The gospel reading this Sunday told about the widow of Nain. Jesus traveled to this area, and upon entering the town, he saw a funeral procession. A widow followed, mourning her only son as the townsfolk carried his lifeless body to be buried.
No mother should have to bury her son, but especially in the days of Jesus. When this widow lost her only son, she was almost guaranteed a life of poverty and want because she no longer had anyone to provide for her.
The writer continues, telling us that Jesus, having compassion on the woman, went to the casket, opened it, and told the young man to get up. And he did. What an amazing miracle. Now those who try to explain the Bible away will probably tell you that this young man wasn’t really dead, but rather was in some kind of coma-like situation. Even if that was so, which I don’t believe, waking the young man up from his sleep—medical or eternal—is still a miracle.
How many of us have stood by the side of a family member or friend, loved one or even someone we didn’t know very well, and prayed for God to do such a miracle? How many times have we bargained with God that if only God would heal this person . . . Well, you know how that goes.
If the emphasis of this story wasn’t that Jesus raises people from the dead, then why was it included in the gospel? Why did Luke choose to include this story from all the other experiences in Jesus’ ministry and life? One possibility is the truth that God restores wholeness to the lives of individuals.
The widow found herself in a place of poverty and devastation. With no male to provide for her, she would be forced to fend for herself, to find the necessities of life as she could or could not—all on her own.
Her son, as well, was an outcast from the living. As a dead man, even touching him would make the mourners unclean. He was no longer a part of life, a part of the community.
Jesus, in one act of compassion and mercy, restored both of these outcasts to active parts of the town’s life. The son was restored to life, conversation, commerce, relationship, and the mother was restored to status as the mother of this now-living young man. The people, having witnessed this miracle, proclaimed, “God has come to help his people” (Luke 7).
Which is the greater miracle, restoring a person to life physically, or restoring a person to life spiritually? In our culture, of course, bringing someone back from the dead would be the more spectacular miracle, but not one that happens regularly. However, the more amazing miracle, as pronounced in the song, is the amazing grace “that saved a wretch like me.”
No matter the depth of sin each of us experiences, we are each in need of salvation, of restoration by grace to relationship with God. Paul describes this as death: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). It doesn’t matter if you were raised in the church or if you weren’t. It doesn’t matter if you listen to “inspirational” speakers or radio. It doesn’t matter if you give your money to good causes or do good works yourself. The truth is that every person born on this earth is dead because of sin.
This death is not the non-breathing, no-brain-function kind of death. Rather, this death is spiritual, a state of separation from God and from the home for which we were created. It isn’t measured by the things we do but by the condition of our hearts. The prophet Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)
It is because of this very gulf between humanity and God that Jesus came to earth and died on the cross, taking the burdens of our sinfulness upon himself. As I’m sure you have heard many times, the Cross is the bridge between God and us, the only way we can enter into God’s presence.
The point of this article goes beyond salvation by grace through the death of Christ, although that is the foundation. I believe that the story of the widow of Nain was provided to show us two things:
First, life comes through Christ, both physically and spiritually. No one can receive eternal life except through Him. Jesus, not the doctors, not the priests, called that young man back to life. Only Jesus can give us life.
Second, when we are given that new life, it is not to be squandered only on the good feelings and giddy experiences of life, but we become indebted to our new Master, to serve God and love Him because of what God has done for us. The young man was not given back to his mother so he could become a celebrity and travel the synagogue circuit, telling his story. His job was to care for his mother, someone who had no other resource.
Last week in Springfield I attended the funeral of a young man, 15 years old, who died from a previously unknown heart problem. As his friends and acquaintances testified of Bryan’s involvement in their lives, a picture emerged of someone who understood these concepts.
Just before his death Bryan wrote to one of his youth leaders that he was so thankful Jesus had saved him. Bryan understood the concept of new life, and he lived it. The letter continued, thanking the youth leader for “challenging us to read the Bible, and to witness, and to pray.” Bryan vowed that when he was challenged to read the Bible for 10 minutes, he was going to read for 20. Challenged to pray for 5 minutes, he would pray 10. Challenged to witness to one person a week, he would witness to one person each day.
Bryan wasn’t perfect, by any means. He was just a teenager trying to find his way through high school. But, more importantly, he had realized the tremendous debt he owed for the tremendous gift he had received. This was seen in the 600+ crowd who attended his viewing and funeral, including the many who testified, “Bryan, you changed my life.”
Read Luke 7:11-17 again. Then, if you have never asked God for forgiveness and new life, if you remain dead to grace because of your own sinfulness, would you pray and ask for that gift of God purchased for you? You will find a peace you have never known and a joy that will carry you through.
Second, having responded to God’s amazing offer of grace, either today or in the past, and being made a new creation, search yourself to find what God has ordained for you to do, how you can make a difference in the lives of those who surround you because of God’s grace.
Make a difference. Live your life to the fullest. May it be the testimony given of each of us when we are memorialized, “You made a difference in my life.”
Mary Kay Glunt, Pastor
Ebenezer Presbyterian Church
2533 N. Franklin Avenue
Springfield, MO 65803