The Funeral Crasher
v.11-12 Soon afterward He [Jesus] went to a town called Nain, and His disciples and a great crowd went with Him. As He 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.
Dear friends in Christ, some years ago a movie came out entitled Wedding Crashers. In this film a couple of close friends decide to “crash” wedding parties by impersonating distant relatives of the bride and groom so that they may partake of the fine food and drink (and women) at these parties. Despicably, they came where they had no right to be—no invitation—no welcome. They came, they took, they left.
Beloved, today in our text we read of a different kind of “crasher.” One who would no doubt be gratefully received wherever He went—the Lord Jesus Christ—crasher of funerals. We know from the Gospel records that no matter where Jesus went—funerals were interrupted as the Lord of Life met face to face with death. And so we read that the day after the Lord Jesus spoke His creative and healing Word to heal the Centurion’s servant, He comes upon a funeral procession leaving the small town of Nain. Jesus Himself is accompanied not only by His disciples, but by a large crowd of people.
No doubt the poor widow was mourning her son so fiercely that she hardly took note of the approaching crowd. St. Luke does not indicate that she went to Jesus or pleaded with Him in any way—we don’t even know if she knew who He was. Yet Jesus does what is neither expected nor requested. Before the gates of the town Jesus comes into direct contact with human mortality. He sees firsthand the devastation and grief that death has brought upon His people—death, which is every sinner’s due reward. Yet Jesus does not turn a blind eye toward the mother or her son. Instead, He is filled with compassion—literally, his gut is moved just as ours is when we experience sad situations. Before the gates of that town, Jesus wages war on the gates of death.
Death looms large before us, dear friends. We have in recent months had too many experiences with death in our community and country. We have felt the wrenching pain in our own guts as we have helplessly watched our loved ones die—sometimes quickly and unexpectedly—sometimes slowly and painfully. Death seems so strong—so permanent—a vast fortress from which assault after assault is launched against us—taking us, one by one. What can we do about it? Nothing, but mourn, as the widow did for her child.
But Jesus is not so powerless as we. It is for this that He has come. He who is the Word of Life incarnate comes to face death and utterly lay it low. It seems like He must be doomed to fail. After all, He is just one man, how can He wage war against the gates of death and hell? How indeed?! He does so not in the way we would expect with weapons of steel and the strength of His arm—rather He does so by the power of His own Word. The Word which created the heavens, the earth, and all that is in them. The Word which brought forth all living things in abundance—this Word made flesh now speaks before the gates of death—the big, black, scary fortress—and with His Word—the gates are shattered and life is given to those in death. “Young man, I say to you, ‘ARISE.’”
Get up—be raised! This is resurrection language, beloved. For He who is the Prince of Life cannot be overcome by death. Jesus bore our death for us in His body on the cross that we may also share in His resurrection. The Lord Jesus has promised good to those who believe in Him—promised that though they die, yet shall they live. He can promise this because He is the One who has forever defeated the power of death—again not as we would expect—but rather in lowly humility and shame—suffering and dying on a cross as a common criminal—but then rising again three days later in triumph and victory. The gates of death and hell have been blown apart by the power of His cross and resurrection on Easter Sunday.
At Jesus' death and resurrection an explosion of life occurs. And here, in our text, even before His death and resurrection took place, but fully looking forward to those great events, the Lord Jesus speaks His Word and the young man is restored to life and given back to His mother! For immediately he sat up and began to talk.
Can you imagine the joy? The great wonder and astonishment? How would we react if, as we were carrying the casket out our front doors, a man approached and spoke such words and our loved one sat up, pushing the coffin lid aside to greet us with a smile and a “Hi, how are ya?” Wow! That is amazing! God be praised! God has visited His people!
Indeed, God has visited His people in the person and work of His own beloved Son, Jesus, who came to shoulder our burden of sin, take our death, and die for it all in our place. So that as He overcame death and the grave by the power of His Word of Life in His resurrection—so also does He give that victory to you and to me and all who believe on His name.
God has spoken His redeeming, life-giving Word over you. Even as Elijah stretched himself three times over the widow’s son, so also has God stretched Himself over you in the threefold application of His name in the water of your Baptism, breathing new and everlasting life into you. In Holy Absolution the sin in your life that seeks to overwhelm you and bring you into deepest, darkest despair, is undone—forgiven and washed away by the blood of Jesus in His Word to you that bespeaks you righteous. And those who are righteous have life in them.
Remember dear friends the question Jesus asked His disciples about the great crowd of people, “Who do people say that I am?” “Who do you say that I am?” St. Peter responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” [Matthew 16:16-18]
What a glorious promise beloved! The confession of Jesus Christ as the Son of the LIVING God [not the God of the dead, but those who are alive]—this confession of Christ overcomes the dark forces of sin, death, and hell. We are not in a defensive war with these evils, rather we are the aggressors—surrounding their fortress we call upon the name of Jesus and their gates come crashing down. For where there is right confession of Jesus—there He is among His people—protecting, providing, bestowing all things: forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. The likes of which the gates of hell cannot stand against.
This Jesus who was crucified, died, and was buried—has arisen to new life. And so He also comes to us His people—shrouded in the deadliness of sin—He comes and takes our sin from us—clothing us in the clean white robe of His own righteousness that He earned with His perfect life, death, and resurrection. We wash our sin-stained robes in the blood of the Lamb who was slain—forever forgiven for all our sin because of His wounds.
And Jesus, who crashed through the gates of death and hell, has Himself opened to us the gates of everlasting life. We enter not by our works, but by believing in Him, trusting in His promise—looking to His cross and His resurrection for our comfort, peace, and joy. For even in the face of death—we have life—and have it to the full. And He who has crashed the great funeral procession of death and hell has not left, but remains with us, now and always, in His Word and Sacrament to give you peace, joy, and life. Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus. Amen.