The 16th Sunday After Pentecost September 28, 2014
242, 355, 507, 598
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Now it happened, the day after, that He went into a city called Nain; and many of His disciples went with Him, and a large crowd. And when He came near 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 large crowd from the city was with her. When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then He came and touched the open coffin, and those who carried him stood still. And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” So he who was dead sat up and began to speak. And He presented him to his mother. Then fear came upon all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen up among us”; and, “God has visited His people.” And this report about Him went throughout all Judea and all the surrounding region.
Dear fellow-redeemed by the blood of God’s own Son:
Tears are a part of life in our fallen sinful world. We have seen the tears of the drunkard and those who are in pain. As a pastor I have often seen the eyes of a penitent Christian well up with tears, as well as the tears of quiet joy forced from the eyes of a Christian who was overwhelmed with thankfulness.
There are also tears in today’s text, but let us all rejoice in this lesson recorded by Luke. For here we see that TEARS ARE WIPED AWAY WHEN THE LORD OF LIFE MEETS THE PRINCE OF DEATH!
The event happened in the little city of Nain—a name which means lovely. This was a beautiful city nestled beneath a mountain in Galilee not far from Capernaum. But death is not impressed with the beauty or peace of this world. For “Behold,” Luke writes, “a dead man was being carried out!” [v.11]
Luke uses the word “behold” more often than any of the other gospel writers. He uses the word in order to call our attention to what follows. Why does he say “behold” in this place at this time? Luke was a doctor. He had seen many deaths in his work. Death was nothing new, at least not to Luke and not to those in the funeral procession. However, Luke says “behold” because, although death is common, what was to follow was not common!
God did not create man to die. Genesis 3 and Romans 5 teach us that death entered the world through the disobedience of Adam, and “death spread to all men, because all have sinned” (Romans 5:12). Psalm 90 says: “You have set our iniquities before You, our secret sins in the light of Your countenance. For all our days have passed away in Your wrath; we finish our years like a sigh” (Psalm 90:8-9).
The worst thing about Death for the unbeliever is the terrible and eternal judgment that follows. Hebrews 9:27 tells us that “it is appointed for men to die once, but after this comes the judgment.” Every dead body and every funeral and every graveyard ought to shock the impenitent sinner to his spiritual senses!
The widow was weeping at the death of her only son. How she would miss him! Perhaps she remembered how she had failed her son from time to time. Now he was gone and she felt alone with her grief. Not quite! For when the Lord “…saw her He had compassion on her and said to her, Do not weep.” [v.13]
We are not told by Luke that this poor widow was a penitent believer in her Savior God. But we do remember what Jesus told some impenitent, unbelieving women in Jerusalem who cried their eyes out as they watched Jesus bearing His cross to His death. To them he said, “Weep for yourselves!” (Luke 23:28). But to those who believe in Him he says, “Weep not!”
Surely it is not enough for the preacher to comfort a grief-stricken family by only saying things such as: “Don’t cry, for he is in a better place.” “Don’t cry, his suffering is over.” Don’t cry, he lived a full life.” The sins of him who died, as well as the sins of those who grieve, must be met by the Word of the sinners’ Savior. He says to all who believe: “Weep not! For I am your Savior from death!”
Our Lord would speak very personally and seriously in those days of grief. So let us not put off the day of our own repentance. We may die young like the widow’s son. Above all, whenever death overtakes us or our loved ones, let us all flee to Jesus and invite others to do the same, for He is ready to receive every sin-burdened soul that comes to Him for rest! (cf. Matthew 11:28).
It is natural for Christians to shed tears when their loved ones die. Abraham wept when Sarah died. Jesus wept at the tomb of His friend, Lazarus. The Christian also sheds tears of sympathy, like some of those who accompanied the widow from the city. But Christian grief at times like this is much different than worldly grief.
The unbelieving wail and mourn because they have no hope. They blame God for taking their loved one too soon. They say “But he was such a good person.” The large crowd that was following the widow to the cemetery surely must have thought very highly of both the widow and her son. But death which rules by sin, does not respect the “good” we may see in others. They are sinners too and fall under the same condemnation as others!
No! Death must be forced to give way by Him who alone is good and perfect—that greater power—the Lord of Life. The miracle of our text is a wonderful reminder of what happens when the Lord of Life meets the Prince of Death!
Jesus “came near the gate of the city” [v.12] at the time He chose. The gate of Nain was a narrow passageway from the city to the cemetery. Death with all its power could not pass through that narrow gate without meeting the Lord of Life. The Savior of sinners stood in death’s way! This is a powerful picture to treasure in our hearts and minds! Jesus is ready to wipe away the tears of our Christian sorrow in the face of death. He does this by many assurances from His Word.
When we grieve He assures us in 1Corinthians 15 that He has removed the sting of death (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:54ff). When Stephen died the martyr’s death, God tells us that he “fell asleep” (Acts 7:60). What happens when we fall asleep? Suddenly a new day dawns on us! What happens when we die? Suddenly we shall awaken to live in Heaven with new and glorified bodies!
In Luke 8:51, Jesus promises that at the very moment of death the Christian is on his way to Heaven. For He said: “Most assuredly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word, he shall never see death.” It is like the little girl who was walking through the cemetery when it was almost dark. When someone asked her whether she was afraid, she said: “Oh no. I only cross the cemetery to get home.”
Jesus also tells us that the bodies of believers shall rise to eternal life just as easily as the young man of Nain was brought back to life. What the Prince of Life did that day shall be repeated on the Last Day. For in that day we are told in John 5:28: “all who are in the graves shall hear His voice.”
When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, He called out his name: “Lazarus, come forth!” (John 11:43). If he had only said: “come forth,” the whole graveyard in Bethany would have come forth from the dead at that moment! For the same reason, when the funeral procession came out of the city of Nain, Jesus did not cry out, “Come forth!” Instead He came close and spoke directly to the young man: “Young man, I say to you, arise!” [v.14]
Someone has rightly said, If death can hold one, it can hold billions! But if one must arise at the command of Jesus Christ, then billions must arise just as easily as the one! The power over death in the case of this young man is a guarantee to us of Christ’s power to raise all of the dead!
In Philippians 1:21, we are assured that the bodies of believers shall be changed and glorified like the body of our risen Savior—the Prince of Life! Is this hard to believe? Consider those ugly seeds you plant in your gardens every year. They seem to die as they are covered in the earth, but then they sprout up to produce beautiful nasturtiums, zinnias, daisies, and the like! Or how can you explain that a caterpillar emerges from a cocoon in the form of a beautiful butterfly? If God does such things to delight mankind in this sinful world, how can we doubt His power and His promise to give His believing children new and glorious bodies in the resurrection?
In Revelation 21, the Lord of Life tells us that once in Heaven, “God shall wipe away every tear from [our] eyes; and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying; and there shall be no more pain…” (Revelation 21:4). In our text we have been reminded once again that the Lord of Life is ready to wipe away the tears of every penitent, believing sinner. You need never be sorry or ashamed of the tears of true repentance when you have sinned or when death enters your home. When sin and the Prince of Death come, let us say: “O God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” (Luke 18:13). Our God will show us mercy because He sent the Lord of Life to meet and beat the Prince of Death! You have His Word on it! Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.