O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Commander of Life
Commander of Life
Based on Luke 7:11-17
Preached on June 5, 2016
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Fellow baptized saints, can you see it? The quiet little village - nestled neatly in a valley with a mountain on either side. Long rolling slopes spilling down into this quaint little town tucked cozily in the middle. The sun has just reached out over the tops of the highest peak, blanketing the valley with warmth and light. The birds have just completed their midmorning song. And this quiet little village called Nain is about to become the battleground of two opposing armies.
Jesus, and a great crowd, have just marched out of Capernaum, where He had healed the centurion’s servant, who was at the point of death, simply by giving the order. That was last week, when we heard how Jesus’ voice could speak away illness. This morning, this Commander leads His army of life down the mountainside towards Nain. Today He marches on the quiet little village, for there is another army gathered there – an army of death – an army of pain and sorrow and weeping.
You’ve seen it in the movies, the two armies approaching each other in slow motion, where you can’t help but watch. Jesus and His army of life riding down the slope into the wailing army of death. This is right outside the gate. Right at the entrance to the town. You can’t find a more public place for a showdown than this.
What’s going to happen? We’re not talking about a sick servant here. The young man is dead. His body’s already on the bier. You can see it there as the bearers carry him along. Life has already left him. Hence the funeral. Hence the weeping widow with worry upon worry.
This poor woman had already lost her husband. Now she’s lost her son, her only son –in fact, the text says, her only-begotten son (more on that later). She has nothing left. In Israelite society her son would have given her some security as a widow, but without him she has none. No way to earn money, no way to eat. Her future would likely be one where she was ignored by those around her, seen as a drain on precious resources. But not by Jesus.
Jesus sees her. He sees the widow. Not the way you see a fork. The way you see a daughter. And suddenly this one who has no one – who is alone and lost and empty – is accompanied by the One who knows her better than any other, who has heard every one of her prayers. And it is in this moment where the text literally comes to life. It says, “Jesus saw the widow and He splagchnizomai. Splagchnizomai. That is the Greek word for compassion. This is no Oprah Winfrey compassion. This is splagchnizomai. It means His gut moved. His heart hurt. Taken literally, it means the complete outpouring of the inward parts.
Jesus sees this helpless woman and her dead son, and it moves Him to pour Himself out for them. And you and I can probably relate to the feeling of splagchnizomai, the feeling of the inside coming out, but for Jesus this is far more than a feeling. For Him this is action. Reality. His life – what is inside of Him – He is really going to give away. He is really going to sacrifice some of His life to raise this dead man. He’s going to die, just a little bit, so that this widow can have her son back. So that she won’t be ignored. So that she won’t be seen as a drain on precious resources – For this, Jesus will drain Himself. There are no free miracles.
But this is just a foretaste, isn’t it? Just a hint of what’s to come. The compassion Jesus has for this one widow is a picture of His compassion for the whole world where we witness the complete outpouring of the only-begotten Son’s blood on the cross. His compassion isn’t only for the widow and her son. It is for you. His mercy blood splagchnizomai for you. His life pouring down the wood of the cross – so that the dead may live. So that the helpless and alone may not be ignored but seen by the Almighty Himself. So that the only One whose resources have been drained is God. And this He is prepared to do – for you.
Do we see what is happening in this incredible moment on the mountainside? It’s mercy time. Mercy is breaking in. Mercy is the way God is present, how He visits, how He rules your heart and mind. Mercy – always mercy.
Do not weep, He says to the widow. What do you mean do not weep? This is my son’s funeral. He was all I had. Do not weep. Trust the One who says – Do not weep. This is that extra slow moment in the movie when the forces are about to collide.
Jesus steps forward and touches the bier. He touches the death. He could not have done anything more provocative. Nothing more dramatic. The bearers get it. They understand the boldness, for they stop. This wasn’t in the bulletin. No, Jesus is not afraid of the death and how it would make Him unclean – if He was He would never have come down from heaven – No, this is why He has come. To be dirtied by our death. To put Himself into and soak up our mess into Himself. Oh, the battle is happening alright – it’s just the complete opposite of what you’re used to. The Lord Commander of life itself giving His own life away to bring life to the dead. Jesus taking this man’s death into Himself, so He could carry to the cross. And then there are words.
You sometimes see that at funerals, people speaking to the dead body, telling them what to do when they get to heaven or something – but nothing happens. There is never any response. Jesus’ words are different. Young man, I say to you, arise. I say it. The One who spoke all things into being. The Commander. I say to you. Arise.
And the dead man sits up and begins to speak. His dead ears hear Jesus. Not only does he hear Him - he follows His Word. Christ’s Word brings him to life. It speaks faith into dead ears. Praise into a dead mouth. This has got to be one of the most comforting things you could ever know. That Christ’s Word is the only thing that can make your ears hear, and your mouth praise. It makes you want to rush to hear preaching, every moment of every day. Alive and praising.
Jesus gives him to his mother. This is now the second time. It was the Lord who gave him to her at birth – now here, a second time, the Lord of life gives a mother a son. Gives her a future. Certainty. This man belongs to Jesus. Christ called him to life, but He gives him to his mother.
This is what God does with all of us. This is baptism. Yes, we were physically born to our parents, but the children of God are born from above. We bring our children who are spiritually dead to Jesus and speaking His life into them with the water, He gives eternally living children back to parents so that they raise them in the faith. So that they pray with them and speak God’s Word with them every day – in the car, at the table, by the bedside. This is what our new children’s bulletins are good for – they have a devotion for each weekday that is connected to what Jesus teaches here on Sunday. Keeping families together in Christ. God is bringing people to life so He can bring them together in Him.
Fear seizes them all - both armies - and together they glorify God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” And this new crowd made one - spreads the news about Him through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country. You are hearing me do this right now. Spread the news about this final prophet, the promised Messiah - Jesus.
Jesus chose this miracle perfectly, didn’t He? For it sets our eyes on who He is and what He suffers for us. He is the only-begotten Son of the Father. He is the One who completely outpoured His life, His mercy blood for the whole world. And He is the One who raised Himself out of death that He might be proclaimed in all the countryside- yes, to all people. He is not just a teacher. He is not just a miracle worker. He is the Savior of the world – God in our flesh – the Lord, whose compassion for you knows no bounds, and on the Last Day He will call you up from your grave.
Jesus, thy boundless love to Me
No thought can reach, no tongue declare
Unite my thankful heart to Thee,
And reign without a rival there!
Thine wholly, Thine alone I am;
Be Thou alone my constant flame.
In the Name of Jesus, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr