Jesus, Our Prince of Peace in the Pathway of Death (Luke 7:11-17)
It was the worst phone call of my life. It is the kind of phone call you never want to receive. It is the kind of phone call that makes you wish phones did not exist. It was about 2am. Jenny and I had drifted off into deep sleep when my cell phone rang against the hum of the air conditioner. I grabbed my glasses and squinted to see who in the world would be calling in the wee hours of the morning.
It was Cecil’s cell number. I immediately hit “talk” and quickly said “hello.” I don’t remember exactly all that he said even though I did make him repeat it a couple of times. What I do remember was him saying, “Binil passed away.” I remember my heart literally skipping a beat and my mouth going dry.
My mind immediately jumped on reverse to about 12 hours prior. I had seen Binil at a birthday party of mutual friends of hours. So my only response was, “What? I just saw him. I just saw him!” Jenny jerked her head up wondering what was wrong. All I said was, “Binil died” and we wept together in disbelief as we embraced. We were in absolute shock.
I am sure each of us probably has a story like ours and can probably in an instant, recall what we were doing when we found out the horrible news. I had called it last year the shock and shake of the summer of 2007. I remember gathering in his home and crying out to God as a community. I remember a prayer meeting later that week right here at Marthoma as I saw many give their lives to Christ. I remember his wake and funeral, both which left me amazed at the number of people who came to pay their respects to our brother. I think I went through the whole gamut of emotions that week: deep sadness, to anger, to grief, to love and to hope. I am sure many of us can relate.
I am sure especially for Binil’s family, not a day has gone where they haven’t missed him or thought about him. I am sure we can say the same as certain things or holidays or people or events remind us of his sense of humor, his skits, his smile, his laugh, his love or his dedication for Christ. I myself can testify that I have used his story in my sermons several times to speak into the lives of people, and I know the Lord continues to use it! I really felt the Lord visited us last summer and we experienced His comfort, His power, His presence and His promises. God really shook us up last summer!
Now a year has come and gone. Now what? How should we respond to the Lord in the midst of tragedy? When we are shaken up by crisis, how do we make sense of it? Even a year later, what should always be our response?
I want us to look at a portion of Scripture tonight where the Lord visited a grieving town and turned it upside down. Things happen when the Lord Jesus shows up doesn’t it? Turn with me to Luke 7:11-17. The title of the message is “Jesus, Our Prince of Life in the Pathway of Death.”
Look at verses 11-13. Just the day before Jesus and his disciples were in Capernaum. Jesus had healed a Roman general’s dying servant by His Word (Luke 7:1-10). Jesus has authority over disease. Now He will show that he has authority over death as well.
A great crowd full of excitement started to follow them. Going really out of his way southwest for 25 miles, an entire day’s journey, Jesus and his disciples arrive in the no-name community of Nain. No one requested for Him to come. This was not a booming town…you will not hear people say, “this is the city that never sleeps.” Even today, if archeologists have accurately located the exact town of Nain, about 200 people live there. They even had a gate (v.12) which was to protect the town from danger, but in this small town, it was probably merely for decoration.
Nevertheless, Nain is a cozy community, overlooking the valley of Jezreel. It is springtime and you can feel the wind as it blows the grass around. Wildflowers are all around as well as blossoming fruit trees.
But there is another valley in this small town today. It is the valley of a poor woman’s heart. In this valley, it is not spring, but the dead of winter. Twice, death has taken its icy claws and dug into this woman’s family and plucked two of her loved ones out from under her. First it was her husband, now it was her son and the text says her “only son.” No one is sure about his age, though the wording here suggests he was older, perhaps as old as even 25. But regardless, this is a tragedy of tragedies.
Don’t let the multitude of people around her fool you. It was typical of Jewish funerals to have the whole town joining in a funeral procession. Very different from our quiet funerals, there would be wailing women, flutes, cymbals, and loud lamenting all at the same time. Nevertheless, despite the crowd around her, she was really alone, drenched in tears, probably weak and emaciated.
She is, in effect, “an orphaned parent.” Her husband was the sun of her sky and when he died, she must have thought, “Although the sun has set, I still have a star shining in my night, for I still have my one and only son!” He was her comfort during those days when her husband passed and in him her husband would live again, with his name remaining among the living in Israel. She could put food on her table because her son would work and provide for the family. She would lean on him during their times in the synagogues and she would greet him as he came home every night. And now that star is enveloped by the darkness. He was gone and if there were no male relatives to come forward and take care of her, her future is really bleak.
The Jews washed, anointed with spices and buried their dead on the same day to prevent deterioration and so her son must have died (we don’t know how, whether an accident or an illness or what it was) earlier that day. They would also take the body outside the city or town to bury it. That is where the cemeteries were. Also, they would wrap the corpse in cloth loosely and place it on a burial plank, covered, yet visible.
Notice the collision of two crowds. Can you imagine the crowd from yesterday still talking about the miracles and excited over the fact that perhaps the Messiah had finally come--- now intersecting with the crowd at the funeral procession? The ripples of laughter have come to a hush. Animated talking has now turned into an uncomfortable silence. The crowd following Jesus must have cut themselves into two groups, pulling back, allowing the procession to thread its way through the gate.
Can you picture this? Here comes the lowly woman, probably leading the procession, distraught and drenched in tears. But those same tears are a flame that melts Jesus’ heart.
But here was the great intersection. The Way of Life meets the Way of Death. Notice here, first of all:
I. Despite our grief, receive the Lord Jesus as a Compassionate Savior (7:11-13).
Whenever I am driving and get behind or a funeral procession is coming ahead, my first tendency is to dodge it as quickly as possible. Most people are indifferent or angry about it. Some may pull over and pay their respects, even if they don’t know the person. But look at the Lord Jesus. He doesn’t move out of the way or fold his hands, bowing his head.
The text says, “He had compassion on her.” The word “compassion” is the strongest word possible to show his feelings for her. It refers to everything within a person. His eyes saw her and heart broke. Even though he was about to do this miracle and knows what is going to happen, He first moves to comfort her and says, “Do not weep.” Jesus is not telling her to suppress her emotions like, “Keep your chin up, don’t be a baby” kind-of-thing. Rather, He is saying it in light of what He is about to do. “Weep not for a dead son, for he will soon be a living one!” He dries tears before He raises the dead.
Alexander Maclaren says: “How often, kindly and vainly, men say to one another, ‘Weep not,’ when they are utterly powerless to take away or in the smallest degree to diminish the occasion for weeping! And how often, unkindly, in mistaken endeavor to bring about resignation and submission, do well-meaning and erring good people say to mourners in the passion of their sorrow, ‘Weep not!’ Jesus Christ never dammed back tears when tears were wholesome, and would bring blessing. And Jesus Christ never said, ‘Dry your tears,’ without stretching out His own hand to do it.”
This woman may have been shocked to have heard this. But Jesus was a fountain of compassion. Sympathy says, “I acknowledge that you have pain in your heart.” But compassion says, “The pain in your heart is the pain in my heart.”
I want to you to note a few things here about the Lord’s compassion:
a) It is indiscriminate. A Roman general’s dying servant, a Jewish woman’s dead son, an unholy prostitute….it doesn’t matter. Our Lord is not a respector of persons. He shows compassion to the broken. Our love is conditional. We measure our compassion, but while we are measuring, the Lord Jesus is ministering compassionate to all who are broken.
b) It is active. He does not stand on the sidelines, He acts on behalf of the hurting. Notice there is no mention of the woman calling for him to come do anything. No evidence is given that she threw herself at the Lord’s feet or begged for the life of her son. No evidence that she even knew who Jesus was. But He came, even though uninvited. Sometimes the groans of our heart, the unuttered words are the best prayers we can offer and the Lord hears it.
c) It is personal. There were a lot of mourners, but our Lord Jesus knows the one who needs Him the most at that time. He hushes every harp in Heaven to anyone who would call on His name!
