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LSB Proper 5C Sermon – Luke 7:11-17

June 6, 2016

June 5, 2016 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has arisen among us!’ and ‘God has visited His people!’”

The Scripture Readings for this morning presented actions of two prophets. Both prophets are men of God. Both performed miraculous deeds. Both brought life to one who had died. Both restored joy to widows who had been mourning the death of their sons. Both are hailed and praised for the great act of mercy they do. Both are recognized as bringing the LORD’s power to people.

But a difference exists between these two prophets. Despite the life-giving miracle that both of them perform, one is greater than the other. One has a higher rank, greater because of who He is, rather than only what He does. And that greater status of the one prophet is seen in the records of the resurrection events that you heard today.

In the Sidonian town of Zarephath, the Prophet Elijah witnesses the death of a widow’s son. He is moved by her grief. He experiences her anguish, as she asks why this tragedy has happened: “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!” And in his own doubt, Elijah is answerless. He turns to the LORD, bringing his own question: “O LORD my God, have You brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by killing her son?” Even in his own mind, this prophet doesn’t have an answer. He is only left to make the earnest plea: “O LORD my God, let this child’s life come into him again.”

In the midst of the widow’s mourning and the prophet’s doubt, the LORD shows His compassion. He responds to the widow’s cries and Elijah’s prayers, as we are told: “The LORD listened to the voice of Elijah. And the life of the child came into him again, and he revived.” In response to this great merciful and miraculous act, the widow confesses her belief in the LORD’s goodness and power that have been shown to her through the acts of His prophet Elijah: “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth.”

Flipping the pages of time forward several centuries, we encounter the other Prophet. Like Elijah, He encounters the tragedy of human death. As this Prophet enters Nain, He sees the grief and sorrow of the widow and her fellow mourners: “As He drew near to the gate of the town, 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. And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her….” In His compassion, the Prophet acts: “He said to her, ‘Do not weep.’ Then He came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And He said, ‘Young man, I say to you, arise.’” Then the miraculous occurs: “And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.”

This incident at Nain sounds similar to the resurrection given through Elijah at Zarephath. But the story is different because of the identity of that Prophet who comes to that Galilean village. Unlike Elijah, He is not alone. He is not without followers or friends. The Gospel Writer tells us: “His disciples and a great crowd went with him.” Unlike Elijah, there is no prayer to heaven, no complaint to the LORD and no questioning why the young man died. Unlike Elijah, there is no thought by the widow whether Jesus was bringing evil or misfortune, punishing her for her sins. Unlike Elijah, there is no calling down divine aid or help.

There is a difference between the two event. The difference stems from who Jesus is. The Man who arrives in Nain is a Prophet, but more than a prophet. He calls people to follow Him. He acts of His own power and ability. He brings goodness and blessing to where tragedy and curse are found. The LORD-in-the-flesh encounters death and the accompanying grief and mourning in that village. When He steps into the path of death, life overcomes it.

All this is true because of Jesus’ identity. The people’s reaction to what happened in the sleepy village of Nain confirms this. Listen again to what happened after the miracle: “Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has arisen among us!’ and ‘God has visited His people!’ And this report about Him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country.” The crowd sums up this incident perfectly: God did visit His people, bringing life and healing, just as He had promised promised. The LORD Himself raises the young man to life. This Prophet is greater than Elijah, Isaiah, or even Moses.

But there is something else significant about the event at Nain that should be considered. Recall how the story unfolds. Jesus wanders into the village. He stops the funeral procession leaving the village. He is moved by compassion to act. He tells the widow not to weep. He raises the young man to life. Unlike most of the other miracles of Jesus, some things are missing: there is no looking for Jesus, no asking for help, no action at all by the widow that initiates Jesus’ work. And that is something that we can learn from and understand further how He works in our lives.

The whole story of our redemption, of our deliverance from sin, death, and Satan is predicated on the compassionate view that the LORD had on fallen humanity. Adam sins, all creation is thrown into despair, every human generation that follows is spiritually blind and dead. When the LORD sees that, He acts out of His steadfast love and graciousness. That is the foundation for all of His action of bringing salvation to the world, to sinful humanity, to all of us. It is not that we sought Him out or asked for His aid. No, the LORD acts, even when we were unable to.

This observation of how the LORD works is not limited to the village of Nain. It happens even in our day. The same pattern of action is seen among us. It is the same paradigm that we experience in our lives as Christians. Even before we were born, the LORD acted, electing us to be His people. While we were still dead in our trespasses, He entered creation and conquered sin, death, and Satan. And then, even while we were still spiritually dead, the LORD quickened us, brought life to our souls as the Holy Spirit sparked faith in us through the message of Jesus’ redeeming work.

The truth of the matter is, all of us were like the young man being carried out of Nain. We were like Old Marley in Dickens’ tale: dead as a door-nail. There was no life, no ability, no virtue in us. And yet, we have been raised. We have been touched by Jesus, as His Gospel—“this report about Him”—is carried into the world, as the crowd of His followers proclaims the story of redemption, confessing Jesus’ identity and work.

Having been touched by Jesus, we can arise from death. As the Holy Spirit calls, enlightens, sanctifies, and gathers us, we are given the newness of life. The spiritually dead are resurrected. The spiritually ill are healed. When this happens, then we can say with the crowd in Nain: “God has visited His people!” The LORD has visited us. But we need not ask the question that the Widow of Zarephath did of Elijah: “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!” For Jesus’ visitation was not not to bring punishment, to remind us of our sins and condemn us, but to grant salvation.

That’s what we learn from the miracle at Nain. We see the One who is greater than all the other prophets. We see what His compassion and pity move Him to do. We see the pattern of His action, giving aid to those who are helpless and who do not even have the power to approach Him. We see the LORD’s exercising His power over death. But we also see the effects of joy and reverence that Jesus creates in those who benefit from His work. And we see the response that Jesus’ work causes, as those who are helped by Him speak of what He has wonderfully done.

Jesus shows all this to us in His earthly work. But it’s not just demonstrated as an example. No, He acts graciously for us, even in our day. We have experienced it from the first day we believed in Him. It is why we now live in fellowship with Jesus and His disciples. The benefits of that compassionate action Jesus performed for us by His death and resurrection become ours, as He forgives our sins and restores our spiritual lives. The only thing that we await now is the day when the LORD will come to our caskets and touch us, bringing us the everlasting life for body and soul, so that we may live in full communion with Him. May all of you witness the day when the LORD once again visits His people, coming to the earth with the full power of the resurrection, so that all memory of sin is erased and funeral processions are no more.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.


From → Sunday Sermon

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