Death Defeated!

Sermon for the Resurrection of Our Lord based on Mark 16:1-8

Dear people who will rise from the dead: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

We know death. We see signs of it in every illness, every injury, even in every paper cut. We’ve seen it drawing nearer and nearer in hospitals and nursing homes. We’ve seen it come surprisingly and unexpectedly. We’ve seen it take the young and the old, the healthy and the sick. Death is all around us.

Death seems so permanent to us. Year after year, more bodies are buried in cemeteries and the number of tombstones only increases. We don’t see people come out of graves, they go into them and that’s the last we have seen of them.

This is exactly what the women going to the tomb on Easter morning knew. They knew death. They had seen the mean, bloody, gruesome, torturous death of Jesus at the hands of a wicked, cruel mob. They had followed and witnessed Joseph lay Jesus’ breathless, lifeless corpse in the tomb.

The women made their way to the tomb early in the morning in order to put spices and ointments on the dead body to prepare it for permanent burial. Their hearts were filled with love for Jesus who had done nothing but good to them and for them and everyone else. They could not forget Him now that He was dead. Their biggest concern was how to move the large stone away from the entrance of the tomb so that they could gain access to Jesus’ body. They were completely unprepared for what they found once they arrived at the tomb.

The great stone had been rolled away and Jesus’ body was not there. John records that Mary was weeping at the tomb, and the angels asked her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Mary responded with saying, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” In other words, she said, “What are these wicked men trying to do? Why do they afflict and torment us poor, miserable people? Haven’t they done enough to poor Christ our dear Master and Lord? They’ve put Him to a cruel death and now will not even allow His body a resting place in the earth now that He is dead!” (adapted from Spangenberg)

An angel said to the women, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee. There you will see Him just as He told you.”

Just as He told you. This wasn’t something new that the women were hearing. Jesus had been telling His disciples many times that He would suffer and die in fulfilment of Scripture and that He would rise from the dead on the third day. It was necessary that He die to save us from our sin. It was necessary that He pay the price of our sins so that we do not have to pay the price. It was necessary that He rise from the dead, defeating death.

It was too much for the women to handle. Mark writes, “And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

They were in shock. They trembled. They were afraid. Their world had been turned upside down by Jesus’ death. Now it just seemed to be spinning and they were trying to come to grips with what they had been told by the angel.

When the women calmed down enough to talk, they went and told the apostles what the angel had told them and what they had witnessed. Luke says that the apostles did not believe the women and their words seemed like an idle tale. Then Jesus appeared to the apostles when Thomas was not with them, and Thomas would not believe that Jesus was alive even though all the apostles told him that they had seen Him.

This is how wrapped up we are in death, that is is difficult for us to understand life. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead burst the bars of death for us. Death was defeated.

When Christ returns, every single grave will give up its dead. Those who died rejecting Christ will be raised and sent to eternal punishment in hell, and those who died with faith in Christ will be raised to eternal life in heaven. The grave will keep no one.

The good news for us is that getting into heaven is not about what we have to do or not do. You don’t go to heaven because you’ve done more good than bad in your life. You don’t go to heaven because you lived a life of virtue and avoided scandal. You don’t go to heaven because you’ve been to church on more Sundays than you’ve missed. You go to heaven because Christ Jesus died on the cross for your sins and has earned you eternal life. You go to heaven because Jesus paid the price of your sins and suffered hell for you so that you do not have to suffer in hell. You go to heaven because Christ Jesus gives you forgiveness through the waters of holy Baptism, through the word of Absolution, and in His body and blood, given and shed for you.

We are surrounded by death, and we see death all around us. But Christ has defeated death, and death is now our door to Paradise. Our graves are beds in which our bodies rest even as our souls go to be with Jesus until He returns and raises our bodies as He is raised.

Because of Jesus’ resurrection, death has lost its sting. Jesus lives and we will live with Him. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Widows and the Church

Sermon for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost based on 1 Kings 17:8-16, Hebrews 9:24-28, and Mark 12:38-44

Dear people with faith: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

We heard of the faith of two widows in our Scripture lessons this morning – the widow of Zarephath who gave all the food she had to Elijah, trusting that God would take care of her, and the widow at the Temple who put all the money she had into the offering, trusting that God would take care of her. They both demonstrated by what they did, that they had faith that even though their circumstances seemed dire and hopeless, God would not forget about them or forsake them.

