Sermon for the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity, AD 2021

Luke 7:11-17

The previous two weeks I have spoken about faith in Christ in both the good times and the bad. With the ten lepers we learned that often when our need is met, the gratitude to Christ is lost. We cannot treat Christ as one who is just a means to our own ends. Both the good and the bad we receive from God is to turn us more to Christ and further from ourselves. So also last week we heard not to worry, for our heavenly Father knows our needs. When we worry, we cling to those other idols more and more, especially money, to try to steady ourselves. Yet money and all other created masters will lead us away from God. Instead we must hold to Christ, our true Master, the one who tells us to pray to our Father in heaven who takes care of all our needs.

This week we learn that we do not just depend on Jesus because someone said we should, or we grew up Christian, or He seems to work. Jesus is our only master and our sustenance in times of good and bad because He is life. No one else possesses the power, the life, and resurrection of Jesus. No one else has such sure promises. For all promises, all power of Christ for us is found in His compassion for us.

What is our great enemy in this life? What threatens all of us? Death. Jesus confronts death. In our gospel lesson, Jesus has come from speaking life in his sermon on the plain and healing the centurion’s servant in Capernaum. Huge crowds are following him because of his teaching, but mainly his miracles. He has healed and cast out demons. At this point, He has not raised anyone from the dead.

Imagine Jesus and his disciples, hundreds following – what was the crowd like? They’re following a man who healed their sick child, their blind neighbor, their lame uncle. A man speaking with authority like no teacher they have ever heard. We would imagine it would be a joyous crowd, maybe like the Israelites as they left Egypt. They are a free people. Laughing, children playing, a spring in their step. Then they come to the town of Nain.

Out of the gate of Nain comes another large crowd, this one could not be more different. A long line of mourners following a bier, a young man mourned by his widow mother, and the crowd mourning with her. What happened when these two crowds met? We would not think that the happy crowd would cheer up the mourners. It’s not some commercial where they cheer up because they were handed a Coke. No, we know the mourners would stop Jesus’ crowd in its tracks. Dead in its tracks. Because no matter how joyful we may be for a moment in this life, death has the final word. Death is always waiting around the corner to turn our dancing into mourning, It’s the Dear John letter. It’s the call you didn’t want in the middle of the night. It’s the cancellation of everything you love. It’s like the Israelites being stopped at the Red Sea.

Death comes because of sin. Because of your sin. God did not intend death. God does not desire for us to die. Adam brought death into the world by disobedience, and now it has passed to all men. Some will say death is a natural part of life. This is false. Death is not natural to life. It is natural to our life on this earth, but our life is a cursed life. Cursed because of our sin. We have taken the life God has given us and by our sin cursed it with death.

Surely as this widow was leaving the city, the crowd with her thought her to be perfectly wretched and accursed. Her son is a young man, so she had known him long and drew comfort from him, but she could not anymore. He was her only son, so she had no other children to comfort her. She was a widow, so she had no husband to comfort and provide for her. What had she done to be left in such a state? Sin. Sin left her in this state. Maybe no particular sin, but she was not innocent before God either, not any more or less than anyone else in her crowd. Her accursedness was just the most apparent.

Yet there was one innocent man in the other crowd. One man who always did His Father’s will. He saw her wretchedness. He had compassion from deep in his heart. He said to her, “Do not weep.” We aren’t told what this procession of death did to the crowd, but we know what it did to Jesus. It caused him to well up in compassion for this widow, for an accursed sinner in anguish. And remember, this is the reaction of the only Son of God who always does His Father’s will. So when it was His will, when He is moved to do something for this woman, it is the Father’s will as well. It brings to mind the great stanza of Luther’s hymn:

God said to his beloved Son:
It’s time to have compassion.
Then go, bright jewel of My crown,
 And bring to all salvation.
From sin and sorrow set them free;
Slay bitter death for them that they
May live with you forever.
(LSB 556.5)

Just as Jesus comes to this woman and has compassion on her, He came to us simply out of compassion for us in our wretched state. The Father saw how death affected us and sent the Son to become man to fulfill God’s will. In his ministry on this earth, he healed and drove out demons, he taught large crowds, and even raised from the dead. This ministry was just a sign and foretaste of what He would finally do.

Jesus tells this woman not to weep because he is going to defeat death for this young man. He touches the bier – the ritually unclean place for a dead man – and says, “Young man, arise.” The man rises out of death. He sits up, and just to show it wasn’t a fluke, he began to speak. Jesus gives him to his mother – the proof that she does not need to weep. It is the proof that Jesus has come to end her accursed state.

The people cry “God has visited his people!” They don’t even know how true this is. Seeing the man healed they are like the Israelites when the Red Sea parted for them to pass and to drown pharaoh’ armies. Both crowds together now glorify God for what Jesus has done. He did not let death have the final answer then, nor does he now.

For more than any miracle Jesus did, He followed his Father’s will and died for your sins. He took all the punishment of sin and death on the cross. The curse was laid on him so you would not be accursed. He died and laid in the grave for three days, but death could not hold Him. Death would never have the final word again. Jesus rose from the dead and defeated death, not only for himself, but for us. In your baptism, He has parted the Red Sea and brought you through those deadly waters. Your accursed Old Adam has died and your new man rises, just like the young man on the bier. You are no longer a child of curse and decay, but a child of God. The Holy Spirit has begun in you a resurrection more permanent than that of this young man of Nain. It is a resurrection life that lasts to eternity.

Hang on to that promise when in anguish when you feel accursed. For Jesus comes for the accursed. He died for those in anguish. He comforts the widow, the orphan, and any who are in a state of despair. He even comforts in the face of death. Death does not have the final say. It is no longer fearful for the Christian. The grave is not a place of uncleanness and uncertainty. It is a peaceful bed. It is garden where we are planted to rise and blossom on the final day. It is only now a sleep.

When we die we can say to God, “Your will be done,” as we sang in the hymn (LSB 758). Christ has shown us that God’s will for us is compassion and life. Death does not have the last word. Death does not silence him or bring him down, nor anyone who trusts in Him. When Christ confronts death, He turns mourning into dancing. He looses our rags of mourning and gives clothes of gladness. Those clothes are the very robes we received in baptism – his righteousness – by which we shall thank and praise him forever. Amen.

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