In a psychological journal article titled “The Effects of the Death of a Child on Parent’s Adjustment in Midlife” opens with the following statements:
Each year, over 50,000 U.S. children die (U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, 2000). The death of a child is one of the most painful events that an adult can experience and is linked to complicated/traumatic grief reactions (Prigerson et al., 1999). For parents, the dissolution of the attachment relationship with the child elicits severe anxiety and other negative emotions associated with loss (Bowlby, 1980). Parents might also experience guilt about having been unable to protect the child (Gilbert, 1997). Furthermore, because the death of a child defies the expected order of life events, many parents experience the event as a challenge to basic existential assumptions (Wheeler, 2001).
Jesus has just healed the centurion’s servant who was on his death bed. In our text this afternoon, the man has already died. All sorrow is a reminder that we live in a fallen world. Sadness is the result of sin. God didn’t create it this way, but man’s fall into sin ensured that sorrow and pain would be an ever-present reality.
Only Jesus can replace the despair of death with the hope of life.
› Before we read our passage of Scripture this afternoon, let’s ask the Lord for his help in understanding it.
Luke 7:11–17 ESV
Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. 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 and 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.” And 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!” And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country.
1. A Funeral Procession (11-12)
As Jesus enters Nain he sees a funeral procession taking place. The young man would have been laid upon a pallet and wrapped up in a cloth. The procession is heading toward the family burial plot, nothing more than a small cave where the father’s bones have been placed inside a bone-box to make room on the shelf for the son. The sounds of wailing (with professional help most likely present) can be heard as the crowd winds their way through town. Some have brought ointment and spices to offset the smell of decomposition.
R.C. Sproul points out that…
A Walk with God: Luke 31. Jesus Raises a Widow’s Son (Luke 7:11–16)
Even in the case of a very poor person, so rabbinic tradition tells us, at least two people playing ﬂutes, and one professional wailing woman were expected to accompany the funeral procession.
It was custom for the mother to walk in front of the bier. So she would have been the first person that Jesus noticed. We learn that she was a widow and that this was her only son. He wasn’t a child, but a man, and since she had no husband he was likely her sole caretaker. He would have been all she had for support.
She was in a very distressing situation indeed. Scripture attests her circumstances as being some of the most difficult anyone ever has to face.
Jeremiah 6:26 ESV
O daughter of my people, put on sackcloth, and roll in ashes; make mourning as for an only son, most bitter lamentation, for suddenly the destroyer will come upon us.
Zechariah 12:10 ESV
“And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.
Mourning at the death of a loved one is never easy, but mourning over the death of an only son after she has already had to mourn the death of her husband places her in need of a generous helping of compassion.
One of the most difficult funerals I’ve ever attended was for some friends in seminary whose daughter was born with a fatal disease that gave her little hope of surviving for very long. It was a crushing service that had the whole student body in tears as we watched this young couple bury their first and only child (since then they’ve gone on to have additional children). We sung praises to God for his mysterious hand of providence. We acknowledged his compassionate love that would not let this family go.
I rarely sing “O Love That Will Not Let Me Go” without remembering this family and that funeral.
O Joy, that seekest me through pain, I cannot close my heart to Thee; I trace the rainbow through the rain, and feel the promise is not vain that morn shall tearless be.
What do you say to those under this kind of great distress? Everything feels inadequate. However, the hope of the resurrection is made for situations like this! You can’t say much, but apart from resurrection hope, everything else is inadequate.
That’s exactly what they needed to hear. Talking to the father months later, I can remember telling him that I had no idea what to say or how to encourage him. He assured me that reflecting upon our resurrection hope was the only thing that really helped.
Typically, Jesus healed those who approached him with the request for healing. He waits to see their faith. We could have the impression that Jesus was waiting for people to initiate him before he was willing to apply his healing word/touch. But, in this case, this widow’s hopes had been crushed to the point that she couldn’t have had any clue that one with resurrection power was heading her way.
