In Ohio, there is a town called Blanchester. It is a small town with small town street names like Main Street and Center Street. Although, there is a street named Broadway. Football, 4-H and the Future Farmers of America are fundamentals of the community. And there is a church on Center Street. Its imprint of brick and mortar, outreach, church picnics and floats in the Fourth of July parade have been visible now in three centuries. But its impact is far wider because of August 1987.
Mrs. Van Gilder had planned an afternoon filled with activity for her Sunday School class. And it seems that no Sunday School activity is complete without hot dogs, chips, something that looks like Kool-Aid but does not taste like Kool-Aid, ice cream and games. There must be games. When the event was over, kids helped with clean up and then gathered their belongings and piled into the cars taking them home. Mrs. Van Gilder was taking four kids with her. On the way home, her car was involved in a collision with another vehicle. Shannon would be left with no memory of what had happened. Kendra would need extensive surgery on her leg. Chris and Amy did not survive. They were twelve years old. Chris was Mrs. Van Gilder’s grandson. And the collision was Mrs. Van Gilder’s fault.
Broken and trying to meet the need of two families in their untimely pain, the church on Center Street was also without a pastor, that is, until February 14, 1988. The incoming pastor had no idea that the church needed him as much as he needed them.
On his first Sunday, the church sang a particular hymn along with some other hymns. And the pastor preached. On his second Sunday, the church sang some hymns. And the pastor preached. On his third Sunday, the church sang some hymns. And the pastor preached. Following this service a man humbly approached the new pastor with a question. “Why did we not sing our song?” Puzzled, the pastor asked, “What is our song?” The man, with tears, responded with that particular hymn.
On his fourth Sunday, the church sang that particular hymn along with some other hymns. And the pastor preached a little differently. And for seven years, each Sunday, the church sang that particular hymn with some other hymns. And the pastor preached a little differently. And for seven years the impact of the church on Center Street was defined by because He lives, I can face tomorrow. Because He lives, all fear is gone. Because I know He holds the future and life is worth the living just because He lives.
In Luke 7:11-17, there is a town. It is a small town with its small town street names. Its imprint has been visible for twenty-one centuries. It still exists and people still live there. But its impact is far wider.
He Went to a Town Called Nain
It begins in Luke 7:11. “Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain.” Notice that town name; the pronunciation sounds like the number nine. This verse is the first and only mention in the Bible of the town called Nain. And in its first and only mention there are two things to know about Nain.
First, Jesus went there. This begs a couple of questions. Why did Jesus go to Nain? And why would Jesus go to Nain? There is absolutely nothing significant about this town. It is ordinary. Whatever happened yesterday in Nain is the same thing that will happen tomorrow in Nain. So, why did Jesus go to Nain? Well, I do not know. Except there is that Old Testament town called Shunem. And you might be wondering, where is Shunem? Shunem is the town next door. And Shunem is kind of significant; it is mentioned three times in the Bible (cf. Joshua 19:18; 1 Samuel 28:4). Its claim to fame is found in 2 Kings 4:8-37. And maybe Shunem has something to do with why Jesus went to Nain.
Nain, though, is a town that is also close to a town called Nazareth. Shunem would be to its east and Nazareth would be a short distance to its north. So, Nain is sandwiched in between the towns. And Nazareth is pretty significant; it is mentioned quite a bit in the Bible. Jesus said something, though, in Nazareth that might have something to do with why he went to Nain. It is something he said in Luke 4:26. “And Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.” Sidon is nowhere near Nain. But the important thing to note is that Jesus mentions how the Old Testament prophet Elijah, the most famous Old Testament prophet next to Moses, was sent to a widow. And this is all Jesus has to say; remember that Elijah, a great prophet, was sent to a widow.
The second thing to know is when Jesus went to Nain. He went to Nain after he went to Capernaum. Listen again to Luke 7:11. “Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain.” It may have been as soon as the very next day that he went to Nain from Capernaum. Why is that important? What does Capernaum have to do with Nain? Almost nothing, except Jesus went to Capernaum and in Capernaum there was a certain centurion whose servant was at the point of death. And this has something to do with Nain.
Behold, a Man Who Had Died
Let’s keep looking at Luke 7:11. “Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him.” Who went to Nain? There was Jesus and his disciples and a great crowd. Note those three distinct groupings in verse eleven. And now look closely at Luke 7:12. There was a gate to this town, apparently the only gate and the gate was just to say if you blink, you will miss it – there is a town here. Luke then includes the word behold. Whenever we come across this word we almost always pause to point it out because that is its point. It is intended, grammatically, to grab your attention. It is a great Bible word. Luke wants us to notice “a man who died was being carried out.”
