Introduction and offering:
Thank you Harry and Eric, Dolores and Shelbi for sharing your stories with us. We’re better together! Old and young, black and white, male and female—we’re better together. Move toward the other! I’m so grateful that Pastor Noel invested his life in me. What would happen if each of us would ask God who He wants us to invest in? Pray!
Offering here. Your offering makes stories like you just saw possible. Thank you. Last weekend 18 people said yes to Jesus for the first time—your offering makes that possible. Thank you. Last weekend you heard from our missionaries in Fiji and their plans to plant 4 new churches—your offering makes that possible and you gave over $25,000! Thank you! Let’s dive into this talk…
ILL: This true story was reported in Campus Life magazine a few years ago.
Imagine a funeral. The preacher is giving the eulogy. And suddenly, the dead person pops up out of the coffin! Would that freak you out?
It really happened! A guy named George in South Africa decided to fake his death as a test. “I wanted to know what people would say about me when I’m dead,” he said. “I’m satisfied they spoke the truth about me and not lies.”
George says he’s gonna keep the coffin for his real funeral—which may be sooner than he thinks, if he keeps pulling stunts like this!
We’re going to read a story from the gospel of Luke in which a bunch of people experienced a shock like this at a funeral—but it wasn’t faked.
Welcome to our Summer Bible Series in the gospel of Luke. Today, we’re reading a beautiful little story in Luke 7:11-17 (p. 886) about a widow whose only son has died—she is alone in the world. Jesus happens to intercept the funeral procession, and something amazing happens. This story is only found here, in Luke’s gospel—none of the other gospel writers included it—and as we go along, we’ll see why Luke did. Here’s the story:
Luke 7:11–17 (p. 886)
Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. 12 As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. 13 When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”
14 Then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.
16 They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” 17 This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.
We’re going to talk about three things—all of them about Jesus.
1. The compassion of Jesus.
When I was in Bible college, I was told that Jesus did miracles as “signs” to point to His identity and the coming of God’s Kingdom. The miracles were strategic. I don’t doubt that. But I also think there is more to it. Sometimes Jesus was motivated not just by strategy, but by compassion. And this is one.
Look at verse 11: Jesus went to a town called Nain. Nain was a small village about 25 miles south of Capernaum, a day’s walk, and only 5 miles from Nazareth. While Jesus must have passed through Nain often, this is the only time it is mentioned, and that is because of what happened this time.
Verse 12: As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her.
Jesus arrived in Nain just as a funeral procession was leaving the city gates. Funerals were a big deal. The family would pay professional mourners to lead the procession from the home of the deceased to the burial place, playing music and wailing. They would be followed by the family, the bier carrying the deceased, and then friends and neighbors. A funeral was held as soon after death as possible to avoid the stench of decay. So often a funeral was the same day as death, or the day after—not a lot of time to send out invitations. If a funeral procession passed by, you joined in. It didn’t matter if you were at work, or even studying the Scriptures (something that was generally not interrupted), you joined in and paid your respects.
So Jesus got there just as the funeral procession was exiting the city gate. All funerals are sad, but this one was especially heart-wrenching. The dead man was the only son of his mother—an only child—and she was a widow. So this poor woman had been left alone in the world. Even now, this would be a sad situation. But then it was even worse. In this patriarchal society, there was no man to care for her—no husband, no son. There was no social security, no food stamps, no social safety nets. A woman like this was left without income, and with very few opportunities to earn one. Often they were reduced to begging or relying on the charity of extended family and neighbors. On top of that, there was no one to carry on the family name—a big deal in Israel. This poor woman was in a world of hurt.
Verse 13: When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”
Jesus’ heart went out to her. Literally, he felt compassion for her. Luke uses the strongest Greek word to express compassion: splanchnizomai, which meant to feel pity or compassion. The splanchna are your innards, your guts. You feel this deep in your gut. This is compassion that makes your gut hurt, that breaks your heart. That’s what Jesus felt. And that’s what moved him to raise this young man to life. No one asked Jesus to do anything. In the previous story, the centurion asked Jesus to heal his servant. But in this story, no one asks—the initiative belongs entirely to Jesus, who moves toward the dead man because of compassion.
This compassion makes your gut hurt, breaks your hear—but it doesn’t stop there—it moves you to action. Jesus didn’t just feel bad for the woman; he did something to help her. This compassion moves you action. Have you ever felt that kind of compassion, where you just had to do something?
ILL: Author and Pastor Erwin McManus was speaking at a youth convention in Florida and brought his family along for a working vacation.
One morning Erwin and his 10-year-old son Aaron walked down to the beach. Although several hundred students were there, most seemed unaware of the physically disabled man who was awkwardly making his way out of the ocean water. The man was a double amputee with specialized crutches. As he attempted to navigate his way back up to the hotel, he fell. He pulled himself up again only to fall a second time. Erwin, pretending not to notice, directed Aaron in the opposite direction. He was fairly certain that his son, like most of the people on the beach, had not noticed the man. But Aaron surprised him by saying, “I have to go help that man.”
