Trinity 16 2021
September 19, 2021
Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID
The woman’s situation was desperate. She was a widow, and now her son had died. Her future was uncertain. No husband and now no son. And so, understandably, she wept. We don’t know why or how he died. We do know that this grieving woman and her only son were surrounded by a crowd as he was being carried out of town to be buried when they came across another crowd. This crowd was gathered around another only son, the only Son of God, who would later die Himself and be carried outside of town to be buried.
As these two crowds converge, the Lord Jesus sees this grieving mother and has compassion on her. There is no mention of anyone’s faith here. The grieving and widowed mother doesn’t run to Jesus for help. Neither the disciples nor the crowds ask Jesus to do something. The dead boy does not ask for healing, because, well, he’s dead. This is important. Jesus acts not because He is asked, but because of His compassion. And so He tells her to stop weeping. It’s not that He was rebuking her for shedding her tears for her dead son, but that there was no more need for crying. For death would not hold her only son. He was confessing a greater reality, one beyond what the eyes could see during any funeral procession.
We are given a picture here of how death has come into the world by sin and infects everyone. The way in which death snatched away this man is the way that death has worked since the beginning up unto today and will continue to do so until the end of the world. Our current culture, which is fleeting, seeks to alleviate suffering with one hand through economics or politics while promoting a culture of death in abortion, euthanasia, suicide with the other. No fountain of youth, no diet, no surgery, no vaccine can protect against the power of death. The poison of death came to Adam by sin, and through him it has been handed down to all creation, our very bodies have become bodies of death. Every day of your life is a day closer to your death.
In and of itself, there is nothing good about death. We should not romanticize it nor treat it as if it doesn’t matter. We were not meant to die. If it were not for sin we would not die. Death is the wages of sin and the enemy of God. But make no mistake, it is a defeated enemy. Through Christ’s victory, death has no more sting. Through Christ’s victory, the cause of weeping is done away with. Through Christ, a great prophet has arisen among us. Through Christ, God has visited His people.
And so Jesus touches the funeral bier. Normally, this would have made a person ceremonially unclean. Yet instead of being defiled, Jesus cleans and heals. The power of cleanliness and life is in Him. Jesus speaks, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” Just as he told the widow to stop her weeping, He told the boy to stop being dead, to get up. The boy had to rise so that Jesus could lie down in his place.
And isn’t that just the way that Jesus works. Jesus dies so that you may live. Jesus speaks, and the dead rise. In Luke’s Gospel this is all very important. Raising of the dead is the only prophetic miracle that Jesus had not yet performed. The raising of the dead is the miracle which demonstrates Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophetic hope and that with Him the kingdom of God has come. Jesus is greater than Elijah who restored the life of a widow’s son in our Old Testament reading.
And the result is faith. Those who witnessed this miracle glorified God through Jesus. The crowds recognize and confess, “A great prophet has arisen among us,” the crowd says. “Arisen,” which comes from the same word that Jesus used to call the dead man to life. And which is the same word used to describe Jesus’ journey through death to life. This boy’s resurrection foreshadows two others in the Gospel of Luke: first, the raising of Jairus’ daughter, and more importantly, Jesus’ own resurrection. They believe and confess, “God has visited His people.” There He is, God in the flesh, Immanuel, God with us, doing what only God can do.
By this miracle, Jesus is teaching them, and us, who He is. If Jesus is only a teacher and miracle worker, then He has come to lessen human suffering. This is the Jesus that the world wants: the social justice warrior, the anti-establishment revolutionary, the radical rabbi.
But we who have heard and have believed the Word of God, understand that Jesus must also suffer rejection, and even death. We know what kind of prophet this Jesus truly is: a teacher, a miracle worker, and the One who will suffer on behalf of the world and die upon the cross. We know of Easter, that death cannot keep the only Son of God. St. Paul writes in Romans 6:9, “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again: death no longer has dominion over Him.” He pulled Christ out from the closed and sealed grave in an instant. As Christ spoke to this dead man and commanded Him to rise, so too will we be commanded to rise from our graves. We know that God will do for us Christians what He has done for Christ.
This is the very source of our hope: “I know that my Redeemer lives!” As death has come by one man, the first Adam, so resurrection will come by one man, the second Adam, Jesus Christ. “I say to you, arise!” Jesus’ voice will call you from death to eternal life on that day of resurrection, with your own body as St. Paul proclaimed to the Philippian Christians, that our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, “will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him to subdue all things to Himself (Philippians 3:21).
This miracle gives special comfort to all who mourn and weep because of sin. The dead are not beyond the voice of Christ. It doesn’t matter how long death has held a person, nor the age or time of death, for all will hear His voice. He will call His people not just into His presence, but in the presence of one another. He will restore the dead to the living, and the living to the dead. He will wipe away all tears in the final consummation of compassion. Christ’s love, as taught in the Epistle, is far more abundant that all we ask or think, and the power at work within us gives life in the midst of death as we await the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting.