Christ's Compassion is our Hope
Text: Luke 7:11-17
Doctrine: love of God
Image: Life beside death
Need: Comfort for unbelieving loved ones
Message: Spread the report
Christ's Compassion is Our Hope
Many of us here this evening come with somewhat heavy hearts. We love, and appreciate the grace that has been lavished upon us by God. We thank him for the opportunity to live in a place that is free, that is orderly; a place that we can work and live in relative safety and peace. Many of us thank God for the new life that he has given us, for the way that he has called us to himself. But our joy is sometimes in shadow. Our rejoicing may not have the ringing clarity that it should. Sometimes our dancing is turned to mourning. This is because there are people that we love dearly, who we know are not a part of God's people. We are surrounded by people who have not accepted Jesus as their saviour, and that grieves us. Our hearts break because our neighbours have been hurt by the church in the past and have no desire to talk about it. Our hearts break because our cousins no longer go to church. Our hearts break because our parents have become bitter toward God in their old age. Our hearts break because our sisters or brothers have pulled away from the Lord. Our hearts break because our children live lives that do not give evidence to the grace of God. Our hearts break because our world is still full of pain, and death. Life and death seem to mix with each other in heart wrenching ways.
Life and death seem to mix in this story as well. The passage begins with the meeting of two groups of people, two crowds which just happen to cross paths at the gate of an uncircumstantial city. These groups would have added to the normal craziness of the town gate. There are always a number of people who hang out there. This is the place where business transactions are performed, where the elders of the town sit and judge cases, where the old men gather to have coffee. Coming into the city from the countryside is Jesus. He is followed, as always, by his band of followers, his disciples, and a large crowd. Jesus is at the head of this column of people, leading them down the dusty trail toward this small village in the Galilean countryside.
As Jesus and his crowd come near the people gathered around the gate, they meet another crowd coming out of the town. At the head of this column a dead person is being carried out for burial. A young man is carried on a bier, a flat platform with the body clearly visible. This young man is followed by his mother, his grieving, weeping, crushed mother. A woman who now has no hope. A woman who has not only lost her husband, but has now lost her only son. A woman for whom there is little chance for a good life. A woman who has little protection in a patriarchal society. A woman who expects little more than a life of extreme poverty, a life which is nasty, brutish and short.
Picture this scene for a moment. A large crowd coming toward the city with Jesus at the front, a large crowd coming out of the city with a dead man at the front, crossing paths in the gateway to the town, which is always full of people. Imagine the chaos and the confusion, the shouting, the pushing, the cursing. A crowd following Jesus, the Lord of life, colliding with a crowd following a victim of death.
This kind of confusion reigns in our world today. The realms of death and life are mixing in our world. The realms of fallen creation, and its recreation. The realms of the devil and of the Christ. Jesus has come and has initiated the new life, the life of love, the life of salvation, the life of grace, the life of life. Yet, this life of grace seems to be mixed up with the old life, the life of hate, the life of lies, to life of damnation, the life of death.
This life of death still seems to have power in this world, just as it did while Jesus approached the gate of Nain. The crowd following Jesus falls back a little as they bow their head in reverence for the mourners coming from the city. Jesus continues forward and he comes face to face with those carrying the dead man. He sees the woman, alone at the front of the crowd, weeping over her loss, over the loss of her son, the loss of his future, the loss of her future. “When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her.” He had compassion upon her. He felt for her as he did for the crowds in Mt 9:36, “because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Jesus felt for her as he did the two blind men in Mt 20:34 when he healed them. He felt for the widow as the good Samaritan felt for the Jew who had been attacked by bandits on his way to Jerusalem when he knelt down, bandaged his wounds, and placed him on his own donkey. He felt for her as the Father felt for the prodigal son when he ran out to greet him on his return.
He was filled with compassion.
His heart broke at the sight of the pain she was bearing.
His compassion for her caused him to say to her, “Don't cry.” or “Stop weeping.” or “Do not weep.” Then he walks up to the coffin, to the bier, to the platform on which the dead man was being carried, and touches it. He ignores the cleanliness laws regarding touching the dead. He ignores his own reputation. He comes face to face with the reality of pain, sorrow, and death, and he reaches out his hand, touches the bier, and stops the procession. Calling out to the dead man he says, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” Then the dead man sat up and began to speak. The crowds around him were filled with awe, or as the English Standard Version puts it, “Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, 'A great prophet has arisen among us!'” and “God has visited his people.”
We may be wondering this evening, “If Jesus is moved to compassion because of the mourning of a widow, why does he seem to ignore my pain?” Many of us have family members who are dead, spiritually speaking. They have turned their back on the church, on the community of believers, on Jesus himself. They have chosen to follow their own wills and whims. They have turned their back on the offer of true life, and have chosen to enter the wide gate and walk down the smooth path that leads to death. Why does our pain over these people not bring Jesus to the same kind of action he has in this story? Why do family members, whom we pray for daily, continue to live apart from God? Why are our loved ones allowed to perish separate from God? Why are our families not glued together in the communion of the Spirit?
We do not have answers to these questions. All we can do is continue to pray, to continue to knock on the door of heaven, to continue to shed tears for those who we know are not enfolded in the flock of God. All we can do is show Jesus our pain and know that his heart is breaking with us. We do not understand why some people are called to God and others left in their sin. We do not know why miracles are performed some places and not others.
The people of Jesus's hometown in Nazareth could not understand why miracles were not performed in his hometown, but they were in other places. Listen to this from Luke 4:16-30 “He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked. Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’ ” “I tell you the truth,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.” All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.”
This lack of miracles bothered not only those in Nazareth, it also seems to have bothered John the Baptist. At this point in Jesus ministry, John is in prison. John, who proclaimed the coming of the Messiah, the final establishment of the kingdom of God, the restoration of Israel, the inbreaking of Shalom. Remember what Jesus had claimed at Nazareth. “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Jesus came to proclaim freedom to the captives, yet John was still in prison. So, John sent his disciples to Jesus with a couple questions.
Read with me a little farther in Luke 7. “John’s disciples told him about all these things. Calling two of them, he sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?’ ” At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”(Luke 7:18-23)
“Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” John asks.
Jesus points to his actions. He shows John the fulfilment of the prophecy, though not in its fullness. He shows John that the kingdom of God is indeed coming, but it is still mixed with the kingdom of the world. The chaos of those crowds at the gate of Nain still exists in the world. The confusion of life and death is still prevalent in our communities.
But blessed are those who do not fall away on account of Christ. Blessed are those who can accept the messiness of this world. Blessed are those who trust in Christ, even though we are still surrounded with pain. Jesus comes to us, in the midst of our pain, in the midst of our grief, in the middle of the confusion of our lives and says to us, “Don't cry! Do not weep! Do not weep for I have overcome death. Do not weep for I have conquered.”
Turn with me a minute to Revelation 5. “Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. He came and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” (Rev 5:1-10)
Here we have John looking into the throne room of God. He sees a glorious vision of the Ancient of Days sitting on the throne. He sees the gospel message of the love and grace of God rolled up in a sealed scroll in his right hand. No one seems worthy to open it and so he starts to weep. Then one of the elders turns to him and says, “Do not weep! Don't cry! The Lion of the tribe of Judah has conquered to open the scroll.”
This Lion of the tribe of Judah is the comfort believers have in their lives. This Root of David is the new life that has sprouted in our souls. This Lamb which has been slain is the power that allows us to cry to God in our pain. At one time all people were like that dead man being carried out of Nain. At one time we were all dead in our transgressions and sins. At one time we may have even led a procession of mourners because our lives did not evidence the grace of God.
Picture that chaos at the gate of Nain again. Think about the craziness that would have been there. Picture the mixture of the crowds, the mixture of those following Jesus, and those following the dead man, picture the mixture of life and death. We live in this mixture, in this chaos, in this confusion. In the midst of this confusion stands Jesus Christ. In the midst of this chaos Jesus raises a person from the dead. What an amazing miracle! What amazing grace! What an amazing man! This is our Lord and Saviour, the one who has power over death, our greatest enemy. This is our Lord standing in the middle of that collision of crowds, in the middle of the confusion of life and death, in the middle of the chaos at the gate of the city. This is our Lord standing with his arm outstretched in compassion, touching the coffin, the platform of death, showing his power. This is our Lord, moved in compassion by the suffering of the woman who was before him. This is our Lord, coming to us and saying, “Young man, young lady, little child, old man, old lady, arise, get up, sleep no more in your slumber of death, be trapped no more in your prison of sin. Come! Listen to me! Hear my voice! Come! Don't cry! Do not weep! Come! The lion of the tribe of Judah has conquered. Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Come!