This is post 2 of 4 in the series “THE ... OF JESUS”
- The Tenderness Of Jesus: What Matters To You Matters To God
- The Target Of Jesus: What You Fear Most, Christ Handles Best
- The Tactic Of Jesus: What You Count Lowly, Christ Counts Holy
- The Tears Of Jesus: What You Cry About Is What You Care About
The Target Of Jesus: What You Fear Most, Christ Handles Best
Jesus had a habit of interrupting funerals!
When He went to weddings—at least the one we know He attended—He handled Himself pretty well. When He attended worship services—and we know of a number of such services He attended—He conducted Himself with the proper decorum and devotion. When He was the guest at dinner parties—well, the Pharisees may have questioned His behavior—but so far as we know. He was the center of attention, the life of the party, and a welcome guest. But there was something about funerals that was different. Every funeral He ever attended, He interrupted. He interrupted the funeral of the widow’s son in the little village of Nain. He interrupted the funeral of the daughter of Jairus. He interrupted the funeral of Martha’s brother, Lazarus. He even interrupted His own funeral! What kind of Christ is this who can’t sit still at a funeral? What kind of Lord is this who gets edgy at the sight of death? What kind of Saviour is this who can’t keep quiet in the funeral home and calls upon people not to weep as they bury their loved ones?
Take a look.
Look at what happened in the village of Nain. It is not far from Capernaum where Jesus and His disciples had been based. One day as they journeyed out of Capernaum, they approached the village of Nain. Luke tells us that “a large crowd” accompanied them. No doubt it was an exuberant, up-beat group. It was early in the ministry of Jesus, before He began to catch the flak and the criticism, before He aroused anger and hostility. That would come later. But at this point in time, Jesus was riding the crest of popularity, He was appreciated, admired, applauded. It was good to be seen with Jesus at this time, and so this large crowd was traveling with Him. Just as they drew near to the village of Nain, they encountered a funeral procession leaving the village. What happened to the people who were with Jesus is the same thing that happens to you when you see a funeral procession.
You’ve been there, haven’t you? You are in the car or walking along the street and you see this solemn train of sorrow, inching its way from church to cemetery; headlights on, hearse at the front, line of cars behind; in the cars some poor souls toting a loved one and a load of grief out to the gravesite. You don’t know who it is, but you don’t need to know who it is to get the reminder. You don’t want the reminder but the reminder comes, doesn’t it. The sight of that procession reminds you that death comes and life ends. For every person there is a beginning and. there is an end. And in a flash of chilling insight, you are brought face-to-face with the fact that your life, too, will have a conclusion.
That’s why I am convinced that this group of people with Jesus fell into silence. No one knows what to say at a funeral. No one knows how to respond in the face of the grave. So the disciples and the others stood quietly and watched the procession passing by, the casket being carried, the mother and the mourners weeping. Suddenly Jesus did something which must have startled the daylights out of everyone. He stepped out in front of that procession and stopped it. How many times have you seen that happen? Think what that mother, the widow of Nain, must have felt. I mean you’ve lost your only son…the funeral is underway…you are numb with grief…if you had any more tears, you’d cry them: if you had any more faith you’d pray; but since you have no more of either, you simply stare at the box holding the body of your son…suddenly, your slow-footed steps are stopped…a man you’ve never seen before looks you in the eye and says, “Don’t cry”…your mind is whirling and you start to say, “What do you mean ‘Don’t cry’? That’s my son in that box. It’s bad enough I have already buried my husband, now I have to bury my son”…but the words never come out because before you can speak He has stepped over to the casket…there in a voice loud enough for everyone up and down the street to hear, in a voice loud enough it seems to wake the dead. He cries out, “Young man, I say to you rise”…you wonder what kind of lunatic has just stepped into your world…but before you can gather enough wits to protest, there is a sound from the casket…the pallbearers quickly lower it to the ground…good thing, because when it hits the ground, the lid flies open!
