Go Down, Death!

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Luke 7:13-15

And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” And he came and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up, and began to speak. And he gave him to his mother.

Luke 7:13-15 RSV

I read just this morning of a young policeman killed in the line of duty. I can envision already the funeral that is to come. Fellow officers will pay their last respects, strong men and women will fight back the tears. And there will probably be a mother brokenhearted at the loss of her son.

It’s an old story, re-enacted over and over again. A stalwart son, hope and stay of his mother’s sunset years, suddenly gone. Who can measure the grief of that, the overwhelming loss?

Jesus met a mother like that once. Listen as I read about it in the gospel according to Luke, chapter 7, beginning at verse 11:

Soon afterward he went to a city called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. As he drew near to the gate of the city, behold, a man who had died 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. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” And he came and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up, and began to speak. And he gave him to his mother. Fear seized them all; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” And “God has visited his people!” And this report concerning him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country.

STRONG CARING

The first thing that strikes me in this little account is the way in which Jesus relates to the grief-stricken. He sees the mournful procession coming toward Him, just outside the city gates. The deceased is a young man, his widowed mother’s only son. A large crowd of relatives and friends are there to sympathize, but Jesus’ attention is drawn to the sorrowing mother. He has “compassion” on her.

That’s a strong word in the Greek language. It has to do with the visceral organs. It speaks of shared feeling, an inner pain of sympathizing love. Jesus saw the mother’s tears, felt her desolation and cared deeply.

Isn’t that comforting to know? It was said of Jesus on another occasion when a friend had died and He saw the grief of well-loved sisters that He openly wept. It pierced His soul when He saw the anguish that death brings and He somehow shared that pain. Dwell on that in the midst of your sorrow, if you can. Remember that God is not a remote deity, lofty and unfeeling. In Jesus we see Him as One who bears our grief and carries our sorrows. You can know that He looks on each mourner and on you in your loss with marvelous compassion.

“DON’T CRY”

He says to her, “Do not weep.” Don’t cry. The words are familiar enough. We’ve heard them many times, perhaps from our parents when we were children, perhaps from well-meaning friends when we were cast into sorrow. But those words weren’t always helpful, were they? Sometimes people show no capacity to empathize with us. They can’t understand our tears. More often, they’re uncomfortable to see us grieving. They want to cheer us up. They tell us not to go on weeping and sobbing. Maybe they believe that to express grief that way is somehow unhealthy. They’re afraid for our emotional stability. They think we have cried long enough. Now it’s time, they seem to say, to forget your tears and get on with your life. When they say it that way, “Don’t cry,” we may feel even worse. Somehow they don’t seem to understand.

But when Jesus says to the mourning mother, “Don’t weep,” there’s something quite different about it. He’s about to take away the cause of her grief and replace it with overwhelming joy. First He speaks the words as though to prepare her for what He’s about to do. He wants her to see through her tears something wonderful beyond words.

RISE UP!”

Next, Jesus speaks to the dead. He has already touched the open casket. The pall bearers have halted their somber march. Everyone is quiet. The air becomes electric with excitement. And then Jesus says, “Young man, I say to you, `Arise.’”

As I’ve reflected on that this week, this thought has arrested me: Jesus spoke to the body lying lifeless before Him as though it were a living person. He obviously did not share the gloomy view that all personal existence ends in death. To Jesus, this was still a “young man,” someone whom He could address, who could yet be reached by His call. Somewhere in God’s universe a young man whose heart had stopped beating was still in existence. It reminds me of Jesus’ words that “God is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live to Him.”

Ask yourself this, friends. What kind of self-consciousness did Jesus have that would enable Him to say what He said here? We have no evidence that He had known this young man or his mother. This was one more funeral procession among scores that He must have witnessed. But with a touch He stopped the proceedings and then told the deceased to rise up.

I can imagine other people attempting this. I knew a minister who, believing himself endued with miraculous powers, made occasional visits to the local morgue seeking to raise the dead. He shouted to them to rise up in those instances. But nothing apparently happened. In the case of Jesus, the word was spoken with calm confidence. He somehow knew that He could speak to the dead and they would live again. He knew that His word could invade the kingdom of death and bring back its captives. His was an awareness of authority unbounded.

This was something that only the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob could do, the One who “gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.” Yet Jesus was aware that He could speak the creative word and new life would spring forth. When He said, “Arise,” the dead man sat up and began to speak. He had strength; he had breath; he had life. He could answer the One who had summoned Him back to His place in this world.

REUNION

Then this. “And he [that is, Jesus] gave him to his mother.” Isn’t that a perfect description of what happened? Jesus felt compassion for this mother because her boy had been wrenched away from her in death. He spoke the word of power that raised him to life again. And here was his intent: to give him back to his mother, to restore the human bond that had been broken by death.