And notice something about this man. He is “the only son of his mother.” So, as verse twelve begins Luke wants us to notice the dead man being carried out, but this is not all. Luke wants us also to see his mother and to notice the rest of verse twelve. “And a considerable crowd from the town was with her.” In verse twelve, like verse eleven, there are three distinct groupings – the dead man; the mother and the considerable crowd. It is just an interesting parallel between Luke 7:11 and Luke 7:12. Luke does this intentionally.
But first, let’s put the context in view. Luke 7:11-17 is a funeral. When Jesus comes to Nain he encounters a funeral. Luke goes into great detail about this funeral. The man who died was the only son of his mother. The mother was a widow. And the crowd with her was considerable. The context, though, of Luke 7:11-17 is Jesus meeting a mother in her untimely pain. It is most unnatural for a parent to outlive their child. The death of a child has been described as “a period placed before the end of a sentence.” What then is to be done with that sentence?
And When the Lord Saw Her
Why does Luke write Luke’s Gospel? There are things which happen to make us totter. But there are things which have happened to keep us from tottering over. So, get ready for verse thirteen. “And when the Lord saw her…” Remember, there were three distinct groupings in verse eleven and three distinct groupings in verse twelve. Why did Jesus go to Nain? Jesus saw the mother. He went to Nain and Jesus saw the mother in her untimely pain. It reminds me of Hagar. She, too, was a mom. In Genesis 16, this mother came to a fresh understanding of who God is. Listen to her testimony. “So she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, ‘You are a God of seeing,’ for she said, ‘Truly here I have seen him who looks after me’” (Genesis 16:13). When did Hagar come to understand this? It is Genesis 16:13, but when is it? She was a mom and it was when life was not going according to plan. In Luke 7:13, when did Jesus see this mom?
And notice, too, what Luke calls Jesus in verse thirteen. He does not say, “when Jesus saw her,” but rather, “when the Lord saw her,” a reference to the limitless bounds of Jesus’ power and authority. And there is more. When Jesus saw her in her untimely pain, when life was not going according to plan, when a period came before the end of the sentence, he had compassion on her. This word compassion, it means to feel what she was feeling. She was broken. He, too, was broken. Her heart ached. His heart, too, ached. She now felt alone and unprotected. He, too, felt alone and unprotected. This is the word compassion, to feel everything she was feeling!
And notice his words out of his compassion. “Do not weep.” Why do you think Jesus tells her not to weep? Since he felt what she was feeling, could he have been weeping too?
Young Man, I Say to You, Arise
Jesus approached what would be like a coffin except this is completely open, more like a stretcher. The man’s body was wrapped in a linen cloth, just as Jesus’ body would be and just as his friend Lazarus was in John 11. And he touched the stretcher. Those carrying the stretcher, all at once, stood still. It was the touch. No one did this; no one has ever done this. To touch the stretcher of a dead body was to make one’s self like a dead man. You would become ceremonially unclean, unable to come before God until made clean. And I think in this moment all movement ceased and all weeping ceased. What is Jesus up to?
Listen to Jesus’ words. “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak. What was he saying? Surely, others were thinking the same thing! What is he saying? There was a cloth wrapped around his mouth! And the next part is my favorite part. Jesus gave him, literally, delivered him to his mother. The big idea of the text has to do with Jesus and this mother.
The considerable crowd is about to faint. Fear seized them all! No one has ever seen this. They all have heard of something like this. They heard what Elisha did in 2 Kings 4:8-37; he was a pretty great prophet, and he did it in the next town over called Shunem. They heard what Elijah did in 1 Kings 17; and he was a really great prophet. He was sent to Sidon, to a woman who was a widow (1 Kings 17). But neither did it like this, with compassion, feeling exactly what the mothers felt. And neither did it by the power of their word.
There is coming a day when Jesus will do this again. It is something taught in 1 Corinthians 15 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. It is something we are commanded to talk about – “Therefore encourage one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18). And it is what is to be done with that sentence. There is coming a day when we will all hear his voice. The Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of a trumpet. The dead in Christ will rise first. And those who remain will follow them. I wonder what that cry of command will sound like. When Jesus told the young man in Luke 7 to arise, that was a command. Chris, I say to you, arise! Amy, I say to you, arise! A resurrection like this is coming for all those whose faith is in Jesus Christ alone, by his grace alone, through his cross alone, by his life alone, to his glory alone!
So, what do we do when a period comes before the end of a sentence? “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:57-58).