This was a faith that God shaped in them through suffering. That’s the thing about widows with faith. They have a wisdom of experience, and I’m not talking only of old age, but of fighting the good fight of faith. They are veterans of the war with sin and death. They have accompanied their spouses through the process of dying; and that last enemy, that has somewhat kept its distance from the rest of us, they have seen face to face. They know death. They know what is at stake. They know what in the world is truly important, and for them in their wisdom, they supported the preaching of God’s Word.

The widow of Zarephath supported the prophet of God, Elijah, in a time of drought and famine. She had intended to make a last meal for herself and her son before they would starve to death. Instead she made a little cake with her last flour and oil for the prophet of God, and God took care of her.

The widow at the Temple supported the work of the Temple and the worship that took place there. What happened to her is not told to us, but we can know for sure that God took care of her.

In her case, it was not a time of drought or famine. She was not supporting a prophet in need. She was giving offerings at the Temple – offerings which the greedy scribes, Pharisees, and chief priests used for their long robes and their lavish feasts. Indeed, Jesus accused them of devouring widows’ houses.

They made long shows of prayer and piety, but it was all a hypocritical ruse and a scam to get more money from poor widows. We are told they were lovers of money and they ridiculed Jesus for telling them that they cannot serve two masters; that one cannot serve both God and money (Lk. 16:13-14). They were so greedy for gain that they preyed on the poor widows, taking the little the widows had to add to their own wealth and riches.

What a stark contrast to the poor widow who trusted in God and gave everything to God. She gave herself to God. She entrusted her life to Him. She was thinking about eternity, not her earthly needs, knowing God would take care of both.

These two believing widows knew their Saviour from death, and they knew that it was of the highest importance that the message of salvation and the promise of forgiveness be preached by Elijah and flow from the Temple before death sticks his face into the lives of others.

Widows have a faith that has been tried and tested and strengthened by the Lord through tribulations that we have yet to experience. They trust God to get them through their current trials and tribulations, just as He has gotten them through all their previous trials and tribulations.

Where would we be without widows? Widows make up a large percentage of the hearers in the pews on Sunday morning [in many congregations, certainly at Zion]. Widows support this congregation with sacrificial offerings and with their time in preparing meals for events and sandwiches for funerals. Widows have told me that they pray for me and for my pastoral care for you. Widows volunteer at the nursing home and gather the residents for Divine Service in the chapel. They volunteer at the thrift shop and in the community in many ways I don’t even know.

Now, I don’t want to downplay the many contributions of those who are not widows. That is not the point. Rather, I want to highlight what a blessing faithful widows are to the church; what a blessing they are to me. They have seen our heavenly Father get them through at least one battle with death, and as they await their reunion with their husbands in heaven, they serve their neighbour and serve the church as the two widows did in our lessons.

God blesses the church through widows, and He blesses widows, and all of us, through the church. Church is where our sins are forgiven – our sins of not trusting in God when our situation seems dire and hopeless; our sins of clinging to mammon; our sins of being angry with God when we have faced trial, tribulation, and loss. All our sins are forgiven.

Our sins are forgiven because Christ has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself (Heb. 9:26). Your sin has been put away because Jesus sacrificed Himself on the cross for you. It was a once for all sacrifice. No more sacrifice is needed. Your sins have been paid for in full.

Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him (Heb. 9:28). We eagerly wait for Jesus to return. Jesus dealt with our sin the first time He came, so now when He returns there is no more sin to deal with. Our sin has been put away, so Jesus returns to take us to Himself, so that we will be with Him in heaven. There, believing widows will be reunited with their believing husbands. Believing widowers will be reunited with their believing wives. We will be reunited with all our loved ones who have died in the faith.

For that day we pray. For that day we wait. We wait with widows. We wait with widowers. We eagerly wait with the whole Church on earth for that day when Christ returns. Then death will be no more, only life, and we will live forever with our Saviour who has saved us from sin, death, and the grave. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. Come quickly. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

[A note to readers: We will being following the One-Year Lectionary in Advent. Also, as always, I am indebted to the many preachers with which God has blessed our church. I regularly steal ideas from the sermons of others that I find insightful or helpful. For this sermon, I stole entire paragraphs from a sermon by Pastor Kurt Lantz related to widows.]

