Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Second Sunday after Pentecost

Second Sunday after Pentecost (C – Proper 5)
June 6, 2010
Text: Luke 7:11-17

“God has visited his people!” (Luke 7:16; ESV). So sang the people of Nain, in great fear and reverence, when Jesus raised the widow’s only son. Little did they know how right they were, for God has visited His people in the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth, the only-begotten Son of God, the Son of the Virgin Mary. God has visited His people, and the people’s reaction is right on the money! They fear, and they glorify God. Fear and praise. Both reactions are called for when God visits His people. Fear, for God is not a gentle, fragile old grandfather who winks at the kiddies and their mischief, but a perfectly righteous and holy God, who cannot abide sin, and who must punish sinners. And praise, for though God never excuses sin, He is slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love (Num. 14:18), and He provides for the forgiveness of our iniquities and trespasses in the punishment of Another in our place, by sending His only-begotten Son into death on the cross as the sacrifice of atonement, that all who believe in Him have eternal life.

There are two ways that God visits His people. He visits them with wrath, and He visits them with compassion. The LORD your God is a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Him (Ex. 20:5). When God visits with His wrath, no one can stand. This is God’s alien work, the work of the Law that shows us our sin and kills us. If we reject God, and Jesus Christ, His son, this visitation of wrath will last forever in the eternal punishment and death of hell. This work, this visitation of God’s wrath, is the just punishment for sin. But it is never God’s goal. He does not desire the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his evil way and live (Ez. 33:11). God convicts us with His holy Law, that He may prepare us for the Holy Gospel. He kills, that He may make alive. The Gospel, by which He makes dead sinners alive, is God’s proper work. It belongs to His very essence to make alive. Death is God’s enemy as much as it is ours. Life is God’s gift to every one of us, not by our own merit or worthiness, but by the merits and worthiness of His beloved Son, Jesus Christ.

God’s wrath against sin is real. And we are sinners, as were the people of Nain. And so it is entirely appropriate that when God visits His people, we fear. C. S. Lewis, in his masterful children’s novel, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, records this conversation between Mr. and Mrs. Beaver and the children about Aslan the lion, the Christ figure of the book:

“Is—is he a man?” asked Lucy.
“Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “…Aslan is a lion—the Lion,
the great Lion.”
“Ooh!” said Susan. “… Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about
meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone
who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver
than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said
anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”[1]

God is not safe. But He is good. We justly fear His wrath, and therefore wish to do nothing against His commandments. But we also love and trust in Him. We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. That is what it means to fulfill the First Commandment. It is a fearful thing when God does His alien work. But by faith, we know that He kills, that He may make alive. We know this because God has visited His people in a very real, tangible way in the flesh of Jesus Christ. God has visited His people in the flesh of Christ, that in that flesh, He take away sin and reverse death. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).

Yes, God visits His people to reverse death. In our Old Testament lesson, God visits His people with a prophet, with His Word, and He reverses death. When Elijah first met the widow of Zarephath, he found her preparing one last little cake for her and her son to eat, and then die of starvation, for there was a great famine in the land. God promised through His prophet, that if the widow took care of Elijah also, the jar of flour and the jug of oil would not be emptied until the famine was over. And what happened? The LORD reversed the death of the widow and her son: “The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by Elijah” (1 Kings 17:16). But now the son is gravely ill, and dies of his illness. The woman is heartbroken and despairing. She believes that the prophet is mocking her and God is punishing her. But God visits His people to reverse death. God kills that He may make alive. Through the prophet, without any merit or worthiness on the part of the widow, the LORD restores the boy alive to his mother. It is a type, a picture prophecy, of the enlivening work of the Lord Jesus. Our Lord raises Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:21-43). Our Lord raises His dear friend Lazarus, who had been dead four days, from the grave (John 11). And in our Gospel this morning, the LORD again restores an only son to his widowed mother (Luke 7:11-17).

