by Pastor Jeff Strite
Scripture: Luke 7:11-17
One of my favorite radio preachers is a man named Tony Evans. I remember listening to him use an illustration about standing in a cafeteria line – and he made it sound intriguing and almost exciting. What I want to share with you this morning (copying as best I can Evans’ distinctive way of delivering his illustration) an illustration on death that I once heard him deliver:
It used to be that funerals were solemn but crude affairs. The dead were placed in a wooden box and lowered by ropes into a 6-foot deep hole.
BUT nowadays, it is a far more elegant arrangement. When you die, they take you to a beautiful mansion that employs experts at creating a tasteful presentation of your body. They have makeup artists that can make you look better in death than you ever did in life.
The casket is no longer a wooden box but a polished bronze bed with cushions. As you lay in that beautiful bed, people come for miles around… just to see you. And they say all kinds of nice things about you as they stand in line to honor you. At the ceremony, the preacher stands in front of you and speaks of what you’ve done in your life, and the lives that you’ve touched.
Then when the ceremony is over, you get to ride in a limousine down streets where police stop traffic for you and you run through red lights. Cars on the other side of the road pull over, just because you’re coming.
Then they pull into the cemetery and instead of crude ropes, they lower your body into the grave using silver toned winches. It’s all elegant. It’s all beautiful. It’s all impressive.
But you know – when it’s all said and done - dead is still dead.
One of the harsh truths of life is this: dead is still dead.
One day, you will die.
YOU will die. I will die.
Your friends and your family, your neighbors - everybody you know.
They’re all going to die. Sooner or later.
Unless Jesus comes first… none of us is going to get out of this life alive.
Psalm 49:10-14 tells us:
“… all can see that wise men die; the foolish and the senseless alike perish and leave their wealth to others. Their tombs will remain their houses forever, their dwellings for endless generations, though they had named lands after themselves. But man, despite his riches, does not endure; he is like the beasts that perish. This is the fate of those who trust in themselves, and of their followers, who approve their sayings.
Like sheep they are destined for the grave, and death will feed on them. The upright will rule over them in the morning; their forms will decay in the grave, far from their princely mansions.”
It doesn’t matter how clever you are
It doesn’t matter how wealthy you are
It doesn’t matter how many important people you know… everybody dies.
And so it would not seem unusual that, at least once in His ministry we find Jesus encountering a funeral procession like the one at the town of Nain.
Now there are those who believe that Jesus met this funeral on purpose. That Jesus had planned to be there for the specific purpose of raising this young man from the dead. In fact, they believe there is little in that Jesus did in the Gospels that was a coincidence.
And I can see that in many of the Bible stories:
* When Jesus met the woman at the well there’s every reason to believe that Jesus had stopped at that specific well and had waited, just for that woman.
* And when Jesus walks through the city of Jericho it’s obvious that He was looking for that tax collector Zacchaeus to be in the crowd. He even called him by name and told him to come down from the tree, because Jesus was going to his house that day. I believe Jesus was there just for that sinful man.
I believe there are many of the Bible stories where Jesus had planned to meet certain people for certain reasons. But this story about the widow of Nain doesn’t seem to be one of those kinds of stories. It just doesn’t feel like a deliberate encounter. The phrase Luke uses to describe Jesus’ reaction to this widow’s grief to be spontaneous and heart felt. Luke 7:13 says “When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her…”
The word used in the Greek here is one of the most intense that could be used for this emotion. The KJV says “He had compassion on her”. But even that phrase doesn’t quite capture the depth of Jesus’ feelings at this point. I believe the translation called “The Message” actually says it best when it says “When Jesus saw her, His heart broke.”
Jesus literally HURT for this woman.
He was touched in the very depths of His heart by her tears.
But what was it about this woman that would have moved Jesus in such a powerful way?
Well, she’d just lost her son.
Her ONLY son.
That would be tragedy enough for any woman, but Luke makes a point of telling us this wasn’t the only sadness she’d experienced. Verse 12 tells us “… a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow….” Luke 7:12
She’d lost her ONLY son… AND she was a widow…
She’d had lost both her son AND her husband.
Emotionally that must have been devastating.
Her tears were the tears of woman who’d been beaten down by the specter of death.
