Trinity 16 + Luke 7:11-17 + October 1, 2017
Grace and Peace be unto you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1) Jesus approaches the city of Nain, surrounded by His disciples and a large crowd who wanted His teaching and His miracles. As that crowd approaches the city, it meets another large crowd from the city, which is on its way to the cemetery. That crowd is led by pallbearers carrying the casket of a young man, the only son of his mother. The young man’s mother follows close by, mourning for her only son. This isn’t her first funeral procession. St. Luke tells us that she was a widow. She buried her husband some time before this. Now she buries her only son. The depth of her loss is unfathomable. Everyone looks at he with eyes of sympathy. Everyone, except Jesus. The Lord sees her and is moved with compassion for her. The heart of the Messiah goes out to this woman who has lost everything. He offers no condolences or well-wishes. He doesn’t fill her ears with pious-sounding pleasantries like “He’s in a better place.” Nor does he direct her to focus on his life as hope for his eternal happiness, saying, “Your son was a good man. He simply says to her, “Do not weep.” This isn’t a harsh command. It isn’t even really a command at all. It is an invitation to faith. It is as if He were saying, “Dear woman, do not discomfit yourself because of this terrible situation. I have come to help you and to rescue you from your misery.” He touches the coffin. The pallbearers stand still, for even in that age it was very unorthodox to interrupt such a solemn moment. Then He speaks to the dead, “Young man, I say to you, arise.”
2) In that moment death is confronted with life and death has no choice but to yield. The man who speaks to this dead man is the Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity, in human flesh. St. Paul says in Colossians 2:9 that “in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” The man Jesus is the Word of God who was with God in the beginning. St. John says of Him, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4). Jesus, who is fully man and fully God in one person, confronts death and by a word undoes death. “Young man, I say to you, arise.” That word of God Himself acts even upon the dead. “So he who was dead sat up and begin to speak.” What did he speak about? Not that heaven is indeed a real place, or about the great glories He experienced there. St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12 to speak of paradise and the inexpressible words heard there “is not lawful” (2 Corinthians 12:4). This young man would likewise not have uttered the inexpressible words he heard, for such would be unlawful and unproductive for the faith of others. He spoke His savior’s praise, even as the gathered masses glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen up among us” and “God has visited His people.” News of the afterlife pales in comparison to the news that God in human flesh has visited His people to destroy death and brings its destructions to an end.
3) This is a glorious text for us. First it shows us that Christ has power over death. Second, it shows us what kind of God we have in Christ Jesus. We have a God who is moved with compassion at our utmost need. We have a God is will able and willing to deliver us from the direst circumstance that can face us: death itself. This is the sort of thought that should vivify our souls and enliven our hearts so that when we suffer discomfort, disease, or even as death approaches, we have no reason to fear, for we have a God who is merciful and gracious, who is compassionate towards us and who desires good for us and not evil. You may say within yourself, “But Pastor, if He were truly gracious and compassionate, would he not raise more from the dead that He did? If He were not truly master over death, why does He allow our own loved ones to die so miserably in this life?” Of all Jesus’ miracles recorded in the four Gospels, Jesus only raises the dead three times. He raises this widow’s son. He raises the daughter of Jairus and He raises his friend Lazarus who had been in the grave four days. Other than that, He raised no one else. Neither did He promise to raise our loved ones from the dead during our lives. To do so would be to cheat those who died in the faith out of the bliss of paradise. To bring them back to this vale of tears would be to tear them away from that place where “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). We must all face death, even as Christ Himself faced death to atone for our sins. But we are able to face it calmly because we know that by His resurrection on the Third Day, Christ has made defeated death and turned it into the portal to everlasting life.
4) And though we do not have the promise that Christ will save us from death at the end of our earthly life, He does promise to raise us from the dead on the Last Day. We confessed moments ago in the Creed of Nicaea, “I believe in the resurrection of the body” because Christ has promised us just that. Christ says in John 6:40, “This is the will of Him who sent me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” Martha, at the grave of her brother Lazarus, confesses her faith, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” To which Jesus replies, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:24-26). On the Last Day of this present creation, St. Paul says, “the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). So although we do not have the promise that Christ will resurrect us to return us to the this sin-saturated life, He does promise to raise up all mankind on the Last Day, reuniting our souls with glorified bodies free of sin’s stain.
5) He promises this to all who believe in Him, who trust His promise of the forgiveness of sins for His sake and not for the sake of their own works. Though we must physically die, that is, unless we live to see Christ’s return, Christ has prepared us for our physical death already. We are born spiritually dead. You “were dead in trespasses and sins” as St. Paul says in Ephesians 2:1 and yet God has made you alive through faith in the Gospel! Faith in Christ, that His death was in your place, and that His death covers all your sins, raises you up from being spiritually dead and gives you new life already. Jesus says in John 5:24, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” When you were baptized you were baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, St. Paul says in Romans 6. You have no reason to fear physical death, for you have died already in the waters of Holy Baptism where God washed you with water combined with His Word of promise! In Baptism, Christ drowns the Old Adam, the old sinful nature which is spiritually dead and fighting back against God, and raises to life a new creation, with new movements of the heart, one that is filled with the Holy Ghost, one that loves God and is fully confident in His promises. Death no longer has dominion over you. It will claim you, but it’s true power, the power to terrify your conscience, is stripped away because you know you have died already in Holy Baptism. It is as St. Paul says in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Death has no hold over you, for you have died already, and been raised through baptism - you already possess everlasting life.
6) Having already died in Holy Baptism, and having been raised to new spiritual life through faith in Christ, you are free from eternal death as well. It’s one thing to physically die. It is a far worse thing to endure the everlasting death and torment of Hell. That is what we deserve since we are sinners. That is the eternity that unbelievers will awake to on the Last Day, a torment in which “their worm does not die, and their fire is not quenched, as the Prophet Isaiah has said (Isaiah 66:24). Eternal death is eternal separation from God in which there is no joy or happiness, but only endless torment in flame of fire. But those who have endured the first death, the death of the old Adam through baptism and faith, have no need to fear the second death. Those who have been dead to God, like the prodigal son, but have been made alive through repentance and faith in Christ Jesus, have no reason to fear everlasting judgment, for faith in Christ is credited to us as righteousness, so that “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” by faith (Romans 8:1). Those who daily die to sin and live to God through faith in Christ have their sins fully forgiven and so look forward to the bliss of everlasting life in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.
7) Jesus frees a young man from death outside the city of Nain and in doing so He shows us that He is compassionate and gracious to us poor sinners who have only death and Hell as our eternal inheritance. As Jesus raises the widow’s son with only a word, so He still raises those who are dead in transgressions and sin through His Word in the Gospel, His Word connected to Baptism, and His Word connected to bread and wine in the Holy Communion. He daily calls us from spiritual death, causes us to repent our sins each day, and each day He calls us to believe His Gospel that forgives those sins and creates new life, everlasting life, that we have now, and will enjoy into eternity. Arise. Go. Christ makes you alive through faith and Baptism. Amen.
May the peace of God, which passes all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.