5th Sunday After Pentecost July 1, 2012
1 Kings 17:17-24
226(1-7), 521, 773 (459 TLH alternate), 651
Now it happened after these things that the son of the woman who owned the house became sick. And his sickness was so serious that there was no breath left in him. So she said to Elijah, “What have I to do with you, O man of God? Have you come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to kill my son?” And he said to her, “Give me your son.” So he took him out of her arms and carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his own bed. Then he cried out to the Lord and said, “O Lord my God, have You also brought tragedy on the widow with whom I lodge, by killing her son?” And he stretched himself out on the child three times, and cried out to the Lord and said, “O Lord my God, I pray, let this child’s soul come back to him.” Then the Lord heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came back to him, and he revived. And Elijah took the child and brought him down from the upper room into the house, and gave him to his mother. And Elijah said, “See, your son lives!” Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now by this I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is the truth.”
In the name of Christ Jesus whose sweet Gospel truth is medicine for every sorrowing soul, dear fellow-redeemed:
The concept of a broken heart is so overused and so trivially used in our world that it actually becomes a rather trite expression. I could, for example, say it “breaks my heart” having to go the long way around just to get home because of all the road construction. While it might be a disappointing bother, it’s hardly equal to a broken heart caused by some particular grief or trouble.
Today we will consider the concept of a broken and sorrowing heart but go much deeper than the love songs on the radio or latest MP3 release. Rather, we want to think about what truly breaks our hearts and causes sorrow and how we might answer that as children of God.
First of all, we know that every single one of our hearts is identified as being truly broken—God says so. Every one of our hearts is broken by sin. The heart—our emotions and thoughts—is the ground from which everything grows. Jesus says, “But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matthew 15:18-19). God created mankind in His image—man’s heart was perfect and holy. These kinds of things and all other kinds of sin don’t come out of a healthy heart. These kinds of things don’t grow out of good ground. These kinds of things are from a broken heart—a heart broken and corrupted by sin; and that kind of broken heart we all have in common.
Hearts may be broken because of sorrow. There are many examples in Scripture and in our own lives, but consider what Simeon told Mary, Jesus’ mother, as he held a young child: “…a sword will pierce through your own soul also…” (Luke 2:35). You can only imagine how Mary’s heart broke as she stood at the foot of her Son’s cross and watched Him die. It was not only the sorrow of a mother seeing her son die in such a gruesome way, but also the sorrow of witnessing her Savior die. Or recall the widow in today’s Gospel reading. She grieved because her husband had died sometime earlier, and then when Jesus found her, she was burying her only son.
Our emotional hearts at times break with sorrow. Our physical hearts are broken with sickness because of the effect of sin. Blood clots and heart attacks literally break the physical heart. Other parts of our bodies may also break, we suffer from diseases, we face limitations, and someday we will die.
Broken hearts of all sorts are all around, and then there are the troubles, the other sorrows, the circumstances we face in this life that are grievous to us for various reasons. These are more individualized and not so universal, but the effect is the same because these too break our hearts.
What breaks your heart today? We have all certainly come here with that universal broken heart of sin, but chances are really quite good that every single one of us, right now, is also experiencing some other aspect—or maybe multiple aspects—of our lives that is breaking our hearts in a specific way. Whatever the circumstances are, whatever the issues are that lead to your personal broken heart right now—or maybe none right now, but in the past or on the horizon of the future—they all flow out of that one issue: sin.
As we look around in the world we might also feel a broken heart as we consider how the world despises God. We sit in sad wonder at all the effects of sin. All of this comes to today’s theme: “Medicine for Your Broken Heart.”
There is only one prescription and that is the Gospel. There may be many other attending circumstances and means of help to pursue in this life for certain areas, but ultimately, the medicine for your broken heart is right here in God’s Word.
As we consider this account of the widow’s son and Elijah we will hear I. Questions from a Sorrowing Heart, the II. Reaction of a Believing Heart, and the III. Joy for a Strengthened Heart.
“Now it happened after these things that the son of the woman who owned the house became sick. And his sickness was so serious that there was no breath left in him. So she said to Elijah, ‘What have I to do with you, O man of God? Have you come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to kill my son?’” [vv.17-18]
To understand the widow’s reaction, apart from just the obvious grief of widow losing her only child, we do well to think of the earlier context. This is the widow of Zarephath to whom God had sent Elijah to keep His prophet alive. Recall that God sent a drought upon the nation of Israel because of King Ahab’s wickedness and the rebellion of the people. The drought became so severe that God secretly sent Elijah to a brook where there was water and He daily sent ravens to Elijah with food.
