The Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity
September 20, 2015
“The Almighty Power of the Word of God”
St. Luke 7:11-17
Now it happened, the day after, that He went into a city called Nain; and many of His disciples went with Him, and a large crowd. And when He came near the gate of the city, behold, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother; and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the city was with her. When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, "Do not weep." Then He came and touched the open coffin, and those who carried him stood still. And He said, "Young man, I say to you, arise." So he who was dead sat up and began to speak. And He presented him to his mother. Then fear came upon all, and they glorified God, saying, "A great prophet has risen up among us"; and, "God has visited His people." And this report about Him went throughout all Judea and all the surrounding region. St. Luke 7:11-17
He was young. He was his mother’s only son. She was a widow. He was her future. How could a good God let him die? If God loved her and if God had power over life and death her son would not have died. But God loved her and her son did die. Who can understand it?
It’s not hard to understand. It’s hard to accept. If a woman is murdered; if a car is hit by a train and everyone in it is killed; if a man has a massive heart attack and dies; if a teenager gets drunk and drives his car into a tree, killing himself, it is easy enough to understand. Death surrounds us every day and nobody can deny its reality. The body stops breathing. The heart stops beating. The brain stops functioning.
But we cannot accept it. So we deny it. We call it other names because we don’t want to deal with it. And, of course, we talk about a better life beyond the grave. Somebody dies and folks start with the cliché driven condolences about how he or she is much better off.
Well, how do you know? I’ve never seen a dead body rise from the dead and neither have you. Last Wednesday evening in our catechetical review we were reminded that the church, her holiness, and her unity are invisible to the human eye. This Wednesday we will review how the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting are all hidden from sight. So then, if you cannot see it, how do you know it is true? Have you been to heaven?
They write books about people who have supposedly died, gone to heaven, and returned to talk about it. One boy, whose alleged death, visit to heaven, and return, became the occasion for a book entitled, The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven, publicly denounced the book, saying it was all lies. I suspect that the books will continue to be written, gullible people will buy them, and authors and publishers will make a lot of money.
The godless regularly mock Christianity because of the gullibility of Christians who will, it seems, believe just about anything that is dressed up in religious clothing. So much of what passes for Christianity these days is so much poppycock. People come up with outlandish claims of God telling them this or that and we are supposed to believe them because they say so. As soon as one faith-healer is outed as a con-artist, credulous Christians run after another con. What won’t people believe?
It’s not that folks don’t understand sickness and death. It’s that they don’t want to face it. They want to believe there’s something better. The famous atheist Ludwig Feuerbach came up with the idea that religious people invent their religions by projecting onto their gods their unfulfilled desires. They don’t want to accept death, so they invent ways around it. Well, give the devil his due. A stopped clock is right twice a day.
But that there are gullible religious types that will believe in any supernatural claim that scratches where they itch is no argument against the documented miracles recorded for us in the Bible. They don’t happen in a corner. They are public. There are always many witnesses. The reporting of them would have been denied and shown to be false if it were not for these witnesses.
Jesus traveled through the city of Nain. He was accompanied, not only by his faithful disciples, but also by a large crowd that followed him. Two crowds met. The one was a funeral procession. The other was Jesus and his followers. It was a public event. A group of people mourning death met a group of people following the Lord of life. Life met death right out in the open.
There is nothing secret about what we do here. Come to church and meet Jesus. He is here. Come to church and meet Jesus. Jesus does nothing in secret. He doesn’t initiate anyone into a secret lodge or society. He publicly displays his glory as the only begotten Son of God, full of grace and truth.
Life meets death. Jesus is life. He is eternal life. He reveals the living God. He reveals what is inside of him: compassion. To have compassion is to suffer with. Jesus reveals God’s heart by talking. Jesus speaks. He says two things. First he speaks to the dead man’s mother. He says, “Do not weep.” Then he speaks to the dead man. He says, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” These words are not just words. Not when spoken by the Word who was with God, the Word who was God, the Word by whom all things were made and without whom nothing was made that was made, the Word made flesh. When the Word speaks, it is so.
