“As [Jesus] 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.’”
Occasionally, we are given the opportunity to see clearly our purpose in life. That is, there are times when we see in concrete ways just why we are here in this time and place, why we have been interconnected in our relationships with others. But with Jesus, it is not an occasional event. As He had come down from heaven for us men and for our salvation, Jesus constantly saw why He was on earth. It is especially clear when Jesus encountered death and those who mourn because of it.
That is what takes place in the
But what is Jesus’ purpose? He has come to personally deal with death; to put an end to it and its effects. This is what motivates Jesus’ action: “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!’” Pity drives Jesus to act. Jesus has compassion on the widow, providing what He has for her benefit. Jesus is the Word of God that brought life to the world, causing creation to exist. That power is His possession, what He has to give. So He uses that ability to correct what is wrong. Jesus speaks the Word of Life to raise the young man from his coffin and restore him alive to his mother: “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.”
What Jesus does at the village gates makes Nain a microcosm of the whole creation. Jesus’ singular compassionate act for the young man’s mother is what He will do on a cosmic scale. Jesus is meant to reverse all the effects that sin has brought to the creation. That is what He—and He alone—has the ability to do. Jesus is “the Resurrection and the Life.” His purpose is to bring life to the world, to deliver all creation from the jaws of death. His compassion is not for the widow only; rather, it is shown for all who are in the same predicament, for all who are affected by death, for all who are under the curse that sin has brought.
Note what happened after Jesus raised the young man: “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
The report about Jesus’ ability and identity that the people brought into
Think again on what happened to the young man of Nain. He is dead. There is no life in him. He is carried to his grave by others who will suffer the same. Even his widow mother will fall victim to the same fate that engulfed her son. That is the plight of all who are born of man. They all walk in this world under the curse of sin until the day that their breath leaves them. All are powerless to change that, save for One—God who visited His people, suffering under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried, and the third day rose again from the dead. And how does His ability to give life come to those who are dead? He speaks: “I say to you, arise!” Jesus’ words of eternal life raise the sinner.
You have been raised like the young man of Nain. Why? Because Jesus’ words of eternal life have been spoken to you. Jesus gives His command: “Young man, [young woman, old man, old woman, newborn,] I say to you, arise!” That word of eternal life is attached to the water of Holy Baptism, just as you recall from Luther’s catechism: “Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s word.” Jesus’ word of eternal life frees you from the curse of sin, even when you fall victim to it and its effects in your daily existence. In Holy Absolution, Jesus again gives you life, so that “a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” The Lord’s word of eternal life are connected to bread and wine in the Holy Supper: “These words, ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,’ show us that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words.” And so Jesus brings you life every Lord’s Day.
Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, Holy Supper: these are the ways that Jesus raises your souls from death and gives life to your mortal bodies. Why? Because they carry His words of eternal life. Without them, there is no power in such things. But with them, salvation is given to you. As Jesus has given you the command to rise again through these things, you are made alive. So you may confess that “God has visited His people.” For He has made Himself present for you. So you may rightly pray with the Psalmist, as you did this morning: “O Lord, my God, I cried to You for help, and You have healed me. O Lord, You have brought up my soul from Sheol; You restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit.” Like the Psalmist, you have been delivered from the fate that should be visited on all who sin and fall short of the glory of God. Like the young man of Nain, you have been raised, and so you may speak. Like the villagers, you have witnessed Jesus’ acts of compassion for you, so you may testify about them.
But there is one more thing to be said about Jesus’ words of eternal life: His command to rise is not limited to the span of your earthly days. No, it will be spoken to you for a final time. For you are just like the widow’s son: a day will come when you will be on the funeral bier, when the procession will take you to be buried. A crowd great or small will follow you to the grave. The end of earthly life comes to all who are born of man, whose parents are sinful like them. But even then, Jesus’ command to rise shall again be given. And when Jesus speaks, things happen as He wills them to be.
This is promised by the Lord: “An hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear [the Son’s] 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.” Jesus promises that He will speak and you will hear and respond. Jesus again will say to you: “Arise!” And it shall be as He wills it for you. Jesus will speak His words of life and the Holy Spirit who accompanies it shall act, just as we Lutherans confess: “On the Last Day, He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.”
All this is the effect that Jesus’ words of eternal life have. It is the fulfillment of the purpose for which He came to this world. Jesus’ words and works are for us and for our salvation. They were done to overthrow the power of sin, death, and Satan. Jesus accomplished His cosmic purpose by dying and rising again, so that “death no longer has dominion over Him.” Through His resurrection, the opposite is true, just as He declares: “Behold, I hold the keys of Death and Hades.” And in His great compassion, Jesus uses them to unlock the chains and fling open the doors, to restore life to those who are dead. It was so in the Old Testament with the raised boy in Zarephath. The young man in Nain experienced it during the earthly ministry of Christ. So also it shall be for you, whenever Jesus gives the command: “I say to you, arise!”
T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.