Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity

Readings: 1 Kings 17:17–24 | Ephesians 3:13–21 | Luke 7:11-17

Text: Luke 7:11-17

In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.

The name for the town of Nain probably comes from the Hebrew word, na`im, which means “lovely.”  It’s familiar to us in English as the woman’s name, Naomi (Ruth 1:2).  In God’s wisdom, there’s probably a connection between the widow, Naomi, and what transpired in this town.  The city of Nain was set on a hillside, and it was probably a name given by people who considered the scenic view of the Plain of Esdraelon below.[1]  In spite of this, there was nothing lovely about the events which dominated the town.

11 Soon afterward [Jesus] went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. 12 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.

Here comes a woman, twice touched by the finger of death—first her husband, and now her only son.  With her is a throng of people, completely powerless to do anything but weep with her.

For as long as anyone can remember, this is how life has been.  Over every moment, death broods silently.  The most joyous occasions can be dashed by its visitation. Even our sorrows can have still more grief added to them.  That is the way of the world under the power of death.

            But One is coming who has compassion on us.  He alone can help!  He is the Lord God, whom Psalm 68[:5] proclaims as a “father to the fatherless and protector of widows.”  Widows like the woman of Zarephath and like the one in Nain.

            Now why is the Lord called a protector of widows?  Certainly, it is because they are without support.  The ancient world was devoid of social security nets.  So, unless widows and orphans had someone to take them in, they were forsaken.  For this reason, God commanded Israel not to glean their harvest up to the edges and leave some for the fatherless and widow.[2]

            But here, Jesus reveals, in the flesh, even more about why He has compassion on widows.  They have been touched by the curse of death.  Their very flesh aches from the place where death wrenched away their spouse.  From the moment of the Fall, the Lord has had compassion for His creation under the reign of death.  “Dust you are and to dust you shall return”[3] but One is coming who will crush the Serpent’s head and loose the pangs of death. [Gen. 3:15-19]

            In this way, we have all been touched by death and share in the widow’s loss.  We too belong in that considerable crowd around the widow, because none of us have been spared, or likely will be spared, from death’s visitation. 

            Here at Nain, however, the Lord demonstrates in clearest terms what He has come to achieve: “When the Lord saw [the widow], he had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’ 14 Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, ‘Young man, I say to you, arise.’ 15 And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.”  Having compassion on us, He reaches down into the grave and brings the dead out from their tombs.  He restores what death has taken.

            Just as it was for the residents of Nain, so it is for us today.   Death looms over our daily existence.  It humbles the proud and threatens the weak.  It sets a limit on all our endeavors and gnaws away at the branches of our family tree behind us.  In our bodies, we are in slavery to death, but concerning the Lord Jesus, the Apostle writes, “He too shares in our humanity so that by His death, He might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”[4]  Though our bodies are held fast by the pangs of death, we are also free of death by the resurrection of Jesus: For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his… 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 6:5, 11)

            Throughout our days, we’re told to think of death as natural.  With the overwhelming body of evidence, how could any reasonable person conclude otherwise?  But this is a lie that people contrived for themselves long ago, a kind of fatalism that can’t see any other choice.  They tell it to each other as shallow comfort when the biopsy results are malignant and a wife’s mind is too addled by Alzheimer’s to grieve her husband’s death.  Our conscience inside us screams out the contrary: Death is not natural!  It’s wrong and horrid and cruel!

And God must clarify what our hearts feel: Death is not natural because death belongs to sin.  It’s the sin of our first parents and our own sin. Scripture tells us, “All die because all have sinned.”[5]  Doubtful you will ever see that on the death certificate as the cause, but it is what Scripture teaches.  No, we rarely know the hidden wisdom of God and we certainly will not venture to say someone died because of a specific sin.  But because of our inherited sin, we are dying from the moment of our conception, and time only proves that more and more true.  Together with every other human being—are powerless to save ourselves.

But the Lord has compassion on us.  He came down from heaven and “has visited His people.”  He journeyed the way to the cross and there He offered Himself as the atonement for the world’s sins—even for your sins and mine.  Jesus was placed in the tomb and hallowed your grave.  He made it a place of sleep, not of abandonment.  God Himself has entered death, was buried, and rose on the third day—“never to die again” (Rom. 6:9).  By His death, the Lord Jesus broke the power of death over us.  The risen Jesus is our guarantee from the Father that this is true.

People still concern themselves that the world is too far corrupted.  Unless we take immediate action, all is lost.  Rather, it is God who will restore all that sin and death have destroyed.  At His return, the full magnitude of His redemption will be there for all to see.  Everyone who believes in Him will praise Him and live, raised in glorious bodies, in this new creation.

Therefore, we do not just walk hopelessly with the crowd around the widow.  We also walk with the Lord by faith.  He has raised us by faith to a living hope and He will raise us from our graves for all eternity.  Being part of the throng, the Church, which surrounds the Lord, we see our present world with a God-given hope.

We consider what death has done in our own lives: how death has taken spouses, parents, cousins, and friends.  We consider how death has touched our lives with debilitating diseases that no doctor can cure, and how death draws near as we age.

We consider what death looks like in our own city: how crime and drugs have ruined a once tight-knit community.  The abandoned buildings all around remind us of generations past and economic hardship.  We see funerals daily for people of all ages.

We also consider the toll death has taken on the world: wars and violent protests rise to the point that militaries must intervene.  Dreadful diseases rip through national borders.  Volcanoes and earthquakes take countless lives.

But as we consider all that death has done, rest assured that Jesus Christ has come.  From the cross He preaches repentance and forgiveness of sins.[6]  And to borrow a phrase from the Catechism, where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation[7].  Where sins are forgiven, the power of death is broken.

The Lord will come once more—once and for all—to raise up everything that is now destroyed and rotting.  Our grieving is not in vain.  The Lord still has compassion on us, and He will truly fulfill His Word—not just to a widow here and there—but to all who groan under death’s power.

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

[1] Brand, Chad, Charles Draper, Archie England, Steve Bond, E. Ray Clendenen, and Trent C. Butler, eds. “Nain.” Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003.

[2] Deuteronomy 24:19

[3] Genesis 3:15-19

[4] Hebrews 2:14-15 NIV 1984

[5] Romans 5:12

[6] Luke 24:46-47

[7] Small Catechism VI, “What is the benefit of this eating and drinking?”

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