One year later, I know all of us could not be with the Samuel family’s every waking moment. I am sure there were times they could not pray and I am sure they have had sleepless nights and have experienced deep sorrow at random moments. I am sure there were times they felt like an empty shell. However, I have no doubt in my mind, in all of those moments, there was one who was called the Man of Sorrows, who came by their side and with his nail-scarred hands wipe their tears and said to them, “My steadfast love never ceases. My mercies have not come to an end. They are new every morning, great is my faithfulness to you.” So deep and so wide is his ocean of compassion for us! We cannot exhaust that well. So pure is that water and so tender are those hands that cup it and bring it to our lips in the midst of our pain. O for a heart like the Lord for others!
Maybe some of you here have never given your heart to the Lord for fear He is an angry judge and of all the sin you committed. I want you to know today that the Lord Jesus is a compassionate Savior. He will come and save you if you turn your heart to Him.
Look at verses 14 and 15. The enemy of death had taken another captive again today. There on the funeral plank lay its latest victim. Mourners by their tears confess the victory of this dreaded conqueror. Like a general riding in triumph to the center of town, death carries its spoil to the tomb. But before he can go any further, he is stopped. There is a throng of people. All are petrified of death, except right in the center of it all, one comes forward. He says, “Halt! This one is mine!” The battle is short and decisive. No need for swords, shields or spears. In a word, the Author of Life looks at death in the eye and death blinked. With full authority and confidence, Jesus touches the open stretcher, which a good Jew does not do, for it would render him unclean. But Jesus has no time for social etiquette as compassion is moving him to action.
He says, “Young man, I say to you, Arise.” With that decisive blow of the power of His Word, the chariot of death collapses like a deck of cards. With that word, the spoil is
taken from the mighty hands of death and the captive is delivered. The young man once pale and cold in his face is now flushed with color and his fixed, dilated eyes twitch with life and he blinks and sits up in his shroud and begins to talk. We do not know what he said. Perhaps he said, “Mother, where am I? you looked tired.”
The mighty valiant victor over Death yet is so tender here as he takes the young man down from the plank and presents him to his mother. Can you imagine the jubilation and joy? He turned their mourning into dancing. There was an empty tomb outside the town of Nain that day, but full hearts of praise inside. Despite grief, receive Him as the Compassionate Savior and secondly:
II. Despite feelings of hopelessness, remember the Lord Jesus as the destroyer of death and reunitor of separated hearts (7:14-15).
At this moment, perhaps you are thinking, “Why couldn’t the Lord Jesus just say the word and raise up Binil from the dead at the accident scene or at the wake or the funeral?” I know what we all want is to have him back. That is the longing of our hearts. That is one prayer we all want answered at this moment. We would do anything to hear his laugh again, or to listen to his goofy jokes and see his smile that can light up any room. But the good news of the Gospel is that we will see Him again. This is our hope. There are no “goodbyes,” only “see you laters”. Though the time frame to see him again seems forever, really in God’s perspective, it will come as quickly as the morning fog disappears.
Remember that each one that was raised from the dead eventually had to die again. Lazarus, Jarius’ daughter and this young man. So Jesus temporarily delayed death for this young man in this story, who would be carried out again one day to his tomb. But when Jesus died and rose again, He broke the jaw of death and promises to all those who believe in Him that they too will follow in His footsteps one day , be resurrected and reunited with all their loved ones who trusted in Him as well.