The Day of Resurrection

Sermon for Easter Sunday based on Matthew 28:1-10

Dear victors over death: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The women who went to the tomb hadn’t really thought things through. Early on Sunday morning while it was still dark, they headed to the tomb where they had seen Jesus’ lifeless body laid with their own eyes. They went with spices to prepare Jesus’ body for permanent burial.

These women had some impediments to accomplishing their task, however. There was a great stone in front of the entrance of the tomb. That great stone was sealed so that it would not be moved. Further, Pilate had given the Jews a guard of soldiers to keep the tomb as secure as possible. The greatest impediment of all, of course, was the fact that Jesus was not in the tomb and He was no longer dead.

The great stone was guarding an empty tomb. The seal, still secure in its place, gave no evidence of the fact that Jesus was no longer there. The guards were securing nothing more than grave cloths in an otherwise vacant grave.

The great stone, the seal, and the guards were no impediment for Jesus to rise from the dead. The angel makes a show of this, mocking such pathetic attempts to keep Jesus in the grave.

The angel caused a great earthquake. Why? He could have moved the stone without an earthquake. The angel’s appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. Why? Oftentimes, angels would appear looking like regular men. He made the guards become like dead men, like they were nothing. Why? They were no threat to him. He sat on the stone he had rolled away. Why? He wasn’t tired. He didn’t need to sit down to rest. He sat on the stone for the same reason he did all the other spectacular things. He did it to mock these insignificant, pathetic attempts to keep Jesus in the grave. This tiny little rock is going to keep Jesus in the tomb? This joke of a seal is supposed to do something? Those soldiers that are like dead men are supposed to secure something? That’s laughable!

Even more, the angel mocks death. Is that all you got? Is that your best shot? O grave, where is your victory? You swallowed up the Son of God, the one who laid the earth’s foundations. You took the life of the one on whom all the sins of the world were laid. Is that your victory?

No, that is no victory. As the angel shows, the grave is empty. The grave could not hold its prey.

Because Jesus had all of our sins on Him, and because He died for us and in our place, and because He rose from the dead, the grave will have no victory when we die either. Death has lost its strength and power.

Death can threaten all it likes. It can try to intimidate with illness and disease, with accidents and catastrophes, but death is impotent. Death can threaten as our bodies fail, as we grow weak and tired, and as we suffer loneliness and depression.

But the angel mocks you, o death. The angel makes a spectacle of how powerless and pathetic you are.

We join the angel. We mock you, o death. Is that all you got? Is that your best shot? O grave, where is your victory? Where is your sting? You are powerless and pathetic.

We will die, but that is no victory for the grave. No great stones or seals or guards of soldiers will keep us in the grave any more than they kept Jesus in the grave.

Our sins will not keep us in the grave. Our sins were put on Jesus, Jesus died for them, and He rose from the dead. Our sins have been removed from us. They’ve been taken away by the Lamb of God and they are no longer ours.

Our tombs will be empty, like Jesus’ tomb is empty. Then we will have a real spectacle as all who died in Christ are raised to eternal life. We will see all the sights and sounds of heaven in their spectacular glory, and be with our risen Lord for eternity.

Christ has taken away all the impediments that would stand in the way of our eternal life. He has given us His Word of truth which keeps us from following the lies of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh. He has called us as His own through the waters of Holy Baptism, and thus separated us from the hosts of unbelievers. He gives us His resurrected body and blood to eat and drink so that we will live forever as He lives forever.

So, yes, we mock death. Death is now for us nothing more than a slumber from which Christ will awaken us on the Last Day. When we die, then we will really be alive with Jesus, while our bodies sleep, waiting for the day of resurrection. We go through death only to follow Jesus out of death, victorious because Jesus has given us victory over death. Jesus’ death has swallowed up death. Death has lost its sting forever. So, it doesn’t matter what or who is guarding our tombs on the day of resurrection, because we won’t be there. Our graves will be empty because Jesus grave is empty. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

The Dead Will Rise

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent based on John 11:1-45

Dear people who will rise from the dead: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Both Martha and Mary said these same words to Jesus. They both suggested that Jesus had failed to do what He was supposed to do. Jesus didn’t come quick enough to heal Lazarus, so Lazarus died.

