Life through Death

Text: 1 Kings 17:17-24

When you are “at the end of your rope,” they say, you have run out of options. To be at the end of your rope means you have exhausted all your chances and your possibilities, and you are now resigned to suffer whatever it may be that is coming your way. We might say that the widow of Zarephath was there last week. When she encountered the prophet Elijah, she was gathering sticks so that she could make one last meal for her and her son, and then they would die. Elijah promised from the Lord, “The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth.” (1 Kings 17:14 English Standard Version). The Lord kept His promise and the three of them ate for many days. It had seemed like the widow was at the end of her rope, but she really wasn’t. The Lord had a way out.

Our text today continues the story of this widow, her son, and Elijah and presents us with another such situation. This time, her son dies. She concluded that now this really was the end, the punishment of her sin brought upon her by housing the prophet. Again, though, the Lord had a way out. The same Lord who creates life is able, also, to bring life back from the grave. The Lord heard the prayer of Elijah and restored life to that young man. Today we confess that, though the rope of our lives will also end in death, yet through Christ we will be led out of the grave to eternal life.

I.

The Holy Spirit tells us in 1 Kings 17, that “she and he and her household ate for many days. The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the Lord that He spoke by Elijah.” (vv. 15-17) The reason why this is a big deal is that the Lord had raised a drought over the Northern Kingdom as punishment for their unfaithfulness. This drought lasted three years. As the Lord usually does, He brings down the proud but raises the humble. He sent Elijah to the widow and they were preserved from danger, Elijah living in a separate portion on the roof of her house. In the course of time, however, the son of the widow grew ill. It says, “his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him.” In other words, he died.

In response, the widow concluded that she was back at the end of her rope. By housing Elijah, she felt that the Lord’s gaze had more directly fallen on her. He observed her sin and was now punishing her. In Bible times, widows were often of little means and had to rely on others – particularly sons – for provision. Without a son, she would surely die. Her conclusion was incorrect, however. In the Gospel there are two occasions that speak to this. Before Jesus healed the man born blind, the disciples asked Him whose sin had caused his blindness – his or his parents’. Jesus said, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:3) Also, with Lazarus – whom Jesus raised from the dead – He said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” (Jn. 11:4) The death of this widow’s son was not to punish her, but so that God’s glory might be revealed.

Elijah took the young man up to his chambers, it says. He laid him down on his bed and prayed, “O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.” (v. 21) The Lord heard his prayer and returned the boy to life. This is the first time a resurrection happens in the Bible. The boy being raised, Elijah returned him to his mother. This was her new conclusion, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.” (v. 24) She now understood and believed that the God of Israel is the true God and His Word through Elijah is true – He who is able to bring life even out of death.

II.

In Confirmation class we’re working through the First Commandment, which teaches us to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. We are to do this recognizing that all good things come from our Father’s loving hand. Out of love, He has provided for us every day of our lives – the present, included. Just as He was with the widow through the days of drought, He remains with us through the difficult times of our lives and He brings us through them – one way, or another. There have been many times where we have found ourselves at the end of our rope, and the Lord has provided a way of escape previously unknown to us. It says in the Psalms that the afflictions of the righteous are many, but the Lord delivers them from them all. (Ps. 34)

We must confess, however, that although the widow’s conclusion was incorrect – she thought God was punishing her sin by the death of her son – this conclusion is correct: someday you and I will die. We will die because we are sinners. Death is the wages we have earned and should expect for our many sins. God told our parents this would happen; and so, it does. Because we have been born of the sinful seed of Adam and Eve and have ourselves continually given into the lusts and desires of the Old Adam within us, even having heard the Word of God, we will receive the punishment and we will die (pending our Lord’s return). However, death is not the end of our rope.

III.

It would be a sad story, that one, to end a sermon with the fact that we are all going to die. But, as we heard in two of our readings this week, death cannot outdo the power of God. The same God who created all life out of nothing is not stopped by death; He does not reach the end of His rope there. Instead, He calls life back from death. Through the work of the Triune God, the widow’s son was restored in Zarephath and through the Word of Christ, the young man was raised in Nain – himself a widow’s son. In that case, what had been a funeral procession became a march of life. But, as great as these two were, they also pointed ahead to a greater resurrection: our Lord’s.

Both we and those young men in the lessons encounter death through our fall into sin. Death is a consequence of sin. If one were without sin, he need not face the consequence of sin. Yet, that’s exactly what Jesus chose to do. He had compassion on us and did not choose the easy part. He entered this fallen creation to take in Himself the guilt of our continual sinning. In His death, Jesus suffered the consequence of our sin and the wrath of God which we have deserved, He bore in full. By His resurrection, the Father shows that Jesus’ sacrifice for us is complete and acceptable to Him. By raising Jesus from the dead, the Father kept the promise He made through David: that He will not let His Holy One see corruption. And, through Him, neither shall we.

When Jesus rose from the dead, it wasn’t only for His good; it was for us. By faith in Him, Jesus’ resurrection becomes our resurrection. By our Baptism into Him, we were buried to sin and raised to new life. Just as He was raised by the glory of the Father, so shall we be. Sometimes, we do find ourselves at the end of our rope. The present situation with the coronavirus has, at times, set our own mortality before our eyes. We have been nervous, anxious, depressed. We learn this week, though, that the Lord has ways of extending our ropes. In this case, our lives. Though, because of sin we will die yet, in Christ, we will live. 

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