I Believe…in Jesus’ Power over Death

1. How Jesus showed that power in his day

2. What it means for our lives today


(Luke 7:11-17)  Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. {12} As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out–the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. {13} When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.” {14} Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” {15} The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother. {16} They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” {17} This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.


It was a funeral procession that brought tears to our eyes and put a collected lump in our throats. Thousands and thousands of people lined the streets of Appleton as the body of a young firefighter named Mitch Lundgaard was transported by a caravan of police cars and fire engines. There were officers standing at attention. There were children sitting on the curb with their teachers taking it all in. There were people paying their last respects for the fallen. But mostly, there were people who were hurting.  People who were thinking about a wife and children would no longer have their loved one with them. People who were thinking about how a senseless act of violence had brought about this man’s death. In fact, maybe you were one of those people. Maybe you are still reeling from what happened on that fateful day in May.  Or maybe you know someone who is still trying to cope with the death of one of their loved ones.

If you’ve experienced any of those emotions, you’ve come to the right place. Because, today we are going to look at a portion of God’s word and see that Jesus once witnessed a funeral procession that had a lot in common with the one that wound its way through the streets of Appleton a few weeks ago. Granted, there weren’t any fire engines back in Jesus’ day. But there was one thing that made a difference in that funeral procession, and every funeral procession since. And that one thing is…Jesus. Today we see Jesus prove for the people of his day and for you and me today, this powerful truth, namely:

Jesus has the Power over Death

In our study of God’s word today, will see:

1. How Jesus showed that power in his day

2. What it means for our lives today

Our text for today picks up right where last Sunday’s sermon left off. Last week we heard how Jesus showed his power over disease by healing the centurion’s daughter. Now Jesus takes it to the next level. As Jesus travels through the Galilean countryside, he enters the town of Nain.  And as he walks into the city, there is a whole funeral procession coming out of the city.  The people are carrying the body of a young man who had died.  And what made this scene especially heart-rending is the fact that the dead man was, as Luke tells us, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow.

Wow, talk about a tragic event! I mean, it’s bad enough to have bury your own child, but when it’s your only child and you’ve already had to bury your husband—now you’re really all alone.  That’s heart-breaking!  Is it any wonder that a whole lot of townspeople were accompanying this funeral procession? They were all hurting. They felt sorry for this woman. Chances are, those people were feeling some of the same things that the people who witnessed Mitch Lundgaard’s funeral procession were feeling.

But notice, it wasn’t just the crowds of people who were hurting for this woman.  Jesus felt the same way. Luke tells us, when Jesus saw her, his heart went out to her. Literally, his guts ached for her.  In other words, Jesus felt pity for her.  He felt compassion for her.  He knew what she was going through, just as he knows what we’re going through—whether we’re sitting in a doctor’s office, or standing beside a hospital bed, or a casket, or watching a funeral procession for a fallen firefighter. Jesus knows. Jesus cares. And Jesus has the power to dry your tears.

Certainly Jesus did something to dry the tears of this widow mother, here in our text.  After saying to her, “Don’t cry,” Jesus proceeded to give her a reason to stop crying. Luke tells us, Jesus went up and touched the coffin and those carrying it stood still. Chances are, it wasn’t a coffin or a casket like we use today. More likely, it was more like a bier (think of a stretcher used to carry a body wrapped in strips of cloth). After Jesus stopped the procession, he did something which the people around Jesus might have thought was a little strange. Jesus spoke directly to the corpse. Now maybe that’s not all that unusual. You’ve maybe been at a funeral where a family member in effect talked to the dead person. You might hear them say, “Love you, Dad,” or “We’ll miss you, Grandma” or “See you again, dear.”

No, what is really strange in Jesus’ case wasn’t that he was speaking to a dead man, but rather what he said to that dead man. I mean, who says to someone who is dead, “Young man, I say to you, get up”? But because Jesus is God, this young man obeys him.  Luke tells us, the dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.

Obviously, that is a miracle, a miracle that proved that Jesus has complete power over life and death. As true God, Jesus has the power to give life—but also the power to give it back, after it’s been lost for a time.  Isn’t that what Jesus did for Lazarus, calling him back to life after he had been in the tomb for 4 days?  Or you think of what Jesus said to the deceased daughter of Jairus, “Little girl, I say to you, get up.” And she too came back to life. Even Jesus’ own resurrection on Easter Sunday morning proves that he has power over death and the grave.

The real question is, so what? So what does it matter that Jesus brought some people back to life over 2,000 years ago? Does it really change anything about our lives today? Are we supposed to expect that Jesus will show up at funeral processions today, touch the casket and say to the deceased “Get up”? Should we expect Jesus to give dead people back to their families alive? No.  Rather, we can expect that Jesus will do something even better.

