Sunday, March 11, 2012

Luke 7:11-17 - The Widow's Faith

Widow of Nain (Harold Copping, 1927)
Pray and Read:  Luke 7:11-17

Key Truth: Luke wrote Luke 7:11-17 to teach believers that Jesus provides hope for the hopeless and life for the dead.

Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about hope.

Key Verse: Luke 7:13

Sermon Points:
1.   Jesus provides hope for the hopeless (Luke 7:11-13)
2.   Jesus provides life for the dead (Luke 7:14 -17)

Contextual Notes:
By comparing the unbelief of Zechariah the priest and the faith of the virgin teenager Mary, Luke’s Gospel calls us to believe that Jesus is the Messiah who fulfills God’s covenants with Abraham and David (Luke 1-2). Luke says that the first step in belief is to repent of our sin (Luke 3:1-20) to God’s suffering Servant, who, through his sacrificial death (Luke 3:21-23a), is the truly obedient Son of God, unlike sinful Adam (Luke 3:23b-38), defeating Satan in every area of human life: body, mind, and spirit (Luke 4:1-13).

In the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus begins his ministry around the Sea of Galilee (Luke 4:14-9:50[1]) as Luke powerfully contrasts belief and unbelief in a series of events. After encountering unbelief at the Nazareth synagogue (Luke 4:14-30),[2] Jesus is met with faith and unleashed power at Capernaum (Luke 4:31-44). After calling his first disciples to follow him in faith (Luke 5:1-11), Jesus’ ministry arouses the hostile unbelief of the religious leaders by forgiving sin (Luke 5:12-26). When Levi the tax collector responds in belief and follows Him (Luke 5:27-32), the Pharisees respond in unbelief and anger to Jesus’ dining with sinners (Luke 5:33-39).

In contrast with the unbelief of the Pharisees regarding their rigid ideas of keeping Sabbath (Luke 6:1-11), Jesus appoints twelve believing disciples as apostles (Luke 6:12-16) and outlines for them the blessings of walking by faith and the woes of walking in unbelief (Luke 6:17-26), putting faith into practice by developing Christ-like love (Luke 6:27-36), Christ-like integrity (Luke 6:37-42), Christ-like character (Luke 6:43-45), and Christ-like stability (Luke 6:46-49).

Following the Sermon on the Plain, Luke narrates several episodes to demonstrate people’s faith or unbelief in Jesus’ person and message. In Luke 7, Jesus returns to Capernaum with his disciples, exercising his authority to heal the servant of a Gentile Roman centurion (Luke 7:1-10) and his power to raise the dead (Luke 7:11-17). Luke shows that Jesus often finds greater faith among those outside of Israel, making it clear that Jesus has come to save all the nations.

Exposition:   Note well,

a.   Jesus’ extraordinary authority to heal over distance simply by the power of His Word in the previous account of the centurion’s servant is exceeded when Jesus raises a young man from the dead. This story is important because it illustrates Jesus’ identity as the Messiah in response to the questions John the Baptist will raise in the next passage.
b.   Luke 7:11 – Nain: The name means “lovely” or “pleasant” (Na’im). Though the location is uncertain, the site is probably the modern Arab town of Nein, six miles southeast of Nazareth.
c.   Luke 7:12 – Dead person being carried out: A procession of death meets a procession of life. According to Jewish burial customs, the body was washed, eyes closed, mouth bound shut, anointed with spices, then wrapped in a linen cloth, laid on a plank, bier, or an open coffin. The funeral procession, accompanied by a large crowd which dropped what it was doing and joined the throng, including possibly paid mourners and musicians, proceeded outside the city gate to the family burial site. The large crowd of mourners revealed the tragedy and severity of the loss. Burial took place within 24 hours to avoid witnessing decomposition. The poor were buried in shallow graves in potters fields, the wealthy in tombs.
d.   Luke 7:12 – She was a widow: Widows are viewed in Scripture as the most vulnerable members of society, for whom God has special concern. For a widow to lose the only son left to support her would be a horrific loss. In the Old Testament, the death of an only son is the epitome of great sorrow. All hope is gone for her. Without a man to support her, she would likely become destitute.
e.   Luke 7:13 – He had compassion for her: According to tradition, the bereaved mother would walk in front of the bier, so Jesus would have met her first. At this moment when hope was all gone, Jesus met the procession and seeing the widow bent over in grief, his heart went out to her (splankna) and he removes the cause for her bereavement. He reaches out to her when he is the last thing on her mind. Jesus Himself was the son of a widow, and he knew the pain that would soon come for her. For the first time, Luke refers to Jesus as the Lord, particularly fitting as he exercises power over death itself.
a.   Luke 7:14 – He touched the coffin: When life met death, the funeral bier stopped. Now interrupting a funeral was worse than bad manners. It was a breach of Jewish law and custom. The word soros can refer to a coffin or a bier (funeral plank) on which the body was placed. Here considering the circumstances, a bier or a litter is most likely. Touching a bier or coffin would contract for a person the severest form of ceremonial uncleanness (Num 19:11, 16, 21-22; Num 5:2-3; 19:11-20). Jesus’ authority reverses the defilement, “cleansing” the corpse through Christ’s power over death.
b.   Luke 7:15 – The dead man sat up: Jesus commanded him to wake up or get up, calling him back to life. And His life returned to him. Technically speaking, this is not a resurrection, since true resurrection is to eternal life and Jesus was its firstfruits (1 Cor 15:20). Nonetheless, this kind of miracle certifies a person as the Messiah (Luke 7:22), and Jesus’ sympathy for the weeping widow shows that it is no calculated act. It was not done for the effect it would have on others. It was a spontaneous act of compassion. As such, perhaps it sums up the whole meaning of Christ’s coming.
c.   Luke 7:15 – Gave him to his mother: This story has important parallels in the life of Elijah, who raised the only son of the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:17-24[3]) and Elisha, who raised the Shunammite’s son (2 Kings 4:18-37). Luke here quotes from the OT story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:23). He has already earlier forshadowed this resurrection by referring to the widow of Zarephath (Luke 4:25-26), and the little village of Nain was, in fact near the town of Shunem.
d.   Luke 7:16 – The people immediately recognize him as a great prophet come to help his people! They no doubt mean here a new Elijah. But also the visitation of God and the raising up of God’s messenger here recalls two verses from Zechariah’s Benedictus (Luke 1:68-69) where God’s coming is manifested by the appearance of a Davidic figure. This is one of three miracles of resurrection Jesus performed. The other being the raising of the daughter of Jairus, the Capernaum synagogue ruler, and that of Lazarus. In a document emphasizing the miraculous, the small number of resurrections is surely a telling testimony to the reliability of the record.
e.   APPLICATION: Why did God’s only Son come and dwell among us? It was simply his love. He acted decisively in the midst of our hopelessness. Seeing us lost and helpless, God’s heart poured out in compassion on us. Jesus still reaches out and touches our deadness, and his touch brings life. Just like the crowd at Nain that day who fell on their knees in praise to God, we see that God truly cares for us. Peter tells us to cast all our cares on Him, for he cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). You see, there was coming another resurrection of another Son of another grieving widow.
He provides through his resurrection a free gift of new life that is eternal in nature. Would you receive that free gift right now?

[1] Culminating at Luke 9:20 with Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Anointed of God.
[2] The incident parallels the beginning of the birth narrative, in which the priest Zechariah responds in unbelief to the announcement of the angel Gabriel. The Capernaum synagogue’s faith parallels the believing faith of the Virgin Mary.
[3] Note the similar language between Luke 7:15 and 1 Kings 17:23