Pastor James Preus
Trinity Lutheran Church
September 24, 2023
Jesus enters a sad scene. A funeral procession for a young man, who left his mother childless, and she was a widow. Widows often form stronger bonds with their sons after their husbands die. And even more so with this widow, because this was her only son, whose duty it was to provide for her in her old age. It’s tragic. It’s no surprise that a great crowd gathered to comfort this pitiful woman at the funeral for her son. Yet, such tragedy is not unfamiliar to us. We have plenty of widows in this congregation. We even have those, who have buried their sons. The pain in this woman’s breast is not foreign to us. St. Luke draws a realistic scene.
Yet, what happens next seems to be total fiction. Jesus approaches the woman following her dead son’s coffin, and tells her to stop weeping, something no one would have the gall to do at any funeral. He then touches the bier and commands the young man to arise. And he does! The young man sits up and Jesus returns him to his mother alive and well! Oh, how wonderful if that could happen today! Imagine, if widows could have their husbands’ coffins carried to a man, who could raise them from the dead and give them back to their wives in perfect health. Imagine if mothers, who have lost their children, could bring the bodies of their sons and daughters to a man, who would touch them and command them to rise, and they would! How we all long to see those we love, who have been taken from us by death! How we would run to him, who could give us back what death has taken away!
But this sounds like a fairytale. It happened long ago in a place far away like every other myth. But certainly, this is just a story, right? This didn’t really happen, did it? And it certainly couldn’t happen today! Wrong! This really did happen. Jesus really did raise that widow’s son from the dead in the presence of many witnesses, just as He raised the twelve-year-old daughter of Jairus from the dead, just as He raised His friend Lazarus from the dead after He spent four days in the tomb, and just as He Himself rose from the dead on the third day. And this can and most certainly does happen today! In fact, it must happen today, or no one can be saved!
But how can I say that this happens today? Well, first you need to understand a little about death. There are three types of death, which are related: spiritual death, physical death, and eternal death. When God told Adam that he could eat fruit of any tree of the garden, except of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and that on the day that he ate of it he would surely die, He was not lying (Genesis 2:16-17). You’ll recall that Adam and his wife Eve ate of that forbidden fruit, yet they did not die that day. Well, they did not die physically. They did die spiritually. And had God not brought them back to life spiritually by promising them a Redeemer, who would crush the head of Satan, their physical death would have ushered them into eternal death, which is eternal punishment in hell.
Scripture 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.” Every naturally born human is born spiritually dead, a spiritual stillborn. And as such, everyone is born an enemy of God and resistant to His love and grace. And if spiritual death is not undone, that is, if those born spiritually dead are not brought back to life, then they will endure eternal death, that is, eternal punishment when they die physically. This is what Scripture calls the second death (Revelation 21:8).
That is why I say that such resurrections from the dead as that of the young man from Nain do indeed happen today, and indeed they must happen, or no one can be saved. True, resurrections from physical death do not seem to be occurring as of late, but resurrections from spiritual death are no less miraculous or necessary.
We live in a generation that is largely ignorant of death. Yes, we know people die, but we don’t know why. No one considers spiritual death or eternal death, so they try to ignore physical death until it is too late, and then offer empty platitudes without any real knowledge to comfort the bereaved. But death must be dealt with before physical death. After a person dies it is too late! Scripture says, “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” You will be judged when you die! And if you are still spiritually dead when you die, then you will enter the eternal death of hell. If you are to escape eternal death, you must deal with death before you die physically. But few people pay attention to this.
If we had a man, who could raise the dead, people would rush their dead to him for them to be raised. Yet, we have One who can raise the dead, He raises the spiritually dead, so that they may have eternal life. Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” (John 11:25) Yet, so few believe in Him. So, few bring their dead to Him to be raised.