Did you notice what Jesus did when He heard that Lazarus was sick? Luke writes, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when He heard that Lazarus was ill, He stayed two days longer in the place where He was.” Jesus heard that Lazarus was ill, so He stayed longer where He was. Jesus loved them, so He did not go. Jesus loved them, so He allowed Lazarus to die. He even told His disciples that He is glad the He wasn’t there, for their sake.

When Jesus did go days later, we see that Jesus loved them. Lazarus’s sisters were weeping along with other mourners. When Jesus saw them weeping, He was deeply moved in His spirit and greatly troubled. Jesus wept.

Jesus’ love and compassion are what moved Him to weep with those who were mourning. Death had taken His friend, and He stood among the friends and family who were heartbroken and mourning. Jesus feels compassion and mourns with those who mourn. Do not think that He is cold and heartless and does not share in the pain of His people. In fact, the Son of God came to earth to take our sorrow and pain on Himself and take it away from us forever.

While visiting a cemetery yesterday, I came across the graves of some of your loved ones; a grave of a dear member I buried; several little graves of those taken so young. I assure you, with each one of those deaths, Jesus shared in the pain of His people. Jesus shared and shares your pain. Jesus feels compassion and mourns when you mourn. Jesus weeps when you weep, because He feels your sorrow. Your loved ones who have passed away are the reason Jesus came to earth. You are the reason Jesus came to earth. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead so that you would know His glory and believe in Him.

As Jesus said, Lazarus’s illness did not lead to death. It led to the glory of God, and the Son of God being glorified through it. Jesus, through the power of His Word, raised Lazarus from the dead.

The same Word which said, “Let there be light” and it was so, is the same powerful Word which raised Lazarus from the dead. Jesus is thus glorified, as we see that He is God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.

Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and so many believed in Him. But Lazarus died again. Jesus raised Lazarus back to this life, so he was bound to die again. Raising Lazarus from the dead may have comforted Mary and Martha and those who mourned with them, but for Lazarus, it meant that he had to go through death again.

On the other hand, when Jesus raises Lazarus on the Last Day, he will never die again. When Jesus raises you on the last day, you will never die again.

The comfort that we have from Jesus raising Lazarus back to this life is that it shows us that death must obey Jesus. Death cannot keep its prey. Jesus tells death to give up Lazarus, and Lazarus comes back to life. So, we know that on the Day of Resurrection, when Jesus commands us to rise from the dead, we too will rise.

Jesus’ ultimate victory over death was, of course, His own death and resurrection. Death did its worst, but death could not hold Jesus. Jesus died with the sins of the whole world on Him. Death thus had a valid claim on Him. Scripture says, “The soul who sins shall die.” (Ezek. 18:20) With all the sins of the whole world on Jesus, death had billions upon billions of claims on Him. Jesus died, thus He paid all those claims and death has no claim on you. Jesus paid the price of your sins, and He thus redeemed you from death and the grave and He rose from the dead, proving Himself victorious over death.

This is why Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Him, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Him will never die.

We can therefore believe in Him who is the resurrection and the life. We can, along with Martha confess, “I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God.” She confessed this in her mourning, before she knew what Jesus was going to do at that time. She confessed it because she knew that Jesus would raise Lazarus on the Last Day.

We also can confess this during our mourning, because we know that Jesus will raise us on the Last Day. The same powerful Word which raised Lazarus from the dead is the same powerful Word that claimed you as belonging to God in your Baptism. The same powerful Word which raised Lazarus from the dead is the same powerful Word that says, “This is my body… this is my blood… for the forgiveness of sins.” The same powerful Word which raised Lazarus from the dead is the same powerful Word that will raise you from the dead.

To keep you in Himself until the Last Day, He continues to keep you in your baptismal grace. He continues to absolve you of your sins. He continues to give you His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of your faith. He continues to keep you in the faith, that faith which confesses, “I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is my resurrection and my life.” Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

All Saints

Sermon for All Saints’ Day based on Revelation 7:9-17

Dear saints: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our loved ones who have died in Christ are not lost to us. We know exactly where they are. Their graves are marked so we know where their bodies lie. The Church has always made an issue of showing care for the bodies of the dead and marking their graves. We don’t just dump the bodies of our loved ones into a landfill or cremate them and scatter their ashes indiscriminately here and there.

We lay the bodies of our loved ones to rest in cemeteries and mark their graves. We can visit their graves and we know that the bodies of our loved ones remain where they were laid to rest. Their names appear on the headstones. The headstone confesses that this is not the end of the body. God isn’t done with this body yet. God will raise this body up on the Day of Resurrection.

