(Bible quotations are from the NIV unless otherwise stated)
The Widow of Nain
26th October 2006
Verse 11 starts with "Soon afterwards..." This is a reference to the miracle Jesus had just performed, which we can read about in verses 1-10. Jesus healed a centurionís servant without even visiting the sick person. Jesus just spoke the word of authority, and the servant was healed at that very moment (see Matthew 7:13). Wow! Jesus could do ANYTHING!
Then we read:
Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him".
Before Jesus started His ministry, he was followed by no-one. At the cross, he was deserted by almost everyone. But when He was preaching and healing and performing miracles, He was followed by a multitude. Even today, before Jesus reveals Himself to us, we donít want to know Him. And when things start to go wrong, we tend to back away from Him. But when itís all going well, weíre all committed followers.
Jesus was on a roll. People were hearing Bible teaching like theyíd never heard it before. People were getting healed. The crowd followed Jesus wherever He went now, hanging on His every word, hoping to see more signs and wonders. And you know how it is when things are going well Ė people would be getting excited, the crowd might be a bit noisy, a bit triumphalist. And Jesus would be in the middle of the crowd, with everyone talking to him Ė maybe behaving like James and John did later, getting ambitious, asking for preferment.
What fun it is to be in church when Godís answering all our prayers, and the church is growing, and Jesus is at the centre, and youíre just wondering what Godís going to do next!
When Luke originally wrote verse 12, he included a word that the NIV sadly chose to take out again - the word "look". He actually wrote:
As he approached the town gate, look, a dead person was being carried out ó the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her.
This was significant to Jesus, and Luke wants us to take notice of it.
Picture the scene. Jesus and a large crowd of His followers were going in through the gate. The widow and a large crowd of mourners were coming out. This might just be the first recorded example of a traffic jam in history.
What did the crowd of Jesus's followers see? We don't know, but I think they probably saw a problem. The action man types would have seen a logistical exercise. I can imagine Peter organising some sort of contraflow to get the two crowds through the gate with the minimum of fuss. I can imagine the argumentative types, like James and John, arguing about the best way to do it. I can imagine others thinking about how lunch was going to be late, or how they didn't like all the pushing and shoving that was likely to ensue.
What did the widow see? I expect she only saw her grief. The deep sense of loss. The blackness, the hopelessness, the sense that life was no longer worth living. And for a working-cass woman in those days, this was likely to result in great financial hardship. She would have been worried about how she'd manage on her own. How was she going to cope, emotionally or financially?
But then she saw something else - perhaps almost the last thing that someone who's really hurting wants to see - a crowd of enthusiastic Christians coming towards her!
In some churches, there has been a kind of pressure to claim that we're doing really well, profoundly happy, living victorious Christian lives. But sometimes that's not true. Sometimes, we're really sad, or worried, or sick, or tired, or depressed. It's really important that our churches allow us to be honest about how we are. Many of us have said that we're doing well, when really we're not. And part of our motivation has been that if we tell other Christians about how we're really doing, we'll get a whole load of counselling that we don't want. Sometimes we need the church to just leave us alone.
Remember Job? He lost everything he had, and his friends came to comfort him. When they first arrived, they just sat silently with him for seven days (Job 2:12-13). After those seven days (when they actually were bringing him comfort) they opened their mouths and gave him rubbish advice, based on their own flawed theologies. The church does the same today - but we seldom wait seven days with our mouths closed.
What did Jesus see? He saw the widow. A woman who had lost the only thing she really cared about - her son. She'd already lost her husband. Jesus saw the pain of separation, the worry, the emptiness, the powerlessness.
Itís ironic Ė a large crowd followed Jesus because he could perform miracles Ė a large crowd followed the widow because they knew she could do nothing at all. And they could do nothing to help Ė except be there. Jesus was surrounded by crowds to the point that sometimes He needed to escape, onto a mountainside by Himself, or to go to the seaside with His friends for a few days, just to get some rest. The widow, by contrast, probably felt completely alone even though she was in the middle of a supportive crowd. When your sense of loss is particularly raw, you feel cut off from everyone else.
And probably the last thing she needed at that moment was a second huge crowd Ė a crowd of well-meaning Christians. There are times when we just do not want to be surrounded by a group of insensitive people telling us just how wonderful God is, how we should rejoice in all circumstances, how God has everything under control...
