The Lord of Life
Passage: Luke 7:11–7:17
The Lord of Life
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying that death is simply a natural part of life. We usually say that in an attempt to comfort someone, or perhaps to overcome the fear of dying. “There’s no reason to be afraid,” someone might say, “because death is just a part of life.” And on one level, that is true, isn’t it?. Death is no respecter of persons. The old and the young, the rich and the poor, the memorable and the forgettable – everyone has to reckon with death. That’s both sobering and frightening, which is why we hear that phrase so often – “Death is just a natural part of life.” We’re trying to deal with reality.
And yet, there is something missing from that common sentiment, isn’t there? While death is universal, it’s actually not natural. Death’s existence owes not to a natural phenomenon, but rather to a spiritual reality. Think about how death entered the world. In the first chapters of Genesis, the man and the woman receive the sentence of death because they disobeyed God’s command. They ate the fruit, and just as surely as God had said, death entered the world – not immediately at that very minute, but certainly and without question. In fact, those opening chapters of Genesis have that refrain that speaks to the certainty of death. “And he died,” Genesis says again and again and again.
And so, in light of death’s origin, it’s not entirely accurate to say that death is just a natural part of life. Death is not natural. It’s a reminder that something has gone horribly wrong. It’s more than a natural phenomenon. Death is telling us something about ourselves and, more importantly, something about our need for God.
This is why our world honestly doesn’t know what to do with death. Most people try to ignore death, others try to outsmart it, while some even seek to re-brand it. I read a NY Times article this week about death parties – where you invite your friends to come over and decorate your coffin before you die. That sounds awful to me, but it does show how confused our world is about death. We say it’s simply natural, but then we ignore it, try to cheat it, or foolishly attempt to re-brand it. Deep down, even the world knows there is something wrong here, but the world is also not quite sure what to do with this inescapable reality.
All of this forms the backdrop to our passage this morning in Luke 7. Here, we witness Jesus come to face to face with death. But Jesus’ response reveals, quite clearly, that he does not view death as simply a natural part of life. It’s not something to be ignored or re-branded. No, in Jesus’ eyes, death is something to be confronted and then overcome. This is key to understanding the passage. Jesus initiates this encounter. Did you catch that as we read? Jesus could have easily stepped to the side of road and let the funeral procession pass on by. He could have just wagged his head and said, “Well, death is simply a part of life.” But that is not the Lord’s response. He takes the initiative, and that’s significant. If death is the great enemy of mankind, then this passage pictures Jesus calling that enemy out to prove that death’s days are numbered.
Now, why does Jesus do this? What’s the point of this episode? The answer has to do with Jesus’ identity. By initiating this confrontation with death, Jesus is revealing a bit more of who he is and why he has come. In fact, you can see this emphasis on Jesus’ identity in the text. Notice how Luke refers to Jesus in v13 – “And when the Lord saw her,” Luke writes. Now, this is the first time in the narrative that Luke has identified Jesus with this title – the Lord. Others, like the angels in chapter 2, have declared that Jesus is the Lord, but this is the first time Luke uses the term as a title for Jesus.
And considering the events of the passage, this is not surprising. As we’re going to see today, Jesus does what only God can do, so it’s not surprising that lordship in on Luke’s mind as he narrates these events.
We could describe the text like this, and this is where we are going this morning. The raising of the widow’s son gives us three unique pictures of Jesus’ lordship – three different perspectives on what it means that Jesus is lord. The first concerns Jesus’ compassion, the second Jesus’ power, and the third is a summary of Jesus’ identity. Let’s consider these three pictures together.
Jesus is the Lord of Compassion
We begin in vv11-14 – Jesus is the Lord of Compassion. Luke gives us the setting for the scene in the first two verses, and it is heartbreaking. Jesus heads for the town of Nain, v11, and a great crowd follows him. But as Jesus approaches, he is met with a funeral procession. A young man has died, and the entire town, it seems, has turned out to bury him. But it’s the young man’s mother who gets the attention. Notice again v12 – “As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow.” Now, in Jesus’ day, this woman faces a grim future. Her husband has already died, and now her son, who would have been responsible to provide for her, has died too. One commentator has described the woman as an “orphaned parent,” and that’s a fitting description. She’s buried her husband, which is hard enough, but now she buries her son. The woman’s future is likely one of begging and depending on strangers for hospitality. She is alone and heartbroken.
