Luke 7:11-17 “Faith to Raise the Dead”
Last week in my sermon, I mentioned that the number one thing that we like to laugh about when we tell a joke is death. We can say that we love to laugh in the face of our old enemy Death!
As an aside I have been asking just everybody I meet what their experience was when the false missile alert came two Saturdays ago. I have been intrigued. You see, personally I was disappointed with my own response. My reaction when Helen called me to say that the world was ending in ten minutes was to spend potentially the last ten minutes of my life trying to disprove the supposition. My last minutes were in essence spent trying to disprove the government. In a way, that is always a waste of time! Life is already too short.
Here are some of the more profound answers that I got to the question of “What would you do in the last ten minutes of your life?´ “I went and made a cup of tea.” “I had to check the sports scores to make sure my team was winning.” “I called my loved ones.” “I looked for a place to hide but could not find one.”
Personally, I had a lot of chores scheduled for Saturday. I was going to put a new CV boot on my wife’s car’s front axle. I was going to replace the tub spout in the guest bathroom at the parsonage. I was going to do some yard work. You know, all of that did get done eventually. Also I made some time to head down to the beach to swim with the fish and just be alive in God’s glorious creation! I had fun then sharing with friends and loved ones my experiences of the day later on that evening.
In some ways I felt like George Bailey in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” when the angel gives him his old life back. Even the old frustrations and distractions can seem glorious in the new light of life given back to us.
Last Sunday morning, if I seemed a bit out of sorts at church it was because I had cracked a tooth. I now had to go back to sit in the dentist’s chair again. Oh thank you God for this life with a cracked tooth! You know you are most assuredly fully alive and in God’s hands when your mouth is open wide with someone else’s fingers poking around in there! Or, as in the case of our sister Helen Masaki, you know you are alive if you are having to learn to walk again. Or, as in the case of Clint, you know you are alive when you have to clean up after potty training your child! What a glorious life for which we remain most thankful. It is no wonder we love to laugh in the face of death!
In Jesus time, the people then did not laugh so much at death. Death was always very close. People lived much shorter and harder lives. There were no dentists. There were no hospitals. And, there certainly were not disposable diapers. When death came to visit a family in those days, they wept and they wailed. Still today in the Middle East that is the protocol for mourning.
I am amazed actually in thinking about how it is that we in Western cultures just seem to get very quiet. If we have a funeral procession, nobody says anything. Nobody cries out in grief. In silence we process forward to the gravesite. This is considered respectful. People from a variety of other cultures deem our silence at death to be quite odd in fact.
To be sure, when we hear from the Bible that a young man is being carried out of the town of Na’in in a funeral procession, we should not put our cultural overlay on that at all. We should see this procession as a form of a “Wake.” They would have been making the greatest amount of noise one could muster. They would be wailing and screaming in distress. They would do this in part to make sure the person who is about to be encrypted is actually dead. This was part of the process to make sure that no one was accidentally buried alive. How do you know the young man is really dead? We had the wake for him, but he did not wake! We waited three days, screamed as loud as we could, but he did not wake.
Today, again, in our culture we know that someone is dead how? Do we try to wake them up like in the old days? No. We know that someone is dead today because they are certified. It is the last certificate any of us will probably ever get. So, if someone (the attending doctor or hospice worker) signs off on us, then really that is all there is to it. WE are dead. The signature proves it. Honestly, I like the old way better!
So, we have to imagine that Jesus and his followers are heading up the road to Nain, having just come from Capernaum. This is a narrow path, for Nain is a small town to say the least. As Jesus is walking up the hill towards Nain, this screaming and wailing procession is heading down the hill. In other words, there is no passing by one another without engagement of some sort.
As with everything Jesus does, when the two crowds come together on that road, amazing blessings start to happen. With all the noise and clamor going on, Jesus raises his voice and tells the mother of the young man, who is a widow, to stop crying. “Weep not” he proclaims.
The Bible makes the point of saying that the mother is a widow. This is also her only son who is now being carried in death. In those days, one needed a male heir in the house to provide for the women. So, when the son is dead, the mother would see her own life as hopelessly tragic now.
If you all recall the story of Ruth and Naomi, it is very much the same concern that drives Naomi to go back to Bethlehem to seek a male heir. In Ruth 1:12 she tells her daughters in law, “Turn back, for I am too old to have a husband. . .or to produce new husbands for you. . .there is no hope for me.” Then, the whole situation is redeemed through Boaz and his love for Ruth. Back to the story in Luke, however.
Jesus makes it clear that he will give the son back to the grieving mother for HER sake. In other words, the young man’s life is not his own, but it is for his mother. We can even see in the language that Luke uses, “Jesus GAVE her son back to her.” (verse 15)
Every son and daughter in this room, that would be all of us, must take this to heart. Jesus wants us also to live—for others. We are given life, for others whom we love, and who love us! We read this and almost skip over the meaning that Jesus gives the son back to the mother! What he does in raising the young man back to life is for the mother’s sake—not the son’s.
I think about the young man already up in heaven with God, looking down on the situation. “OK, God, let us do this miracle for Mom!” “Send me back.” “Let’s make it happen.” “I will see you again shortly.” The young man did not live forever. He had to die again. But, he lived his life again knowing already what comes at the time of death. That is an incredible blessing indeed.
When Jesus says, “Rise up” to that young man. He is rising up to a different life than he had before. He is rising up to a life in which he has had first hand experience with God in heaven and with His Son Jesus Christ. He will know that his life is dedicated back to his mother. For her sake he will breath the air of this world again. For her, his heart will beat again.
When the man sits up on the funeral bier, our text says that the people were afraid. Fear seized them all. I think they were afraid simply because they did not initially understand that this was from God. They thought they were seeing a ghost or the walking dead. Most of our horror movies today incorporate the use of the “un-dead.” Vampires and Frankenstein’s monsters horrify us.
It takes them a moment to realize that this young man is not simply “undead.” He is alive in Christ. When I look at others around me, I too often times see the walking dead. And, I want to do that same miracle and wake them up. I want them to be alive in Christ.
The people of Nain (I somehow want to call it the “Town of Naïve”) do not understand fully what happens when Jesus raises this young man. We know this for sure. Even though they are now glorifying God, they simply think that Jesus is a “great prophet.”
Next week in our scripture, we will see that Luke brings up the topic of John the Baptist again. You see, John the Baptist was the Great Prophet that told of the coming of the Son of God. Jesus is not just a prophet. Jesus is God incarnate.
To this day, this same error is being made by folks around the world. They talk about Jesus as if he were just another prophet from God. They think that Jesus was like Moses—someone who rightly did miracles and spoke for God. They think that Jesus is like the Prophet Mohammed, so that they might even be comparable, and because Mohammed came 600 years later, he should be the latest version of God’s prophet. Yet, all of this is strangely in error. This is because, simply put, Jesus is not a prophet.
Mohammed never raised anyone back to life. Only God can do that. Moses never raised anyone back to life. In fact, Buddha never did that either. None of these others ever came back to life themselves. Only God has the power of resurrection.
The word went out and spread that Jesus was a prophet. The Bible says that it went throughout Judah and the surrounding countryside. Well, I suppose that is a starting point for one’s faith. My sense is that when the stories were heard, the people would have understood that Jesus being able to bring one back from the dead meant that He truly had the power of God not only to heal but to resurrect the dead—that he was greater than the greatest prophet.