I see there a revelation of the heart of God. He not only grieves with the grieving and speaks to the dead. He brings them together again. He’s more than the God of resurrection; He’s the Lord of reunion, too.

All of us, if we live very long, experience the death of someone close to us. For some of us, that has happened a number of times. Among my departed dear ones, I number now two sets of grandparents, a mom and dad, various aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, and our oldest son, together with four or five of the best friends I’ve ever had. All those partings have been difficult, some deeply painful. But all make the thought of heaven wonderfully sweet. What will it be like to be with my mother again, who fell victim to cancer when her first grandchild was only a tiny baby? How I’ve missed her through all these years! What will it be to see our Billy again? Our firstborn, my namesake, who died at 24 of complications arising from measles encephalitis? He lived for the last 18 years of his life with severe handicaps. Every time he limped or fell or had a seizure, we felt a twinge of pain for him again at his lost potential. What will it be like to see Billy whole, to be able to think and run and smile as he couldn’t for so long?

That’s ahead, friends; that’s our destiny in Jesus Christ. The Lord will give us our loved ones back again. He will restore them to us more alive than they’ve ever been, where there will be no more partings, no more death, no more tears.

For the mother of Nain and her son, this was a miracle beyond imagining, a joy totally unexpected. But it was only for a time. One day they would be separated again by death. There was nothing permanent about this earthly reunion. It was a pointer for them and for us to what is yet to be.

But it lets us know, doesn’t it, how important to God are the fragile ties of human love, how much He wants to see them maintained, how much joy it brings Him to restore them. Jesus knew what it was to be part of a family, to be bound together with ties of human love. In Him, God actually felt our grief, died our death, and then tasted reunion. And here was a glimpse of the great design when Jesus gave a son back to his mother.

WONDER AND WORSHIP

What was the reaction? Wonder and worship. Fear seized them all, we read, and they glorified God. In the presence of such mercy and majesty, the onlookers were afraid and gave glory to God for what they had seen and heard.

“A great prophet has arisen among us,” they exclaimed. Maybe they thought of Elijah, the greatest of the prophets. Remember how he once stayed in the home of a widow who also had one son? When the boy became so ill that he had breathed his last, Elijah stretched himself upon the child three times and cried to the Lord, “`O LORD, my God, let this child’s soul come into him again’” (1 Kings 17:21). And the Lord hearkened to the voice of Elijah and the soul of the child came into him again and he revived. Then Elijah took the child and brought him down from the upper chamber into the house and delivered him to his mother, saying, `See, your son lives’” (v. 23). The similarities are striking, aren’t they? In Jesus these people were seeing another prophet in the tradition of Elijah.

But they also said this: “God has visited his people.” That was the deepest truth. Jesus was in the prophetic succession, but He was more than a prophet. In Jesus, God Himself had come to the funeral outside Nain. The mourners, now delirious with joy, recognized that they had seen the work of God. There was no other way to explain it. The Lord had come into the midst of His people that day, mighty to save, to give life again.

That’s why accounts like this one appear in the gospels. They reveal something about Jesus, who He was, what He did. Best of all, they help us to see what God was doing in His ministry, that He, Jesus, was indeed God’s Messiah.

I may read that Jesus had compassion for grieving people and merely conclude that He was kind and sympathetic. I may read of His raising a young man from death and simply list it among other phenomena I’m at a loss to explain. I may find it profoundly moving that Jesus gave the son back to his mother but then forget all about it. But if I realize that in the words and works of Jesus, in His love and power, I’m seeing God at work, then all of this becomes gloriously good news. It means something wonderful for you and me today. When my heart is torn with sorrow, it’s God who understands my pain and weeps along with me. When you lay one of your loved ones to rest, you know that the Almighty will one day awaken him or her to endless life. And when I see Jesus giving a son back to his mother, I know that He will do that one day for my wife, for my mother.

We see, friends, the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. He is Deity come nigh, made visible. What He says, God says. What He does, God does. How Jesus feels about people, how He deals with the brokenhearted ones – that shows us what’s in the heart of God. And that is what fills our lives with joy and hope. Death is the last enemy, friends, but in Jesus it’s a broken foe. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

I wonder if that thrilling hope has become real for you. It can, if this day you will welcome Jesus, the Son of the Father, as your Savior and your Lord.

Prayer: Father, we give thanks for Jesus Christ who speaks the word that overcomes death, who calls those things that are long gone back into existence again. Lord, fill our hearts with the hope of resurrection. Make us know how compassionate You are toward those who grieve and make us know that a great resurrection morning is ahead. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.