But the incredible good news of this passage is that the woman is not alone. Jesus sees her, and he responds with compassion. Notice v13 – “And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her.” The idea here is to have pity on someone, or to feel sympathy toward them. It’s not a word that is used very often in Luke’s Gospel. In fact, it’s only used two other times in the book – in chapter 10 to describe the Good Samaritan, and in chapter 15 to describe the father of the prodigal son. Think about that. Those are arguably Jesus’ most well known parables, in large part because of how powerfully they illustrate compassion. I mean, simply to read the prodigal son is moving, isn’t it? But here in chapter 7, it’s not a parable that pictures such compassion. It’s Jesus himself. When Jesus told those parables, he didn’t have to stretch his imagination to describe compassion. No, compassion is present in Jesus’ own heart in perfect measure. He is compassionate toward this widow.
But at the same time, it is important for us to realize that Jesus’ compassion is more than a feeling. It’s important that we appreciate this, so notice with me the tangible steps Jesus takes to communicate his compassion to the grieving widow.
To begin with, Jesus initiates the encounter, as we noted a few moments ago. He could have simply let the procession pass by, respectfully bowing his head perhaps. But Jesus doesn’t do that. He takes the initiative. Notice v14 – “Then Jesus came up,” Luke says. He moves toward the widow in a display of sympathy and care. Jesus initiates.
But that’s not all. Jesus also identifies with her hardship. This may seem a small thing, but notice also in v14 how Jesus touches the bier. Now, this is not a closed coffin like we might see at a funeral today. This is basically a board carrying the body draped in a sheet. And according to the teaching of Judaism, this funeral bier would be ceremonially unclean, making it rather complicated to demonstrate care for the widow. You can’t easily draw near to her because you’ve got to be careful not be contaminated. And yet, Jesus is undeterred. He touches the bier, which means he’s come near to the grieving mother.
Now, we’re going to work out the implications of this in the next point, but for now, just try to imagine what this must have communicated to the widow. Here is a man who is not afraid to come alongside her in this time of need. Here is a man who is more concerned with her wellbeing than he is with ceremonial procedure. Listen, that is a powerful statement when you’re in the midst of hardship. Today, we call this the ministry of presence – the ministry of simply being near to someone, perhaps at times even including a touch on the arm or the hand. When my own brother was in ICU following a motorcycle crash, it was the friends who were faithfully present that most encouraged my parents. It was the friends who came with an embrace and were comfortable with silence who most ministered to their souls.
And that’s what Jesus does here. Don’t breeze past Jesus’ hand touching that funeral bier. It’s not a small thing. It is a tangible display of compassion toward the widow.
But still, Jesus is not finished. Notice how the Lord’s compassion doesn’t leave the widow in her hopeless state. Instead, the Lord Jesus calls her to faith. Notice v13 where Jesus tells the widow, “Do not weep.” That’s not a rebuke, by any means. Jesus is urging the woman to fix her eyes upon him. Let me explain what I mean.
Death, as we noted at the outset of the sermon, is a reminder that something is dreadfully wrong with the world and with us. And that means, according to Scripture, tears are appropriate in response to death. Mourning tells the truth to the world, “This is not the way it is supposed to be.” Think of Jesus himself at Lazarus’ tomb. Jesus wept, did he not? It is appropriate to weep over death.
And yet, Jesus tells this widow not to weep. Why? Because Jesus intends to confront death at this moment. It is an implicit call for the widow to trust him. There will be a time for tears, Jesus is saying, but that time is not today.
And this, brothers and sisters, is at the heart of compassion. In every situation, the most compassionate thing we can do is direct people’s gaze to Jesus, the Lord of compassion. We sympathize, we grieve, we listen, and then when the time is right, we lead people to the Lord who will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick. And that is what Jesus is doing here. With compassion, he’s calling this widow to trust him.
Put these pieces together. Jesus initiates, he identifies with the widow, and he calls her to faith. Jesus is not too proud to associate with the lowly. He’s not aloof or too busy to notice people in need. He receives the brokenhearted, and he shows tenderness to those who are wracked with grief. And therefore, to understand who Jesus is, you’ve got to see and rejoice in his tenderhearted compassion.
I want to stress this point, brothers and sisters. As we noted a moment ago, Jesus’ compassion is more than a feeling. The Lord’s compassion is actually central to our gospel hope. Think of what Jesus does here. He lowers himself to the point of sharing the widow’s grief. He stoops down and takes on her hardship as his own. Is that not a picture of what has happened in the gospel? The Son of God, with great compassion, laid aside his glory and stooped down to us, taking on frail human flesh to save sinners who were alone and without hope in this world. And having humbled himself in this way, the Lord Jesus mercifully took up a cross, where he bore the grief and sorrows and sins of all his people. Why would the Lord do such a thing? Because the Son loves his Father and he loves his people.
But that is not all, brothers and sisters. The Lord’s compassion is not a past tense reality. It continues to this day, at this very moment even. Consider where the Lord is right now – He is seated at the right hand of God. And what is the Lord doing there at the Father’s right hand? He’s making intercession for you and me. He’s pleading before the Father on our behalf. Hebrews 7.25 – Jesus is able “to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” Jesus never takes a day off. When we don’t know what to pray, the Son of God prays for us. When all we can muster is a groaning prayer of desperation, the Lord himself fills in the gaps and gives voice to our groaning before the Father.
