Sermon / Pr. Ted Giese / Sunday June 5th 2016 - / Luke 7:11-17 / Touching Death
Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Rev. Ted A. Giese / Sunday June 5th 2016 / Luke 7:11-17 - Touching Death
Soon afterward [Jesus] went to a town called Nain, and His disciples and a great crowd went with Him. 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, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 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. Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited His people!” And this report about Him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country.
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.
Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. As Jesus hung on the cross, on Good Friday, a peculiar thing happened - well it may not have been peculiar to the people at the foot of the cross, or at least the idea wasn't, today - to us - it does sound a bit peculiar. While quoting Psalm 22, some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, He is calling Elijah.” And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to Him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take Him down.” And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed His last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood facing Him, saw that in this way [Jesus] breathed His last, [the centurion] said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” The thing that might well sound peculiar to you is the all this talk about Elijah.
Our Gospel lesson today from the Gospel of Luke is paired with our Old Testament reading from 1 Kings 17, in which, as we heard, the prophet Elijah, through prayer, raised from the dead the son of the widow of Zarephath. And today Jesus likewise raises the dead son of a widow in the town of Nain.
Even before Jesus' death on the cross Elijah had been on the minds of the people of Israel, the Judean people held out hope that Elijah would return even though he'd been gone for about 9 hundred years. Elijah, if you recall had not died a natural death. 2 Kings chapter two describes how Elijah and Elisha (his disciple and successor) were walking together and "as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven." So it was that in the days of our Lord, prior to His crucifixion, during His three year public ministry, that the people believed that Elijah might yet return in the way that Elijah had left. Jesus' raising the dead son of the widow of Nian back to life continued to fuel these beliefs. In fact so much was this on the minds of people that when Jesus had later asked His disciples, "Who do the crowds say that I am?" Jesus' disciples responded by saying, “John the Baptist. But others say, Elijah, and others, that one of the prophets of old has risen.” After king Herod had executed John the Baptizer people were even saying to king Herod that Jesus was Elijah returned. Herod for his part thought that Jesus might be John the Baptizer back from the dead. It was a wild time, when Jesus started to heal the sick, like we heard last week with the healing of the centurions servant and then even raise the dead people were justifiably trying to work out what exactly was going on ... so much so that even at the cross as Jesus hung dying there were still people who though that Elijah might yet make an appearance.
Of course Elijah had made an appearance, he with Moses appeared with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. And on that day it was only Peter and the brother's James and John who witnessed Elijah with Jesus. Moses and Elijah were there to speak with Jesus about Jesus' "departure, which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem." Essentially to talk with Jesus about Jesus' coming crucifixion. After the Transfiguration it was clear to Peter, James and John and the rest of Jesus' disciples that Jesus and Elijah were not one and the same. Elijah was a prophet who was simply pointing forward to the coming of the Christ, pointing forward to the coming of Jesus. And for Jesus' part, as the coming Messiah, Jesus was increasingly showing Himself to be more than prophets like Elijah and Moses had been, for they were not the Messiah, they were not the Christ. So today's Gospel reading is one of the examples of Jesus doing miracles like the prophets had done, working His way to outdoing what they had done. Eventually eclipsing all their wondrous works with the most wondrous of miracles, His personal resurrection from the dead.
Now there is another reason why people would have been fixated on Elijah when it came to the Messiah, the Christ. The Gospel of Mark records how it was that, "as they were coming down the mountain [after the Transfiguration], [that Jesus had] charged [Peter, James and John] to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead might mean. And they asked [Jesus], “Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” And [Jesus] said to them, “Elijah does come first to restore all things. And how is it written of the Son of Man [?], that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt? But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him.” This is made clear by the beginning of the Gospel of Luke when the angle Gabriel who came to announce the coming of John the Baptizer describes him to his father Zechariah saying that John "will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before [the Lord their God] in the Spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” So we see that the same Holy Spirit given to Elijah, the same measure, the same Spirit was given to John the Baptizer.
Peter, James and John's question to Jesus, as they walked down the mountain side, showed that there were people who were anticipating the arrival of Elijah, not simply a man with the same spirit poured out upon him as Elijah had had, and not the sort of arrival that Peter, James and John had just witness on the mountain top with Jesus on the day of Transfiguration. From the highest to the lowest in society everyone seemed to have Elijah on the brain because they were all anticipating a recue from Roman oppression and they thought that the appearance of Elijah would be evidence of a coming rescue; with this in mind people had even been asking John the Baptizer if he was Elijah, and in John's Gospel we hear how, "the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask [John the Baptizer], “Who are you?” He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” [Essentially they were asking him ... if you're not Elijah are you Moses then?] And he answered, “No.” So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”
(Now [these men who were asking John these questions] had been sent from the Pharisees.) [So] they asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even He who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” Sandals that they however would untie on the day of Jesus' crucifixion: Feet that they would hammer nails through to the wood of the cross. John the Baptizer was saying that in their very midst that very day stood the feet that were about to bring good news, the feet that would bring life in a world of death. Which brings us right back to today's Gospel reading.
