In the Gospels, Jesus resurrects someone from the dead three times. We usually think of Lazarus in John 11, because it's the BIG one, as being the only time, but there are actually two other times Jesus raises the dead. One is the resurrection of Jarius' daughter (Mark 5:22-23; 35-43). The other one that I want to focus on is actually the first time Jesus rose someone from the dead. We can tell it's the first time because of the reaction of the onlookers: "Fear seized them all..." Here is the whole passage (Luke 7:11-17):
Soon afterward he 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, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country.
As with the other two resurrection narratives, we learn two essential truths about reality. The first is the horror of sin. Sin causes death. Death is a great enemy, that Christ destroys when he returns, but right now all human beings have to go through this horrible ordeal--the extinguishing of physical life. Sin is the cause. Through Adam, sin entered the world, and the wages of sin is death itself. It is part of the curse that God placed upon all mankind, which we read in Genesis 3:
"By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return." We are all included in this curse. We know this because 100% of people die. And the reason we all die is because each and every one of us is corrupted by sin. All have sinned and fall sort of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8). Sin corrupts everything we do. Sin prevents us from loving God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind, and our neighbors as ourselves. Not only do we not love God, before Christ saved us we were haters of God, rebels. His truth offended us. We also were not able love our neighbors but would actually hurt them, if not with our deeds, we would do it with our words and thoughts about them.
Sin causes grief. As we see in the three resurrection narratives, much mourning is happening. In Mark 5:38 we read, They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. We see the massive amount of emotion associated with sin bringing death into our lives. Even though it is a commonplace occurrence, going back to our federal head Adam, people are driven hysterical by it, especially when a child dies. We know that death is not the way things are supposed to be. Jesus' reaction in this narrative is one of confusion. He marvels at their emotion.
Now, in the famous Lazarus narrative, Jesus' reaction is different to the grief: When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” This time Jesus joins in the grieving, not just because Lazarus was a close friend, but because God hates sin. We, riddled with sin, tend to love our own sin, but we grieve at the consequences of sin. Jesus has more right to grieve than we. He is without sin, and he sees us love our sin and hate the consequences of our sin. His grief is not just a personal one over death, like the kind we have. His is a grief at the sin of the whole world, the cause of death, the root of death. His is an all-encompassing grief. We grieve at the consequences; he grieves at the cause.
Now, in the narrative we are studying, the earliest of the resurrections, Jesus' reaction is yet again different. He is not angry. He does not marvel at the grief of the others. He has a deep compassion for the widow. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her,
“Do not weep.” Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers
stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead
man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. God hates sin, he marvels at our lopsided grief, but he also has deep compassion for us. He loves the sinner while hating the sin.
The second truth: look at the resurrections themselves. Jarius' daughter's resurrection is a private affair, with only the parents present, and with Jesus compassionately take the child by the hand and saying "Talitha cumi," which means, "Little girl, I say to you, arise." The girl rises and begins to walk about, showing that this raising of the dead is no mere illusion. For his friend Lazarus, Jesus is not so gentle. After having the stone of the tomb removed, and after thanking God aloud in front of everyone so that they would believe, Jesus shouts, "Lazarus, come out!" The resurrection of the young man is similar to that of Jarius' daughter. He even says the same words (obviously with "young man" instead of "little girl"), and this time the dead man sat up and began to speak (as opposed to Jarius' daughter walking). We never learn what the dead man says, which is good. Just like Lazarus' knowledge of the grave being withheld in scriptures, we are not to know what the afterlife is like.
What do these three incidents have in common? It's not a magic touch. It's not mud in the eyes or fingers in the ears. It's the Word of God that raises from the dead. Just as all things were created through the Word of God, so the dead are brought back to life. Jesus only touches the little girl's hand. His voice has the power in all three cases. We all know that there is nothing we can do to become born again. There is nothing we can do to make ourselves alive. We are dead in sins, and that means spiritually dead, unable to save ourselves. Just as Christ's words bring these three back to life, the written word of God, the scriptures, and the preaching that accompanies it, bring the spiritually dead to life today. The Holy Spirit gives the preacher the right things to say. The Holy Spirit also regenerates the hearts of the listeners that He wants to be made alive.
There is a third and final truth, and this is about faith itself. However, this is the only point that is struck home through our narrative in Luke 7. First let's look at faith in the other two passages. In Mark 5, While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler's house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” Having faith is proclaimed by Christ. Here is John 11: Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” Jesus proclaims to Martha faith in himself.
Finally, here is our passage in Luke 7: And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, "Do not weep." There is no proclamation of faith. The woman does not go to Jesus; they Just happened to intersect at the town gates. She does not ask for his help. She is resigned to her fate. She has lost her husband, and now she has lost her son. There's no chastising Christ, saying, "If only you has been here..." There's no running after him and begging him to come quickly. Jesus never asks her if she believes. She never says that she believes.
It's easy to put ourselves in the dead person's role. We are dead in our trespasses. It is fitting that we should be in that role, but we must also realize that with that role comes no faith. The dead cannot have faith, and that is truly how we are before we are made alive in Christ. However, the living loved one, the survivor, seems to need to have faith in these stories. Jesus exhorts them or asks them to believe. We may think of ourselves in the roles of the dead, but we also tend to think of ourselves as the living loved ones, who need faith in order for the dead ones outside of us to be raised.
The Luke 7 passage assures us that even if we think of ourselves as the living loved ones, we do not have the faith anyway. If we are to think of ourselves as a living loved one, we need to think of ourselves as the widow. She has lost her husband. Let's call that husband "faith." She has nothing. She is going through the motions. She is in deep mourning for the death of her loved ones. The procession is happening. There is no turning back. She is resigned to her fate as a widow and a mother who has outlived her son.
Isaiah 61:10 reads, I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. Something more than resurrection is happening in this passage. Jesus is replacing her husband. She has lost her faith. She has none to give. Jesus provides her faith, because all that the wife, the bride of Christ, the church has is Christ's, and all that Christ has is the church's. Jesus Christ has replaced the widow's lost faith with his own. He provides the faith to her, too, just as he provides the faith to us. We are dead in our sins. Dead means we don't even have the faith to turn to Christ. He provides the faith, too. It is part of his resurrecting us. Not one thing do we bring to the table to become children of God, unless you count the sin that Christ died for.
But didn't the other two resurrection narratives show survivors who did have faith? Actually, no. Jesus exhorts Jarius to believe, which he wouldn't do if Jarius did believe. In John 11, Martha has faith in Lazarus rising again on the last day, but Jesus corrects her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” Only then does Martha say she believes. Mary has nothing, like the widow in Luke 7, only grief.
And Jesus raises the dead anyway. All faith comes from him. We do not unlock Jesus' power by having enough faith. That way lies guilt and oppression to the law. No, Jesus not only heals us, raises us from the dead, but he provides the faith necessary to move this mountain himself. He truly is a great God, and the only God capable of doing anything like this. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last. Nothing is needed on our part before Jesus can work. He is always first.