Luke 7:11-17; Ephesians 3:13-21; 1 Kings 17:17-24
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Our Old Testament lesson today picks up right where we left off last week, with the Widow of Zarephath and her son. Last week we heard how God afflicted the entire land of Israel with a severe famine, promising King Ahab that he would not send rain until the Prophet Elijah prayed for it. Because of the famine, a widow was about to prepare her last handful of flour and use her last measure of oil to bake some bread for her son and herself, after which she despaired that they would surely die as there was no more food to be had anywhere in Israel. Nevertheless, Elijah commanded the widow to first prepare a cake of bread for him, reminding her of the LORD’s promise, “The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the LORD sends rain upon the earth.” Indeed, the Prophet, the widow, and her son ate and were satisfied for as many days as the famine remained in the land, and the jar of flour was not spent, and the jug of oil was not emptied.
It is this same widow and her son that we hear about in today’s Old Testament lesson, only, now the widow’s son has died. This is to add insult to injury, a double-offence. For, the woman was already in dire straits because her husband had died, and now her only son has died, and this after the LORD had spared them both from the famine, demonstrating His faithfulness, mercy, and grace. Why would the LORD put her to the test once again and in this manner? What could be the LORD’s purpose in permitting this trial to come upon her? Indeed, it is the same as it was for Job and for all of us, that the LORD’s righteousness might be revealed. As He withheld rain from falling upon Israel, so God would show that He was the LORD of life as well as creation by the power of His Word. Elijah, the Prophet, a title meaning “spokesman for God”, called upon the LORD to relent from the disaster He had permitted to come upon this widow and her son, “and the LORD listened to the voice of Elijah. And the life of the child came into him again, and he revived.” When Elijah presented the boy to his mother alive, the poor woman had to confess, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and the Word of the LORD in your mouth is truth.” And, the LORD was glorified.
The widow of Zarephath was beyond hope. She had lost her husband to death which, in turn, had caused her to lose her source of income, inheritance rights, and even social standing. To be a widow in the ancient world, and even in first century Israel, was to be cast amongst the most poor, orphans, and landless immigrants. But, to make matters worse, her only son, who was her last hope of redemption and life, had become ill and died. The woman was devastated, hopeless, and despairing, and she, like Job, believed and knew that the LORD had permitted this to happen to her.
Now, this is an important and necessary truth for Christians to confess. God is the LORD of life and all creation. This is why you are to fear, love, and trust in Him above all else, for there is no other god before and above the LORD. This is Jesus’ meaning when He teaches you, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” That one “who can destroy both soul and body in hell” is not Satan, as many are wont to think, but He is the LORD God. The One who gives life may also take it away. Further, because He is the LORD of life and all creation, Jesus teaches you, as you heard last Sunday, to not worry or be anxious about tomorrow, what you will eat and wear, for the LORD knows what you need and He provides you all that you need for your body and life. Therefore, when tragedy, want, and need befall you, do not despair, and do not worship anxiety, fear, men, the gaining or loss of material wealth, nor any other idols, but call upon and pray to the LORD, the creator, redeemer, and sustainer of your life and all things; He will hear and answer in accordance with His good and gracious will and wisdom, and He will work all things, even horrible, wicked, and unimaginable things, for the good of those who love Him in Jesus Christ.
Likewise, in today’s Gospel lesson, another widow has lost her only son to death. Jesus and His disciples, a veritable procession of life, were entering the town of Nain when they met head-on a veritable procession of death, a crowd of mourners carrying the dead young man on a funeral bier. This story always reminds me of the stanza of Luther’s Easter hymn Christ Lag in Todesbanden, Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands in which we sing, “It was a strange and dreadful strife when life and death contended. The victory remained with life; the reign of death was ended.” Jesus said to the mourning widow, “Do not weep,” for victory over death was as good as done, even if the boy had not been raised, because Jesus was going to die for him, in his place, in your place, in my place, for all the world, and take away the sting and curse of death forever. Therefore, Jesus touched the bier, shocking and scandalizing all around, for He takes your uncleanness, sin, and death upon Himself and He bears it upon the cross of Calvary. But, He raised him up by the power of the LORD’s Word, “‘Young man, I say to you, arise,’ and the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.” All the crowds cried out, just as the widow of Zarephath had confessed of Elijah, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited His people!” And, they were right.
In the darkest hour of our night of sin and death, when all hope is vanquished and despair has set in, when we grimly go about the task of preparing our last meal before we die, that is when the LORD acts – that is when the LORD has acted: Jesus resurrects our last hope…, Himself. Yes, Jesus is our last and our final hope, for Jesus is, was, and ever will be our only hope. Indeed, this is the Christian faith: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
This faith is true freedom, freedom to live your life without fear and anxiety of want, need, or even death, but freedom to live your life in love for God and for your neighbor. Indeed, this is what St. Paul was talking about in the Epistle lesson today, that you may live each and every day of your life, persevering through every trial and tribulation, in faith grounded in love. In this faith and love, it is Christ who gives you “strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” For, He “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.” Through feast or famine, want or plenty, the LORD will ensure that “the jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty.”
Your life is the breath of God who is before and after you, and who sustains you each and every day of your life. Therefore, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” “For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's.” Likewise, Jesus teaches you, “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.” The LORD would have you have this eternal perspective on your life. Your life is not what happens between birth and death, but you are a living soul having a beginning but no end. You were made for life – God’s life in Christ. He is your oil. He is your meal. And, He is inexhaustible. Call upon Him in your time of need and He will fill you to overflowing. You will persevere. Receive His gifts of selfless love: mercy, forgiveness, faith, strength of soul, peace of mind and spirit. Come, eat and be satisfied. Come, drink and be quenched. “A great prophet has arisen among us!” “God has visited His people!”
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.