I. The Catastrophe (Luke 7:11-12)
II. The Comfort (Luke 7:13-15)
III. The Consequences (Luke 7:16-17)
I once sat with a family who had lost their fourteen year old son in a hiking accident. One of the things I remember most is the father, sitting on his front steps, crying, sobbing, wailing, mourning the loss of his son. For hours. There was nothing I could do, no words I could say to diminish his despair. I am certain that even today, almost ten years after that tragic event, he still feels the pain and sorrow of losing a child.
One of the things that helped this man and his wife was talking with other parents who had experienced similar losses. They were able to sympathize, cry, and pray with one another. This helped quite a bit. But there was something else that helped even more. They received a special source of comfort and strength known to only a few people in the world. Most people who experience great loss in their life know nothing of this comfort. Even most Christians, whom this comfort is for, try to get through earthly tragedies and loss of loved ones without it.
Tragedies are bad enough by themselves. If we do not make use of God’s source of comfort, these tragedies will be worse than they need to be. We are introduced to this source of comfort in Luke 7:11-17. This passage hints at how you can be comforted when life’s tragedies hit. Some of you, if you’ve already been through a terrible tragedy, know about this source of comfort. Most of us, however, need to know about it, because a tragedy is coming. The account begins in Luke 7:11-12 with Jesus meeting a woman who has experienced a terrible tragedy.
I. The Catastrophe (Luke 7:11-12)
Luke 7:11-12. Now it happened, the day after, that He went into a city called Nain; and many of His disciples went with Him, and a large crowd. And when He came near the gate of the city, behold, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother; and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the city was with her.
Previously, Jesus was in the town of Capernaum on the shore of the Sea of Galilee where he healed a centurion’s servant. The very next day, he and his disciples travel about 15 to 20 miles south to the city of Nain. Nain is on the northwest slope of Mt. Tabor, close to another town called Shunem. He goes there with a large crowd of his disciples. He has more than just his twelve apostles. Instead, because of his miracles and teachings, many other disciples are following Him as well. There is an air of excitement and expectation around this crowd. They have heard some amazing truths from Jesus. They have seen Him perform an incredible healing. They want to see what He will do next.
As He and this expectant crowd of disciples enter Nain, they meet another large crowd coming out. This second crowd, however, is not joyful and excited. There is not an air of expectation about them. Just the opposite. They are weeping, wailing and mourning. They are not following a man who feeds them, gives them life, and provides great teachings. Instead, this second group is following a dead man.
It says that that the crowd of mourners was following a dead man, the only son of his mother; and she was a widow. This sentence is filled with sorrow. This woman is a widow. She has already lost her husband. She has already experienced that grief. And now she has lost her son as well. The text says she lost her only son. He was an only begotten son. This means she is now destitute. She has no way to provide for herself. In that culture, women could not work. They depended on their husbands. If their husband died, they depended on a son. If their son died, they would be forced to beg. That was this woman’s situation, now. She had no one to provide for her. No one to take care of her. But that was probably not her immediate concern.
Her immediate concern was that she had once again lost someone she loved dearly. Yes, nobody was going to provide for her, but worse, she was now alone. Completely alone. There is nobody for her to share her grief with. Oh sure, there is that huge crowd of people behind her. Some of them were probably her friends, but when you experience this kind of grief, you always feel completely alone, even when surrounded by multitudes.
And although many of these people were her friends and neighbors, some of them were professional mourners. They had been hired to mourn. They were paid to cry. In Jewish culture of that time, when someone died, you paid people to come and mourn with you. She’s got a crowd of people around her, but she really is alone, for how genuine is mourning if you have to pay people to do it? This is the way it is when a loved one dies. Nobody understands. Nobody seems to be there for you. Not only are you experiencing intense grief, but you are utterly and completely alone.
Worse yet, when a loved one dies, the world does not stop. It seems like it should, out of respect for you and your grief. But it doesn’t. The traffic still buzzes by. The bills still arrive in the mail. The birds still chirp. The sun still comes out. People still shop. When a loved one dies, you want the rest of the world to pause too. To stand still with you. To cry with you.
