Scripture: Luke 7:11-17
Brothers and sisters, there are two crowds and two journeys, and two radically different destinations. One group of people has gathered around Jesus. They have just witnessed His healing of the centurion's servant and they are excited. They rejoice in the possibilities opening up as the glorious "Yes" of God is enjoyed. Life can be full of wonder, grace and surprise.
The second group surrounds a widow in her misery. This woman has just lost everything, absolutely everything of value to her. First, it had been her husband, and now death has taken her son. Death is hard enough to handle when it comes late. She is mourning the loss of her son, an only child, the last of the family line. Of course there is weeping and wailing. Deep pain calls for loud lament. That's the only way this crowd can make their necessary journey to the graveyard.
Two crowds and two journeys and two radically different destinations. But they meet outside the village of Nain. And in that meeting there is a picture, a parable Alexander Maclaren suggests, of Christ's whole work in our world. His special mission from God is made clear: He is to stop the relentless march of death, to meet power with power and to overcome.
The widow is on centre stage for Luke. She's exposed as helpless and vulnerable, totally destitute in her first-century situation. She is without a male protector in a man-dominated world. She has lost not only the person of her son, but the support and status and future that he provided.
Death does that kind of thing. It exposes the frailty of life. It reminds every one of us that we live in a world twisted by sin. We live in a world where even the healthiest people will eventually get old and weak and unable to manage for themselves. Even the very best bodies, the Olympic approved, the Navy trained; even the very best bodies will finally come to an end. And without fail, there will be grief and loss, a funeral and a cemetery.
Sometimes it comes early. Sometimes it comes later. But always, always it comes. That's the tragedy of the widow's story and ours. We can be sorry and give our condolences and take the time to send a card. We can be present to listen and to pray. We can offer help with meals and transportation and finances. These are the things that a loving family wants to do. Yet, none of it really changes the tragedy or takes away the gnawing pain. And so the widow and those around her cry. Why shouldn't they, and why shouldn't we? Surely this is a more appropriate and Biblical response than denial or distraction or constant fear.
Alfred Krupp, a famous munitions maker, lived in constant fear of death. Everyone throughout his entire company was strictly forbidden to refer to the subject of death in conversation. He ran from his own house because a relative of his wife's suddenly died there. And when Mrs. Krupp objected, Alfred became so enraged that he initiated what was to be a lifelong separation. During his last sickness, he offered his doctor a million dollars to prolong his life. But, of course, that was impossible.
Death has very real power. Money and prestige and position aren't going to change that. Visits and phone calls and sympathy cards aren't going to change that. Preachers and churches and expensive funerals aren't going to change that.
Jesus enters into the situation with strange words and even stranger actions, words and actions that at first glance seem totally out of place. He says to the widow, "Don't cry." And then He touches the funeral board, so that all attention will be focussed on Him as He addresses the carefully wrapped corpse. "Young man I say to you, get up!" Jesus doesn't wrestle in prayer to His Father. He doesn't struggle in deep spiritual warfare. He simply commands the corpse to get up. And catch this. His command reverses the powers of darkness and death! His command transforms a funeral procession into a family reunion.
We are tempted to stop at this point. Our world likes these types of happenings. This is great material for television: "Psi Factor" or "Mysterious Ways" or "Touched By An Angel." Power encounters, miraculous healings, signs and wonders are always attractive. What's more, you and I can find Biblical warrant for this emphasis in the power stories of Samson or Elijah. God's Word highlights the exploits of David and Daniel, and earlier in that history, how with the plagues Moses gets the better of Pharaoh. Then too, the Red Sea waters separate for Israel. The Jericho walls come tumbling down. The sun stands still so that an Israelite battle can be won. We'd love to somehow package this power with the right prayers, with the faith that can move mountains — or at least shake a few hills once in a while.
The problem here in our story is that there is no mention of faith. There are no prayers offered. No requests are made either from the widow or from her neighbours. Jesus takes the initiative. He works the mighty deed of deliverance. And while it's good to pause and ponder this action of Christ, there's something even more important. To see only the miracle is to miss what Luke considers to be most critical to the story. He clues us in by placing his point at the centre of the narrative.