Do you see how compassion is at the core of our gospel hope? On one level, the reason we are saved is because Jesus is the Lord of compassion. We are redeemed because Jesus did not leave us in our hopeless state. He took the initiative to move toward us. He identified with us in our sinful condition, and now through his Word, he calls us to faith in his name. Oh friends, how great is the Lord’s compassion for his church! How tenderhearted are his thoughts toward those who believe! If you are moved by Jesus’ care for the widow, then realize he has the same care for all who trust in his name.
That’s the takeaway. This call here is not so much, “Be like Jesus.” That may be true, but it’s not primary. The upshot of this passage is, “Run to Jesus yourself!” Recognize that we have an Advocate and a Refuge in our time of need. Listen, I don’t know all that you face this morning. But the Lord Jesus knows, and he does not run from your need. Just as he did here with the widow, the Lord Jesus moves toward us in our time of need, and he carries our sorrows as his own. And therefore, we don’t have to fear, and we don’t have to hide. We can entrust our lives to the Savior, and he will not fail to meet us, whatever we face. Jesus is the Lord of compassion.
Jesus is the Lord over Death
But amazingly, we haven’t even reached the real highpoint of the text. That actually comes in vv14-15, and this is where we find the second picture of Jesus’ lordship: Jesus is the Lord over Death. Let’s pick back up in the narrative. V13, Jesus approaches the widow and encourages her not to weep. V14, Jesus touches the funeral bier, so that the entire procession stands still. And now, the pinnacle of the Lord’s compassion, and it comes with a display of almighty power. Notice again v14 – “Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, ‘Young man, I say to you, arise.’ And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.” Now, just on the surface, this is an astonishing moment. You might say that there are two resurrections here – one literal, as the young man is raised, and the second figurative, as the widow herself receives a renewed hope for life as well. Just one the surface, this is astonishing. Compassion and power come together in an amazing way in this one person, the Lord Jesus.
But if we press a little deeper here, there is something even more profound at work. To see it, though, we have to go back to the OT, specifically to 1 Kings 17. You may recall that 1 Kings 17 describes the ministry of Elijah the prophet. Within the OT, Elijah stands out as a man uniquely endowed with the power of God. Perhaps only Moses did mightier deeds than Elijah, which makes Elijah a significant figure in redemptive history.
And one of Elijah’s most incredible works occurred in a place called Zarephath with a widow who lost her only son. It sounds familiar, doesn’t it? And that’s part of the point. Elijah raised a widow’s son, as a display of God’s power, and Jesus now raises a widow’s son as well. Do you see how the two miracles are working in concert together? Luke actually uses some of the same language from 1 Kings 17, just to make his point clear. Elijah was the true messenger of the Lord, and his miracles confirmed that claim. So also Jesus speaks the true word of the Lord, and his miracles confirm his message. The two miracles are in concert.
But there is one difference between the two miracles, and if we miss this difference, then I would say we miss Luke’s main point. Listen to how Elijah raised the widow’s son, 1 Kings 17 – “Then Elijah stretched himself upon the child three times and cried to the LORD, ‘O LORD my God, let this child’s life come into him again.’” Simple question – how did Elijah perform his miracle? He prayed, and God answered him.
Now, listen again to Jesus’ miracle, and notice the difference. V14 – “And Jesus said, ‘Young man, I say to you, arise.’” Again, simple question. What’s the difference with Elijah’s miracle? Jesus doesn’t pray, does he? Jesus simply commands the dead to rise, and the dead obey Jesus’ voice. That difference is the glory of this text. Whereas Elijah prayed for God to act, Jesus simply acts on his own. Whereas Elijah requested God’s power, Jesus possesses God’s power. And whereas Elijah was the conduit through which God worked, Jesus is the power of God in human flesh.
Tthe point here could not be clearer. This is no mere prophet. Jesus does what only God can do. Think about the overarching story of Scripture. There is only one Person who is able to speak life into existence. There is only one Person who can call into being that which was not. And that one Person is God himself, the Creator of all things and the Lord of life.
And here we have Jesus, with only his words, speaking life into existence. Here we have Jesus calling into being that which was not. The reality then is clear – Jesus is the Lord of life! He is the Lord over Death because he is the Creator, the Word made Flesh, even the eternal Son of God.
