  Ordinarily, these words would be down-right cruel, but in this case they are words of hope.

Jesus had compassion.  Compassion is such a wimpy word compared to the original Greek.  It is more like His very insides ached with her pain.  He felt her grief to its fullest.  Her pain pierced His insides so that He felt it with her.  He was not about to let this funeral procession pass by uninterrupted.

Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. (Luke 7:14) To touch a dead body was to become unclean.  The Law is very clear: Whoever touches the dead body of any person shall be unclean seven days. (Numbers 19:11) It is no wonder that those who carried the body came to a stop when Jesus reached for the dead body.  This was totally unexpected.  Here was a rabbi with His disciples and the rabbi was about to make Himself unclean by touching the dead body.

But this was no ordinary rabbi.  This was the Son of God who had been active in the creation of the world.  He had come to right a world that had been turned upside-down by sin.  He had come to reverse the curse of sin.  He had come to transform the meaning of death.

When Jesus touched the bier, the impurity of death did not flow into Him.  Instead His purity overcame the filth of death.  He said, Young man, I say to you, arise. 15And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. (Luke 7:1415) At His word, life returned to the son.  Jesus reversed the procession of death so that it became a celebration of life.  The depth of tragedy became the height of triumph.  Dancing replaced mourning.  Hope replaced despair.

When the people realized what Jesus had done, they remembered the prophets of old.  They remembered the story of Elijah that we read in todays Old Testament lesson.  They remembered that Elijahs successor Elisha also raised a son from the dead.  The people saw Jesus as a prophet like Elijah and Elisha because He raised people from the dead just like they did.

We also have instances of resurrections after Jesus ascended into heaven.  During the life of the early church, Peter raised a dead woman whose name was Tabitha in Hebrew and Dorcas in Greek.

In a way, the people who saw Jesus raise the dead boy were right.  Jesus is a great prophet.  He is the greatest of all the prophets.  Never the less, to say that Jesus is a great prophet is not enough.  He is much, much more.  You can see the difference when you compare the resurrections that Jesus performed with the other resurrection accounts in the Bible.

[Elijah] stretched himself upon the child three times and cried to the Lord, O Lord my God, let this childs life come into him again. 22And the Lord listened to the voice of Elijah. And the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. (1 Kings 17:2122) When Elisha came into the house, he saw the child lying dead on his bed. 33So he went in and shut the door behind the two of them and prayed to the Lord. (2 Kings 4:3233) Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed; and turning to the body he said, Tabitha, arise. (Acts 9:40) Note that each prophet and apostle prayed before they raised the dead person.  In each case, it is very clear that they did not supply the power for the dead person to rise.  Instead, the power came from the person to whom they prayed the Lord of creation.

Now examine the resurrection in todays Gospel.  [Jesus] came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, Young man, I say to you, arise. 15And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. (Luke 7:1415) Jesus had no need to pray for He Himself is God.  He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. (Hebrews 1:3) All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:3) As God, Jesus is the Lord of life and death and has no need to call on help from outside of Himself.  When the people glorified God, saying, God has visited his people, (Luke 7:16) I wonder how many of them understood that Jesus Himself is God visiting His people.

Yet there is more.  The Lord of Heaven and earth did not come to this earth and take on human nature just so He could visit His people and raise this one son from the dead.  He did not come just to feel the pain of this one widowed mother.  He came to experience your pain.  He came to experience your grief.  As the Holy Spirit inspired the writer to the Hebrews to say, For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)

Jesus is not some far off powerful, but detached being.  Instead, He is intimately familiar with all your pain, your sorrow, your grief.  There is nothing that you experience that He does not experience with you.  God inspired Isaiah to write, Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. (Isaiah 53:4)

You could say that Jesus has empathy with you, but Jesus really has much more.  The word empathy has its roots in a Greek word that means to suffer with someone.  Jesus doesnt just suffer with you, He has suffered for you.  He took the sin of all mankind into His holy person and carried it to the cross.  On that cross, He suffered the punishment you earned with your sin.  Therefore, you know that you will not suffer that punishment.  He not only suffers the pain and grief of this world with you, but He also freed you from the eternal pain, grief, and punishment of hell.  He has gone way beyond empathy to sacrifice.

Jesus sacrifice for you ended in His death, but He did not remain in the grave.  Instead He rose in triumph over sin, death, and the devil.  With His triumph, Jesus transformed the meaning of death.  Death is now a path to eternal life for those who believe in Him.  Just as He called forth the son from death in todays gospel, He will, on the last day, call forth all the dead.  The only difference is that the son in todays gospel is no longer with us.  He died again.  On the other hand, the resurrection of the last day will be forever.  Those who reject Gods salvation will enter into eternal fire.  Those who believe in Jesus Christ will enter into eternal life.

Todays Gospel proclaims that Jesus experiences your life with you.  He rejoices at the highs and He endures the lows with you.  He gives you strength.  With His life, death, and resurrection He demonstrated His power over sin, death, and the devil.  As todays Gospel tells how Jesus called the son back to life, it teaches us that He has transformed death into a doorway to a new life for those who believe.  Jesus Christ has removed the eternal curse of sin and provided life for all.  He has provided life for you.  Amen



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