Text: Luke 7:11-17
Lord God, heavenly Father, who sent Your Son to be made man, that by His death He might pay for our sins and save us from eternal death: we beseech You to preserve us in such hope, that we may not doubt that, even as our dear Lord Christ, by His word, raised up the widow’s son, He will also raise us up at the Last Day and give us eternal salvation. Amen. [LPC #114]
God’s grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father, through our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the name of Jesus, Amen.
Dear fellow redeemed:
Elijah was a powerful prophet of God. The prophecy about John the Baptizer said that he would come in the spirit and power of Elijah. But greater than both was their Lord, Jesus. Elijah appeared alongside Moses with Jesus when Jesus’ three disciples Peter, James, and John saw Him transfigured before them. Elijah was in heavenly glory, the direct presence of Christ. He was also the prophet who didn’t die, but was taken away in a fiery chariot.
Such a powerful figure should make a deep impression, but just like Jesus, Elijah was also despised during his time on Earth. Not everyone wanted to be reminded of God’s presence. The distraught mother in our OT, grieving at the death of her son, accused, “You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!” Her conscience told her that she could not survive the presence of God, and her son’s death proved it. If our own self-knowledge is correctly tuned, we would think the same way. Instead of joy at seeing God’s minister, sometimes it’s distressful, just like with Elijah, often even with Jesus.
That idea is not wrong, but incomplete. Our sins do separate us from God and bring death in His presence. But the rest of the story is that God forgives our sin. So Elijah raised the widow’s son to life and gave him back to her. Likewise in our text, Jesus’ presence brought life to the dead, joy to the mother — and a wondrous fear to the community.
It would have been an ordinary, tragic funeral. Many in the town turned out in support of the widow mother who lost her only son. The Greek text even uses the word “only-begotten,” the same used for Jesus in John 3:16. He was her special boy and only child. Now he would be buried. That’s unfortunately ordinary for us. Ordinary, but not natural. We describe death as a normal part of life, but it’s not. It’s a violent interruption and not part of God’s design.
We suffer many things that are not part of God’s design, all stemming from the rift between us and God created by the will of Eve and Adam, now continued by us from our conception. These things we suffer are also ordinary, but not natural, though we may think that they are natural. Arthritis and disease, dysfunctions of the bodily organs or the mind, and rifts between family members and neighbors. Such things are all too ordinary. They are consequences of sin in our lives, effects of the rift between us and God, reminders that something is terribly wrong and broken between us and our Creator.
But people try to normalize these things. We may find ourselves doing it. Sometimes it’s gruesome, as when Planned Parenthood and its supporters recast the murder of the most helpless human beings as “health care.” Equally egregious is the term “euthanasia,” which means “good death,” applied to those whose lives seem to have a low quality according to the calculations of others. Missing is the truth that human life is different from all other bodily life on Earth, for we are designed and created in the image of God. There is still evidence of this in the fact that only humans can develop our level of language and abstract thought, including the desire to know our Maker. Human life is sacred.
But the consequences of sin are far-reaching. Those created in the image of God for showing His love to our neighbors and taking benevolent care of Creation instead struggle with darkness in our hearts, confusion in our minds and feelings, and abusive behaviors toward Creation and our neighbors. As sinners, we curve inward on ourselves. Our own will and concerns are front and center, while God’s will and concerns are on the edges if even in view. And the inner voice says that all of this is ordinary, normal.
But it’s death. The boy in the coffin, the only son of his mother, is a picture of you in your natural state. Unable to hear the weeping or respond to the tears of our heavenly father, bound for burial and decay rather than life, love, and joy. That’s death: all too ordinary.
The fallen world counsels us to accept it, even to embrace the ways that our attractions, appetites, interests, and habits uniquely contrast with others. Of course, your individual being is something to embrace — according to God’s design and gifts in the way He created you. But the world goes far beyond that, with complete disregard for God and the orders of His Creation. To the fallen world, you are not His creation, nor even an object of His love, but you are autonomous, a self-creation, unaffected by any divine design or limitation. It’s an attractive thought, isn’t it? To be a superman or wonder woman. To leave behind the limits of having a Creator and become something greater, something worth celebrating.
This, too, is death. It was the temptation of Eve. The serpent offered knowledge, but it was really the lived experience of death. Unless God breaks into our lives with a new gift of life, we know nothing else. Life in the fallen world at its best may have beauty, but it’s still death, because it excludes the healthy fear of God, trust in God or any acknowledgement of Him as our Source, Creator, and Provider. It also includes this pernicious, abusive tendency to continue sinning. Our natural lives are like a long funeral procession.
But Jesus stops it short when He stands in the way of those who are carrying us to the grave. Anyone can stand in the way, but only Jesus can bring the procession to a stop. “Do not weep,” He said, and then the Most Holy One reached out and touched the coffin of the dead one. So also He touches you through His Word and Sacraments. Instead of becoming infected with the uncleanness of a dead body, He draws it all into Himself and exchanges it for the power of a new life. He absorbed the guilt, shame, and power of your death along with the death of all people when He died for your sin. And when He rose again, nothing of your death was left. As a result, these bodies are now unable to remain in their graves. The whole world must rise again, and those who belong to our Lord by the gift of faith will receive from His indestructible life.
Your sins are forgiven. Your death is being overcome by this new life, making you a new creation: not according to the disorder of the world, but according to the true design and love of God. He speaks eternal words to you by name, touching you with His water and Word in Holy Baptism, and calling you His own child and heir. He provides your body and soul with food that likewise gives you life through a direct connection to His death and resurrection.
Jesus knows that the sinful flesh does not want to let you go. He knows that this world with its twisted form of reason and feeling appeals to your flesh, and your mind will tend to seek your identity from within yourself instead of in God. He knows that the tempter and accuser is a master of manipulating and misleading like the wicked stepmother enticed Snow White to taste death in her bright apple.
So you have His promise. He will sustain you in temptation, and when you fail He will come for you. A new world waits for you just out of sight, where the Tempter cannot touch you. Only put to death your flesh now through repentance. Confess your guilt, your shame, your death, and leave them all with Jesus. Take in exchange His holiness, His righteousness, His forgiveness. For His promise says that they are yours. They are the basis for your new life, and it will never end.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria