Jesus and the Widow's Son
Jesus performed many miracles during His earthly ministry. While these miracles did extend a benefit to their recipients, and thus demonstrated Jesus's compassion on mankind, their main purpose was to confirm His claim to being the divine Son of God. He showed power over nature by stilling the tempest and feeding the 5000. He also showed power over disease by healing all kinds of sicknesses and other abnormal physical conditions. He even showed power over Satan by casting out demons. However, some of the most poignant scenes among the miracles of our Lord are where He showed His power over death by raising people to life again.
On such incident is recorded in Luke 7:11-17, where Jesus raised the son of a widow who lived in the city of Nain. Nain was a city of Galilee, on the northwest slope of the Hill of Moreh, the same place where Gideon attacked the Midianites, who had invaded Israel and encamped near there. It is about six miles south of Nazareth, and the name still adheres to the modern village of Nein. We can probably picture this event or at least feel the emotion of it because we have all lost someone to death; not an only son as this woman, but a parent, sibling, other dear relative, or perhaps a close friend. What can we learn from this account of Jesus and the widow's son?
First, we see death in verses 11-12, where the body of a young man who had died was being carried out of the city on a bier or open coffin. Physical death is an appointment that God has made for all mankind, result from the introduction of sin into the world (Genesis 3:17-19). Physical death is not so much a punishment for sin but rather a consequence of the fact that sin exists. It is "appointed for men to die once" (Hebrews 9:27). What is this death? It is more than just a cessation of life, and it is certainly not annihilation or extinction, as some claim. Rather, the basic meaning of the word is "separation." At death, the body and the spirit separate, the body going downward and the spirit returning to God (Ecclesiastes 12:7). Man is a dual being; the body is dead when the spirit is separated from it (James 2:26).
As undesirable and fearful as physical death can be, there is something worse, which is spiritual death, to be "dead in trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1). What is this spiritual death? Like physical death, it is a separation, though not of body and spirit but of the soul from God because of sin (Isaiah 59:1-2). It is a problem that all responsible human beings face because "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). Yet, there is something even still worse, and that is the fact that if something is not done about this condition of spiritual death, it will result in eternal death--separation from God in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone (Revelation 21:8). Thus, while we certainly need to make preparations for the time of physical death, we need to be more concerned about the problem of spiritual death. Physical death ends only this life, but spiritual death has consequences for all eternity.
Second, we see sorrow in verse 13 where the mother, a widow, was weeping for her only son. We recognize that physical death brings sorrow because when we lose someone we love, it makes us sad. Many of Solomon's statements in Ecclesiastes (3:1-2, 5:13-16, 7:2-4) emphasize the sadness brought about by death. Even Jesus felt the sorrow of losing a loved one. After Lazarus died, when Jesus saw all the mourning by Martha, Mary, and the others, "Jesus wept" (John 11:32-35). That is why death is referred to as an enemy (1 Corinthians 15:25-26). However, Jesus, by His death, freed us from the fear of death and the bondage that it brings (Hebrews 2:14-15).
Yet, for the Christian, there is another side to death. Yes, we sorrow, but not as others (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Why is our sorrowing different? We know that if one dies in the Lord, it is not just the end of earthly life, but the beginning of something far better (Revelation 14:13). So in such instances, our sorrow is tempered with joy. Just as physical death brings about sorrow, there should be sorrow for spiritual death. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted" (Matthew 5:4). Jesus is not talking about just mourning for lost loved ones but mourning for sins. It is this godly sorrow that produces repentance unto salvation (2 Corinthians 7:9-10). When we mourn because people are lost to physical death, there is not much else we can do. But when we mourn because of being in a state of spiritual death, it can lead to repentance unto salvation.
Third, we see a resurrection in verses 14-17 where Jesus commanded the young man to arise and he sat up. Why did Jesus raise this individual from the dead? In John 20:30-31 we are told that all of Jesus' miracles that are recorded were written so that we might believe that He is the Christ, the Son of God. Again, this demonstration of Jesus' power certainly brought great comfort to the grieving mother and it also showed Jesus's compassion, but it had a much greater purpose than that. Notice the reaction of the people--they rightly concluded from this event that a great prophet had arisen.
We have these instances in scripture of physical resurrections, and in like manner God has made it possible for those who are spiritually dead to undergo a spiritual resurrection (Romans 6:3-5). If those who are dead in sin follow the pattern of Jesus's death, burial, and resurrection by dying to sin and being buried in baptism, they can rise to walk in newness of life. This gives Christians the hope of a future resurrection from the dead that will result in eternal life. Of course, all, both righteous and wicked, will be raised when the Lord returns (John 5:28-29). However, those who have been raised to walk in newness of life can look forward at the end of time to being raised to be with the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:50-57, Philippians 3:20-21, 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17, 1 John 2:25). Just as Jesus raised this widow's son, someday He will return to raise all the dead and take His people home to be with Him forever
Funerals are always sad occasions, but Jesus turned this one
into a time of joy. We need to be prepared for death, not only in making
provisions for our own funeral and burial, but also in making provisions for our
souls to escape spiritual death and walk in newness of life, so that when our
bodies are raised from the dead, we can have eternal life with Christ in heaven.
In order to do this, those who are not yet Christians need to be buried with
Christ by baptism into death, and those who have become Christians need to make
sure that they walk in newness of life.
By Wayne S. Walker
From Expository Files 13.2; February 2006