As the drought continued, the brook dried up so God sent Elijah to this widow. Elijah came to the widow’s home as she was gathering sticks with her son in order to prepare a fire to cook what they supposed would be their last meal. The woman told Elijah that she was preparing the meal with their last bit of oil and flour and then they would die because they would have nothing left. Elijah urged her to make him a cake first—to feed him first and trust that the Lord would provide. She did what Elijah asked and that flour and that oil never ran out until the drought was over (cf. 1 Kings 17:8-16). God continued to miraculously provide throughout the remainder of the drought, and Elijah stayed with the widow and her son.
Now what was going through this woman’s mind after her son died. She and her son had been ready to die, but then this prophet of the Lord comes, they are miraculously sustained, they’re living and surviving—what a wonderful thing! Then her son dies. Her question was, “Man of God are you mocking me?” Or actually, “GOD, are You mocking me? Why did you bring me so high only to let me fall so low? Why did you save me only to take my son away? Why did you bring me such joy to give me such grief?” These are all very natural and understandable questions under the circumstances.
The widow’s question was not all that different from the question of the children of Israel when they were traveling through the wilderness on the way to Canaan. On more than one occasion when they were in danger or in need, they asked the question, “God did you bring us out of Egypt just to kill us in the wilderness?” (cf. Exodus 14:11, et. al.) Actually, theirs was not so much a question as an accusation. The Children of Israel had the same feeling as the widow, “God, You saved us miraculously, only to bring sorrow?” They questioned God’s goodness, they doubted, they wondered, “why?”
The second part of the widow’s question was this: “ Have you come to me to bring my sin to remembrance?” Her human thought process went quickly to the idea that her son was dying because God was punishing her for some sin in her past. “Are you here, Prophet of God, to expose my sin, to rebuke me and to punish me as a result.” She leapt to the conclusion that this simply had to be some kind of retribution from God.
This is not all that different from the disciples asking Jesus when they saw the man who had been born blind. “‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him’” (John 9:2-3).
Both parts of the widow’s question were misguided by human reason. There are answers to her question from Scripture: “No, God did not raise her up just so He could maliciously bring her down. No, He wasn’t punishing some specific sin in His dealing with the widow.” Nevertheless, from her human perspective that is how it looked and those were the questions of her sorrowing heart.
These questions and others like them may well abound in our lives too. “Why? Why did you let that happen God? I know you could have stopped it, but You chose not to stop it—Why? Why did you take my husband away from me…my wife…my child in death? Why and why now? Why are you putting me through this? I’ve been through so much I can’t take it anymore! Will you give me relief?” And you can fill in your own questions from your own sorrowing heart.
These questions all come from our human perspective. They all come from our limited knowledge, so we do well to keep in mind, first of all, that God is so far above us that we will not be able to understand all of His ways and dealings with us. If we try to fit Him into our way of thinking, if we try to make Him into us, we have changed Him from the Creator into the creature (cf. Romans 1:23), and we have robbed Him of being God in our minds and in our hearts.
Questions from a sorrowing heart will come. It’s the natural process of sinful limited human beings grieving, struggling, facing the effects of sin. The fact that the questions come is not unique to you, we all have them. The fact that the questions come is not really a great concern, that’s part of the way it is; but how we deal with the questions, therein lies the hope and the medicine.
After the widow confronted Elijah with her dead son and asked the questions, he said to her, “’Give me your son.’” So he took him out of her arms and carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his own bed. Then he cried out to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord my God, have You also brought tragedy on the widow with whom I lodge, by killing her son?’ And he stretched himself out on the child three times, and cried out to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord my God, I pray, let this child’s soul come back to him.” Then the Lord heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came back to him, and he revived.’” [vv.19-22]
Elijah knew what to do. First, he understood that God is the giver and taker of life. So many times and for so many people in our world that truth is lost. They are facing a life-crisis, whether there is a health issue, or death clearly approaching, or just the regular circumstances of day-to-day living. They see all of these things, they experience all of these things, they have all of these questions, and they will go anywhere for help, anywhere, that is, except to God. Sometimes this is done out of ignorance. Sometimes it’s just stubborn rebellion. Regardless of the reasons, their grieving hearts find nowhere to run and no answer to their questions.
