When Death Meets Life (2): God Corrects
Intro – A doctor comes in and tells his patient, “I have some very bad news for you.” The man said, “What’s that, Doc?” “Your tests came back and you have only 24 hours to live. But I have some even worse news.” The man said, “What could be worse than that?” The doctor said, “I was supposed to tell you yesterday.” Of course, at the heart of that funny little story is the universal truth that death is a terrorizing prospect for all of us. As Shakespeare’s Hamlet contends, “Fear of death makes cowards of us all.”
When Dr. David Powlison was about 20, he saw the darkness of facing death without Christ thru an elderly friend. Powlison comments: “He was trying to make sense of his life, to find something to hold onto in the approaching disintegration of his existence. Everything he held up in front of his eyes – accomplishments, family, people he had helped, possessions, experiences, travels – turned to ashes before his eyes even as he talked. He finally began to weep in bitter desolation.” Desolation. That’s what it’s like to meet that bitter enemy without Christ. But it need not be that way. Powlison goes on: “That experience helped propel me to Christ five years later, because it taught me to ask of my own experience, "What lasts?" There is the question! What lasts? How about the eternal life in Christ – that lasts! Facing death without Christ is a hopeless, pointless, terrorizing experience. But when death meets life in Jesus, it changes everything. It changes everything.
I. Pointlessness is Met With Purpose
Last week we saw in God’s universe, there are no coincidences. The happy, entourage following Jesus just happens to arrive in Nain just as the desolate funeral procession is leaving town. Just a coincidence? No. It is a meeting planned in eternity past to illustrate for all time that we need not come to the end of our time on earth only to find that everything, even all that seemed good, is a dead end. But Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life” (John 5:24). Jesus brings meaning and purpose to life – and consequently to death as well.
II. Cynicism is Met with Compassion
At the heart of this funeral procession is a widow who has now lost her only son. The cynics would have said to her, “Do not weep. It will do no good.” But Jesus is no cynic. He says, “Do not weep” from a heart of compassion. In Christ, compassion wins over cynicism, because He cares and because He corrects. Death is a lonely place without Him. You can hold the hand of your loved ones, but they cannot go with you. But Jesus can! As we saw last week, He will be your pastor if you invite Him. Cynicism dies in His presence.
III. Hopelessness is Met With Hopefulness
V. 13-14: “And when the Lord saw her, 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.” This widow is without hope. Then Jesus says, “Don’t weep.” Jesus is probably not the first to tell her, “Don’t cry. Everything will be all right.” But everything wasn’t all right. Yet hearing “Don’t cry” from Jesus is very different from hearing it from anyone else. Jesus doesn’t just empathize; He does something.
It’s interesting, people begged Him for healing – for themselves or others – but no one ever asks for resurrection. That is beyond human expectation. Death is hopeless. Put yourself in the shoes of these 1st century Jews. To even touch a dead body made one unclean. That meant 7 days of ritual cleansing during which any contact with others was prohibited. No defilement was worse than contact with the dead in the ceremonial law. But Jesus touched that man, thus identifying with the dead man. And one of two things was going to happen. Either he was going to be defiled by this touch – or, the corpse was going to be resurrected by His Word. One or the other. Jesus’ touch brings hope to a hopeless condition. Imagine how hearts raced when Jesus said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” That’s cliff-hanger material, right? Will he or won’t he? No one knows, but hope begins to take hold.
The world can’t offer much by way of hope. It teaches we came from nothing and are going to nothing. I grew up idolizing certain baseball players – Ted Williams being one – one of the greatest hitters of all time -- the last player to hit over .400 for a season when he hit .406 in 1941. He was a WWII flying ace who had John Glenn as his wing man in Korea. But he got old like we all do. And he died. And the only hope that the world could offer was that he could be cryogenically frozen in hopes that a cure for his congestive heart failure would lead to some future revival. And so his body is held today in a bizarre frozen state at a cryogenic facility in Arizona. I ask you – is that hope? Is that the best you can do? I’ll take a resurrected Jesus who exists today in the glorious spiritual body that is the model of the future for all who believe in Him. Paul says in I Cor 15:20, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” That’s my kind of hope – what Paul calls in Col 1:27 “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” When death meets life for those in Christ, the command will be, “Young man, young woman, I say to you, arise.” That’s hope you live with!
