[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.
Death and Life Shared
She had already lost her husband, this widow in the little town called Nain. Now her one-and-only son has died. A great crowd is with her, heading to the committal, the burial. A woman with no husband or son will likely become destitute – a real fear – though it’s less than the hurt of her loss.
The pall bearers carry the dead body of her young son – a “young man” – on what we might call a stretcher. A very open casket. The stretcher, the body, the mother, and the crowd are all heading out through the town gates.
Approaching toward those gates is another crowd. Their paths intersect outside the gates. The man leading this other crowd approaches the widow, close, within arm’s reach of her son’s remains, looks at her, churning with compassion, and says to her, “Do not weep.”
This man then does a shocking thing. He reaches out His hand and places it on the bier, on that stretcher where the dead remains lie. The pall bearers stand still.
That Christ reached out His hand and placed it on this very-open casket is a significant detail. Placing His hand there means that the uncleanness of that corpse is now shared with Him. And it means He’s made Himself as close as family to this boy.
Our Savior Jesus was “born of a woman, born under the Law” [Galatians 4:4]. Under the Law, the Law of God given through Moses, death was unclean. Contact with the body of the deceased, or contact with the grave, the resting place, of the deceased, or even entering the tent of the recently deceased, made you unclean. Under the Law, unclean for seven days.
It was necessary at times. The family, those who must take care of and prepare the body for burial, those who must place the body in the grave, they took their share in the uncleanness of that death. It made them unclean for those seven days. [Numbers 19:11-16]
It truly made one unclean. Consider the priests who served in the Temple. The priests were forbidden from handling the deceased, except in the deaths of their very closest family members, because that share of uncleanness for seven days would mean they couldn’t carry out their duties in the Temple. And the high priest couldn’t go to the dead body even of his own father or mother [Leviticus 21:1-2,10-11]. Uncleanness put you outside the camp.
Yet, Jesus, our greater High Priest, as if family to the boy, does put His hand on that open casket. He will take on that uncleanness for that boy and for that mother. He takes His share with them. And then He speaks.
Jesus speaks to the dead young-man’s ears, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And then the dead young-man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.
This widow-mother receives her only son back because, outside those town gates of Nain, the processions of death and of life intersected.
This brings us to the cross. Outside those gates of Nain, Jesus, who is life, intersected with that one young-man’s death to give a small salvation. At Calvary, at Golgotha, outside the gates of Jerusalem, at that mound to which Jesus processed with His cross, followed by a different sort of crowed, there, Jesus our Life intersects not with one man’s death but with the whole death of mankind.
Death is unclean because death is from sin. Death’s gruesome qualities are only an outward reflection of its inward cause. In death and in the decay of the grave you see what your sin really looks like. There, on the cross, Jesus took upon Himself the full share of that uncleanness of sin and death and made it all His own.
He became the Unclean Man with all of your uncleanness. He became The Sinner-Man with all of your sin. He became Dying-Man for your death. He put His hand on your casket and made the grave of all mankind His. “We have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died” – in Jesus, it’s already done [2 Corinthians 5:14]. He did it.
Jesus shared in no mere temporary death of the body only. On the cross, He took the full share of man’s eternal death and hell. He died your second death. The price paid. And, because He has shared your death, now He gives the full share of His life to you. “Because He lives, you also will live” [John 14:5]. Death and life shared.
The death of Jesus can do such great things because His death atones for and forgives sin, the cause of death. Your sins are forgiven. Where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.
Now, brothers and sisters, let’s remind ourselves, who did Jesus do all this for? In our Gospel, it was for that grieving widow that He raised the young man – “When the Lord saw her, He had compassion.” And He has compassion on you who stand alive as your loved ones lay in the grave.
Your sons or daughters, your grandchildren, your husband, your wife, the many of your moms and dads and grandmas and grandpas, your brothers and sisters, your friends in the congregation – He sees you and has compassion on you who have lost these many people.
They will live again. “The hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and come out” [John 5:28-29] – Not all to the same end – some to life, some to judgment – because not all have believed. Nevertheless, though some are unwilling, Christ was willing and has done all even for those who wouldn’t have Him.
And, we know, in those uncertain cases about which we worry, that “God isn’t desiring that any would perish”, and, as we read in today’s Epistle, we believe firmly that Christ “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” [Ephesians 3:20].
And we know that He even saves in the eleventh hour, in the last moments [Matthew 20:1-16]. Therefore, we are never left to grieve “as others who have no hope” [1 Thessalonians 4:13]. We have great hope in Christ. He made every death His share, and He has great stake in every man’s life.
Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” [John 1:29]. Death, His share. Sin, His share. His Easter Resurrection Life, man’s unearned share. Jesus sees and has compassion. And because He lives, you too will live. Amen.