But most people don’t want to. So we have to give them incentive to come and mourn with us. In Jewish culture, they paid people to come and mourn. In American culture we provide food for them. It’s the same thing. And yet no matter how many people were there, the grieving widow only wants one thing – her son back.
Do you see the picture? Here is this woman, grieving, mourning, destitute, alone, bereaved. She is followed by a crowd of people whom she paid to mourn with her. And then things get worse. As she exits Nain, following her dead son’s coffin, she is confronted by a party. A joyful, exuberant, excited, laughing crowd of people following a man who is very much alive. He is smiling and laughing with the people behind Him. His eyes twinkle with a joke only He knows. Not the kind of person you want to have at a funeral. Or maybe, He is the exact kind of person you want at a funeral.
The two crowds meeting at the gates of Nain face off. It’s awkward at first. The joyful party, recognizing that their excitement is out of place, quickly quiets down, and adopts a grieving demeanor. But it’s hard to change so quickly. Some of them are only able to express a detached sorrow for her grief. Their expressions show that they feel sorry for her, but they are not really sorrowful. Many are thinking, “Too bad for her. At least nothing like this has happened to me. I’ll just put on my sorry face until she passes. Then we can get on with life.” That’s how most of us feel when someone else suffers, right? “I’ll do my duty and frown for her, but I hope she moves by quickly. I’ve got to get on with my life. Maybe I’ll go to the funeral and send a card, but that’s as much as I can do.” It’s uncomfortable for everyone. They don’t know how to act or what to say. A few mumble some polite nonsense about being sorry for her loss. They don’t understand her pain, and everybody knows it.
Especially the widow. She sees the red embarrassment in their faces at not knowing what to do or the words to say. She sees them shuffle their feet, and avert their gaze. Nobody can understand the grief she is going through.
Except for one man. The man in the center. The man with the laughing eyes. They are not laughing any more. He now looks like a man of sorrows. There is genuine, intense grief and compassion in His eyes. He looks like He understands. As His eyes meet hers, the twinkle of laughter turns into tears of sorrow. While the rest of the crowd averts their gaze, He alone sees Her pain and decides to comfort her.
II. The Comfort (Luke 7:13-15)
Luke 7:13. When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.”
Initially, Christ’s words are shocking. Ken Gire says that “These words are not out of a textbook on pastoral care.” That’s an understatement. If there is one thing you don’t say to someone grieving, it’s “Do not weep.”
Can you hear the shocked outrage of the professional mourners? “Do not weep? Do not weep? What are you talking about? She just lost her only son, you insensitive man. Don’t tell her not to cry. That’s sadistic and cruel. Of course she should cry. Tears are restorative. Instead of telling her not to weep, you should be weeping with her!” Isn’t that how you would respond if you lost a child, and someone told you to stop crying? That’s how most anybody would respond. If you go to almost any funeral and tell the family members to stop crying, you will be considered heartless and unkind, even if you say it in the most compassionate way.
But we know that Jesus is not heartless. He is anything but cruel. He is not insensitive. The text says that He had compassion on her and that is why He told her not to cry. Do you know what compassion is? “Compassion is your pain in my heart.” Jesus has compassion on this woman. He feels, knows and understands her pain. She senses this in His words. She hears something in His voice. He glimpsed it in His eyes. He is not insensitive. He knows what she is going through better than anyone else, and He is there to help. In telling her not to weep, He is telling her, to trust Him. He knows what He is doing. He is in control. He wants to comfort her.
Which is exactly what He does in Luke 7:14. He gives her the one thing that could comfort her.
Luke 7:14. Then He came and touched the open coffin, and those who carried him stood still.
If Luke 7:13 was surprising, so is Luke 7:14. Can you hear the gasp in the crowd of disciples? If Jesus hadn’t shocked them enough with his gentle request for the woman to stop crying, this would have shocked the crowd even more. It would have been obvious by his dress and by his large crowd of followers that Jesus was some sort of teacher, leader or rabbi. In Jewish culture, the teachers and leaders would never touch a dead body or even a coffin that held a dead body. The Jewish law taught that doing so made that person unclean. Spiritual leaders of the Jews were not even to go near a dead body (Lev 21:1-12). But Jesus came and touched the open coffin. In so doing, he took the taint of death upon Himself. Jesus is never concerned with protocol or etiquette. His only concern is to comfort the mourning mother. So he touches the coffin. He defiles Himself.