McManus writes, “His words pierced through me, and I stood there paralyzed in my hypocrisy…it was clear that this was Aaron’s moment. I had missed mine. His compassion moved him to heroism.”
Aaron went down to help the man but was unable to lift him. Several people from the crowd came and worked as a team to get the man up to the hotel deck. Aaron walked back up to his father with tears in his eyes and said, “I couldn’t help him. I wasn’t strong enough.”
McManus writes, “He couldn’t see that no one would have helped the man if he hadn’t taken initiative.”
How many of you identify with Erwin? He saw someone struggling, probably felt badly for him, but did nothing. I’ve done that. That’s not compassion. Then there’s 10-year-old Aaron, who “had to go help that man.” And even though he couldn’t do it alone, he started a movement that got the job done.
Here is one of the biggest obstacles to compassion. We see some need, and we’re moved and want to help, but we think, “What can I do? I’m not strong enough. I’m not smart enough. I’m not rich enough. The problem is bigger than me.” We end up paralyzed and doing nothing. We say this all the time: I can’t do everything, but I can do something. And maybe my something will be enough to encourage you to add your something, and when we get enough somethings together, we really have something!
I can’t solve world hunger; but I can sponsor a hungry child. And if enough of us do that, we’ll wipe out hunger.
I can’t solve low high school graduation rates; but I can mentor a student. And if enough of us do that, we’ll raise the graduation rates.
I can’t fix every young marriage, but I can mentor a young couple. And if enough of us do that, we’ll change the divorce rate.
The next time you see suffering and it moves you, ask, “What am I going to do about this?” And then do something—even if it’s small. That’s compassion. Every great ministry or charity that I know of started because someone was moved with compassion and did something!
Jesus displayed this active compassion often. I’ve cited some references on your outline—I’ll let you read them on your own. You’ll find that Jesus had compassion on the crowds who were sick, and He healed them; who were tired and hungry, and He fed them. Jesus had compassion on individuals like the blind men or the leper, and He healed them. Jesus didn’t just feel bad; He did something. Remember: Jesus is God in the flesh. Jesus is the invisible God made visible. If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. So what do we know about God by looking at Jesus? We know that God is compassionate.
Jesus not only displayed this active compassion, but He taught it in two of His most famous parables: the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan.
Turn to Luke 15:20 (p. 898). In the story of the Prodigal Son, the younger of two sons asks his father for his share of the family estate, moves far away and wastes it all in wild living. He is reduced to poverty and returns home destitute and broken, not knowing how he will be received, but hoping that his father will take him back as a hired hand.
Look at v. 20 But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
His father saw him and was filled with compassion for him. And what did the father do? He didn’t hire him; he took him back as his son, and threw a huge party to celebrate.
The father in Jesus’ story is God our Father, and this is how He feels about us and what He does for us. When we turn to Him, He doesn’t turn up His nose, criticize or reject. He welcomes us with open arms, with a heart full of compassion! He takes us home as sons and daughters and celebrates with us! So Jesus not only displayed compassion in action, but taught that God feels this compassion for us and welcomes us home.
Turn to Luke 10:33 (p. 892). Jesus taught about compassion in another famous story, the parable of the Good Samaritan. Only this time, He teaches that we are to show this compassion to one another—even to our enemies! A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho when he was ambushed by thieves who robbed and beat him and left him for dead. A Jewish priest came by, saw him and passed by on the other side—kind of like Erwin did. A Levite, a priest’s assistant came by, saw him and also passed by. Let’s pick it up at v. 33.
33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.
The word “pity” is the same Greek word—splanchnizomai—active compassion. This Samaritan—the natural enemy of the Jew fallen in the road—felt compassion that moved him to action. What action?
34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
This is a lot of action! He went to the man—the robbers could have been nearby, so he was risking his own life and limb. He tended the man’s wounds; he took him to shelter and cared for him there—big time investment. He paid the innkeeper for an extended stay, and promised to pay whatever bill the man incurred—big financial investment. This is compassion in action!
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Jesus clearly commands us to go and do the same, to feel compassion for the hurting and to do something about it—even when the hurting is my enemy or someone different whom I usually would avoid. I can’t do everything, but I can do something.
This is the compassion of Jesus. But it wasn’t just the compassion of Jesus that raised this young man; it was also…
2. The Power of Jesus.
Look again at Luke 7:14-15 Then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.
Jesus touched the bier they were carrying the dead man on. By doing that, Jesus became ceremonially unclean. The idea was that uncleanness could be transferred by touch—like cooties, or germs. If a clean person touched an unclean person or thing, it made him unclean—the uncleanness was transferred. But it didn’t work the other way—a clean person couldn’t touch an unclean person and make them clean. Until Jesus. Jesus reversed all that. His touch, His word, made the unclean clean, made the sick well, made the dead live.