IV. Loss is Met With Life
So, Jesus says, “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.” And just like that, searing loss becomes spectacular life! Imagine the scene. Jesus orders, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” The crowd watches with bated breath. And suddenly, there is movement. Remember, this guy is wrapped in grave clothes from head to foot, with a napkin-like cloth covering his face. But he manages to sit himself up, indicating the thoroughness of the miracle. The napkin falls aside displaying a face that is filled with life! The spirit is back! He begins to speak. “Where am I? What is this? Please – unwrap me!” And then that wonderful phrase -- “Jesus gave him to his mother”? When you face death with Christ, loss is turned into life. Jesus gave him to his mother”?
That phrase is taken almost verbatim from I Kings 17. Elijah is living with a widow and her son when the boy suddenly takes ill and dies. Let’s pick up in v. 20, “20 And [Elijah] cried to the LORD, “O LORD my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by killing her son?” 21 Then he stretched himself upon the child three times and cried to the LORD, “O LORD my God, let this child’s life come into him again.” 22 And the LORD listened to the voice of Elijah. And the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. 23 And Elijah took the child and brought him down from the upper chamber into the house and delivered him to his mother.”
The stories are similar and happened in the same place. The people got that, thus v. 16, “16 Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” They got the similarity – but missed the one key difference. Elijah pled for help; Jesus did no such thing. He just ordered life, and it happened! No outside power needed. Why? Because while Elijah was indeed a prophet; Jesus was so much more. Jesus was God. Elijah knew the source of the power; Jesus was the source of the power.
That’s why when Jesus met Martha, after Lazarus died, Jesus informed her sorrow with this comment: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). Think about that claim. In my own person, I am the resurrection and the life. Only God could say that. And note the amazing promise of v. 26, “and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” Really? Never die? Wasn’t Lazarus’ cold, lifeless body lying in a tomb even as Jesus said that? What gives?! What gives is that while the body lies lifeless, the spirit is fully alive in the presence of the Father. Furthermore, He is about to restore life to that body demonstrating the hope that awaits every believer of the re-uniting of body and soul for eternity. I take it that the phrase, “shall never die” indicates that for a believer, while the body ceases to function, there is no ultimate death. At the moment of physical death, the believer is in Paul’s words in II Cor 8:9 – “Absent from the body, present with the Lord.” There is no death for those who are in Christ. That’s not just so much happy talk, Beloved. That is a spiritual reality. And while there is temporary physical loss, eternal life begins. Don’t you want to face death with Christ? Don’t go there without Him. Only He can promise this.
Listen, death is real. We can deny it, refuse to think about it, hope we will be the exception – whatever, but just like the sun will come up tomorrow, we will all die unless the Lord returns first. Death is coming and it’s unnatural, uncompromising, devastating and final. It leaves loss and desolation in its wake. But there is an answer. The answer is a person – Jesus is the answer! Three times Jesus runs into death. In the case of Jairus daughter, she had just died and not even been moved from the bed yet. The young man from Nain had died, been wrapped for burial and was being carried out of town. In John 11 Lazarus was dead, carried and buried. It didn’t matter to Jesus. All 3 times he met death, Jesus left life behind. He is supreme over all including death.
