As Jesus makes his way into the town of Nain (Luke 7), he’s greeted by a funeral procession. In ancient Israel, it would have been customary to bury the deceased soon after death. There weren’t any long waiting periods like today’s funerals. And unlike modern funerals and unlike the ancient Egyptians, there were no embalming techniques used. The body would have been put in the ground right away. No coffin. Just the body wrapped in material.
So, as Jesus makes his way into the town, he’s greeted by this sad sight. But what makes this situation all the more sad is that the dead man is the only son of a widowed woman. Her husband is already dead. And now her only son has died as well.
Now, to our ears, we hear this as very sad news. We feel bad for this woman, but we’re sure glad that society has “safety nets” built in to help this grieving widow. We’re glad that she’ll have access to social security. We’re glad that she’ll have access to Medicare. We’re glad that there’s an assisted-living apartment complex in her county. Now, that her family is gone, we’re so glad that she’s going to have access to these and other helpful services.
But wait a minute, she didn’t live in 21st century America, she lived in 1st century Israel. There wasn’t any social security. There wasn’t any Medicare. There weren’t any assisted living apartments. This widow would have been on her own. She would have been at the mercy of society around her. She had no standing in society for herself. So, this is more than an only son dying. This is a matter of life and death for this widow as well. The whole town knew it. That’s why there was such a large crowd with her.
But notice how Jesus reacts to this widow.
And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.”
His first reaction toward the woman was one of compassion. I hope we see something of the character of God here. Our God is a God of compassion. He cares for his creation. Maybe your idea of God is someone who’s vengeful, someone who keeps score, someone who’s going to let you get what’s coming to you. But that’s not who God is.
When Jesus sees this woman, his first reaction is that of compassion. Our God is a God of compassion. He cares for the widow and the orphan.
And then he tells her not to weep. Now if the story ended there, we’d wonder why he would say something like that to this grieving mother. After all, if anyone has a reason to weep, this woman sure does. She has plenty of reason to weep.
But then Jesus does something remarkable. He comes up to the funeral procession and touches the bier. The bier would have been a flat board on which they would have been carrying the wrapped-up body. He touches the bier and at that moment, he becomes ceremonially unclean. A good Jewish boy would have known better than to touch the plank which was carrying a dead body. Jesus is now unclean. But Jesus isn’t worried about ceremonial uncleanness. After all, he’s moved with compassion for this widow.
But it gets better. After the funeral procession had stopped, Jesus begins to speak to the dead person. Now the crowd thinks he’s nuts, right? I mean you don’t talk to dead people unless your nuts. Dead people don’t listen that well. He says to the dead man, “Young man, I say to you, arise” (7:14b).
And then the craziest thing happens. Verse 15, “The dead man sat up and began to speak” (7:15a). WHAT!!!??
Yes, at the sound of his voice, the dead man was made alive again.
And do you want to know something amazing? Jesus is still in the business of bringing life where there was death. Where once there was spiritual death, now Jesus makes alive. As you place your faith in him, he takes you from spiritual death into spiritual life.
Have you experienced that transformation from spiritual death to spiritual life?
And after he raised the young man to life, the crowd was amazed. Luke writes,
Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!”
In Deuteronomy 18, Moses old the people that there would one day come a prophet greater than him. This prophet would visit God’s people. For over a thousand years, the people of Israel had been waiting for this promise to be fulfilled.
And that’s what happened with Jesus. A great prophet had arisen among God’s people. But Jesus was more than a prophet. God had visited his people.
Do you remember what the angel told Mary to call her baby? You “‘shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us)” (Matthew 1:23b).
God was with his people. God had visited his people, and the people were rejoicing.
I wonder how you’d react if your favorite singer or your favorite actor or your favorite athlete showed up at your front door today. Would you “ooh and awe”? Would you ask for an autograph? Would you take a selfie?
Well, friends, somebody far better than any singer or actor or athlete who’s ever lived has come to live among us. His name is Jesus.
And he’s worthy to be praise.