› The funeral procession was stopped in its tracks when Jesus saw the woman and with compassion provides…
2. A Funeral Resurrection (13-15)
When Jesus sees this woman he is filled with compassion. Jesus knows that he is about to heal this man, but you have to imagine his request would have felt very out of place.
Isn’t it interesting that Jesus does what no one else was willing or able to do? Why don’t those in our day and age who claim to have the same gift of healing that Jesus possessed ever show up at funerals and hospitals?
Jesus raises this man with a simple command for him to sit up! And the man does it! He sits up and begins speaking. This is the first of three resurrection miracles (Jairus’ daughter Luke 8:40-56; Lazarus John 11:1-44).
If you want the details of what these men experienced while they were dead, you won’t find their explanation anywhere in Scripture. For that you have to look to the New York Times Bestsellers List…
This morning we looked at Isa. 53:3 which speaks of how Jesus was despised and rejected by his own people. In the next verse we see that he would also be filled with compassion for those who were (and are) in circumstances like this woman.
Isaiah 53:3–4 ESV
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
Seated at the right hand of the Father, Jesus not only knows and understands what we experience, but he actually feels them in his humanity! He knows precisely what we need, because he was himself a man of sorrows acquainted with grief.
Do you have resurrection hope? Do you have the assurance that all of your present sorrows and pains will be removed and Christ will usher us into the New Heavens and New Earth where every tear will be wiped away?
You may not be in a place of deep distress and sorrow right now, but listen to these promises, for those times when you will need to not only hear them, but know them to be true:
Isaiah 26:19 ESV
Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead.
John 5:28–29 ESV
Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.
1 Thessalonians 4:16 ESV
For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.
Romans 8:11 ESV
If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
These glorious promises are for you who have placed your hope in Christ alone for your salvation. They should be upon our minds and hearts often, so that whenever we experience the griefs of this life, we can be all the more hopeful of the peace and joy that awaits.
› We see a brief and temporary picture of that heavenly transformation in the response to Jesus’ miracle…
3. A Funeral Transformation (16-17)
The people went from mourning the death of this man, to being filled with fear as they began to worship Jesus. Their fear was not one of dread, but of having been amazed at what they witnessed, they now sought to honor Jesus for his power.
Luke for Everyone Raising of the Widow’s Son (Luke 7:11–17)
The whole funeral procession goes wild with astonishment, delight, disbelief.
They don’t know which one to look at, the no-longer-dead boy, his amazed and ecstatic mother, or this stranger who has done what the old prophets, Elijah and Elisha, used to do. (Luke has told the story with deliberate echoes of 1 Kings 17 and 2 Kings 4.)
Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament Luke 7:11–17
T. L. Brodie (1987: 134–53) list the following parallels: a widow as the main character (7:12; 1 Kings 17:9, 17), the death of her son (7:12; 1 Kings 17:17), the meeting of the widow at the “gate of the city” (7:12; 1 Kings 17:10), and the clause edōken auton tē mētri autou, “he gave him to his mother” (7:15; 1 Kings 17:23). Moreover, the acclamation “A great prophet has arisen among us” (7:16) resembles the targumic reading of 1 Kings 17:24: “You are the prophet of the LORD.”
Unfortunately, it would appear that this crowd’s response was likely short-lived. This crowd probably saw Christ’s resurrection power as the beginning of his leading Israel back into a position of physical prosperity.
Illustration – Move me!
Implication – Show me!
1. A Funeral Procession in Nain places us in a somber mood as we recognize the widow is mourning over the death of her only son. We sense her pain and feel inadequate to say or do anything that might give her hope.
2. A Funeral Resurrection provides the only hope that any of us have in the face of death.
3. A Funeral Transformation of those who wept alongside this woman are now filled with fear and praise.
We have this example of Christ’s resurrection power given to us so that we might be filled with an increasing sense of assurance that he not only has the power to resurrect our mortal bodies upon his return, but that he has the power to do the greater work of redeeming our dead souls from the power and penalty of sin!
Ephesians 2:1–5 ESV
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—
John 5:25 ESV
“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.
Let’s believe that promise now and for all eternity! Let’s pray.