Can you imagine your own thoughts had you been the widow of Nain? Of course, I don’t know how I am going to tell you what happened next, because you might not believe me. So I am going to let Luke tell you. “The dead man sat up and began to speak.” I don’t think it hit you, so let me say it again: “The dead man sat up and began to speak.” Let’s all say it together: “The dead man sat up and began to speak.”
Folks, what’s wrong with that picture? Dead people don’t sit up. Dead people don’t talk. Dead people don’t walk away from their own funerals. If any thing in life is predictable, it’s a funeral. You never see Las Vegas betting on funerals as to whether they are going to be finished or not. Funerals are, to coin a phrase, morbidly predictable. Unless of course, the Nazarene is present. Just ask the widow of Nain.
Or look at what happened to Jairus. He was a ruler of the synagogue, a powerful and prominent religious leader—but when his little girl fell critically ill, his position, his power and his prominence were useless and worthless. Suddenly this important man was humbled by the prospect of losing his beloved child, and so he threw himself upon the mercy of Jesus Christ. While the distraught father was pouring out his story to the Master, the messengers arrived to say: “Jairus, we are sorry. Your little girl is dead.” The words shredded the heart of Jairus, but Jesus stepped in, intercepted the pain and said: “Don’t listen to them; trust me.”
Jairus chose hope over despair and he followed hope all the way back to his house. When—he and Jesus arrived, the place was filled with mourners weeping and wailing at a deafening pitch. Jesus said: “I can handle this.” And the Bible says “the people laughed at Him.” They wiped away their tears long enough to make fun of this One who claimed to hold power over death. So Jesus chased them out of the house. Then He leaned over the lifeless body of the little girl and said—the words were so strong that Mark remembered them and recorded them—Jesus said: “Talitha cumi—Little girl, get up!” The Bible says: “The girl got up and began to walk.” Jesus did it again, “The girl got up and began to walk.” We’ve got to say it again—together: “The girl got up and began to walk.” The funeral was progressing and processing fine until Jesus showed up, and then…well, Jairus can tell you. The widow of Nain can tell you.
Then look at what happened at the Bethany home of Mary and Martha and Lazarus. Of all the funerals, their story might be the best of all. They were what may have been called “F.O.J.—friends of Jesus.” In fact, on any list of His very closest friends, they would have to be included. Then one day Lazarus fell ill, seriously ill. Martha sent to Jesus for help. Jesus didn’t come. Lazarus got sicker and sicker—no Jesus. Then Lazarus died—still no Jesus. Do you know what? Jesus didn’t even show up for the funeral. They wrapped up the body, put it in the tomb, sealed it with a stone—and Jesus was nowhere to be found.
Four long tear-soaked days later, Jesus came to the door. Martha said to Jesus—and her voice had the cutting edge of a razor about it—she said: “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” She didn’t say “Hello”. She didn’t say “Glad to see you.” The first thing out of her mouth is: “Lord, you let us down. If you had been here, Lazarus would not have died.” Have you ever noticed how we equate the presence of death with the absence of God? “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
And how did Jesus respond? He said: “Martha, I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me even though they die, will live.” Now Martha had heard Jesus say that kind of thing in His sermons and that was fine. But when He said it here within spitting distance of the cemetery, and she could still smell on her hands the ointment she had put on her brother’s body, well, that was a bitter pill to swallow. So Jesus looked at Martha and asked: “Do you believe this?” Martha speaks the four most important words of her life: “Yes Lord, I believe…” Jesus said: “Take me to the cemetery,” They did. Jesus said: “Move the stone.” They did. It had been four days. Not a pleasant sight. Not a pleasant smell. Suddenly Jesus split the air with His cry: “Lazarus, come out!” The Bible says: “The dead man came out.” Jesus did it again! “The dead man came out.” Say it together “The dead man came out.” Let those five words forever dispel your doubt—”The dead man came out.” You see Jesus could never sit still for a funeral. Mary and Martha and Lazarus can tell you. Jairus can tell you. The widow of Nain can tell you. He interrupted every funeral He attended, including His own!
