Dear friends in Christ.
How old were you when you were first affected by the power of death? For me, I was 13. I was the one who answered the phone that Thursday afternoon when Grandma called to tell us that Grandpa was in the hospital. He had been hanging storm windows, getting the house ready for winter when he simply collapsed. The ambulance had come and taken him to the local hospital, but within an hour of admission he was flown to the major hospital in La Crosse. That evening my parents jumped into the car and left for Wisconsin, where they spent the next few days essentially living in the hospital with Grandma and mom’s two sisters. On Sunday evening, when Mom and Dad returned home, they told us that Grandpa had died earlier that morning, that we would be packing, getting a good night sleep, and heading out in the morning, on our way to a funeral. Though this is something that happened 25 years ago, I can still remember my shock and surprise at death’s power to separate me from my Grandpa. I can still remember looking for comfort and solace as the Pastor shared the Word of God with us, and I remember how that word helped cultivate my faith and encouraged me to plant my faith in Jesus as the one who holds power over death.
Since that day 25 years ago, I have seen the power of death at work on many, many occasions, just as so many of you have also felt it. For the truth is, most of us here have seen the power of death at work separating us from friends or loved ones. Some of us have stood guard at grave sites, honoring fellow members of our armed forces with the presentation of a flag, a salute, the firing of guns, and taps. We have gathered here in our sorrow to say farewell to parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, children, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends when death has wielded its power to separate us from our loved ones. Whether that death came expectedly after a long battle with a terminal illness or it came suddenly and unexpectedly through an accident, a murder, a suicide, a natural disaster, or even from natural causes, no matter how death might come, it’s power to separate us from our loved one is what causes us such great pain and sorrow, grief and heartache.
This is something that most of us have already experienced in a very personal way, as death has already separated us from dear friends or loved ones. But even if you have yet to experience the painful separation of death in such a personal way, the Lord knew that one day, each and every one of us would feel death’s power of separation, which is why he included the account of Jesus raising the young man of Nain from the dead. He included it as a comfort for us in the face of sorrow and an encouragement for us to do the very thing the people did who were present that day, namely plant their faith in Jesus who holds power over death. In fact, let’s take a closer look at that account today. Open your Bibles our Gospel lesson, to Luke 7 and we will take a closer look at how we cultivate our faith in the Lord by planting our faith in Jesus as the one who holds power over death. Luke writes in chapter 7 beginning at verse 11: “Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.” Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother. They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country. ” (Luke 7:11–17, NIV)
Imagine the scene. Jesus and his disciples had been traveling with large crowds of people following after him ever since he preached the Sermon on the Mount, as we heard last week. In fact, as you remember, after Jesus finished preaching the Sermon on the Mount, he and his disciples together with a large crowd, traveled to Capernaum, where he was amazed by the great faith of the Centurion, whose servant Jesus healed without even stepping foot in the Centurion’s house. Now, soon after that, Jesus traveled with his disciples and a large crowd of people to Nain, a city about 20 miles Southwest of Capernaum. There, as Jesus was approaching the town gate with his large crowd of followers, a funeral procession was leaving the city with a large crowd of mourners following behind. The two groups of people met at that city gate, exactly as Jesus planned it, and there, hundreds if not thousands of people planted their faith in Jesus because they saw him demonstrate his power over death.
As soon as Jesus saw the widow who had lost her only son, his heart ached, he was filled with compassion for her, and he immediately sprang to action. After telling her that she no longer needed to weep, Jesus immediately gave her the ability to fulfill his command. He walked purposefully to those who were carrying the young man, placed his hand on the coffin in an authoritative way so that the men stopped in their tracks, and he spoke to the young man as if he was only sleeping, commanding him to get up. Immediately the young man sat up and began talking! This young man who had been completely lifeless was now alive! Though death’s power had separated him from his mother, Jesus revealed his power over death by reversing death, restoring life, and giving this son back to his mother, alive! Can you imagine the joy that now filled this woman’s heart as her son who had been dead, was given back to her alive! Can you imagine her amazement as death’s power of separation was broken by 8 simple words spoken by Jesus! Can you imagine the fear and the awe that passed through the crowd that day as hundreds, if not thousands of people saw a dead man brought back to life! For on that day, as Jesus demonstrated his power over death, many, many people planted their faith in him as they praised God saying, “A great prophet has appeared among us,” “God has come to help his people.” (Luke 7:16, NIV) Many, many people planted their faith in Jesus as the Messiah who so clearly displayed his power over death itself, and they spread the word about him wherever they went, so that news about Jesus spread throughout the entire land of Israel.
Well, just as so many people planted their faith in the Lord Jesus as the one who holds power over death, so, also as we cultivate our faith in the Lord, we seek to do the same. We seek to plant our faith in Jesus Christ our Savior, because we know that he is the one whose power and authority far surpasses the power of death itself. And that is what we have done! In fact, since we were little children, the faith which the Holy Spirit planted in our hearts is the faith that trusts in Jesus Christ as our Savior from sin and death. Since we were little children, we have been taught about Jesus Christ, our Savior. We have learned how he was born on earth as a little baby; how he grew in wisdom, stature and the fear of the Lord. We learned how Jesus regularly demonstrated himself as the Savior by teaching them to repent and believe the good news of the kingdom of heaven. We learned how Jesus taught the people that he was the Son of God, the Savior who had been promised, who had come into the world to save sinners. We saw the miracles that Jesus performed, turning water into wine, healing those who were sick, restoring sight to the blind, causing the lame to walk, driving out demons, and yes, even raising the dead. Since we were little children we have known and believed that this Jesus is our Savior, whose death and resurrection have freed us from our sins and the fear of death forever!
Now, with this miracle of Jesus raising the young man of Nain back to life, we are being given the opportunity to plant our faith in Jesus as the one who holds power over death. We are assured that just as Jesus raised this young man back to life, so also the Lord will raise us back to life as well. Though our sinful nature demands that we must all, one day, succumb to the consequence of death, as we have planted our faith in Jesus, we no longer have to fear death because our Savior has destroyed the one who holds the power of death, that is the devil. (Hebrews 2:14-15). We no longer need to fear death because God has given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:55-57) We no longer need to fear death, because our faith has been planted in Jesus, our Savior. Our faith has been planted in the one who took the slate of our sins and wiped it clean by his death and resurrection. Our faith is planted in the one who has transformed death into nothing more than a sleep—a sleep from which we will awaken, one day, in the halls of heaven.
Because of this, we can be certain that even though we must one day feel the painful separation that death brings, we know that it is but a temporary separation. We know it is but a temporary situation because we know that through faith in Jesus we will one day be reunited with all those who have gone before us to the halls of eternal life. We know that even though we have had to say farewell to parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, children, grandchildren, Aunts, Uncles, cousins and even friends, we know that those who planted their faith in Jesus have merely fallen asleep in him and have woken up by his side in the halls of heaven. Though it is painful to be separated by the ones we love, through faith in Jesus, we know that one day, when the Lord calls us home, we will be reunited with all those who have gone before us. We will be with the Lord forever!
So, dear friends, as you leave here today; continue cultivating your faith in the Lord. Plant your faith in the rich earth of Jesus Christ your Savior. Water it daily with the cool waters of the Word of Life. Till around it with the Law and fertilize it with the Gospel so that this simple plant of your faith, might grow into a great and solid tree of righteousness in the forests of the kingdom of God.
Pastor David M. Shilling
Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church --Le Sueur, MN
Series: Cultivate your Faith in the Lord
Week 2: Plant your faith in the One who Holds Power over Death (Luke 7:11-17)