Contending for the faith | Making Disciples | Equipping the Saints for Ministry

   by Jeannette Haley

This time of the year, our thoughts turn to spring with its promise of new life, and most importantly, of the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Have you ever thought about other people in the Bible who were raised from the dead; that is, who they were, what they were like, what kind of lives they lived, and in particular, why they were raised from the dead instead of others who were no doubt considered more “important” or “famous” in the scheme of things?

In Luke 7:11-17, we read the brief account of the widow’s son whom Jesus raised from the dead. What we know about him is limited to three things: He was the only son of a widow, he was young, and he had died. We don’t even know his name, but his encounter with Jesus is recorded for all eternity in the Word of God.

This story unfolds with Jesus, accompanied by many of His disciples, and followed by “much people” approaching a village of Galilee called Nain (which means beauty). As He drew near to the city gate, Jesus and those with Him were met with the depressing sight of a dead man being carried out of the city, accompanied by his grieving mother and a large crowd.

Imagine yourself among the crowd that followed Jesus on this particular day. Anticipation wakened you early, because you have made a decision to join the throngs of curious onlookers who followed Jesus of Nazareth. The desert sun seems more radiant than you’ve ever seen it. The usual canopy of blue sky appears to shimmer with pastel incandescence that is new to your senses. You feel your pulse quicken. What new thing will this Jesus, whom you’ve been hearing about, teach on this glorious day? What miracles of healing will He perform, if any? You push your way towards the front of the crowd to be closer to Jesus as He approaches the gate to the city.

Suddenly, your reverie is shattered by the piercing wails of a woman in agonizing travail. Your expectant heart drops with a thud. Why must this picture-perfect day, which began with such glorious promise, be so rudely interrupted? You strain your ears, trying to catch bits of information being passed from person to person. Then, the awful truth penetrates your mind like a sword—the dead is but a young man, the only son of a widow. This is not a good thing, you tell yourself sadly. Widows have a hard and bitter existence.

Your nerves are becoming frayed as the incessant cries of the heartbroken mother jab like acoustic daggers through the rumble of the sympathizing crowd. You feel the horrors of death wrapping their icy tentacles around you like a shroud. Your heart freezes. Panic tells your feet to turn and run, but they refuse to obey. Instead, you find yourself stumbling numbly after Jesus as He steers a straight course towards death’s victim.

“Weep not.” You shake your head in disbelief at what your brain is telling you your ears heard. “Weep not?” From somewhere deep inside you an unbidden, giggle bubbles insanely to the surface, but you swallow hard and resist the urge to let it out. You desperately want to pull Jesus aside and inform him that the woman’s son is dead. Dead. Hasn’t He seen the corpse on the funeral bier? “Weep not?” Is that how you comfort someone in utter hopelessness and despair? Has the Master lost His mind? Obviously, Jesus has compassion for this woman… but after all, healing people is one thing, but raising the dead is something else. Why, no one has been raised from the dead since the days of Elijah and Elisha. Just who is this Jesus? Is He another prophet, sent by God to Israel?

Your eyes widen in disbelief as Jesus approaches the bier as it is being slowly carried down the dusty road. Maybe when Jesus sees that the young man is truly dead, He will go on about His business. But then, just exactly what is His business? The answer, drawn from Jesus’ own words, flashes into your confused mind: To do the will of His Father.

You gasp as Jesus raises His hand and touches the bier. Is the Master going to defile Himself with the dead? Those who are bearing the bier are suddenly transformed into motionless statues of flesh and blood. The hush that descends over the crowd is a tangible thing, like a thick, heavy blanket. No one speaks, no one moves for what seems like an eternity. All eyes are upon Jesus.

“Young man, I say unto thee, Arise.” The gasp that escapes your lips is caught up in one collective rush of shock and surprise from the crowd, as the still form on the bier effortlessly sits up! You stare unblinkingly at the young man, sitting up on his funeral bier. Before your shocked mind can untangle itself from the cords of belief and disbelief, the son of the widow woman begins to speak! You can actually hear him talking! His words are lost in a jumble of excited voices as Jesus takes his hand and brings him to his mother.

Suddenly, fear washes over the shocked, yet rejoicing, crowd. Trembling uncontrollably, your knees buckle. Lying prostrate on the ground, floods of praise surge through your soul, and escape audibly in cascading waves of joy, fear, and adoration.  Surely, you hear yourself say, a great prophet is risen up among us; and, God hath visited his people. This day has been the most unforgettable day of your life.

