The One Where Jesus Crashes a Funeral


We’re going to be in Luke 7 today.

(7.11-17) Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. 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. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”

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!” The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.

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.” This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.

During this season of Epiphany,
we’re remembering that Jesus shines a spotlight into the world
to make sure that we’re crystal clear on two things:

[slide #1]
The life of Jesus shows us what God is like
and the life of Jesus shows us what true humanity is like.

During this series,
we’re looking at Jesus
with something like bifocal lens.

What God is like,
what true human life is like.

The text today is a short, simple story.

Jesus is approaching the village of Nain (v11)—
a small village about 5 miles south-east of his hometown of Nazareth—
and suddenly seeing a funeral procession.

Jesus and his disciples were traveling into town
and suddenly their plans for the day are interrupted.

A dead person is being carried out (v12)

on a movable wooden frame—a funeral bier.

And in this moment,

we see what God is like
and what true human life is like.

In the life of Jesus right here,
we see what God is like.

God is moved with compassion.

Verse 13: “when the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her.”

Luke has a habit of using the word “Lord”—
the title historically used to refer to Yahweh, the God of Israel
and he’ll use it both for God in heaven and for Jesus on earth.

“The Lord saw her…”

Luke’s readers would do a double take:

“Wait—he’s saying God in heaven saw her?

No, this time he means Jesus on earth saw on her.”

Luke does that because—for the earliest Christians—
they were convinced they were talking about the same person.

“Yahweh. The Lord of Israel.
God in heaven. Jesus on earth.”

That’s right… “the Lord.”

“When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her…”

The Greek right here is “splangchnizomai”
it literally means something like being “moved in your guts.”

It’s not an intellectual word,
not a detached word, not clinical word.

This is a visceral—an earthy, a full-body—word.

It’s the same word in Luke 15
when the loving Father
sees his prodigal son far away

and disgraces himself to run to him.

It’s a word of deep ache
and solidarity and compassion.

That moment you see the person—the loved one, the child—you love
in some kind of pain, in some kind of danger, in some kind of distress
and your entire body aches within you.

Jesus sees this woman
this woman who has lost her husband,
and now has lost her only son

Jesus sees this widow
who has already experienced so much grief and heartache
and now has lost the boy she once held to her breast,

Jesus sees the scared little girl inside this woman
who has lost her economic security in a man’s world—
who suddenly in her grief has questions about income and provision
and eventually her next meal—

The Lord sees her—sees her pain—
and the Lord loves her.

Loves her to his bones—to his guts.

And the Lord
does something.

He walks up and touches the bier—
he touches this wooden funeral frame.

Talk about a super taboo thing to do
talk about a no-no…

The law of Moses was super clear:
don’t touch things polluted by death.

If you touch polluted things—
unclean things—death-infected things—
the pollution spreads to you.

You’re not going to make anything better—
you’re going to make yourself worse.

You’re going to be unclean.
You’re going to be polluted too.

But that’s not what happens.

Jesus says, “Get up, young man” (v14)
and (v15) the dead man sits up and begins to speak.

(It sounds like he immediately begins talking.
It makes you wonder what he said… “Hey everyone!
Hey wait, were you guys going to bury me?”)

The end of verse 15 has wrecked me
every time I’ve read it this week.

“The dead man sat up and began to talk,
and Jesus gave him back to his mother.”

It’s just an unusual way to phrase it.

It’s almost like Jesus gathered this man up in his arms—
(“Let’s get you out of death—let’s get you off of that frame”)

and physically handed him back to her.

The way it’s phrased seems to imply… something—
something like Jesus is authorized to do this.

Jesus gave him back to her.

The Lord sees—the Lord is moved—
the Lord makes things better.

Nobody volunteers to touch a funeral bier
to lay their hand on the splintered planks of death.

Everyone knows that
it won’t do any good…

it’ll just made you worse.

But here’s the gospel—
this is the good news about God—
the Lord makes things better.

He volunteers to absorb our pollution—to siphon our death
to lay his hands and feet on the splintered planks of death

[slide #2]
God makes things worse for himself
so he can make things better for us.

That’s the gospel.

He loves us—in his guts, God loves us.
He gives us back what we’ve lost.
He raises the dead.

The gospel doesn’t promise that it comes
when we expect or when we would like.

I mean, this is the one where Jesus crashes a funeral.

But behold what God is like
God is the one who crashes funerals—who will one day crash every funeral—
and who gives life back to every heart that will receive it.

That is inconceivable, unspeakable good news.

Holy Spirit, awaken our hearts to believe it.

What God doeswhat God is like
is the foundation of everything.

We never move past it.
We never outgrow it.

We’re invited to believe it anew and afresh
every moment, every hour, every day.

But as we learn to believe it more and more,
we’re invited to see the spotlight Jesus shines on human life.

(We’re invited to shift our gaze through the bifocals.)

Because in the life of Jesus right here,
we see what the true humanity looks like.

And it’s different than we think.

The life of Jesus challenges something deep with in us
the attitudes and assumptions and inner posture of our lives.

Maybe—just maybe—
the fullest kind of life—truest life, the most human life—
doesn’t look like dodging funerals.

We avoid funerals if at all possible.

We dodge funerals, we avoid suffering,

we don’t wade into the pain and mess of other people’s lives
if we can help it.

But the life of Jesus challenges us.

[slide #3]
Maybe the truly human life looks like
joining the grief of others
and helping as we can.

Maybe that’s the kind of life
we’re all invited into.

The life where we don’t dodge the unscheduled funeral procession
where we allow the hurts and pains of others to interrupt us
and where we’re committed to helping as we can.

That doesn’t mean we called to become Job’s friends…

to dish out prepackaged answers or unsolicited advice.

There may be a time for working towards answers
or figuring out practically what should happen,

but most of the time
the most helpful thing we can do

is give other people ourselves.

Our time and our attention and our presence.
Very often people need our shoulder more than our advice.

As uncomfortable as it may make us,
a lot of times we’ve got to just stop avoiding the funeral.

For every single one of us there’s
a situation we consistently sidestep,
a person
we consistently avoid,
a funeral
we consistently dodge,

because somewhere we assume
that real life means avoiding that discomfort.

But it seems that the truest, deepest human life looks like

joining the procession,
wading into the hurts and pains of other people,
and helping as we can.

May we hear the good news
that God sees, that God loves,
that God makes things better by crashing our funeral,

may we accept the invitation to real and lasting life 
by joining other people in their lives
even when it means joining them in suffering,

and may God’s Spirit grant us hope
as we wait for the Lord to arrive
and raise the dead.