Luke 7:11-17 (Third Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 5—Series C)
“God Has Visited His People
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
June 5, 2016
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel lesson recorded in Luke 7:
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.
When you are out and about driving, have you ever gotten stopped by a funeral procession? Or maybe had to drive behind one? If you have, did you become frustrated? You’re in a hurry to get where you need to be and then you run into this “inconvenience.” You’ve either had to stop for the line of cars, or you are stuck behind the row at a whopping 25 mph. And no, it’s not very respectful or polite to feel that way, especially when you think of those who are mourning the loss of a loved one or friend. They don’t want to be in that funeral procession either. They wished death had not visited them.
Death had visited the town of Nain. Jesus, His disciples, and a large crowd ran into a funeral procession coming out of the town gate. A young man had died and was being carried out to the place of burial on a stretcher. His mother walked slowly behind the open coffin. A considerable crowd from Nain was with her. Luke shares the tragedy of this woman’s life. Death had visited her, not once, but twice. She was a widow. Death had taken her husband, but she had a son to take care of her and to provide for her. But now death has stolen him away too, the only son of his mother. Her grief notwithstanding, now this widow was placed by this death into “dire vulnerability.” Now she does not have a visible means of support. Now she is deprived of her access to the larger community. Now she has lost not only husband and only son, but any vestiges of social status within the village. This widow is experiencing what we might call a “social death.” She has, essentially, no one left in the world to care for her. Her care and well-being now rely totally on the hospitality and generosity of others. What a terrible feeling of utter dependence and uncertainty!
Perhaps you and I would do well to see ourselves and our situation in light of what this widow experienced. The widow would now live under the shadow of death—the death of her husband, her son, and her being as good as dead to society. Do we not live under death’s shadow as well?
Death visits everyone. No one is exempt because every one of us was born dead in trespasses and sins, spiritually blind, dead, and enemies of God (Eph. 2:1, 5). God’s Word tells us that we are unable to keep God’s commandments because we are spiritually dead by nature, hostile to God (Rom.8:7). And what does this spiritual death of sin earn for us? Spiritual and physical death. “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Sadly, it is just that simple. Ever since Adam and Eve, all people are conceived and born spiritually dead. As spiritually dead people by nature, we are physically alive walking the road to physical and eternal death. Physical death is the separation of the soul and the body. Enteral death is the separation of the whole person (in body and soul) from God in hell forever. Is it any wonder that death has been termed a “monster”?
Truly, the widow of Nain would have agreed that death is indeed a monster. It had taken everything from her—husband, son, and the security of her own life, and would one day claim her as well. Death would take everything from us if it were allowed to do so. A prominent member of a medical faculty used to introduce his classes with a statement to the effect that, “With all the progress in medical science, the mortality rate remains the same. One death for every live birth.” But the Lord of life came to visit His people with compassion and to stop death’s reign.
We read in our Gospel lesson, “And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Stop weeping.’” He halted the pall bearers in their mournful steps and spoke directly to the deceased, “Young man, I say to you, rise up.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Death is undone by the Word of the Lord! Jesus snatched death’s prey right from the jaws of the monster itself! He restored life to the young man and to his mother. A prophet? Oh Jesus is so much more! He is God, the Lord, the Lord of life.
Jesus is the God who took upon Himself human flesh and dwelt among sinners who are living in the shadow of death. The Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, looked upon His sinful, dying humanity with compassion, love, mercy, and grace. As a result of that undeserved love for the world which was dying under the curse of sin and death, God “sent His One-of-a-kind Son, so that everyone who believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world that He should condemn the world, but so that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:16-17). How wonderfully these words describe the compassion of the Lord for us and all people!
It is compassion for those in the grip of sin and death that compelled Jesus to the suffering, death, and hell of the cross. Jesus, out of His great mercy and love, suffered and died the spiritual and physical death that we should have suffered and died. Jesus took humanity’s place on the cross and paid the wages of sin that were ours. On the cross, He died your death and suffered your hell and eternal separation from God—“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus cried out. The Lord Jesus shed His blood as the once-for-all-sacrifice that purchased your complete forgiveness of sins. And where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also eternal life and salvation!
Through His sacrificial death on the cross in your place, as your substitute, Jesus Christ has saved you from death through the forgiveness of sins. In Holy Baptism, Jesus gives to you, by the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, resurrection from the death of sin and unbelief. He saves you from spiritual death by giving you the new life of faith and trust in Him as Lord and Savior. We read again in Ephesians 2, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:4-5 ESV). This is what Jesus also says in John 5, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (Jn. 5:24 ESV).
In Holy Baptism, you have passed from the spiritual death in which you were born to everlasting life. This is God’s gift of compassion and grace to you in Jesus. Because you have been gifted the new life of saving faith in Jesus the Savior and are now alive to God in Christ, you have also received rescue from physical death. “Jesus said to [Martha], ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.’” (Jn. 11:25-26 ESV). Death no longer has power over you (Rev. 20:6). That’s because, when you, a believer in Jesus die, your soul is immediately with Christ in heaven. You are with the Lord in Paradise, but that is not the end! That’s why we joyfully hear the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:20-26 ESV).
The ultimate gift of the Gospel that all of us look forward to at the end of time, and that the young man in our text enjoyed in time as well as looked forward to enjoying again at the end of time, is resurrection. You have already been raised from the death of sin to the new life of faith in Jesus through which you receive the forgiveness of all your sins. You have already been given, through that same faith and forgiveness, the guarantee of overcoming death in your own bodily resurrection at the Last Day. Then, Jesus will raise you in glory to be with Him forever in body and soul. The reason this is so is because the God of compassion, the Lord of life, Jesus, visited His people and willingly suffered and died for you so that you would have life in abundance. Christ is your Savior who has overcome both spiritual and physical death for you so that you might live eternally with Him and the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God unto the ages of ages. Amen.