Sermon for the Third Sunday after Pentecost based on Luke 7:11-17
Dear saints pursued by death: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
The villains in many books and movies can be quite terrifying. Their evil goals and objectives hurt and harm many people. The devastation they leave in their wake is multiplied if the villains are powerful or well-armed. Such villains cause people to flee in terror and hide lest they too become victims.
All of mankind has a very real villain from whom no one can run or hide – death. Death is really something of a supervillain. We cannot outrun death. We cannot hide from death. Death does not discriminate. He takes the old. He takes the young. He takes the unhealthy. He takes the healthy. No one escapes death.
A great hymn puts it this way:
And death pursues me all the way, Nowhere I rest securely;
He comes by night, he comes by day, he takes his prey most surely.
A failing breath, and I In death’s strong grasp may lie
To face eternity today As death pursues me all the way. (LSB 716 st. 3)
We are completely helpless in the face of death. The best medical care may postpone or prolong death, but nothing more. Exercise and a healthy diet increase the possibility of a longer life, but nothing more. When death comes, all we can do is watch helplessly.
Death has a rightful claim on us. God says, “The soul who sins shall die.” (Ezek. 18:20) It’s as simple as that. Death doesn’t have to wait until we are 80 or 90. Death doesn’t have to wait until we are diagnosed with a terminal illness. Death doesn’t have to wait for us to be frail and weak.
Death can and does take lives already in the womb. Death can and does take little children playing innocently at the playground or learning intently at school. Death can and does take athletes and health gurus and vegans and vegetarians. No one escapes death.
Death tragically took away a widow’s only son, the only provider and defender remaining for her since death had already taken her husband. Death took away her only remaining reason for living; the only one remaining in her life.
The crowd from her town of Nain was helplessly mourning with the widow. The whole crowd could do nothing to save her son from death. All the doctors and medicine in the world couldn’t do a thing to help. Death took his prey.
Jesus saw this grieving widow who had now also lost her only son, and He had compassion on her. He raised the young man back to life through the power of His Word. So easy. Jesus just speaks, and the young man is brought back to life.
Sure, joy and happiness resulted. A young man’s life was restored. But the only thing that really happened to the young man is that he now had death pursuing him again. The young man was raised back into this life where death will once again come for him by night or day, when he’s young or when he’s old, when he’s sick or when he’s healthy. Death will once again take his prey.
Jesus raising the young man back to life is not the whole story. If it was the whole story, you would have to conclude that Jesus doesn’t have compassion on those widows and parents whose loved ones are not restored to this life. If it was the whole story, you would have to conclude that this life is all that there is, so we should cling to it like there’s nothing better. If it was the whole story, you would have to conclude that, in the end, death is undefeatable even for Jesus.
The whole story is that Jesus here shows His power over death. He not only shows that He is the promised Saviour the Old Testament prophesied would come and raise the dead, but He shows that He has power over death.
The terrible villain that pursues all of mankind every day needs only a Word to be undone. One Word from Jesus undoes the worst that death can do. One Word from Jesus takes all of death’s power away. Jesus faces death head-on and triumphs.
Jesus’ ultimate victory over death was His own death. Death had no claim on Jesus because Jesus lived a perfect life of obedience to God’s Law, but Jesus took our sins on Himself and gave Himself over to death for us. The powers of death did their worst, but death could not hold Jesus. Death could not hold God in the flesh.
Jesus broke the bars of death and the chains of hell. He rose victorious over death and the grave, proving Himself the author of life. Jesus has defeated our great enemy and has routed the villain that pursues us. That’s the whole story.
This means that Jesus does have compassion on you who have lost loved ones even if He does not raise them back to this life. He has compassion on you widows who grieve the loss of your husbands and on you widowers who grieve the loss of your wives. He has compassion on you parents who have lost children and on you children who have lost parents. Jesus has compassion on all of you who grieve and gives you the promise of eternal life.
Jesus will not raise your loved ones back to this life of sin and suffering, but He will raise all believers to new life in the new heavens and the new earth. He will not raise them only so that death can pursue them once again, but He will raise them and you to where there is no more death.
You know that He will do it because you see that all He needs to do is say a Word and the dead are raised. He who created Adam from the dust of the earth will raise us and all believers from the dust of the earth to eternal life. So easy. Jesus just speaks, and we will be brought back to life.
Jesus has triumphed over death, our enemy. This means that when death thinks it is going to win a victory over us at our death bed, it will be a hollow victory because death will not be able to hold us. Death will no more hold us than it held Jesus, because we are baptized into Him. As surely as Jesus rose from the dead, we too will arise.
Now hell, its prince, the devil, Of all their pow’r are shorn;
Now I am safe from evil, And sin I laugh to scorn.
Grim death with all its might Cannot my soul affright;
It is a pow’rless form, Howe’er it rave and storm. (LSB 467 st. 4)
Because Jesus has defeated death, death now is our doorway to eternal life where God’s good healing will relieve all suffering, sin, and sorrow. We will be reunited with all our loved ones who have died in the faith, and death will be no more. Death will no longer pursue us or threaten us. You will not be raised to life only so that death can pursue you once again, but you will be raised to where there is no more death. Alleluia. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.