Now, give an ear.
Why, do you suppose, did Jesus so target funerals? I like what Max Lucado says. He says: “He didn’t raise the dead for the sake of the dead. He raised the dead for the sake of the living.” That’s it! Jesus didn’t raise the dead for the sake of the dead. He knew that heaven was on the other side of death. Why then would He ever want to bring anyone back from life in heaven to life in this world? And, of course, everyone He raised from the dead experienced only a temporary return anyway. Ultimately, they all died again. Clearly then, the reason He raised the dead was for the sake of the living. He knew that what all of us fear most in life is death, and, therefore, He wanted us to be aware of the fact that His power is stronger than the power of death. What we fear most, He handles best.
You see I believe Christ wants us to be informed about death. Don’t be ignorant about it. We live in a society which tells us to postpone it, to ignore it, to put it out of our minds, to act like it’s not going to happen. As a result when death invades our personal experience, we are shell-shocked and don’t know how to respond. I am not calling you to be morbid or weird or strange or odd. I simply want you to be acquainted with death so that you will not weep like those who have no hope. Be aware that death is coming. Be aware that all of us have an appointment to die. Be aware that King David said: “We are all but one step away from death.” We have an appointment which cannot be canceled. “There is a time to be born, and there is a time to die.” Be informed about it. What we fear most, Christ handles best.
And I believe Christ wants us to be comforted at death. He wants us to understand death for what it is. Did you notice in the story of the widow of Nain that when Jesus raised her son from the dead, He gave him back to his mother. That’s what Jesus wanted to do. Jesus was touched by the mother’s plight not the son’s death, so He ministered to her. He wanted her to understand that death cannot separate us from each other. My friends, there will come a day when God will give back to us those whom we have lost for awhile. What happened outside the village of Nain is a glimpse, a hint, a foretaste of what is going to happen in heaven. If you are a widow, who has lost your husband, in heaven Jesus is going to give your husband back to you. If you. are a mother who has lost a child and you are inconsolable, remember, Jesus is going to give you that child back again. If you are a son who has buried your father, fear not, your dad will be yours again. Jesus is going to go through heaven matching them all back together again. Does Jesus care? You bet He does. So be comforted at death. What we fear most, Christ handles best.
Then I believe Christ wants us to be prepared for death. Be ready for it. I’m always amazed at how our nation gets ready for the Super Bowl. It’s on the news every night, tickets are being bought, hotel suites are being reserved, Super Bowl parties are being planned. I have some friends who are hunters, and I’m amazed at how prepared they are when they go—they are prepared for the heat, prepared for the cold, prepared for the rain, prepared for any and everything. I’m always amazed at how we prepare for weddings—carefully selecting the right place, the right music, the right flowers, the right cake, the right clothing, the right photographer, even the right rice bags! Interesting, isn’t it, how we want to prepare for everything except our own departure from earth. So I ask are you prepared? I don’t mean to manipulate your emotions. I mean just to ask you a dog-honest question: are you really ready? You don’t know the time, nor do I, but we can be prepared. How? 1 Thessalonians 4-16: “The Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command”—the same voice that called forth the young man and the little girl and Lazarus—”with the archangel’s call and with the sound of the trumpet of God; and those who died believing in Christ, will rise…” That verse doesn’t say, “those who died with good intentions” or “those who died with the most toys” or “those who died without beating their wives.” It doesn’t even say “those who have died with good Sunday School attendance.” None of that is in there. You know what it says? How are you to be prepared for death? Die believing. Those who have died believing, those who in their final moments have surrounded themselves with the presence of the Living God, those are the ones who will rise. How do you die believing? You live believing. So believe. My beloved people, believe…