Nobody would do that unless they had great compassion for the bereaved. The ones who carried the coffin, seeing what Jesus had done, stopped.
Notice that the mother has not yet said a word. She has not asked for anything. She has not asked for a miracle. She has not thrown herself at the Savior’s feet and begged for the life of her son. Unlike the centurion, she hasn’t demonstrated great faith. She hasn’t demonstrated any faith at all. As far as we know, she doesn’t even know who Jesus is.Which makes Christ’s next words so astounding.
And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.”
By now the crowd is certain Jesus is a lunatic. First, he tells a grieving, bereaved, destitute woman, “Don’t cry.” Then He defiles Himself by touching the coffin. Now he talking to dead men. And not just talking to them, but commanding them to rise up! This guy’s a madman. But then something happens which makes their eyes bug out and the jaws drop open.
Luke 7:15. So he who was dead sat up and began to speak. And He presented him to his mother.
Jesus raises this boy from the dead! Jesus tells him to rise, and he sits up in the coffin, and begins to speak. We don’t know what the boy said. We aren’t told.
If the woman was crying before, she really starts crying now. Not tears of sorrow, but tears of joy. She has her son back! He who was dead had been restored to life and given to her once again. This is comfort.
After Jesus says, “Do not weep” He gives her a reason to turn her tears into laughter, her sorrow into joy. This is true comfort. This is Christlike compassion. It is unasked for. It is unsought. It comes just when she needs it.
If you are going through a time of trial and testing, if you are facing a tragedy, Jesus knows, Jesus sees, even when everybody else does not. And He says to you today, or when that tragedy comes, “Do not weep. Don’t cry. I’m about to turn your mourning into laughter.” Our reaction, when He makes such a claim is to get angry. “Don’t cry? Don’t mourn? But I have a right to mourn! It’s only natural to cry! My heart is broken. I’ve lost a loved one. My life has fallen down around my eyes. Look at this pain in my life. I see no reason to go on. I have no hope for the future. Don’t tell me not to cry. And besides, He is not going to raise my son.” No, he won’t. At least not now. He will later, but that’s another issue. But people who are mourning want comfort now. When Jesus says to you and to me, “Don’t cry” we say, “Okay, then where’s the comfort?”
He tells us where in the Upper Room Discourse. In John 13, Jesus explains to His disciples that He is going to die, and they are all going to deny Him. That’s bad news. For them, there was no worse news. They all knew that Jesus was the Messiah. They did not realize that He had to die. For them, denying Him would be the ultimate betrayal, and Him dying would be the ultimate tragedy. It would mean the collapse of all their hopes and dreams. Jesus gives them this horrible news in chapter 13. But then he begins John 14 with these words, “Do not let your heart be troubled.” Do you hear what He is saying? “Do not weep. Do not cry. Don’t worry.”
Their response was probably, “Don’t cry? Don’t weep? But you just gave us the worst news possible. How can we not cry? Why should we not weep? How can we not worry? How can we not be troubled?” In the rest of John 14, Jesus gives them several reasons why they should not cry; why their hearts should not be troubled. I don’t have room to explain them all. I only want to mention the fourth. The fourth reason is that Jesus is going to pray to His Father to send another Comforter to them. Who is this comforter? It is the Holy Spirit? What does He do? Among other things, He comforts us in our grief. He comforts us in our sorrow.
Later in John 16:20, Jesus says, “Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy.” It’s just like this woman in Luke 7. She wept and was sorrowful. On her way to the graveyard, she met a party of rejoicing people. One of those was Jesus Christ who turned her sorrow into joy. She didn’t ask for it. She didn’t seek it. Jesus did it for her out of love and compassion.
Jesus does that for you and for me. First, he does it most often without us even asking. I am so thankful that God is always and continually working in my life, behind the scenes, unlooked for, unasked to provide for me, and to meet my needs. God is always sticking His nose in…where it does belong. And He does this, as Jesus reveals in John 14, through the Comforter, through the Holy Spirit, in our times of sorrow and despair. When you face a tragedy, He comes to you at that time and says, “Do not cry. Do not weep. Let me turn your sorrow into joy.”
