June 9 2013 Sermon
Luke 7:11 Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. 12 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. 13 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.” 15 And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 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.
How does a prophet survive a famine when the rivers and streams dry up, when the flour is run out and the oil jar is empty? God provides for his prophets. He uses other people to provide for them. When God punished Israel with a three and a half year famine, He told Elijah to go to a Canaanite town and stay with a widow who lived there with her son; her only son. Not a Jewish woman, she was a Canaanite, Israel’s chief rival and long time adversary. The Israelites hated and despised them, so much so that when Jesus reminded the Jews of this miracle of Elijah, they tried to throw him over a cliff and kill him. The Canaanite widow was on her last cup of flour and her last drop of oil as she prepared what she thought would be her last meal before she and her son would die of starvation. But instead God’s Spirit moved her to prepare a loaf of bread for Elijah, but the flour didn’t ran out nor did the oil dry up. Elijah stayed in her home until the famine ended and she always had enough bread and oil for him, herself and her son. Then one day the boy fell ill and died. So Elijah took the boy from his mother and placed the boy on his bed, calling out to the Lord, “O Lord, my God, let this child’s life come into him again.” And the life of the child was restored. So Elijah returned the boy to his mother and she knew that Elijah was a man of god and that the word of the Lord was in his mouth. Because God is a God of life, not death. Even death listens to the voice of God.
The prophet preached Christ. What the prophet Elijah said and did in his life, was a sermon about Christ. Everything that Elijah did, Jesus later did in an even better way. Elijah parted the waters in order to cross over, but Jesus didn’t even bother to part the waters, he just walked on top of them to get to the other side. Elijah called down the fire of God to consume the sacrifice, but Jesus was himself the sacrifice. Elijah raised one person from the dead, but Jesus raised three, and then himself in addition. Elijah cried out to the Lord to raise the boy, but Jesus commanded the dead boy to come back to life.
So that day when Jesus was traveling through the city of Nain he met a funeral procession on their way to the cemetery. The dead man was the only son of a widow. Sounds like Elijah all over again, doesn’t it. This widow was a Galilean, while an Israelite, she was a low-class Israelite; looked down on, despised by the upper-class, Jerusalem Jews. She was not worthy of such a miracle any more than the Canaanite widow. But when Jesus saw her, he was filled with compassion.
Compassion: that word in the original language, Greek, is “splachna.” It means the inner organs of a person or animal. It is derived from the sound, splach! That’s made when the butcher cuts open the animal and the guts come spilling out, going “splach” on the ground. It means a gut wrenching feeling that fills your entire being. Jesus felt such gut wrenching compassion for the widow, agony, compassion that filled his entire being. That is how strongly he feels about you in your sorrow, your trials, your pains. That is how strongly he cares about us!
Yes, Elijah raising the widow’s son in Sidon points to Jesus raising the widow’s son in Nain. The widow then knew Elijah was a prophet from God and his words were true. The people of Nain then proclaimed: “A great prophet has arisen among us! God has visited his people!”
Both miracles point to a God who is a God of life, not of death! God, the author of life, the creator of life, from whom life proceeds and fills all that is living. On the third day of creation, “God said, ‘Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth’ and it was so.” By his Word, who was made flesh, God created life and filled the world with life. He filled it with plants and vegetation. He filled the world with trees raising their arms up to heaven in praise. He filled the world with fish, birds, land animals and most of all, with man, male and female he created them in his image. And life was breathed out from God into man.
God is a God of life. He commanded the plants to produce seeds and bear fruit. He told the animals to be fruitful and multiply. And he told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. He is a God of life. And from generation to generation he creates more life, he multiplies life and fills his world with life. He is not a God of death, but life! He loves life! He delights in the abundance of life! He rejoices in life!
The miracle of Elijah points to Jesus raising the widow’s son in Nain, and Jesus raising the widow’s son points to his own death and resurrection on the third day. For we are born into death. As sinners, we are dead to God at birth. We live in a world of death. Our culture has been described as a culture of death. By nature we are dead to God and to all that is good and right. Death is a curse on sin. Death is Satan’s kingdom. But death is not the way of God. So God’s entire being is filled with gut wrenching compassion for us in his Son, Jesus.
