Tuesday, April 8, 2014

He That Was Dead Sat Up

  Life of Christ 60

          Yesterday, He preached the Sermon on the Mount. Yesterday, after He finished that greatest of sermons, He walked into Capernaum and healed the centurion's servant from a distance. But today, for some reason, Jesus woke up and decided to walk 25 miles south along the shore of Galilee, in the direction of Nazareth, toward the little town of Nain. It would have taken Him most of the day, and He would have arrived in late afternoon, not coincidentally, the time at which most Jewish funerals were held.

          Yesterday, an already bereft widow woman had lost her only son in death. After the initial shock, preparations would have begun for an immediate burial. As an open display of her grief, the widow would have torn her clothes. Her son's body would have been laid on the ground, hair and nails cut, washed, anointed, and clothed in his best. The widowed mother would then have taken a seat on the floor, with her back turned to her son, and eaten the plainest meal possible, without any prayer of blessing.
          Kind neighbors would have, meanwhile, quickly hired a few musicians and at least one professional mourning woman to precede the casket on the journey to the cemetery. Their task was to lead the profession, meanwhile expressing loudly the grief all felt, and shouting words of praise for the dead young man all along the way.
          As the procession formed up outside the house, the chairs in the house would be turned upside down, and the young man laid, open faced, with his arms across his chest, on a bier carried by those same neighbors, now barefoot in respect. In front, the mourning women began to stroll the 10 minute walk to the tombs cut from the rocks just east of Nain, followed by the widow just in front of the bier, and then all of their friends and family. Along the way, as the procession wound through the little town, the townspeople stopped their tasks and stood in silent respect as the bier passed.
          And so it was that Death met Life, and was conquered.
         He heard it, perhaps, before He saw it, that funeral procession. He heard the cymbals and trumpets in front, and the ululations of the mourning women. As He drew near He, too, would have stepped to the side of the road and paused in respect. Perhaps that was all He intended to do. After all, He, the Prince of Life, had attended numerous funerals before, including His own earthly father's. In none of those had He intervened.
          What made Him intervene in this one? The grief of the mother, already widowed, now childless, and His great heart of compassion, in tender love, bade Him leave the side of the street, walk into the middle of the procession, and take the grief-stricken mother by the hand, and speak the command to her, 'Weep not.'
          The procession would have been forced to come to an unseemly halt. It could not continue with the mother standing still, and she could not continue with this strange Man standing in front of her. The cymbals quieted, the trumpeters drifted into silence, the mourning women found their voices strangely choked as Life Himself walked into the middle of their procession of death.
          What a strange thing to do! What an even more strange thing to say! 'Don't cry' is something we say to someone who has spilled the milk, or skinned a knee. It is a statement that kindly belittles the sorrow as being not really worth sorrowing about. It isn't something you say to a widow woman on her way to bury her only son. What you say is 'Weep, and I'll weep with you.' What you say is 'Weep, it is good for you.' What you say is 'Weep, for he was an amazing boy.' But Jesus didn't. He compassionately, but firmly, interrupted her publicly private grief, and told her to stop weeping.
          And then He did the unthinkable. He walked around her, and reached His hands out toward the bier. No. He wouldn't. Would He? After all, to touch the bier of the dead was the greatest possible defilement for a Jew. Greater than touching a Gentile, greater than touching a leper, to touch a dead body, or the casket and bier, was the greatest of all defilements. What kind of a Jew would do such a thing?
          The kind who had nothing to fear from the defilement of the dead. He knew that young man was about to be dead no longer. 'And he came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise. And he that was dead sat up' (Luke 7.14-15).       
          The pall bearers, motionless at the whim of this stranger, nearly dropped the bier in sheer surprise. The family and friends who clustered around to see the disturbance gave voice to one voiceless gasp. The onlookers at the city gate, standing in respectful silence, rubbed their eyes in confusion and puzzlement. The mourning women at the front, ready at a moment to resume their chants, stood stock still in open mouthed amazement. And the mother, the precious widowed mother, nearly fainted as her boy opened his mouth, and called to her from the atop the center of his own funeral bier.
          Jesus, calmly, takes the boy by the hand, helps him climb down out of the wicker basket that contained him, and walked him over to his mother, and they hugged as no two people on earth had ever hugged before. And the tears flowed again, like water over thirsty ground, now refreshing and rejoicing where just moments ago they had salted their path with sorrow.
          The humble Galilean peasantry of the region thought they had already seen it all. They had seen this Rabbi burst on the scene with strange events at a wedding in Cana. They had heard Him preach in their synagogues and on their mountains sermons like no other. They had watched Him heal the sick, cleanse the leper, and cast out the unclean spirits. Now, stupendously, He had broken up a funeral procession, and delivered a dead young man back, in vigorous health, to the bosom of his mother. 'And there came a fear on all: and they glorified God, saying, That a great prophet is risen up among us; and, That God hath visited his people' (Luke 7.16).
          To me, the application of this is startlingly obvious: 'Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me' (John 14.6). He is the way we ought to live. He is the truth for which men seek. He is the life which conquers the greatest foe of humanity, death. Paul said it this way in his first letter to the church at Corinth:

15.51 Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
52  In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
53  For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
54  So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.
55  O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
56  The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.
57  But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

          Beloved, when your God can conquer death you are most definitely on the winning side. In Him we find such safety. In Him we find such security. In Him we find such comfort. In Him we find such hope. 'And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand' (John 10.28).
          One day, if the Lord tarry His coming, I will lie down, but I will sit back up when He calls my name. One day, if the Lord tarry His coming, those in Christ whom you love will lie down, but they will sit back up when He calls their name. 'I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living' (Matthew 22.32). Praise Him, beloved. Thank Him, beloved. And let us spread the news of this wonderful eternal life far and wide.
          There are no cemeteries in Heaven. He is the way, the truth, and the life.

If you would like to listen to the audio version of this blog you may find it here on our church website. Just press 'launch media player' and choose We Preach Christ 31, 'He That Was Dead Sat Up'.

No comments:

Post a Comment