Cameos of Grace
The misery of The Widow Of Nain and her final joy
Please read Luke 7:11-17
This short story given in Luke's gospel has impressed me very much and I trust you will consider it with me with an open Bible so that the links with the Word of God might be verified in the mind of the reader. The narrative in this passage is unique to Luke's gospel, the gospel of widows*. Luke presents Christ with human sympathies. The True man comes face to face with man in all his troubles and sorrows. The story occurs in a small insignificant tribal village in Issachar, which today is known as Nein, six miles south-east of Nazareth** and some way south of Capernaum, north of modern Jenin. Commentators in the 1800s noted that it was a squalid little place, which had probably not much changed for two millennia. The instance of the Lord's first recorded raising of a person from among the dead makes it stand out in history. It was there that the Lord of glory deigned to come. He brought the love and light of God into the dark recesses of human society, wherever there was misery and need He would address the situation with fullest grace and power. The Lord was the constant and ready servant of all who were in need. His love and compassion for the fallen, suffering children of Adam and Eve was unsurpassed, and unmitigated by any compromising selfish motives. He was on a mission to please His Father and went about doing good.
*See Luke 2:37, 4:(25)26, 18:3, (20:47) 21:2.
** Nazareth is also called a 'city' in Luke 1:26, perhaps because the original has no word for a 'town'. Neither was a metropolis.
Verse 11 and 12
We are introduced to two processions, the one full of animated conversation and discussion, and the other marked by the gravity suited to a funeral. The former is headed by a remarkable teacher and His itinerating school of learners, and a crowd of curious people hoping to catch something of the teacher's words or perhaps just a glimpse of Him. The description 'a great crowd' intimates just how popular He was at this time. The crowd attending the Lord was evidently unaware of the bereavement that had taken place in Nain and therefore none had
besought the Lord on behalf of the widow. There were no intercessors on her behalf. No one asked Him to do anything. The Lord knew what He would do. The Lord of life was entering into the scene affected by death. He was coming. uninvited, in the liberty of His own love to meet man in his utter ruin and to replace mourning with joy unspeakable.
The other group is headed by a widow woman, deeply pained by her loss. and a company of sympathetic mourners from her neighbourhood on the way to the cemetery. She cuts a lonely figure, bereft of all but happy memories of the childhood of her now deceased son. Without a male protector she would be in very real difficulties. She was desolate, inconsolate - deeply engaged in the midst of her sorrows. Her only begotten son has died and she must continue alone. All her hopes had been in him and now these were dashed. Besides the hardships of live she would now face, her husband's family line had come to an end. There was no social provision for her welfare, no one to support her, and few prospects of employment in the first century; she had lost everything and was without hope.
The tragedy may have been an unexpected illness or an accident - a mother does not expect to loose her children before she dies. The situation brings before us the text in Proverbs 27, 'Boast not thyself of tomorrow. for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.' Life is short, death is eternal and eternity is long. The realities of sin and its inevitable consequence had been brought home to bear on the widow. We do not hear her complain, Why has God allowed this to happen to me? But undoubtedly He had permitted this disaster to touch her in order to bring glory to His Son as well as to teach her the verity of the truth given in Ecclesiastes 7:1b-3 that, It is better to go into the house of mourning ...', but she would also learn that there was an abundant and gracious provision of blessing for her.
Verses 13 - 14
Christ knew well the cost of the woman's loss, for He too was an only begotten son* (John 3:16) and although His followers probably had not the slightest indication of what was about to happen, the Lord ** Jesus treads with purpose, His way forward to meet the cortege. He would feel her grief and share her tears. When He sees her, His heart is touched and He has compassion. That is, He not only felt for her, but also with her. It is not recorded that He wept then, but He would weep like no other when He banished sin and death forever by His work on the cross. He utters words of simple and purest kindness: 'Weep not.' These words were undoubtedly a comfort to her, but they would be backed up by a work of unequalled power. One day He will eradicate all tears from the eyes of the redeemed (Rev. 21:4). But now we see Him truly interested in the woman's case, in her grief and loss. It is so today for whenever we sorrow and weep He feels afresh our griefs. His sympathetic sufferings are not yet complete.
*His sympathies were not only divine but also arose out of His perfect manhood.
** For the first time in this narrative Luke calls Jesus the Lord and it is certainly appropriate as He showed Himself lord of death itself.
His heart moves His hand and He touches the coffin. This act does not defile Him, for He bears the same relationship to death and sin as God. He is undefilable. He has no need to go to the priests for cleansing. Upon touching the bier He again speaks. What effect these words had on the mother, we are not told. They would have been vain words on the lips of others, but the record gives us His words. The result declares Him to be the Son of God by resurrection of a dead person (cf. Rom 1:3). This of course was supremely shown by His own resurrection, but every demonstration of such power corroborated that He was not only Son of Man but also the Son of God.
Wake up! Arise! There is no prolonged praying or beating of the breast. The voice of supreme authority has expressed His will. The young man gets up - he that had been dead sat up! He, a young Jew had been subject to the law and had tasted its condemning power in death, but when he was dead he was no longer subject to the law (Rom. 7). Furthermore, his hopeless condition exactly paralleled our own spiritual condition when we were dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1). But when awakened from death he speaks. No record is given of what he said, but it was audible evidence that he was alive. When we have trusted the Saviour we make confession with our mouths of the new life and hope that is within us. The only possibility for the sinner is for God's mercy and grace to be applied to those who are dead - there is no other remedy for us. This was an astounding miracle. There is no record of the Lord doing this kind of miracle previously.
The Lord continues His special interest in the widow - He is the God of widows and chooses to identify Himself' with them in their sad circumstances - the Lord dispenses His grace and favour towards her. He does not bargain with her and say. If you give me your life, I will reward you with a miracle, or, If I raise your son from death you must promise to devote Him to Me. The Lord delivers the youth to his mother without any conditions. He shows her pure grace. He was surely entitled to claim him but He gave him back to his mother as had Elijah in his day (1 Kings 17:23). The Lord Jesus cared for the widow; she had suffered the loss and the son is restored to her. The Lord always sought God's glory; He sought nothing for Himself.
Verses 16 - 17
The response of the multitude is to glorify God. Perhaps they had recalled such miracles from their history in the distant days of Elijah and Elisha. But these great men were only dependant servants who had to implore God for mercy. Elijah had to bow low, stretching himself over the Shunamite widow's son before he was raised. The Lord gives the command of authority, and death has to release its prey. God had indeed visited His people. The aged priest Zacharias in Luke 1:68-69 had observed that God, 'hath visited and redeemed his people and raised up an horn of salvation for us, in the house of his servant David.' Of course the people's description of the Lord as being a great prophet was inadequate. But his fame spread to a very considerable area in the surrounding country. One day all Israel will clearly recognise their Messiah: 'they shall look on him'. - But for the time-being the nations may know, the grace of Christ and His power to save. Adam brought in death by disobedience, the second man has power to deal with sin and its fearful consequence. The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ. And so man's deep need is fully met.