The culture of death is not just about social issues like abortion and euthanasia. It includes the idea of just living together without marriage as well as the issue of same-sex marriage. These are part of a culture of death because they deny God’s creation and the multiplication of life from generation to generation.
But the culture of death is more than this. It is our fixation with death. We are obsessed with death, even in our attempts to deny or overcome death. All our dooms-day prophets that tell us we are going to die because of unsafe products, accidents hiding behind every tree, global warming, fossil fuels, contaminated environment and foods, prophecies of the end of the world which has come and gone time after time. An obsession with health and exercise that tries to beat death. The genetic engineering and robotic body parts, mind replication research, frozen body parts after death are all attempts at becoming immortal and live forever. February 10, 2011 Time Magazine predicted that by the year 2045 man would become immortal. Attempts at immortality is all part of our fixation on death.
But God is not obsessed with death, He is obsessed with life. For that reason he sent his Son into our world to die in our place; so we could have eternal life, not immortality. By his death he defeated death and rose again, giving us life. He doesn’t give us immortality, which just means, not dying, rather he gives us life through death. He gives us resurrection, new life, transformed life, eternal life. That is the life God has prepared for us by his Son.
By the bloody death of Jesus our sins are taken away. Our fixation on death is forgiven and we are given new life. By the cruel and gruesome death of Jesus on the cross, he poured out his blood for us, is gave us life. For he is a God of life. He came to give us life, abundant life. In Jesus life abounds. He is not the god of death or darkness, but of life. He has earned life for us by his participation in our death. He rose from the dead, to give us the victory over death. He didn’t just raise a widow’s son, he rose from the dead himself. He is the principle of life. He has conquered death. He has overcome death and brought forth life.
We are born again in Christ by baptism. In baptism we have new life, spiritual life from God, eternal life. In baptism we are joined to Jesus’ bloody death that washes us from sin and we are joined to his resurrection and raised from the dead.
We live in a world filled with death. We suffer from the pangs of death from the moment we are born. Every disease, every illness, old age, incurable diseases, bodies that fall apart and deteriorate are all the reign of death. But in the midst of death, we have life. For God is the God of life, the God of the living. Though we walk through the shadow of the valley of death, we fear no evil for God, in Christ, is life! As we stand on the precipice of death, we look out and see eternal life on the horizon. No, God has not given us immortality, he has given us something greater: eternal life. Jesus is the resurrection and the life (John 11). Whoever believes in him, though he die, yet shall he live. If we live, we live to the Lord and if we die, we die to the Lord. Whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s (Rom 14). Neither life nor death can separate us from God. (Rom 8).
God is not the God of the dead, but of the living; therefore, life is good. As reborn believers in Christ we celebrate life. We stand up for life, not only in the halls of government, but in our attitudes, our lifestyle, our joy at living, by enjoying the gifts God has given us, and by helping our neighbor to have a fuller and richer life by serving him in vocation. We can enjoy life because it is God’s creation and created by God’s wisdom. We seek life, not just our own, but the life of others and we work to make their lives more abundant and more joyful. As people of God we promote life. Jesus endorsed life by going to weddings banquets and changing water into wine, putting his stamp of approval on marriage of man and woman. He endorsed life by blessing children and by reminding us that they are the greatest in the kingdom of heaven; thus putting his stamp of approval on the bearing of children. He endorsed life by raising a widow’s son from the dead. In Psalm 146 God endorses life by executing justice for the oppressed, giving food to the hungry, setting the prisoners free, opening the eyes of the blind, lifting up those who are bowed down, watching over the sojourners, upholding the widows and fatherless. So we who are in Christ endorse life, promote life, advocate life, and live life to the fullest because resurrection and eternal life are our heritage from God. We too execute justice for the oppressed, give food to the hungry, open the eyes of the blind, lift up those who are bowed down, and uphold the widows and the fatherless. That is how we celebrate and advocate for the life that God gives.
God is not the god of the dead, but of the living—of all those who have been born again by faith in Jesus Christ. Amen.