Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. This morning, our Gospel text invites us to consider the topic of fear. Fear isn’t something that we always actively think about, but fear and reason to fear are all around us, whether we recognize it or not. In life, it isn’t a matter of if you fear, it’s a matter of what you fear. So, this morning we will consider these two points:
1) We have reason to fear all around us,
2) Yet Christ’s compassion invites us to fear God above all things.
II. Reason to Fear
2. First, we consider how we have reason to fear all around us. One need not look far to recognize the truth of this. Just turn on the evening news and you will be bombarded with reason to fear: hurricanes, crime, war, disease, economic hardship, and so many more. Reason to fear is all around us. Many times, though, we don’t need to look outside ourselves to find reason to fear. Our own lives are filled with reason to fear. We, both individually and collectively, face fear of the unknown future. A new opportunity has been presented to us, and we need to determine if this is the Lord challenging us to step out in faith. It’s easier to maintain the status quo, to play it safe, to do what’s comfortable and easy and doesn’t require personal sacrifice. This is fear of the unknown manifesting itself, inviting us to walk away from what we probably know to be right because of what might come to pass. Or maybe it’s health concerns. It could be a new diagnosis or the old nemesis of COVID which incites fear into our hearts. We’re afraid of the unknown. We’re afraid of death, and so we let this fear dictate our actions, keeping us away from those people and places where we know we ought to be. Or maybe it’s the impending death of a loved one. We’re afraid of losing them. What will life look like? Will I be able to go on? Will I ever see them again? And so this fear paralyzes and cripples us.
3. The woman in our Gospel text knows all about this. She has lost her husband already to death. She has learned how to navigate life without his leadership, provision, and companionship. But now the grief is multiplied. Her son, her only son, has died. Forget about future questions, such as how she will provide for herself. The present grief of losing her son is more than she can bear. She is past the point of worrying about the future and what might be. She’s past the point of rational decisions made based on fear of death. She is in utter helpless, grief-filled misery. This is every parent’s, every person’s worst nightmare. If only she had acted differently, made better choices, let her protective instincts win out, then maybe, just maybe she wouldn’t be in this position. Maybe, just maybe she wouldn’t be in the middle of this grand funeral procession preparing to bury her son. My friends, this situation in itself might be enough to incite fear into our hearts, and to cause us to live in the fear of this becoming our reality. Our Lord, however, will not let that be so.
III. Christ’s Compassion
4. The way in which our Lord responds to this grief-stricken widow gives us confident hope to know that this is how he, too, will respond to us. Notice how our Lord responds to the woman. First, we read:
And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her (Luke 7:13a).
This point must never be ignored. Repeatedly in the Gospels our Lord demonstrates how his response to sin and grief and loss is always the same: compassion. Our Lord loves us and cares for us so much that our hurt leads to his compassion—a compassion that isn’t a mere feeling. Our Lord’s compassion drives him to act on our behalf. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than when our Lord cried out from the cross:
Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
Our Lord’s compassion was demonstrated definitively on the cross where he atoned for our sins and offered us forgiveness. In doing so, he invites us into a new life—an eternal life prepared by him where there will be joy forevermore in his presence. This is why our text continues:
[He] said to her, “Do not weep” (Luke 7:13b).
Now, don’t misunderstand. There is still grief and weeping in this life. But our Lord’s words to this woman, “Do not weep”, remind us of the eternal joys which await us in paradise, as the Revelation to Saint John reminds us:
Then I saw a new heavens and a new earth . . . and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:1, 3b-4).
And so, we Christians do not weep as others do who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13) because our future life is secure. Our Lord points to this as our text continues, when we read:
Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother (Luke 7:14-15).
This, my friends, is the Christian hope. Our Lord’s compassion drove him to the cross so that he might offer to us eternal life. That same command, “Young man, I say to you, arise”, will be spoken to each of us on the last day as the saying will come to pass:
For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed (1 Corinthians 15:52b).
This is our hope, my friends. And it’s not just a hope. This is our confidence. In the same way that our Lord responded to this woman and her son by raising him to life, so too will he respond to us in due time by raising us and all who believe in him to eternal life.
5. Finally, notice how the crowd responds to this great miracle. We read:
And fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” (Luke 7:16).
This response echoes Zechariah’s Benedictus, the great prophetic song which he sang in the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel after the birth of his son, John the Baptizer. That song begins this way:
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (Luke 1:68-69).
My friends, the crowd in our text gives us to picture of how to respond in the face of fear in our own lives. We don’t respond to fearful situations by cowering and becoming paralyzed by our fear. We respond in confident hope, knowing that the Almighty God who created heaven and earth and holds the universe in the power of his hand loves us. If there is anything to fear in this life, it is the Almighty God himself. Yet, that Almighty God has showed us compassion in Jesus, therefore we need not fear anything in this life. And so, when faced with a new opportunity, we must fear and love God enough to trust that he is the one truly in power. We must fear and love God enough to trust that he will continue to provide for us according to his will. And so, as Luther says in the Small Catechism, when faced with these decisions, we consider [our] place in life according to the Ten Commandments. We do what we know that the Lord has given us to do in his word, according to our vocations, and we act in confidence, not fear. The Same can be said of health concerns. We cannot let our fear of death replace our fear of God. We must do what our Lord commands us to do with confident trust in him to provide. And when we are facing the death of a loved one, we must place our hope in the resurrection of the dead, knowing that our hope is not in this life, but in the life to come. My friends, Christ’s compassion invites us to fear God above all things. May God make it so for Jesus’ sake.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.