Posted by: gbake783 | August 10, 2011

Luke 7:11-17

I remember my first real encounter with death. My family had just moved to Georgia where I attended a small Christian school. The year had already begun and teachers didn’t want to mess with the seating chart, so in almost every class, I was placed in the back-left corner next to a young lady named Nancy. I think Nancy and I sat together in every class but one. She was new at the school, as well – her family had recently immigrated from an African nation. She flashed an easy laugh and spoke English with a delightful French accent. And she had a heart for God. Maybe because we were both new – outsiders in a very small school where the majority of the classmates had known each other since K5. Nancy and I quickly became friends.

One day Nancy was not at school. We were told she had a sore throat – I collected her homework to send home at day’s end. A few hours later, the principal announced an impromptu school chapel. Nancy was gone. Her death was as mysterious as it was sudden. I attended the funeral with my mother a few days later. And I have never before or since witnessed mourning like I saw that day from Nancy’s mother. She threw herself on Nancy’s corpse, wailed, and wept. And nobody robbed her of the grief. For what seemed like an hour, Nancy’s mother sobbed atop the open casket. When I think of Nancy’s mother that cold January day and the pity I felt, I assume I felt in some small measure what Christ felt when he saw the widow of Nain.

This poor woman, already robbed of her husband, would now be without her only son. Her son’s age is fairly clear – Jesus uses a word to indicate that he was a young man at the post-adolescent peak of his physical prowess. We would probably put him somewhere between 18-22. In our culture, he’d be a college-bound young man with his whole life in front of him. And even though losing him would be a sad enough loss in itself, the widow’s loss was a financial one, too. Without husband or progeny, she would be on Israel’s version of social security: rooting through the unharvested corners of fields to scratch out a subsistence living. For what this life might be like, read of Naomi’s life in the book of Ruth.

When Christ saw the widow’s condition, he was filled with compassion. I’ve wondered if Jesus understood her pain personally. Jesus, too, lost His father and watched His mother deal with that loss. And Jesus knew that His mother would soon watch His own death. Regardless, Jesus was moved with pity. So he raised her son. The text says that when the young man was revived, he started talking. I guess so. If I woke up at my own funeral, I’d want some answers, too!

Shifting from the story to the meaning of the story, commentators disagree over the point Luke was driving home. Many writers believe that Luke was distancing Christ from the crowd’s response: “A great prophet has arisen among us.” I don’t believe that’s the case, however. Luke writes, “and Jesus gave him to his mother” (v.15). Although this reference might seem benign at first, Luke is quoting 1 Kings 17:23 where Elijah raised the widow’s son and “delivered him to his mother” (ESV). I believe that by connecting Christ’s ministry to the prophet Elijah and by joining this story with the previous context (Jesus’ words have authority) that Luke is highlighting in bold letters Jesus’ connection to the Great Prophet predicted in Deuteronomy 18:15. It is no insult to the divine Prophet to highlight His prophetic ministry. If Jesus’ very words have the power to raise form the dead, then they certainly have the power to transform spiritually. What an immense privilege we have to hear this great Prophet. Afterall, the writer of Hebrews says, and I’m paraphrasing, “God spoke many different times to many different people, but now he speaks through His Son” (Heb. 1:1-2).

Aside from Jesus’ prophetic ministry, Luke’s story highlights an important truth – Jesus is always right on time. If he’d arrived in Nain a few minutes earlier or a few minutes later, He would have missed the funeral procession altogether. In John 11:6 we read that Jesus knew of Lazarus’s illness, but did not hustle off to Bethany. No, He waited 48 hours longer. Why did he wait? The verse before tells us, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when He heard Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where He was.” Martha thought Jesus had arrived late. But she was wrong, He had arrived exactly on time. Just like He always does. Why? Because He loved them.

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