Pastor James Preus
Trinity Lutheran Church
September 19, 2021
“What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!”, cried the bereaved widow to Elijah (1 Kings 17:18). With these words, this woman displayed an astute knowledge of the Law and a troubled conscience. “The wages of sin is death,” Scripture declares (Romans 6:23). And the LORD made clear to Adam when he forbade him from eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, saying, “In the day you eat of it you shall surely die.” Death is the result of sin. Where there is sin, there is death. Where there is death, there is the corruption of sin. Where sin is hidden, death exposes it. You can’t hide from the reality of sin, because you cannot hide from the reality of death. Death is God’s judgment against sin.
Romans 5 states, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” Death spread to all. This means that all are under God’s judgment, because all have sinned. There are three types of death: Spiritual death, physical death, and eternal death. All three of these deaths are a result of sin.
The first type of death is spiritual death. Spiritual death is the loss of the image of God and of original righteousness. A person who is spiritually dead cannot truly fear, love, or trust in God nor can he do anything to please God. It is impossible for a spiritually dead person to have faith in Christ or believe that God loves him. To be spiritually dead is to be under the power of Satan. St. Paul describes spiritual death in Ephesians chapter 2, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” (vss. 1-3)
To be spiritually dead is to be a living dead man. Your body is alive, but you are dead to spiritual matters. It means to be sold under the flesh and to not be able to understand the things of the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:14). Everyone descended from Adam is born spiritually dead. If you remain spiritually dead, you will eventually succumb to eternal death.
The second type of death is physical death. Physical death is the death of the body, when the soul departs and the body begins to decompose. We are very aware of this type of death. The young mother experiences it when she miscarries her unborn child. The old woman faces it when her husband of decades is taken away from her. Children bury their parents. Fathers and mothers bury their sons and daughters. A widow loses her only son. Car accidents, murders, war, suicide, cancer, stroke, still birth, physical death comes in many forms and at every age. Even the aches and pains that increase with age are a reminder that each of us will eventually die.
And if the spiritual death is not reversed, that is, if you do not become spiritually alive before your physical death, then you will experience the third type: eternal death. Eternal death is not annihilation where you cease to exist or no longer have consciousness. Eternal death is eternal punishment (Matthew 35:46). Jesus describes eternal death as the outer darkness (Matthew 8:2) and to experience the worm that never dies and the fire that is never quenched (Mark 9:48). As awful as that sounds, the worst part of eternal death is to be separated from Christ Jesus. Jesus is the life of all mankind. If you are separated from Jesus, you are separated from life. So, to experience eternal death is to be forever separated from Christ Jesus, from God’s love and forgiveness.
All three of these types of death are caused by sin. Therefore, the only way to overcome death in all its forms is to take away sin. The only one who can take away sin is Jesus Christ. After the Lord Jesus raised the young man from the dead and gave him back to his mother, the crowd glorified God and declared that a prophet had arisen among them and that God had visited his people (Luke 7:16). They didn’t know how right they were. Jesus is the prophet promised in Deuteronomy 18, whom God said he would raise up from among the people of Israel, who would speak God’s words. And Jesus is indeed God in the flesh. Unlike the Prophet Elijah, who cried out and pleaded to God that he would raise the dead son of the widow, Jesus declared, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” Jesus is God almighty. He alone creates life.
Jesus raises the dead, because he forgives sins. Jesus forgives sins, because he took our sin away through his obedience to the Law and his innocent suffering and death. Scripture says that in Jesus we have redemption in his blood, the forgiveness of our sins (Ephesians 1:7). Jesus is the only man who never sinned, the only man against whom death had no claim. And yet, Jesus bore the sin of the whole world and washed it away in his own blood. There is forgiveness only in Jesus. This means that there is life in Jesus alone. This means that if you are to be raised from spiritual death, from physical death, and from eternal death, you must be raised by Jesus alone.
Yet, how does Jesus raise you personally from the dead? The same way he raised that young man in Nain. Through the power of his word. Jesus spoke. He told the woman not to weep. He touched the bier, so that the bearers stood still. And then he spoke again, commanding the young man to rise. In Jesus’ word is the power to raise the dead, because in Jesus’ word is the power to forgive. Jesus has already defeated sin and death for us through his death and resurrection. He gives us that victory as a gift through his word.
Everyone is born spiritually dead, incapable of choosing God, incapable of loving or pleasing God, incapable of faith and good works. And you will remain spiritually dead until Christ makes you alive. Scripture states in Colossians 2, “In [Christ] also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.” Jesus touched the bier and commanded the dead young man to live. In Baptism, Jesus touches you with water and with his word washes you clean of your sins, so that you can believe in him. To be baptized into Christ is to die and rise with Christ (Romans 6). The power of Baptism is the power of Jesus’ word, which forgives sins. Again, it says in Colossians 2, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses.”
In Baptism, we have the promise of the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38). In Baptism we have the promise of the resurrection from the dead. And in Baptism, through faith we receive a resurrection from spiritual death to spiritual life. That is, we receive faith in the forgiveness of sins and a willing spirit, who loves God.
And you experience this spiritual resurrection every day. We still sin. We must repent of our sins. But it is not the acknowledging that sin is bad that makes us alive again. It is not the shame for what we have done that brings us back to life. It is the promise of forgiveness from Christ. This is why we need the Gospel every day. When you hear the good news that your sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, you hear your Savior Jesus shout, “Young man, young woman, I say to you, arise!” And through faith in our forgiveness, we do!
Jesus’ word overcomes our physical death as well. As the fear of death overwhelms you, what can you do? When you are on your deathbed, and Satan brings into your memory all of the sins you are ashamed of to accuse you, how will you be comforted? Will you recount all your good deeds like a child trying to hold back the ocean tide from destroying his sand castle, by building a wall of sand? That won’t do you any good. But the Gospel that Jesus forgives you will fight back Satan. The Gospel is the message that Christ has borne your sin, so that your sins cannot harm you. The forgiveness of sins makes your death temporary. The forgiveness of sins turns your physical death from a portal into eternal death into a portal into eternal life!
Jesus told the mother not to weep. Scripture promises that at last Jesus will wipe the tears out of our eyes (Isaiah 25:8; Revelation 21:4). Why don’t we mourn as others do? Because we have hope! (1 Thessalonians 4:13) How does Jesus tell you not to weep? By preaching the Gospel to you! By declaring the forgiveness of sins that turns death into sleep. Do you weep and moan when you lay your child down to sleep and kiss her goodnight? Do you fret and cry when you kiss your beloved goodnight? Of course not! You’ll see them again in the morning after just a short rest! This is what Christ has done to physical death by forgiving your sins! He has turned our weeping into laughter. Granted this sleep of death will last a bit longer than a night’s sleep. Yet, the waking that follows will never have an end!
Jesus’ forgiveness rescues us from eternal death. As a Christian forgiven of your sins, you have no need to fear that you will be cast out into the outer darkness or that you will experience the anguish of the worm or fire. God will not cast you out of his presence! Rather, the light of Christ will shine on you. He will be your life for ever and ever.
Finally, our eternal life will put an end to our temporary physical death. Jesus will again speak his word of forgiveness when he calls to us in the grave to rise. Yet, unlike the young man from Nain, we will not rise to live a few more decades. We will rise to eternal life. The death of the body will be gone forever. Spiritual death will no longer hinder our love for God. Sin will be no more. The day will most certainly come, my dear brothers and sisters, when Jesus will declare his final and eternal absolution and raise us to live with him in righteousness and purity forever. This is most certainly true. Amen.