We all know people who have faced tragedies. Maybe you have faced such tragedy in your life. Many Christians tell a similar story about their experience in tragedy. My friend died when he was fourteen. His parents wept when he died. But in their time of sorrow, they turned to God for comfort and peace. God did not raise their son, but He did raise them up from the ashes. I would go by and visit them sometimes in the months following the death of their son. More often than not, do you know what they were doing? Reading their Bibles. Letting the Comforter wrap His arms around them and give them joy.
A pastor in Oregon lost his wife in a car accident. Later, he lost his daughter. Later still, he almost lost his son and another daughter in another car accident. He didn’t lose them, but it was a miracle they survived. Then recently, he almost lost his oldest son to an intestinal disease. In all of these tragedies and tests in his life, He has been able to come through them with joy. People said to him, “Oh, you’re in shock. It would be healthy if you cried a bit.” He says that the only way he can explain it is that God gave to him the strength he needed at just the right time to make it through those tragedies. He relied on the promise of Jesus to comfort him with the Holy Spirit. He was given a peace that passes understanding. In every trial that comes his way, he just remembers that God is good, that God is sovereign. He relies on the Holy Spirit to comfort Him as Jesus promised. This pastor does not seek sympathy from men, but comfort from God.
J. Hudson Taylor lost a wife and two children while he was a missionary in China. After his wife died, he wrote the following words:
I cannot describe to you my feelings. I do not understand them myself. I feel like a person stunned with a blow, or recovering from a faint, and as yet but partially conscious. My Father has ordered it, so therefore I know it is—it must be—best, and I thank him for so ordering it. I feel utterly crushed. Oftentimes my heart is nigh to breaking, but withal I had almost said I never knew what peace and happiness were before—so much have I enjoyed in the very sorrow.
Others share similar experiences. There is always great, intense pain. But for many, in the pain, there is also a sense of joy and peace never before experienced. I cannot say how it has been for you, or how I would respond in your situation. This is because Jesus comes to them, through the comforting work of the Holy Spirit, to give joy where there should be only sorrow, and peace where there should be only pain. Don’t say, “Jesus doesn’t understand my pain.” Jesus is the man of sorrows, acquainted with suffering, familiar with grief. He provides solace to those who cry. Some people receive comfort right away. For others, the comfort comes slower. But when you allow the Holy Spirit to do His job, when you allow Him to comfort those who mourn, to turn sorrow into joy, ashes into beauty, mourning into gladness (Isa. 61:3), there are amazing consequences that follow.
In Luke 7:16-17, the crowd who witnessed Christ’s miracle reveals some of these consequences.
III. The Consequences (Luke 7:16-17)
Luke 7:16-17. Then fear came upon all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen up among us”; and, “God has visited His people.” And this report about Him went throughout all Judea and all the surrounding region.
The first consequence is fear. That’s a strange consequence to a resurrection. But what they fear is the power of God. C. S. Lewis says in his book, A Grief Observed that while he was grieving the loss of his wife, some people told him that since God only wants what is best for us, we do not have to fear His will. C. S. Lewis says that such people have never visited the dentist. When God works in such powerful ways in people’s lives, the fear of God is one of the results. It reminds people that there is a God, and that He is powerful and that He still works wonders, and that we had better obey and respect Him.
When someone goes through a tragedy, and they experience the comfort of God, they are giving testimony to the great power of God at work in their life. If God can take a tragedy and use it for good, people notice. If God can bring rejoicing from what would normally cause mourning, people realize His greatness. They recognize that God is powerful, and He must be obeyed. The fear of God is the first response.
The second response is that many people glorified God. A great miracle had been done, and only God could have caused it. So they give glory to God. In giving glory to God, there are two different conclusions in verse 16 that people make about Jesus. Some said He was a prophet, others that He was God. Both came to these conclusions by the miracle He performed in Nain. But it is not just the miracle. It was also where the miracle took place. Nain, as I mentioned earlier, was on the Northwestern slope of Mt. Tabor, very close to another town, the town of Shunem. What is significant about Shunem? It is where, about 900 years earlier, Elisha the prophet raised the son of a woman from Shunem (2 Kings 4:8-37).
