God Gives Them Back - The Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity
[Luke 7:11-17] Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. 12 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 her. 13 And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14 Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” 15 And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 16 Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” 17 And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country.
God Gives Them Back
Jesus was entering a town called Nain, which is a little ways southeast of Nazareth. Jesus and the crowd with him are outside the city, approaching the city gate. Coming out of the city through the gate is another sizeable crowd. They are following behind a funeral bier - a kind of stretcher that carries a body. On the funeral bier is a dead young man being carried off to burial. Following the bier is the deceased young man’s mother. She is a widow, the text tells us, and the dead man on the bier is her only son.
Already a widow, and now her one and only son has died. She is weeping. She’s a mother. She loves her son like you love your sons. Her son is dead, and she wants him back.
You love your sons, and you love your daughters; and you love your husbands; and you love your moms and dads; and you love your siblings and aunts and uncles and grandparents and nephews and nieces; and you love your friends. From the womb to old age, and every age in between, they die. You are left. You love them, and you want them back.
And, there’s something more. Some of your family - some of your brothers or sisters - or even parents – some of your sons and daughters – and maybe some of your friends – they are still walking around alive but have died an even more dangerous death than death. They walk apart from the faith of their baptism. They walk in unbelief. They’re walking in a life of sin and in a dying faith. They live but are dead with a spiritual death. You cry for them. You love them. You want them back, safe. And sometimes we become weary of crying for them.
Back to our Gospel: Jesus is approaching the town gate with his crowd behind him. The dead young man is exiting the gate, dead on his stretcher, followed by his mother and the crowd behind her. Then, when the Lord saw whom he had compassion on whom? What happens? “And when the Lord saw her He had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not cry’”.
The Lord saw who? The Lord saw her, the grieving mother. He had compassion on HER and in response will raise the boy – just as Elijah raised a boy because that boy’s mother cried to him.
Jesus, in His compassion for the mother, upon looking upon her crying and grief, says to her lifeless son, “Get up”. “Young man, I say to you, arise.” “And the dead man sat up and began to speak.” And then what? “And then Jesus gave him back to his mother”, the text says. In response the people rightly say, “God has visited His people”.
God has visited His people in His Son. Jesus raises the dead. Jesus gives them back. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” [John 5:25]
Brothers and sisters, you drive by and you see daily all those cemeteries and mausoleums along the road. What will happen with the dead there? The day is coming when Christ will return and all the bodies in those graves will be raised. Body and soul reunited.
Some will be raised unto everlasting death and torment, the second death in the lake of fire. The bodies of those who died trusting in Christ will be raised for eternal life – eternal life of the body – sitting up again, walking again, hearing again, speaking again with their vocal cords, seeing again with their eyes. This resurrection is yet to come, yet has already been accomplished in full. How did Jesus accomplish this? And why does Jesus do it?
First, how. Jesus conquered the grave by dying man’s death in man’s place. Because of sin, we all must die. But the Lord has died for our sin in our place. Now, out of death, can come life.
Indeed, on the cross, Jesus not only died our death, but he even carried in His own flesh the very uncleanness of our sin-ridden deaths. Death is from sin and is unclean. Yet, notably, in our Gospel today, Jesus did what? Under the Law, a corpse is to be avoided because contact with its uncleanness makes you unclean. Yet, just as Jesus laid His hand on many unclean lepers to heal them, Jesus today laid His hand on this dead young man’s funeral bier. “Then he came up and touched the bier.”
This shows us that Jesus has carried the uncleanness of our death. On the cross, the uncleanness of my casket and grave is all over Him. And on the cross, Jesus carried in Himself the uncleanness of all the sin that is killing me, that makes me dead even as I live.
Jesus died. And Jesus rose alive from death on Easter morning. Just as Jesus was dying in man’s place, Jesus also was rising in man’s place. It’s by the power of His death and of His resurrection in mankind’s place that those graves will be emptied.
Why does Jesus do this? Because He loves all, and because He has compassion on you. Jesus has the same compassion on you that He had on the weeping widow in today’s Gospel who lost her son. Just as He was moved by her grief to raise her son and give him back, so He is also moved by your grief.
It is an amazing fact that, in part, Christ’s motive for raising the dead is His love for you who have lost them. He sees and has compassion on your grief as He did for the widow whose son died. So that you who have lost so many can now live with the sure and certain hope of getting them back in the resurrection – not because you deserve it – but because of His grace.
Jesus gives back the dead who have died in the Lord. But what about those living-dead – those we mentioned before who are still living, this side of the grave, but who have strayed away and are walking in the death of their sins and in the death of unbelief? Can Christ raise these from spiritual death to spiritual life? Or, once lost, are they lost forever?
We know God’s will. “God isn’t willing that any would perish.” He does not desire the death of the sinner. And we know of Christ that “a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not put out” [Matthew 12:20]. Jesus is the Shepherd who seeks out, finds, and returns even the one lost sheep [Luke 15:1-7]. And we know that Christ has the power over death, even over spiritual death.
Just as surely as Christ raised the dead young man from his funeral bier, so can Christ also raise from spiritual death those walking dead in their sins. His voice has power to make hearts alive again.
Just as for the grief of a mother Jesus raised a son, so also your grief works for the great benefit of those for whom you cry. It is not only Christ’s love for those who have strayed but also His love for you – you who are crying for the strayed – that moves Him to compassion. Jesus continues to patiently call the strayed ones back to Himself not for their sake only but also because of your grief.
Therefore, be of good courage and do not lose confidence in your prayers for them. And be at peace concerning those whose bodies have fallen asleep in the Lord. By His resurrection, Jesus gives them back to you. And, most importantly, He brings us back to Himself, body and soul. Amen.