The main issue for Luke is not the power of Jesus, but His passion.It's not simply that a mighty, Elijah-like work has been done, but whythat particular work was done. At the midpoint of our story, we read thatJesus' heart went out to the widow. This phrase is the primary focus ofthese verses. This is what the gospel writer wants to emphasize. Luke istelling us that Jesus cares about little people in a big way. He worksin messy and miserable situations, in dark and difficult circumstances,because He cares. The widow is restored to a place of protection and safety.In giving back her son, Jesus blesses this widow with a future. And it'snot her faith or her prayer or her expectation, but it's the Lord's compassionthat explains what He does.
The verb used here occurs two other times in the Gospel of Luke. When Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan, He uses this word to share how the Samaritan felt about the half-dead man lying by the side of the road. This word explains the different actions that are taken: the bandaging up of wounds, the pouring out of oil and wine, putting the wounded man on his own donkey, taking him to an inn and caring for his needs through the night, paying the innkeeper to continue that care, and promising reimbursement for any additional expenses. That's compassion, and obviously it's a verb, an action word.
Also, in the story of the Lost Son, Jesus makes use of this same verb to capture the father's love for his returning child. The father does what no elderly man in that culture would ever do — he runs out to meet his child. He joins his son at the edge of the village so they can walk together through the stares and whispers and mockings of their neighbours. That's compassion, and obviously it's a verb, an action word.
Compassion is the word Luke chooses, and, in fact, places at the centre of his telling of the story of Jesus and the widow. In the Greek, the root word for "compassion" makes reference to the entrails of the body, the guts. In the thinking of that day, this is where the most intimate and intense emotions were located — especially emotions of care and love and concern. When a person was deeply moved, this is where they would feel it.
5. God's heart
But, of course, we're not talking now about just any person.We're talking about Jesus Christ. We're talking about His intimate andintense emotions as He encounters the widow of Nain. His heart goes outto her, verse 13 says. And Luke won't allow us to hurry past this phrase.He won't let us overlook the significance of these words. In effect, herings the bells and blows the trumpet and flashes the lights — allto get our attention. Luke does that by naming Jesus "Lord" inthis same verse 13. The name has already appeared in some of the dialoguesand teachings, but this is the first of many times Luke as narrator willuse that special declaration. And each time he uses it, Luke affirms Jesus'deity. Each time he uses it, he announces, "This is the one who isto come. The Holy One of God, the Saviour! He is Messiah, Immanuel, God-with-us!" That'sthe teaching of this gospel. That's the confession of the early church.That's the truth we are pressed to embrace.
The Luke 7 story is not about finding the famous quick fix: resurrection in a can or with a prayer or through a certain way of doing things. We're not dealing here with some sort of miracle-on-the-run. We're dealing with a person, the person of Jesus Christ. And when we deal with Jesus, Luke says, we're dealing with the Lord, with Almighty God Himself.
In Jesus, we are invited to search God's heart, the deep compassion and love He has for each of us. In Jesus, we are invited to see God's desire to come close and share life with us. He wants to make His home in our hearts so He can draw near to the centre of our brokenness and be present to the wounds and fears and struggles of our lives. In Jesus, we are invited to celebrate God's willingness to pay the price for intimacy, the terrible price of the Cross and its agony, a darkness and judgment and curse we can never comprehend.
Brothers and sisters, we have a God with heart. That's important to remember because sometimes in the midst of our difficulties we won't be able to see the miracle that God is working. Sometimes amid all the noise and confusion of our lives, we won't sense the restoration. Sometimes, like John the Baptist in the very next gospel story, sometimes all we'll have is questions. Then we need to give our full attention to the heart of God as it's shown to us in Jesus. Then we need to know that what Jesus did for the widow, He makes real for each of us in His death and resurrection. He restores us to the place of safety and blessing within God's family. He renews our hope and gives us a future. He guarantees a coming time when death will be no more, when crying and suffering and pain will be done away with. One day God will right all the wrongs of our world. One day everything will be made new!
