Even In the Face of Death
A sermon based on Luke 7:11-17
Sunday, June 5, 2016 - Pentecost 3C
"Did you ever think as a hearse goes by that you may be the next to die?" It's a children's poem. It's a little morbid, a little gloomy,
Sin and death have both caused immeasurable sorrow and pain for everyone since the fall into sin. But there is a cure for this pain and a comfort for this sorrow, because Jesus has put the "fun" back into "funeral." By his compassion and by his resurrection, Jesus has taken away the sting of death. So you and I can handle the truth even in the face of death. Listen now to the confrontation between Jesus and death recorded for us in Luke 7:11-17...
11 Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. 12 As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. 13 When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, "Don't cry."
14 Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, "Young man, I say to you, get up!" 15 The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.
16 They were all filled with awe and praised God. "A great prophet has appeared among us," they said. "God has come to help his people." 17 This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.
I. Jesus Compassion Moves Him to Act
Imagine that about a month from today, you're in downtown Kenai watching the Fourth of July parade. The floats are coming down the street with people waving. The red, white, and blue balloons are soaring. The Stars and Stripes are flying everywhere you look. You see laughing, smiling faces on everyone you meet as they enjoy the party-like atmosphere.
But then, looking down the street at the opposite direction you see a cop car with the red and blue lights flashing. It's driving too slowly for an emergency. Behind it is another vehicle with flags flying: a hearse. The lead float and the hearse are in a crash course head-on with each other. Two parades, one full of joy and celebration, the other full of sorrow and sadness are about to meet. Which one will win?
Well, that's the scenario that Luke portrays for us this morning. Having just healed the centurion's servant who was sick and about to die, Jesus left Capernaum for the town of Nain, a good 30 miles away. But he wasn't alone. There was a parade with him. "His disciples and a large crowd went along with him." But as they approached the town gate, the only way in or out of the city, they met another parade—a funeral procession. Which party would yield to the other? You know the answer. Of course, Jesus would triumph.
He saw the woman and his heart went out to her. Literally, the word is splagnizomai. It's been translated "heart went out" or "had compassion on" but it sort of sounds like what it means. Splagnizomai literally means the stomach churns and the gut aches to see someone you love in pain. Jesus felt for this poor woman. Her husband had already died. What pain she must have felt to lose to him. But then her situation grew even worse. She had to do what normally should not be done. Children are supposed to bury their parents, not the other way around. But she had to bury her own son.
And not only was this a huge pain to her heart, but it left her in a difficult social and economic situation. Without a husband or grown son to care for her and provide for her, she would be left to beg and glean from the fields—the only social security they had.
But Jesus' "heart went out to her and he said, 'Don't cry.'" For he would act. His love for her moved him to act. And the same is true for us...
Ever since Adam and Eve death has wreaked its havoc on this world. Are you grieving today? Are you mourning after the death of a loved one? Or is it more general than that? Do you look out at the world day after day and see a cold, dark, loveless, sinful place? Do the troubles and trials of this life wear on you, roll over you, threaten to trample you into the dirt? Are there days when sorrow pierces you to the heart and leaves you to throw out your arms and cry out, "Lord, how long will your people endure this place? Have mercy on us!"
And maybe what makes it even worse is knowing that we deserve nothing better! For as Paul wrote in Romans, "The wages of sin is death," and it doesn't take much soul-searching to find how much we've earned death. There is not a single command of God that you or I have kept. We've coveted those things that belong to others. We've lied to those we love. We've stolen, we've lusted, we've hated, we've disrespected authority. We have not worshipped God wholeheartedly. We've misused his name. And all of this is proof that we have not loved and trusted God above all things. We daily grieve the heart of God, and the only reward we deserve from God is the death sentence!
But don't cry. Don't cry. Jesus compassion for us has moved him to act. He has come to help us by taking our death sentence on himself. Jesus broke the power of death when we were headed straight for it. He broke the power of sin by dying in our place, by offering himself to God to pay for our sins. For our sins, he endured whips on his back. For our sins, he wore a crown of thorns. For our sins, he hung on the cross that was meant for us. For our sins, God died. And he did it all willingly, even eagerly, because his heart went out to us.
Now Jesus says to us: "Don't cry!" "Don't cry!" "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." (Hebrews 13:5)"Don't cry!" "[I am your] refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble." (Psalm 46:1) "Don't cry!" "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." (Psalm 34:18) "Don't cry!" God doesn't ignore your grief. He comforts you who grieve. He grants you the strength to rely on him for that comfort. And what's more, Jesus doesn't just have compassion on you, but he has the power to help you. For Jesus' power enables him to resurrect the dead and conquer even death...
II. Jesus Power Enables Him to Resurrect
Now, the New International Version translates the word, "coffin," but that can be a bit misleading. This was not like the coffins that we're used to. There was no lid. It was more like a stretcher. So when the parade of Jesus' followers met the parade of death, the wrapped body could be plainly seen. And with nothing more than his Word, Jesus demonstrated his power over death. He walked up to the dead man and spoke: "Young man, I say to you, get up!"
And he did! "The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother." He didn't need a few weeks of bed rest. He didn't need to be kept overnight for observation. He didn't even need a moment to catch his breath. With just a few short words, Jesus' healing was full and complete. He gave the boy back to his mother. He returned a beloved son to her, but also restored the possibility of a better, more secure life.
The news of this miracle naturally spread like wildfire. They were all filled with awe and praised God. "A great prophet has appeared among us," they said. "God has come to help his people." This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country." People had been hearing about Jesus' miracles for some time now, but this was something different, something new, something wonderful! As incredible as his acts of healing were, Jesus had the power to bring the dead back to life! When the two parades met, Jesus' parade of life and joy trumped the parade of sorrow and death and Jesus put the fun back into funeral! And he's done the same for us!
You know, the word that the NIV translates "coffin," the King James Version translates "bier." B-I-E-R. I like that translation because it reminds me that when Jesus raised that young man back to life, he demonstrated what every good German already knows: "In heaven there is no bier." Okay, I'm sorry. That wasn't even remotely funny. But seriously, in heaven there is no bier, no funeral coffin, no stretcher. In heaven there is no more death or sorrow or mourning. Those things will be gone, because they belong to the old age of the sin-fallen earth.
How do we know? How can we be so sure? Because Jesus demonstrated his power over death! Not only here where he raised someone else to life, but on Easter when he raised himself from the dead! His empty tomb is the sign that your sins have been taken away. His folded burial garments show that you wear his holiness even now. And his appearances to his disciples, to Mary, to Peter, and all the others, are proof that death has been swallowed up in victory!
And now, Jesus says, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die." (John 11:25-26) Yes, the world is still filled with sin. Yes, if Jesus doesn't come back first, we will all taste death. But Jesus showed his power over death. He showed his power over death by raising up the widow's son to life again.
So we can handle the truth even in the face of death: That even though we die, we will be raised on the Last Day. We will be gathered together with all believers. We will live in heaven eternally with God, face to face with him where we'll praise him eternally! There is no doubt: "God has come to help his people."
And so we need not be afraid! We don't need to be afraid when the economy tanks. We don't need to be afraid when the doctor gives a bad report. We don't need to be afraid when we get a pink slip. We don't need to be afraid when a loved one dies. And even our own death need not intimidate. For Jesus has won the victory for us! It's guaranteed! Jesus has indeed put the fun back into funeral!