In contrast, Elijah understood that the Lord God of Israel is the Giver of life. Elijah understood that the Lord God of Israel was the Helper upon whom we can call in every need, so that is exactly what he did. Elijah had his own question from his heart, “Have you brought tragedy on this widow by killing her son;” but then he prayed, “Lord let this child’s soul come back to him.”
A believing heart knows where to turn when the questions of a sorrowing heart arise. A believing heart, by God’s grace, has come to know and to believe and to trust that all of these other questions, all of these other sorrows come from that number one problem of our sin-broken heart.
The believing heart of a sinner is led by God’s grace to know and understand that Jesus has washed all sins away so that we stand righteous in God’s sight. When God looks at us He no longer sees that sin-broken heart but sees a purified heart cleansed and loving Him; and He has the grace to call us His own beloved sons and daughters.
In the midst of deep sorrow, in a mind filled with questions, in eyes flooded with tears, the believing heart reaches out for something to hang onto; and what it hangs onto is the Gospel message that “God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16). That believing heart hangs onto the truth that Jesus our Savior has all power in Heaven and on earth (cf. Matthew 28:18) That believing heart clings to such promise-filled words of God as “I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). The believing heart clings to that rock of knowing that the God “who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all … (will) with Him also freely give us all things” (Romans 8:32). The believing heart doesn’t know what to grasp from a human perspective, the believing heart knows that nothing is sure in this world, but there is one Rock and one Fortress. There in the rock of our Savior is medicine for the broken heart. In the rock of our Savior there is access to take all of those sorrows and all of those questions to the Maker of Heaven and Earth and say, “Dad, help!”
Medicine for the broken heart is to understand the source of genuine help. “(Our) help comes from the Lord who made Heaven and Earth” (Psalm 121:2). The believing heart clings in faith to its Savior even in the midst of the fiercest storm and deepest sorrow.
God answered Elijah’s prayer by restoring life to the boy. “And Elijah took the child and brought him down from the upper room into the house, and gave him to his mother. And Elijah said, ‘See, your son lives!’ Then the woman said to Elijah, ‘Now by this I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is the truth.’” [vv.23-24]
The joy of a mother receiving her son alive again must have been overwhelming, but even more significantly, it is recorded in Scripture that she glorified God saying, “I know that the word of the Lord in your mouth is the truth.” The widow had an understanding of this to some degree after the miracle of the flour and oil, but now her faith was strengthened all the more. God used the boy’s death to strengthen the faith of all three people in that home.
Generations earlier, Abraham’s faith—great as it was—was tested and strengthened by God when He told him to sacrifice his son, Isaac. When all was said and done, Abraham went forward even more confidently in the Lord. Likewise, this woman’s faith was strengthened to stand against the future sorrows that would again break her heart in this sinful world. Her faith was strengthened to give her joy in the confident hope of eternal life. Her faith was strengthened to give her stamina to go forward knowing that she could do all things through her Lord God who saved her.
There is joy for a strengthened heart in such passages as: “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God to those who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). This Word of God gives insight to the things we experience—not from a standpoint of understanding “why now? why this? Why at all?,” but from knowing that God is using all things for His purpose.
There is joy and strength in knowing that even if we can’t see what God’s purposes are, He does what He does for the furthering of His goal that the Gospel reaches lost souls to save them. God may allow a hardship to come to you. He may allow a broken heart for you in order to accomplish some greater good for some other part of the Christian Church, for ministering to another soul, or to bring someone into the Christian church through that sorrow. It is not just for you that God has all power in Heaven and earth, it is not just for us that He deals with these things in a very wise and gracious way. He has the “big picture.” When we understand and remember that our broken heart is being administered to and treated by the gracious Lord God of Heaven and earth for the blessing of his kingdom work whatever and wherever that might be, then even in the midst of sorrow, tears pain, and suffering we can find joy and strength and give God the glory.
There is medicine for your broken heart. It finds its beginning and its end in the Gospel of Christ. It is in the Gospel that tells you of a Savior who washes away your sins. That news gives you the confidence of being God’s beloved child. It gives the joyful strength to go forward as He leads you ever heavenward. Keep on rejoicing in Him. Amen.
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