Death is the king of terrors. Death knows neither class nor age of people. Death has wiped out entire races, even nations. Death strikes when you least expect it, and even when you do expect it. Consider the recent hurricanes in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico, not to mention elsewhere. Death always catches its prey. It waits for you at your door.
Wherever death moves, countless tears flow. Death extinguishes every joyful light. It snatches away the breadwinner of the family. It comes for the caring mother of children. Death even seeks out children of all ages.
There is an antidote to death. Today’s Gospel from Luke chapter seven shows the antidote to death at work. Jesus Christ raises a widow’s only son as the funeral procession takes the body out of Nain to his resting place. Christ is victorious over the king of terrors: death.
Not only has the mother of the deceased lost her husband, now she loses her only son. Death has struck twice. She has suffered a full measure of misery. Yet the Lord arrives at the perfect time. When He arrives at the gate of Nain, the funeral procession is on its way. When Jesus sees the weeping mother, He had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not cry.” Jesus has authority to raise the dead. Though she has lost her husband, she will not lose her son. Jesus went up to the open coffin, touched it, and the pallbearers stopped. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up.” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.
What a sight! Jesus is victorious over death. The scene at Nain brings us comfort as we remember our loved ones who have gone before us in the faith. Perhaps at the funeral or the committal we thought, “If only Jesus was here to do what He did to the widow’s son at Nain.” Then we would not have to suffer the death of a loved one.
What we forget in times like those is that Jesus is there. His presence never leaves us, even when He is not bodily present and standing before us. Jesus’ presence is in His preached Word, a Word that declares death cannot hold a beliver in Christ for long. St. Paul tells the church in Corinth that the body sown incorruptible is raised incorruptible. Jesus comes at the right time, both in His Word and again on Judgment Day, to bring comfort and resurrection.
Jesus comes at the right time when we say goodbye to a loved one. Pastors like me stand at the bedside of the faithful departed to bring the comfort of the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. We won’t stop you from crying, but we also will remind you not to cry as those who have no hope. You will see your loved one again. Your sorrow will be turned into joy. We stand in the pulpit at the funeral to, as it were, give Satan a good kick in the rear end by declaring Christ’s triumph over death in His resurrection from the dead. We also stand beside the grave, commending the body to sleep in Jesus and rise on the Last Day.
Jesus also comes at the right time to take His children home to the New Jerusalem. Only our Father in heaven knows that time. So we wait in hope, always ready for Christ’s return, especially on those days when it looks like Jesus will never return. This world has an appointed limit. Soon everything will decay and burn away. We are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. There Christ is the Light. There shall we stand in the presence of the Father for all eternity. There shall we be free from all sin and death forever.
But what about my death? What will it be like? Will I go with a bang or with a whimper? We shudder to think about it. We shudder because death is the separation of the body and the soul. Your highest earthly good is your life. Yet your life will decompose in the ground. We may complement a funeral director on his or her expertise at preserving a corpse, but that preservation won’t last long.
When we stand before the corpse of a loved one, we see our own mortality. Here is the punishment for sin. For those who believe there is no punishment for sin because there is no sin, no God, and no eternity, all that is left is eternal death and eternal condemnation. The author of the epistle to the Hebrews makes it plain: it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.
We, though, who believe that Christ has triumphed over death know that isn’t the end. The author to the Hebrews continues: so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. Note the adverb: eagerly. We don’t get too fond of earthly affairs. They will pass away. It’s nice to enjoy the good things God gives us right now. They will pass away. The one good thing given us, everlasting life, is the gift that gives to all eternity.
Listen again to these comforting words of triumph. Jesus says to Martha: I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. He tells John in Revelation chapter one: I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. Again the author to the Hebrews writes: Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, [Jesus] likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.
Your death in Christ means redemption from all evil and entrance into eternal salvation. He will rescue you from every evil deed and bring you safely into His heavenly kingdom. We rejoice with the funeral party at Nain, with Jesus and His disciples, and with all fellow Christians who have suffered the loss of loved ones and soon will join them in rest. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
The king of terrors is dead. The emperor of evil has no clothes. Christ has triumphed. He is living. Because He lives, you live with Him. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.