And it came about soon afterwards, that He went to a city called Nain; and His disciples were going along with Him, accompanied by a large multitude. Now as He approached the gate of the city, behold, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and a sizeable crowd from the city was with her. And when the Lord saw her, He felt compassion for her, and said to her, "Do not weep." And He came up and touched the coffin; and the bearers came to a halt. And He said, "Young man, I say to you, arise!" And the dead man sat up, and began to speak. And Jesus gave him back to his mother. And fear gripped them all, and they began glorifying God, saying, "A great prophet has arisen among us!" and, "God has visited His people!" And this report concerning Him went out all over Judea, and in all the surrounding district.
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
What a magnificent moment it was! Life and death came face to face on the road outside of the gates of the city of Nain. A widow was grieving the loss of her son, her only support in this world and the only issue of her marriage to husband who had passed away some time earlier. Her grief had many levels. Her husband was gone, and with him her means of support. But wait, she had a son. He would be her means of support, and her comfort. But now he, too, had perished. She had lost her family. She had lost her means of survival in a society that was not so charitably minded as is our own. Her pride and joy was now just recently dead. They buried their dead on the same day that they died, back in those days. Life, which had never been the sort of comfort and ease that we take for granted, had become empty and bitter and bleak. Death had destroyed more than just the life of one man.
But then, along the road comes Jesus. He wasn't called for. His powers were not deliberately sought. He wasn't even expected. He didn't know the people. He simply saw His enemy, death. He saw the tremendous grief of the woman, and knew and understood what was passing through the city gates before Him. Jesus felt compassion. He didn't feel sorry for the woman, He felt her sorrow with her, and with her wanted something to change the terrible circumstances before Him. He had come to conquer sin and destroy death, and here was the enemy!
On that day, He who is life came face to face with death. They did battle, and Jesus won the victory with just a simple word, "Young man, I say to you arise!" Death held no power in His presence. He banished death with a word and presented the young man back to his mother alive! There is a lot that could be said, about the joy of the mother, or about how Jesus violated all of the customs and practices of His people by casually walking up and touching the dead man. He would have been unclean Himself, unable to worship in the synagogue or travel among decent people for seven days - except that when He stepped away, it was death who had to flee, and uncleanness was changed into purity by the touch and the Word of Him who had the power to destroy death. But the main point is that life and death came face-to-face that day, and Life conquered death handily.
We could eagerly desire that we could see that confrontation today. Wouldn't it be nice if that scene could be powerfully re-enacted in our day and age? As we face the fruit of sin, wouldn't it be marvelous to have death cast off and our loved ones rise again before us?
Today, life and death come face-to-face once again, right here. The Gospel is preached, and this morning our Lord will host His Holy Supper. He will give us His very body to eat and His true blood to drink. He will hide them beneath the cover of the forms of bread and wine, where only faith can see the mystery accomplished, and the holy treasures given. Sin is forgiven, and its fruit, death, is conquered once again, death sent packing one more time, and we will partake of what has been rightly called the medicine of immortality.
Our Gospel lesson illustrates the truth that Jesus has the power to do the things we hope in Him to do. He did not need their faith - or their prayers - or their efforts to make it happen. The power was His and He accomplished it through the Word. He still possesses that same power, and He still works it through His Word.
Why don't we see it, you say? The answer is complex, but basically I would point out two important aspects of it. The first is that we walk by faith, not by sight. St. Paul tells us this truth. The second reason we do not see it is that it would ordinarily serve no lasting purpose. How many of you personally know this young man from Nain? How many of you have met him, or even seen his picture on the news? None of you. And why is that? Because this young man returned to life, but only for a time. He eventually died again.
Would you, any of you, really want to call back into life your loved ones who have fallen asleep in the Lord, just to see them die all over again? I don't think so. In this world of sin and sorrow, even if they were perfectly healed of all their troubles and maladies for the moment, they would eventually sicken and die again. They would stumble through the pains and sorrows which are now behind them, and face all the corruption and grief that sinful man is heir to until the day of the resurrection of all flesh. Rising only to die again would accomplish little but to double our pain, and possibly leave us with the sense that we were betrayed, somehow.
