Pastor Aaron Steinbrenner delivers a sermon entitled “Jesus Meets Death Head-On” based on Luke 7:11-17 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.
Delivered on Sunday, June 30, 2019
Certain hymns strike people…stick with people…move people…once they’ve been sung at the funeral of a loved one. Be Still, My Soul. I’m But a Stranger Here. On Eagles’ Wings. You might hear someone say – or maybe you’ve said it yourself – “we sang that hymn at Dad’s funeral; every time I sing it now it chokes me up.” Another one of those hymns…Abide with Me. It was written by Henry Lyte, pastor and poet from the 19th Century. He wasn’t serious about his Christian faith until much later in his life. Which would explain the verse of that hymn which talks about being rebellious in youth and straying often from the Lord. He joined the ministry, but even then, he wasn’t serious about it – he was just happy to have a job. Things changed. Henry Lyte visited an elderly pastor who was on his death bed. That elderly pastor, helpless and weak…in the time of his greatest need, found comfort and solace in Christ of the Scriptures. And so Lyte started to actually study and read and meditate upon those Scriptures. And he saw Jesus…as if for the first time. Years later Henry Lyte would be on his death bed…helpless and weak…in the time of his greatest need…and his last words were simply, Peace! Joy!
Henry Lyte could face death head-on. Why? Because his Savior Jesus had faced death head-on. Let’s revisit the Gospel for a few moments.
We’re told “Jesus went to a town called Nain.” How much do you know about Nain? Probably nothing. Archeologists would tell us Nain was small and insignificant. In fact, the only reason you’ve even heard of it is simply because Jesus went there and it was recorded in the Gospels. There’s comfort here in this short verse. Think of the present-day famous and influential people of this world – politicians and military generals and celebrities and dignitaries – what do they know or care about Huilsburg or Rubicon or Hartford or Slinger? Probably nothing. But Jesus…the Lord of lords…the One through whom all things were created….the One to whom all creatures bow…the One by whom all things are ordered and ruled…He knows all about your little village and he even comes to visit and dwell here, regularly, because this is where his precious people live and dwell.
Back to Nain. Poor woman. This isn’t her first time walking in a funeral procession. We’re told she was a widow. She’d buried her husband. Now, maybe even more difficult, she is burying her son. What words would you use to describe her feelings? Numb? Devastated? Empty? Maybe we just don’t know. In fact, isn’t that the case? We would never go to a funeral and tell someone, “I know just how you feel.” We don’t know. Even if we have experienced something similar, people process loss differently. People have unique pains. People had unique bonds – different from your bonds and mine – and now those unique relationships have been severed by death. We never truly know how people feel. Yet, Jesus knows. There’s an old spiritual that goes: Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen; nobody knows but Jesus. That truth is evident in this text. “When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her.”
We may not know what other people feel exactly when death knocks on the door of their family home, but we know how we feel. And we can’t just face it once and then never again. Death keeps knocking. It knocks for our parents and for our spouses and for our children and one day it will knock for us. But there, at our side…in our home…in his Word…stands Jesus…the One who met death head-on so we too can meet death head-on. And he knows just how we feel and he knows just what we need.
You know from your Sunday School and catechism class days that death is a consequence of sin. God didn’t design death…he didn’t want death. Death came as a result of sin in this world. And we can’t just put the blame on our first parents in the Garden of Eden. The blame for our own death belongs right at our own doorstep. We can exercise and maybe delay death for a few years. Treatment might put certain diseases into remission. We can try to be extra cautious and run away from or avoid dangerous situations.
- But if we told our heart to never again run after sin, would it listen?
- If we told our eyes to never again look with greed or lust or jealousy, would they obey?
- If we commanded our tongue to think before speaking…to never again lie or deceive or curse or speak in anger, could it?…would it?
- If we set a goal to love the Lord our God with heart and soul and mind, could we even make it a day…an hour…a few minutes without failing?
That’s why death knocks on our door…and it will keep knocking for our parents and for our spouses and children and for us. “When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her (he felt for her, he was sick to his stomach for her) and he said, “Don’t cry.” We could never go up to someone who is hurting and just command them to stop crying. Our words would be ill-placed and empty. But when Jesus says, “I know how you feel. My heart goes out to you. Don’t be afraid. Don’t cry.” Those words mean something because Jesus has the power to do something. “He went up and touched the coffin…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.
This isn’t the first time Jesus displayed his power over death.
- He raised Jairus’ daughter.
- He called Lazarus out of the tomb.
- He himself, after paying for my sin and yours, met death head-on, and rose in victory.
This isn’t the first time Jesus displayed his power over death…and it won’t be the last.
Earlier we spoke about Henry Lyte, a man who wasn’t all that serious about his faith until later in life. There have been quite a few of high profile people who reportedly came to faith or got serious about their relationship with Jesus on their death bed – John Wayne, Mickey Mantle, Oscar Wilde. But I want to tell you about a man who was not at all famous. He had a connection to church early in his life, but as he got older he drifted away. He didn’t see the need for church and he didn’t really see the need for Jesus. He was too busy working and raising a family. And then the cancer came. It was a shock. But even then, he didn’t see the need for church or for Jesus. After all, he was a pretty good guy who lived a pretty good life and now he was too busy thinking about treatments. But after a few months in the hospital bed…and with each day death was getting closer to knocking on his door…he started to question…he became worried…he became scared. What if these treatments don’t work? What if I die? What if I haven’t done enough? What if I haven’t been good enough? What if I stand before Jesus and he looks at every inch of my life? And something miraculous happened. Jesus saw him and his heart went out to him. No, Jesus didn’t send him a miracle-working doctor to cure his cancer; Jesus sent him a pastor. That pastor spent hours in conversation. That pastor opened up the Bible. That pastor told the dying man, “You haven’t done enough. You aren’t good enough. Jesus does look at every inch of your life.” And then that pastor told him again and again about Jesus.
- How Jesus died to pay for his sin – his youthful rebellion and his life of straying.
- How Jesus never stopped loving him.
- How Jesus was there for him – no doctor, no world leader, no family member could help him…but Jesus was there to stand by his side.
- How Jesus had met death head-on.
That man died. Not a single one of you knew him. A small obituary went into a local paper. Few took notice. His wife and children hurt…but they were not without hope. And now they have a couple hymns that still choke them up when they sing them. And when they sing those hymns…when they read their Bibles…when they approach the communion table…they see and hear Jesus say to them, “I know how you feel. My heart goes out to you. Don’t be afraid. Don’t cry.”