The Dead are Raised

Text: Luke 7:11-17
Date: Pentecost III (Proper 5) + June 9, 2013

Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! In heaven peace, and glory in the highest! He comes to a city called Nain in the midst of His earthly life’s journey to the cross. He comes, as the scripture says, with the Spirit of the Lord upon Him to proclaim good news, liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed (Luke 4:18). The increasing crowds who followed Him have seen His compassion in releasing people from demon possession (4:33-37), sickness (7:1-10), sin (5:17-26), and now even from death. The people were getting the clear idea that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophetic hope and that with Him the messianic age has dawned.

Luke describes the event with deep emotion. Pathos. The crowd following Jesus encounters another crowd following a funeral procession. The sad story is told that the dead man is the fatherless only-begotten son of his now widowed mother, which means she is now left bereft of any support for her life.

For the first time in his Gospel St. Luke calls Jesus “the Lord” and says He had compassion for the widow and the mourners. It is the mercy of God that motivates Jesus to do healing miracles and ultimately to take away sin and death by way of His own compassionate suffering, death and resurrection. The mercy of Jesus commands weeping and fear to cease at His visitation—even your weeping and fear!

In a brief description of the action Luke says Jesus touched the casket thus stopping the procession. With but a word He raises the lifeless man from the bond of death. The man sits up and begins to speak, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.

We’ve heard that before. “With but a word” Jesus healed the centurion’s servant. “With but a word” He commanded demons and relieves from sickness. And it will be with but His same, powerful, life-creating word that He will raise you from death. At another time Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself…. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:25-29). And it was St. Paul’s inspired witness who tells us of the Last Day, “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thess 4:16). We confess with joy and hope, therefore, that we believe and “look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” This is the great goal and hope that comforts us even in the face of sin’s ongoing campaign of claiming people of their earthly days.

You can imagine the emotions involved in Luke’s description of the crowds’ reaction to this. “Fear seized all and they were glorifying God.” Our dear friend, Tony Sikora, pastor of Hope Lutheran Church in DeWitt, Michigan researched a question that came up in our last confessional study meeting. He found that there are two basic Greek words translated “fear.” The first, “phobos,” from which we get the word “phobia,” is the most common word meaning to be terrified. “Tremo” is the other word sometimes translated “trembling” and is the word meaning “reverence” or “awe.” There is one more word used only once, “Phrisso” used in regard to the “demons shuddering with fear” in James 2:19. Luke says here “fear seized all and they were glorifying God.” We would think that Luke used the second word meaning “reverence” or “awe” And indeed commentators mention that everyone there was in awe at this miracle. But Luke uses the first word, “phobos.” They were scared, literally shaking in their boots. Wouldn’t your muscles tense, your heart rate increase and, beginning to sweat at the sight of a dead man in a casket suddenly sitting up and talking? Luke says it was especially this miracle, performed in the presence of two large crowds of people that increased the gossip about Jesus’ reputation everywhere. The crowds proclaim Jesus to be “a great prophet.” And He was. But more than a prophet. The Pharisees outside of Jerusalem have already heard about Jesus. The Sadducees in Jerusalem will soon learn about Him. Even King Herod will be hearing of Jesus’ miracles. But of everyone who hears about Jesus (both then but also even today!) only a few will believe in Him and be saved. Others will be indifferent, skeptical and simply not believe. This, of course, was foretold already by old Simeon who met the holy family with the infant Jesus in the temple when he said to Mary the infant’s mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed…so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed,” namely, faith or unbelief (Luke 2:34-35).

But now notice that Luke couples the reaction of terrified fear with the crowd also “glorifying God.” At His birth the angels sang the Gloria in Excelsis, “Glory in the highest to God and on earth peace” (2:14). And as our theme of the year keeps reminding us, the crowds at His final entry into Jerusalem is accompanied by the same words, “Blessed the Coming One, the King, in the name of the Lord! In heaven peace, and glory in the highest!” (19:38). To give glory to God is an act of faith praising God who works wonders.

Most importantly, we have said that this account gives us comfort and hope for those around us who have preceded us in death, and also for ourselves who still face the grave. But I would have you recall those words of Jesus we read from John’s Gospel, “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will life.” These first words are not speaking of those already in their graves but those of us still walking in the valley of the shadow. For we are, by nature, sinful and unclean, spiritually blind, dead and enemies of God until we hear the voice of the Son of God now with the result of being raised by faith in Christ even now!

This means, as St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “But God being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses” (even now), “made us alive together with Christ” (even now)—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…. For we are (even now) his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:5-6, 10). This being raised from the dead happened already in your Holy Baptism and is to have a blessed effect on your living today. “All of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:3-4). In Jesus we become “resurrection walkers,” even now, living new and renewed lives by faith. That’s why we call every first day of the week also the eighth day, the first day of our eternal life! For we have already died to sin, and continue to die everyday, so that we might walk now in newness of life.

Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed. And you also will rise. You’ve already begun to!