Sometime later, you find yourself once again among those who surround Jesus. Unexpectedly, you see the determined face of Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue, making his way straight towards Jesus. The crowd parts, and respectfully stands back as Jairus falls at Jesus’ feet. You note that Jairus appears to be in sound health, but the agony reflected in his eyes touches a cord in your own heart. Memories of past losses and tragedies sweep over your soul. The intensity of Jairus’s pleading for the life of his only daughter somehow makes your stomach churn. What will Jesus do? After all, can losing a daughter be as tragic as losing an only son, one who bears your name? Besides, the unbidden thought slithers across your mind, Jairus and his wife are rather well off, and certainly not in as vulnerable position as the widow of Nain.

As if in answer to these unspoken questions, Jesus and His disciples turn and follow the distraught father. You feel suffocated by the jostling crowd, pushing and shoving against Jesus. Why don’t they let the Master have space, so He can get to Jairus’ house before it’s too late? You ask yourself angrily. Then the unthinkable happens! A woman who has suffered with an issue of blood for as many years as Jairus’ daughter has been alive, has the gall to reach out and grasp the tassels of His prayer shawl! And, as if He has all the time in the world, Jesus stops dead still, and asks, “Who touched me?”

“Who touched me?” You can’t believe your ears. Did He really just ask who touched Him? Countless numbers of people are pressing against Him. You scan the sea of faces, searching for any visible sign that at least one other person may be thinking what you are thinking. But, Jesus’ next statement snaps you to attention as He gives an explanation for His question. Virtue has gone out of Him? What…? Your musings are interrupted when the trembling woman steps forward, pours out her story, and tells how she was immediately healed. You feel torn between the urgency of Jairus’ plight and this woman’s desperate need for healing. Jesus, however, is in no hurry as He calmly speaks to her and commends her faith. As He communes with her, He is interrupted by someone from Jairus’ house who has arrived on the scene announcing that it is too late. The little girl has died.

What an unfortunate situation, you tell yourself. If Jesus had only hurried to Jairus’ home, and ignored everybody else, He may have arrived in time to save her. Now he has been defiled by this woman with the issue of blood… His voice interrupts your musings: “Fear not: believe only, and she shall be made whole.” Your thoughts frantically chase one another as you stumble after the throng following Jesus along the winding path to Jairus’ house. You’ve seen Him raise the dead before. Nevertheless, you find yourself trying to resist icy trickles of doubt that are inching their way into your mind. What if He can’t do it again? What then?

As you approach the house, the unmistakable, nerve-jarring wailing of the mourners can be heard. Jesus turns and refuses to let anyone into the house except for Peter, James and John, along with the dead girl’s parents. Disappointed, you realize that you are going to have to wait outside with the others. The sound of weeping is intense, and in a way, you are relieved to be outside—but wait! Now, there is an unnatural silence, and while you are aware that Jesus is speaking to those inside the house, your straining ears fail you. Suddenly, the mocking jeers and laughter of the wailers can be heard. Shock waves of despair race through your rigid body. Puzzled, you wait for an explanation.

After what seems like an eternity, you overhear someone relaying Jesus’ words. “Weep not; she is not dead, but sleepeth.” Weep not? Your heart beats wildly as you vividly recall those same words spoken to the devastated widow of Nain. But, sleepeth? Your face flushes with embarrassment. Momentarily, you want to evaporate and disassociate yourself from this Man who brings such scorn upon Himself. Then, it is over and Jesus and His three disciples exit the house. Behind them you can hear Jairus and his wife praising God. Peace and inexpressible joy descend in a glow of sacredness that permeates the atmosphere, transfusing your heart with an inner knowing that no man, or devil, can erase. The maid lives! She is alive! Jesus has raised another person from the dead. You know that you know that this Man from Galilee is a great Prophet sent from God to His people. Truly, He must be the long-awaited for Messiah!

Time passes until that certain fateful day when Jesus’ friend, whom He dearly loves, grows sick and dies. Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha, are utterly devastated. They truly believe that if Jesus had been there, He would have healed their brother, and spared him from the grave. Yet, Jesus seems to be deliberately absent from the tragic scene, and He hasn’t even come to the burial. Once again, you are perplexed and left to wonder about many things.

Your mind goes back to that dreadful day when King Herod beheaded John the Baptist. Why hadn’t Jesus intervened? After all, John was a true man of God, and the greatest of the prophets. Jesus had confirmed that Himself. So, why hadn’t his life been spared? Why hadn’t Jesus stepped on the scene and raised him from the dead?

Four days after Lazarus’ burial in Bethany, word spreads that Jesus is approaching. You join with the weeping Jews and Mary to meet Jesus on the outskirts of town. Then, an amazing scene unfolds. You behold Jesus groaning in His spirit. You see how troubled He is, and you hear Him ask where they have laid Lazarus. When they say to Him, “come and see,” you witness something you have not seen before. Jesus is weeping! You follow them to the cave where the dead lay, and you witness Jesus groaning in His spirit again. You feel the life drain out of you. Surely, this time, life will not return to a person who has been dead for four days!