The Greek word translated his "heart went out" is splanchnizomai. It literally means he "cried from his gutsĒ, or it "wrenched his guts". Jesus was moved by great compassion for this woman.
I've heard it said that Jesus was commanding her not to cry. This is total rubbish! Jesus was comforting her. He was offering her some empathy, joining with her in her sorrow. We can really hurt people when they're suffering great loss and we tell them that Jesus told us not to cry. Have you heard Ė or been subjected to Ė a well-meaning but idiotic Christian telling someone whoís really upset not to mourn, but to cheer up and trust Jesus and rejoice? Advising some broken-hearted soul that Godís command is not to cry, no matter what happens Ė because whatever has happened must have been God's will, and we should rejoice in all circumstances and remember that all things work together for good for those that love the Lord? Have you felt like thumping them? I have.
Jesus touched the coffin. This made Him ceremonially unclean (see Numbers 19:11-22). The perfect, sinless Son of God was willing to make Himself ceremonially unclean in order to bring comfort to this grieving widow. He is truly willing to be where we are, to take on our problems, to suffer for us, to identify with us.
Jesus went further on the cross. He became sin for us. He became a curse for us:
2 Corinthians 5:21
That's how much God loves His people.
With a simple word of command, Jesus brought the dead man back to life. Jesus gave the widow back her reason to live, her ability to live, her comfort.
But, for me, two questions arise.
My first question is: Why now? Jesus could have fixed this thing before! Why wait till now? Why not prevent the boy's death in the first place? Why allow her to go through all that grief? We donít know.
And what about your situation? Why has he left you in pain for so long? Couldnít He have saved your career, your health, your marriage, your friend, your relationship? Why didn't He? Again, I donít know. Itís a certain fact that bad things happen to nice people. Itís a certain fact that God can do anything. And itís a certain fact that sometimes God doesnít intervene to prevent us suffering. And, generally speaking, God doesnít tell us why that is in any particular instance.
But Jesus is here for you now. Can you hear His words of comfort now, ďDonít cryĒ? Can you sense His compassion for you in your grief?
My second question is: what about all the other widows? What about the widows whose sons were not raised from the dead and restored to them? Of course, all Godís people who die are raised from the dead really. If I die this morning, Iíll be in paradise this afternoon. But we who are left still miss them.
Jesus doesnít always raise the dead. But if we let Him, He always touches the coffin. Jesus wants to be at the funeral. And not as an onlooker; He wants to be involved. He wants to touch the coffin, to put Himself right in the centre of our sense of loss. To sacrifice something for the grieving, to let us know that He is truly with us, and to touch us Ė by sharing with us in our pain.
This story is about Jesus helping a widow who had lost her only son. But Jesus doesnít only comfort widows Ė He comes to comfort all who are mourning a great loss: the loss of a friend, perhaps, or a career, or a relationship, a loss of health, or a broken marriage, the realisation that a dream will not come to pass, or probably wonít.
I donít know if God wants to give back to you the physical health, the marriage, the dream, the career, the child, the relationship, that youíve been mourning. But, for every hurting Christian, He wants to touch your coffin, to identify with you in the pain, to ease your aching heart. Remember this great prophecy about Jesus:
Isaiah 61:1-3 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORDís favour and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion ó to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendour.
Jesus, God the Son, has been anointed with God the Holy Spirit, by God the Father for this purpose: to bind up the broken-hearted. He will "comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion". That is, God wants to meet with EVERY Christian in emotional pain, and bring them comfort, and provide for them. Yes - every one of us.
Sometimes this involves a miracle. Sometimes it doesnít. Sometimes it involves the restoration of what has been lost. Sometimes it doesnít. Sometimes we have to let go of who or what is dead. But binding up broken-hearted people is what Jesus does. We canít tell Him how to do it, but we can bring our broken hearts to Him to let Him do it.
I donít know when Heíll do it for you. I donít know how Heíll do it. But Iím convinced He will do it. Often, He does it after weíve stopped telling Him how He must do it.
I bet they were filled with awe! I bet they praised God! Jesus is the great prophet. Jesus has come to help His people. And He's still doing it!
News of this miracle spread throughout the region. It was truly a sign - a demonstration of the love and power of God. But verse 13 makes it clear that Jesus didn't perform this miracle because it was good publicity - He did it because He has compassion for those suffering emotional distress. He is equipped to comfort ALL who mourn.
Will you let Jesus come and help you?