All types of death, spiritual, physical, and eternal are a result of sin. Scripture says, “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:23) In order to be saved from death, your sin must be taken away. Yet, it is a difficult task to convince people that their sin is so severe. As said before, everyone is born spiritually dead. Yet, few believe it. They think sin is no big deal. They think the freedom to reject Christ is true freedom. So, few rush to Christ to be brought to life spiritually. And few urgently bring their children to be raised from spiritual death.
This is why it is important that the law continue to be preached, so that sinners may see their sinful condition and the spiritually dead may see that they are corpses being carried in a coffin. You need to know that it is no small thing that you put God’s Word behind so many other things in life. You need to know that trusting in money and human power is a grave sin, that lying and misusing God’s name leads to death. You need to know that Scripture says that if someone turns away from hearing the divine instruction, even his prayer is an abomination to the Lord (Proverbs 28:9). People need to know that despising authority is hating God. You need to know that God sees the hatred and lust of your secret heart and that there is nothing you’ve done, which is hidden from God. You need to know that lying, gossiping, and slandering are punishable by hell fire. Parents need to know that the children born to them are born spiritually stillborn. If their child died physically and there were someone who could restore his life, they would rush to him and beg for help. Their children are born dead spiritually, so they should rush to Christ, who restores life to the dead. Everyone needs to know that death is not natural. It is the just punishment for our sins, and after death comes judgment for the soul.
That widow in Nain probably didn’t appreciate her husband as much before he died. She thought he was like the husbands all women have. She probably didn’t realize the treasure she had in her son before he died. But following the coffin in procession, she wept over her loss. It is important for us to realize what we are lacking as this widow did. Yet, that is not enough. The pallbearers would have carried that coffin into the tomb to be buried forever no matter how much that widow wailed, unless Jesus came and stopped them. The pallbearers are the preachers of the law. They bring the reality of sin and death. Jesus comes to undo death. He touches the coffin and commands the young man to rise, and he does. Jesus touches the spiritually stillborn child with the waters of Baptism and commands the child to rise, and the child rises to new life.
And each day we must be brought back to life, as our sin bubbles up and tries to drag us down. We need to hear this powerful voice of Christ, which undoes death. Jesus said in John chapter 5, “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” (vs. 25) Yet, we must not wait until we are in the grave to hear this voice. We must hear this voice today and everyday, so that Christ may raise us from spiritual death to spiritual life.
Spiritual life is trusting in Christ for forgiveness and righteousness, loving God for the grace He has shown to you, and loving your neighbor in imitation of Christ. Yet, this spiritual life is constantly under attack by our sinful flesh, Satan, and this world. So, we need to frequently hear the voice of Him, who calls to the dead and makes them alive!
Jesus alone defeated physical death by dying as the author of life, over whom death had no claim. The wages of sin is death, but Jesus had no sin. So, death is forever indebted to Jesus. Jesus defeated eternal death by bearing the sins of the whole world on the cross. Jesus in not only a man, but He is true God. So, His death was greater than the sins of the whole world. After death comes judgment. After Jesus died the scale fell drastically in Jesus’ favor and death was found wanting. So, in one fell swoop, Jesus conquered both physical and eternal death for us.
Now, the only death we need fear in this life is spiritual death. Yet, Jesus comes to us today to rescue us from that as well. He has sent His Holy Spirit to raise us from the dead through His Word and Sacraments. As Jesus spoke to the young man in the coffin, commanding him to rise, so Jesus speaks to us today through Holy Scripture and through His preached Word. As Jesus touched the coffin of the young man, halting the procession to the tomb, so Jesus touches us with the elements of water in Baptism and the bread and wine, made His body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, joining His almighty promise to ordinary means, and imparting to us forgiveness and strengthening of faith and love.
Jesus raises the dead today in an even more significant manner than He did two millennia ago in Nain, because He raises us from spiritual death, making physical death temporary and eliminating eternal death for us. You must not wait until physical death to address death. Then it will be to late. For your own sake, for your children’s sake, for the sake of everyone you know, you must seek Jesus now. Jesus is the only one who can raise the dead. And He does. Amen.