And making matters even worse – in the culture of that day, this woman was destitute. She had no visible means of support. The breadwinners of her life (husband and son) were both gone, and she was going to be left to fend for herself.
And there’s one more clue to the kind of woman this mother was. Notice who is at the funeral with her.
“…a LARGE CROWD from the town was with her.” Luke 7:12
In that day, it was not uncommon for rich people to hire mourners for a funeral of a loved one. But this woman is not rich. She can’t afford to hire people to show up for her son’s burial.
But a LARGE crowd shows up anyway.
What’s in it for them?
Nothing… except they appear to care for this woman.
She matters to them.
They don’t like seeing her suffer, and they want to be there for her.
In the book of Acts, we’re told of a Christian named Tabitha (also called Dorcas).
She got sick – and died. But she had ministered to so many others in that community that some of the disciples sent for Peter to come to her home, perhaps hoping against hope that Peter might be able to raise the dead as his master had.
Acts 9:39-40 tells us “Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.
Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, ‘Tabitha, get up.’ She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up.”
I’m thinking that this widow at Nain was like Tabitha.
I’m suspecting THIS widow gave of herself to others in such a powerful way that now, all the town wanted to be there for her. They wanted to share her grief with her.
That was all anyone could do.
That is… until Jesus showed up.
When Jesus showed up, all He had to do was speak the words – and the dead would rise.
You know I would love to be able to go to a funeral and be able to touch the person in the casket and say “Arise”. I think that would be one of the most gratifying experiences a person could have - to raise the dead.
Not because of the attention that would give, but because – inside of each one of us -- there is the deep seating feeling that death isn’t right.
Death isn’t natural.
We weren’t made to die.
The Bible teaches us that we were not created to die.
We weren’t made to inhabit a grave.
It’s not natural.
It’s not the way things should have been.
And so because death is really unnatural it creates all kinds of negative emotions.
Sorrow, tears, anxiety, panic, fear, resentment, anger.
Sometimes even hatred … a hatred toward God.
I would love to attend a funeral and touch the dearly departed and “ARISE” and watch them as they step out of the casket and walk among the living – one more time.
But I can’t do that!
So I do what I can.
Jesus did what He could.
He had the power to raise the dead.
But what power do we have?
A little girl came home from a neighbor’s house where her little friend had died.
"Why did you go?" questioned her father.
"To comfort her mother," said the child.
"What could you do to comfort her?"
"I climbed into her lap and cried with her."
When you and I attend a funeral those that grieve know we can’t raise the dead.
They know there are questions we can’t answer.
But they want us there anyway.
Because our presence comforts them
It gives them an opportunity to share their sorrow with someone who cares.
Paul writes in 2nd Corinthians: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, Who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” -- 2nd Corinthians 1:3-4
I can’t raise the dead…
I don’t know all the answers about death.
But this much I do know: I know the One who gives me comfort.
And because I know Him, and He comforts me I can share His love and compassion and comfort with others.
Someone once observed that Jesus never conducted a funeral.
And that’s true.
Every time Jesus came near someone who’d died… they refused to stay dead.
Jesus never gave a funeral sermon.
But now, Jesus didn’t visit every funeral.
And Jesus didn’t raise every dead person from the grave.
By my count, there were only 3 times Jesus raised the dead.
1. Here at the city of Nain, where He stopped the funeral profession, touched the coffin, and called the to this widow’s son “Arise” and the young man rose from the dead.
2. Later, Jesus encountered Jairus the ruler of the synagogue. This man’s 12-year-old daughter had just died. But Jesus went to their house, entered the room where her body was being prepared for burial. He took her by the hand, said “Little girl, arise” and she came back from the dead.
3. And, of course, the day Jesus stood before the tomb of Lazarus and called out
“Lazarus, come forth” and a man who’d been dead for four days, came out of the grave.
Jesus NEVER performed a funeral.
But He didn’t visit every tomb.
He didn’t attend every funeral.
And Jesus did NOT raise EVERY dead person from the grave.
He could have -- you know.
He could have visited every cemetery in Israel and raised all that had died.
But… that wasn’t why Jesus came.
Why would Jesus want to raise people from the dead… only to have them die again?
When Jesus brought the widow’s son back to life He did so knowing this boy would eventually die all over again. Jesus was giving this widow a “TEMPORARY” fix to the problem of death.