More importantly, however, is the truth that God would have us trust Him. That is where Adam and Eve failed in the garden. They did not trust God when He said that if they ate of the forbidden fruit, that they would die. They did not trust that the good things that the Serpent seemed to be offering them were going to come to them by God's giving, so they took it into their own hands to grasp what they desired, rather than trust God to do that was good and to give all that was to be desired. Now, in our day, God has so ordered things that those who trust Him, who take Him at His Word and confidently expect Him to do what He has promised receive the promised blessings of forgiveness, and resurrection from the dead, and life everlasting through and on account of Jesus Christ.
Many Christian churches, so-called, have dedicated themselves to denying this truth and to placing their trust in themselves, not in God. They tell us to trust in our decisions, or to trust in our own works and efforts to be holy. They try to comfort our guilt by making little of sin, calling that which God has condemned in the clearest and darkest of terms holy. Abortion, homosexuality, fornication, idolatry, and despising the Word of God are all excused, explained, held up as choices, or lifestyles, or sexual orientations. They point to the cross of Christ as the excuse and permission to sin, or as the power to make yourself holy and righteous before God.
I was reading an article about the new paganism in our world. The old gods are back, and they have greater drawing power than the simple truths of Jesus Christ for many. They certainly have the press. Religious scholar after religious scholar finds some way to accommodate doctrinal denial, aberrant behavior, occult dualism, and alien deities into "what is acceptable" among Christians. They are wrong. Those who follow them are lost. There is only one path, narrow and straight, that leads to life everlasting, and that path is Jesus and it is entered into and walked by faith alone.
Before you lean back and feel good about yourself, hear the Word of God! You are not good, and your religion is not sufficient. Look around you. Where we should see every seat filled, there still is room. We feel comfortable and justified in turning to pleasures and other activities when right here and right now Life and Death come Face-to-Face. We just accept this condition of apathy and indifference as normal, and reserve it for ourselves when we want to place something or some person above and before God and His Word in our lives.
When the dead man sat up and began to speak, fear gripped them all, and they began glorifying God, and they recognized that God was there, in their midst, and it was for that reason that death was banished, tail between its legs! Life and death are come face-to-face again here, this morning. The same powerful, life-giving Word of God is proclaimed here today, as it is every Sunday. Today our Lord pours out His life in His body and blood in this Sacrament, to be eaten and drunk by sinners who know their sin and helplessness, and who trust God, taking Him at His Word and hoping in His promises and despairing of themselves. God is here today, among us, to bless us!
The cross that adorns the wall over the altar is not there to be an esthetic appointment, but to be the rude reminder of just how deadly your sins are - and because it was on a cross that your sins were punished, and your salvation won. Jesus died there for you because there is nothing in you that is particularly holy. So taking His grace for granted and finding ease and comfort and security in our apathy as the world swiftly returns to the worship of all that is hostile to God and our Savior is more than inadequate. It is sin! It is unbelief.
How can you be apathetic when life and death come face-to-face? How can it be okay not to care, to be absent when God comes in the divine service to equip you and strengthen you for life as His child in this dark and wicked world? Since when did putting our own pleasures and desires become something other than it was when Adam and Eve tried it back in Eden? Life and death are come face-to-face here and now.
And here and now, Life holds the victory. Jesus Christ has won for us resurrection and everlasting life. He pours out forgiveness upon us all, and faith - taking God at His Word and trusting Him to do all that He has promised - is the means by which we receive and cling to the gifts of God in Christ Jesus. Your sins are forgiven. You and I, who deserve to die and suffer, have been given forgiveness and life. And God has come through His Word and Sacrament to build us up and prepare us to endure the assaults of the Old Evil Foe and to live as His faithful people.
How can we be casual about this? How can we seem so unconcerned? Life and death have come face-to-face here today - and not for some man in a city called Nain in a foreign land, but here, today, for you and for me. Repent - and believe - and Rejoice!
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
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