In the previous story, Jesus “just said the word” and the centurion’s servant was healed. Here too, He just says the word. He commands the young man to get up, and he does. He sat up and began to talk—evidence that he was fully alive and conscious. And Jesus gave him back to his mother, a phrase intended to remind us of Elijah raising a widow’s son from death. (1 Kings 17:23 p. 305) “He gave him to his mother and said, ‘Look, your son is alive!’”
With a word, Jesus changes everything! This young man goes from dead to alive—that’s a big change! This woman goes from grief to joy, from alone to family, from destitution to hope. What a change!
ILL: A letter came from Health and Human Services to a resident of Greenville County, South Carolina: “Your food stamps will be stopped, effective March 1992, because we received notice that you passed away. You may reapply if your circumstances change.”
Usually, once you’re dead, your circumstances don’t change—but theirs did! The widow has her son back! Jesus can do anything. Even raise the dead. That’s the power of Jesus!
But here’s a problem. In Jesus’ three years of ministry, how many people do you think died in Judea and Galilee? Hundreds, likely thousands. How many did He raise from the dead? Three—that we know of.
The widow’s son. Luke 7:11-17
Jairus’ daughter. Mark 5:35-43
Lazarus. John 11
This presents a problem. If Jesus can raise people from the dead, why not raise everyone? If Jesus can heal people, why not heal everyone? Remember in John 5, Jesus visits the pool of Bethesda, where dozens of sick people waited to be healed. It was like being at a hospital. How many did Jesus heal? One. There were other occasions when Jesus healed everyone who came to Him. (Matthew 8:16) But on this occasion at the pool, he healed one of many. Why not heal them all? Jesus can do anything—but He doesn’t seem to do everything.
ILL: How many of you have prayed for a sick friend to be healed, and they weren’t?
Steve Perry was my college friend, partner in youth ministry in Eugene, and then followed us up here and planted a church in Cheney. Faith Center is still going strong. Steve was one of my best friends. When Steve was 37, he was diagnosed with stomach cancer. That was January. We prayed, we fasted, we did everything we knew to do—and ten months, two surgeries, lots of chemo later, Steve died. I held his hand when he took his last breath, I helped the undertaker bag his body, I officiated at his funeral, and I scattered his ashes. To this day, it was one of the most difficult ordeals I’ve gone through.
I prayed, “Lord, if You want to strike someone with cancer, I can give you a list of candidates, and this guy wouldn’t be on it. He loves you; he’s a pastor doing good work; he’s a husband with two small kids. Please heal him.” I begged the Lord. Steve died.
I’ll bet each of you has stories like that. I still went home, told my kids Bible stories and agreed with them that Jesus can do anything. Why is that? Because Jesus can do anything—but he doesn’t seem to do everything.
Why is that? I don’t know. There is some mystery here. I do know that this isn’t heaven, that the Kingdom of God has not fully come, and that’s why we pray every day, “May your Kingdom come, may your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” I believe that Jesus can do anything. I believe in the compassion of Jesus, and the power of Jesus. So I ask boldly, as we will in just a moment. And I trust deeply, whatever He decides to do.
3. The identity of Jesus.
Look at verse 13: When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.” Luke refers to Jesus as “the Lord”—a word that could be a term of respect like “Sir”. But more often in Scripture, it is used of God. Luke is giving us a clue about Jesus’ identity: this is more than a rabbi.
Look at verse 16: They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” Luke called Him the Lord, but the people called Him “a great prophet.”
So who is this man? Who is Jesus, who with a word can heal the sick and raise the dead? Is He the Lord? Is He a prophet? Who is this man? It’s the central question of the gospels—one that all the disciples wrestled with, and one that Jesus insisted they answer.
Turn to Luke 9:18-20 (p. 890). Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?”
19 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.”
Jesus asks the disciples who the crowds say He is. “What are others saying about me?” And they report that the crowds believe Jesus is a prophet—maybe even one of the great prophets of the past, like Elijah, returned. Then Jesus turns the question from what others think to what they think.
20 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Peter answered, “God’s Messiah.”
“What about you? Who do you say I am?” Jesus poses that question to every person. He makes it personal—not just what others think—what do you think? Who do you say Jesus is?
Peter answered, “God’s Messiah.” The Messiah, or Christ, was the promised one who would bring God’s Kingdom to earth. What the disciples didn’t know was that God would send His Son as the Messiah. God Himself would come to save us. That’s who Jesus is.
yes to Jesus…
So here you are, carrying your own bier—and Jesus is here today to intercept you. What are you carrying? A broken relationship? A sick body? A broken heart? A desperate need? What is weighing you down? I’m going to invite you to stand with me, and if you need a touch from Jesus, a word from Jesus, when we start singing, come down front. Come and ask Him to touch you.