Now we’re going to reflect more on Jesus’ identity in a moment, but before we do that, I want to pause here and draw out an application from this miracle. It’s important that we make the right connection at this point. Did you hear about the church in California that was praying for God to raise a little girl from the dead? Did you hear about that? Apparently, a two-year old girl had died, and the church prayed for a week for God to resurrect her. It didn’t happen, but the church cited these moments from Jesus’ ministry as the reason for their prayer. Their pastor even said that resurrection was at the heart of Jesus’ ministry, so that’s why they prayed for the girl to be raised.
But that is not how we bridge this passage to our day. The application here is not that we need more miracle-working prophets in our day that can do the things Jesus did. No, the bridge of this passage is to renew our confidence in God’s Word. Think about it. Clearly, Jesus has divine power within himself. He speaks, and even the dead respond. But how is that power displayed in this situation? Or to ask it a different way, what connects the dead man to Jesus’ power? The answer is Jesus’ word. Do you see it? It is through Jesus’ word that God’s power flows into this situation and brings about the work that only God can do.
And that is the bridge from Luke 7 to the church in our day. Listen, we don’t need more prophetic displays of power. No, the church in our day needs to recover the connection between the power of God and the Word of God. We need to renew our commitment to the Scriptures. Remember, it is through the preaching of the gospel that God gives life to the dead – not the physically dead like here in v15, but the spiritually dead – sinners in need of salvation. As the gospel goes out, God works through his Word to grant life to those who hear.
And Jesus’ word is effective. Let’s not overlook this point. Humanly speaking, there is nothing more final than death. And yet, death is no match for Jesus and his Word. When Jesus speaks, life is given through his Word. And just as Jesus’ word was able to raise this man to life, so also his word is enough for the life of his church today. His word is sufficient for the needs that we face.
And therefore, brothers and sisters, our takeaway from Luke 7 is not to look for more power. It’s to renew our confidence in the life-giving, death-destroying, all-powerful word of the Lord. The Word of God is enough, brothers and sisters, and may we never think lightly of building our lives on the Word of Christ. Jesus is the Lord over Death, his power flows through his Word, and our response, then, is to build our lives on what he has said.
Jesus is the Lord of Glory
That brings us to the final picture of Jesus’ lordship, and we’ll conclude with this. We mentioned the truth of Jesus’ identity a moment ago, but let’s come back to it here at the end. From vv16-17 – Jesus is the Lord of Glory. The crowd, as you might expect, is stunned at what happens. Notice v16 – “Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has arisen among us!’ and ‘God has visited his people!’” In Luke’s Gospel, people are gripped with fear in response to God’s power, and that is what happens here. The crowd rightly concludes that Jesus is no ordinary man. He works with the power of God.
But then Luke records for us the crowd’s conclusion. They declare that a great prophet has arisen among them, and that God has visited his people. Now, on the one hand, the crowd is right at this point. Jesus is the True and Greater Prophet. He is the One promised in Deuteronomy 18, the prophet who would be greater than Moses. He is the One greater than Elijah. Jesus is the Word of God, so the crowd is right to declare that a great prophet has come.
The crowd is also right that God has visited them. That term visit carries the idea of salvation. When God visits his people, he saves them, just like he did with Israel in the book of Exodus. So again, on the one hand, the crowd is right. Death is being defeated, which signals, quite clearly, that God is working to deliver his people. The crowd sees a glimmer of the truth about Jesus.
But on the other hand, the crowd speaks better than they know, don’t they? It’s true that God has visited them, but it’s even more profound than what the crowd realizes. Jesus is not merely a prophet who works with God’s power. Jesus is God in the Flesh. He is God literally walking among them. There is some irony to the crowd’s exclamation. They glorify God, but their confession has even more truth than what they realize. God has visited them, and he has visited them in Jesus Christ, the Son of God in human flesh.
And brothers and sisters, that brings the passage full circle, you might say. That brings the compassion and the power of Luke 7 together in Jesus Christ. As we noted at the outset, death is not simply a part of life. It’s actually a spiritual reality that reminds us something has gone dreadfully wrong. We need God to make things right.
And the good news of the gospel is that with unthinkable compassion, God himself comes with almighty power to do just that. Don’t miss the simple observation that the Son of God is present at this funeral. How has God defeated death? How has the Lord of Glory overcome the grave? Not by remaining far off in heaven, but by coming near in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus’ compassion for the widow in Luke 7 is a reminder of God’s compassion for sinners like us in the gospel. In his grace, God has drawn near in Christ, he has crushed death through Jesus’ resurrection, and through his powerful word, God has given us life in the Son.
To look on the face of Christ in the gospel is to behold the compassionate power of God the Father. And so, the most fitting conclusion today is to fix our eyes upon Jesus Christ. He is the Lord of compassion who meets his people in their need. He is the Lord over Death who crushes sin once and for all. And he is the Lord of Glory given for us and for our salvation. May our hearts be encouraged, even as we hope in him. Amen, let’s pray.