“Young man, I say to you, arise.” Elijah, the prophet, faced a similar situation. He stretched himself upon the dead boy and cried out to the LORD, “O LORD my God, let this child’s life come into him again.” Elijah prayed to the LORD his God. Jesus didn’t. Jesus said, “I say to you, arise.” Jesus is the LORD, Elijah’s God. Jesus is God in the flesh. Jesus does what only God can do. When Jesus says it, it is so because he says it.
This is how we know that Jesus is here. We have his words. Where Jesus’ words are, there is Jesus. And where Jesus is, there is God’s compassion and his power.
Compassion without power is of limited comfort. It might provide some encouragement, but really, if all I can do is sympathize with you, that sympathy can only go so far. You’re in the same miserable condition you were in before you met me. It’s nothing more than a pity party.
But with Jesus, his compassion is joined to his power. When he feels our pain he speaks to it and by his almighty word he rights what is wrong. That’s a fact. And that’s a publicly demonstrated fact. The dead man arose. He began to speak. This was no con. This wasn’t some kind of a show put on for the religiously gullible who are ready and willing to be suckered by another charlatan. The young man’s body was dead and cold. They didn’t bury warm bodies and his body was being carried to the grave for burial. Jesus touched the coffin. The pallbearers stood still, undoubtedly shocked by Jesus’ action. Touching what was unclean made a man unclean.
But Jesus is clean. He is as pure as pure can be. He is sinless. His heart knows no deception and his spirit knows no guile. His thoughts are holy and his actions are above reproach. When he touches what is unclean, he is not made unclean. Just the opposite: the unclean becomes clean. The dead man is alive from the dead. He stands up and speaks.
Jesus speaks. His words raise us up out of death into life. We speak. We speak in response to his speaking. That’s how it is in church where we meet Jesus every Sunday. We who are heading toward death and the grave meet him who is the resurrection and the life. We who live in dying bodies that will return to dust meet him who is glorified at the right hand of God the Father. He speaks and his speaking does what it says.
Through his minister he says, “I forgive you all your sins,” and those sins are forgiven. How so? He said so. He suffered and died for them. He whose heart felt the pain of the grieving widow from Nain felt in his own body the sin of the world. He who knew no sin was made to be sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. But all this would have been for naught unless he spoke the word to us. His word is spirit and life. His word is the vehicle of the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life. His word does what it says. When Christ says of the bread, “This is my body,” that bread is his body. When he says of the wine, “This is the new testament in my blood,” that’s what it is. It is what it is because of Jesus’ word.
He talks and it is so. We confess the truth because we confess what he says to us. Jesus says he forgives us all our sins and he shows us the nail marks in his hands and where the spear pierced his side as proof that he died and rose again. He who bore our sins says he forgives us. He, who rose from the dead, promises to raise us up on the last day. He says that he is God’s only begotten Son and that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life. How do we respond to his words? We confess, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”
Do you believe in miracles? Or do you believe in Jesus? Miracles are a dime a dozen. They can be tricks, sleights of hand, misdirection, or outright inventions. The Bible calls Jesus’ miracles signs. Signs signify something. God’s word tells us what the signs signify. Christ has given to his church signs that actually give what they signify. Baptism not only signifies the washing away of sins, it gives the forgiveness of sins. The Lord’s Supper not only signifies Christ’s body and blood, given and shed for the forgiveness of sins, it is the body and blood of Jesus, given and shed for the forgiveness of sins. The almighty word of Jesus makes it so.
Look at the woman and feel her pain. You can’t, but try. Think of what must being going on in her head as she follows the casket toward its burial plot where her only son will be laid to rest in the heart of the earth. If you’ve suffered death you know what she feels. And consider that should she consult her feelings to find God she likely would find that God is one mean bully who can’t possibly feel her pain or he wouldn’t put her through such grief.
Now listen with the woman to the words of Jesus, “Don’t cry.” And listen again to his words, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” He stands up and talks. That’s the power of Jesus’ word. What you may feel or think about miracles might be interesting, but it’s not faith. Where Christ’s words are, there your faith is founded on a foundation that cannot fail.
Rolf D. Preus