We confess the Day of Resurrection even in calling these places cemeteries. The word cemetery comes from a Greek word which means dormitory. We confess that everyone who dies in Christ will rise again when Christ raises them as easily as if they were in peaceful sleep.

However, we don’t just know where the bodies of believers lie, we also know where their souls are. Their souls are with Jesus in heaven. To the repentant thief who died on the cross beside Jesus, Jesus promised, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” Today; right at the moment of death believers go to be with Jesus, while they await the Day of Resurrection and the soul being reunited with the body. So once again, our loved ones who have passed away in Christ are not lost to us. Their souls are with Jesus and we will see them again.

When one of our members dies in Christ, we report it to synod as a membership loss, but it is really a membership gain. A member of the Church on earth is transferred to the Church Triumphant, the Church in heaven. The Church in heaven gains a member. That is our goal also, to be members of the Church in heaven.

Since last year’s All Saints’ Day, Linda, Frank, Edna, Yvonne, and Elmer have joined the ranks of the saints in heaven. They have joined the angels and archangels in singing praises to God.

That is another reason why our loved ones who have died in Christ are not lost to us. Hebrews 12 tells us that in the Divine Service, where God Himself is present, innumerable angels also join us in festal gathering, along with the assembly of those who are already enrolled in heaven; with the spirits of the righteous made perfect (Heb. 12:18-24). So when we assemble here to receive God’s gifts and sing His praises, our loved ones who are with Jesus join us here.

That is the reason the altar rail has traditionally been a semi-circle, even though it is sometimes squared as ours is. We, the Church on earth, kneel around the semi-circle with the image that the other half which would make the circle complete is filled with all the faithful who have died and with all the host of heaven. Common in Lutheran churches in Scandinavia, the circle is actually completed with a similar stone semi-circle rail continuing outside against the sanctuary outer wall in the church graveyard. This confesses the truth that when we commune with Christ, we also commune with those who belong to Him, whether on earth or in heaven.

Our liturgy also confesses this truth with the words, “Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify your glorious name, evermore praising you and saying…” Then we sing the Sanctus, “Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might: Heaven and earth are full of your glory.”

Why do we sing the Sanctus? Because that is what is sung in heaven. Isaiah 6 tells us of his vision in the throne room of God where angels call to one another with the words, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Is. 6:3)

The Sanctus is one of the oldest parts of the liturgy, possibly in use already in apostolic times. The Sanctus is a hymn of praise that is sung by angel choirs, and we the saints on earth join them in singing praise to God. For a time, the division between heaven and earth is gone. Christ comes down to earth in His body and blood and the saints in heaven and on earth join in communion and in singing His praise.

Is this the best time to be counting the offering? While this is going on, when heaven is coming down to earth, when our loved ones in heaven are singing with angels and archangels and the saints on earth join them in singing, is this the time that we should be sending our ushers out of the Divine Service to count money? Not to mention the other parts of the service that are missed such as the Lord’s Prayer, Christ’s Words of Institution, and the Agnus Dei (another ancient liturgical hymn). Our practice must change and we will talk about it at our Council Meeting on Tuesday.

But back to our main point: our loved ones who have died in Christ are not lost to us. We know where their bodies rest awaiting the Day of Resurrection. We know where their souls are – in heaven singing praise to God. We know also that we are in communion with them in holy Communion and we join them in singing praises to God in the Divine Service.

We also will join them and all the saints in heaven in that great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and the Lamb, clothed in white robes that have been made white in the blood of the Lamb.

This seems like a paradox because blood doesn’t normally make things white. But white is the colour of purity. All saints in heaven and on earth are pure because they are covered by the blood of the Lamb. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world shed His blood to make us pure. Jesus took all our filthy sin and died on the cross for us and in our place and His blood makes us pure. Jesus takes away our sin and covers us with His purity.

That is why we will join our loved ones who have died in Christ. We may have to go through tribulation in this life; we may even have to go through the great tribulation of the end times, but because Jesus’ blood has made us pure, we will join all the saints in heaven before the throne of God where we serve Him day and night; where God shelters us from every evil; where we will hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; where the sun shall not strike us nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be our shepherd, and He will guide us to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

 

 

Death Pursues Me All the Way

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.