What do I mean by that? What could be better than bringing a person back to life?  Well, remember, all three of the people Jesus raised to life, ultimately died a second time.  So to understand what Jesus does that is even better, we need to understand something about death itself.  Actually, Scripture speaks of death in three different ways.  There is something called spiritual death. That’s when human beings are separated from God by their sins. Isaiah spoke about that kind of death when he wrote, Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you. (Isaiah 59:2) Spiritual death is what God warned Adam and Eve about when he told them in the garden, “If you eat of the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil, you will surely die.” In other words, from the moment Adam and Eve sinned against God, they became spiritually dead.  They were no longer in sync with God.  They were afraid of God.  They wanted nothing to do with God.

The second form of death is physical, or temporal, death. That’s what most people think of when they hear the word death. It’s what happens when a person breathes his last, when the brain waves stop and the soul leaves the body—that’s physical death. And the third kind of death is called eternal death. Eternal death does not mean that a person no longer exists.  Rather, it means that a person lives forever in a state of absolute separation from even an ounce of God’s love and mercy.  It’s called life in “hell.”

So, what’s the relationship between those three forms of death? Simply this. If a person who is spiritually dead then experiences physical death, he will, from that moment on, become eternally dead.  Or to put it another way, if our sins are still separating us from God at the moment we breathe our last, we’ll be separated from God forever.  You realize, that’s what makes death such a terrible thing. The worst thing about physical death is not that it separates people from their loved ones here on earth, as painful as that may be. No, the worst thing about physical death is that it has the potential to separate people from God forever!

But you see, this is where Jesus comes into the picture.  Jesus doesn’t want anyone to go to hell, even though that’s what we all deserve from a just and holy God.  So what did Jesus do to rescue us from that fate?  Jesus took all the sins that once separated us from God and he took them all on himself.  He allowed himself to be punished in our place.  He allowed himself to be separated from God on the cross of Calvary. Yes, he went to hell in our place, all to bring us back to God, to put us back in sync with God, to make us spiritually alive, to give us spiritual life.  Isn’t that what St. Paul means when he writes, God who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ (Ephesians 2:4-5). It’s what Jesus meant when he said, “I have come that [you] may have life. (John 10:10)

You realize what that means?  It means that now that you and I have life (because Jesus has taken our sins away), when we breathe our last, we won’t experience eternal death.  Rather, we will experience eternal life.  You might say that, by his death and resurrection, Jesus, in effect, changes what everyone typically considers to be “a bad thing”, namely, our own death, and he changes it into a “good thing.”  Jesus turns the death of believers into the transportation system to take people out of this world of sin and sickness and decay, and bring them into the joy and bliss of heaven.

If you think about it, isn’t that the best of both worlds?  Yes, we are able to live and enjoy some time here on earth.  But ultimately God takes us to be with Jesus in heaven, where there is no pain, no sorrow, no death.  When St. Paul considered those two different expressions of life, life here on earth or forever in heaven, what did he say? I desire to depart and be with Christ which is better by far. (Phil. 1:23) The life to come is better by far.  In fact, Paul was even a little more blunt than that.  He said, as a Christian, For me…to die is gain. (Phil. 1:21).  In Paul’s mind, to die as a believer is all good. All good.

Now, does that mean we should all do everything possible to hasten the end of our lives?  You know, take a negative view of life?  Just kind of mark time until we die?  No, remember that St. Paul balances the statement, “to die is gain” with the other half of the equation, namely, to live is Christ. (Phil. 1:21). Every second of our life is an opportunity to live for Jesus.  To thank him and to praise him, and to share him with others so that they can enjoy what Jesus has in store for them in heaven.

In fact, I submit to you, that when a person knows what’s coming, when a person knows that death is not the end, but that heaven awaits, I think it changes their perspective on life.  Rather than seeing life as a time to get what we want and serve ourselves, it becomes a time to serve others in gratitude for what God has done for us in Christ.  When a person is not afraid to die, they truly have the freedom to live, the freedom to serve.

Don’t you think that’s what allows Christian firefighters and law enforcement officials to do what they do on a regular basis?  Even when they face life-threatening situations, they can still hold on to the truth.  They know that ultimately death cannot hurt them. They know that Jesus has power over life and death.  They can say with King David, “My times are in your hands, O Lord.” (Ps. 31:15).  And again, In God I trust; I will not be afraid. (Psalms 56:11) 

You realize, those words apply to more than just the men and women in blue.  They apply to each one of us. When you know where you’re going when you die, when you know that God will decide exactly when you will go, it gives you the freedom to live your life free from fear and free to serve.

I expect that the day will come when we will once again be witness to a funeral procession.  We may shed a tear thinking about a loved one who is no longer with us, or family members who are left behind.  But when that funeral procession means that God has taken a believer home to heaven, the tears we shed will not be tears of sorrow or anger, but rather tears of joy and gratitude to a God who gives life on both side of the grave, all for Jesus’ sake. Amen.