Summary: Jesus interrupted a funeral procession to bring life from death. Jesus deals with our universal human problem of sin and death once and for all at the cross. We no longer have to fear death. For the believer, it's but a passing from this world to the next
Death is Not the End
Today’s story is a shocker in many ways. If you have ever lost anyone to death—and many of you have—you may experience a little jealousy with today’s story. You may wonder why Jesus didn’t interrupt your loved one’s memorial service. But if you think about the whole of the biblical narrative, we only have three times in scripture where Jesus brought people back from the dead: this story, the raising of Jairus’ daughter, and the raising of Lazarus. Verse 22 of today’s chapter implies Jesus may have raised others, but he didn’t bring all the dead back to life. Yet he brought back a few. Why? And what does it mean for us today?
Since Adam and Eve first ate the forbidden fruit, death has been a part of life. Romans 5:12 says, “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.” When sin entered the world, it brought death. From the moment we are born, we begin to die. Isn’t that a cheerful thought? Remember the old saying? Only two things are certain—death and taxes. Until Jesus comes again, the human condition is 100% fatal, even including the great Mohammad Ali. And there is nothing we can do about it. And it hurts. It hurts to lose someone you love.
Perhaps that’s why Jesus had compassion for this woman. The NIV translation says, “His heart went out to her.” The wording implies great compassion. After all, one of the largest injustices in life is for a parent to have to bury a child. It should be the other way around. Yet, I have seen way too many funerals with a tiny casket up front. It doesn’t seem right. And it’s not. Death is a thief, and it is not part of God’s original design for humanity.
In today’s story, death not only touched this woman’s son; it had earlier come for her husband. In Bible times, this meant she is almost certainly condemned to a life of poverty, living off the charity of others. Perhaps that is why the entire town is walking with her, because her situation is so sad, so bleak, so hopeless.
Jesus’ response is touching and also puzzling. He goes up to her and says, “Don’t cry.” He feels compassion for her. His heart goes out to her. He hurts where she hurts. This tells us our God is compassionate; God cares, God hurts when we hurt, and God hates the sting of death as much if not more than we do.
Yet, Jesus' words are puzzling as well. Why does he say to the woman, “Don’t cry”? Is this not a strange request of a person who has already lost her spouse and now has to bury her only son? Why shouldn’t she cry? What possible reason could there be for not crying under such circumstances?
There is no reason ... by human standards. Tears are appropriate when you have lost everyone dear to you. Yet Jesus is not done yet. He offers more than empty words; he offers action.
The one perfect human to ever walk the earth reaches out and touches the curse of death. The truly clean one—God in the flesh—touches the uncleanness of death. Jesus reaches out and touches the bier, a platform for carrying an open casket. The pallbearers halt immediately. They know no Jew in their right mind would make himself ceremonially unclean by touching a dead person.
But Jesus doesn’t just touch a dead person; he talks to the corpse as if it were alive. In fact, he commands the corpse, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” Can you imagine the thoughts that must have rushed through the minds of the mother, the pallbearers, the crowd? In that brief instant, they must have questioned Jesus’ sanity. I imagine they felt a rush of anger and shock. How dare this man interrupt their carefully planned funeral procession!
Verse 15 is actually humorous in its wording: “The dead man sat up and began to talk.” How do dead people sit up and talk? With God, all things are possible. The author of life is able to return life, to replace death with life, to overcome death for good.
Before you think too much about how Jesus did not do the same for your own loved one’s death, consider this: Jesus did not stop his own death. He could have. He could have avoided arrest, or at least finagled a release by Pontius Pilate, who was looking for a way to let him go. But he didn’t. He prayed for this cup to pass him by, but he ended his prayer with words that we would all do well to adopt: “Nevertheless, not my will, but Thy will be done, Father.” Isn’t that what we pray every week in the Lord’s Prayer? “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”