Our Lord comes to Nain, a small village, 20 miles Southwest of Capernaum. And as He and His disciples draw near the village gate, they encounter a funeral procession. “There is a great contrast between the procession which is leaving the city, with sad and mournful steps, and that which is about to enter the city, happy because of the Savior in their midst.”[2] Jesus, who was not invited to this funeral, who probably had never before met the widow or her son, but who instantly, in His omniscience, knew the whole story, stops the procession in its tracks. He has great compassion, which literally means, He suffers along with the mother, now destitute and robbed of her husband and her son. “Do not weep,” He commands the mother (v. 13), not because it is wrong to weep in the face of death (it’s not!), but because Jesus is about to reverse the very cause of her weeping. “As Luther says, the Lord here boldly steps in the way of death, as the Mighty One, who has authority over him.”[3] Graciously, Jesus extends His hand. “He touched the coffin: the hand of Life rapped at the chamber of death.”[4] Remember, to touch a dead body, or even be near it, makes one unclean according to the Law of Moses. Jesus takes the uncleanness and death of the young man into Himself. And He imparts His own cleanness and life to the young man. Our Lord speaks. He commands: “Young man, I say to you, arise” (v. 14). And the man arises, as if from a peaceful sleep. For that is what the grave is for Christians, a peaceful slumber of the body while the soul is with Jesus in heaven. And on the Last Day, Jesus will wake our bodies, just as He here awakes the boy. The boy sits up, and he begins to speak. He is alive! And Jesus gives the boy back to his mother. God has visited His people. Death is reversed. The people fear and they glorify God.

Now this doesn’t always happen in this way. Dead sons are not always, or even ordinarily, restored to their mothers in this earthly life. Many are the mothers who have been robbed of their sons and daughters and husbands too early. What comfort does this Gospel bring to them when Jesus doesn’t bring their loved ones back to life? This miracle was granted in this place, to this mother and son, and in this way, for a very specific purpose. This, along with the resurrection of the son in Zarephath in our Old Testament lesson, and Jairus’ daughter, and Lazarus, all of these serve as types, foreshadowings, of our Lord’s own death and resurrection. For God also lost a Son in death, His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. It was a tragic and horrific death, the death of the cross. This death is the payment for this sins of the whole world, for the sins of both widows, of Nain and of Zarephath, and their sons, the sins of Jairus and his daughter, the sins of Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha, the sins of the disciples, your sins, my sins, all sins. For God must punish sinners. He punishes them in the flesh of His Son, who became sin for us, hanging on the cross of Golgotha. But God kills that He may make alive. God has visited His people. Christ is risen. Jesus lives. Jesus dies, that we may not die forever. Jesus perishes, that we may not perish in God’s just wrath. Jesus lives, that we may have eternal life now, albeit in a hidden way. Jesus lives, that when we die, our souls may be with Him in heaven, and our bodies rest in the grave, until that Day when He reunites our bodies and souls and awakens us from the slumber of death. We are given eternal life in Baptism. At the font, the water joined with the Word, God kills us, drowns the Old Adam in us along with all sins and evil desires, and raises us to new life in Christ. Every day is a day of death and resurrection for the Christian as we return to our Baptism, daily crucifying the flesh and arising in Christ and the Holy Spirit, daily repenting of our sins and believing the Gospel of forgiveness in Christ. Jesus lives. He who died once for the sins of all, now lives forever. And in Baptism, we are united to Him in His death and resurrection.

And this, beloved, is the comfort for the mother who has not yet received back her son. This is the comfort for all who have lost loved ones in the faith of Jesus Christ. This is the comfort for all of us who have to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Jesus lives! And you will receive your loved ones back in heaven. The widow of Nain’s son was raised and given back to her. Some years later, he had to bury his mother. And then he died again. He was not resurrected forever, as he, and we, will be on the Last Day. But when he died, he was restored to his mother yet again. Imagine with what great rejoicing she once again received her son into her arms in heaven, as the angels sang their alleluias along with the whole host of heaven. And we, too, will meet them there, and see them with our own bodily eyes in the resurrection of all flesh.

God has visited His people. He has visited His people in the flesh of Jesus Christ. He continues to visit us in the flesh of Jesus Christ, the very body and blood of Christ given and shed for us and distributed in the bread and wine of the Supper. This is the meal of eternal life. Are you dying? (All of us are!) Do you mourn over death? Here is the meal of life! Here God visits you! Here you join with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, all those who have died in the faith, in the Holy Communion. Here you eat and drink with the widows of Nain and Zarephath and their sons, with Jairus and his daughter, with Lazarus and his sisters, with Hulda and Wilma and Birdie and Bernice, with Paul and Bob and Lissy, with Bill, Bonietta, and Delora, and countless other saints who have gone before, those you know and those you don’t. They live, because Jesus lives, and we are united by the body and blood of Christ as one holy Christian Church. Death has been reversed. It has been swallowed up in victory. God has visited His people. He is not safe, but He is good. And in His goodness and mercy, He has redeemed us and given us eternal life. Let us fear Him, and give Him all praise and glory. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Quoted in R. Reed Lessing, Concordia Commentary: Amos (St. Louis: Concordia, 2009), p. 1.
[2] Paul E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible: New Testament Vol. I (St. Louis: Concordia, n.d.) p. 302.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.


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