Shocked, you hear Jesus say, “Take away the stone.” What?! Roll away the stone from the grave of a man who has surely begun to decompose? Martha verbally echoes your thoughts. As the familiar parade of doubts march logically around the fringes of your mind, Jesus’ words to Martha seem aimed at your own heart, “Said I not unto thee, that, if thou shouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?” Your eyes widen in surprise as they take away the stone. You stare in wonder at Jesus as He lifts up his eyes, and says, “Father, I thank You that You have heard me. And I know that You hear me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that You have sent me.” Startled, you visibly jump when, with a loud voice, He cries, “Lazarus, come forth.”

With a lump in your throat and shaking like a leaf in the wind, you stare transfixed as Lazarus emerges from the yawning darkness of the cave. Somehow this scene reminds you of a certain prophet of old. A picture briefly flashes across the screen of your mind, and you see the prophet Jonah coming forth from the gaping jaws of death that had held him captive for three days. The next thing you know, you find yourself propelled forward at Jesus’ command to loose him out of his grave clothes and let him go. Trembling uncontrollably, you, and those with you, find resurrected life, not death and decay. You know beyond the shadow of a doubt that Jesus is the Son of God, the resurrection and the life. You vow to never let doubts assail you again, to never lose faith.

It has only been a short time since Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Now, you find yourself standing at the foot of a cross. Waves of thundering darkness descend over the small group gathered there. Stabs of lightning zigzag across the sky, culminating in a crescendo of terrifying crashes and booming that defy description. Ignoring the angry darkness enshrouding the spinning earth, all eyes remain riveted on the mangled form of the One who claimed to be the resurrection and the life. Once again, your senses reel under the horror of gut-wrenching wailing for the dead. But, this time, it’s the sound of your own voice exploding in your ears. Your screams echo within the chambers of your mind, ripping and penetrating the invisible barrier between self-control and abandonment. They reverberate through your body in uncontrollable waves of despair, until, the very essence of your being, like a thing gone mad, flings itself beyond the furthermost reaches of your existence. The One who raised the dead, the most compassionate Lord, the One who has been crucified beneath a crude sign that reads “The King of the Jews” is dead! DEAD! The Truth has been crucified by those who claim to know, believe and uphold the truth. How can this be?

    Snatching you back from the brink of insanity, your memory replays His words: “It is finished.” It is finished? Suddenly, the kaleidoscopes of Jesus’ teachings begin to form an orderly picture. Even though you don’t fully comprehend it all, His purpose for coming begins to dawn on you as you watch Jesus’ body being removed from the cross. He came to die, so that I might live. He came to die in my place, because I am a lost sinner, without hope in this world or the next. The terrifying darkness joins forces with bone crunching exhaustion and sorrow, depleting your resolve to follow Him all the way to His burial place. He is dead. You witnessed it all. Groping through the pounding storm to seek the shelter of your home, tears stream uncontrollably down your face, while your heart threatens to burst from all that you have experienced. It’s more than a human being can possibly bear—more than a mere human can fathom—to witness The Way, the Truth and the Life crucified. God, oh God! Help me! I may not have understood everything He said or did, but how I loved Him!

It is the first day of the week, and three days since they crucified Him. You have shut yourself off from the world, your only companion, raw despair. You cannot eat or drink. Nothing can fill the emptiness in your aching soul.

Suddenly, the strong jolt of an earthquake propels you from your bed, filling you with a sudden, unexplainable urgency to get dressed and to be prepared. Prepared for what? Now your solitary confinement in the small house becomes unbearably suffocating. You step outdoors. Breathing deeply of the sweet air, but still desiring to shun human company, you make your way to an obscure path that skirts the local graveyard. The rising sun’s orange hue, like paint from an artist’s brush, brightly outlines the dull tombstones, and abstractly splashes across the ground. Suddenly you stop. What is that? What has happened? Your eyes widen in shock. Fighting against sheer terror, you step closer. Here and there…and over there! Why, the graves of many of the saints have been opened…and they are empty! Where did these people go? What could this mean? Abandoning your need for contemplative solitude, you turn and race towards the house where Jesus’ disciples are gathered together. You need to know!

“He is risen, just as He said!” Floods of joy wash over your soul. Jesus is alive! He has risen from the dead! He has fulfilled the Scriptures that foretold the coming of Emmanuel, God with us, God in the flesh! Did He not say, “I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die…”?

As we conclude this little journey back in time, let us consider Jesus’ words found in John 5:25-29: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man. Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice. And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.”

The question is, when He calls your name, will you be one that receives resurrection life?