Life Through Death

Text: Luke 7:11-17

I will extol you, O Lord, for You have drawn me up and have not let my foes rejoice over me. O Lord my God, I cried to You for help, and You have healed me. O Lord, You have brought up my soul from Sheol; You restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit.

Psalm 30:1-1, English Standard Version

These words of King David, spoken at the dedication of the land upon which the temple would later be built, could well have come out of the mouth of the poor mother in our Gospel text. To begin with, she was a widow. However, she also was the mother of only one son, who had died by the time our Lord came to that town, Nain. It would’ve been that son’s responsibility to provide and care for his mother. With his death, her hopes faded and she became as among “those who go down to the pit.” That is, until our Lord had compassion on her.

When Jesus entered that town, leading a joyous procession of the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins, He was met by a procession of another sort: a funeral procession. Where these two things collide, life must the victory win. Our Lord stopped the procession, spoke to the young man, and – with His Word – raised him from the dead. Then, as a continued expression of His compassion, our Lord returned this young man to his mother so that he might care for her. In our Gospel text today, we learn, again, that Jesus, our compassionate Lord, is able to bring life out of death.

I.

That there were resurrections in the Old Testament, we noted in our reading today – where Elijah restored a widow’s son to life. Elisha, as well, would later be connected with a resurrection. There were also near resurrections, such as when King Hezekiah was restored from a grave illness. These resurrections, along with the prophecies of Isaiah, David, and others, pointed ahead to the resurrection of Christ at the fullness of time. But, as yet in our Gospel text, our Lord’s resurrection has not happened. Neither, has our Lord yet raised anyone from the dead – Luke 7 being earlier in His ministry. It happened, after the Sermon on the Mount, that our Lord returned to His home base in Capernaum, where He healed the centurion’s servant. From there, Jesus set out again to preach and teach the Gospel.

When our Lord entered the town of Nain with His disciples and a crowd of followers, St. Luke writes, “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.” (Luke 7:12) Nain was about 25 miles from Capernaum. It would’ve taken about a day to get there on foot. Our Lord spent that day preaching and teaching. People who heard the Gospel and believed it followed Jesus to continue learning from Him. So, upon entering this town, our Lord was leading a parade of sorts when He then encountered an especially sad occasion. There was a widow from that town who had not only lost her husband, but now her only son, as well. With that son, her hopes of a future – of a place to live and food to eat – died, too. King David, in another psalm, speaks well for the situation of the woman, “The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish.” (Ps. 116:3)

When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’” (v. 13) When our Lord saw the procession, He had compassion on the poor widow. He stopped the funeral parade and told her not to weep. Then, He gave her good reason not to weep. St. Luke writes, “He came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And He said, ‘Young man, I say to you, arise.’ And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.” (vv. 14-15) Our Lord Jesus Christ is gracious and merciful, and has compassion over our human suffering. When He saw this widow carrying out her son, He cared for her by bringing her son back to life. Jesus is able to bring life out of death.

II.

The same Lord who had compassion over this widow, also had compassion over the whole world. In Genesis, no sooner did our Lord declare the consequences of sin than did He also promise a victory over sin and death in His own death and resurrection. That’s what Genesis 3 promises, it’s what the prophets sang of, and what the young man’s resurrection pointed ahead to. Jesus, also, was an only son. Though He Himself was without sin, unstained by original sin and without any actual sin of His own, Jesus placed Himself into the snares of death and pangs of Sheol. Though He had committed no crime, yet He opened not His mouth. And, why? Because of us.

We are the reason why Jesus died. Though we were not there in the Garden, the corruption of sin has flowed down into us. We were born in it and live in it. In the course of our lives, we have allowed sin to hold sway in our hearts, minds, and actions. We have allowed its flow to continue unchecked. On account of this, we stand justly condemned. We disobey the Almighty God. His verdict is just, and the sentence for treason against the divine is death. This is why we die. But, it is also why our Lord died. Only, He didn’t die as a punishment for His sin – because He didn’t have any. Jesus died so that the wrath of God which we have deserved by our sins, might pass from us to Him. By His death – the death of the only Son of God – our sins are paid for. Then, our compassionate Lord not only died for us, He rose for us. He brought us life out of death.

III.

That is what Jesus’ resurrection means. Just as the Old Testament resurrections and the son’s in the Gospel text pointed to Christ’s resurrection, so Christ’s resurrection points to our resurrection. That is what the Scriptures mean when they say that Jesus Christ is the “Firstborn of the dead,” which we spoke together this last week. It means that Jesus was the first, but more would follow. We would follow. By our Baptism into Christ, and by faith in His name, His resurrection is our resurrection. His newness of life is our newness of life, here and in the life hereafter.

In many ways our experience of life is the same as King David’s and the widow’s, because we also experience what comes to all people as the punishment of sin: death. We die, and our loved ones die. But, the Scriptures say that Jesus Christ is the “same yesterday and today and forever.” (Heb. 13:8) The same compassion He had for the widow, and for the world in His own death, He has over us. When our loved ones die in the faith – and we as well – we have the joyful hope that we will be reunited. If we should die before our Lord returns, we depart immediately into His presence among the saints in heaven. When He returns, He will raise our bodies and change them to be like His, and we will live forever in the new creation. If we are alive at His return, we will be likewise changed. Our Lord is compassionate, and He is able to bring life out of death: for the widow in the text, for the world, and for us. Amen.

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