Philip Yancey suggests that miracles like this one, in Luke 7, tell us what the world was meant to be. They remind us that God is no more satisfied with this world than we are. And, more than that, they offer a hint of what God intends to do about it. One day everything will be made new. Even now, Luke gives us a glimpse of what's in God's heart. And it's love and life and healing. It's restoration and renewal. It's passion and possibility.
Sir Winston Churchill took three years getting through eighth grade because he had trouble learning English. It seems ironic that years later Oxford University asked him to address its commencement exercises. He arrived with the usual props. A cigar, a cane and a top hat accompanied Churchill wherever he went. As he approached the podium, the crowd rose in appreciative applause. With unmatched dignity, he settled the crowd and stood confident before his admirers. Removing the cigar and carefully placing the top hat on the podium, Churchill gazed at his waiting audience. Authority rang in his voice as he shouted, "Never give up!" Several seconds passed before he rose to his toes and repeated: "Never give up!" His words thundered in their ears.
There was a deafening silence as Churchill reached for his hat and cigar, steadied himself with his cane and left the platform. His commencement address was finished. Churchill's three word directive is given sense and substance in Luke. His chapter 7 passage admits that life can be ugly and evil and wounding. But, and this conjunction is of tremendous importance, the story also acknowledges the involvement of God's hand and even more of His heart. The message is clear: Because of God's heart, you and I live in a world where resurrection takes place. Because of God's heart, life will finally and forever win out over death. Already now the transformation has begun.
We can deny it. That's the really frightening reality. You and I can be content to look only at the outside of things. There's plenty of darkness and decay and death to fill our gaze many times over. And we can decide to see no further. Or, we can accept the truth of Luke's story as the first shining of a new day, the fresh surprise of a deep and active grace. We can say with the crowd, "God has visited His people!" And then, brothers and sisters, the proper response is awe and praise. Awe, because this is a world-disrupting story. It challenges our closed way of thinking and praying and living. It disturbs our neatly wrapped packages of church life and family concerns and work responsibilities. God has visited His people and things can never be the same again. Not for you, not for me, not for any of us.
That's a fearful thing, a thing of awe. There's awe and then there's praise. Praise because we are part of something as big as God's plan and purpose for the cosmos. Praise because we are coming into tune with God's heart and it is good and right and holy. Praise because what starts on the inside, what starts as a little seed, will surely grow and blossom and bear fruit — thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times what was sown.
There are two crowds and two journeys and two radically differentdestinations. One group of people gathers around Jesus, and they glimpsethe glorious "Yes" of God's heart. They are excited and theycelebrate the possibilities. A second group is caught up in the pain andmisery of the moment. There is weeping and wailing and a graveyard at theend of their journey. The two groups meet here today, in this Word, andwith this story.
What happens now cannot be written into any sermon or spoken from any pulpit. It can only be prayed in the silence of your heart and mine. It can only be prayed person to person with Jesus, the One whose heart goes out to us today.
Lord Jesus, into the most difficult situations You bring hope and healing. You reveal to us the heart of God as one of compassion and love. And yet, we are so quick to question, so quick to worry, and so slow to believe. Give us the faith to trust your love even in the darkness, even through the pain. And give us the grace to understand that in all things, You continue to shape and form us to be a people for the praise of your glory. We thank You and we praise You and we pray in Your name, Jesus.
Proposed Order of Service
Call To Worship: Psalm 149:1-4
We Draw Near:
Songs of Approach:
#453 "Let All Things Now Living"
#253:1, 2, 3 "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty"
#284 "Father I Adore You"
Prayer of Confession
Assurance of Pardon
Hymn of Response: #195 "Our God Reigns"
God Speaks His Word:
Scripture Reading: Luke 7:11-17
Sermon: "A God With Heart"
Hymn: #370 "The King of Glory Comes"
We Respond in Faith:
Tithes and offerings
Closing Song: #569 "Praise the Lord with the Sound of Trumpets"
Doxology: #641 "Threefold Amen"