Winston Churchill illustrated this beautifully in his funeral. After the final prayer, a trumpeter high up in the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral sounded “Taps”. It was a moving farewell. But just as the last sorrowful note faded away, from even higher in the dome a trumpet began playing “Reveille”. The call to sleep followed by the call to rise. Death meeting its demise! Loss meeting life. A Christian meeting Christ. It’s been said, “The Christian doesn’t die long enough to know that he is dead!” I’d revise that slightly in line with Jesus’ promise. “The Christian doesn’t die – period!” Beloved, don’t meet death without Christ. Don’t let it happen.
V. Despair is Met With Devotion
How would you like to go to a funeral and it turns into a praise service? For those who die in Christ, praise should be part of the mix, even as we mourn the temporary loss. Vv. 16-17: “16 Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” 17 And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country.” The despair of these people turned to devotion – and yet, it was not quite what it could have been –what it should have been. They allowed that God had visited his people through this great prophet. But they failed to see He was the prophet, the Messiah, the Son of God, the ultimate communication of God to man. They failed to see that He was God in the flesh. They missed the main point. I John 5:1, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God.” I hope that many got that later.
Paul makes a fascinating comment in I Cor 15:56 “The sting of death is sin.” We think of the sting of death being our demise, but that is not the case. The sting of death is sin. Why is that? Because of the truth of Heb 9:27, “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” Judgment for what? Sin! Listen closely Beloved. When death comes the LEAST of our problems is that we are no longer living on this earth. Our problem is payday has arrived. All the skeletons are coming out of the closet. While our body has ceased to function, our spirit is very much alive and the time of accountability has come. And the issue continues to be – do we know Jesus? Just as He is the only solution to physical death, so He is the only solution to spiritual death. That’s why Paul goes on in I Cor 15:56, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Jesus raised this young man to demonstrate that He alone has power over physical death – and God raised Jesus to show that He alone has power over spiritual death. He alone can give eternal life. Jesus says in John 17:3, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
That means more than saying Jesus is a good man or great prophet or even God! That is going halfway. Halfway will not cut it. To admit He is Lord of all is great; but salvation requires inviting Him to be Lord of me! Rom 10:9, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” To confess Him as Lord is to put Him on the throne of my life in place of Self. You can’t come to halfway to Christ like these people did. You must come all the way or you haven’t come at all and you are facing death alone. Have you come to Him? C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity described what it means this way: “Christ says, "Give me All. I don't want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don't want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. I don't want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked – the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours." Have you given yourself to Him? Don’t face death yourself. Take Him along.
Conc – All of Jesus’ apostles faced death with Him at their side – all but one. Judas didn’t which shows that you can be very close to Christ and still miss giving Him your heart. But to these men Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, (note that term) when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Mt 19:28). In Greek philosophy (especially the Stoics) there was a belief that history is an endless cycle where every so often the universe would wind down, burn up in a great conflagration, be purified, then start all over again. This was called a palengenesia – a regeneration. Note the term “in the new world”. It is the word palingenesis – regeneration or renewal. It might be translated, “Truly, I say to you, at the renewal of all things, the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne.” This was a radical. Jesus is saying palengensia is not a process; it’s a person! Jesus is claiming when He returns, the material world will be purged of all decay, and decrepitude and disintegration and alienation and brokenness. All will be healed and all might-have-beens will be. All injustices will be made right – all tears wiped away; sin banished forever; perfection installed as the norm! What a day that will be. This is the power that was being demonstrated in Nain on that incredible afternoon. This is what lasts, Beloved – life with Christ.
Just after the climax of the trilogy The Lord of the Rings, Sam Gamgee discovers that his friend Gandalf was not dead (as he thought) but alive. He cries, “I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself! Is everything sad going to come untrue?” The answer of Christianity to that question is – yes. Everything sad is going to come untrue – just like the death of the young man in Nain came untrue! And it will somehow be greater for having once been broken and lost. That’s the amazing power of Christ. That, Beloved, is what happens when death meets life – the eternal life that is Jesus Christ. Everything sad comes untrue! Do you have Him today? Because if you have Him – Jesus; you have it – eternal life. Let’s pray.