Sermon Text: Luke 7:11-17
October 5th, 2014; 16th Sunday after Trinity; one year series
Our American culture has a problem in dealing with death. This was not always the case, when the vast majority of our population was Christian and church-going. Then they knew that death meant eternal life for all baptized believers in Christ. Today a good portion do not go to church, and many are not religious in any sense of the term. Even those that do go to church often think about death in the same way as unbelievers. So the American way of thinking about and dealing with death has changed, to which doctors, ministers, and funeral home directors can all testify.
In our Gospel lesson this morning, Jesus deals with death in a straightforward and surprising way. You should never be surprised by Jesus. He always has a new trick up his sleeves. In this case, it was his second resurrection. The first was the raising of Jairus’ daughter toward the beginning of his ministry. She had been dead only a few hours when he brought her back to life. In this case, the young man had been dead for at least a day, maybe more. They were about ready to bury his body, when Jesus brought him back to life and restored him to his astonished mother.
In three years time, Jesus could have done a lot more resurrections, but he limited it to three: Jairus’ daughter, the widow of Nain’s son, and his good friend Lazarus. Jesus may have limited his resurrections to avoid publicity. Resurrections were certain evidence of Jesus’ divine powers that could not be denied by anyone. The fact that he did not do more resurrections may indicate that he did not want people to believe in response to his miracles, but on the basis of the conviction of their sins, and faith in him and his word. The main message of Jesus was always: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 4:17), not “Look how powerful I am!” Yet his miracles do testify to his divine nature.
The reason that Jesus resurrected this particular young man is explained in verse 12 and 13. It says that the young man was the only son of his mother, and that she was a widow. In those days, sons who could work were the only form of social security. Not only did the widow lose her son, she also faced the prospect of slipping slowly into poverty with eventual starvation. Elsewhere Jesus warned about the lawyers who “devoured widow’s houses” (Mark 12:40). This prospect was understood by Jesus. So verse 13 says that Jesus had compassion on her.
In each case of resurrection, Jesus had compassion on the bereaved, i.e., Jairus and his family, the widow of Nain, and his friends Mary and Martha. In the case of Lazarus, we know he was a believer, so he was already in a better place. Jesus was not disturbed by death, nor was he afraid of death. The resurrections that he performed were simply out of compassion for the family of the deceased.
The response of the crowds who witnessed this resurrection at Nain is worth noting. In verse 16, it says “fear seized them all.” Why would they be afraid of someone who had the power of raising people from the dead? Probably because they thought that if he had this sort of power for good, he also had powers for evil, to destroy people. After all, in our human experience, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. But people who got to know Jesus found that they had nothing to fear from him–unless they were corrupt religious leaders.
The final result of the resurrection was the message that went out all around Judea and the surrounding territories. It was said of Jesus, “A great prophet has been raised up among us.” Not just another prophet, like Jonah or Amos, but a great one, like Isaiah, Elijah, or Samuel. The people also said, “God has visited his people.” After so many years of absence, God was back among his elect people, his chosen ones, the Jews. It was a time of great joy and expectation for the Messiah and his kingdom.
What does this Gospel lesson mean for you today? There really is no Law here, except for the result of sin which is death. What you see in this resurrection is pure Gospel, the grace of God the Father, and the love of Jesus Christ his Son for us poor sinners. You see redemption, that is, you see Jesus offering up his precious blood for you and the world, so that you may be saved from sin, death, hell, and the power of the devil. It is a story and a doctrine that can only be found in the Christian religion. It has inspired hope amidst despair for millions upon millions of Christians through two millenia. This Gospel will continue to buttress the faith of your children and their children, until Jesus comes again.
The atheists, materialists, and unbelievers in our day don’t believe in the resurrection of the dead. They believe that when you are dead, that is it. With the ancient Greek and Roman Epicureans their motto is: “Eat, drink, and be merry; for tomorrow we die!” The Athenians, to whom Paul preached, mocked the idea of a resurrection because they thought it was impossible (Acts 17:32). The real problem was that most of them did not believe in an eternal soul. They thought the “soul” was only a life-force, so that once death occurred the “soul” was gone.
We Christians believe in the resurrection, because we believe in the Christian and Hebrew Scriptures’ doctrine of the “soul” which is something different from biological life. “Death” in the Christian view is not a force or a power, but a LACK of biological life. Biological life is a power given by God at conception to all animals and human beings. Like a battery, this power eventually gets drained. When this life-power gets drained, either slowly–through sickness or “old age,” or suddenly–through an attack or accident, the human body stops working and dies.
Unbelief and doubts about the resurrection occur because we don’t understand the nature of the soul. It appears that, at death, our individuality is lost and so not only the body dies, but also the personality, or what the Bible calls the “soul” (Greek: ψυχε). But this is a misunderstanding that comes from judging death on the basis of physical appearances.
Both the Old and the New Testament talk about the human soul as being a unique creation of God. In other words, the soul for each person is unique and cannot be destroyed (Matthew 10:28). When the unbeliever dies, his or her unique soul goes to “Hades” (Luke 16:23). When the believer dies, his or her unique soul goes to “Abraham’s side” (Luke 16:23), also depicted as the place “under the altar in heaven” (Revelation 6:9).
On the Last Day, Jesus will be seated on a great white throne (Revelation 20:11). All the dead will stand before him–so this indicates a general resurrection of all the dead (ibid., v. 12). Books will be opened that record the good and bad deeds of each person (ibid.). The final judgment will be based on whether a person’s name is written in the Book of Life (ibid., v. 15). The people in this Book of Life are those who believe and are baptized in the name of Jesus.
What sort of body will baptized believers receive on the Last Day? Saint Paul explains this in a lengthy discourse in 1 Corinthians 15:35-58. He compares our present bodies to a “seed,” which dies when it is planted in the ground (ibid., v. 36). Paul explains “It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body” (ibid., v. 44). Jesus rebuked the Sadducees for their unbelief in the resurrection and said, “Those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die, for they will be like the angels. For they are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection.” (Luke 20:35-36).
The raising of the widow’s son at Nain reminds you that you will someday be raised in like manner. Believing sons and daughters will be restored to believing parents; and vice versa. It will be the great homecoming of all believers in Christ. This is our great hope and our great victory over death and the grave. In Jesus, our Savior’s name. Amen.