Our hope in the midst of death, lies behind four “R”s found in 1 Thess. 4:13-18:
a) The Return: The Bible says that the hour is coming when the trump shall resound and the clouds be rolled back as a scroll. Jesus will come with all those who have known Him as their Savior and Lord. This will be followed by:
b) The Resurrection: Those who died knowing Christ on earth, whose spirits go up to be with Christ upon death, who will come with Christ upon His return will see their bodies resurrected by Christ into brand new glorious ones. Remember all the hard work to bury Binil’s body at his funeral? God will raise his new body up in a moment! This will be followed by:
c) The Rapture: In a twinkling of an eye, all the Christian living will be snatched up in the air, receive transformed bodies and be reunited with the Christian dead and with Christ.
d) The Reunion: We will have everlasting fellowship, never to have death separate us ever again.
How is all this possible? Because Jesus is the victor over death. Just like taking the stinger out of the bee renders it powerless, so Jesus took the sting out of death when he died for sin on the cross and rose again. As Paul quotes Isaiah, “O Death where is your sting and grave, where is your victory?” One day it will be forever destroyed (Rev 21:4, Is. 25:8; 1 Cor. 15:54). Not only is He a compassionate Savior in our grief, He is also the destroyer of death and the reunitor of separated hearts in our hopelessness.
Lastly and quickly, notice the crowd’s response when this miracle happened. There was a holy awe and glory given to God. They immediately thought of Elijah and Elisha the prophet who also raised people from the dead. So they said, “A great prophet has come!” They didn’t fully understand who Jesus was and I am sure a lot of questions were flooding the minds of everyone there about the identity of Jesus. This brings us to our last thought tonight:
III. Despite unanswered questions, recognize that the Lord Jesus alone is still worthy of our praise (7:16-17).
I am sure we all have lots of questions and they may never be answered to our satisfaction. No answer will bring our brother back in this life. We will never be able to put our finger on the situation and be able to explain it all. All we can do is say like Peter, “Lord, whom else shall we go to? Only you have the words of eternal life and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God!” (John 6:68-69) This world is broken and it is times like this that we long for a place to go where we were created for. We can only hold on to the Lord’s promises, which like stars, shine brightest in the darkest of nights.
I want to leave you with two challenges.
One, there were two groups mentioned in this story. One going with Jesus to the city and one traveling with death to the cemetery. I would like to propose tonight that spiritually speaking, all of us is in one group or the other? Has there been a time in your life where you turned from your sin, embraced Jesus as your Lord and Savior and are living for Him? If so, you are in the group going to the city built without hands, the city of our God, being prepared for us. If not, you are headed to the tomb of everlasting fire. The Bible says, “it is appointed for man once to die and then the judgment (Heb. 9:27). Which group are you in today?
Secondly, do we live like owners of our lives or managers?
Let me close here with a story I heard from Dr. P.P. Job, who recently lost both of his sons, the youngest one, Michael, who was studying to be a doctor and do medical missions, died as a martyr and the other one Jojo, died in an accident. When Michael died, Dr. Job shared this story.
There was a beautiful garden planted by a rich nobleman on his estate. Thousands of visitors would come by to look in awe and amazement at this garden, which was filled with all sorts of flowers and plants of various types. There was a sign up saying, “Do not touch. Violators will be prosecuted.” On one occasion, a lady came by to see this well renowned garden and noticed a man plucking some of the flowers. She was appalled at this man’s audacity to blatantly disregard the sign and ruin the garden. She saw guards standing there and quickly ran to them alerting them of the situation. To this they laughed and said, “Lady, do you know who that is? That is the nobleman of this estate. He not only planted that garden, but he owns it as well. He can do whatever he wants.”
Beloved, Binil is not ours. Sure, his immediate family invested in him for years, but they are just the managers, not the owners. Sure, we as family and friends were close to him and loved him and we invested in relationships with him, but we don’t own him either. Let us thank the Lord for giving us the privilege to be part of his life on earth, but remember He belongs to the Lord once by creation and twice by redemption. The Lord who gave, also has the right to take away. The Bible says about believers, “You are not your own, you were bought with a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). This is why He is worthy of our praise.
Maclaren, A. (2008; 2008). Expositions of Holy Scripture (Lk 7:13). Heritage Educational Systems.