In all likelihood – Jesus brought this man back to life… and he’d outlive his mom.
But he was still going to die - all over again.
Death is a painful reality of life.
We’re all going to die someday
But why would I want to be brought back to life… only to die again?
I’ve read stories of people who’ve “died” on the operating table, or in their hospital bed, or at home. They stopped breathing. They were pronounced dead. But something called them back to this life.
Many of them speak of seeing a great light, and feeling at peace and sensing the presence of God. And many of them share the same emotion: a deep sense of disappointment.
They didn’t WANT to come back!
Why would they?
Why would they want to come back to this life and go through the experience of death all over again?
You see – Jesus didn’t come to give us a temporary reprieve from death.
He didn’t come so that we’d go through an earthly death over and over and over again.
Why would we want Him to do that, anyway?
Jesus didn’t come to give us a TEMPORARY reprieve.
In John 6, Jesus said “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal (not just a short lease on) life, and I will raise him up at the last day." -- John 6:40
You see – that’s the promise God gives every Christian, and God emphasized that promise in the very act we do to accept His gift.
Romans 6:3-5 tells us “don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
If we have been united with Him like this in His death, we will certainly also be united with him in His resurrection.”
When we baptize someone, we put them under the water … into a watery grave. And in that action, God teaches us that all our sins and our past have died … and have been buried.
But we don’t leave that person in their watery grave.
We bring them back up again – to a new life in Christ.
And in THAT action, God teaches us that the earthly grave WILL NOT hold us.
He will raise up on that last day.
And when we rise from the dead on that last day… it won’t be to die all over again.
As Paul wrote in Ist Corinthians 15:51-57 ...
“Behold! I tell you a mystery.
We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.
For this perishable body (it’s going to die – it’s perishable) must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body (it’s going to die – it’s mortal) must put on immortality.
When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: 'Death is swallowed up in victory.
'O death, where is your victory? O grave, where is your sting?'
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
When Jesus raises us up from the dead, it will not be temporary.
When He raises us from the grave – we’re not going back.
There will no longer be any death, for we’ve been granted the victory in our Lord Jesus Christ.
When professional golfer Paul Azinger was 33 years old he had just won a PGA championship and had ten tournament victories to his credit. But he was also diagnosed with cancer.
He wrote, "A genuine feeling of fear came over me. I could die from cancer. Then another reality hit me even harder. I’m going to die eventually anyway whether from cancer or something else. It’s just a question of when. Everything I had accomplished in golf became meaningless to me.
All I wanted to do was live."
Then Larry Moody (who was teaching a Bible study on the tour and was aware of the anxiety Azinger was experiencing) said to him, "Zinger, we’re not in the land of the living going to the land of the dying. We’re in the land of the dying trying to get to the land of the living."
That one comment changed “Zinger’s” attitude toward his cancer.
He went through chemotherapy, recovered from his cancer and returned to the PGA tour. He’s done pretty well. But that bout with cancer changed him.
He wrote, "I’ve made a lot of money since I’ve been on the tour and I’ve won a lot of tournaments, but that happiness is always temporary. The only way you will ever have true contentment is in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I’m not saying that nothing ever bothers me and I don’t have problems but I feel like I’ve found the answer TO THE SIX-FOOT HOLE".
That is the answer that we offer to you this morning ... if you will believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and your personal Savior. Amen.
Week of Worship
April 22, 2012
Invocation: Merciful and loving God, I come seeking quiet communion with You. In these few moments apart from confusion and stress, grant me stillness of heart and quietness in Thy presence. Amen.
Read: Psalm 121
Daily Scripture Readings
Monday Ezekiel 36:22-36
Tuesday Genesis 17:1-8
Wednesday Genesis 39:19-23
Thursday Philippians 4:1-9
Friday Colossians 2:6-15
Saturday Acts 4:23-37
Sunday Acts 3:12-19; 1st John 3:1-7; Psalm 4; Luke 24:35-48
Reflection: (silent and written)
Prayers for the church, for others, for yourself.
Hymn: "O Come and Dwell in Me"
Benediction: O God, as I prepare to leave this quiet moment, give me a sense of Your power and Your glory, that I may take it everywhere You send me today. Amen.