Taking a step way back and looking at what St. Luke has recorded we see feet walking in procession, two very different processions. On the one hand there are the feet of the mourners carrying a dead young man, and following along walked his grieving mother with feet reeling with the shock of the death of her son, she was a widow with an uncertain future, then came the people from the town, a community gathered in grief with heavy feet ... and on the other hand we have the other procession: Jesus with His twelve disciples, Jesus with His other followers happily walking together towards Nain on their way there from Jesus having healed the Centurion's Servant, having shown dominion over illness. As this procession of joy approaches, in the midst of it, are the feet of Jesus who unbeknownst to them bring good news, feet that publish peace, feet that bring good news of happiness, and salvation, the feet of Christ Jesus that say to the people of the Lord, “Your God reigns.” How does our Gospel put it? “God has visited His people!” This is what the people said after Jesus raised the widows son.
So on the one hand grief and sadness and on the other hand joy and celebration; And as Jesus gave the young man to his mother, as Jesus gave him to his mother - no longer dead but alive - she likely didn't care if Jesus was Elijah or Moses. She would have been overjoyed for the return of her son to her. All you who morn look with eager anticipation to the day when the one you've lost, the ones you've lost are placed back into your arms. So it is important to note today that your Jesus, who is greater than Elijah, greater than Moses, your Jesus who is God, is not a Jesus afraid to reach out and touch death. Our text says that when the Lord saw her, when He saw the widow grieving over her dead son, He had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then He came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. Jesus touch the wooden plank on which they carried the body of the young dead man. This was unexpected. It made Him ritually unclean; Rabbis, Pharisees, Levites, who came upon a situation like this would have avoided touching the dead body or anything associated with it, but not your Jesus. He was willing to touch death and as Hebrews says "for the joy that was set before Him [Jesus] endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." He was willing to go to His death so that the widows dead son would have something better than an temporary resurrection from the dead, so that the widows' dead son would have eternally life. This He does not just for her, not just for this young man, out of compassion Jesus has done this for you too. We like they deserve nothing but death, Jesus however out of compassion and grace gives life. And of Himself Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die." Then Jesus asks, "Do you believe this?”
What we have with Elijah raising the son of the widow of Zarephath and Jesus raising the son of the widow of Nain are an Old Testament and a New Testament lesson both pointing forward to the final resurrection which will come on The Last Day. A resurrection prophesied by Elijah when the widow of Zarephath received her son back from death, and highlighted again when the widow of Nain received her son back from death, a resurrection won for you by Jesus' death on Good Friday and His resurrection that first Easter Morning. Unlike your brothers and sisters back in the time of Jesus' public ministry before His death and resurrection you don't have burning concerns about Elijah, but many today do believe that certain things must happen before Jesus can return, before The Last Day can Happen. Jesus however says that, “concerning That Day or That Hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." Jesus can return at any time, and when He does He "will come in the same way as [His disciples] saw Him go into heaven [on the day of His Ascension, 40 days after that first Easter.” And there is a way in which it will be like this reading from the Gospel of Luke today: On That Day Jesus' nail pierced feet will descend from heaven, will come from heaven, and with Him will come a happy procession of all those who have go on ahead in the faith, Peter James and John even Elijah and Moses and all the faithful who are in Christ. The Lord of Life and His hosts of heaven comes to a world gripped in the last grasps of death giving up it's dead at His command. On That Day Jesus full of compassion calls out and dead will be no more, the will rise to eternal life and all those with faith in Christ will exclaim with great joy, “God has visited His people!” You've had family reunions? You've experienced these visits where family comes together? Everyone comes together, there is great joy and then you all part ways and go home; same thing at weddings, everyone comes together, there is great joy and then we all part our ways and go home, and often today it's at funerals, that we say, "Isn't it great to see everyone!" and there's a bit of sadness knowing that we will all part our ways again. The joy of the resurrection on The Last Day, the joy of that visit, where God comes to be with His people, when He draws them in a final way to Himself, will not be a temporary reunion, no that reunion, that celebration will be one that will never end. Amen.
Let us pray:
Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.
 Mark 15:34-39
 2 Kings 2:11
 Luke 9:18-19
 Luke 9:31
 Mark 9:9-13
 Luke 1:15-17
 John 1:1-7:1 Concordia Commentary, Concordia Publishing House 2015, William C. Weinrich, pg 211.
 John 1:19-27
 Isaiah 52:7
 Hebrews 12:2
 John 11:25-26
 Mark 13:32
 Acts 1:11