Shunem was held in high esteem for being the location of one of the greatest miracles by one of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament. And Elisha was a greater prophet than his predecessor, Elijah. Elijah too, had raised a boy from the dead – the only son of a widow. In 1 Kings 17, Elijah prostrated himself on the body of the dead boy three times to raise him. And he too, foreshadowing Jesus, gave the boy back to his mother (1 Kings 17:23). Then Elisha comes along, and he receives a double portion of the Spirit. Elisha receives twice as much power and effectiveness as Elijah had (2 Kings 2:10-12; Elisha also – 2 Kings 4:36). Because of this Elisha repeats all of the miracles that his predecessor Elijah performed, but with greater power and greater effectiveness. When he raised a dead boy from the dead, he only prostrated himself two times on the body (2 Kings 4:34-37). Because of this, he was considered to be a greater prophet than Elijah.
But now Jesus comes on the scene. He is just a mile or two north of the town of Shunem. And He does not have to touch or prostrate Himself on the body of the dead boy at all. With just a few words, Young man, I say to you, arise, Jesus is able to raise him from the dead. If Elisha was a greater prophet than Elijah, then logically, Jesus was a much greater prophet than either of them. The people of Nain and all the surrounding regions recognized this. And that is what they testified to. They testify that a great prophet has arisen among them.
But notice that some people went even beyond this. They recognized that Jesus was not just a great prophet. They believed that God Himself had come down and visited His people. Jesus was not just a great prophet. He was God come in the flesh. This is one of the greatest truths you can believe about Jesus. Later in Christ’s life, He gathers His disciples around Him, and asks them, “Who do the people say that I am?” They answer, “Some say John the Baptist. Others that you are Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” Then Jesus said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” They conclude that He is the Christ, the son of the living God, just as some of the people of Nain believed. Jesus is asking that of you and me today as well. Who do you say that Jesus is? Is He just a prophet? Just a good man? Just a great teacher? Just a revolutionary leader? If He was not God, He was none of these things. C. S. Lewis has pointed out in another of his books that if Jesus was not God, then He was either a liar or a lunatic.
And when you are facing a tragedy, when a catastrophe strikes in your life, it is much more comforting to know that Jesus is God, than just some prophet. Only as God can He say to you, “Don’t cry. I’m here for you. I love you. Let me help. Trust me.” The disciples, having witnessed all of this, would remember it in years to come. Like this widow, they would lose their only hope and only source of provision. They would lose Jesus. He, the only begotten Son of God, would die on the cross. He would touch death and so defile Himself. He would take our sin upon Himself, and taste death for every man.
And just as Jesus told this widow, “Do not weep. Trust me. Let me give your son back to you.” So also, the disciples would receive their Savior back. Though He was dead, He would rise, not just having tasted death, but having conquered death for all time for everyone who believes in Him. Do not cry. Jesus is there for you. Jesus has defeated death, sin and sickness, and gives life back to you. When tragedy strikes, He sends another comforter to encourage you in your suffering.
My mother experienced a tragedy. When I almost two years old, my father died in a car accident. My mother, my father, my older brother and I were all in the car when a semi coming from the other direction wandered into our lane, and hit our car head on. My father died in the hospital, leaving my mother alone, with two boys to take care of. She experienced great grief. But she told me that two things happened which began to turn her grief into joy, her ashes into beauty, her sorrow into laughter. The first is that she chose, by an act of her will, not her emotions, to thank God. Though she felt great grief, even anger, she accepted the fact that God is sovereign, He knows what He is doing.
The second thing she did was reach out to bless others. She recognized that God blesses those who bless others. She got involved in Bible studies, and evangelism. She got involved in the lives of other people. She said that during her time of grief and despair, someone sent her a hand written card. Not a card from Hallmark. A simple, handwritten card. The outside of the card said, “I know I can’t say the right words, or do the right thing in this time of tragedy.” Then the inside of the card finished the statement. It read, “So I’m asking God to.”
Are you afflicted? Are you hurting? Have you suffered deep sorrow? Jesus hurts with you. No human being can say the right words or do the right thing in what you are facing. Only Jesus can. Only Jesus can say to you, “Do not weep. Do not let your heart be troubled. I will give you comfort.” Only He can raise you up from the ashes of grief and bring joy to your troubled heart.